Showing 1 - 9 of 9 Reviews
Posted on 7/12/06 10:33 PM
Steven Spielberg operates from one side of his brain at a time. The left side is affectionately known as The Entertainer. The Entertainer is responsible for glorious escapist fare like E.T., Hook, Jurassic Park, and Jaws. The right side of Spielberg?s mind is known as The Artist. The Artist has enriched the world with poignant, challenging films such as Schindler?s List, Amistad, and Saving Private Ryan. While I remain grateful that The Entertainer gave us War of the Worlds last summer, I am far more enthusiastic about what The Artist created a few months later. Yet, Munich is so much more than a work of art; it?s an important film, an essential film, a masterpiece overflowing with questions each American should be asking himself in our war-prone times. And if Oscar voters can stop dreaming about cowboys for two more months, Munichwill rightfully be recognized as the best picture of the year.
Munichis based on the true story of 11 Israeli athletes who were massacred at the 1972 Olympic Games. However, the movie is not as much concerned with the event itself as it is with what happened next. The crux of the narrative concerns a group of five Mossad agents, led by a kind-hearted Jew named Avner (an Oscar-worthy performance from Eric Bana), who were secretly commissioned by the Israeli government to hunt down and assassinate each individual who played a key role in planning and implementing the Munich murders.
What differentiates Munichfrom other popular films with a similar narrative of vengeance, such as 2004?s Man on Fire and 1999?s The Boondock Saints, is a close examination of the moral dilemma inherent in the assassin?s deeds. In Man on Fire the director invites us to giggle with delight as Denzel Washington breaks the fingers of potential kidnappers because, ?Well, they had it comin?!? In The Boondock Saints, the audience is supposed to cheer along as two brothers mow down hardened criminals with bullets ?in the name of God.? Munichrightfully approaches the subject of revenge more delicately. While the first hour and a half is devoted to Avner and his crew dishing out vengeance in the name of righteousness, the last hour powerfully demonstrates the devastating repercussions of murder on each team member?s mind and soul. This is most vividly portrayed in the main character of Avner who digresses from hopeful, boyish, optimism into a lost, paranoid, vacuum of a man ? hopelessly confused about what he has done and why he has done it. Ultimately, Avner and his crew thought they would be killing monsters. To their surprise, they encountered humans.
The element of Munich that transports the film beyond masterful art and into the realm of importance can be found in the last shot of the film: the Twin Towers. In this profound, yet subtle, moment Munichhits close to home. Is answering violence with violence truly the path to peace? Is our violence against other nations accepted by God simply because we?re America? Will foreign bloodshed in response to domestic bloodshed lead to anything but more bloodshed? These are the types of questions that ?Munich?stimulated in my mind days and weeks after seeing it. Christians, of all people, should be the ones asking these questions - even if the answers still elude us. In a recent telephone interview with Roger Ebert, Spielberg made the following statement: ?People feel my voice is represented in Avner. Butthe movie says I don't have an answer. I don't know anyone else who does. But I do know that the dialogue needs to be louder than the weapons." The Artist has spoken.
In Short: Munich joins Steven Spielberg?s fellow masterpieces Schindler?s List and Saving Private Ryan in proving that not only is he the greatest director that ever lived, but the most important one as well.
Rating Reasons: Munich has been rated R for ?strong graphic violence, some sexual content, nudity, and language.?
Posted on 7/12/06 10:28 PM
[font=Book Antiqua]In the opening scene of Thank You for Smoking, a spokesman for the Academy of Tobacco Studies sits next to a cancer patient on a talk show and receives unanimous boos from the audience. Within minutes, the tobacco representative has convinced the studio audience that not only would it would be in the best interest of tobacco companies to keep the cancer victim alive and smoking, but that the only person who truly benefits from the terminally ill are anti-tobacco representatives like the panel member to the boy?s left. The audience cheers with new understanding and our protagonist Nick Naylor smiles into the camera with an empathic grin.
The fact that director Jason Reitman elicits laughs from the above scenario rather than outrage is a credit to his comedic sensibilities. You see, Smoking is a satire, not a message movie. Reitman?s aim is not to offer new reasons why smoking is bad for us. We already know that. Instead, Smoking pokes fun at smooth talkers like Naylor who spin the truth with such finesse that his audience forgets what they were angry about in the first place. With deft direction and a humane performance from Naylor?s Aaron Eckhart, Reitman turns Smoking?s potentially offensive subject matter into an intelligent comedy that makes us laugh at corporate truth benders and also ourselves.
