Now in Cinemas: Reviews for Feb. 22, 2007

Little Children, Babel, Dreamgirls, Hannibal Rising and The Darwin Awards
Reviews by Jason Pirodsky
for Expats.cz

A brilliant case study of small-town suburbia, deep-rooted desires, and our overwhelming inability to control them, Todd Field´s sophomore feature Little Children is a compelling, captivating experience. Like the director´s first film, the Oscar-nominated In the Bedroom, we delve into the underbelly of seemingly ‘normal´ society. But unlike the first feature, which veered into melodrama in the second half without the same emotional conviction that preceded it, ‘Children´ is sure-handed all the way through, as uneasy situations are handled with grace and care.

Little Children
Rating:
Directed by Todd Field. Starring Kate Winslet, Patrick Wilson, Jennifer Connelly, Gregg Edelman, Sadie Goldstein, Ty Simpkins, Noah Emmerich, Jackie Earle Haley, Phyllis Somerville. Screenplay by Field and Tom Perrotta, from Perrotta’s novel.
Showtimes
IMDb link
Story focuses on two caregivers – mother Kate Winslet, whose husband (Gregg Edelman) becomes obsessed with internet pornography, and father Patrick Wilson, emotionally distant from documentarian wife Jennifer Connelly. The two meet on the playground and begin an unusual affair: neither of them seems to know what they want, but they aren´t afraid to give in to their base desires. The entire cast is remarkable: Winslet and Wilson are exceptional as the leads, but supporting cast is just as good. Connelly makes the most of her limited screen time: she´s simply amazing during a dinner table scene where she realizes her husband may be having an affair, a silent look conveying what words could not. And Jackie Earle Haley gives the performance of his career, his only notable one since 1979´s Breaking Away, as the neighborhood´s sexual deviant – a character with problems, which the film isn´t afraid to hide, but one we still manage to empathize with. Noah Emmerich is just as good as his antagonist, in a role that could have easily been overplayed but instead quietly fleshed out. Cinematography, editing, music are all outstanding – the use ambient sound here is unforgettable. Voice-over narration, distracting in most films, perfectly matches the direction here; it´s done with the flair of a PBS documentary, treating the characters as subjects in a study of human desire. A superior film; one of the best of 2006.

***

Babel
Rating:
Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu. Starring Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Mohamed Akhzam, Koji Yakusho, Rinko Kikuchi, Yuko Murata, Satoshi Nikaido, Said Tarchani, Boubker Ait El Caid, Gael Garcia Bernal, Adriana Barraza, Elle Fanning, Nathan Gamble, Peter Wight, Abdelkader Bara, Clifton Collins Jr., Robert Esquivel, Michael Pena. Screenplay by Guillermo Arriaga.
Showtimes
IMDb link

A masterfully directed tale of parallel stores, Alejandro González Iñárritu´s Babel occasionally feels awkward with its disjointed narrative, but it´s entirely compelling all the way through. Similarities abound to Iñárritu´s previous work: In Amores Perros, intersecting stories were presented in straightforward fashion, one after the other. In 21 Grams the stories were cut up and re-assembled in a disjointed jigsaw puzzle that abandoned a sense of time. In Babel, the drive is strictly emotion as Iñárritu cuts from one story to the next, ignoring plot but staying on the same emotional wavelength; it´s a masterful, unique accomplishment in direction and editing. Guillermo Arriaga´s script, however, is less remarkable. Husband and wife Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett take a vacation to Morocco; Blanchett is wounded by a stray bullet and stuck in a small village with minimal medical treatment. Meanwhile, back in the US, nanny Adriana Barraza takes their children to Mexico so she can be with her son on his wedding. And over in Japan, a young deaf girl (Rinko Kikuchi) tries to overcome her mother´s suicide and her father´s emotional distance. If the stories sound disjointed, that´s because they are – but the film moves with such a deep drive that we are willing to forgive the simple, perhaps contrived connections between them. I was not able, however, to forgive the Mexican wedding tale; the actions taken by nanny Barraza were preposterous, and Gael Garcia Bernal is completely wasted as her nephew – he simply disappears from the proceedings. But this is a movie where the filmmaking outshines everything else – it´s still wonderful, despite the flaws in the script. The Japanese story is easily the best in the film – scene with deaf Kikuchi at a rave is absolutely unforgettable.

NOTE: only about half the film is in English; the other half, mostly in Japanese (& Japanese sign language), Spanish, and Arabic, will be subtitled in Czech on Prague screens.

