Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Color Me Kubrick

Posted By on Wed, Mar 28, 2007 at 12:00 AM

Stanley Kubrick impersonator Alan Conway managed to pass himself off as the legendary director to dozens of gullible rubes in the late ’80s. As an imposter, he found that the merest application of charm and strategic name-dropping got him into doors he never could have opened himself. In the role of Conway, Malkovich is in hog heaven, deploying an impressive arsenal of quirks and tics; changing up his accent with each victim, from a swishy Southern drawl to a bizarre “New Yawk” Yiddish jabber. It’s a bold, deliciously over the top performance, . But as amusing and compulsively watchable as the leading man is, he’s also a compulsively creepy jerk, and the movie lacks an emotional anchor to keep it dramatically stable.

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Tears of the Black Tiger

Posted By on Wed, Mar 28, 2007 at 12:00 AM

This hyper-stylized, blood-soaked, campy Thai cowboy musical melodrama is director Wisit Sasanatieng’s insane parody-tribute to a bygone era of movie magic. An homage to old studio horse operas and more exotic Asian genre pictures most Westerners have never seen, the film is a lurid Technicolor fantasy that saturates the screen with hot pinks, foamy greens, icy blues and, most of all, rivers of red that gush and ooze every time the title hero unholsters his trusty six-shooter. Rarely does a film scream "cult fave" this loudly. It's packed with impressive visuals that hold your attention, at least until the shock wears off.

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Soured utopia

How a mass suicide becomes a cautionary tale

Posted By on Wed, Mar 28, 2007 at 12:00 AM

More chilling than many of the horror films coming out of Hollywood today, Stanley Nelson’s compassionate and disturbing documentary is a compelling examination of idealism, naiveté and megalo-maniacal zealotry. Using home movies, photographs, rare archival footage, newly discovered audiotapes and interviews with former members and survivors of the Jonestown massacre, Nelson presents a spellbinding account of Peoples Temple leader and founder, the Rev. Jim Jones. Heartbreaking, nuanced and disturbing, this chronicle of modern history’s largest mass suicide doesn’t answer the question of why, but finds deep insight in how dreams of utopia can go so horribly wrong.

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Shooter

Posted By on Wed, Mar 28, 2007 at 12:00 AM

Mark Wahlberg stars as Bob Lee Swagger, a reclusive marine sharpshooter who, after a mission gone wrong, retires to Wyoming to become a scraggly-bearded mountain man. Recruited by Danny Glover to show how he’d execute the commander-in-chief, Swagger deduces the best place and method only to (surprise) be set up. Wounded and pursued by the authorities, Marky Mark goes on the run while fresh-faced FBI agent Nick Memphis (Michael Pena) suspects things aren’t quite kosher. But, in the end, this reheated "Enemy of the State" ends up being kind of stupid.

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Pride

Posted By on Wed, Mar 28, 2007 at 12:00 AM

A film about an all-black championship swim team from the ghetto … you gotta admit, it’s not a storyline you’ve seen before. Based on the real-life triumphs of African-American swimming coach Jim Ellis, who founded the PDR swim team in one of Philadelphia’s most dilapidated inner-city neighborhoods in the 1970s, Pride is noteworthy in at least one respect: It signifies the official coronation of Terrence Howard as legitimate box-office attraction. You walk away from Pride singing tunes from its great ’70s soundtrack and with great admiration for the real Ellis, who is celebrated in a photomontage before the closing credits. But his life and exploits might have been served better with a straight-up documentary.

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The Last Mimzy

Posted By on Wed, Mar 28, 2007 at 12:00 AM

In case you were wondering, a “Mimzy” is some sort of advanced robotic messenger sent from the far future to record lost human emotions, cleverly disguised as a child’s fluffy stuffed bunny. Or something like that. This illegitimate cousin of The Velveteen Rabbit is at the mushy center of a peculiar kid’s pic that waffles between intriguing and annoying right till the end, when it goes terminally sappy. An unappetizing mélange of ingredients pinched from other, better fantasy films it evokes, A.I, E.T. and a few other less polite acronyms. Based on Lewis Padgett’s novel All Mimsy Were the Borgoroves, the story dependably follows genre mandates, featuring a pair of very ordinary children who discover the mysterious and wonderful literally bubbling to the surface. Siblings Noah and Emma Wilder find a strange chest floating on the shore of their family’s Seattle beach house, a box filled with weird artifacts and one chatty stuffed animal. “Mimzy” as Emma calls her doesn’t really talk so much as buzz and mumble, but the little girl clearly gets the message, and begins moving items around the breakfast table with the power of her mind. Meanwhile, her older brother learns to teach spiders to weave complex three-dimensional webs, and he begins to draw designs that look suspiciously like ancient Tibetan mandalas. Though their dippy yuppie parents are pretty oblivious, Noah’s nerdy elementary school teacher Larry White (Rainn Wilson) takes notice. Larry has been having premonitions in his dreams, and his hippie wife eagerly sees the kids as the coming of a new golden age. The government, however, is not so psyched about these wonder kids, especially after Noah creates a blackout with one of his glowing crystals, and a no-nonsense F.B.I agent (Michael Clarke Duncan) is on the case. All of this would be progressing towards an exciting conclusion, but the movie chugs along at snail’s pace, and even the nifty special effects are rendered in a relaxed style that borders on sleepy indifference. A snoozy Timothy Hutton seems in particular need of a shot of espresso, though it doesn’t help that he’s working opposite two of the dullest child actors on record. Some might be enchanted by the quirky rhythms of Mimzy, but the movie can’t decide if it wants to be creepy or awe-inspiring, and ends up being merely icky on its way to a jarringly silly conclusion. Hopefully the title will prove to be true, and we will never be subjected to another Mimzy. —Corey Hall

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The Namesake

Posted By on Wed, Mar 28, 2007 at 12:00 AM

There’s a great movie to be made about the huge cultural gulf between modern, first-generation Americans and their humble immigrant parents, but sadly, The Namesake isn’t it. Adapted from Jhumpa Lahiri’s novel, Mira Nair’s film spans almost three decades, shuttles back and forth between Calcutta, New York and New England, and features a slew of talented performers headed up by the promising young actor Kal Penn. But what should’ve been an Indian-American Terms of Endearment ends up little more than a wan, lifeless guilt trip.