The crux of Smoking?s success stems from the nuanced performance given by Eckhart as the tobacco company?s spin doctor who begins to question his occupation after viewing it through the eyes of his son. Eckhart generates sympathy for a despicable character by making Naylor endearingly likeable and suave. Nolan does not lie and manipulate the truth because of a perverse longing to inflict suffering on the innocent. He spins the facts because he is good at it. Nolan also readily recognizes the moral dilemma of his position. Though he reasons away his nagging conscience each time it arises, the fact that he thinks about the ethical ramifications of his actions makes him human nonetheless. Through a commanding screen presence and subtle non-verbal emotion, Eckhart?s performance is both fascinating and hilarious.
Joining Eckhart is a remarkable supporting cast. William H. Macy garners laughs as a hypocritical politician who wishes to install an ostentatious picture of a ?skull and crossbones? onto cigarette packages. Rob Lowe is pitch-perfect as a clueless Hollywood executive. And Maria Bello and David Koechner, representatives of the alcohol and firearm industry in a group known as the M.O.D. Squad (Merchants of Death), steal every scene they are in.
The other component to Smoking?s charm is writer/director Jason Reitman. A high percentage of the film?s laughs come from Reitman?s masterful use of visual gags, song choices, and comic timing. As with all great comedic directors, Reitman knows when to sustain a shot and when to cut away for maximum comic effect. However, Reitman?s most essential skill is his knack for smart screenwriting. Smoking?s script is an unusually intelligent blend of satire and humor. Many of the jokes are so subtle that the audience I was with would often laugh three or four seconds after the lines were delivered.
Yet, Smoking is by no means a perfect film. The largest problem is the unconvincing redemption of Nolan. The end of the movie indicates that Nolan changed his way of thinking in regard to Big Tobacco, but the scenes leading up to this do not offer a clear explanation as to what precipitated his new mindset or the extent to which Nolan has changed. In addition, I had trouble believing the performance of Nolan?s son Joey. The delivery of his lines regularly seemed forced and inappropriate for a child his age. Finally, Reitman does not successfully maintain his kinetic momentum throughout the middle act of the film. The middle portion of the movie lacks the slick pacing and comedic edge that both precedes and follows.
Despite its modest shortcomings, Smoking remains an enjoyable experience. The film is a refreshing departure from most mainstream comedies in the level of sophistication it displays. Movies like these are definitive proof that film can still be funny without resorting to bathroom humor or cheap slapstick. A mere handful of comedies are released each year for the enjoyment of mature and literate audiences; Smoking is one of them.
Rating Reasons:Thank You for Smoking has been rated R for ?language and some sexual content.? The film contains 21 F-words and a scene of discreet sexuality. [/font]
Posted on 7/12/06 10:24 PM
A particularly harrowing scene from the recent DVD release of North Countrydepicts a female mine worker venturing into a Porta John to relieve herself. Immediately, some nearby male co-workers rock the Porta John, tipping it over and laughing with indifference as she stumbles out of the sewage. The topic of sexual harassment is rarely the center of modern day discussion. We live in an era of equality, where women need only to point to past court decisions if their rights are ever in question. North Country reminds us of a far different time for women; a time when sexual harassment was something they endured in order to maintain their employment in male dominated vocations. North Country is a powerful film with an extraordinary performance from Charlize Theron, and solid direction from director Niki Caro. Caro proves, along with her directorial debut, Whale Rider, that she is a force to be reckoned with.
North Country is inspired by the true story of Lois Jenson, the first woman to organize a class-action sexual harassment lawsuit against a corporation in 1984. Jenson?s landmark case not only transformed the work environment of the mine company she brought to court, but also paved the way for equal rights legislation in work places around the world.
