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Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Children of Men 

Children of Men is as glum and humorless as its setting, a slowly decaying near-future where no child has been born in 18 years. It is also not subtle; the miracle woman with a miracle pregnancy, sort of a McGuffin with dialogue, is named Kee (as in “Key"), and the ship that will take her to the saviors at the Human Project is called the Tomorrow.

If this were a more allegorical movie, given to potent symbolism and broad strokes of human behavior, that would be one thing. But Children of Men is so dreary that it’s hard to care what any of the characters do. Even their instinct to survive is carried out as if by rote, rather than by passion. Unbroken shots of neighborhoods under siege that might otherwise exhilirating, or at least involving, then become merely a study in directing technique without any sense of dire urgency. Is it a success or a failure when a film creates an atmosphere of grim resignation so complete that the audience feels it, too?

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Friday, December 22, 2006

The Good German 

The Good German works right up till the point that it doesn’t. That point is when Tully, played with vicious aplomb by Tobey Maguire, exits the story. Tully is a welcome character in the story, if only because his presence adds a cynical grounding to the proceedings. Yes, there’s a lot of Old Hollywood on display here, but Tully is a splash of cold water. When he leaves, so does The Good German‘s sense of invention; the rest is rote.

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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Rocky Balboa 

Rocky Balboa is a relic. Writer/director/star Sylvester Stallone has said he’s made this film for the baby boomers, and it shows; there’s no irony, no hint of self-awareness, no trace of guile. There’s only earnestness. This is a film unafraid to have long monologues about heart, and courage, and respect. All this to a sweeten-it-with-strings score that a generous person would call “omnipresent.” There was one moment where I almost squirmed from embarassment, at this or that speech about what it means to be a fighter. That could be more an indictment of me and my generation than of Rocky Balboa.

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Friday, December 08, 2006

Apocalypto, Blood Diamond 

Apocalypto:

Mel Gibson is a strange duck. I don’t mean the craziness, or the anti-Semitic remarks, or any of that. This is a movie review, after all, not a column in People. If you want dirt, gossip, or snark, go somewhere else. I’m here to talk about his work.

First, credit where credit’s due: the man is a very skilled filmmaker. He gets solid performances from his actors. He writes good dialogue. His movies are beautifully composed. And they are always interesting. He’s no hack, and he’s certainly not interested in turning out the same old garbage that most studios put out. He is a man with a vision, and he does not compromise in telling it. There’s something to be said for all of these traits.

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Blood Diamond:

Edward Zwick is an old-fashioned filmmaker, and Blood Diamond is an old-fashioned instructional film that tells us the real cost behind every diamond ring. I may be more receptive to its message than most; every holiday season, the diamond industry finds new ways to offend me, and I already knew a little of what’s shown here. Yes, men are pressganged into mining for diamonds by tyrannical warlords looking to fund their bloody revolutions. Yes, De Beers and others (represented here by the fictional firm Van Der Kapp) buy up diamond surpluses and store them, specifically to create artificial scarcity and raise prices.

But I didn’t know about the million-strong refugee camps left in the wake of these periodic surges of violence. I didn’t know how De Beers got around buying conflict diamonds (they’re smuggled into neighboring nations and bought there). Nor have I seen so vividly rendered the squalor that the world’s richest people make their fortunes in. In all these and other ways, Blood Diamond is informative and (I hope) transformative to audience members who knew nothing about the source of their jewelry. “People would not wear a diamond on their finger if they knew it cost someone their hand,” says one character in a particularly naive lapse of judgement for someone surrounded by the kind of violence pretty rocks can generate. But here’s hoping he’s right anyway.

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