Home Movies Wrap Up Spring 2007

During some down time over the Memorial Day weekend I caught up with some interesting movies recently released on DVD.  Two (Little Children and The Good German) were based on novels, while the third (The Fountain) was apparently based on ideas found in the Bible, the Kabbalah, and Transcendental Meditation.

Little Children

Acting Like Children…, 29 May 2007
David H. Schleicher from New Jersey, USA

Bored and lonely suburbanites (an always excellent Kate Winslet and a surprisingly good Patrick Wilson) start a steamy affair during a summer heat wave against the back drop of a convicted child molester moving into town in director Todd Field’s cold adaptation of novelist Tom Perrotta’s scathing indictment of middle class values. “Little Children” is a huge improvement over Todd Field’s ridiculously overrated directorial debut, “In the Bedroom.” Field’s arrogant, faux-artiste style of directing is far better suited for the dark humor and subdued satire running throughout this film.

Field can not be faulted for having a good eye behind the camera. He’s especially adept at filming quiet scenes of inanimate objects, like trees blowing in the wind against the pointed roofs of suburban households. However, when people enter his camera’s eye, his framing and treatment of them is cold and judgmental. You get the feeling he doesn’t really like any of his characters, and utilizing a sardonic, omniscient voice-over narration attests to his god-like detachment to the lives he is filming.

Superb acting from all involved keep the film watchable. Jennifer Connelly is again criminally underused but shockingly effective in one excellently staged dinner table scene where she suddenly realizes her husband (Wilson) might be more than just friends with their charming female dinner guest (Winslet).

Subplots and side characters over populate the film as it strains to take on the quality of a dense and probing novel. The distractions including a police football league and the disintegration of the recently released child molester range from inane to sickening. This sadly takes away from what is an otherwise engrossing, well acted, smartly scripted view of adultery. These subplots and the frustrating conclusion leave the viewer feeling hollow and angry at themselves for having been so amused by much of it. If Field would stop judging his characters and audience so harshly he might one day make a movie worth our time.

Originally Published on the Internet Movie Database


The Good German

Passable Entertainment for Classic Film Enthusiasts, 28 May 2007
David H. Schleicher from New Jersey, USA

Steven Soderberg attempts to re-imagine the iconic noir films of the 1940’s with “The Good German.” With the old fashioned music score from Thomas Newman and the evocative black-and-white cinematography, he scores in spades. Unfortunately there are some frustrating elements that keep the film from becoming a perfect send-up of those classics.

The acting from Clooney and Blanchett are spot on for the time period the film invokes. Blanchett has received some flack for her thick German accent, and Clooney ridiculed for being wooden, but the styles fit for what Soderbergh was after. Sadly, for the first twenty minutes of the film, Soderbergh allows Tobey Maguire (poorly cast here) to go gonzo in a vain attempt by the non-actor to show he can do more than stare vapidly at the camera or appear all smarmy and misty eyed.

Soderbergh also makes the mistake of utilizing two of the worst elements of films from that time period: unnecessary voice-overs and stock footage to explain plot points when the screenwriter ran out of ideas or the producers cut back on the budget. Oddly, he also infuses a very modern use of sex and violence (though very brief) and profanity (seemingly for comic relief).

Overall, despite some of the distractions, the plot is often engrossing, and as stylish throw-back entertainment designed for the pleasure of movie buffs longing for the days of WWII era noir, the film makes the grade.

Originally Published on the Internet Movie Database


The Fountain (Widescreen Edition)

Death is the Road to Awe, 28 May 2007
David H. Schleicher from New Jersey, USA

Writer/director Darren Aronofsky (“Pi” and “Requiem for a Dream”) starts his “Fountain” on uneven footing with a cumbersome mystical underpinning, but once you realize what the film is actually about, it works quite splendidly. Even during the more perplexing moments of cerebral and spiritual gobbily-gook, Aronofsky hooks you with the amazing visuals and beautiful transitions from scene to scene. Top notch acting and another great score from Clint Mansell keep “The Fountain” fluid and entertaining.

“The Fountain” tells the story of a brilliant neuroscientist (Hugh Jackman in a surprisingly heartfelt and brave performance) passionately working on experimental treatments in a race to save his wife (Rachel Weisz, luminously photographed here by her husband Aronofsky, though given a one-note character to work with as the goddess-incarnate) from an inoperable brain tumor. The film chronicles this man’s ascent into an elaborate fantasy world made up of his own desires to conquer death and his wife’s transcendent views of the universe as witnessed through her deathbed writing project dealing with the legend of the Tree of Life. The flights of fancy depicted are varying in their effectiveness. The Spanish Inquistion and Conquistidor episodes are breathtaking and full or rich, dark visuals and primordial themes on the nature of man. The transcendental meditation segments are quite banal, though end with a stunning visual flourish at the film’s climax.

Aronofsky doesn’t quite reach the profound revelations of Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” (which truly relished in a realistic futurism built on man’s desire to create more perfect technology) or the true transcendence of Terrence Malick’s recent “The New World” (which miraculously depicted a true state of grace through its gritty grounding in realism). Aronofsky’s feelings on the circle of life and how in order to cheat death man must accept death are ultimately simplistic but endearing and ring true. Wrapping that noble truth in beautiful visual compositions, he stakes his claim as a true auteur.

Originally Published on the Internet Movie Database



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