Friday, December 30, 2005

Match Point

Match Point is an interesting character study of a somewhat unscrupulous man trying to get everything he wants, without having to do too any real work. It’s just a little too predictable for my tastes, but it is very well done. Everything that happens in the first ten minutes foreshadows all that will happen the final hour and forty-five. Even small moments in the plot are given away well before the scene ends (or in some cases, even begin).

Chris (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers) is a former tennis player turned tennis pro at an exclusive club. There he meets Tom (Matthew Goode) and strikes up a friendship with Tom and his family. He starts dating Tom’s sister Chloe (Emily Mortimer) and becomes a favorite of his father (Brian Cox) and mother (Penelope Wilton).

The problem is Chris falls madly in love with American actress Nola Rice (Scarlett Johansson) who Tom is dating. From their first moments on screen together you know the whole affair is going to end bloody.

The film is well cast and the performances from all are first rate. Brian Cox provides a nice supporting role as the loving and doting father and Mortimer works well as the loving, but needy, Chloe. The films best role goes to Rhys-Meyers as the complicated and scheming Chris who wants the security and wealth of his marriage but can’t ignore his lust for Nola.

Johansson gives us a complex woman, who knows her effect on men and uses it to her advantage. Though I did find her performance too whiney in the last act. Both flawed main characters are very human in their need for passionate love and their inability for emotional commitment and responsibility.

It’s nice to see Woody Allen moving away from the same types of movies he has made in recent years (The Curse of the Jade Scorpion, Anything Else, Small Time Crooks, Celebrity) and make something different; though fans of Crimes and Misdemeanors may find it a little too similar.

This is a hard movie for me to review because of how well it is made must be balanced at how predictable and telegraphed the film is. I sat down to watch the film a second time to make up my mind. What I’m left with is this: Match Point is a lovingly made film by a great director and, although quite flawed, is still worth a first and even second look.

Is it Woody Allen’s best work? No, but it is better than his recent entries and shows he still has stories left to tell. He finally seems to be back on the right track. Not a must-see by any means, but a good film by an American icon that I think you will be able to enjoy despite its flaws.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

After the Sunset

I’m not a huge Brett Ratner fan, but of all his movies this is probably my favorite.  I like heist flicks and After the Sunset is a good, though not great, one.  Brosnan’s charm, Harrelson’s wackiness, and Hayek’s beauty make this an enjoyable little film.

Max (Pierce Brosnan) and Lola (Salma Hayek) pull their last heist in Los Angeles stealing the second Napoleon diamond from FBI Agent Stan Lloyd (Woody Harrelson) before retiring to the Bahamas.  On arrival Lola is content with retirement, but Max grows bored.  His boredom comes to an end when Stan shows up telling him that the third Napoleon diamond is on it’s way to the Bahamas and dares him to try and steal it.

Max is in a quandary as Lola wants nothing more than to be married and leave their criminal past in, well, the past.  Also involved is a local gangster Henri Moore (Don Cheadle) who wants Max to steal the diamond to help him pay for his gun running, prostitution, and drug business.

Friday, December 9, 2005

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe based off of the book by C.S. Lewis is a stuptifyingly horrendously awful mess. I HATED this film. The film chronicles the four Pevensie children as they are given the job of leading an army and killing any non-believers to help out a lion who sounds quite a bit like Qui-Gon Jinn. Poorly edited (140 minutes) with amateurish special effects and bad TV acting produce one of the worst films of the year and the most inept, violent, subversive, and intolerant children’s film ever made by Hollywood. (Kudos guys!)

The story starts with Mrs. Pevensie (Judy McIntosh) sending her four children to stay with Professor Kirke (Jim Broadbent). I assume the professor is a family friend or at least a nice stranger, but while the film explains why the mother would send her children away to protect them it never really clarifies why she would send them to Kirke. Exploring the pristinely clean house during a game of hide and seek the youngest of the clan Lucy (Georgie Henley) discovers a wardrobe (large dresser) in one of the countless rooms in the professor’s well kept mansion.

Sorry, I have to stop for a moment. The movie is spotless; there is no dust, no dirt, no hair out of place. The Death Star wasn’t this clean! It may be nitpicking, but especially in a movie where kids hide in dusty rooms, roll around in the wilderness and fight to the death you might expect them to get a little mussed.

