This animated trip through the Mexican Day of the Dead, produced in part by Guillermo del Toro but directed by Jorge Gutierrez, is a movie completely at odds with itself from start to finish. The art style, in which the characters look like highly articulated wooden dolls and are surrounded by endless bursts of color, is incredible and is like nothing I’ve ever seen in a movie. The story is an unfocused mess, pouring father-child issues, animal rights, women’s rights, romance, personal maturity, and self-determination into one film whose central good-versus-evil plot is as multilayered as the setting itself. The story really is a gorgeous and well-meaning celebration of a culture viewers might be unfamiliar with, but ultimately its appeal will depend on how much you expect a movie’s logic to hold up under scrutiny.
Of his films that I’ve watched, I never thought of Adam Sandler as a serious or skilled actor, yet here he is as Charlie Fineman, a man who still grieves years onward from the loss of his family in the September 11 terrorist attacks. Despite some missteps in other areas, the movie treats its setting and context with respect, and there are no jokes made at the expense of this disastrous day’s victims or even of the terrorists, who are simply referred to as monsters–“humans” would be better, but the word choices could have been and sometimes are much worse. Don Cheadle plays Sandler’s former college roommate Alan Johnson, a dentist who spends much of the film helping Charlie emotionally recover. (Adam is “Charlie,” and Cheadle is “Alan.” Don’t get confused.) Their friendship forms much of the core of this film, and on the whole, that story is something of a pleasant surprise.
Kevin Sorbo (yep, Hercules) plays a smug, evil, atheistic college professor who belittles and antagonizes Josh Wheaton and anyone else who dares stand up for the idea that God exists. As a result, the young student Wheaton’s duty–which is literally forced on him by Professor Radisson–is to defend the existence of God or risk failing a philosophy class that rarely if ever discusses much philosophy.
God’s Not Dead has a few isolated but truly precious successes that keep the film from being a total waste, but they don’t outweigh the vicious and cliched writing, the mediocre acting (except from Sorbo, of course, and a few others), or the excessive running time of a story that ends well before its movie does.
DreamWorks Animation’s latest feature takes nearly everything that was great about the first How to Train Your Dragon film and expands on it. The characters are funnier, and none of them are nearly as annoying as they sometimes used to be. The setting was gorgeous to start with, but its scope now seems to accommodate the viewer’s imagination instead of feeling more restricted to what can reasonably be shown in a movie. Most importantly, regardless of the story’s remaining flaws, it does way too much right for me to call it anything less than excellent.
Studio Ghibli continues to overwhelm. From Up on Poppy Hill is a masterpiece of animation from director Goro Miyazaki, and it gives me great confidence that he will someday be able to carry on the legacy of his famous father Hayao, who co-wrote this Tetsurō Sayama-adapted screenplay with Keiko Niwa and was responsible for films such as Kiki’s Delivery Service and Porco Rosso.
An artistically and emotionally beautiful period piece set in an early-1960s Yokohama, the film is incredibly moving both as a love story and as an ode to historical preservation and is easily one of the most spectacular successes I’ve witnessed in years.
Don’t let the name bother you–The Artist is not a complex work, and you need not be a film expert in order to appreciate it. A French, silent, monochrome production might or might not have been the most obvious choice to win the “Best Picture” Academy Award, but director Michel Hazanavicius and an excellent cast tell a classic if occasionally simplistic story of a cinema legend adapting to a bold and unfamiliar time.
Despite the poster and the film, Easter is a joyous occasion. Jesus is risen indeed.
I really don’t know how much I actually need to say. Mel Gibson’s blockbuster arrived to mixed reviews, made a boatload of cash on a small budget, and laughed at the face of any sort of “bad publicity” it may have gotten, earning a few well deserved Academy Award nominations for the effort. The story, though still slightly embellished, is a simple retelling of the final hours of Jesus Christ’s life and is relatively predictable compared to Scorsese’s own rendering of the event.
The Passion is not primarily about narrative, which for some viewers may serve to be its undoing, along with the sheer amount of blood and gore that literally fills most of the movie’s running time. Is it necessary to watch this, as an adult or particularly as a teenager, to comprehend and appreciate what Jesus went through? That’s not an easy question for me to answer, but the film has a macabre talent, and it shows it off all too well.
“Is there a story,” I once asked myself, “where instead of an ordinary person being propped up on a pedestal and touted as a Christ figure, the reverse happens?” I’d long imagined Jesus and Mary Magdalene enjoying an evening in a corner diner, savoring life at its most mundane as any of us might do.
Director Martin Scorsese, who himself loves The Robe and introduces the fiftieth-anniversary edition, places on the screen a book adaptation that I must first describe as “riveting.” For better or worse, the story openly acknowledges and embraces its scriptural divergences, which it uses to create an original if sometimes reckless narrative that mostly remains powerful all the way through.
When a recently hired columnist begins to speak out against the cultural and economic injustices endured by her city’s maids of African descent (“the help”), she establishes herself not as a white messiah but as an amplifier for the opinions and ideas these disenfranchised yet intelligent women hold. The Help smartly rises above its own civil-rights trappings, becoming a memorable and exceptionally well written character drama.
It doesn’t take much to make a story feel fresh. Take the concept of a time-honored romantic tale, then start it in a mental hospital, focusing on a penitent hero with a difficult past, some major mistakes, and scars to show for both. He’s not perfect, but it makes no difference–he’s already got our attention, and he’s desperate to win his wife back.
For our heroine, consider a young woman who grieves over her husband’s untimely death and lives as though she’s still married. She makes some counterproductive decisions, but her own needs are all too clear to see. Maybe she’ll find love again someday.
While some of Silver Linings Playbook’s character and narrative decisions seem unwise or downright neglectful, the story arguably has its heart in the right places, even if it’s taking those intentions and giving them meaning that often proves the toughest. In the end, sometimes a man just wants to see his beloved again. Sometimes that causes its own problems.