Jenson (named Josie Aimes in the film) is played by actress Charlize Theron, who previously won an Oscar for her transformation into a vile serial killer in 2003?s Monster. Theron was once again nominated for an Oscar this year for her work in North Country. Her performance is nothing short of mesmerizing. Theron perfectly embodies the fear and vulnerability of a woman standing up for what she knows is right, even in the face of rejection from family, friends, and co-workers. Theron does such a masterful job of drawing the audience into her character that the injustices done to her resonate as if they are happening to us as well. Theron?s performance is matched by Frances McDormand, an actress also nominated by the Academy for her work in North Country. McDormand?s character is more thick-skinned than Josie, and earned the respect of her fellow miners by becoming a union representative. Theron and McDormands? combined performances prove that they are among the finest actresses working in film today. I was also impressed with Sean Bean and Woody Harrelson, who instead of enacting their typical roles as shady villains, successfully portrayed moral men.
The most harrowing scenes in North Countrytake place in the mine where Josie works. There, the men take turns degrading their female co-workers with unsolicited sexual advances and lewd practical jokes. These scenes are sure to make the blood of any male who respects women boil with rage. I found myself wanting to jump into the movie screen and give each man a piece of my mind for callously abusing women in the name of male machismo. As time went on, however, I became equally furious at the female co-workers who vehemently condemn Josie for attempting to reform the mining company ? choosing to endure daily abuse rather than losing their jobs. Yet, to Caro?s credit, the film does not limit itself to Josie?s fight against the mine. Caro also takes the time to paint an intimate portrait of Josie?s relationship with her family. The most heartfelt sub-plot, occurring between Josie and her estranged father, stems from two inherent themes: his long-standing disapproval of her relational failures, and the threat to his manhood, resulting from Josie?s controversial employment at the mine.
North Country is not entirely devoid of flaws. The transformation of some of the characters happen quicker than plausibility would suggest. Moreover, the ending of the film feels overly neat and tidy, considering the events that precede it. However, the beauty of North Countryis that its blemishes are only apparent in retrospect. Caro?s success in igniting outrage from the viewer overrides any skepticism, and elicits cheers of triumph at the resulting justice.
As with all other films depicting discrimination, North Country is a devastating testament to the darkest of man?s capabilities. To torment women on the basis of their gender and vocational preference is a slap in the face of my Creator. I am thankful that God has blessed women with skills and abilities that are equal to, and sometimes greater than, any man. We must applaud a woman like Lois Jenson who, in the face of public ridicule and scorn, was brave enough to say ?We deserve better.?
Rating Reasons:North Country has been rated R for ?sequences involving sexual harassment including violence and dialogue, and for language.?
Posted on 7/12/06 10:21 PM
Indiana Jones is dead. His fedora has sunk into the depths of the desert never to be seen again. If Steven Spielberg attempts to resuscitate the popular franchise with a fourth installment, an imposter will appear on movie screens donning the familiar garb. But, don?t feel be fooled. Enjoy the whip-cracking hero on DVD and shun the 63 year old man who still thinks he?s an action hero. Harrison Ford?s latest monstrosity ?Firewall? isn?t just one of the worst movies ever made it is a nail in the coffin of a legendary career.
Harrison Ford no longer speaks, he growls - like a dog that needs to be put down. When he?s happy, his growl comes with a lop-sided smile. When he?s angry, his growl accompanies a bark. Unfortunately, growling does not endear an audience to a character. Han Solo and Indiana Jones did not obtain their iconic status by mumbling like a canine. In fact, nothing is likeable at all about the main character we meet and follow in ?Firewall.? Ford?s Jack Stanfield, a bank security specialist who is soon forced to hack into his own impenetrable system, is a non-emotive bore. Yet, the monotone performance is not entirely Ford?s fault. Growling aside, Ford isn?t given any meat to chew on. The primary concern for the first thirty minutes of any movie should be to show its audience why the central character is worthy of their attention and care. In Firewall, a kiss on the cheek to his wife and children and a few exchanges with his employees is all the character development we?re offered before Jack is plunged into danger at the ten minute mark. If we don?t care about Jack as a person, why should we give two barks about what he goes through?
