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God's Not Dead (2014)
I was dragged to this "movie" by a Christian friend who keeps thinking that I"ll finally come around to her religious way of thinking. Jeez, it was worse that I expected. Atheists are portrayed as evil beings who "hate god" and are determined to convert Christians. Actually, atheists do not "hate" god; god is simply something they don't believe exists. As to forcing their way of thinking on anyone, the movie has it backwards. It's Christian zealots who demand that everyone think like them. Most atheists - those that I know anyway - are happy to let others believe as they wish as long as they don't force their "values" on the rest of us. As to production values, etc., the film is pretty basic. The lead actor over-emotes and the supporting cast of Kevin Sorbo and Dean Cain look pretty silly. The plot is pretty much what you'd think. Thoughtful friends shouldn't let friends see this piece of propaganda: it has no basis in reality. As to Christians, knock yourself out. Like Fox News, it's been produced to reinforce your preconceptions without actually presenting another point of view in anything resembling a thoughtful way.
The Kids Are All Right (2010)
Director Lisa Cholodenko, who gave us the marvelous "Laurel Canyon", assembles a killer cast (including national treasures Julianne Moore and Annette Bening, along with Mark Ruffalo and terrific young actor Mia Wasikowska) and addresses a promising premise (kids of lesbian moms meet their sperm donor dad). What could possibly go wrong? Shockingly, in this case, just about everything.
This is not the fault of the actors. Moore and Bening are clearly committed to creating complex, sympathetic portraits of the kids' parents, Jules and Nic. Ruffalo attempts to breathe life into his role as the hapless sperm donor. Wasikowsa tries to convey the maturation of a young person about to strike out on her own.
The problem - and it is a serious one - is that the script gives the actors nothing to work with. Cholodenko, who co-wrote the screenplay, can't make up her mind whether she's directing a slice-of-life family drama, a satiric portrait of stereotypical characters, or a sex farce. She succeeds only in creating a confusing mess that works as none of the above.
Things go badly early, when Jules and Nic have a cringe-inducing sex scene featuring (male) gay porn. From there, the two constantly "process" their feelings. But it's unclear whether Cholodenko intends for this to be satiric or realistic; I don't think the actors have a clue. Things get worse when Jules, for petty reasons, humiliates and then fires a Latino gardener. If the purpose were to showcase some inner complexity of her character, that would be one thing. But, incredibly, the scene is played for laughs, as if the audience should find Jules' cruel behavior funny.
Since Cholodenko seems to have nothing to say about her characters, the plot is propelled by absurd turns of events that make no internal sense to the film. Absurdity piles upon absurdity, leaving the viewer more aghast than drawn in.
For her part, Bening attempts to make sense of the shrill, control-freak character she plays. But, in doing so, she seems to be at cross-purposes with her director. The problem is that in making Nic as real as she can, Bening creates someone utterly unsympathetic. But Cholodenko seems to want the viewer to like and identify with this character. The result is that you just don't care.
The film never really goes anywhere. The thin plot has a tacked-on ending that comes out of nowhere. I was just glad that it was over.
I can't overstate how disappointed I was by this film's waste of talent. And by its waste of a topical premise that had the potential to give movie-goers a meaningful alternative to what passes for film entertainment in Hollywood today. Sadly, unless you want to see good actors flail about with an embarrassing script, I strongly urge you to stay away from this film.
