Recent Reviews

Recent Reviews

America's Heart and Soul, Anchorman, The Clearing, Control Room, Fahrenheit 9/11, The Mother, The Saddest Music In The World, Spider-Man 2, The Story of the Weeping Camel, The Terminal, Two Brothers, and all the rest…

America's Heart and Soul
Dir. Louis Schwartzberg (PG)
By virtue of timing alone, America's Heart and Soul, a slice-of-life series of stories released just in time for the flag-waving Fourth of July, has the dubious (and likely unwarranted) appearance of being Disney's substitute for Fahrenheit 9/11, which it declined to distribute. In any case, it's a blasé substitute. There's little to connect the people Schwartzberg encounters in these 20-plus vignettes, beyond uncritical recitations of cliché elementary-school civics lessons, with affirmations of rugged individualism and the Protestant work ethic ad nauseam. But if the American Dream was as pervasive as we are led to believe then we wouldn't need so many constant reminders of its selling points. AP

Dir. Adam McKay; writ. Will Ferrell & Adam McKay; feat. Will Ferrell, Christina Applegate, Paul Rudd, Steven Carell, David Koechner (PG-13)
Ferrell plays anchorman Ron Burgundy, whose all-male, fraternity-like news team is thrown into disarray when the station hires a woman who takes her job very seriously. The two fall madly in love, but professional jealousy gets in the way. Will Ferrell with wounded pride is enough to hang a movie on, but Will Ferrell with wounded pride and a Burt Reynolds moustache is a reason to go online and buy advance tickets. It is roughly the era of Starsky and Hutch, and the atmosphere that middling flick worked so hard to capture is evoked effortlessly here; the difference is æ as is true so often with Will Ferrell æ that you get the feeling the movie is doing this for its own pleasure, with no thought of mocking the '70s for the benefit of smug 21st Century hipsters. JD

The Clearing
Dir. Pieter Jan Brugge; writ. Justin Haythe; feat. Robert Redford, Helen Mirren, Willem Dafoe, Alessandro Nivola, Matt Craven, Melissa Sagemiller (PG)
The Clearing is not so much a violent thriller as a study in three parallel lives that, in the non-Euclidean geometry of Justin Haythe's screenplay, eventually converge. But the pleasure that this understated film provides is not in guessing or discovering plot twists; the trailer already divulges the most shocking. The plot holds a viewer hostage to the spectacle of three superb actors thoroughly inhabiting their roles. "If you were in my shoes, wouldn't you do it?" asks Arnold, the down-and-out abductor, who regards, Wayne, his hostage, as a luckier version of himself. Providing new footwear for their trek through the forest, Arnold in fact puts Wayne into his shoes. For the viewer and its imperfect characters, The Clearing is a strenuous exercise in empathy. SGK

Control Room
Dir. Jehane Noujaim (NR)
Control Room presents an idea very few Americans have paused to consider: The Al Jazeera network may be a more impartial source of news than some of America's leading media outlets. The film shows just how manipulated some of our news is, with video footage not aired on these shores of iconic events such as the fall of Baghdad. It shows a frustrated American press corps that sometimes seems to want to show its viewers more than the government will allow. Whether you walk out rooting for Al Jazeera or condemning it, the film presents a side of this war you haven't seen unless you've recently been stationed in Iraq. JD

Fahrenheit 9/11
Dir. Michael Moore (R)
To the popular, manipulated, mind, the deadly attacks on New York and Washington committed by al Qaeda transformed an executive slacker into a cross between Churchill and Roland. Moore dissents. His post-9-11 Bush is an Orwellian monster who exploits public fear for partisan advantage and fosters ceaseless war in order to consolidate control. Fahrenheit 9/11 is not "balanced." Its antecedent is not those tedious documentaries whose voice-of-God narration soothes us into submission, but rather Emile Zola's "J'accuse." The imperial president, says Moore, has no clothes, except a Navy flight jacket he never earned. Fahrenheit 9/11 saddens, infuriates, informs, and empowers. SGK

The Mother
Dir. Roger Michell; writ. Hanif Kureishi; feat. Anne Reid, Daniel Craig, Cathryn Bradshaw, Peter Vaughan, Steve Mackintosh (R)
The Mother is a kind of reality check on Mike Newell's Enchanted April, the 1992 fantasy about aging with gusto. "Now all I want to do are interesting things," declares the widowed May, who ends up sleeping with her daughter's married boyfriend, Darren. Though she refuses to allow her life to be summed up as simply "the Mother," and though she ends up literally with a black eye, May is the only sympathetic figure in this painful domestic drama. In its cruel baring of souls and bosoms, the film is worthy of an English John Cassavetes. At an early point in their troubled and troubling liaison, May and Darren visit the grave of William Hogarth, whose caustic sketches exposed the odious hypocrisy of 18th-century Britain. In The Mother, Hogarth's searing spirit lives again. SGK

The Saddest Music in the World
Dir. Guy Maddin; writ. Kazuo Ishiguro, Guy Maddin; feat. Mark McKinney, Isabella Rossellini, Maria de Medeiros, Ross McMillan, David Fox (NR)
Set in 1933, this is the goofy story of an international cash tournament held in chilly, gloomy Winnipeg. An olympiad of maudlin melody has been conceived by a local beer magnate. Each elimination round pits representatives of one nation against those of another. All this and more add up to a heady brew that holds more spume than substance. The very idea of a monetary reward for the saddest sounds mocks North American culture's tendency to turn everything into a sporting event and to exploit dolor for dollars. John Keats observed that: "Our sweetest songs of saddest thoughts do sing." Yet The Saddest Music in the World is about as sweet as rancid beer. SGK

