Thursday, November 30, 2006

The Holiday

Last night I braved the Seattle snow storm to see a screening of The Holiday starring Kate Winslet and Jude Law.

Is it predictable? Yes. Formulaic? Of course. Charming? Yeah—that too. And that's why I forgive its cookie-cutter-composition. Because it made me feel good.

All of the Bridget Jones comparisons will be fair—right down to the details (Winslet's 'Iris' is even a writer), but that doesn't make it any less enjoyable to watch.

We have two couples that have suffered cheating (anchored by Jack Black and Cameron Diaz), one office romance gone-wrong (the source of Winslet's distress) and one dashing Brit with a secret (Law). And to top it off, all of our players are wealthy or at least upper-middle class. The story couldn't be easier to compose, but we still find ourselves rooting for certain characters and booing at the rest.

Go into this film with high expectations and you may get irritated with its simplicity, but if you go in ready to have a good time you'll come away with a smile on your face.

And really—who can say that Jack Black and Kate Winslet don't make the most adorable couple ever?

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Shut Up & Sing

Today I saw Shut Up & Sing, a lively documentary that follows the Dixie Chicks from their controversial anti-war comment to the present day.

I'll admit it—I'm not a fan of country music. I've never bought a Dixie Chicks record. I probably couldn't name one of their albums if my life depended on it, but after watching this I almost want to just on principle.

A few months prior to the start of the war in Iraq, lead singer Natalie Maines said "We're ashamed that the President of the United States is from Texas" during a show in England. The London-based newspaper The Guardian printed the quote and soon the American right-wing group the Free Republic got a hold of it and led a national boycott of their music.

Ridiculous. And wildly hypocritical.

Here they are "defending" a war that is allegedly taking place to "liberate" a country so they can enjoy the same freedoms that we do, and these so-called patriots are denying the Dixie Chicks their freedom of speech (and freedom of security since Maines received death threats as a result of speaking her mind). It's also hypocritical because it hurt the business of the Dixie Chicks, a business which is ultimately stimulating the American economy when it does well.

It was refreshing to see Republican John McCain cracking down on the radio suits who originally ordered the boycott during congressional hearings, but it was nauseating watching these three lovely ladies see their career crumble before them because they acted like...Americans.

Every journalism teacher should show this film in class and every fan of the first amendment should buy a Dixie Chicks album. Just to show their patriotism.

Monday, November 20, 2006

The Nativity Story

Tonight I saw The Nativity Story starring Keisha Castle-Hughes and Oscar Isaac.

Perfectly timed to coincide with the holiday season, this film begins at the time of the Virgin Mary's "miracle" and concludes following the birth of Jesus Christ.

Castle-Hughes does a fine job of portraying the naive young Mary, and Isaac is equally convincing as the understanding Joseph. The supporting characters were also very true to their Biblical descriptions with the exception of the Three Wisemen who were a bit too comical for my liking.

The cinematography is striking—you do feel as if you are roaming about ancient Nazareth, however the element that is missing is the intangible magic that a story so sacred deserves. I felt guilty for not weeping when the Star of Bethlehem lit up the sky, or when they showed crucified men lined up in the village for show.

Perhaps its me that needs the spark of divinity, or maybe it was just the film.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Deliver Us From Evil

Today I saw the documentary Deliver Us From Evil about Father Oliver O'Grady, a convicted sex offender who the Catholic church moved around Northern California for 30 years before any charges were brought against him.

In the film, Director Amy Berg speaks with a surprisingly candid O'Grady (now living an unfairly comfortable life in his native Ireland) and several of his forever-damaged victims.

The accounts are horrific—the sodomy of a young boy who was helping with the landscaping outside the church; the rape and molestation of a 5 year-old girl (while the Father lived with her family); penetration of a 9-month old baby. And this man only served seven years behind bars, yet his number of victims is estimated into the hundreds.

What's nauseating about this story is how easy it was for the Catholic Church to dodge legal bullets throughout the tenure of this priest. They did so little to help the families and put an end to the abuse, you have to wonder if any of the higher-ups have a conscience, let alone an ounce of actual faith. What God would let this happen?

