Drawn from a children’s book by Croatian illustrator Milan Trenc, this fantasy isn’t exactly heavy, but its ideological implications are interesting nevertheless. A poorly educated, professionally challenged father (Ben Stiller) lands a job as a security guard at New York’s Museum of Natural History, where the historical mannequins come to life every night, most of them speaking perfect contemporary English and behaving like sitcom characters. They mostly fight among themselves until the guard brings all of global history into benign, all-American colonial harmony, even launching a romance between Teddy Roosevelt (Robin Williams) and the Native American guide Sacajawea (Mizuo Peck). As mindless spectacle, this is reasonably entertaining. Shawn Levy directed; with Carla Gugino, Dick Van Dyke, Mickey Rooney, Bill Cobbs, Ricky Gervais, and Steve Coogan. PG, 108 min. (JR)… Read more »
Daily Archives: December 15, 2006
This well-intentioned but obvious drama by director-cowriter Matt Tauber concerns an architect (Anthony LaPaglia) with a dysfunctional family (Isabella Rossellini, Hayden Panettiere, Sebastian Stan) who locks horns with an inner-city activist (Viola Davis) over the slum high-rise he designed. It’s adapted from a play by cowriter David Greig, but Tauber’s maddening habit of crosscutting between bite-size plot points seems to come straight from TV. The mechanical dialogue spells everything out, watering down Ibsen to the consistency of a daytime soap. R, 82 min. (JR)… Read more »
Failure is one of the most potent American subjects, largely because of the drama implicit in our denial of it. This inspirational movie tells the true story of an unsuccessful salesman in San Francisco (Will Smith) who assumes custody of his young son as a single parent and contrives to switch professions. Smith is resourceful in the role, though the story stretches one’s credulity about his character’s resourcefulness. Gabrielle Muccino directed; with Thandie Newton and Jaden Smith (the star’s son). PG-13, 117 min. (JR)… Read more »
Four imperishable classics: the silent Big Business and That’s My Wife (both 1929) and the talkies Brats (1930) and The Music Box (1932), the last an Oscar winner. 90 min. (JR)… Read more »
Here are ten more of the 40-odd short pieces I wrote for Chris Fujiwara’s excellent, 800-page volume Defining Moments in Movies (London: Cassell, 2007). – J.R.
1995 / The Neon Bible – “It didn’t snow that year.”
U.K. (Academy/Channel Four). Director: Terence Davies.
Cast: Drake Bell, Jacob Tierney, Gena Rowlands.
Why It’s Key: It reveals the power of imagination in a flash.
Few moments in movies reveal the power of imagination more succinctly than the opening of Terence Davies’ CinemaScope adaptation of John Kennedy Toole’s first novel, written when the southern author was only 16. It opens with 15-year-old David (Jacob Tierney) alone on a train at night, the camera moving past him to the darkness glimpsed outside. Then David at ten (Drake Bell) is seen peering out a rain-streaked window in his rural home to the strains of “Perfidia”, circa 1948, while narrating offscreen, “People came to see us that Christmas. They were nas, those people —- they brought me things…”
A moment later, we cut to a diptych: on screen left, an empty porch topped by icicles framing an enchanted snowfall, as decorous as a neatly filled box by the surrealist artist Joseph Cornell. On screen right, young David is seated on the floor inside, now looking out the same window in profile, while narrating offscreen, “There was no snow —- no, not that year.” When the next shot shows us his aunt (Gena Rowlands) in full frame greeting him through the window, the icicles are still lining the top of the frame.… Read more »
Argentinean writer-director Fabian Bielinsky made only two features before dying of a heart attack at age 47, but they’re both masterful in their gripping storytelling. Nine Queens (2000), a hugely entertaining tale of scam artists in Buenos Aires, anticipated Argentina’s economic crisis and was vastly superior to Criminal, the 2004 remake produced by Steven Soderbergh. The Aura (2005) also involves a scam, but the story unfolds with a minimum of dialogue as an epileptic taxidermist (Ricardo Darin), stranded in the wilds of Patagonia during a hunting trip, intuitively works his way into an elaborate casino heist. The moody ambience suggests noir writers David Goodis and Jim Thompson, though the reported inspiration was Deliverance. In Spanish with subtitles. 134 min. a Music Box. … Read more »