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Thursday, Apr 3, 2008


For the weekend beginning 4 April, here are the films in focus:


Shine a Light [rating: 7]


Shine a Light does deliver in a way few concert films can - especially given the timeless talents on display.


Who, exactly, are the Rolling Stones circa 2008? Considering that it’s been 45 plus years since Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Charlie Watts, Bill Wyman, and Brian Jones played ballsy blues badboys to the Beatles scrubbed and sanitized pop laureates, one has to challenge where a group of aging 60-plus-year-olds fit within the modern mainstream music scheme. Granted, they are legends, myths making noise long after many thought them relevant. True, it takes an intense amount of chutzpah to step on stage and endlessly recreate your greatest hits from three decades past while hoping to work in a few of your current composition. It’s a concept that’s bested other icons - David Bowie, for one - and yet the artists formerly known as the greatest rock and roll band of all time continue to soldier on. read full review…


Leatherheads [rating: 6]


You’ve got to give Clooney credit for trying, especially when most of Leatherheads is a jaunty, jazz age dream.


The media just loves to fawn over George Clooney. With his combination of classic Hollywood charisma and contemporary self-effacing nerve, he tends to enhance, and sometimes overwhelm, the projects he touches. From his early, ineffectual work in films like One Fine Day, to the critical acclaim accompanying his turns with the Coens, he’s a student of the old studio system as well as a jester in his own idiosyncratic kingdom of considered cool. But what’s most fascinating about this man’s career is not his rise to mainstream prominence. Instead, his unique turns behind the camera - Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, Good Night and Good Luck - indicate an artist willing to bend tradition in order to place his own unique stamp on cinema. His latest effort, the attempted screwball comedy Leatherheads, is no different. read full review…


Nim’s Island [rating: 6]


Nim’s Island is all too insular, lost in its own unique universe somewhere between Swiss Family Robinson and Joe vs. the Volcano.


It’s becoming painfully obvious that modern moviemakers know nothing about making a true family film. Not just a movie aimed at a certain unsullied demographic, but an effort that sparks the imagination of anyone from ages eight to eighty. The latest attempt at finding the right formula is the undeniably uneven Nim’s Island. As a work of whimsy and wonder, it offers too many unexplainable elements. We never fully grasp the reality - or unreality - of the situations we see. On the other hand, there are parts and performances here that illustrate the direction such a project could take, especially when not guided by studio pressures or focus group interference. read full review…


Under the Same Moon [rating: 5]


Maudlin and melodramatic when it doesn’t need to be, but insightful and engaging when it counts, Under the Same Moon represents both the best and worst of the revelatory road trip narrative.


The story of America’s immigrant past has been well documented by the motion picture. From the boat trips across the ocean to Ellis Island and the accompanying acclamation, our heritage has made for some memorable film. Yet it seems strange that the current migrant situation, dealing with undocumented workers and border crossing illegals gets short shrift. Part of the problem is politics. No one is eager to foist the problems of an already marginalized population on an uncaring and unforgiving public. The other issue is creative. Few artists have attempted to capture this element of the immigrant experience. While it stereotypes several of the circumstances surrounding a Mexican mother and son’s day-to-day struggles, La Misma Luna - in English, Under the Same Moon - does a decent job of showcasing their specific plight. read full review…


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Thursday, Mar 27, 2008


For the weekend beginning 28 March, here are the films in focus:


Stop-Loss [rating: 5]


...more of an artillery based Abercrombie and Fitch road trip than a concise character study.


The War in Iraq remains a tricky cinematic situation. Over the last few months, there’s been a myriad of motion pictures that have decided that the best way to interpret the conflict is to make the soldiery a kind of indirect villain. Instead of celebrating the bravery and duty of these incredible young men and women, they’ve turned the political/policy elements of the conflict into a means to murderous, madmen ends. No matter the theater – foreign or domestic, religious or military – it’s nothing but the worst of our fears made very, very human. Kimberley Peirce’s Stop-Loss wants to buck this trend. It hopes to illustrate the Bush Administration’s ridiculous reenlistment strategy, a revolving door that keeps haggard and harried defense forces in harms way long after their effectiveness has waned. But instead of getting to the heart of the matter, it mines the middle of the road for a series of clichéd contrivances. read full review…


Run, Fat Boy, Run [rating: 5]


For all its faults however, this is a romantic comedy that works - if just barely.