Spider-Man 2
Dir. Sam Raimi; writ. Alvin Sargent; feat. Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Alfred Molina, Rosemary Harris, J.K. Simmons (PG-13)
Things get really bad for Spider-Man's alter ego in this second installment of the blockbuster franchise - and that's good news. Peter Parker is destitute and living in a dump, while the love of his life, Mary Jane, becomes engaged to a muscular astronaut who happens to be his boss' son. This angst provides the backdrop for a new villain, Doctor Octopus. Ock has built a device that threatens Manhattan, of course, but the film's real conflict is between Parker and Spider-Man. The dialogue is as one-dimensional as a comic book page, but the emotional thrust is compelling. It's enough to make you believe in heroes again. JD

The Story of the Weeping Camel
Dir. Byambasuren Davaa and Luigi Falorni; feat. Ingen Temee, Botok, Uuganbaatar Ikhbayar, Odgerel Ayusch, Janchiv Ayurzana, Enkhbulgan Ikhbayar, Guntbaatar Ikhbayar, Amgaabazar Gonson, Zeveljamz Nyam, Ikhbayar Amgaabazar, Chimed Ohin, Munkhbayar Lhagav (PG)
This National Geographic feature film seamlessly blurs the line between documentary and dramatization. Our only guide to the strange customs and culture unfolding onscreen are the sometimes hilariously present-perfect-tense translations of the family of Mongolian herders as they discuss daily business. When a mother camel refuses to nurse her newborn, the two young sons of this four-generation family living in the Gobi desert must journey to the nearest town to find a violinist to help them perform a special ceremony to reunite the pair before the calf dies of malnutrition. Camels bark (they also neigh and moan), and as the title suggests, they sometimes weep. It's a vocabulary we are left to our own devices to decipher, but like the largely impassive faces of our Mongolian hosts, the film suggests that we all retain some instinct and memory of our agrarian past that binds us. EW

The Terminal
Dir. Steven Spielberg; writ. Sacha Gervasi, Jeff Nathanson; feat. Tom Hanks, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Stanley Tucci, Chi McBride, Diego Luna, Kumar Pallana, Zoe Saldana, Eddie Jones (PG)
Tom Hanks plays this guy from the former Soviet Union who has just landed at a New York airport. Trouble is, while he was in the air a civil war broke out in his home country; when he lands, his country doesn't exist. Bureaucrats at the airport can't recognize his papers, because they come from a defunct nation, and can't think of any way to handle his case, so they tell him he has to stay in the terminal until they can work something out. He lives in the airport for nine months. The Terminal could be a Kafka-esque nightmare, or a redemptive adventure story, but no matter how you play out the plot, it's essential that you play it like a fable, that you acknowledge the premise is ridiculous and its details are not to be taken literally. Unfortunately, Spielberg does. JD

Twilight Samurai (Tasogare Seibei)
Dir. Yoji Yamada; writ. Yoji Yamada, Yoshitaka Asama, based on stories byShuuhei Fujisawa; feat. Hiroyuki Sanada, Rie Miyazawa, Min Tanaka, Nenji Kobayashi, Ren Osugi (NR)
Set at the end of the feudal Edo period in the bleak Shonai province of northeastern Japan, where corpses of peasants clutter the icy river, Twilight Samurai is the portrait of a decent man whose impoverished family means more to him than the antiquated codes of swordsman chivalry. Director Yoji Yamada has created an intimate psychological study instead of a vast and violent spectacle. "If you have the power to think," Igushi advises his oldest daughter, "you'll always survive somehow." Twilight Samurai illustrates how to keep its genre alive, by curbing the carnage and cultivating its powers of thought. SGK

Two Brothers
Dir. Jean-Jacques Annaud; writ. Alain Godard, Jean-Jacques Annaud; feat. Guy Pearce, Jean-Claude Dreyfus, Philippine Leroy-Beaulieu, Freddie Highmore (PG)
Though Guy Pearce, playing a great white hunter, author, and looter of antiquities, has the largest speaking part, the leading men in Two Brothers are adorable tigers named Kumal and Sangha. What Babar did for elephants and Bambi for fawns, this film does for tigers: It humanizes them, which is preferable to demonizing them, but, given the film's dim view of our species as greedy, vain, and stupid, humanizing is a kind of libel. Two Brothers follows Kumal and Sangha out of the jungle and into the clutches of human captors, Kumal as a slave to the circus, Sangha into the private zoo of a pompous local potentate. "After this is all over," says Pearce's Aidan McRory, when the film is almost all over, "I'll never touch a gun again." Two Brothers offers a lesson in respect and restraint. Two Brothers concludes by announcing that, though there were 100,000 a century ago, only 5,000 tigers remain in the wild today. On the evidence of this film, it has been an incalculable loss to the acting profession. SGK

Films reviewed by:
GB: Gregg Barrios
JD: John DeFore
LMF: Laura Fries
SGK: Steven G. Kellman
WK: Wendi Kimura
AL: Albert Lopez
JM: Jonathan Marcus
AP: Alejandro Pérez
RP: Rich Perin
LS: Lisa Sorg
JW: Joe Weiss
EW: Elaine Wolff


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