Recent Reviews

21 Grams
Dir. Alejandro González Iñárritu; writ. Guillermo Arriaga; feat. Sean Penn, Naomi Watts, Benicio Del Toro, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Melissa Leo, Paul Calderon (R)
21 Grams juggles three main characters who, though they don't know it yet, are involved in one story. We see snippets (very short ones, for much of the film) of their lives and get only the slimmest clues about how each scene relates to another temporarily or logically. What we are certain of is that bad things have happened and will happen to these people; and somewhere in those words "have happened and will happen" may be a good argument for the film's challenging structure. The terrible events, accidental and planned, are meant to seem inevitable and immutable, preordained by God and predictable by mathematics, unseen in each individual's past but looming there nonetheless like a black cloud on the horizon. The film's editing achieves this mood. At the same time, the mental effort involved in putting the pieces together can leave a viewer unable to be moved completely by the very tragedies that cast such a long shadow. It is easy to be ambivalent about the structure, but hard to deny that this cast's performances would survive any number of editing-room tricks. Penn, Watts, Del Toro, and supporting player Melissa Leo do the kind of work awards were made for. JD

City of God (Cidade de Deus)
Dir. Katia Lund & Fernando Meirelles; writ. Braulio Montovani, based on a novel by Paulo Lins; feat. Alexandre Rodrigues, Leandro Firmino, Phellipe Haagensen, Douglas Silva, Jonathan Haagensen, Matheus Nachtergaele, Seu Jorge (R)
"We came to the City of God hoping to find paradise," recalls a former resident, one of thousands who moved into the new section of Rio de Janeiro in the 1960s, in the film City of God. What they found was a ready-made favela, a congested slum lacking electricity, running water, or divinity. The film derives its texture in part from its origins in a novel; a narrator frames the entire story and introduces characters as characters, while sections of the film are designated by chapter titles. City of God offers raw exposure to Rio's savage, youthful street culture, but refracts it through overt and artful cinematography and editing. It this is Candid Camera, the lenses, lighting, and arrangement of the frames are not invisible. SGK

Dir. & writ. Patty Jenkins; feat. Charlize Theron, Christina Ricci, Bruce Dern, Lee Tergesen, Annie Corley (R)
Desperate to persuade Selby Wall (Ricci), a lonely gamine she meets in a bar, to spend a week with her, Aileen Wournos (Theron) insists: "You'll never meet someone like me again." She is right, and, instead of returning to her father in Ohio, Wall joins Wournos at a seedy motel in Daytona Beach. Monster is a horror show, its horror intensified by an opening announcement that it is based on a true story: a spiteful woman's homicidal spree. Between 1989 and 1990, Wournos, a 33-year-old hooker who worked the roads of Florida for $30 tricks, shot six of her johns to death. Raped by her father's friend, prostituting herself by age 9, and on her own by age 13, Wournos has, by the time she stumbles out of the rain and into the opening scene, been around the wheel several times. Monster itself is a fun-park attraction that induces less amusement than nausea. A spectacular performance by Charlize Theron, who reportedly put on 30 pounds and prosthetic teeth to impersonate Wournos, gives life to Monster. She commands the screen whenever she is on it, which is almost every moment. But Monster refuses to put together a coherent case for whether Wournos and Wall should be held accountable for their odious actions or regarded as creatures of circumstance, monsters created by a commodity culture in which love, like cash, is just another four-letter word. SGK

The Passion of the Christ
Dir. Mel Gibson; writ. Benedict Fitzgerald, Gibson; feat. James Caviezel, Maia Morgenstern, Monica Bellucci, Hristo Jivkov, Hristo Shopov, Rosalinda Celentano (R)
By restricting itself to the final 12 hours of Jesus' life, The Passion of the Christ revels in distress devoid of context. Watching Jim Caviezel methodically transform into a barely ambulant corpse oozing blood from every pore, one might reasonably ask: What is the point? Christian theology responds: the ministry and the resurrection. But Mel Gibson's movie offers neither. A few fleeting flashbacks to the Sermon on the Mount are insufficient to establish faith, hope, and charity as counterweights to the ferocious malice on display for all but a couple of minutes. The film provides no basis for understanding the fury that drives the Temple priests and the crowds in the streets to demand the death of a supremely loving man. It is pain without purpose, the spectacle of savage violence ravaging the Prince of Peace. At the end, a momentary image of Jesus on his feet and washed of his wounds points to the resurrection, but it hardly redeems this bloody film. SGK

Touching the Void
Dir. Kevin Macdonald; writ. Joe Simpson; feat. Nicholas Aaron, Richard Hawking, Brendan Mackey, Simpson, Simon Yates (NR)
In June 1985, 21-year-old Simon Yates and 25-year-old Joe Simpson set out to ascend Siula Grande, a peak in the Peruvian Andes whose west face had never before been conquered. By the third day of strenuous, perilous climbing through icy winds, the two British mountaineers reached the 21,000-foot summit. Touching the Void commemorates an ordeal of extraordinary tenacity and improbable survival. Hours after standing in exultation atop Siula Grande, Joe and Simon were lost in the snow on the north face of the mountain. The film is a hybrid of documentary and reenactment. Recent on-camera interviews with Simon, Joe, and Richard Hawking, a non-climber who manned the base camp, alternate with footage of Nicholas Aaron and Brendan Mackey simulating the actions of Simon and Joe, respectively, two decades ago. To put it all on film takes much more than a camera. Director Kevin Macdonald, whose earlier work includes One Day in September, the riveting account of the Munich Olympic massacre, took his crew and his courage to the Andes to replicate the disastrous ascent of Siula Grande. SGK

Triplets of Belleville
Dir. & writ. Sylvain Chomet; feat. MichËle Caucheteux, Jean-Claude Donda, Michel Robin, Monica Viegas (PG-13)
In contrast to the undersea wonderland of Finding Nemo, where nothing would exist without computer animation, Triplets makes its technological tools almost invisible, using 3-D rendering to achieve certain effects (the fluid motion of automobiles, the rough seas between Paris and Belleville) but always making it subservient to the style of writer/director Sylvain Chomet, whose ridiculously exaggerated characters and rustic drawing line have more in common with European comic books than with most feature films. Beginning with a giddy musical tribute to pioneering cartoonist Max Fleischer, in which real-life entertainers like Django Reinhardt and Josephine Baker are parodied, Triplets quickly moves to the outskirts of Paris, where a sad, rotund boy (ironically named Champion) lives with his grandmother. One line of dialogue is spoken, and those are practically the last words we will hear. The plot begins when Champion is kidnapped during the race, stolen for unknown purposes, and Grandma sets off with Bruno on the long quest to rescue him. They follow his trail to Belleville, a fictional hybrid of Montreal and New York City, and are taken in by the Triplets, a singing group featured earlier in the film. Any kid mature enough to follow a wordless narrative for 80 minutes stands a good chance of being entranced by this film - and any adult willing to watch smart cartoons (we're looking at you, members of the Academy) would be a fool to miss it. JD

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
JW: Joe Weiss
EW: Elaine Wolff