Monday, December 19, 2005

Boutique-y Stuff: Keane, Touch the Sound, Jesus Is Magic, The Constant Gardener, Pride & Prejudice

You know the holidays are approaching when what's playing at the boutique places and what's playing at the multiplex start to run together. I get Pride & Prejudice playing at the mall - folks know Keira Knightley's name and like her being English and spunky - but why does Landmark Kendall Square pick up The Ice Harvest? I suppose noir-ish stuff doesn't play so well in mainstream theaters, but, still, that's not really a terribly artsy movie (and promoting it as the new film by the maker of Caddyshack and Groundhog Day doesn't do it many favors, as it's not really a comedy and doesn't have Bill Murray).

In good news: The Brattle has evidently raised enough money to extend its schedule just a little bit into the new year, and the first week of showings there in 2006 are Muppet movies. I'll feel better when I see a schedule for January and February, and much better when I see one for March/April, but I'm taking what I can get.

Keane

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 22 November 2005 at The Brattle Theater (Recent Raves)

William Keane has problems. At first we think, well, sure, of course - his seven-year-old daughter is missing, which is enough to set anybody on edge. But his daughter's been missing for months, and as he searches the bus station where she vanished, he seems to lose track of things. Sometimes he seems to be talking about the disappearance like it happened months ago, other times like it just happens. He impulsively jumps on a bus out of town when he thinks that that is the key to finding her, and creates a disturbance to get off when his thinking shifts.

That's our first look at Keane's title character, and he never gets less disturbing. We soon learn that he's receiving disability checks and spending chunks of them on drugs and booze. He seems to be pulling himself together, and then Lynn and Kira Bedick enter his life. The question is, will this mother and her seven-year-old girl stabilize William, or send him off the deep end?

Read the rest at HBS.

Touch the Sound

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 23 November 2005 at The Brattle Theater (Recent Raves)

The promo copy sums this movie up: Evelyn Glennie is one of the world's most talented and renowned percussionists, despite the fact that she is profoundly deaf. It's a natural, immediate hook that would make for an immensely frustrating movie if Glennie was a less charismatic screen presence. Fortunately, she holds up her end of the movie while director Thomas Riedelsheimer documents her with both great appreciation and his own artist's touch.

Ostensibly, this is meant to be a document of Evelyn Glennie and Fred Frith recording a new, totally improvised album in a German building set for demolition. That's only a small part of what we see, though - Ms. Glennie spends time performing on the streets of New York, teaching drums to a deaf teenager in a Glasgow school, giving a concert in Fuji City, Japan, and visiting with her brother at the family farm back in Scotland. You can tell by the changing hair colors that the movie was filmed over a considerable amount of time, and then pieced together in a non-linear manner.

Read the rest at HBS.

Sarah Silverman: Jesus Is Magic

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 26 November 2005 at Kendall Square #1 (first-run)

Someday, hopefully someday soon, somebody in Hollywood is going to figure out how to use Sarah Silverman. Whenever she shows up on a talk show or other event where she's not playing a character, she comes across as smart, sexy, playful, and funny. Whenever she tries to play a part, though, I always get the nagging feeling that she should be better than what we're seeing on-screen.

Such is the case with Jesus Is Magic, a short concert film with skits and musical numbers interspersed. Here, her character is an exaggeratedly self-centered comedienne who jokes about grim or controversial subjects but has all the capability for understanding and empathy of a spoiled brat of fourteen. The humor comes from the audience recognizing that it's an act, or the realization that deep down inside, we all look at the world from a perspective of "how does this affect me?" Or at least, it does about half the time.

Ms. Silverman's got good comic timing, and some of the bits where she gets off the stage and does a skit or number have a sort of exuberant absurdity. It's a good thing, because a brief post-credits scene demonstrates very clearly that it's not just what you say, but how you say it. Indeed, for material that involves casual racism, callousness, and vanity, it's mostly how you tell it, because the joke itself isn't very funny.

And that's okay, I suppose. I suspect an audience member's reaction to this movie depends heavily on how much the meta-joke, or whatever you call it, works for him or her. Once you get past "oh my god, she's making jokes about 9/11" to "it's funny because a self-absorbed character like her would feel harder hit by finding out something's not low-carb than a massive terrorist attack", several later bits are kind of just re-iterations: "Oh my god, she's making jokes about AIDS, but it's kind of funny because..." And so on. She's not a complete one-trick pony, but she does go to trick number one quite a bit.

Not a bad movie, and it walks its tightrope well - not the one between being disrespectful and being funny, but the one between courting controversy and recognizing that doing so can be a cheap trick.

The Constant Gardener

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 26 November 2005 at Kendall Square #9 (first-run)

City of God knocked me on my ass, in part because it was so unexpected - I generally don't expect to find amazing films at the secondary venue of a second-rate film festival. So, when I saw director Fernando Meirelles's name attached to The Constant Gardener, I was more than a little excited. I was also a more than little nervous, though - he wouldn't be the first talented director to make a great movie in his backyard but stumble when suddenly working on different continents, in new languages, with more money than was available in Brazil but also many more expenses.

Fortunately, these added challenges only mean that Meirelles makes a movie that is more likely than not the best film playing at the multiplex rather than a debut masterpiece. That's all the more remarkable to me considering that the source material is a novel by John le Carré; what I've read of him has always struck me as pretty dry. Besides, it means he'll be spending a lot of time working with upper-class English characters, who have a reputation for displaying less emotion than Brazilian street kids.

Read the rest at HBS.

Pride & Prejudice

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 26 November 2005 at AMC Fenway #8 (first-run)

There's just too much Pride & Prejudice around. That modernized, transcontinental version with Aishwarya Rai was just in theaters, what, six months ago? One of my former roommates left behind a DVD of an A&E mini-series that can't be too many years old. The IMDB shows a few others. I've got no particular issue with remakes and new adaptations per se, but does it really need to be done more than once or twice a generation?

Ah, well. At least this is a nice iteration of the story. That story, of course, is that the five Bennet sisters need to find husbands, but can't afford much of a dowry. New neighbors and their wealthy friend may provide an answer for oldest sisters Jane (Rosamund Pike) and Elizabeth (Keira Knightley), but there's also the chance of intrigue and heartbreak. Jane is quickly taken with one Mr. Bingley (Simon Woods), and he seems to reciprocate, while a more antagonistic chemistry appears between Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy (Matthew MacFadyen), Bingley's dour friend. In the meantime, a distant cousin arrives looking for a wife, as does an old friend of Darcy's - though Darcy is far from pleased to see him.

Red the rest at HBS

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