Film » Film Clips

Capsule Reviews of recently released movies

Charlotte's Web, The Good Shepherd, Night at the Museum, others

by

comment

Current Releases

APOCALYPTO Mel Gibson may or may not be a sorry excuse for a person, but as has been the case since the first brutish caveman painted a beautiful mural on the cavern wall, it's as important as ever to separate the individual from his artistry. And for the first half of Apocalypto, it looks as if he has succeeded in creating something special. Gibson takes us back in time to the waning period of the Mayan civilization: The story drops us off in a small village in which the peaceful inhabitants are soon attacked by warriors who rape the women, abandon the children, and drag the men back to their city to be served up as either slaves or human sacrifices. Up until now, Apocalypto has proven to be a compelling yarn marked by charismatic performers (most notably lead Rudy Youngblood, as a tribesman fighting to make it back to his family), splendid production values and Gibson's fluid direction. But anyone who's seen Gibson's previous directorial efforts, Braveheart and The Passion of the Christ, knows that nothing titillates the filmmaker as much as pain and destruction, and Apocalypto soon turns into an orgy of unrelenting bloodlust wrapped around a straightforward chase picture. Sadistic to a fault, Gibson has become cinema's reigning gore-to guy. **

BLOOD DIAMOND The message of this public service announcement masquerading as a movie is that consumers should take care not to buy "conflict diamonds," baubles obtained by mercenaries using slave labor, then smuggled out of war-torn countries. Since the film (set in Sierra Leone) establishes early on that these "conflict diamonds" are mixed in with legitimate diamonds at an early stage in the marketing process, it's never made clear how exactly consumers are supposed to avoid said jewels (buy roses instead?). At any rate, the movie's lofty intentions are hamstrung by having to coexist uneasily with stock characters. Danny Archer (Leonardo DiCaprio in a strong performance) is a devil-may-care opportunist who discovers he has a heart of gold as large as the diamond he's seeking. Solomon Vandy (magnetic Djimon Hounsou, once again typecast) is a fisherman brutalized and forced into mining the diamond fields. And Maddy Bowen (Jennifer Connelly, working overtime to add spark to a thin character) is an American journalist who sounds like an Information Please almanac every time she opens her mouth. Director Edward Zwick and his team are presumably sincere in wanting to shed some light on a tragic real-world situation, but the clumsy Blood Diamond simply can't cut it. **

CASINO ROYALE In most respects, Casino Royale ranks among the best Bond films produced over the past 44 years, just a shade below the likes of Goldfinger, On Her Majesty's Secret Service, The Spy Who Loved Me and the criminally underrated For Your Eyes Only. Basically, it wipes away the previous 20 installments by going back to when James Bond was first promoted to the level of a double-oh agent with a license to kill. As intensely played by Daniel Craig, this James Bond isn't a suave playboy quick with the quip and bathed in an air of immortality but rather a sometimes rough-hewn bruiser who makes mistakes, usually keeps his sense of humor in check, and, because he's just starting out, possesses more flashes of empathy than we're used to seeing in our cold-as-ice hero. With memorable characters and exciting action scenes, Casino Royale is so successful in its determination to jump-start the series by any means necessary that it tampers with winning formulas left and right. When a bartender asks Bond if he prefers his martini shaken or stirred, the surly agent snaps back, "Do I look like I give a damn?" Blasphemy? Perhaps. But also bloody invigorating. ***1/2

CHARLOTTE'S WEB Charlotte's Web is the new live-action treatment of E.B. White's beloved children's book, but there's already been a dazzling screen version of this tale. No, I don't mean the 1973 Hanna-Barbera animated take; instead, I refer to the 1995 feature Babe. OK, so it wasn't based on White's book, but with its story centering around a cute little pig learning about farm life, it shares the same sense of magic and wonderment (not to mention setting). This version of Charlotte's Web is mostly faithful to its source material (though some expected -- and tiresome -- flatulence gags have been added), but because Gary Winick's direction rarely rises above the level of competent, and because Babe has already perfected the talking-animal feat via its Oscar-winning effects, the end result is pleasant but not much more than that. As the voice of Charlotte, the spider who befriends Wilbur the pig and plots to save him from the slaughterhouse, Julia Roberts is suitably soothing, while Steve Buscemi provides the proper measure of ego and arrogance as Templeton. The supporting voice actors, including Oprah Winfrey as a goose and horse whisperer Robert Redford as a horse, tend to get lost in the occasional frenzy of the tale, which on screen works better in the more mature passages (e.g. Charlotte explaining the cycle of life to Wilbur) than those focusing on slapdash antics. **1/2

Add a comment