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By Sandra Olmsted
At the very least, Matthew McConaughey should get an Oscar nomination for his role as Ron Woodroof, a homophobic, hedonistic Texan whose bad lifestyle choices lead to a diagnoses of AIDS in the film Dallas Buyers’ Club. Taking the diagnosis as a personal affront to his manhood, Ron ignores the diagnosis and pretends there’s nothing wrong until his health begins to fail. Then he’s very proactive.
By Sandra Olmsted
An animated film about turkeys revolting against being eaten seemed likely to have the same effect as the Thanksgiving scene in Giant, where three children cry loudly at their pet turkey being served up as dinner. Director Jimmy Hayward’s Free Birds poses no real threat to the tradition of turkey dinner or to becoming the quintessential Thanksgiving Day movie despite the lack of Thanksgiving films.
By Sandra Olmsted
Say Sissy Spacek and the image of her in Brian De Palma’s Carrie will probably come to mind, and that incredible performance is as hard an act to follow as the De Palma’s classic horror masterpiece. In fact, tackling a remake of an iconic film like De Palma’s horror masterpiece seems an odd choice for director Kimberly Peirce, whose acclaimed first feature, Boys Don’t Cry, was followed by only one other feature until now.
by Sandra Olmsted
In Captain Phillips, director Paul Greengrass turns his eye for realism on true story of a container ship captain and the impoverished pirates who come for his ship. From the beginning of the film, Greengrass cuts between the American captain and Somali pirates preparing to go to sea. Later Billy Ray’s script allows the pirate who leads the group, Muse (Barkhad Abdi), say to title character Captain Phillips (Tom Hanks) that they are the same. Disturbingly and subtly, the film asks what these resourceful young men might have done if given an option besides pirating. While the unsettling qualities of this theme play out in the comfort of the modern haves verses the wretchedness of the third world have-nots, from the international politics of aid for the less fortunate versus the commerce of international business, and from empathizing with the bad guys, as if the viewers themselves suffer from Stockholm syndrome. Even the scariest of the pirates, Najee (Faysal Ahmed), who reveals his fear of subsistence living under warlords and his anger at his powerlessness, evokes empathy. To further point out how manipulated, how sad these Somalis are, Phillips questions why they are still “here” — pirates dressed in rags — when they brag about getting six million for their last hostage, spurring Muse to speak of his dreams of America.
By Sandra Olmsted
Director Alfonso Cuarón’s latest film, Gravity, marries a simple, straightforward narrative to evocative visual complexity and delivers a subtle mediation of grief in the midst of a minimalistic, popcorn-selling, special effects-laden, blockbuster. The film opens with a stunningly long take, approximately 13 minutes, revealing three astronauts working and playing around the Hubble telescope with the shuttle, the earth, and the infinite of space tumbling around them. Matt Kowalsky (George Clooney), the mission commander, tools around in his jet pack contemplating his last, preretirement walk in space. Like a 1970s cop movie, it announces retirement equals death, but Kowalsky, a jokester, also has to say, half kiddingly, to his fellow astronauts and mission control, “Houston, I have a bad feeling about this mission.” Meanwhile, Shariff (voice of Paul/Phaldut Sharma), a seasoned astronaut, and Dr. Ryan Stone (Bullock), a nervous medical engineer on her first mission, work on the telescope. The view of earth and the feeling of weightlessness mesmerize the audience, who share the expereicne via the topnotch 3D. The silence has a beauty all its own, and Cuaron lets the audience experience the peacefulness of airless, gravity-free space. The silence turns frightening when s message from Houston alerts them to incoming debris from an exploded Russian spy satellite. Kowalsky coolly and firmly insists that Ryan drop what she is doing, and they head back to the relative safety of the shuttle. Fortunately, for Ryan and Kowalsky, they didn’t make it to the shuttle; however, like the odd member of a Star Trek away team, Shariff isn’t so lucky. Shuttle gone, Ryan spinning off into space, and Houston unable to communicate, Kowalsky takes charge. After calming and retrieving Ryan and securing Shariff’s body, Kowalsky uses his few spurts of jet pack fuel to send them towards the International Space Station which is their only hope for survival before the debris circles the earth in just 90 minutes. Will Stone’s air supply runs out? Does Kowalsky have enough fuel to get them there? Ryan shows off what she has learned in training comes when she must translate skills learned in a simulator to flying Russian and Chinese escape pods, which are fortunately the same. While this indicates a level of cooperation in space, it doesn’t explain the Russians blowing up their dying satellite in such a way as to imperil American astronauts and the International Space Station.
In Prisoners, his first Hollywood feature, Canadian director Denis Villeneuve seems to have dumbed down his style since his Oscar nominated Incendies.
As soon as the two little girls disappear, apparently kidnapped by the driver of a mysterious RV, the film promises moral conundrums and seems aimed at mediating religious ambiguity in the face of such loss, the powerlessness of a survivalist to protect his family and the darkness of the past invading the present. Unfortunately, what Villeneuve promises to develop from screenwriter Aaron Guzikowski’s script is either left on the cutting room floor in favor of posturing somewhere between film noir and a overly complex whodunit, or these elements never existed on the script’s pages.