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Film Clips

Amazing Grace, Black Snake Moan, Bridge to Terabithia

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New Releases

AMAZING GRACE Basically Amistad with only half the serving of self-importance, Amazing Grace examines the efforts of William Wilberforce, a member of British Parliament who fought to end his country's involvement in the slave trade during the late-18th and early-19th centuries. Ioan Gruffudd, no stranger to heroic roles (Horatio Hornblower, Mr. Fantastic, even the officer who rescues Rose in Titanic), plays Wilberforce, who spent over two decades of his life battling colleagues who saw nothing wrong in keeping the practice of slavery alive. But armed with his deeply held religious convictions and a basic sense of decency, he persevered against all obstacles, including a reputation as a traitor to his country during the war with France ("You're either with us or with the French terrorists!" has a familiar ring ...) and his own failing health. Perhaps more Masterpiece Theatre than motion picture -- director Michael Apted (Nell) frequently opts for static shots more suitable for the small screen -- Amazing Grace nevertheless tells a story that's compelling enough to compensate for the occasional stuffiness. A well-chosen cast also helps immeasurably -- among the luminaries are Michael Gambon as a fellow politico, Rufus Sewell in a change-of-pace role as the most anarchic of the abolitionists, and Albert Finney as a former slave-ship captain who repents for his sins by writing the title tune. ***

BLACK SNAKE MOAN After earning positive notices for his breakthrough feature, 2005's Hustle & Flow, writer-director Craig Brewer returns with another look at Southern discomfort deep-fried in a greasy pool of sex and song. Befitting the double meaning of its title, Black Snake Moan provides a pleasurable bait-and-switch, beginning as a funky, freaky "woman in chains" offshoot and ending up as a more traditional tale about redemption and life's second chances. Set in a swampy Tennessee burg, this stars Samuel L. Jackson as Lazarus, a former blues musician who rescues town tart Rae (Christina Ricci) after he discovers her battered body in the ditch next to his house. Working through his own domestic crisis -- his wife has just left him for his brother -- Lazarus decides to redeem himself by simultaneously saving this woman, chaining her to his radiator and attempting to purge her of her sexual demons. What Lazarus doesn't know is that his own demons will be better tamed by the love of a good woman -- in this case, the helpful pharmacist (S. Epatha Merkerson) who works in the nearby town -- and that Rae's soldier-boy steady (Justin Timberlake) has just returned after an aborted Iraqi tour of duty and is looking high and low for his sweetheart. Black Snake Moan is far more scattershot than Hustle & Flow, but its unorthodox yet earnest approach to religion, hot music licks, and spot-on performances by Jackson and Ricci keep the whole brew bubbling. ***

BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA There's a gentle strain seeping back into today's family films, a development that should be encouraged at every turn. When movies aimed at the smallest fry feature characters belching and breaking wind at regular intervals, it's clear that the tide has turned since the decades of such marvelous and -- I hasten to add -- enduring masterpieces like Lady and the Tramp and 101 Dalmatians; even the recent live-action take on Charlotte's Web couldn't resist occasionally pandering to the crusty-snot-nosed kids in the audience. Like the film versions of A Little Princess and The Neverending Story, Bridge to Terabithia wasn't made for them; instead, it's for bright, inquisitive children (and attendant adults) who subscribe to the theory that imagination is one of the most wonderful tools available. Based on Katherine Paterson's award-winning book, this explores the relationship between two outcast middle-schoolers (Josh Hutcherson and AnnaSophia Robb, both highly appealing) and the adventures they share as they create a magical kingdom in the woods that rest behind their respective houses. If the effects involved in the creation of their imaginary world seem on the thrifty side, that's OK, since the heart of the story rests in the manner in which children are able to cope with loneliness, ostracism and even death. Incidentally, co-writer David Paterson is Katherine's son, which helps explain the film's fidelity to its source material. ***

Current Releases

BECAUSE I SAID SO A nasty piece of cinema posing as a romantic comedy, Because I Said So is this year's Monster-In-Law, a vicious stab at the maternal instinct that also manages to humiliate the iconic actress at its center. Diane Keaton headlines the film as Daphne, a 59-year-old woman who still dotes on her youngest daughter, Milly (Mandy Moore). Determined to find Mr. Right for Milly, Daphne interviews prospective suitors and settles on a wealthy architect (Tom Everett Scott), but her plans are upset by the additional presence of a struggling musician (Gabriel Macht). For all its faults -- reprehensible characters, grotesque racial profiling (check out the Asian masseuses), a dog not only humping the furniture after hearing moans emanating from an Internet porn site but actually licking the computer screen as well -- the movie's most unforgivable sin is its treatment of the great Diane Keaton. Jane Fonda had lost her acting chops by the time she returned from retirement to appear in Monster-In-Law, but Keaton is still an active and accomplished performer. But watching her humiliated on camera in the service of such a loathsome character (she shrieks! she whines! she falls on her ass!) is inexcusable. Just a few years ago, Keaton played a character who was sexy, funny and intelligent in Something's Gotta Give. This one's more like Something Gave Out. *

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