The actors surrounding Ford fare even worse than he does. The talents of Virginia Madsen, fresh off an Oscar nomination for her work in ?Sideways,? are completely wasted as Jack?s wife Beth. Madsen gives it her all but, like Ford, her character is a skeleton to service the story rather than a flesh and blood creation. The rest of the cast ranges from bad to cringe-worthy. I loathed the child actor who played Ford?s son from the first overwrought line he delivered. I also developed an immediate antipathy for Ford?s secretary who, despite having zero screen presence, somehow manages to appear in half the scenes. The only temporary saving grace is Paul Bettany as the devious mastermind Bill Cox. His character injects some life into the film for the first hour, with a classy mixture of suave and evil, and then without warning disintegrates into a paranoid, whiny, wreck thus rendering him both dull and no longer frightening.
By the time Firewall reaches the three quarters mark, the movie unravels completely. What was once merely awful becomes outright horrific. When Ford?s secretary needs to get a cell phone from someone, she seeks the man out in the middle of a church worship service for which he is playing guitar with the chorus ?Jesus, Jesus? plastered on the screen behind him. In our post-?Passion? era Christians are now apparently supposed to giggle with delight at any reference to their Savior no matter the cost to the tone or story. Furthermore, when Ford desperately needs to locate his missing family, he suddenly remembers that lo and behold their dog who is with them has a GPS locater installed in his collar; three clicks on the internet (from his car) later and a bright red beacon appears on his laptop showing their exact location. Whew! Finally, after Ford has graced us with his obligatory fistfight with the villain, we are treated to one of the single most emotionally false, and groan-inducing, slow-mo shots to ever close a film.
Indiana Jones is dead. I hope with all of my heart that Spielberg saw Firewall on opening weekend and promptly told Ford the news.
In Short: A disaster from start to finish that will no doubt sweep the Razzies and put a decisive end to Harrison Ford?s claim that he still has what it takes to play an action hero.
Rating Reasons: Firewall has been rated PG-13 for ?some intense sequences of violence.? Please visit screenit.com before seeing this film.
Posted on 7/12/06 10:15 PM
In 1999, a modestly budgeted film called The Matrix became a global phenomenon and redefined cool. Four years later, directors Larry and Andy Wachowski delivered two highly anticipated Matrix sequels that crumbled under the weight of audience expectations and negative reviews. Now, after taking a much needed break from the Hollywood spotlight, the Wachowskis have returned to the sci-fi/action genre with V for Vendetta. This time, they have opted to pass the directing duties to filmmaker James McTeigue. Yet, the Wachowski?s fingerprints can be found on each inch of the film - they wrote the screenplay and were intimately involved with the production as producers.
Unfortunately, ?Vendetta? stands a notch below The Matrix Revolutions as the worst film in the brothers? body of work. Though Vendetta contains a masterful beginning and end, it is bogged down by a preachy middle section that joins other recent films in advocating liberalism and bashing conservative ideals.
The first act of Vendetta does a remarkable job of eliciting audience interest and setting up the main characters. Hugo Weaving (Agent Smith from the Matrix Trilogy) plays ?V,? a mysterious masked avenger who attempts to incite his fellow citizens to rise up against a totalitarian London government. His performance is magnificent. When V makes his dramatic entrance, we are intrigued and repulsed at the same time. The mask he dons is frightening, but the voice which accompanies it is distinctly playful and human. To gain the sympathy of an audience solely through vocal inflections and physical mannerisms is a rare feat indeed. We are also introduced to Evey, a soft-spoken woman who soon finds herself irreparably connected to V and his deeds. Natalie Portman?s performance as Evey does not display the same level of acting chops she exhibited in Garden State (especially evidenced by her horrendous attempt at a British accent), but, at least for a while, Evey balances out V and gives us an obvious character to root for. In addition, the look of the film is appropriately dark and grimy and the early action scenes are thrilling without being over-the-top.
The third act of the film is even better than the first. We finally are offered a deeper look at the moral dilemma of V?s actions as well as the true extent and consequences of his tortured love for Evey. Furthermore, the film regains the kinetic energy it possessed early on. As the film demonstrates in a symbolic scene, the dominos were set in place at the beginning and now we see the chain reactions of their fall. Last, but not least, the final act contains the most exhilarating action scene since the Lobby sequence from the first Matrix. In beautiful Wachowski slow-motion, we see how knives can be deadlier than guns; the scene is almost worth the price of admission alone.
