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Film Roundup XXIV

Dead Poets Society – 77%

Young, charismatic English professor John Keating (Robin Williams) challenges his students through poetry to live life to the fullest and resist conformity with the standards of the strait-laced, wealthy Welton Academy for boys they attend. Along the way, he inspires them to “seize the day” by standing up to authority and taking control of their own destinies, as well as resurrect the “Dead Poets Society” (a midnight gathering of poetry lovers) Keating founded when he was a student at Welton.

There’s not a lot of middle ground with this movie: it will evoke either raptures of inspiration or an intense desire to vomit. I rather tend towards the latter reaction. For a story that’s all about bucking convention, Dead Poets Society relies far too much on shallow platitudes and tired cliches. I’m not even that taken with the 19th-century Romantics, but fans of their work and ideology ought to be outraged by the use it is put to here. Lest I be accused of overstating my case, though, I will admit that Williams is enjoyable to watch in the role of Keating, and there are other good, well-acted characters and some fun little scenes. It’s the overall effect, and the risk that someone might take this outrageous pablum seriously, that I object to.

X-Men: The Last Stand – 64%

The crisis within the mutant community that has been growing throughout the previous two X-Men installments comes to a head when the American government finds a “cure” that can erase mutant powers. The two mutant camps, led by Professor X (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Ian McKellen), respectively, draw closer to all-out warfare over their radically different philosophies. Matters are complicated further by the unexpected resurrection of Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) as the powerful and dangerous “Phoenix.”

This third cinematic outing of the X-Men is a textbook example of how to kill a franchise based on a beloved non-movie source: Change directors, ignore the original material and the previous films, and wreak unrepairable havoc on the fictional universe by offing major characters and bludgeoning ongoing story arcs to death. I guess that’s what should be expected when you bring in the man behind the Rush Hour trilogy. The movie brings back the formidable cast it has recruited from the previous movies, and adds some excellent new faces (most notably Kelsey Grammer as “Beast”), but it’s hard to fully enjoy this level of narrative carnage, even if it is accompanied by some neat ideas and a few flashy special effects.

Coneheads – 72%

Beldar and Prymatt Conehead (Dan Aykroyd and Jane Curtin, respectively) are an alien couple stranded on earth while on a scouting mission. After several years of this life, the new surroundings have begun to feel like home, especially for their teenage daughter. Unfortunately, the government is beginning to suspect that there is something not quite right about the Conehead family. This movie’s amusing conceit is that the Coneheads can move unnoticed through human society, despite their enormous, bizarrely-shaped craniums. With that and Aykroyd going for it, Coneheads fares about as well as any movie I’ve seen based on a skit from “Saturday Night Live.”

28 Days Later – 94%

Jim (Cillian Murphy) wakes up in a London hospital 28 days after a group of animal rights activists release monkeys infected with the virulent “rage” virus, sweeping England with a pandemic that turns everyone who comes in contact with it into a ravening, flesh-hungry ghoul. Narrowly escaping his first encounter with the infected, Jim falls in with a few survivors and struggles to find a sanctuary that will allow them enough time to formulate a plan of action.

Danny Boyle’s intense, adrenaline-fueled take on the zombie genre is both smart and thrilling, never staying still long enough to get monotonous. The cast is small, but perfectly chosen, including Naomi Harris, Brendan Gleeson, and Christopher Eccleston. It is great material, and Boyle gets everything right and makes it look easy. As the overwhelming majority of the zombie genre will attest, it decidedly is not.

Blood Diamond – 89%

Kidnapped by rebels from his home in Sierra Leone and forced to work in the diamond mines, Solomon Vandy (Djimon Hounsou) has very little to hope for until the day when he unearths and manages to conceal an enormous, priceless diamond. Imprisoned shortly afterwards by the government army, Vandy is contacted by Danny Archer (Leonardo DiCaprio), a cynical smuggler who will use his connection with idealistic American journalist Maddy Bowen (Jennifer Connelly) to find Vandy’s family if Vandy will lead him to the diamond. Vandy agrees, but it may already be too late for his son, who has been pressed into the service of the rebel army.

This is a powerful, absorbing story built around the current situation in Sierra Leone, where the insatiable international demand for precious stones has been harnessed to fund a bloody civil war. It is a situation that deserves attention, although this particular film walks a fine line between informing and preaching, and it postures a bit shamelessly in parts, which further obscures the story it is telling. Some viewers may find DiCaprio’s accent distracting (though this is by no means a bad performance). It’s far from perfect, but still worth a look.

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~ by Jared on June 12, 2009.

One Response to “Film Roundup XXIV”

  1. I’ve still managed, so far, to avoid Dead Poets Society.

    *Crosses fingers*

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