The buzz on Heath Ledger's portrayal of the Joker in The Dark Knight may start to wane by the time the late actor is awarded the Oscar for it, but the effects of this performance are likely to be felt for years, if not decades.
Not that many of you have seen them, but in between Rodriguez's and Tarantino's Grindhouse offerings, there are faux "coming attractions" for forthcoming trash flicks, one of which is directed by Edgar Wright. The trailer in question is for a slasher film called Don't, and in about 90 seconds of screen time, Wright - director/co-writer of the peerless zombie comedy Shaun of the Dead and the new action spoof Hot Fuzz - manages to lampoon (and celebrate) just about every cliché in the horror-preview bible: the insidiously throaty voice-over announcer; the shock edits, punctuated by screams; the sudden bursts of outré violence. It's a brilliant, savage parody, yet the trailer's ultimate joke is that it's legitimately effective; you find yourself actually wanting to see Don't. Wright tweaks genre previews and outdoes them in the same breath.
Eddie Murphy's latest latex comedy, Norbit, is an unusual mixture of abject stupidity and sheer genius. If you've seen the previews - and is there anyone left who hasn't? - you've pretty much gleaned the plot, which finds our nerdy, titular hero (Murphy) trapped in matrimonial hell with the punishing, frighteningly obese Rasputia (Murphy again), and yearning to win the heart of his one true love (Thandie Newton). From beginning to end, director Brian Robbins' movie is formulaic, repetitive, obvious, and not nearly as hysterical as it wants to be. It's also one of the few comedies of recent years to be touched with something approximating brilliance.
After more than an hour of noble attempts and unfortunate - though unembarrassing - failings, director Catherine Harwicke, in her biblical tale of The Nativity Story, finally lands upon the style she appears to have been aiming for all along. Mary (Keisha Castle-Hughes) has just given birth to Jesus, and as she lies in the manger alongside her husband, Joseph (Oscar Isaac), a blinding shaft of light descends from the heavens and lands directly on the holy family, creating a tableaux that is at once instantly familiar and freshly moving.
Most cinephiles detest filmed versions of plays, with their awkward exposition, stagy dialogue, and functional, assembly-line characters who serve their purpose within the author's conceit and exit just in time for another character to show up and do the same; oftentimes, you can all but see the proscenium arch hovering overhead.
Last summer, when Steven Spielberg's science-fiction epic A.I.: Artificial Intelligence was released, it was greeted with a few rave reviews but near-universal audience apathy. Working from material shepherded by the late Sultan of Cynicism, Stanley Kubrick, Spielberg directed the film as if Kubrick's ghost perched on his shoulder, demanding that every scene be moodier, uglier, and above all slower than the one than preceded it; the film was brilliantly designed but emotionally vacant, and it drained you of your energy.
Given current events, are audiences now so hungry for nostalgic, nonthreatening entertainment that they'll happily accept something as profoundly awful as Hearts in Atlantis? If so, you certainly can't blame them, but Lord knows they deserve better than this mawkish Stephen King adaptation, a gooey and incoherent fable that gets more maddening as it progresses. I have friends who swear by the greatness of King's novel (unread by me), but the film version comes off as a mixture of the feyest aspects of the mostly terrific Stand by Me (based on King's novella The Body) and the metaphysical hokiness of King's The Green Mile. It proves to be a nearly unbearable combination, and yet something tells me that this wimpy, unfocused film could turn into a big hit among those who believe, as its author apparently does, that America died right about the time King turned 13.
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