Film Roundup XVI

Signs – 94%

Graham (Mel Gibson) is a former pastor struggling to raise his two kids with the help of his brother Merrill (Joaquin Phoenix). Graham has lost his faith in the wake of his wife’s death in a freak accident, an occurrence which has left him somewhat withdrawn. All of that seems moot, though, when signs begin to point to an imminent alien invasion of the planet. Whether the alien threat is genuine or not, if Graham and his family are to have a chance to reach the other side of the coming insanity, he will have to re-evaluate his past and reconsider his future.

Some people identify Signs as a marked downturn for writer/director M. Night Shyamalan after the runaway success of The Sixth Sense and the more thoughtful, but still well-received, Unbreakable. For me, though, Shyamalan didn’t jump the shark until The Village, and this remains (to date) his last good film. It is a tight and entertaining psychological thriller, replete with interesting, likeable characters. The story unwinds with complete control, revealing itself slowly and carefully, when the time is right. Best of all, it flips the old sci-fi trope of a global alien invasion on its head, focusing claustrophobically in on a single family in a single location and using the situation to examine thought-provoking questions of faith and skepticism.

Yours, Mine and Ours – 15%

Two single parents responsible for a total of eighteen children meet and fall in love, deciding to get married and combine their clans into one giant house of fun. There’s just one problem: He is a Coast Guard Admiral and a rigid disciplinarian, while she is a laid-back artist who doesn’t believe in restricting her children’s development. Sparks will fly in all directions and shenanigans will be gotten up to in a familial collision that is sure to include more pratfalls, pranks, and peculiar pet encounters than you can shake a stick at. The rather charming 1968 original starring Henry Fonda and Lucille Ball gets rudely updated into the 21st-Century in this unfunny travesty of a family film. Dennis Quaid and Rene Russo ought to know better, but it is no surprise to find director Raja Gosnell’s filmography gorged with the likes of Home Alone 3, Big Momma’s House, and Beverly Hills Chihuahua. But seriously, do check out the original.

Corpse Bride – 85%

Nerve-wracked Victor Van Dort (Johnny Depp) is on his way to meet his fiancee for the first time when he pauses to practice his wedding vows in what he thinks is an isolated spot. Unfortunately, the outcropping on which he deposits the ring happens to be the skeletal finger of a dead woman (Helena Bonham Carter), who rises on the spot and claims that the two are now bound by holy matrimony. It is an awkward situation, to say the least, and only a journey to the land of the dead can yield Victor a way out of his predicament. With Depp and Bonham Carter in the leads, it is no surprise to find Tim Burton manning the helm of this stop-motion romp which owes more than a bit of its style and atmosphere to his earlier Nightmare Before Christmas. Unfortunately, there is a certain something (whimsy, perhaps?) which is missing from this effort. It is amusing and visually-pleasing, but ultimately kind of forgettable.

Scent of a Woman – 97%

Charlie Simms (Chris O’Donnell) has a major problem. A student at a high-class prep school, he witnessed the set-up of a prank that has the headmaster looking for blood. Now, he has been given an ultimatum: Reveal what he knows or face an expulsion that he can ill-afford. He has the Thanksgiving holiday to think it over, but little does he know that he will be spending the holiday touring New York City with Col. Frank Slade (Al Pacino). Slade is blind and surly, and Charlie takes a job “babysitting” him while the relatives he lives with visit other family. Slade whisks Charlie away on a last hurrah that will change both of their lives. This is a fantastic movie, full of life and humor, and winner of a much-deserved acting Oscar that went to Pacino. It is the sort of film that one could sit through, rewind, and begin again immediately. Highly recommended.

Dreamgirls – 86%

The Broadway musical comes to the big screen, telling the story of the tempestuous career of a fictional R&B trio called The Dreamettes during the 1960s and ’70s. Featuring a killer cast (with some killer voices) and an established stage success, Dreamgirls has a lot going for it. Unlike most musicals I’ve seen in recent years, however, I never really connected to the story, the characters, or even the music. In fact, more than once I was a little bored during the more than 2-hour runtime. The production values are high, and I can think of no complaints that I might fairly make about the movie, it just didn’t take me anywhere.

~ by Jared on October 24, 2008.

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