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Film Roundup XII

The Stepford Wives – 75%

An all-star cast struggles to enliven this story of trouble in suburban paradise: When extremely-successful Joanna Eberhart (Nicole Kidman) goes to pieces at work, her emasculated husband (Matthew Broderick) moves them out to the affluent neighborhood of Stepford. The community seems just a little bit too perfect, and Joanna’s investigations reveal a dark plot by the men of Stepford to “reform” their better halves. This remake of a ’70s thriller takes things in a different direction, genre-wise, towards social satire and comedy. The idea is certainly unique and amusing, but the result is rather flat and lifeless. A forgettable effort.

Junebug – 97%

Madeleine, and dealer in “outsider” art from Chicago, journeys to the alien world of North Carolina on a mission to recruit a promising talent and meet her new husband’s family for the first time. This is a magnificent portrait of a Southern family, well-nigh indistinguishable from reality. The actors disappear into their roles, most notably Amy Adams in her Oscar-nominated turn as the pregnant Ashley Johnston, a bubbly former cheerleader who married her high-school sweetheart and now lives with his parents. Junebug is nothing if not sweet and affectionate towards its subject, and the quiet intimacy of the film is magnificent. I have returned to it over and over again as both an entertaining and moving tragi-comedy and a thought-provoking character study.

Manderlay – 70%

Grace’s travels across 1930s America continue in this sequel to Lars von Trier’s minimalist Dogville. This time, Grace finds herself at a plantation in the deep South where slaves are still kept to work the fields. Making use of her father’s thugs, she overthrows the white owners and sets about teaching the former slaves how to be free, but matters are not as simple as she first believed.

Dogville is a great, great movie, so I expected quite a bit from Manderlay. Von Trier has already proved how much he can accomplish working with talented actors on a bare soundstage populated by just a few props and chalk outlines sketching out the set. For this sequel, Bryce Dallas Howard replaced Nicole Kidman as the main character, but this isn’t the main issue. While Dogville could be viewed as a universal indictment of the darker side of human nature, Manderlay is a bald-faced (and rather graphic) allegory of America’s recent involvment in Iraq which doesn’t manage to be interesting, entertaining or enlightening.

The Thin Man – 90%

Former private investigator Nick Charles (William Powell) returns to New York with his wife, Nora (Myrna Loy), and their dog, Asta, only to get sucked immediately into a murder case. Nora, fascinated by the prospect of an investigation, tags along to assist. The mystery itself is totally secondary here. What matters is the sparkling comedic chemistry of Powell and Loy, who were such fun to watch as the bantering married detectives that they returned five more times to the same roles throughout the following decade. I haven’t seen all of the sequels, but I’d like to. These movies are great fun.

Shrek the Third – 64%

In his latest adventure, Shrek sets out on a quest to find the true heir to the throne of Far, Far Away (so he won’t have to step up), while Fiona, who is pregnant with little ogres, rallies her fellow princesses to defend the kingdom from an attack by Prince Charming. The third outing is by far the tiredest of the lot. The idea of the series started out fresh, but by now has grown stale, and is not helped here by a lackluster plot and a bankruptcy of amusing jokes. It may still be a nose ahead of some of the other CG-tripe circling the drain out there, but that doesn’t make it worth seeing.

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~ by Jared on July 25, 2008.

One Response to “Film Roundup XII”

  1. Former would-be cheerleader.

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