Friday, May 16, 2008

Snap Judgments - a Quick Review of 5 Movies

Untraceable (2008)
The MILF-tastic Diane Lane plays an Oregon FBI agent in the cyber security unit who gets a tip about an internet site where people are murdered (streamed live) with elaborate set-ups so that the more people that visit the site, the faster the victims die. Director Gregory Hoblit lets the violence gets too grisly, but the film is never dull and it’s nice to see a straightforward film that doesn’t twist itself into a pretzel in the final 10 minutes. The message is a dubious one, though: it criticizes the viewing public for watching and enjoying horrible things online, but didn’t we just watch the same garbage in your movie? Now, I feel dirty. You should probably avoid this, unless you hate Tom Hanks and want to see his son Colin boil in sulfuric acid. C

Resurrecting the Champ (2007)
Josh Hartnett is a sportswriter for a Denver newspaper stuck writing about second-rate boxing matches when he finds a chance to make the big-time. He meets an ex-boxer, a homeless, dread-locked Samuel L. Jackson, and decides to write a lengthy story about him for a magazine. After the article is published, Hartnett’s world falls apart. The themes about your hero disappointing you and forgiving your fathers for any perceived mistakes are handled well by director Rod Lurie. But Jackson has become a parody of his former great self, struggling mightily with a raspy voice and forced mannerisms. Hartnett fails yet again to catch fire on-screen, playing every scene the same (remorse = excitement = adoration?). But there are some nice unexpected plot twists and some nice supporting turns by Alan Alda and David Paymer. It would have worked better with 2 different leads. C+

Feast of Love (2007)
Once again, Morgan Freeman plays a gravitas-drenched, God-like character who others come to for advice and assistance. He plays a retiring college professor in this ensemble piece about friendship, love, and loss. There are teens in love, lesbians, adulterers, and cuckolds. The relationships between the characters are never believable or represent anything close to reality. Based on a book, the film wants to be about a human’s capacity for love and compassion, but there are too many ridiculous situations for any of it to work. The cast, including Selma Blair, Fred Ward, Radha Mitchell, and Greg Kinnear are fine, which is expected from director Robert Benton - always more interested in story and actors than the mechanics of film. And that’s OK when it’s a good story (Billy Bathgate) or a great actor in a great role (Nobody’s Fool). When you choose a story like this, anyone would go down the tubes. C-

Jimmy Carter: Man from Plains (2007)
In recent years, Jonathan Demme has turned to making documentaries. Here, he follows Jimmy Carter around in late 2006 during a tour for his book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid. That inflammatory title manages to offend almost everyone he encounters. Accusations of plagiarism also plague Carter as he conducts interviews with media sycophants. The presidential archival footage provides the most interesting moments in the film. But Carter maintains his incredibly naïve worldview, still insisting that his visit to North Korea in 1994 was the right thing. And his crazy ideas about Hamas had me agreeing with everything Alan Dershowitz said. For his part, Demme mostly stays out of the way, though his decision to put rap music over montages of Carter walking is curious. Your opinion of Carter will directly reflect your opinion of the movie. C+

Youth Without Youth (2007)
Francis Ford Coppola’s first film in 10 years is a decidedly mixed bag. It has stunning imagery with some of the most beautiful visuals in Coppola’s career. There is a great classical score by Osvaldo Golijov. There are terrific locations throughout Europe and Asia. And the sets and costumes are exquisitely recreated for the period (1938-1969). But, boy, is the messy story uninvolved and frequently lifeless. In 1938, a Romanian professor (Tim Roth) is struck by lightning and begins to get younger. He is brought back to society by a research physician (Bruno Ganz - Downfall) and becomes targeted by the Nazis. All the while Roth remembers the one love of his life who rejected him and died young. At the halfway point, the movie completely jumps off the rails when he travels to India to discover his girlfriend’s past lives. The metaphysical story lends itself well to discussing the nature of time and man’s inner compass/conscience. What would we do with immortality? What if those we loved got older and died? Coppola has sorta tried variations of this story and been sorta successful (Peggy Sue Got Married) and sorta not (Jack). Here, he uses devices he’s never relied on before: characters talking directly into camera, cameras flipped 90 and 180 degrees, stream-of-consciousness dream sequences. But none of it is particularly necessary let alone interesting. Frustrating – all dressed up with nowhere to go. C+

Note: The film is based on a 1976 Romanian novel so it can be forgiven for its “clichéd” ending.

2 beautiful frames from the gorgeous film, amazingly shot on Hi-def video:

No comments: