The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
(out of four)
Sarah Silverman: Jesus is Magic
(out of four)
Whether or not people will like Sarah Silverman’s comedy depends on how they react when someone calls something retarded, then adds, in mock political correctness, “And by retarded, I mean they can do anything.” The actress and stand-up comedian’s concert-and-skit film “Jesus is Magic,” however, isn’t the best introduction to her work.
The material is sometimes very funny, but seems to have been shot on an off-night. The direction and editing are clumsy, with awkward wide shots randomly inserted. The execution is particularly bad in the filler skits and musical numbers, which have no energy. Those who aren’t already fans will do best to catch Silverman’s act on TV, and hope for this talent to provide a better big-screen effort in the future.
Ian Olds and Garrett Scott’s documentary examines the war in Iraq through a small group of soldiers during the fall of Falluja. Hey, you can’t spell Falluja without fall.
(out of four)
Warner Bros. Pictures
Watching Stephen Gaghan’s “Syriana,” it’s hard to decide whether to admire its ambitions or simply give up on the arduous task of processing it.
Gaghan, making his directorial debut from his own script, won an Oscar for his screenplay of “Traffic.” Like that film’s examination of the war on drugs, “Syriana” studies the lives of everyone involved in the oil trade, from executives (Chris Cooper) to energy consultants (Matt Damon) to high-powered lawyers (Christopher Plummer) and their lackeys (Jeffrey Wright) to Middle-Eastern politicians to mis-used and discarded CIA agents (George Clooney).
In “Traffic,” each collection of characters was well defined, but here things get a little hazy and the story becomes convoluted. The film is worth seeing for great scenes with the cast, notably Damon, Wright, Cooper, Clooney and Tim Blake Nelson, but doesn’t come together as well as it could.
The topic is intriguing and the ending engaging, but the film lacks the crisp storytelling to make its events matter.
(In the interest of full disclosure, I should note that I was sick when I saw the film, and was unable to attend a second screening before deadline. If I determine the stories to come together better upon a second viewing, I’ll be sure to let you know.)
The War Within
Joseph Castelo’s film looks at a Pakistani who has doubts about following through with a planned attack on New York City.
The Dying Gaul
(out of four)
(Reviewed at the Sundance Film Festival)
“The Dying Gaul” may be most valuable as an example of how a great cast can be squandered on sanctimonious—and ultimately pointless—drivel.
Peter Sarsgaard plays a screenwriter who has written a brilliant screenplay about AIDS and could get it produced for an Oscar season release, if only he makes the main character heterosexual. This man’s own boyfriend died, so it’s a bit of a touchy subject.
Campbell Scott and Patricia Clarkson play a closeted Hollywood executive and his wife, who both want to use the talented writer in different ways. The husband wants to have an affair with him, the wife wants to talk to him in chat rooms and pretend that she’s his dead lover. Writer/director Craig Lucas has made a film that masquerades as an expose of gay Hollywood, or of selling out, but is really just about people being petty and stupid for the sake of the screenplay.
The Family Stone
20th Century Fox
Sarah Jessica Parker plays an uptight woman whose boyfriend (Dermot Mulroney) brings her home for Christmas to meet his close-knit, quick-to-judge family (Diane Keaton, Craig T. Nelson, Claire Danes, Rachel McAdams, Luke Wilson, etc.). Then they spill some stuff in the kitchen and keep falling on the floor, from what I can tell from the trailer.
Green Street Hooligans
Innovation Film Group
Opens at the Regency
In Lexi Alexander’s “Green Street Hooligans,” Elijah Wood plays an unjustly expelled Harvard undergrad who goes to London and gets involved in the underworld of football hooliganism. But not American football. That’s for wimps who only run for, like, two seconds then stop. Oh, I’ll fight you.
I wonder if there’s another “Lord of the Rings”-related release this week…
I don’t think anyone cares about this one, but I guess I should provide a word or two of info: Oscar-winning director Peter Jackson (“The Lord of the Rings”) pays homage to the 1933 film that made him want to make movies. The cast includes Oscar winner Adrien Brody, Oscar nominee Naomi Watts (don’t tell our own Brent Sallay that she didn’t win) and Jack Black, who I don’t think ever even presented an Oscar, but he should have been nominated for “High Fidelity” and “School of Rock.”
Director Susan Stroman brings her stage musical of Mel Brooks’s classic 1968 comedy back to the big screen. Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane reprise their roles, joined by Uma Thurman as sexy Swedish secretary Ulla. If it’s as funny as the original, it’ll be…um…really, really funny.
Where the Truth Lies
(out of four)
(Reviewed at the Cannes Film Festival)
Canadian director Atom Egoyan is a virtuoso with multiple perspectives and character depth, and his stylish mystery “Where the Truth Lies” studies celebrity and how its power influences those who have it and fascinates those watching. Its main characters indulge in luxurious living and the power to have sex with whichever audience member they’d like. Meanwhile, the public consumes the information of their personal lives, taking whatever information they can get their hands on.
Kevin Bacon and Colin Firth play Lanny and Vince, a performing duo reminiscent of Martin and Lewis, with Bacon as the wild boy and Firth as the straight man. They experienced a scandal 15 years ago and, despite no charges being filed, broke up the act. Alison Lohman plays an aspiring journalist who arranges an interview with Firth’s character. Her publisher will pay him $1 million to discuss the mysterious scandal, in which a hotel employee was found dead in a bathtub following a Polio telethon. It’s unknown whether she overdosed, killed herself or was murdered.
Lohman’s character is using these personal lives to jump-start her own career, and in one instance becomes intimate with Lanny through a series of lies. But Egoyan doesn’t vilify her, and she emerges as one of the film’s most sympathetic characters.
The mystery wraps up in a tidier and somewhat more anticlimactic manner than might be expected from Egoyan, but still deals with the shaky perspective each character has on what happened. The shunned celebrities and the reporters make different assumptions to fill in gaps. Due to poor communication, the people whom the incident changed the most lack the knowledge that the gossip hounds seek. The movie captures a sad personal event that became a much-discussed footnote in two men’s careers and a gaping hole in their lives.
jeremy [at] saltshakermagazine.com