Jasper Smith

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Film review: Infamous

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A more accessible and in many ways a more mainstream film than the previous year’s Capote, Infamous (2006) also happens to be the better and more entertaining of the two pictures. It offers the viewer a much richer, fascinating depiction of the Manhattan social scene at the end of the 1950s, and also features a good deal of genuine humor — there are some truly hilarious scenes in the film’s first half. And yet the early jokes only serve to make the picture’s sombre denouement all the more harrowing.

As for the performances, well, some will say Toby Jones doesn’t quite possess the acting chops of Phillip Seymour Hoffman, but I think it’s more the case that he simply doesn’t overact in the same manner as Hoffman (of whom I’m a big fan, for what it’s worth). In retrospect I’d have to say the usually superb P.S. Hoffman was rather miscast in Capote. But this is most definitely not the case with British character actor Toby Jones’s rendition of the famous writer. Mr. Jones’s light touch is given an especially strong foundation in the role by his startling physical resemblance to the real Truman Capote, as well as his dead-on accent and speech patterns.

There is also a delightful, understated, Oscar-worthy performance from Sandra Bullock as Capote’s longtime friend Harper Lee, and a dark, ferocious and equally award-deserving Daniel Craig as the death row inmate Perry Smith.

Some times less is more. But there are times, too, when more is more. Infamous — with its more traditional Hollywood treatment including lavish sets, over-the-top humor gags and a stable of big budget stars — is a slick, effective, and highly entertaining movie about Truman Capote and the writing of “In Cold Blood.”

Written by Jasper

September 3, 2007 at 10:30 am

Posted in Reviews

Film review: Fahrenheit 9/11

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Well, I finally had the good sense to sign up for Netflix. It’s. The. Best. Thing. Ever. My queue tops out at about seventy films as of right now. Make that seventy DVDs, for a good number of my requests are from the world of television (I just finished season II of HBO’s incomparable The Wire, for instance, and eagerly await season III this week).

Anyway, this afternoon I caught a movie I’ve been looking forward to for quite some time, Fahrenheit 9/11. Now, I don’t see eye to eye with Michael Moore on every single issue, but even when I disagree with him, I’ve generally found the director to be a talented storyteller and compelling polemicist. Bowling for Columbine, for instance, was a film I genuinely liked. Moore still had an air of “underdog” about him — and it was therefore easy to sympathize with his narrative, and the case he was trying to make.

Unfortunately, Fahrenheit 9/11 is a different sort of film altogether. For starters, the humor that has helped make Moore’s criticisms so biting in the past is used less frequently, and often comes across as heavy-handed. Indeed, the entire film is pervaded by a sense of “heaviness”; Moore’s doesn’t utilize the light, delicate, and richly humorous touch he’s employed in the past. Rather, his technique is to pound the viewer into submission with a relentless barrage of accusations and insinuations targeting the Bush administration. While few would argue against the proposition that said administration deserves plenty of criticism, ninety minutes of this fare doesn’t exactly lend itself to something called entertainment. Not unless, of course, it’s handled very deftly. But Michael Moore doesn’t display much of the deftness or artistry he has in the past.

One of the biggest problems with the film is the director’s frequent, but less than compelling use of his own narrator’s voice as the prime engine moving along the “story.” But this is highly problematic, because an hour and a half of hearing Moore’s voice-over accompanying news footage of this or that Bush outrage simply doesn’t provide the same level of effectiveness or entertainment available in previous Moore efforts, where we were treated to the often hillarious, moving, and searingly effective spectacle of the overweight, slightly disheveled “everyman” giving the high and mighty their comeuppance as he relentlessly stocks them with his camera and microphone.

In Fahrenheit, there’s precious little of this “stocking” (indeed we seldom see Moore at all), and far too much of his voice droning on and on and on as he comments on montages pulled from the news. As a film making technique, it’s simply doesn’t provide the same effectiveness or entertainment value as viewing Moore’s dogged attempts to stick his microphone in the faces of the ethically and morally challenged empty suits he has targeted in the past. Indeed, Moore finally does treat us to one such scene in Fahrenheit as he attempts — to hilarious effect — to sandbag various members of Congress while eliciting their opinions about the desirability of urging their own children to sign up for duty in Iraq. It’s a very funny, highly effective scene. But alas, we’re treated to very little of this highly entertaining vintage Michael Moore.

Another flaw with Fahrenheit is its simple lack of cohesiveness. There’s lots of insinuating and not-so-subtle accusing going on, but we’re left wondering just exactly what is the central point Moore is trying to make. Is he claiming that Bush stole the 2000 election? Or that Bush was behind the September 11th attacks? Is he claiming that Bush is incompetent? Does he contend that US troops are war criminals? The unfocused accusations and insinuations, in other words, sprawl so broadly and touch upon so many different topics, they frankly lose their bite and their sharpness. Mr. Moore could truly have used the services of a competent script editor, and perhaps even an accomplished and skilled assistant director.

Regrettably, the finished product packs neither as strong a punch as Bush critics would want, nor provides the general viewing public with much in the way of entertainment value. Thus, this flabby, unfocused, and poorly edited film doesn’t really work that well even as a fiery polemic against the presidency of George W. Bush. And as a feature film designed to entertain, it fares even worse. I was disappointed by Fahrenheit 9/11.

Written by Jasper

April 1, 2007 at 7:39 pm

Posted in Culture, Iraq, Politics, Reviews