Archive for March, 2011

Fatal Secrets
Mildly Surprising

Classical storytelling style dictates that the first third of the story provide expository information to gradually introduce the the story’s protagonist and antagonist and establish the central conflict. By contrast, director Meir Sharony does all this before any real storytelling even commences. In short, and I do mean short, Julia, a recently-divorced successful author and bookseller, has a lunch date go really bad. Having established this lickety-split, Sharony then languidly leads the audience toward the inevitable retributive showdown some 80 minutes or so later. On the one hand, this short-hand treatment of sexual brutality is both unsettling and off-putting. On the other, it’s kind of nice watching a revenge movie that doesn’t use the threat of sexual violence as a tension-building device.


The Ten Commandments
Memorable Classic Though No Masterpiece

A four-hour-plus extravaganza, the movie is essentially two separate films with very distinct flavors appended to one another by an intermission. The “first” film tells the story of Moses’ ascendancy to power and his exile in Midian—culminating with his encounter with God in the burning bush on Mount Sinai. This half is also the most interesting and creative, frankly, given that it actually tells a “story.” The “second” film, is a Reader’s Digest account of the plagues, the Exodus, and Moses’ “death.” But this second half struggles most because it doesn’t tell a proper story—despite DeMille’s assertions, right enough, that you don’t have to look far in the Bible for drama. The film is, in fact, unabashedly biblical, much to its credit… and detriment.


Sucker Punch
Style Minus Substance

Director Zack Snyder’s work first exploded onto the big screen with 2004’s zombie movie remake Dawn of the Dead, which was followed by the surprising success of the graphic-novel adaptation 300. That success won him the prestigious gig of directing the long awaited adaptation of the superhero saga Watchmen, a thankless task that was largely considered a disappointment. Nevertheless, it earned the director the opportunity to break away from adaptations and make his first original work. The resulting product, Sucker Punch, proves that there is a lot going on in that brain of his, but little that actually resembles plot or character.


Jane Eyre
Performance-Driven Drama

The marketing campaign for Jane Eyre emphasizes that it is a “bold new version” of the classic Charlotte Bronte novel. Having not read the novel, nor seen any of the previous movie versions, I can’t accurately analyze that statement, but nothing really stood out to me as being especially bold. The fact that a level of boldness failed to shine through, however, does not change the fact that this costume drama is a very well-made movie with a couple of wonderful performances.


The Lincoln Lawyer
McConaughey Rules the Courtroom

Michael Connelly is a popular writer whose crime novels make regular appearances on bestsellers lists, so it came as something of a surprise to me that The Lincoln Lawyer is only the second of his novels to be adapted into a movie. The first was Blood Work, a 2002 release that was directed by and starred Clint Eastwood. It was an entertaining thriller, but nothing that stood out. The Lincoln Lawyer, on the other hand, is a terrific, twisty thriller that exceeded my expectations.


Colin and Brad: Two Man Group
Not Surprisingly, It’s Funny

Colin Mochrie’s and Brad Sherwood’s live shows bears a lot resemblances to the TV show Whose Line Is It Anyway? Fans will know that Sherwood has been one of the bright spots of the stateside version, and will in no way be disappointed in what they find in this 67-minute DVD. Personally, I’ve always preferred the original UK version of Whose Line. It also starred Mochrie and Ryan Stiles as part of the more-or-less rotating four-comic panel, but it was less concerned with sexual innuendo. I of course find myself laughing at crotch jokes and other suggestive humor—but I also know it’s terribly juvenile and an easy mark for stand-up comedy.


The Third Testament
Spooky, Kooky Genius

This is first-time feature producer/writer/director Matt Dallman’s ambitious alternate-present indie thriller, a preposterous, irresistibly compelling car-wreck of a yarn in which, essentially, the Jesus Seminar and Dan Brown fanatic conspiracy theorists win, theologically—and succeed in having the “Third Testament” of the Gnostic gospels canonized. Yes, you read that right. Part holy-roller tract, part skeptical Scripture debunker, and 100% “take that you neo-myth-making shysters” in-your-face comeuppance, The Third Testament has enough gall to offend just about everyone who’s thinking of embracing this film as “one of their own.” Who’s side is Dallman on, exactly?


A Talk With Connie Nielsen
Shine of Rainbows Takes on Bullies

“Little children have these amazing antennas to know which kid can be dumped on and which cannot,” says Danish film star Connie Nielsen, most famous for her role opposite Russell Crowe in Gladiator. “John Bell, who plays the child, does an amazing job of creating this character. Just an absolutely astounding job of creating this character. And I doubt that anyone can see this film and not come away without having a wonderful discussion with their parents about how they can help kids like that in their school—how they can be a part of lessening the effects of the pain and suffering that some of these children go through. You know, this is one of those films that can do things like that.”


Red Riding Hood
A Fable to Forget

Director Catherine Hardwicke had the biggest success of her career in 2008 with the first Twilight movie, but she was not hired on for the sequels. Red Riding Hood is her next movie and it is obvious from the very first shots that she is trying to duplicate that success. Unfortunately, most of Twilight’s success was due to the fact that the movie already had a built-in audience thanks to the popularity of the novels. Although Red Riding Hood is based on a popular fable, that won’t generate the same enthusiasm, and whereas most people were willing to overlook Twilight’s filmmaking flaws, the fact that Red Riding Hood isn’t Twilight will just make those flaws stand out all the more.


Exam
Grades Higher Than Its Peers

There’s no reason at all why this film couldn’t be as easily enjoyed on a laptop as on, say, a big plasma screen. But wait, you say—isn’t that the opposite of what makes a movie a movie? No, it isn’t. Rather, I suggest that moviegoing audiences have tended to fall in love with merely “going out”—sharing an entertainment experience in a luxurious, almost decadent setting. And over the last thirty years or so, more emphasis has been placed on the experience (by audiences, exhibitors, and distributors alike) than on the art form. What Hazeldine does here is take us back to when films really relied on cinematic technique. This is taut storytelling in its ideal form, and Hazeldine pulls it off in fine fashion.


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