Archive for January, 2012

Getting It Right
Gentle and Loving

I’ve never forgotten this little gem of a gentle movie, which the unsung Jesse Birdsall carries admirably—and which, under the direction of Randal Kleiser (yes, that Randal Kleiser), features a supporting cast of highly memorable proportions: Lynn Redgrave, Helena Bonham Carter, Sir John Gielgud, Jane Horrocks, Peter Cook. In a story that prefigures The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Birdsall stars as Gavin Lamb, a 30-year-old dresser of blue-hairs (and little-to-no-hairs) who still lives at home and is admittedly scared of talking to most people—women in particular. He’s anal-retentive in a non-fussy way, very focused on not making mistakes as he wanders his art-appreciative way through life.

Man on a Ledge
A Questionable but Fun Thriller

What if no one saw him? That was the first question that came to mind as I settled in to watch the new thriller Man on a Ledge. It was only seconds after the man walked out onto the ledge high above the New York City streets that a woman down below looked up and screamed, alerting the entire block of his presence. It’s something the man was counting on, as he wants to leverage his possible suicide into proving his innocence and his plan relies a lot on timing. But what if that lady didn’t look up? Would he just sit there all day until somebody looked up? Would he whistle or yell to get their attention? These are exactly the kind of questions that can distract an audience from a movie like this, but if you are willing to let these things alone and just go with it, you are sure to be thoroughly entertained for a good hour and a half.

The Grey
Liam vs. Wild

If I have learned anything from the movies in recent years, it is that you don’t mess with Liam Neeson. He’s filled the shoes that fifteen years ago belonged to Harrison Ford in movies like Air Force One. It seems there is one species that hasn’t gotten the message about the actor’s toughness, however, as the wolves of the Alaskan wilderness that make up the villains of The Grey don’t seem intimidated one bit.

The Whistleblower
Real-World Ugliness

This true story about one woman who misbehaved in a major way and took down a despicable boys-will-be-a-holes network of sex traffickers masquerading as U.N. peacekeepers in Bosnia isn’t some anti-male screed put together by a bunch of activist misanthropists. Instead, it’s a proactively positive (if infuriatingly heartbreaking) story about the evils of sex-trafficking which enlists the help of other A-list stars like David Strathairn and Benedict Cumberbatch, while getting co-production help from a bunch of German men. But still, the lead story is: this is story about a strong woman, starring a strong woman, made by strong women. And it’s a strong film. Take my recommendation and see it.

Miss Representation
Do Yourself a Favor: See It

Miss Representation royally pissed me off, and in the best possible way. Bear in mind that I’m the lone audience member who walked out on a packed commercial screening of Risky Business because I was so incensed at that film’s portrayal of women. From the first time I saw Joe Francis’ ridiculous Girls Gone Wild commercials on cable, I’ve lamented how the misguided women who buy into Francis’ fetish are traitors to their own gender. And no, Halle Berry’s sex scene in Monster’s Ball was not empowering; she merely sold her integrity for the sake of artistic “respect.”

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
A Powerful Post-9/11 Drama

Movies about the events of September 11, 2001 are tricky. Still, the impressive list of talents behind the latest effort to capture the terrible loss would lead anyone to believe that Loud and Close just may be able to pull it off. Based on a novel by Jonathan Safran Foer and adapted by Oscar-winning screenwriter Eric Roth, the movie is directed by Stephen Daldry, a man who has earned best director Oscar nominations for each of his previous three films. Add to that the fact that the adult leads are played by Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock, and you have yourself some legitimate Oscar bait. Ultimately, though, the movie’s success rests in the hands of an untested 12-year-old who steps into the challenging lead role.

Dead Poets Society
Flawed But Memorable Classic

Most adults, of course, seem to have very little memory of what being a teenager is like; the normal result is a lack of sensitivity and understanding, much as we see with the parents of Neil and Todd in Dead Poets (played brilliantly by Robert Sean Leonard and Ethan Hawke). However, in his passion for flipping that insensitivity the opposite direction, John Keating (Williams) equally forgets the impressionability of youth—and with tragic unintended consequences. Keating is not the catalyst for the tragedy, of course; but he’s not entirely unaccountable, either.

Cultural MVPs

Given that I picked up this review opportunity in a rather eleventh-hour fashion, I did not know was that Thurgood is essentially a filmed take on a tour-de-force one-man stage show written by George Stevens Jr. Rather than a standard biopic, we are here presented with the faux reminiscences of an aged Marshall as he “returns” to alma mater Howard University for a lecture to a “friendly audience.” As Marshall warms up to his topic—his personal involvement in turning the tide against American apartheid—he casts off his cracking voice, shuffling gait, and cane, rejuvenated by Fishburne’s energetic portrayal of a modern man of justifiably mythic proportions.

Higher Ground Redux
A “Manifesto to God”

The frustration in Corrine’s life culminates when she leaves a characteristically stilted “house church” meeting. Those in attendance talk to each other in muted catch-phrases and euphemistically-couched expressions of spiritual denial. Outside in the car, Corrine cries out to God in an honest fashion that should rend your soul—and when she asks God to reveal Himself to her, who should appear but her husband? He is so alienated from her at this point, and their love for each so dead, that all he can coldly suggest is that she no longer bother coming to the meetings since her “heart isn’t in it.” Oh, but her heart is so much in it! And that’s the problem in Higher Ground.

Courageous Redux
More Than More of the Same

In the Christian niche market, “more of the same” from directors and producers generally results in an audience (and pastoral) response that looks more like “Well, I think I’ll take a pass this time.” That’s because, for the most part, the product in question is substandard in one or more ways and has been marketed in a bait-and-switch fashion that packages cut-rate entertainment as the next great evangelistic tool. Think of the Left Behind series (now on the verge of being rebooted… whoo-hoo!), The Nativity Story, or even Rocky Balboa. Yup. There are only so many times you can sell the same pig. Well, Courageous bucks that trend entirely.

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