Film Roundup III

The Butterfly Effect – 85%

Evan Treborn (Ashton Kutcher) is a bright psychology student who has just emerged from perhaps the most deeply disturbed childhood in B-thriller history. Fortunately, he doesn’t really remember all that trauma. Unfortunately, the past won’t stay in the past, and now his future is threatened too. Evan finds that when he revisits his half-forgotten journals, he flashes back to the events they describe. More than that, he can alter the course of his whole life based on how he responds to these pivotal circumstances . . . and generally not for the better.

Despite a slightly campy premise and a cast made up largely of raunchy teen comedy regulars, The Butterfly Effect is actually a very affecting and occasionally profound examination of causality, with a healthy dose of pop psychology and genuine suspense thrown in for good measure. The title itself is a reference to a Ray Bradbury short story in which a time-travel touring company causes the death of a prehistoric butterfly and changes everything in the present. It’s definitely worth a look.

The Apostle – 94%

Robert Duvall gives a fantastic and relatively little-known performance in a brilliant film he also directed and wrote. Duvall plays Sonny, a Southern preacher with a violent temper. After he assaults a man in Texas with a baseball bat, he goes on the run to Louisiana, changing his name and setting up shop in a tiny radio station. Soon, he is broadcasting sermons and leading live choirs on the air, and then he finds a rundown church building to renovate and fill with a congregation. Odd behavior indeed, for a violent fugitive.

The cast, especially Duvall, is riveting, and the scenes of preaching and revival feel 100% authentic without being either mocking or off-putting. It is a wonderful and gentle look at faith and redemption which doesn’t sacrifice substance for schmaltz or spirituality for scandal. In the simplest terms, this is a touching, nuanced story about a deeply-flawed man that still has the Lord’s work to accomplish.

Closer – 86%

Four characters (played with varying degrees of success by Jude Law, Natalie Portman, Julia Roberts, and Clive Owen) pair off and shack up in a fairly sordid and frustrating story of lust and infidelity. It exposes the hideous consequences of selfish carnality without overtly commenting on it. It doesn’t really have to. The performances are quite good in places, but nearly 2 hours of unbroken betrayal and sin certainly isn’t fun or entertaining. It isn’t meant to be, but this isn’t the sort of film anyone should need to see a second time. Many won’t want to see it at all. There is plenty of technical skill on display, but it all feels very cold and distant . . . and I’m almost glad of it.

The Way We Were – 72%

This movie missed me entirely in aiming squarely at its target audience . . . presumably disaffected liberal sentimentalists of the early 1970s. I enjoy, even revel in, experiencing different times and perspectives through films that are decades old. But I couldn’t shake the feeling here that there wasn’t any real substance or feeling that I could latch onto. Barbara Streisand plays a young American communist university student in the 1930s who falls in love with Robert Redford, a smart, handsome, all-American guy. They couldn’t be more different in their principles, especially politically, and eventually that difference causes them to drift quietly out of each other’s lives in a plot that spans multiple decades. There doesn’t appear to be a great deal of depth here, although the performances are rather winning. I won’t say that it’s a misfire, I’ll just say that I personally wasn’t struck. Perhaps this is one sort of film I’m not very qualified to comment on.

Madagascar – 74%

Oh, look, it’s another throwaway CG cartoon flick starring snarky animals voiced by celebrities. In this case, Chris Rock, and Ben Stiller play a zebra and a lion (respectively) who are zoo-bound best buddies. Marty the zebra is dissatisfied with life in a cage and wants to escape to the wild, while Alex the lion is perfectly happy to live a life of fame and luxury as the most popular attraction at the New York Zoo. Eventually, Marty escapes and Alex sets out to bring him back along with Melman the giraffe and Gloria the hippo. A misunderstanding gets them all stuck on a ship headed for a refuge, but along the way they get marooned on the island of Madagascar, where Marty must contend with Alex’s growing hunger for fresh meat.

Anyway, that’s for more information about the “plot” than necessary. This is shallow but diverting stuff that I liked a great deal more than it deserved, largely due to the hilarious penguins transplanted straight out of the likes of The Great Escape or (perhaps more accurately) Chicken Run. Mediocre and totally forgettable in most respects, including the visuals, but not actively terrible.

~ by Jared on November 19, 2007.

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