Saturday, December 09, 2006

Movie Summaries - Batch 2

Breaking and Entering
Directed by Anthony Minghella
Starring: Jude Law, Juliette Binoche, Robin Wright-Penn
Grade: B+

If you didn't know, I'm a big fan of Anthony Minghella, whose work in creating the sweeping brilliance of The English Patient, and more recently, Cold Mountain I much admire. It's with a knowing patience that Minghella crafts his films, and this latest offering from him -- a non-epic project on this occasion -- is no different. Will (Jude Law) enters into a fling with Amira (Juliette Binoche) after her son takes part in a robbery of his company headquarters. Breaking and Entering is not without contrivances, but its subtle, concise approach to raw and dark human dilemnas is effective, its emotional impact almost catching you unawares. Exquisitely acted from beginning to end, this is a deep and honest drama that while bleak, and occasionally repetitive, represents thorough and intelligent filmmaking.

Little Children
Directed by Todd Field
Starring: Kate Winslet, Patrick Wilson, Jackie Earle Haley
Grade: C-

As with Field's previous major project, In the Bedroom, Little Children explores the ways in which people react to what's thrust upon them, be it grief, pain, neglect, or passion. The difference between them is that Children's characters are often hackneyed cliches of suburbia; bored housewives, uptight mothers, neighbourhood scaremongers. Indeed the film never seems to establish its tone, ranging from light satire (including an annoying voice-over) to deep, meaningful clashes of seemingly 'lost souls', most notably in a pretentious literary analysis by Winslet. It's a troubled and altogether uncertain film that feels overcooked, rescued somewhat by a stunning performance from Jackie Earle Haley that adds some badly needed emotive punch to the tale.

The Prestige
Directed by Christopher Nolan
Starring: Christian Bale, Hugh Jackman, Scarlett Johansson
Grade: C

Boasting an excellent director and strong cast, The Prestige tells the story of an incredibly intense rivalry between two magicians -- played by Bale and Jackman -- in turn-of-the-century London. While this rivalry is perfectly convincing, generating more than enough to think about, their oneupmanship, which pulls us every which way, eventually becomes a stolid and worn affair. Nolan, as always, has interesting ideas, but these are way too overdeveloped,
and become drab and uninspiring -- ironic for a tale of magic. A cheap, thoughtless ending means it also ends with a rather sad and muffled ta-dah. A massive disappointment.

Directed by Richard E. Grant
Starring: Nicholas Hoult, Gabriel Byrne, Emily Watson
Grade: C-

Richard E. Grant's directorial debut is largely autobiographical, and chronicles part of his youth in Swaziland at the end of the 1960's. Much of the film concerns his relationship with his father (Gabriel Byrne), a colonial administrator, who goes off the rails after his wife (Miranda Richardson) leaves him. Grant's passion for the project is understandable, but is sadly too evident in his execution, the narrative often feeling forced upon us, the issues self-important and on show. The problem is that much of this family-type drama has been seen before, and truthfully done better. The characters are boring, never commanding your attention for anywhere near long enough. Presumably Grant wants to convey the ephemerality of his youth -- lingering shots of wilderness reflect his lost existence -- but it all reads as a wallowing and desperate venture that's frankly as dull as dishwater.

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