Yet, Vendetta ultimately eludes greatness due to an ill-conceived middle section. From a cinematic point of view, the film no longer works. First, the Wachowski?s rely too much on flashbacks to explain key components of the story. Flashbacks are even provided for non-essential characters and individuals not present in the movie. Furthermore, Evey?s devotion to V flip-flops from scene to scene. Just when you think she has pledged her allegiance to him, in the next scene she wants to leave him for good. Only at the end are Evey?s feelings for V fully consistent and meaningful.
However, the primary fault of the middle act is the Wachowski?s insistence on stopping the flow of the narrative to speak against conservative values. We are told that the totalitarian government rose to power by staging terrorist acts and precipitating a state of fear in the public square. We are told that all of the corrupt leaders in the government stem from the conservative party, and when they received money for their fake terrorist incidents many believed that the money was God blessing them for protecting their country. Finally, we are offered several lengthy flashbacks that indict the government and conservative citizens for unjustly persecuting homosexuals and disapproving of their lifestyle.
For the same reason that a non-Christian does not want to sit through a Gospel film, I do not want to be preached at how my Christian convictions and political allegiances are destroying the world as we know it. If one-sided political commentary rises from beneath the surface and relegates the story to second place, half of the audience is alienated and the film inevitably suffers.
In the end, Vendetta is a unique film with individual moments of brilliance. Sadly, it is also a missed opportunity. Had the middle section formed the appropriate bridge between the tremendous beginning and end, the movie could have stood alongside the first Matrix as a classic of the sci-fi/action genre and an updated entry in the cinematic definition of cool.
In Short: A preachy middle section drags down an otherwise stunning film from the Wachowski Brothers.
Rating Reasons: V for Vendetta has been rated R for ?strong violence and some language.? Please visit screenit.com before seeing this film.
Posted on 7/12/06 10:11 PM
Awards season is upon us. Every year following the Oscar nominations, critically adorned films that have been playing for months in larger cities slowly trickle into Grand Rapids. One film that has received much acclaim since its release is ?Capote.? ?Capote?has been nominated for Best Picture, Director, Actor, Supporting Actor, and Original Screenplay by the Motion Picture Academy. Unfortunately, with the release of films in awards season also comes the realization that certain movies do not live up to their hype. ?Capote? is one of those films. While Phillip Seymour Hoffman should (and will) receive the best actor award this March, the rest of ?Capote?s? nominations are sadly unwarranted.
In contrast to another biopic this year, ?Walk the Line,? ?Capote? does not attempt to provide us with the title character?s entire life story. Instead, we are offered a look at the defining moment in Capote?s career when he penned a non-fiction novel entitled ?In Cold Blood?about two inmates on death row for murdering a Kansas family in 1959. The film chronicles Capote?s interactions with the inmates as he struggles to maintain the line between objectivity and empathy for his subjects.
The best aspect of ?Capote? by far is Hoffman?s masterful portrayal of the famous author. Hoffman stands alongside Johnny Depp as one of the few character actors capable of disappearing behind their roles. While big name talent like Tom Cruise and Tom Hanks are always enjoyable to watch, one never forgets they are watching gifted actors performing. Depp and Hoffman, however, literally become other people in their films to the point where their real-life looks and persona are utterly unrecognizable. In the case of Capote, Hoffman underwent his most dramatic transformation yet. Capote was an incredibly odd man complete with a high-pitched effeminate voice, eccentric conversational habits, and strange physical mannerisms. Capote was also a homosexual, though this fact is thankfully implied rather than shown. Hoffman?s performance is a tour de force with Oscar engraved on it from the first moment to the last. Sadly, the actors surrounding Hoffman fail to elicit anything approaching emotional resonance. The death row inmates, played by Clifton Collins Jr. and Bruce Greenwood, are two-dimensional at best and Catherine Keener?s take on Capote?s close friend Harper Lee (the author of ?To Kill a Mockingbird?) is serviceable, but a far cry from memorable.
Unfortunately, the film itself also fails to live up to Hoffman?s masterful performance. The problem is that the only aspect of the movie which maintains consistent interest is Capote himself. A good portion of the film depicts Capote?s interactions with the two inmates, but the encounters he has with them are rarely engaging. I never found myself caring for either of the men on death row nor did I fully understand the motives behind their crime. The events of the murders are not shown until the end of the film and when they are the results are both vague and unremarkable. For a character study to work, the narrative surrounding the character has to be dramatic in its own right. In ?Capote?s? case, any development of the plot not directly concerning the title character was slow-moving, emotionally distant, and dull.
