Film » Film Clips

Capsule reviews of films playing the week of Nov. 26



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ASHES OF TIME REDUX The motion picture as mood ring, Ashes of Time Redux is another Wong Kar Wei production that relies as much (if not more) on the sensations created by its aural and visual flourishes than on any narrative devices. Originally released in 1994 as Ashes of Time, the movie has since faced challenges both from within (a deteriorating negative) and without (bootleg copies all over the planet). Thus, the Hong King auteur decided to construct what's basically a "director's cut," and this tinkering has effectively brought the film back from the margins of Wong's canon. Leslie Cheung plays the central part of Ouyang Feng, a martial arts killer-for-hire who resides in a distant desert. Within the span of one year, he's visited by an assortment of allies, enemies and strangers – among them are a feuding brother and sister (both played by Brigitte Lin) who just might turn out to be the same person; a blind swordsman (Tony Leung Chiu Wai) prepared to go out in a blaze of glory; and a poor warrior (Jacky Cheung) who agrees to help a young woman (Charlie Yeung) out for revenge. Ashes of Time (and, by extension, Ashes of Time Redux) earned a reputation for shouldering an impenetrable narrative, but the truth is that the story isn't nearly as complicated as one might expect. Its denseness instead comes from the fact that it holds less interest to Wong than the images he creates for the screen. Through cinematographer Christopher Doyle's visions – and with a powerful assist from composers Frankie Chan and Roel A. Garcia – Wong wordlessly ensnares viewers in his movie's tightening web of wonders. ***

THE BOY IN THE STRIPED PAJAMAS Movies about the Holocaust seem to automatically earn R ratings, yet perhaps because it's based on a novel (by John Boyne) that was originally targeted to teen readers, this one escapes with a PG-13. That's the appropriate rating, I think, since children who can handle (and learn from) the material should not be denied the chance to see it. The film is told from the viewpoint of a young German lad who unwittingly has a front-row seat to the horrors instigated by the Nazi regime during World War II. Eight-year-old Bruno (Asa Butterfield, just perfect) is saddened when his father, a Nazi officer (David Thewlis), moves the family from Berlin to a remote country estate. Bored and lonely, Bruno defies his parents' orders and checks out what his mother (Vera Farmiga) has told him is a farm, a mysterious place where all the prisoners wear pajamas and billowing smoke from the chimneys constantly blackens the sky. There, he strikes up a friendship with Shmuel (Jack Scanlon), a Jewish boy residing on the other side of the barbed wire fence. Credibility takes a serious beating in this picture, which is clearly intended as a fable about how hatred can destroy even the most innocent among us. Bruno's naiveté provides the picture with its initial childlike charm, yet the movie is complicated enough to explore the conflicting emotions among the adult characters. But even in its lighter moments, it never downplays the horror of the situation, and the devastating ending is potent enough to affect even those viewers who write it off as nothing more than a sensationalist stunt. ***

CHANGELING Like Mystic River and Flags of Our Fathers, Changeling is good, not great, Clint Eastwood, although as far as emotional resonance is concerned, the latest from the consummate director reverberates more strongly than either of those other features. A true story brought to the screen via an ambitious screenplay by J. Michael Straczynski, this stars Angelina Jolie as Christine Collins, a single mom whose only son (Gattlin Griffith) goes missing one afternoon in 1928. The Los Angeles Police Department, mired at the time in corruption, spots an opportunity to do something right and eventually reunites the mother with her boy. The only problem is that they bring back the wrong child, but rather than risk further embarrassment, a zealous captain (Jeffrey Donovan) decides to drown out Christine's protests by any means necessary, including labeling her as an unfit mother and having her locked up in a mental institution. Eastwood's stately picture slowly extends its reach, as various other plot elements circle the central story; while some suffer in the mix (John Malkovich, as a crusading reverend, could have benefited from more scenes), the overall result is a movie that will disappoint only those who require tidy endings wrapped up in pretty bows. Along the same lines, those who find fault with the brutish depiction of Christine's tormenters fail to grasp the patriarchy of the period (the story takes place a mere eight years after American women were given the right to vote). Jolie, on the other hand, understands this angle and aptly plays Christine as a woman whose frustrations with the system often match her fear for the safety of her child. ***

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