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Reign Over Me

Posted By on Wed, Mar 28, 2007 at 12:00 AM

After five years, Hollywood is finally venturing into the still-tender territory of 9/11 and its aftermath. Now that it’s gotten past the respectful historical dramatizations, the tragedy’s long-term implications are popping up in everything from intimate dramas to politically charged action films. Birmingham native Mike Binder, who has used the bruised interiors of difficult characters as the backbone of his work, is no stranger to pain, loss and anger. His engaging but flawed Upside of Anger demonstrated an instinct for the way real life bounces between the comedic and tragic at unexpected moments. With Reign Over Me, his post-9/11 weeper, Binder tackles the collateral damage of epic tragedy and how ordinary people struggle to cope with extraordinary grief. It’s a bold and surprisingly involving effort that, ultimately, doesn’t quite work. Adam Sandler stars as Charlie Fineman, a dentist who lost his wife and daughters during the 9/11 attacks. Childlike and antisocial, he haunts Manhattan like a broken ghost, cruising its streets on a motor scooter, iPod headphones wrapping his ears. Spotting him on his way home from work, an old college roommate, Alan Johnson (Don Cheadle), is shocked to learn how far from life his former classmate has retreated. Determined to resuscitate him, Alan discovers that their rekindled friendship is as much a lifeline for him as it is for Charlie. Both men are lost, Charlie to denial and heartache, Alan to the hollow trappings of success. Binder views his character’s disconnection as metaphors for post-9/11 grieving, a sort of post-traumatic stress disorder of the soul. He sees the pain and disorders of tragedy as something that cannot be denied, that life is something to embrace rather than hide from. It’s an ambitious and noble conceit but Binder isn’t enough of an artist to pull it off. Reign Over Me has many fine moments and even its most manipulative scenes are perceptive and sincere, but Binder struggles to find a consistent tone. The comedic moments are light but awkward and the drama is pokey and unfocused, overburdened with unnecessary plot elements. In the end, his film never takes us on an emotionally penetrating journey but rather presents a disjointed collection of ideas and sentiments. What keeps the wheels spinning are the performances. Unlike his comedies, Sandler spins his autistic man-child rage into something compelling here. Like his turn in Punch Drunk Love, context makes all the difference in the world. Charlie’s child-like behavior is both a weapon and a shield, a way to keep the world at bay. There’s a vulnerable dignity behind his deranged intensity. The awkwardness and hollowed-out anger reveal just how wounded Charlie truly is. Cheadle anchors the film terrifically, using his talent for communicating decency and compassion. Unfortunately, Alan’s domestic travails are a poor balance for Charlie’s crippling sorrow. Binder gives him problems contrived to give the character texture for texture’s sake, occasionally crossing into sitcom territory. Despite the obvious chemistry between Cheadle and Jada Pinkett Smith — who plays his sharp-elbowed wife — little of Alan’s story feels organic. The rest of the cast — there mostly to service Binder’s emotional plot points — tackle even the most implausible moments with conviction. In particular, Liv Tyler and Saffron Burrows are wonderful to look at and fine actresses but neither is given a full-bodied character to explore. While Reign Over Me does a good job of illustrating the conflicting and contradictory of real world emotions, its narrative spine could be made of sterner stuff. Trying to end with cautious optimism, Binder uncomfortably shifts his last act to a clumsy courtroom drama that overreaches (but doesn’t derail) with sentimentality. Even with its shortcomings, the film’s meditation on loneliness and loss burrows into you, finds a sympathetic muscle and squeezes out a few tears. Binder’s poignant and laudable message is that love — be it friendship or romance — brings both heartache and hope, and without memory there can be no will to live.

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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Fight or flight

Being young, desperate and defenseless

Posted By on Wed, Mar 21, 2007 at 12:00 AM

Last year, film critic David Denby gushed in the New Yorker about Edward Zwick's Blood Diamond. Set in Sierra Leone during a horrific civil war, the film is a romantic drama about an American journalist and a South African diamond smuggler. Despite a great performance by Djimon Hounsou, African characters,...

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Star-crossed

Minimalist and haunting psychodrama enthralls

Posted By on Wed, Mar 21, 2007 at 12:00 AM

The story of a terminally unhappy — but inextricably bound — Turkish couple who live to break up, make up and slowly drive each other insane, Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s latest exercise in minimalist psychodrama is bound to alienate some viewers while it enthralls others. The brooding Isa (Ceylan) and his young girlfriend Bahar (played by the director’s wife, Ebru Ceylan) barely talk. Ceylan’s quiet, deliberate strategy is to draw you into his characters’ emotional lives by focusing on their glances, gazes and body language. All of Ceylan’s directorial choices train you to focus on what his characters don’t say: This is one of those rare foreign films where you’re so hypnotized by the actors that you might find yourself blissfully ignoring the subtitles at the bottom of the screen.

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