Back to the story… See these four “children of Adam” enter the world of Narnia through the wardrobe (don’t ask how or why, or how the professor came into possession of the magical wardrobe. The film isn’t that well thought out. For example where do all these perfectly tailored children’s clothes keep coming from in a world without humans?

Anyway, after 45 minutes of story they finally find themselves in a snowy forest and encounter all kinds of shocking sights. Well, I would assume they would be shocking, but these kids take it in like it’s something that happens to them everyday. True there is some shock when they meet Mr. Beaver (Ray Winstone), but the rest of the “wonders” of Narnia are taken completely in stride by the Pevensie crew. I don’t know what would happen if I met a talking lion or an army of centaurs, but I’m guessing I would react more than if I had met three old ladies crossing the street.

Our visitors become instantly popular. It seems Narnia has talking lions and beavers, evil witches, trolls, centaurs, minotaurs, unicorns, but no humans. Narnia has been plunged into eternal winter that only pre-told coming of for humans can reverse. So these four untrained and somewhat unwilling children are given command of the armies of Narnia and Peter (William Mosley) is asked to lead them into battle. Good plan; who put the lion in charge anyway?

Subplots include the seduction of Edmund (Skandar Keynes) by the White Witch, the fate of Lucy’s friend, a faun named Mr. Thomnus (James McAvoy), and the brutal and torturous death of the lion general Aslan (Liam Neeson), which good sister Susan (Anna Poppelwell) allows her 6 year-old sister to witness (as to what other use Susan has in the story, well….I’m still trying to figure that out). Of course since no one dies in this movie I guess that makes the torture in front of children okay. We are made to watch his eventual miraculous resurrection, and if you can’t figure out the clumsy symbolism of this you need to ride the special bus to school. The scene is so heavy-handed and graceless all I could do was groan.

The cavalier way this film deals with death makes me incredibly angry. The film puts children in control of an army allowing them to kill and yet never shows a moment of shame or contemplation for their actions. Nor is any blood spilled during this great climatic war. In fact the film’s main message seems to be war is good and there are never any consequences. I bet George Bush will love it.

All but two of the characters the family meet in Narnia are CGI. Mr. Thomnus is the first character we meet through Lucy’s eyes. McAvoy is fine in the part though the look of the character, a faun, is never quite right. The other, the White Witch (Tilda Swinton in a waaaay over the top performance), is evil and devious, but only in a 3rd grade kinda way. You expect her at anytime to sneer and cry for her mommy. Truthfully it was hard to take her character seriously when she’s walking around for most of the movie with the Fortress of Solitude on her head. Creepy? Maybe, but not too scary.

As for the human characters, the acting is what you would expect in a film that contains only child actors talking at bluescreens. The awkwardness of it made me nostalgic for Jar Jar Binks. It’s not that the performances of the actors are bad, though they are pretty bad. And it’s not that the characters are thinly written, though they are. It’s the way the story makes these four children carry the entire movie, an overweight and gargantuan charge, that sets them up to fail. It feels way too much like a rushed “TV event” rather than a large big budget theatrical production.

The special effects are an odd bag as so many shots were needed (about 75% of this film is CGI) that multiple companies were hired. Some of the effects work well. Most do not. The blue screen scenes look amatuerish and you can often easily tell when the actors are in the studio versus at a location. This might make a fun drinking game but doesn’t really help the movie. It almost seems that the film was rushed into production as many of the larger or more complex shots seem unfinished and blurry as if only partially finished. Geroge Lucas should get ILM’s name of this film before it does his company irrevocable damage.

The story might work well in a book but the movie takes any subtlety of the Christian allegory and rather crudely screams it at the top of its lungs. You might have well just named the lion Jesus for Christ’s sake! I also have some problem with the Christian theme being so heavy in the movie and casting every character who believes something different as a sub-human monster. Nice lesson or religious intolerance for kids there guys. The film also states the mind-blowing assertion that no matter how ill-equipped or badly led your army is as long as you have God on your side you will be victorious over infidels. Wow, a movie that pushes the ideals of Christianity and Al Qaeda! I wish somebody would have shot me halfway through this mess, but of course I wouldn’t have really died because I would be resurrected and forced to watch more. Sadly I had to settle for dying a little inside.

It’s quite a shame that a film with this much money and press behind it seems so cheaply and so poorly made. Other than making Willow look awesome by comparison the film achieves little in its 140 minute running time.