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Rocket Science
Nailing the High School Experience

I found Rocket Science to be a very frustrating experience—not due to poor quality, mind you, but due to the realistic characterizations of high school kids. Often, films that portray teens and the issues they face tend to focus on sexual drive, beauty, and meanness. By contrast, Rocket Science tends to focus on the accidental—or more accurately, oblivious—ways in which teenagers navigate the wishy-washy waters of adolescence. Life doesn’t end at 15. Nor is it any tidier in the adult world. I have resolved only a few things in my adult life, but I am okay with that. I am okay with Rocket Science, too.

El Cantante
Just Whose Story is This?

El Cantante is described in the film’s production notes as a “labor of love” for its stars Marc Anthony and Jennifer Lopez. Its purpose is to re-introduce the world to the music of Hector Lavoe. Marc Anthony’s role is to portray the namesake, and he does so very well. But Lopez’s JLo-loving production shamelessly features her in almost every scene. When she is not being featured, she is upstaging someone else in the background. JLo is artfully displayed, even in domestic fights, and never looks bad. In short, she portrays the best-preserved and least-affected life-long cocaine addict in the world.

Ten Canoes
A Tough Slog Through The Swamp

Ten Canoes is a film that teaches old but universal lessons. The pre-release press notes describe this film as “unlike any you have ever seen.” In my case, at least, they are right. I have never seen a film like this before. It is my guess that none reading my review ever has either. Further, it is my guess that none of us ever will again. Because it is exceedingly boring. Unfortunately so. The problem with Ten Canoes is that it rehashes these lessons in such a laborious, tedious, and lethargic way. Minygulu’s interminable lesson makes about as much headway as a soap opera, and the surprise ending is so anti-climactic I felt I should send someone a bill for my time

Introducing the Dwights
Are You Sure You Want to Meet Them?

Introducing the Dwights is a dreary, plodding story of dysfunction and letting go. The story arc follows a predictable trajectory: dysfunction and conflict, followed immediately—without transition—by everybody making nice. I remain unsure what the catalyst is. Suffice it to say that the script’s climax tries to make up in speeches what the actors are unable to convey. In the blink of an eye, Jean is transformed into a caring and sensitive mother, ostensibly by the sheer willpower of the film’s director. In the end, the Dwights are not really worth watching. Buried in the sticky carpet of Seattle’s ancient Neptune theater lie the remnants of a once-mediocre screenplay.

You Kill Me
One Killer Comedy

Ingenious writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely have hit paydirt with You Kill Me. There is no genre for this. It is an amazing experience. The dark humor is funny because in any other situation or milieu, the lines would be smarmy and cliché. But here they are emphatically applicable, funny, unexpected and delightfully side-splitting.
Applying the whole AA “higher power” thing to a hit man’s desire to improve his job precision is oddly side-splitting. As he begins to see more clearly, as the fog of alcohol clears, Frank begins to feel that he needs to make amends for his shoddy work of the past. This scene is priceless.

Golden Door
Ellis Island, ca 1910, Comes Alive

The title “Golden Door” refers to the portal at America’s Ellis Island processing center, the primary point of entry for immigrants in the early part of the last century. Symbolically, the door is gold colored. Getting through that golden door is an ordeal—one that the film’s cinematography works very hard (and effectively) to convey. Golden Door’s cramped feeling is contagious and palpable. The camera work often prevents us from seeing much more than just beyond our noses—all while avoiding overuse of first-person POV shots. It is an unusual and sobering effect, not enjoyable but marvelous, shadowing the entire film with a cloud of foreboding. All in all, the film is a great story—but it is a very slow-moving vehicle that portrays a slower-moving period of history.

La Vie en Rose
Cotillard Shines as Edith Piaf

La Vie en Rose is very well executed, and my guess is that it will be a huge box office success in France (according to iMDb, the film has already sold several million tickets there)—and not just because Piaf was “the voice of France,” but because Cotillard’s portrayal is so powerful. My guess is that these are the types of roles that actors live to play. Marion Cotillard’s performance as Piaf is comparable to Philip Seymour Hoffman’s turn as Capote. Both he and Cotillard master their personas so well that you either can’t distinguish the real from the act—or you can, but gradually stop caring to. In any event, Cotillard treats us to a masterful portrayal of “The Little Sparrow.”

A Hard Look at Jindabyne
Guilty Until Proven Innocent

What happens when the first of a serial killer’s victims is found—before anyone knows that more murders will likely follow? Callousness is pretty universal in Jindabyne. Everyone feels that they have been violated yet forgets that others have feelings and traditions to work through. Insensitivity prevents anyone from healing, or discovering who or what may actually be the killer. Along the way, the nonchalant reaction of four guys on a fishing trip over the body of the killer’s victim becomes almost understandable. The logic of their argument is, “She was already dead, we couldn’t help her. This fishing trip is important to us.” You can almost sympathize with them—almost.

Iran, Soccer, Women, and Comedy

Offside is not a feminist manifesto, as some in the U.S. may try to portray it. It is a film about the real life repression of women, not the often imagined repression of the feminist movement. These women do not spout feminist bromides. They plainly and eloquently point out that there is a real hypocrisy about the rules they are forced to live by. They don’t have bitterness, just consternation. Their lives are portrayed as joyful in spite of the lives they lead. This film is trying its lighthearted best to make a difference. Beautiful women with a lighthearted demeanor mixed with rock-solid logic may be the catalyst for change in Iran.

Georgia Rule
Three Pretty Faces, One Foul Mouth

Just about the time you think you’ve had enough of Rachel, the story levels out and you begin to see the reconciliation begin. I like the storyline of Georgia Rule as the relationships heal in a believable time frame. They aren’t all kissy-kissy by the end of the movie, but you can see that progress has been made and hope is there. The story is a mature one in this regard. Some good discussion comes out of the film: Are family problems caused by the parents? Or are they exacerbated by the children? Can we really heal if we hide the real issues under drugs, drink, or outlandish behavior? Is this film a mirror of Lohan’s life?

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