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Friday Film Focus – 19 September 2008

Fall finally settles in with a batch of big titles. Of course, some unlikely efforts (Igor, My Best Friend’s Girl) weren’t screened for all critics. Still for 19 September, here are the films in focus:

Trouble the Water [rating: 10]

By picking up on this personal story and serving it up in a way that plays commentator, not critic, the filmmakers allows Kim and Scott to speak for themselves. The results are astoundingly brutal and beautifully honest.

Survival is instinctual. It goes to our very nature as life loving beings. It can be mistaken for desperation or arrogance, but the need to stay alive usually trumps all other basic necessities. When Hurricane Katrina flared up in the Gulf of Mexico, moving from minor storm to an Armageddon like presence preparing to devastate New Orleans, the rest of America looked on with disdain. From the settled suburbanite to the doofus President they reelected, no one really cared if the levees would hold, if city services would respond, or if anyone was left behind. But for Kimberly Rivers Roberts and her husband Scott, there was no option. There was no leaving or getting to safer shelter. All they had was themselves, their extended family, and their will to survive. They also had a camcorder. read full review…

Man on Wire [rating: 9]

As the subject of James Marsh’s brilliant documentary…, Petit proves that there can be joy in doing what others would consider to be insane.

A daredevil, by definition, defies death. He cheats the Grim Reaper at his own particular brand of bluffing. This also means, by reciprocal inference, he or she embraces life. Granted, it does appear to be a contradictory condition. By pushing the very limits of existence to the points where you could end it, one looks to be laughing in the face of mortality. It’s seem the very definition of a fool’s paradise. By his very giddiness alone, wire walker Phillipe Petit would be the perfect illustration of this ideal. He sees nothing wrong with finding a location, stringing up a line, and doing his risky, refined dance with destiny. And he worships the moment as he does it. read full review…

Ghost Town [rating: 7]

Skillful and subtle, with enough hilarity to match its equally ample heart, Ghost Town is the Fall’s sunniest surprise.

Hollywood used to excel at what could best be described as the “little” movie. You know the type – small in scope, limited in appeal, and never overreaching beyond its certain purpose. Prior to the high concept ’80s, lots of films were ‘little’. But ever since stars became commodities to market like cinematic stock, Tinsel Town has taken the “bigger is boffo” attitude with almost everything. A drama must deal with issues of interpersonal earth-shattering design. A comedy must be over the top and hilariously hyperactive. All of this works against Ricky Gervais and his latest effort, Ghost Town. Anyone coming to this movie thinking the Office/Extras star is out to create a wacky spook show is in for quite a disappointment. Instead, this is a little film that easily achieves its entertainment aims. read full review…

Lakeview Terrace [rating: 6]

This is the kind of movie where every bad guy has his decent side, every hero is merely half-hearted, and the genre beats we except from the story come buried in sidebars of dense characterization and unnecessary sideways subplotting.

Even with years of consideration and compromise, race remains a far too risky hot button topic. No matter how you present it – comically, dramatically, satirically, metaphorically – the corrupt cloud of prejudice tends to trump most artistic aspirations. There’s just too much baggage with bigotry, decades of discrimination and social acquiescence to same that it appears impossible to overcome…at least initially. And no, changing the ‘color’ of intolerance doesn’t redefine or reconfigure the argument. That’s the problem facing Neil LaBute and his latest effort, the slow burn thriller Lakeview Terrace. While it looks like dozens of films that have come before, the independent icon – responsible for In the Company of Men and Nurse Betty – tries to instill some novelty via a unique approach and a controversial villain. For the most part, he stumbles as often as he succeeds. read full review…

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