Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Amazing Grace

Tonight I attended a screening of Amazing Grace, starring Ioan Gruffudd.

What's really amazing is that I didn't fall asleep.

I mean no disrespect to the director (Michael Apted) or the story, which details the obstacles that William Wilberforce faced as he fought British Parlaiment to abolish slavery.

But my God, was this boring.

The film shows William's relentless quest to alter the opinions of crochety old Brits (with the help of a freed slave), explains how he fell in love with his like-minded wife, and shows us how sick he got along the way.

It hardly does the famed leader justice.

The real man who lived from 1759 to 1833 fought not only for the abolishment of slavery but also for child labor laws, education for folks with disabilities (such as deafness), and even for animal rights. He was extraordinary and unique.

In the film, he's merely a handsome good guy to root for.

I could've done without the countless pretentious speeches and seen more of the adversity. The courtroom scenes weren't as nailbiting as I suppose they were in real-life and the love story between him and his wife was barely fleshed out. And the two times the title hymn is sung in the film didn't evoke the goosebumps I expected it to.

Incredibly disappointing all around.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

The Last King of Scotland

Today I saw The Last King of Scotland, starring Academy Award nominee Forest Whitaker.

MichaelVox and me review it on episode 21 of Cinebanter, which is available here.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Miss Potter

Tonight I saw Miss Potter starring Renee Zellweger and Ewan McGregor.

What a delight!

The film tells the life story of one of the most acclaimed children's authors of all time—Beatrix Potter (Zellweger). We see her as a child of privilege with parents who took their London social status seriously and seldom let her forget it. We meet her friends in the form of pets...and drawings of pets that she began when she was a little girl. We learn that first, her illustrations became greeting cards. Then, she developed them into narratives and sold them as books.

Her life as a "spinster" is frowned upon, as her parents have presented many suitable suitors over the years and she has rejected all of them. But the one man who has always believed in her is her publisher, Mr. Warne (McGregor). A friendship transpires between the two (and his sister Millie, brilliantly portrayed by Emily Watson) and they soon become engaged. Because he's a tradesman her parents don't approve of the coupling, but that doesn't stop the engagement.

What follows is a satisfying and honest look at a woman who was a feminist before her time—and I mean that in the nicest sense of the word. Beatrix Potter was independent, clever, powerful, thoughtful, intelligent and eccentric. The movie conveys that beautifully as her drawings literally jump off the page to interact with her and we watch a lonely girl transform into a competent businesswoman.

Yes, it's a light movie. There are no murders or suicides or dramatic scenes where characters break dishes in heated arguments. There are no drug users or orphans or accidents that typically surface when recounting the life of an writer. But the movie is all the better for it.

It stays faithful to the artist's story without creating illusions to mask the normalcy. And really, I can't think of a better way to pay tribute to the world's best-selling children's author of all-time.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Friends of God: A Road Trip with Alexandra Pelosi

Last night I watched Friends of God: A Road Trip with Alexandra Pelosi, a documentary about evangelical Christians in America.

After seeing Journeys with George a few years back and loving it, I was excited to hear Pelosi was returning with a new film. Unfortunately, this one had some flaws.

First, the length.

Friends of God is only an hour long. Considering the time the documentarian spent with these groups of people, I have to assume she had enough footage to create a full-length story. But she didn't. And what resulted was interesting lead-ins with no substantial pay-offs.

Shock and Awe?

While her earlier pieces have brought the viewer in as a mere observer and presented a fair scope of each angle of the message, this documentary felt like it was trying to jolt us into reality every few scenes. Guess what? There are lecturers that travel from church to church refuting evolution! Guess what? Evangelical Christians have sex every day (and even make their wives orgasm)! Guess what? Jerry Falwell's Liberty University was created to breed new right-wing politicians to elect and further the Christian movement!

While all of those things are somewhat newsworthy or at least a little interesting from an anthropological level, they're not really a surprise anymore. We know who our president is and how he got elected (and re-elected). We realize that the liberals in our country are fastly becoming a minority. We understand that evangelical Christians are aware of how to reproduce.

There were compelling elements to many of the topics Pelosi brought to light, but she didn't take the time to develop them or provide a consistent narrative to tie them all together.

Scandal Averted

Perhaps the film was already edited by the time the Pastor Ted Haggard scandal broke, but even if so—wouldn't it have been more interesting to show the footage that she had of Haggard renouncing homosexuals and 'training' his congregations to properly share their faith with the media and then go back to those churches and interview the people. Ask them what they make of their fallen leader? Question whether this hypocrisy is a trend in their circles or just an isolated incident?

I'd love to know if these folks are praying for his soul and forgiving him (as Jesus would want them to), or if they've written him off as a victim of Satan's temptations and moved on.

And I'd like to know why Pelosi didn't go back and ask those questions.

