Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Dr. T’s oddity

Live-action, anti-fascist Seuss flick has become a cult classic

Posted By on Wed, Oct 25, 2006 at 12:00 AM

In 1953, Dr. Seuss was recruited by the grandiose, heart-on-his-sleeve producer Stanley Kramer to concoct an Alice in Wonderland-like fantasy that would also serve as a vaguely anti-fascist screed. The result: The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T, certainly the only kids’ movie in which boys run around wearing beanie caps with hands on top, adults drink pickle juice like wine and the evil henchmen wear ZZ Top beards and roller skates. Seuss’ material is a weird fit with the earnest producer Kramer, and an even weirder fit with the pedestrian director, Roy Rowland. No matter how loopy the sets are, Rowland usually keeps his camera planted in one spot, moving it only when there’s a sing-and-dance number. For their part, the musical sequences are campy and jarring, packed with such unforgettable Seuss-isms as “undulating undies.”

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The Queen

Posted By on Wed, Oct 25, 2006 at 12:00 AM

Set in the midst of Princess Diana’s tragic death, this film scrutinizes the dealings of the royals and then-newbie Prime Minister Tony Blair. It’s neither a touchy-feely walk down memory lane nor is it a scathing condemnation. Director Stephen Frears’ successful and unapologetic re-enactment of the events of 1997 is instead a compelling narrative about family, fame and political power. Frears’ greatest force is Mirren. With a crown of tight curls and a wardrobe of tidy, conservative frocks, hats and pearls, the often-alluring Mirren transforms into the prim Elizabeth. With her chin held skyward and posture rigid, Helen Mirren takes on the role of Elizabeth II with such honesty and empathy that she comes mighty close to making the audience actually give a flying flip about the machinations of the monarchy in England. She might as well start building herself an Oscar display case now.

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Little Children

Posted By on Wed, Oct 25, 2006 at 12:00 AM

Directed by Todd Field and based on Tom Perrotta’s novel, the film wavers between the menacing and the satirical, but never loses its grip on you. Little Children follows a quiet, bedroom community where gossipy hens shuttle toddlers to the playground and swap notes on parenting and sex. The moms’ carefully ordered world is only thrown off course by the presence of a stay-at-home dad Brad (Patrick Wilson), whom they dub the “Prom King.” Brad, like Sarah (Kate Winslet), has not embraced adult life. On a dare, Sarah approaches him at the playground, then to bait the gossiping moms, convinces him to kiss her. The encounter leads to a friendship and a heated affair. Meanwhile, the neighborhood order gets shaken by the presence of Ronnie (Jackie Earle Haley), a recently released sex offender who’s moved in with his mom. There’s enough that’s right about Little Children to compensate for some weak performances.

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Flags of Our Fathers

Posted By on Wed, Oct 25, 2006 at 12:00 AM

With a galaxy of A-list Hollywood talent backstage and virtually no celebrities on screen, Flags is Clint Eastwood's take on the cynical, provocative backstory to the most iconic image of WWII, the raising of the American flag on the sacred Japanese island of Iwo Jima. By the time of the bloody takeover of Japan’s “Sulphur Island” in 1945, Americans were sick of the war. It had dragged on for years, and the country was virtually bankrupt from supporting it. The government needed to sell war bonds to an unwilling public and it needed a hook; it came in the form of that photo, which became an unexpected symbol of hope. Eastwood aims to put you in the middle of the war; the gory, panoramic battle scenes are spellbinding. The back-and-forth pacing is occasionally choppy and the narrators often indistinguishable, yet Flags of Our Fathers leaves you with one unmistakable message: You want a hero, buy a sandwich.

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The Prestige

Posted By on Wed, Oct 25, 2006 at 12:00 AM

The tragic saga of dueling magicians in turn-of-the-century London, The Prestige is based on the acclaimed British novel by Christopher Priest and directed and co-written by Christopher Nolan (Memento, Batman Begins). Alfred Borden (Christian Bale) sits on death row, accused of the murder of his rival, Rupert “The Great Danton” Angier (Hugh Jackman). Poring over the dead man’s diary, Borden looks for the clues that will set him free. This sets off a cascade of flashbacks and point-of-view shifts that chart the two magicians’ ferocious competition. This twists the narrative into a chronological pretzel that tests your powers of observation; it’s a remarkable achievement that never fails to engross but on that ultimately winds up cold.