Romantic comedies are, by their very nature, saddled with two completely different sets of motion picture hurdles. First, the story needs to be quixotic, dealing with the emotional bond between two typically star-crossed individuals. If the chemistry or the charisma is not there, part of the filmic formula fails. Then there is the humor. While not needing to be outrageous or riotous, there should be a fairly consistent level of laughs. Both of these prerequisite issues come to bear when discussing the Simon Pegg vehicle Run, Fat Boy, Run. Directed by ex-Friend David Schwimmer and co-written by The State‘s Michael Ian Black, what we have is an attempt to turns a sullen London slacker into a lovable determined dreamer. The movie only gets part of this right. read full review…


Chapter 27 [rating: 5]


In fact, the real problems with Chapter 27 is it vagueness. Everyone here - Leto, Lohan, Friedlander - leaves us in the lurch, and nothing Schaefer does can save our confusion.


For an entire generation, the death of John Lennon resonates more clearly than the assassination of President Kennedy or the suicide of Kurt Cobain. As the peace and politics voice of arguably the most important musical act of the 20th century - The Beatles - the iconic man with the sad/sweet gaze paid a substantial price for his undeniable megafame. While returning to his home in New York’s swanky Dakota building on a December evening, a mentally unbalanced young man named Mark David Chapman pumped five bullets into his back. As he lay bleeding, a ruptured aorta sealing his fate, his killer pulled out a copy of J. D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, silently reading until the police came. read full review…


Married Life [rating: 4]


There will definitely be an audience for this kind of slow burn situational potboiler, but for many, there will be too much stagnancy and not enough sizzle


Marriage might just be the perfect cinematic allegory. You can infer so many differing metaphoric elements in the dissection of why men and women marry - and sometimes separate - that the permutations appear endless. There’s the emotional facet, the sexual supposition, the commitment and loyalty facets, and of course, the scandal ridden and adulterous angles. Together with an equal array of stylistic approaches, we wind up with a veritable cornucopia of combinations, a wealth of possibilities linked invariably to the age old notion of vows taken and knots tied. So why is it that Ira Sachs period piece drama, Married Life, is so downright flat? Could it be that this filmmaker has finally found the one cinematic category - the noir-tinged whodunit - that defies matrimony’s easy explanations and illustrations? read full review…


Other Releases - In Brief


21 [rating: 4]


There is an inherently interesting story to be told about a group of Asian MIT students who used a complex card counting scheme to take Las Vegas blackjack tables for large amounts of cash. How that narrative translated into 21 – complete with several Caucasian leads – stands as just one of the film’s many mysteries. Based on the best-selling non-fiction book by Ben Mezrich, this real life thriller becomes a mediocre mainstream effort in the hands of Legally Blonde director Robert Luketic. It’s not just the confused plotting that undermines our interest. The cast, including Jim Burgess as our money desperate lead, Kevin Spacey as the group mastermind, and Kate Bosworth as the mandatory eye candy, seem hemmed in by unavoidable elements outside the narrative, from the Mensa mentality set up to the gaudy neon glitz of the Sin City sequences. There’s also a weird ethical malaise that celebrates materialism for the sake of common sense. While it’s understandable that a Harvard Medical School bound student would do anything to get the $300K he needs for tuition, such a nefarious enterprise seems contradictory to everyone’s collective IQ. Add in Laurence Fishburne as a no nonsense casino security expert, and you’ve got something that should be better. Instead, it tries to stand pat and fails to beat the house.


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Thursday, Mar 6, 2008


For the weekend beginning 7 March, here are the films in focus:


The Bank Job [rating: 7]


(The Bank Job is) efficient without being pedestrian, tweaking the suspense here and there to add the proper amount of intrigue to the elements.