Sunday, January 21, 2007


This morning I saw Dreamgirls, starring Beyonce Knowles and Jennifer Hudson.

What was supposed to be an energetic extravaganza nearly turned into a nap for me. How do you spell over-hyped? D.R.E.A.M.G.I.R.L.S.

First, Jennifer Hudson.

God love her, she's beautiful, she can sing and I'm incredibly proud of her for beating former American Idol winner Fantasia for this coveted part—but she's not an actress.

The only time I 'felt' Effie was during the musical numbers. I didn't think she was sassy enough, I didn't believe she was head-over-heels for Curtis and I didn't feel much empathy for her as she went on about her life without the Dreams.

The Golden Globe should have gone to Cate (or from what my friends tell me, Rinko).

Next, Eddie Murphy.

I'm sorry, but this is another Golden Globe that was not deserved. Not that Eddie can't act, because he can, but his part wasn't large enough to warrant a statue. And I'm sorry, but every time I watched him in a dramatic scene I couldn't help but picture Gumby. That ridiculous hair made it almost impossible to shake.

And as for the musical numbers featuring him, all I can say is "My girl wants to party all the time, party all the time, party all the time."

I couldn't get past Axel F. Or Mr. Robinson. Or Buckwheat, for that matter.

So what was good about the movie?

Beyonce and the underutilized Danny Glover.

I kid you not. Beyonce went from timid back-up girl to manufactured lead singer to repressed wife to independent woman seamlessly and the moments Mr. Glover was on screen, he lit it up.

It's a shame that this passionate story moved so slowly and got too much press before anyone had seen it.

Let's hope the Academy agrees with me.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Pan's Labyrinth

Tonight I saw Pan's Labyrinth, starring Ivana Baquero.

Click here to listen to our Cinebanter episode discussing it, which was released on February 3.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Flannel Pajamas

This morning I saw Flannel Pajamas, perhaps the best relationship movie I've ever seen.

It shows two people fall in love and then follows their painful process of realizing that they're not meant to be with one another despite that love.

Nicole (Julianne Nicholson) and Stuart (Justin Kirk) have a love-at-first-sight blind date after being set up by their mutual therapist and the sparks fly. The audience is told immediately that they will have problems based on the fact Stuart tells Nicole on this first night that her best friend is evil—he's made an instant judgement on her character after spending only a few minutes with her.

Despite this, the spark develops into an infatuation, which leads to good sex and a playful, nurturing relationship. Stuart wants to take care of Nicole; Nicole desperately needs someone to take care of her.

They are different religions (Jewish and Catholic), come from different types of dysfunctional families (his cold and distant; hers close and abusive) and don't seem to have a lot in common other than liking to sleep with each other. So they get married.

Like so many couples, they think the talks that they've had about major life decisions (pets, children, place to live, career) are somehow more negotiable once the rings are on the fingers and forget that marriage is techncially a contract, no matter how much you care for the other person.

Just like real life, their relationship gets worse and worse the longer they stay together. Each person's needs are ignored by the other and an overwhelming resentment sets in for the other person. They confide in everyone but each other and what respect they once had for their partner all but disappears into the despair.

Stuart has a didn't-know-how-good-he-had-it-until-it-was-gone revelation; Nicole realized he was never going to be the man she wanted him to be.

This film should be required viewing for every couple that gets engaged. It's cliché to say it, but it's true—sometimes love just isn't enough.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Notes on a Scandal

Yesterday I saw the thriller Notes on a Scandal, starring Dame Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett.

I was left with mixed emotions.

The story centers around Sheba (Blanchett), who has spent ten years caring for her family—specifically her son with Down's Syndrome—and finds herself ready to branch out and start a career. As a result, she becomes a somewhat scattered art teacher at a high school. A veteran instructor, Barbara (Dench), who lacks companions of her own, quickly befriends Sheba and keeps a detailed diary of their friendship.

As the story progresses, Sheba gets caught having an affair with one of her students by Barbara, who then blackmails Sheba for attention in return for her secrecy.

Dench is apparently a lesbian who is attracted to the younger teacher with a questionable past that only unfolds near the end of the film.

The pace of the movie is great—everything happens quickly and believably, as it would in real-life. The performances are flawless (even the supporting cast is great) and the ending is fine.

The main problems I had with it were the dialogue (wait until you see Sheba scream "Here I am!" in one of the key scenes near the end) and the intrusive score, which often drowned out the cheesy dialogue. Oh wait—maybe the score was good after all.

Anyway—I'd be lying if I didn't say I was entertained during this one. It's a fun, if not predictable ride.

And with Mirren and Winslet all but confirmed for Oscar nods, Dench just may make the Best Actress race a three-way Battle of the Brits with her performance here.

Sunday, January 07, 2007


Today I saw Volver, starring Penelope Cruz. This film was the topic of Cinebanter 19—you can access it here.

Tune in to hear the full review and join in our discussion!