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Film Clips

Capsule blurbs from recently reviewed movies

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CATCH AND RELEASE Susannah Grant has written solid scripts for other filmmakers (Erin Brockovich, In Her Shoes), so it's lamentable that for her own directorial debut, she didn't keep a winner for herself but instead settled on a screenplay that must have been hiding for years in the back of her sock drawer. Catch and Release stars Jennifer Garner as Gray Wheeler, who, after the death of her fiancé, turns to his best friends for comfort and companionship. There's roly-poly Sam (Kevin Smith), who, unbelievable suicide attempt notwithstanding, will provide the comic relief; there's reliable but dorky Dennis (Sam Jaeger), who will provide the nervous tension; and there's bad boy Fritz (Timothy Olyphant), who will provide the romantic sparks once Gray realizes he's actually the right guy for her. Grant's best works reveal a real attention to detail when it comes to human foibles, which makes it all the more surprising that these characters are so broadly drawn: Take out a few PG-13 innuendoes and what's basically left is a sitcom pilot ready to be dropped into the prime-time schedule once American Idol wraps its latest blockbuster season. Garner, terrific over the course of five years on Alias, continues to search for just the right big-screen role -- this isn't the one -- while Juliette Lewis is depressingly cast yet again as a goober gal who possesses more eyeliner than brains. **

THE GOOD GERMAN If there was any year-end Oscar bait title that I was especially jonesing to see, it was Steven Soderbergh's The Good German. The 1940s is my favorite decade for cinema, and film noir is my favorite genre, so how could I not get excited about a movie that promised to replicate those black-and-white classics from Hollywood's Golden Age? But while nowhere near as execrable as Gus Van Sant's Psycho remake, this big-budget equivalent of a grad school thesis project is so intent on everything looking right that it frequently forgets to add either heart or soul. Here, there's not much beyond self-conscious mise en scenes and a lead actor who isn't mysterious or magnetic as much as he's simply aloof. George Clooney plays the central sap, a military journalist who returns to postwar Berlin and discovers that his driver (Tobey Maguire), a bully whose R-rated language and actions basically render void Soderbergh's offer to take us back to the family-friendly flicks of yesteryear, has been dating his former flame (Cate Blanchett). After the driver ends up murdered, our newshound takes it upon himself to crack the case and, in the process, try to reconnect with his German ex-lover. Clooney basically sleepwalks through the picture, while Maguire is too boyish to convey the proper degree of menace. In this weak company, Blanchett easily steals the film; she won't make movie buffs forget Ingrid Bergman (or Marlene Dietrich), but she's about as good as German gets. **

NOTES ON A SCANDAL Judi Dench is so good at what she does that in recent years, she's become something of a bore. Because she's always cast as the no-nonsense matriarch with more brains and gumption than anyone else in the room, her career's been in a depressing holding pattern. Notes On a Scandal doesn't exactly find her breaking away from this mold, but because she's given so many more nuances to explore, she's able to excel via her finest work in quite some time. Cate Blanchett, (not surrendering an inch of the screen to her formidable costar), plays Sheba Hart, a newly arrived instructor at the same British school where the humorless Barbara Covett (Dench) also teaches. Initially irked by the presence of this luminous newcomer, Barbara eventually becomes her confidante, imagining in her mind that their affection for each other might even run deeper than mere friendship. After Sheba foolishly starts an affair with a 15-year-old student (Andrew Simpson), Barbara feels betrayed, but also realizes that she now has a perfect instrument of blackmail at her disposal. Notes On a Scandal is little more than a lurid melodrama -- one that could benefit from some late-inning twists, I might add -- but Dench and Blanchett, slinging around juicy dialogue by scripter Patrick Marber (from Zoe Heller's book), turn this into something more. Think of it as Masterpiece Theatre filtered through Days of Our Lives. ***


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