During its heyday, the heist genre was a quick witted assemblage of action and antics. It represented a combination of smarts and savoir faire, breaking and entering tricks matched to jet set cocktail party wits. In recent years, the mechanics have taken over the mirth, turning many of these tales into high tech actioners with low levels of actual fun. Roger Donaldson’s The Bank Job doesn’t change that formula. In fact, it frequently embraces the serious side of its material much more than is necessary. But when you’re dealing with a supposedly true story, involving the loftiest levels of British Intelligence and the Royal Family itself, humor is hard to find. read full review…


Sputnik Mania [rating: 7]


...when it plays to our sense of selective memory and fills in the blanks on issues long forgotten, Sputnik Mania is masterful.


No one remembers Vantage. It crashed and burned on the launch pad. A few may recall Explorer, our first legitimate unmanned orbital mission. But mention the name Sputnik, the Soviet satellite that literally shocked the world, and you’ll get all kinds of learned and intransigent responses. In 1957, the US seemed like heaven on earth. Post war prosperity was creating a considerable Middle Class, while an unprecedented military strength suggested a sense of infallibility.


But when Russia launched the 185 lb metal sphere into the ionosphere, it signaled the start of two major international confrontations - the Cold War and the Space Race. According to David Hoffman in his excellent archival documentary Sputnik Mania, no other action would push the globe closer to the brink of nuclear annihilation than this peaceful scientific folly to explore the unknown mysteries of our galaxy.read full review…


10,000 BC [rating: 4]


As a series of set pieces looking for any available fable to keep it afloat, 10,000 BC is really nothing more than computing power and implausibility.


When you see the name Roland Emmerich on a film’s credits, you expect a little cheese. After all, the cheddar-fied flavor of wildly uneven spectacles like Stargate, Independence Day, Godzilla, and The Day After Tomorrow mandate such an evaluation. But no one can prepare you for the ungodly Gouda of 10,000 BC. An amalgamation of much better movies, riffing on offerings as diverse as Quest for Fire, Apocalypto, The Ten Commandments, and any number of creaky ancient myths, Emmerich has finally hit the Monterey Jack-pot. This is a film so completely devoid of creative invention that it entertains by rote, using CG-eye candy and narrative familiarity to barely get by.read full review…


Other Releases - In Brief


Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day [rating: 6]


What do you get when you cross the stiff upper lip British perseverance of a pre-WWII London with the classic American screwball comedy? Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day might just be the answer. How two seemingly incongruous elements like the mannered and the madcap fit into the 2008 movie landscape is an issue that Indian filmmaker Bharat Nalluri handles quite well. He takes the tale of a prudish nanny (Frances McDormand) with a tendency toward unemployment, and finds a natural foil in a ditzy Yank actress (Amy Adams) juggling three different gentlemen. Together, the pair serpentines through social faux paxs, personal indiscretions, and soul-searching moments of the heart. Miss Pettigrew - as a persona and a film - is far from perfect. There’s a laid back quality to the narrative that really needs a breakneck pacing to stay potent. And Adams remains Hollywood’s go-to gal for unnatural perkiness. But Nalluri finds a halfway decent balance between his incompatible approaches, resulting in a likeable, if often lumbering, Golden Age piffle.


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Thursday, Feb 28, 2008


For the weekend beginning 29 February, Leap Day, here are the films in focus:


Semi-Pro [rating: 7]


Semi-Pro may look like recycled Will Ferrell, outrageous personality and all, but there is an attention to detail and a surreal ‘70s splash that makes it all work.


Will Ferrell seems to have fallen into a groove as of late. Ever since Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, his pure comedies have developed their own unique universes, worlds where the actor and his crack team of costars can play and pretend. In Talladega Nights, it was NASCAR. In Blades of Glory, it was the surreal stage of competitive figure skating. Now comes the solid Semi-Pro, a movie that perfectly mimics the debauchery and malaise of the 1970s in all its leisure suit loving, animal fur wearing, pop culture vulgarity. While not as immediately outrageous as his other onscreen turns, Ferrell fulfills the promise of the ultra-wacky premise, delivering another collection of crudities, gaffs, and expletive laced plot twists.read full review…


Penelope [rating: 5]


Resembling the kind of tale Aesop might spin after one too many vats of homemade ouzo, Penelope plods along on a desire to endear. All it really does is infuriate.