The most heartbreaking element to watch is the guilt of the parents who trusted this monster with their kids and didn't learn of the abuse until their children were grown. It's not their fault, but you can understand the responsibilty they must feel for O'Grady's actions and their absence in noticing.

Hopefully, this documentary will spark a revolution from the victims—those who have been brave enough to come forward and those who have remained silent, but want to somehow make sure this doesn't keep happening. They (along with each and every Catholic on the planet) need to demand reform and justice so this most hypocritical abuse of trust can finally be put to an end.

Little Children

Last night I saw Little Children starring Kate Winslet and Patrick Wilson.

It was the most complex, realistic and human movie I've seen all year.

The setting—American suburbia—is perfectly executed in the catty behavior of the soccer moms and the weekly football games the men play as an escape.

At first the movie is funny, complete with voiceovers that actually work and a steamy romance that you root for. Then, the movie turns dark as you find yourself alternately sympathizing with and being disgusted by the town pedophile, portrayed brilliantly by Jackie Earle Hayley.

It all comes to a climactic end when the characters each discover their individual destiny and take action to live them out. It makes you think, it makes you laugh and it makes you cry. The problem that I had with it was that the entire movie seemed to be illustrating why some things are just meant to be, yet the ending doesn't pay that theory off.

Nonetheless, it's another fantastic journey from Todd Field that carries us through the American experience with fierce authenticity.

To hear me and Michaelvox discuss this in Cinebanter 14, click here.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Deja Vu

On Tuesday, I saw Deja Vu starring Denzel Washington and Val Kilmer.

To put it simply, it's a fun ride.

Denzel dazzles as ATF good-cop Doug Carlin, who is recruited to help FBI agent Pryzwarra (Kilmer) investigate the bombing of a passenger ferry in present day New Orleans. The murder of a local (coincidentally beautiful) woman somehow ties into the mystery and Carlin becomes nearly obsessed with solving the crime.

When he learns of the FBI's time-traveling capabilities, he puts his own life on the line to take a quantum leap and save the girl. Oh - and the 543 people that died on the ferry too, including his partner.

The main flaw of the film is that it's painfully predictable. There are many Bruckheimer-typical explosions (Jerry produced the movie, you know). The scientists at the FBI are the funnier-than-usual brand and Denzel is nothing short of handsome the entire time, regardless of the situation. Come to think of it, even the terrorist is hot.

But if you can forgive all of that, watching this fast-paced murder mystery can be quite enjoyable.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Stranger Than Fiction

Today I saw Stranger Than Fiction starring Will Ferrell and Emma Thompson.

It is the topic of Cinebanter 13, which is available here.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Borat: Cultural Learnings of American for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan

This morning I saw Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, which is the topic of Cinebanter 12. You can download it here.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Copying Beethoven

Tonight I saw Copying Beethoven, starring Ed Harris.

It was so awful, I wrestled with getting up and leaving or merely napping in my somewhat-assigned seat at the screening. Yes, it was that brutal.

This fictional exploration of the end of Ludwig Van Beethoven's life is so absurd, it's laughable.

Diane Kruger plays Anna, a composition student brought in to rescue the deteriorating maestro and save Ode to Joy. As an actress she was fine, but as a character, I have a few problems:

A) To the best of my knowledge, the Ninth Symphony didn't need saving.
B) If it did, my bet is that the difficult composer would've fetched a more experienced musician to use as his copyist.
C) The 'naive, innocent, lives-in-a-convent' chick has been done before.

And the way Harris plays Ludwig is nothing short of insulting. He's vile, rude and so over-the-top (yes, he moons someone and makes fart jokes) that I had a hard time not turning away from the screen each time he appeared.

I realize that the real man may not have been the easiest artist to be around, but he was a genius, and I'd rather remember him for the melodies of his brilliance than his bad behavior.

Don't you dare go see this. I'd hate to have to say "I told you so."