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Marie Antoinette

Posted By on Wed, Oct 25, 2006 at 12:00 AM

Those who hoped that Coppola would follow up Lost in Translation by shaking up the dusty old genre of the period picture will be disappointed: Despite the modern music, this is a fairly conventional film. If you’re charitable — that is, if you fantasize about being invited to the most fantastic tea party ever — you’ll grant Marie Antoinette a whole lot of slack. Otherwise, you’ll be as bored as the poor little rich girl at heart of it all.

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Believe

Posted By on Wed, Oct 25, 2006 at 12:00 AM

This Christopher Guest-style sendup of the world of multilevel marketing is not a hardnosed exposé, but a breezy mockumentary. The film follows a number of characters in a dreadfully humdrum Midwestern town that’s been staggered by the recent closing of the local steel mill. With a sudden lack of real employment, the townsfolk find themselves involved with a glorified pyramid scheme called “Believe” founded by fat-cat huckster Howard Flash (Jeff Olson), dubbed the “supreme believer.” The movie clearly has an agenda, but it also has many scenes of people falling down and knocking things over for comedy’s sake. So instead of a political body blow, Believe is merely a pleasant pratfall.

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Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Libido express

Scruffy Hedwig follow-up is big-screen indie-porn with a real payoff

Posted By on Wed, Oct 18, 2006 at 12:00 AM

Shortbus is the culmination of an ambitious, years-in-the-making, barely funded idea Mitchell had to shoot a narrative film full of sex scenes that are both unabashedly hardcore and decidedly nonjudgmental. Focusing on a half-dozen New Yorkers who are trying to balance their finicky libidos with their inexperienced hearts, this scruffy, likable, problematic movie is nonetheless a blast of fresh air in the otherwise stale and stifling world of indie film. Unfortunately, Mitchell doesn’t succeed in connecting his hardcore scenes to his emotional ones. But what’s important is that all of the sex looks like fun: lusty, consensual screwing between people who actually like each other. Even as it encourages boys, girls and everyone in-between to color outside the lines of their relationships, Shortbus preaches the need for love and affection in a world full of anonymous, fatalistic hook-ups. What could be more heartwarmingly traditional than that?

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Overlord

Posted By on Wed, Oct 18, 2006 at 12:00 AM

Stuart Cooper’s Overlord (the code name for the invasion of Normandy) is the tale of a young WWII recruit who barely makes the grade and never gets much better. This 1975 forgotten classic uses archival footage from London’s Imperial War Museum — cities on fire, spectacular aerial combat photography — to fuel a low-budget portrait of a doomed private, delivering a fatalistic view of war that almost overcomes its artistic pretensions. Tom Beddows (Brian Stirner) is an unassuming and well-scrubbed lad eager to serve his country. But after joining the British Army, he struggles to accept the dehumanizing codes and conduct of the military. His painful stumble through basic training only leads to disillusionment and self-doubt. But with just a few short weeks until the invasion, Tom has no choice but to accept his fate: line up behind an endless stream of soldiers like himself and march into the meat grinder of Normandy Beach.

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Keeping Mum

Posted By on Wed, Oct 18, 2006 at 12:00 AM

Maggie Smith gives an inspired turn as the ax-wielding live-in help in a tale that bristles with morbid, macabre possibilities. But after a prolonged build-up, director Niall Johnson squanders all of the possibilities for bloody good fun on a tepid, ho-hum conclusion. Smith plays Grace Hawkins, live-in help hired by the unhinged Goodfellow clan to cook, clean and look after their promiscuous 17-year-old daughter and bullied 13-year-old son. Dad Walter (Rowan Atkinson) is the meek vicar in their small, quaint country village; Mom Gloria (Kristin Scott Thomas) is a frazzled wreck contemplating an affair with her sleazy, American golf instructor (Patrick Swayze, in full-on horn-dog mode). For a movie that skewers provincial British politeness, Mum has a peculiar aversion to blood and gore. Seeing the regal, stately Smith wield an axe like a lumberjack is funny the first time, but after that, you want to see it actually connect with some flesh.

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