In the end, ?Capote?is a good film not a great one. Hoffman manages to save the movie from total mediocrity and through his performance an interesting theme is explored: the battle a writer faces between displaying objectivity toward his subjects and empathy for their plight. Capote knows that the best ending for his book is the execution of the inmates. Thus, he is torn when the prisoners desperately reach out to him for help with their appeal process. Christian writers face this predicament as well. How we are supposed to treat a fellow image bearer of God may differ from the standard protocol in newspaper offices or publishing houses. Capote fought this ethical dilemma head on and, as the end captions powerfully demonstrate, the choices he made changed him forever.
In Short: With ?Capote,?Hoffman will rightfully claim the Best Actor trophy in March, but the end result is a flawless performance in a decidedly flawed film.
Rating Reasons:?Capote?has been rated R for ?some violent images and brief strong language.?
Posted on 7/12/06 10:06 PM
I like Harry Potter. There, I said it. For all who wish to burn me at the stake, please e-mail me to set up a time and place at [email="firstname.lastname@example.org"]email@example.com[/email]. Unlike a number of Christians, I do not view Harry Potter as evil or a threat to the body of Christ. Nor do I consider J.K. Rowling (the author of the books) to be the antichrist ? that crown was claimed long ago by Oprah. Instead, I view the books and films as fantasy, nothing more. Clear distinctions are always drawn between good and evil, and as Potter fans know, the magic is merely a backdrop for the true themes: friendship, honor, love, loyalty, sacrifice, duty, and mercy. For children who are unable to discern fantasy from reality, parental supervision and caution are warranted. For the rest of us, however, the richly realized world of Harry Potter is, in a word, magical.
Unfortunately, only one of the four film adaptations so far has successfully been able to capture the awe and epic grandeur of the books for a full 2 hours: Alfonzon Cuaron?s The Prisoner of Azkaban. Cuaron reinvigorated the series last year by doing away with the literal adaptation style that encumbered the first two films. Sub-plots were cut, the story was modified, and for the very first time Azkaban felt like a film rather than a filmed book. But Cuaron decided not to return for the fourth movie, and the series has taken somewhat of a step back with this month?s Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. The film, while not ever bad per se, ultimately proves to be a mixed bag.
One of the positive things about Goblet is the way that Danielle Radcliffe (Harry), Rupert Grint (Ron), and Emma Watson (Hermione) have finally embodied their characters. I find one of the greatest joys of the Harry Potter films to be the way the trio evolves before our eyes both physically and emotionally. From The Sorcerer?s Stone to now, Harry, Ron, and Hermione have grown from little kids to awkward teenagers complete with raging hormones and the trials of puberty. Unfortunately, Goblet often feels possessed by the awkwardness of puberty itself.
The problem lies in the pacing. Instead of the tight, exhilarating pace Cuaron brought to Azkaban, Goblet often drags. For every breathtaking scene, there is an awkward one in need of being chopped in half or cut entirely. The roller-coaster ups and downs continue until the 2 hour mark, but the movie stays afloat to this point due to the engaging acting by the leads and top-notch special effects. Then, like a floundering eagle moving in for the kill, Goblet abruptly ceases its flirt with mediocrity andslams into gear. The ending of the movieis by far the best 40 minutes of Harry Potter any of the films have offered thus far.
If you detest spoilers stop reading now. For the rest of you, I have two words: Ralph Fiennes. Fiennes (Schindler?s List, The English Patient) doesn?t just play Lord Voldemort, he is Lord Voldemort in all his chilling glory. Fiennes?s electrifying performance coupled with the eerie shadow cast across the end of the film elevates Goblet, for that half an hour, from escapist entertainment to the realm where masterpieces are born. If the next director can channel that same emotional resonance for the entirety of the fifth film, the movies may finally surpass the books to become the definitive Harry Potter experience. One thing?s for sure, with Fiennes?s commanding performance, Voldemort has just become my favorite movie villain. Somewhere in a galaxy far, far away, Emperor Palpatine is crying.
