Friday, December 31, 2004

Beyond the Sea / *** (2004)

"Beyond the Sea" maintains the same indirect tradition seen earlier this year in "De Lovely," in which a famous talent seems to stand off in the shadows while his memories manifest in the form of a stage musical. In what can essentially be described as a "This is Your Life" technique, audiences are forced to accept the impression that there are no cameras or scripts around dictating the movement of the narrative in front of them - instead, life itself wants to play out unhindered right in front of our eyes, as if the characters are playing puppeteer with their own recollections so that ordinary instances are made into glossy moments without seeming obviously recreated. Make sense? Of course it doesn't, and such an approach was certainly part of the problem with the recent Cole Porter film biography (among other things). The questions are often too great to be skipped over. What reality are these people in? Are they stuck somewhere between consciousness and dream? And how can anyone remember so vividly the fine details of their own past? The immediate dilemma facing Kevin Spacey, who both directs and stars in this biopic about singer Bobby Darin, is that his source material is required to reference the famed celebrity's untimely death. Therefore, if there is demise here, how can a persona plausibly look back at his life after the fact? What is the ground rule, exactly?

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

The Aviator / ***1/2 (2004)

Martin Scorsese's passionate love of filmmaking has no doubt made him an ideal candidate for all sorts of new cinematic challenges, and in "The Aviator" he finds himself at the helm of something particularly interesting: a story that blends familiar narrative territory with a seemingly-foreign historical context (at least to him). It is easy to understand, at least, his primary desire; after all, a good portion of his career has centered on the notion that his film's heroes are usually encumbered by enough quirks and personal dilemmas to undermine their sense of importance. As luck would have it, famed billionaire Howard Hughes was exactly that kind of individual in real life - so much so, in fact, that one almost wonders whether the director's past endeavors were just stepping stones on the way to channeling this specific persona. Drive made Hughes a figure of notoriety, no doubt, but fate brings his visage to the fingers of a craftsman whose own fame is a result of dissecting the most flawed and troublesome movie protagonists of our time. He hardly seems out of place with the familiar approach, but the facet of reality gives him a whole new playing field to explore.

Monday, December 20, 2004

National Treasure / *** (2004)

If you can call it entertaining, you're more than justified in calling it good. This, at least, is how someone like yours truly feels when it comes to "National Treasure," a sleeper hit that has endured so much critical backlash since its release in November that one almost feels guilty in disagreeing with the consensus. The audience, on the other hand, seems to have seen a different film than what the paid professionals have: an action vehicle that on one hand is very silly, and on the other is extremely effective in conveying the sheer thrill of its wacky situations (and judging by the box office success, one would also argue that it's probably worth repeat viewings). For fairness sakes (and for the basic fact that I simply enjoyed what I was seeing), I am obliged to leave all points of cynicism out of this review. Few can argue that John Turteltaub's ambitious vehicle is about as unbelievable as a film can get, but if one is able to leave all sense of logic at the door, it's also very hard not to have a darn good time in the process.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Blade Trinity / ** (2004)

"Blade: Trinity" begins with an effective sequence in which a group vampires revive the spirit of Dracula, and then slowly but surely abandons the franchise hip factor and descends into pure banal territory. One would have hoped that this trilogy would go out with a bang, but the gun winds up shooting blanks instead. And that's more of a shock than you might realize, too, because like its predecessors, the picture is engulfed by a premise so seemingly expert that it would be hard to impair its quality otherwise. The first two movies, on the other hand, knew that it took more than just a heap of action shots to shape an intriguing premise into an equally-satisfying payoff; here, director/writer David S. Goyer seems to be more amused by visual energy and less concerned with how he is going to answer crucial questions or when the plot will be allowed to think instead of react. That Goyer is the same writer of the previous "Blade" flicks as well as the brilliant "Dark City" is an issue that few will be able to get past.

Friday, December 10, 2004

Alexander / *1/2 (2004)

"Fortune favors the bold."

Judging by Oliver Stone's "Alexander," it also favors the pretentious. By far the most impressively inane blockbuster to hit the big screen all year, here is a film that reaches so high and far that it's almost a little perplexing as to why it makes such a miserable thud in the end. For a new filmmaker with dreams of cinematic grandeur, such an undertaking would have died even before the footage was done being shot - but for a filmmaker like Stone, who has both made a career out of strokes of brilliance as well as periods of temporary insanity, the product creates the distinct feeling that it is being delivered just for the sake of silencing impatient investors. The director and his cast and crew of talented individuals did not so much make a movie as they made a mess; it lacks both the shape and the skill of a plausible historical epic, and the fact that its scope is so extensive leaves you feeling like a kid who is being pulled away from all the fun rides at the local carnival.