***

Dreamgirls
Rating:
Directed by Bill Condon. Starring Jamie Foxx, Beyoncé Knowles, Eddie Murphy, Danny Glover, Jennifer Hudson, Anika Noni Rose, Keith Robinson, Sharon Leal, John Lithgow. Written by Condon, based on the novel by Tom Eyen.
Showtimes
IMDb link
Big, flashy, flawlessly produced musical starts out wonderfully with twenty minutes of rockin´ performances at a talent contest, but eventually becomes so unbearably glossy that it completely distances itself from the audience. Recent musicals like Moulin Rouge and Chicago seem to know they exist in this Hollywood musical-land and have fun with the idea, while films like Ray and Walk the Line provide a number of musical delights set against a tangible true-story background. Dreamgirls attempts to have it both ways, and succeeds at neither; when straight lines of dialogue are executed in song and dance, this becomes The Umbrellas of Cherbourg without the irony. Story involves a trio of young African-American singers (somewhat based on Diana Ross and The Supremes) who revolutionize the music industry but fall prey to the greed of their manager (Jamie Foxx); material could have been much more involving in a more straightforward film. Still, it´s beautiful to look at and exceptionally made; entire cast is excellent, with newcomer Jennifer Hudson (a failed American Idol contestant) stealing the show: her character is the only one with real depth, and it wasn´t provided by the screenplay. Eddie Murphy also good as James “Thunder” Early despite a mishandled drug-addiction subplot.

***

Hannibal Rising
Rating:
Directed by Peter Webber. Starring Gaspard Ulliel, Gong Li, Dominic West, Rhys Ifans, Richard Brake, Kevin McKidd, Stephen Walters, Ivan Marevich, Charles Maquignon. Screenplay by Thomas Harris, based on his novel.
Showtimes
IMDb link

Surprisingly not-awful prequel to The Silence of the Lambs and the other Hannibal movies, film isn´t all that great, either. Lithuania, 1944: the Lector family is killed during the course of WWII, leaving young Hannibal and sister Mischa to fend for themselves as their home is taken over by Nazis. Starving soldiers eat Mischa to survive; eight years later, Hannibal vows revenge. Half Death Wish-like revenge tale, half backstory of one of the screen´s great villains, but satisfying as neither because we don´t care about this psycho or want his motivations explained to us. Well-filmed by director Webber (Girl with a Pearl Earring), Thomas Harris´ story is much too weak, and his script is full of awful dialogue; wonderful actress Gong Li suffers the worst, though Gaspard Ulliel is OK in the lead – as long as you abandon any comparisons to Anthony Hopkins. When Hannibal first meets Li´s Lady Murasaki, film inexplicably turns into a ridiculous ‘Samurai Hannibal´ for fifteen minutes. By the end, as Hannibal snacks on a live man´s face, the movie has completely crossed the line into full camp and unintentional humor. Still, moderately entertaining, with a couple of memorable scenes along the way. Filmed in the Czech Republic, Lithuania, and France in late 2005.

***

The Darwin Awards
Rating:
Written and directed by Finn Taylor. Starring Joseph Fiennes, Winona Ryder, David Arquette, Chris Penn, Max Perlich, Brad Hunt, Tim Blake Nelson, Julianna Margulies, Tom Hollander, Juliette Lewis, Nora Dunn, Lukas Haas, Ty Burrell, Judah Friedlander, Wilmer Valderrama, Alessandro Nivola, D.B. Sweeney.
Showtimes
IMDb link

Complete mess of a film, a total waste of talent (and a reasonable cast) for the filmmakers, and a total waste of time for the audience. The ‘Darwin Awards´ are an internet phenomenon given out each year to those who have removed themselves from the world´s gene pool through acts of sheer stupidity. The film seems to have removed itself from US cinemas in similar fashion. Criminal profiler Joseph Fiennes has lost his job after bungling a murder investigation; obsessed with the Darwin Awards, he goads an insurance company into letting him investigate cases of bizarre deaths and other strange claims in the hopes of preventing future accidental deaths (and saving the company money). Numerous cases are re-enacted (watching these deaths set up as comedy pieces is FAR less entertaining than reading about them) but the bulk of the story is devoted to inept rom-com between Fiennes and insurance agent Winona Ryder, who have no chemistry together. Greatest insult: film doesn´t use any of the actual Darwin Award stories, instead favoring well-known urban legends that have often been mislabeled as Darwin Awards over the years. Nearly completely incompetent and dreadfully dull. Avoid.

Also read:  Aussie and Kiwi Film Fest in Prague will celebrate freedom and diversity

***

Also opening this week: the Czech musical-comedy Kvaska (showtimes | IMDb), from director Mirjam Landa, screening in Czech without subtitles; Gregor Schnitzler’s The Cloud (showtimes | IMDb), screening in German with Czech subtitles; and the animated film Shark Bait (showtimes | IMDb), screening in a Czech-dubbed version.

And: watch the Oscars live on Sunday night/Monday morning at Palace Cinemas Slovanský dům‘s free Oscar Party. Festivities start at 22:00, though the Oscars don’t officially begin until 02:00. Just sign up at HBO’s Czech website here.


Leave a Reply

Related posts

Sign up for our Newsletter

Enter your email to receive a weekly news update from Expats.cz directly to your inbox! We will never share your email or send you spam.

Close Menu