In Short:The compelling performances and special effects keep Goblet from imploding under the weight of an awkwardly paced, and overly long, run time but the breathtaking last half hour is worth the price of admission alone.
Rating Reasons: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire has been rated PG-13 for ?sequences of fantasy violence and frightening images.?
Posted on 7/12/06 10:05 PM
Girl meets guy. Love at first sight. Conflict arrives. The break-up. The make-up. Eternal bliss. Roll credits. So goes the tried-and-true formula of the romantic film genre. Hollywood screenwriters simply need to plug their characters into this equation and they have themselves a first-class romance. Thank the golden cinema gods that screenwriter Charlie Kaufman never got the memo. Kaufman?s script for last year?s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is the epitome of brilliance largely because it flies in the face of what a romantic film is supposed to look like. The script, combined with masterful direction from director Michele Gondry and flawless performances from Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet make Sunshine one of the most memorable love stories ever put to celluloid.
Kaufman is no stranger to the unusual. His screenplays for Being John Malkovich and Adaptation were both highly peculiar. Yet, Sunshine is the first time he has been able to make the weird connect with the heart. The first half of Sunshine showcases Kaufman?s penchant for peculiarity. Unexplained events occur, the music is strange, and the tone switches awkwardly from comedy to horror. Yet, midway through, all of the pieces brilliantly coalesce into a beautiful whole. In the beginning of the film, the main character Joel (Carrey) decides to erase all memories of his ex-girlfriend Clementine (Winslet). We are told that the erasure procedure takes place backwards from the most recent memories to the earliest. The viewer is then shown each memory prior to it being erased. Thus, we are first presented with the bad parts of Joel?s relationship followed by its hopeful beginnings. This allows the audience to gradually realize, along with Joel, the many blessings he is losing by erasing Clementine. The end result is a perfect concoction of quirkiness and soul.
Director Michele Gondry started his career in the music video industry. This shines through in his willingness to take chances. Since much of the movie takes place inside Joel?s head, Gondry?s avant-garde filmmaking style is validated. Thus, he employs a variety of off-kilter lighting and camera techniques as well as modest, but effective, special-effects. Jon Brion?s unique score perfectly complements these engaging visuals creating a consistently rich and rewarding cinematic experience.
Carrey and Winslet each play the type of character in Sunshine that the other would normally embody. Carrey?s Joel is a subdued man inundated with intelligence, insecurity, and pessimism. Winslet?s Clementine, on the other hand, is a wild, vivacious individual who bounces around neurotically between highs and lows on an eternal quest for the happiness that eludes her. Both are Oscar-worthy performances that never cease to be both touching and memorable. Instead of becoming the usual star-driven, two-dimensional products from ?Romantic Screenwriting 101,? Carrey and Winslet completely disappear behind their roles making their characters refreshingly real.
In the end, Sunshine conveys an essential message for our divorce prone culture: relationships are hard, but worth the effort. Like my relationship with God, romantic relationships require substantial work and dedication. Yet, love that perseveres and stands firm amidst difficulty, yields riches and blessings beyond measure.
In Short: A revitalization of the romantic genre! Sunshine is a unique, heart-felt ode to love, longing, and regret.
Rating Reasons:Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind has been rated R for ?language, some drug and sexual content.?
Posted on 7/12/06 09:29 PM
Every so often, amidst the swirling array of conventional blockbusters, comes a film that defies description; one able to transcend all genres and impart a viewing experience unlike any other. Brazil and Fight Club are two of the few films that fit this category - two diverse movies so overflowing with unique story-telling and ingenuity that they stay in the mind of the viewer long after the credits roll. Donnie Darko is the latest entry in this all too meager list of ?out-of-the-box? films where creativity takes precedence over convention; genuine surprise over body count. In an age of complacent film-making, Donnie Darko is not only a breath of fresh air, but altogether one of the best movies ever made.
