[24 December 2007]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
For 25 December, here are the films in focus:
The Great Debaters [rating: 7]As a movie, The Great Debaters misses too many possibilities, and harps on too many ancillary issues, to be stellar. It’s solid, but that’s all.
Sometimes, a movie can be too ambitious. It strives to take on so many heavyweight issues and important causes that it ends up underselling each and every one. The story of all black Wiley College and its historic win over the University of Southern California in a 1935 university debate challenge sounds like the stuff of a surefire inspirational spectacle. There’s human interest, compelling characters, hot button historical context, and an attractive “overcoming adversity” angle. Toss in the always dramatic issue of race, and you’ve paved your way to awards season glory with nothing but the best intentions. read full review…
Other Releases - In Brief
The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep [rating: 6]
When one thinks of wholesome family entertainment, the concept of merging ET with a World War II adventure seems slightly surreal. Yet that’s exactly what British author Dick King-Smith did when he created The Water Horse. Using the myth of the Loch Ness monster as a starting point, and borrowing liberally from Spielberg circa little aliens and Empire of the Sun, this slightly convoluted kid’s tale wants to be all cute and cuddly as well as realistic to the trials and tribulations facing England during the Nazi Blitz. Director Jay Russell, who worked some kind of middling magic on his previous directorial efforts - My Dog Skip, Tuck Everlasting - seems thrown by the competing plotlines. The tone shifts wildly from “aw shucks” corniness to downright danger as little Angus MacMorrow (an annoying Alex Etel) tries to help Baby Nessie avoid mean military men and ever present capture. Standing along the sidelines, looking concerned, are Ben Chaplin (as a handyman with a past) and Emily Watson (as Mom, the harried housekeeper). The wee ones will probably enjoy the opening acts, but once the creature (nicknamed Crusoe) grows up, the finale filled with depth charges and menace will be way too much.