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Thumbnails December 2007

by Tony Medley

Love in the Time of Cholera (10/10): Not since The Notebook (2004) has a film affected me like this. Despite a running time of 138 minutes, director Mike Newell translates Gabriel García Márquez’s novel into a magical, sensual film of pure romance. Javier Bardem gives a stirring performance as a man who carries the torch for a half century for an apparently ageless Giovanna Mezzogiorno (who looks 35 when she’s 72) in photogenic Cartageña, Colombia. I’m not a fan of Special Effects, but watch for one of the final scenes when a seamless head replacement makes Mezzogiomo’s half-naked body look 72-years-old.

The Kite Runner (8/10): Although it doesn’t put nearly as much emphasis on the vicious brutality of the Taliban in Afghanistan as emphatically as Khaled Hosseini’s bestselling book, it effectively captures the polite ways of the old country and how they are exported by Afghani expatriates to America. Exceptional performances by Homayoun Ershadi and 12-year-old Ahmad Khan Mahmoodzada highlight screenwriter David Benioff and director Marc Forster’s adaptation into an insightful tear-jerking movie about a boy who does a despicable act and his guilty attempt at redemption after he becomes a man.

No Country for Old Men (7/10): Alfred Hitchcock could have made Javier Bardem horrifically scary with ambience and music, and would have known how to achieve a satisfactory ending. Not so the Coen Brothers, who wrote and directed. Bardem is just a very bad man, going around stoically blowing holes in people’s heads as he tries to find Josh Brolin (in a lively performance) and the money Brolin took. One of his potential victims tells Bardem, “You don’t have to do this.” Bardem replies with resignation, “That’s what they all say.” Until the last 15 minutes, it was a pretty entertaining chase thriller. But because of the ending I walked out of the film feeling I had wasted my time.

Pete Seeger: Power of Song (7/10): Forget their politics and beliefs (folk music is, by definition, about protest and alienation to the status quo), I love folk music and the people who create and sing it. Even considering the last drastically slow quarter hour that descends into hyperbole (where Seeger is credited with saving the Hudson River, much like Davy Crocket “patched up the crack in the Liberty Bell”), this is one I wouldn’t have missed. On top of learning about Seeger’s interesting life with people like the legendary Woody Guthrie and the blacklist, you get to hear lots of great music, too, like Tzena, Tzena, Tzena!

Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead (5/10): Starting with an unnecessarily graphic sex scene, exacerbated by a misleading light-hearted cartoon display ad and constant flashbacks to the same event, and without one admirable person, the fine acting does not sufficiently elevate this dark, depressing, dirge about a caper and a dysfunctional family.

Mr. Untouchable (5/10): Director Marc Levin minimizes the damage that Harlem drug king, Nicky Barnes, foisted on New York City in the ‘70s by failing to emphasize the murders and drug addicts for which he was responsible, instead focusing on his conviction and then ratting out all his compatriots, finally getting off despite a sentence of life “without parole.”

Lions For Lambs (3/10): Not the leftwing screed expected, the problem is that it’s not cinematic. There’s no story, no protagonist, no action; a real snorer. If you want a civics lesson, better to re-enroll in high school. If you’re troubled by insomnia, buying the DVD and putting it on every night when you go to bed might be a great cure.

Beowulf (1/10): Utilizing the latest in Motion Capture Animation, which takes real people and makes them look like cartoons, and full-fledged 3-D (the glasses were uncomfortable) doesn’t keep this from being a silly bore. The only entertainment I got was observing the many unintentionally comical, Buster Keaton-like methods used to obscure Ray Winstone’s frontal male nudity, which brought snickers from my audience.

Jimmy Carter Man From Plains (1/10): How do you make a fawning documentary about the man many consider the worst President in American history? You ignore his Presidency and spend two hours following his book tour. The result is this fawning, unquestioning bore.