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Film Roundup XXIII

The Truman Show – 94%

Truman Burbank (Jim Carrey) is the unwitting star of the most successful, longest-running reality television show in history. Officially adopted by a studio when he was still in the womb, every second of his life since birth has been broadcast on live TV. His entire town and the area around it are part of a giant, carefully controlled set, and everyone he interacts with, from his parents, spouse, and best friend to his boss, co-workers, and the people he passes on the street, are actors. Everything that happens to Truman is scripted, except for what he does himself, but cracks are beginning to form that may just bring his entire world crashing down around him.

Like Groundhog Day, The Truman Show works magnificently on two levels: First, it is a light, intelligent comedy based on a thoroughly original premise. Second, it has a brilliantly communicated cinematic subtext. Released in 1998, it is an astoundingly prescient look at the phenomenon of reality television and our cultural fascination with making celebrities out of ordinary people. Much more than that it is about the relationship between art and life, and about a rebellion against the banality and artificiality of modern life. Truman, despite being the only character not aware that his entire world is merely a small and shallow copy of the real world, somehow senses this truth, and believes it in a way that none of the others even has the capacity to experience. This is a sharply-written film with a rewarding depth tucked underneath the charming exterior.

Mystic River – 93%

Three childhood friends, Jimmy (Sean Penn), Sean (Kevin Bacon), and Dave (Tim Robbins), from a rough Boston neighborhood are reunited under extremely strained circumstances when Jimmy’s daughter is murdered, Sean is the detective assigned to the case, and Dave is a suspect. Clint Eastwood directs this slow-burn drama, which I remember being terribly impressed by (but not particularly enthralled with) when I first saw it several years ago. The film navigates similar territory with Ben Affleck’s superior directorial debut Gone Baby Gone, which made a much stronger impression on me. Mystic River features three really amazing actors in three powerful roles, but at times they almost seem to exist in separate movies from each other, and the whole thing lacks a really human element that the audience can connect with and hold onto. Ultimately, the whole thing seemed incredibly well-made but also torpid and dreary, however I feel at this distance that it merits revisiting before I can trust myself to deliver an opinion that might carry any meaningful weight.

The Philadelphia Story – 89%

Wealthy heiress Tracy Lord (Katherine Hepburn) is about marry for the second time when her ex-husband, C. K. Dexter Haven (Cary Grant) shows up on her doorstep with tabloid reporter Mike Connor (Jimmy Stewart), determined to spoil it. Complications arise when Tracy begins to have feelings for Dexter once more, and is attracted to Mike as well. This smart, delightful 1940 classic has all the ingredients of a great screwball comedy, starting with that dream cast and a hilariously witty screenplay based on the hit Broadway stage version. In my opinion, it still doesn’t quite measure up to the likes of Bringing Up Baby and The Palm Beach Story. This is another film that I need a memory refresher on, but if you’re a fan of the genre, I’ve already told you more than you need to know.

What the #$*! Do We Know!? – 15%

This “documentary” combines dramatizations and interviews with quantum physicists and New-Age gurus to elaborate on what is quite possibly the stupidest jumble mess of a worldview I have ever encountered. It is part pseudo-scientific ramble, part quasi-mystical boondoggle, and by turns mind-numbingly boring and hysterically laughable. I was suckered into watching this load of utter dreck thanks to a few intriguing images accompanying vaguely-worded reviews in publications that ought to know better. It starts off promisingly enough, with dazzling special effects and the ponderings of a few scientists waxing philosophical about how little we really know about our universe. Then J. Z. Knight, founder of Ramtha’s School of Enlightenment, shows up. This woman claims to channel the spirit of Ramtha, a 35,000-year old Lemurian general who taught her the secrets of the universe which she now passes on to anyone crazy enough to listen. The film was actually made by a few of her students. The central premise of the thing is basically that humans are able to mentally alter their environment at the quantum level if they just learn to tap into the subconscious power we all possess. This manipulation can take the form of, say, influencing water molecules with your mind or lowering crime rates via meditation. There are some slick production values behind all of this, to be sure, but the argument it presents is never even remotely convincing and it all grows excruciatingly tiresome long before it finally, mercifully ends.

Murder by Decree – 78%

Sherlock Holmes (Christopher Plummer) and his faithful biographer Dr. Watson (James Mason) are called upon to investigate the brutal murders committed by Jack the Ripper, and uncover a monstrous, far-reaching conspiracy. Everything about this movie feels as though it ought to be better than it actually is, and that more than anything is probably why it fails; simply because it fails utterly to live up to its enormous promise. Plummer and Mason are perfectly cast as the world’s greatest detective duo, and they are right at home in this investigation of the Ripper murders. In fact, Conan Doyle himself looked into the case at the time, although he never involved his most famous creation. Furthermore, Murder by Decree is frightening and suspenseful in many places (as it ought to be) and seamlessly integrates an actual theory about the identity of the killer long cherished by conspiracy-minded amateur sleuths.

Somehow, though, it doesn’t quite gel, through no fault of the performers (with the exception of Donald Sutherland’s cornball psychic). The look is all wrong. The lighting throughout is garish and awful, and it is diffused softly across everything as though someone had rubbed Vaseline on the lens. The director consistently fails to create an ambiance that evokes the proper mood, which results in a mood of annoyance more often than not. Worst of all from a fan’s perspective, the story sticks just close enough to the historical facts of the case to tie Holmes’s hands as a detective, and he is never really free to be true to the ingenuity of the original character, which in some ways is worse than never having brought him into at all.

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~ by Jared on May 22, 2009.

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