Sunday, May 25, 2008

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian / ***1/2 (2008)

The Narnia of Caspian X is a place more menacing and cutthroat than that of the early age, ravaged by land-hungry totalitarians known as the Telmarines, its wondrous populations of fawns, talking animals and tree spirits silenced by their ruthless pillaging of the establishments of old. They occupy the screen in “The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian” with a certain arrogance in their demeanor, dressed in lush robes and observed carrying themselves less like invaders and more like monarchs of England’s Tudor era. To say that their existence feeds into an assumption that the movie’s writers are beginning to see C.S. Lewis’ magical world from a more political context would be an understatement; when the movie opens, there is no doubt in the minds of its would-be heroes – or the audience, for that matter – that the battle between good and evil no longer comes down to impressive displays of magic and fantasy. Instead, what we get is a film with impressive battle sequences, talk of strategy and intrigue, and character development that spend less time marveling over fantastical sights and more time contemplating the pros and cons that come with change.

Friday, May 9, 2008

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning / * (2006)

The blood-soaked horror movie has become a disgusting and contemptible beast, burdened by notions of macho-sadism and traces of insanity that suggest their filmmakers are either overzealous with visuals, completely twisted and warped, or somewhere in between. They only get away with it because audiences have embraced it for 30 years. Recall the success of the original “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” or how audiences flooded to “Friday the 13th” and its sequels. Moviegoers seem to be amused by brainless bloodbaths in which idiotic teenagers are sliced and diced like cuts of meat at a slaughterhouse. Does that make them pointless? Not always, but that doesn’t excuse the fact that there’s only so many dumb teenagers you can kill in a century on screen.

Speed Racer / *** (2008)

“Speed Racer” is a stylish, electrifying, intense and visually breathtaking catastrophe of a movie, a picture so filled with wondrous images and astonishing sights that one is left bewildered by the notion of so much technical energy being squandered on a narrative so obviously uninterested in matching it. Or maybe that is basically the whole point. I dunno. Based off of an old 1960s Japanese animated series– one which I am unfamiliar with – the filmmakers present their endeavor with just the kind of flat-footed, shapeless screenplay you half expect to be derived of the source material. But what empowers these filmmakers with enough nerve to justify giving this clueless premise much more enthralling a presentation than it so clearly deserves? This is a movie that forces us to question our very nature as moviegoers: do we simply dismiss such an endeavor because it is all style and no substance, or do we embrace it based on the notion that the style’s scope is so ambitious and intricate that it is basically high art?