Author Archive

Hairspray
Everything In Its Proper Place

What surprised me most about Hairspray is that, quite frankly, I enjoyed it. The casting, though eclectic, is superb, turning a movie about “standing out” into a balanced, artful ensemble effort. Nikki Blonsky as Tracy bubbles through her role with unfailing optimism—which I found refreshing in the face of the stick-thin actresses who dominate the Hollywood scene. John Travolta also surprised me in his understated drag as Tracy’s mother, Edna. Aside from the phenomenal casting, director Adam Shankman pulls the film together in a tightly-wrapped package, and hairsprays it into stark submission. Not a hair, not a word, not a movement is out of place.


Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Fifth Time Out is Not the Charm

In many ways, Order of the Phoenix almost plays more like an exercise in contract stipulations—who gets how much screen time and so forth—than a piece of narrative art. Most of the characters we have spent hours investing ourselves in over the course of the series are virtual cameos this time out. Malfoy, Crabb and Goyle, Hagrid, Professor Trelawney, and the Weasely family all have drastically limited screen time. The close-knit, mystery-solving trio seems to have lost its chemistry (or perhaps their interest), and as a result, the movie feels somehow devoid of the series’ usual emotional and intellectual captivation. The most striking absence for me is the sense of fun and fantasy found in Rowling’s books.


Steel City
Hearts of Steel?

Steel City is no flowery-happy summer blockbuster, but it does an excellent job of portraying real-life families and the generational effects of alcohol addiction and its consequences. The movie delves fearlessly into the generational and hereditary aspects of the disease while exploring the complex relationships between a father and his sons. Writer-director Brian Jun’s budget might have been small, but the cinematic scope and art of his movie are far from low-rent. Add to that his ability to coax stunningly believable performances from Heard and Guiry, especially, and you have a stirring story with a subtle yet profoundly poignant ending which begs to bring up the topics of substitutionary atonement and paying penance for one’s own sins as well as the sins of others.


Civic Duty
To Believe or Not to Believe

I can’t be the only one on the planet who, somewhere around 2003, began to find fiction based on the September 11th tragedy more than tiresome. So when one pops up nearly six years later, once again exploiting the conundrum of profiling versus prejudice, I had my suspicions. Civic Duty manipulates more than the “justified suspicion” of so many Americans who are ruled by the illusion that we are entitled to security and privacy, freedom and safety. It exploits, one more time, the fears that somehow our “freedom,” our “rights,” and our “security” are more at risk than they have ever been before, and we are somehow able to control whether or not such American entitlements will endure.


A Hard Look at Year of the Dog
When Passion Goes Too Far... And Then Comes Back

It wasn’t until after this rather weird movie was over, and I could talk it over with my husband, that I came to the conclusion that the plotline of Year of the Dog itself may not have been the point of the story. In more general terms, the story is of a young woman who, after an identity-shattering loss, goes a bit off the deep end before returning to some semblance of sanity, while staying true to her new convictions. But, after thinking about it, I think that writer/director Mike White is really making a larger statement, in a way that is non-threatening and accessible to a wide audience.


Grbavica
Surviving Has Its Consequences

While not as emotionally gripping as I had personally hoped, Grbavica still moved me. War is never pretty, and a ceasefire is never the end—it’s just the beginning of a part of every war called The Aftermath. The Aftermath is the wake of walking wounded, haunting memories, terrible secrets, and broken families. It is the plight of the ones left to pick up the pieces and rebuild their lives and their countries all at once, when the life has been ripped out of them. Grbavica focuses specifically on the women and children who survived the bullets, but haven’t necessarily made it out fully alive. It is a dark picture that refuses to be depressing while still effectively showing the world that the fight isn’t over yet.


Beyond the Gates
Staredown with a Tragic Dilemma

As director Michael Caton-Jones presents the terrible history of these appalling events, Beyond the Gates plunges the audience into a palpable abyss of ethical considerations, leaving us with only our ideas and our thoughts and our beliefs to wrestle through. For me, Caton-Jones’ work is the machete that cleaves bone from flesh, separating the sinews into ugly lumps of mere potential strength with no solid support. Ultimately, he presents a painful history, made all the more profound when, at the end, 800,000 people are violently murdered; certain races are saved; and we are left wondering what we would do if we were in Joe’s or Father Christopher’s shoes, and what, if anything, is “right.”


Blades of Glory
Farrell is as Ferrell Does

I don’t think I was the target audience for Blades of Glory, and those who have enjoyed the humor Will Ferrell is famous for may find themselves rolling in the aisles. Those who, like me, met Will Ferrell in Elf and found him delightful may be sorely disappointed by the celebrated filth here. From what I’ve heard, this is Will Ferrell in his original form—like it or not. For my part, I think the movie would have been just as funny—even funnier—if they had trusted the material and let the humor come naturally, rather than throw in constant vulgarity. But then, I’m not a director…


Reign Over Me
When Grief Breaks a Man

At recent screening, the usual cellophane rustling and popcorn chomping were distinctly absent for two full hours—you could hear a pin drop in the standing-room-only downtown Seattle theatre. Mike Binder, writer and director of Reign Over Me, held the audience completely captive with both an astounding story and outstanding performances on all accounts. While there have been several films in recent years with either major plots or subplots based on the 9/11 tragedies, Binder opted for a more subtle yet more deeply moving approach, using the attacks as a way to explore how people grieve, how they handle tragedy, and how they try to help each other when nothing can take away the pain.


Pride
A Movie That Is, Unfortunately, All Wet

There is no paucity of rags-to-riches losers-to-winners sports movies, and for some reason the last few years have produced more than their share. Inherent to the genre is the problem of investment and believability— does the film offer us credible, sympathetic characters and manufacture at least the impression of dramatic and competitive tension? It all comes down to whether or not the filmmaker can somehow present the story in a way that makes us feel like we don’t know the outcome, even though we do, and all too often either the director or the story—or both—can’t hold up to the challenge.


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