Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Quick Bits

Way back in 1998, the first Elizabeth brought the forfront the unmistakle talent of one Cate Blanchett. In the nine years since then, she reinforced that first leading role with an Academy Award (for The Aviator), along with breathlessly ambitious and intelligently played turns in films as varied as Notes on a Scandal, Heaven, The Gift, The Life Aquatic, and The Talented Mr. Ripley. It was surprising in 1998, but ain't news in 2007, and Ms. Blanchett has the misfortune of appearing in a film that's as silly and daffy as a daytime soap opera, (I kept waiting for her evil twin sister to pop out of the corner.) Here the sequel to Elizabeth, also directed by Shekhar Kapur focuses on the middle part of her life through her attempts to find a husband and continuing through the Spanish Armanda, but Kapur reduces everything, even his Elizabeth, to a series of loud, thrashing score beats and pretty costumes decadently parading around nothing. Everything in the film does gravitate toward Blanchett, but here it's almost in an unpleasant way, because even the great actress seems a bit out of it here, knowingly doing a put on for such a lousy script that requires little of her other than screaming about every now and thing. The actors all gravitate toward her as-- Clive Owen's dashing Walter Raleigh (who the film surposes was her one true), Abbie Cornish's handmaiden, even Samantha Morton's Mary Stuart who has no scenes with her at all. It could have been a perfectly mediocre old-time star vehicle, but when the costumes and the filmed sunsets have more depth than anything else, well, sire, you get a D+.

Director Gavin Hood came out of nowhere to pick up the foreign language Oscar last year for his South African gang movie Tsotsi (which I haven't seen, so I won't refute), and now follows with Rendition, an urgingly topical political story about the ramifications of arresting supposed war criminals in prisions outside the U.S., and thus doing what they please. What's maddeningly frustrating about this film, is that there is a great film here, but somewhere, possibly in writer Kelley Sane's hands it loses touch and becomes a fairly manipulative, insanely one-sided, didatic message movie. The basic story is Anwar El-Ibrahimi (Omar Metwally), a chemicals something or other happily married to his knocked wife American wife Isabella (Reese Witherspoon- distressed but in the wrong sort of way) is stopped at the airport due to suspicious phone calls traced from his cell phone that may prove involvement in a suicide attack in Cape Town. The movie pulls a Syriana and follows three stories-- Isabella trying to get answers, which leads her old boyfried Alan Smith (Peter Sarsgaard), now a senator's aid, and Corrine Whitman (Meryl Streep-- still the devil in prada), in charge of this rendition; idealist Douglas Freeman (Jake Gyllenhaal) who's observing his first rendition on Anwar; and the love story, family drama that leads to the suicide bombing in the first place. It's an ambitious movie, I'll give it that, but not a particularly successful one. It reduces this complex Patriot Act issue as an almost woman's weepie. Like Syriana, I found myself agreeing with what was on screen, but not at all engaged by it, and Streep's icy performance reeks of so much ham, I feel she should give one Oscar back until she learns her lesson. C+

It's really not as bad as it looks. Jerry Seinfeld's environmental CG carton is about something but it really doesn't matter much-- the throwaway Seinfeldian moments are the only one I remember. Like Barry B. Benson's (Seinfeld) The Graduate-like dream sequence about falling in love with human friend\bee supporter Vanessa (voiced by Renee Zellweger)-- that's gold. The story is all in quotation marks mostly-- bored Barry fears being burdened by a beleaguering and bourgeois bee existence and travels out of the hive and befriends the beautiful flower girl Vanessa and discovers that honey is being exploited by humans and soughts to save the bee population, but inevitably just destroys it. B-

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