Explaining to someone what this movie is about proves to be quite a feat. Suffice it to say, this is simply one movie-going experience that you have to see for yourself. The setting is the year nineteen eighty-eight - a time where conversations can range from politics (Dukakis vs. Bush) to the sex-lives of Smurfs (don?t ask). The main character of the story is Donnie (played flawlessly by October Sky?s Jake Gyllenhaal). Donnie is a troubled teenager undergoing the typical teenage woes of girls, school, and loneliness in a small town called Middlesex. However, Donnie also experiences some slightly more unusual problems in his youth such as vivid hallucinations and depression for which he receives medication and counseling. One night, Donnie is visited by a large creature in a bunny suit named Frank who tells him the world will end in twenty-eight days. As ridiculous as this may sound, the scenes with Frank are executed in a convincingly dark and unsettling style which adds greatly to the sense of impending dread that permeates the majority of the movie. Is Frank merely a figment of Donnie?s imagination? What exactly happens when the twenty eight days come to pass? The answers will repeatedly surprise you, and will no doubt leave a number of viewers scratching their head in total bemusement when the lights go up.
What differentiates Donnie Darko from the other films before it that have attempted to both entrance and confound their audience, is the endearing nature of the characters. The movie doesn?t feel like a gimmick (like 1997?s The Game), but rather a rich world of interesting, albeit in some cases outlandish, inhabitants where anything is possible.
The way the Darko family interacts with one another was fascinating to observe. From brother and sister fights at the dinner table (Donnie?s sister was played by Jake Gyllenhaal?s real-life sister Maggie) to humorous conversations behind closed doors. This is a family that has many obvious problems, but is overwhelmingly likable nonetheless. The most refreshing aspect was the obvious chemistry between Donnie?s parents. Since when, in a film concerning teenagers, can you actually sense that the parents love each other! Usually, they are either played as ?the enemy? or used as convenient puppets to serve the story. The other characters outside of the Darko family are equally interesting. Donnie?s friends are the most one-dimensional characters of the bunch but still manage to provide a handful of amusing lines. Noah Wyle fits the bill nicely as Donnie?s science teacher and Jena Malone gives a heart-felt performance as Donnie?s love interest, Gretchen. While the chemistry between the two isn?t exactly electrifying, it is a perfect example of the subdued and innocent relationships we encounter in our youth. Other supporting actors include Patrick Swayze, as a motivational speaker, and Beth Grant, as an annoying gym teacher that adores the former.
If I had to state a slight criticism about the film, it would have to be Drew Barrymore's unconvincing performance as Donnie's English teacher. This can be forgiven, however, since the movie never would have been made without her. The studio dogmatically stated that unless a high profile star like Barrymore was behind the project they wouldn't green light the film. All the same, this casting choice simply doesn't work. Still, her performance isn't exactly cringe-worthy (unlike Sofia Coppola's disastrous plight in The Godfather Part III), and it by no means makes the movie any less effective. Thankfully, her scenes are few and though she obviously wasn't up to par with the actors surrounding her, she was still far from unwatchable.
But without question, the movie appropriately belongs to one actor: Jake Gyllenhaal. Injecting the perfect blend of humor and despair into every scene, through him Donnie becomes a character we can both adore and identify with. Working from a great script, Gyllenhaal's captivating portrayal of Donnie shows significant promise for this rising star.
Amazingly, Donnie Darko is Richard Kelly's directorial debut. Yet, every inch of the film feels like the product of a seasoned veteran. Employing intricate camera angles, seamless effects, and perfectly chosen eighties music, Kelly's film approaches perfection. Yet, it would be nothing without his exceptional script that revels in both vision and ambiguity. This is a film that beckons multiple viewings and endless discussion, since much of the events are left open to interpretation. Yet, Kelly has not merely made a movie to confound its viewers. He provides the necessary clues to form a solid theory on what has taken place, though the theories may vary depending on the mindset of the viewer. If you don't like movies that stimulate your intellect and command your complete attention, avoid this one like the plague. However, for those who are willing to engage with it the results are surprisingly rewarding.
In the end, Donnie Darko has a little bit of something for everyone. It contains a variety of humorous scenes (especially when focusing on the stupidity and hypocrisy of Middlesex's clueless inhabitants), subtle doses of horror and suspense, science fiction undertones, and even tender romance. This is a film to be cherished; a work of art that reminds us of why we love movies in the first place.
In Short: An instant classic! Richard Kelly has created a bona fide masterpiece.
Rating Reasons: Donnie Darko has been rated R for ?language, some drug use, and violence.?