Author Archive

The Dead Girl
Altmanesque At Its Best

Karen Moncrieff may not be a well-known writer/director—yet. But her latest project, The Dead Girl, may just launch her name into the starry stratosphere. With a solid storyline deftly woven with several colorful strands, and an ensemble cast without a single weak link, The Dead Girl is, in my book, what Crash wanted to be when it grew up. The separate themes of each person’s potential connection to the dead girl are adroitly and powerfully brought together by Moncrieff to become an intricate, painstaking, well-woven story, which is less about the girl who is dead than the people who remain alive.


Maxed Out
Can You Pay Cash to See This Movie?

If you have any questions about the “security” offered by the plastic in your wallet, Maxed Out will clear them right up. Honestly, we all like to believe we’re in control—of our schedules, our relationships, our lives… and especially our finances. Nothing says “capitalism” better than instant gratification, whether it’s with no money down and no interest for 18 months, deferred payments, or just a quick splash on the credit card. And let’s face it—without lines of credit, the good ol’ USA would crumble under the weight of failing businesses. Besides, with our federal government as an example, how can we possible think that debt is all bad?


The Astronaut Farmer
Just Enough Dreams, Too Much Fantasy

If you find the plot of The Astronaut Farmer implausible (as I did), your chances of enjoying this film are less than optimal. While the Polish brothers’ movie does offer a refreshing reality in terms of families and dreamers, there are simply too many implausibilities for me to take the film as seriously as they seemed to have intended it. The movie seems to be trying too hard to “ring true,” yet still be fantasy enough to provide the “escape” that movies served in decades past, requiring too much line-dancing between fantasy and reality to get me to buy into this man and his dream.


Deconstructing Cinematic Cynicism
A Plea for the Days of Wide-eyed Wonder

As Billy Bob Thornton noted, “We used to see a double feature, and we were so happy we saw two movies for the price of one… Now, to get somebody to see two movies in a row, you have to chain ’em to the wall.” His comment made me reflect on my own mindset as I enter a theater, which is often “this-better-be-good.” He went on to explain: “First of all, it’s a movie… and when I used to go to movies, I went to like the movie, and not to pick it apart and to be cynical…” As he expounded on the shift from wide-eyed to cynical, I knew where I stood.


Hannibal Rising
About as Entertaining as Ptomaine

Hannibal Rising is about as suspenseful as eating a day-old warm mayonnaise sandwich: you know you’re eventually going to throw up, it’s just a matter of when. The latest Hannibal Lecter release holds no true surprises, no thrills, nothing but blood and gore at its basest and most unentertaining. And anyone with a lick of Psych 101 could figure out how the boy Hannibal became the monster cannibal in three easy steps. The series of “revealing” traumatic flashbacks to war crimes doesn’t make the character any more or less sympathetic—just pathetic. If you haven’t guessed the biggest secret before The Moment of Great Revelation, you’ve been lucky enough to have been sleeping through the first three-fourths of the film.


God Grew Tired of Us
Far More Than Just an Education

Few films ever capture my interest enough for me to wish they were longer. Yet as I watched, I silently wished for more than the ninety or so minutes of Christopher Dillon Quinn’s densely packed emotional and informational documentary, God Grew Tired of Us. Quinn follows three young Sudanese men from their refugee camp in Kakuma, Kenya, through their first years in the United States. I’ve not witnessed a transition that is so intimate, and so incredibly heart-wrenching and heart-warming at the same time. But God Grew Tired—which takes its title from one of the refugee’s impression that the Lost Boys’ suffering was the result of God’s frustration with humanity in general—is not only educational; it’s also cause for reflection about the things we take for granted.


Seraphim Falls
A Revenge Tale That Mostly Fails

The only thing I can conclude about Seraphim Falls is that director David Von Ancken is making a greater statement of which I am thoroughly ignorant—a political statement about war and revenge, or a personal statement about the ambiguity of right and wrong in times of battle. I’m not sure. But that’s also the only way I can explain why two Irish actors have the lead roles in a decidedly American (post-Civil War) setting. I do not doubt that Seraphim Falls will appeal to some—chase movies centering on long-past evils always draw a certain crowd, and I’m sure this one will follow suit. But if you’re looking for an edge-of-your-seat nail-biter, I’d advise turning your attention elsewhere.


Happily N’Ever After
Just Pleasant Enough for Home Viewing

Happily N’Ever After—a short, sweet reworking of Cinderella—would have made a more appropriate TV special than a full-length cinematic release. While the funky little reworking of the fairy tale is kind of fun and light-hearted, the writing, the characterizations, and the animation simply don’t stand up well in a theater setting. And while children may find the newness of the story entertaining, the characterizations are rather stilted, and much of the humor seemed to fly right over the heads of the children in the audience, without being funny enough to catch the adults’ attention, either.


The Pursuit of Happyness
Emphasis on Pursuit, not Happyness

The Pursuit of Happyness probably looks like your typical pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps Man Conquers All tear-jerker. So what separates Happyness from the rest? First, in Jaden Christopher Syre Smith’s feature-film debut, the father-son duo shares a chemistry that is unmatched, even among movies in which parents and their children costarred. Obviously when a father and son are playing a father and son, there will be a natural fit; however, the spark between Will Smith and son Jaden makes it ultimately clear that not only has Will matured phenomenally in his acting career, but that his middle child will be following in his parents’ footsteps. Jaden demonstrates a depth of facial expression and body language that most actors spend their careers trying to master.


Apocalypto
Outdoor, Ancient Mayan Locker-room Humor

Apocalypto is decently shot, though a few of the special effects moments are embarrassingly poor (particularly the obviously stuffed jaguar which never closes its mouth as it attacks, and strikes more like a reptile than a feline). However, there are a few jungle scenes which are beautifully captured. And again, the story itself might have made a decent edge-of-your-seat chase movie if the intensity hadn’t been constantly interrupted by the wildly out-of-place and terrifically inappropriate comic relief that peppers the entire film. Not exactly what we expect from the ancient Mayans. In short, I found the movie less than engaging, and more than bewildering.


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