Reliving the Summer of 1990 - Week Two
May 31, 2010
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Throughout his entire career, filmmaker Jean-Pierre Jeunet has been compared to Terry Gilliam, as both men share a love for the absurd and the angular, while nursing an obsession for extravagant details. With the farce “Micmacs,” Jeunet surpasses Gilliam in both design and execution achievements, staging a ripping tale of revenge and oddball relations in a markedly French manner, shaping one the year’s funniest imports, further cementing his reputation as a maestro of unconventional entertainment.
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Unlike many features inspired by the world of video games, “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time” emerges from an extensive history of electronic adventuring. While directly funneled from a 2003 console release, “Prince of Persia” has been a leaping legacy of gaming since 1989, making it an ideal fit for a widescreen cinematic adaptation. However, the premise found its way into the sticky hands of producer Jerry Bruckheimer, who does what he habitually does to PG-13 action entertainment: makes it plastic, noisy, and easily dismissible.
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After a few feature films reflecting a more introspective side to his creativity, director Alejandro Amenabar kicks up some major dust with the historical epic, “Agora.” A large-scale investigation into religious hysteria, the film is a stunning spectacle, piloted by a filmmaker drawn to the frayed ends of human irrationality. It’s a complex story often trying to pass itself off as dumb, but for the more patient, “Agora” is something different, stepping into the battlefield of big bucks filmmaking armed with a few timely ideas, not just sword-wielding fury.
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Ah yes, “Sex and the City 2.” It’s the high fashion, glass-clinking instruction booklet for life as a successful woman, catering to the needs of the staunchly female audience by presenting male choirs, erect penises, Helen Reddy karaoke, “Mommie Dearest” costuming, and a cameo by Liza Minnelli. Hey, wait a minute! I suspect nothing about “Sex and the City 2” directly concerns the same heterosexual high kick the adored television series celebrated; this sequel makes “The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” look like “The Remains of the Day.”
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Strapping on the spurs to head back to the old west with “Back to the Future: Part III” and gettin’ my “Top Gun” on with Nicolas Cage in “Fire Birds.”
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“Saturday Night Live” has produced several peculiar motion pictures based on popular skits over the last three decades, but nothing has been more unlikely than a feature film pulled together from the likes of “MacGruber.” A spoof of the popular ‘80s adventure series “MacGyver,” “MacGruber” started life as brief nuggets of absurdity airing between skits, rarely lasting more than a minute at a time -- hardly the foundation for 90 minutes of action cinema satire. Against all odds (including a studio fearful to show the film to the press), “MacGruber” actually snaps together quite agreeably thanks to a thunderously filthy screenplay and a game cast, who heroically taffy pull a slender concept to a pleasing consistency of comedic madness.
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For some, parenthood is viewed as a prison, with pregnancy often regarded as an unwelcome surprise that derails life, leaving the mother with little in the way of options for the future. For others, parenthood is an elusive dream, with infertility wreaking havoc on domestic plans, placing insurmountable stress on brittle familial relationships. “Mother and Child” examines the sensitivity that surrounds the game of pregnancy, and how the adoption process can pervert the miracle of life into a stab of paralyzing insecurity. It’s not an easy film of righteousness, but a trembling drama, with more venom than anticipated, salvaged by a few outstanding performances.
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It’s been nearly a decade since the release of the original “Shrek.” A monster hit with audiences eager to watch the fine art of Disney fairy tale storytelling receive a vigorous spanking, “Shrek” hit a nerve that carried over to an even more successful 2004 sequel, and a less admired 2007 installment. “Shrek Forever After” (a.k.a. “Shrek: The Final Chapter,” or whatever Dreamworks happens to be calling it this week) promises a last dance for the profitable ogre, and while it’s a modest affair that barely exerts itself, it’s a charming, humorous closer that reunites the viewer with old pals in an extremely agreeable fashion.
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“Holy Rollers” embarks on a tale of drug trafficking that’s been sold time and again. There’s the innocent soul wandering into chemical trouble, corrupting his innocence and endangering his family, while learning severe lessons on the fragility of family and the torturous consequences of greed. However, the protagonist isn’t some streetwise kid or a suburban dolt, but a Hasidic Jew, which is the first of a few inviting twists and turns in this deeply flawed, but effective morality tale, based on a true story.
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For the uninitiated, Karting is a pastime for weekends, encouraging a feeling of goofball abandon as rusted metal machines burn around a tattered track, with thrills and laughs the ultimate reward, not necessarily the glory of finishing first. However, there’s a subculture that takes the sport of Karting as gospel, using the tire tracks laid out by the World Karting Association as a guide toward a career in NASCAR, with a gifted few hoping to drive alongside the miracle men of the league.
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I’ve come to the conclusion that ‘Ohana should be accepted as a way of life, not just another restaurant situated on the Walt Disney World property. It’s home to an appealing Polynesian atmosphere, an animated dining area, and an obscene parade of luscious food that could give an Andre the Giant-sized appetite pause. ‘Ohana isn’t for the meek or the miserable, it’s a sweeping playground for drooling carnivores who’ve pulled the safety restrictions off their meat intake valve, or perhaps a place for those who enjoy the kitsch of Hawaii without the burden of a plane ride.
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The legend of Robin Hood has been fodder for countless adventure films, all bound together by a certain tights-n-woodsy appearance. It’s a story drained of tension long ago, populated with characters known the world over, rotated every few years to refresh moviegoers on the basics of outlaw justice and moony romance. Famed director Ridley Scott has accepted the challenge of a “Robin Hood” adaptation, and while the deck was stacked mightily against the filmmaker, he winds a flawed, but effective arrow-thwacked yarn, concentrating on the origins of Mr. Hood and his rise to fugitive hero status.
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Showing more pearly whites here than in any of her previous efforts, Queen Latifah appears determined to make her latest film, the romantic comedy “Just Wright,” work for every single audience member. It’s admirable to mold something PG and mellow, with a sense of musical culture to it that typically isn’t allowed in the genre; however, it doesn’t take long before mental illness sets in, crippling the film with cliché to make the dramatic pieces fit in a manner that doesn’t disrupt the inevitability of the cartoon writing. Yet, Latifah keeps smiling away, hoping her natural charisma will be enough to cover the fact that “Just Wright” is woefully undercooked and often insultingly moronic.
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Romantic motion pictures tend to cheat, fudging screenplays to evoke intimacy faster, helping along cinematic pace and the ways of love for audiences typically impatient with matters of the heart. “Letters to Juliet” is no different, yet its reduction in reason is rather mean-spirited and, even for a gushy screen romance, blatantly illogical. While forever gentle and warmly acted, “Juliet” sends a confusing message about the blinders of love, speeding into an idealized pairing it doesn’t earn.
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