Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The Devil Wears Prada: Bitch Work

"The film, based on a best-selling novel by Lauren Weisberger, is cheery and fluffy and goes down as smoothly as the Starbucks confections guzzled by the high-powered, fashion industry impresarios depicted in the film. "

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Monday, November 20, 2006

The Fountain: Evanescent Immortality

"The Fountain begins as cinematic poetry, gets waylaid with maudlin melodrama and concludes somewhere in between metaphysics and spirituality. "

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Sunday, November 19, 2006

Casino Royale: Nobody Does it Better

In the immortal words of Carly Simon in the title track from The Spy who Loved Me, “Nobody does it better.” Quite lofty praise for Mr. Bond indeed. Is it deserved? Well, almost. Is it the best action/adventure movie of the year? Of course not, The Departed is. But that blend of popcorn entertainment, auteur cinema and quality storytelling is an anomaly. In any other year, Casino Royale would likely be the best popcorn action extravaganza. The climactic chase along the Venetian canals easily trumps the half-speed histrionics of Mission: Impossible III and the Bahaman locations that are nearly identical to former Bond Pierce Brosnan’s campy After the Sunset are nonetheless much more captivating and picturesque.

The debut of a new lead actor as the immortal James Bond character is a watershed moment for cinema and it doesn’t matter how many TV spots or production stills you’ve seen, it’s an undeniable thrill to see Daniel Craig pose for the trademark down-the-gun-barrel shot. Craig adopts a new approach to Bond and the filmmakers have complete faith in him. In the final frame of the opening credit sequence, Craig stands front and center and the camera lingers. Yes, he’s blond. Yes, he has blue eyes. No, he’s not conventionally handsome.

I’ve never been very good at comparing Bonds in terms of who’s “the best.” But I can say definitively, Craig is the most intimidating Bond to date. He follows through with what Timothy Dalton tried to achieve but ultimately couldn’t properly supply: a darker Bond with less quips and more introspectiveness. He also exhibits signs of misanthropy and masochism on top of it. For the first time in the series, we sense that if Bond wasn’t a OO-agent, he’d be a terrorist. (The blurred line between cop and criminal being a constant motif in 2006 cinema: from the aforementioned The Departed to the lackluster Miami Vice.)

Another likely first for the series is that Bond shows more skin than the Bond girls. Gender theorists will have a field day with Casino Royale. The lynchpin is the harrowing torture sequence in which a nude Bond is strapped to a chair and has his private parts mercilessly assaulted by the villain. After which, when Bond has been metaphorically neutered, he’s suddenly able to tell the female interest that he loves her. Wacky gender theories aside, the torture scene is pretty brutal, especially for a PG-13 movie. It’s an unforgettable scene and one of the crucial scenes in establishing the film as a unique entry to the series. It’s a scene that will leave audiences shaken, not stirred.

Friday, November 17, 2006

The History Boys: Artificial Intelligence

"...After garnering heaps of critical praise on Broadway and proudly becoming the recipients of “the most Tonys in 50 years” - as the trailer proudly boasts - the entire original cast reunites on screen for what feels more like a reward than a significant contribution to the cinematic medium... "

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Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Flannel Pajamas: A Chamber Drama of Dirty Laundry

"There’s a lot of flab hanging around the edges of this film and while it’s true, virtually every scene has at least one line of insightful dialogue, they aren’t enough to keep the film from dragging its heels on the way toward its inevitable conclusion."

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Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Stranger Than Fiction: The Pen is Mightier

"...And yet, all this derision is not to say that Stranger Than Fiction is a bad movie. It’s an enjoyable and entertaining film, albeit a slight and passively pleasing one."

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