The trend towards “adult” fairytales has got to stop. In the last few months alone, we’ve had the stale saccharine slop of August Rush, the sword and snooze dullness of Stardust, and the one step from stupid Water Horse: Legend of the Deep. The notion of juxtaposing the whimsical against the mature is not a new one. Terry Gilliam and Tim Burton practically wrote the rulebook on such cinema. But the current movement in such storytelling seems to push the extremes of both dynamics. When the material is serious, it’s downright dark and frequently disturbing. And when it’s fanciful, it’s like potent, pixie stick laced candy floss. Now comes Penelope, a self-esteem allegory masquerading as Cinderella with a snout. Sadly, instead of exploring the far reaches of the subgenre, it sinks directly into the maudlin middle. read full review…


Other Releases - In Brief


The Other Boleyn Girl [rating: 4]


British royal history has enough black marks against it - it definitely doesn’t need this one. Crafted from Phillipa Gregory’s well regarded novel, and penned by Oscar nominee (for the excellent The Queen) Peter Morgan, The Other Boleyn Girl bobbles much of its potential. Most of the blame falls directly on the shoulders of TV director turned feature filmmaker Justin Chadwick. Not only did he hire the completely miscast leads (two Americans - Scarlett Johansonn and Natalie Portman - and one Australian - Eric Bana) as his battling noblewomen and the iconic King trying to bed them both, but he places them in a 16th century setting that’s too clean and too generic to engage our interest. Not even the typical bed hopping and political skullduggery are entertaining. Instead, The Other Boleyn Girl just sits there, going through its bodice-ripping routine like an adult education literature class discussing a Harlequin romance. While the ‘women as chattel’ message might inflame some post-modern mentalities, the overall film will likely cause more ennui than uproar.


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Thursday, Feb 21, 2008


For the weekend beginning 22 February, here are the films in focus:


Be Kind, Rewind [rating: 9]


At its core, Be Kind, Rewind is a brilliant dissection of the effect the video cassette had on the concept of movie fandom and its lasting impact of cinema in general.


There’s a strange sort of feeling that comes over a person when they stumble across another’s love letters. Of course, there’s the inherent curiosity of seeing how someone else expresses their emotion. But there can also be a small amount of discomfort, especially when the individual invaded bares their soul so completely. This will probably be the reaction most moviegoers have to Michele Gondry’s magical masterwork Be Kind, Rewind. Those looking for a riotous comedy featuring a fully unleashed Jack Black should probably wait for the comedian’s next high concept project. In this French filmmaker’s personal paean to the ‘80s and home video, everything - including the performances - is in service of his passionate, very personal vision.read full review…


Other Releases - In Brief


Vantage Point [rating: 5]


When a movie has to rely on a series of cinematic stunts to achieve its ends, the convolutions are bound to undermine the ambitions - and that’s exactly what happens in Peter Travis’ around about political thriller. Using the attempted assassination of a US president at a massive world terrorism summit (and an additional suicide bombing) as the grist for a ‘keep ‘em guessing’ bit of conspiracy theorizing, this TV director can only trade on a single glorified gimmick. The event here is replayed at least eight times, viewed from as many personal perspectives as possible, providing snippets of truth and indirect clues along the way. While the concept seems competent in theory, the execution is spotty and uninspired. Every time we think we have a handle on all the back stabbing, uneasy alliances, and double crossing, Barry Levy’s script takes an illogical shortcut, using unbelievable coincidence and contrivance to get all the actors in the same space at the same time. While the performances are uniformly good, and the last act car chase gets the pulse pounding, the overall effect is dizzying. Like a terminal case of déjà vu, Vantage Point appears destined to repeat its problems over an over again. And then it does.


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