The Time Traveler's Wife (2009)
A Passable Trifle
As a soufflé, The Time Traveler's Wife falls flat at first, only to rise again in the final stages of cooking to become a passable trifle. In this tale of star-crossed lovers, a lonely Henry (Eric Bana) involuntarily jumps back and forth in time, but comes to love Claire (Rachel McAdams), who returns his love in spite of not knowing how long he'll be around or what age he'll be the next time she sees him. The director tries for a tone of poignant whimsy, but slow pacing and a Lifetime Movie-ish score (that hits the viewer over the head with the emotions she or he is supposed to feel) undermines his effort. Only late in the story do unexpected complications bring enough richness to the proceedings for the film to come close to achieving its aim. The lead actors are appealing, and attempt to breath life into stick-figure characters. Bana tries for a brooding soulfulness that might have been achieved by a young Richard Gere. McAdams, so good in previous films, can't quite pull off making the long-suffering Claire a well-rounded character in her own right rather than merely a reflection of Henry's plight. Two actresses in small but pivotal roles (one a child actor and another playing Herny's mother) steal the scenes they're in. One science-fiction contrivance is that, when Henry travels through time, he disappears like a Chesire Cat, leaving his clothes behind. This convention allows for many shots of a naked Bana (above the waist and from behind), but introduces a silly sub-plot about how Henry struggles to find clothing each time he travels. McAdams appears nude briefly, apparently to bring a kind of balance. The movie has been dubbed a "romantic dramedy," but romantic drama might be more accurate. Having not read the novel on which the film was based, I can't gage how successful the film is in translating from page to screen, but taken on it's own, this version of The Time Travelers Wife is a partially-risen soufflé, tasty enough but full of air.
Judicial Indiscretion (2007)
Anne Archer's weaknesses as as actress are revealed in this mind-numbing bit of hokum. This movie was bad even if compared to other low-budget sudsers that are Lifetime's usual staple. Worst was the blatant homophobia of the film. San Francisco residents are referred to as "fruit loops that all moved to a place where they can feel normal." Archer's character, an Appeals Court judge no less, later agrees, referring to the "fruits and nuts" in San Francisco. When confronted by a gun-wielding Senator in the back of a car, the villain snorts, "you can't shoot me; this is San Francisco. They'll think it's just another gay tryst gone bad." (Huh?) I stayed with the film only out of fascination for just how awful it could get. Archer's wooden, creepy performance as a Supreme Court nominee was about as believable as Denise Richards' famous turn as a "nuclear physicist" in one of the Bond films. (Which is to say, laughable.) Unless you get some sick enjoyment out of watching really bad, cynical film-making, avoid this turkey at all costs.
Tan Lines (2007)
Don't waste your time
I saw this film at the San Francisco LGBT film festival, which usually has high standards. In this case, though, a bit of young male flesh doesn't overcome a terrible screenplay, lousy acting, moronic plot and just enough artsy posing to give the film a veneer of being "edgy". It's not. It's simply cynical film-making that demonstrates a complete contempt for any audience unfortunate enough to have to sit though it. Here's just one example: the film's teenage anti-hero is paid by a town matron to give oral sex to her niece while having tea. The niece is supposed to maintain ladylike comportment and pretend she's not getting head. Why? Who knows? It bears no relation to any other part of this really, really bad film. Be warned.
Sun Kissed (2006)
I'm a fan of gay indie film and can usually find something to appreciate in even the smallest-budget movie. But Sun Kissed has nothing, NOTHING to recommend it. A Young Writer rents a house in the desert north of Palm Springs from an Old Queen (both performances atrocious, by the way) to finish a novel. Young Writer gets Cute Neighbor drunk after an afternoon of crazy dancing and hosing each other down with a hose (huh?) and gives him a blow job, and then throws a childish tantrum because Cute Neighbor wants to leave the next morning. Turns out Cute Neighbor may have killed his wife but returns to Young Writer to steal his novel. Or maybe HE wrote the novel. Maybe Young Writer doesn't exist. Maybe wife doesn't exist. Who knows? Who cares? The script is a nonsensical mess that McGuinn tries to pass off a "mysterious" or "arty". It is neither. The cinematography is bad even by the standards of a first-year film student, ranging from washed-out images to trite shots of hummingbirds. Do Young Writer (if he exists) and Cute Neighbor (who may be a psychopathic killer) find happiness running into each other's arms on the sunkissed beach, at the end? You'd have to view this mess to find out, but I'd advise against it.
A final note: at the San Francisco LGBT Film Festival screening, derisive laughter erupted during the most "dramatic" moments and the film was booed. Don't say you weren't warned.
Il deserto dei tartari (1976)
Film a failure
In spite of its high-minded ambitions, Zurlini's film must be seen as a failure. It's one thing to create a world which draws the viewer into feeling the tedium and angst experienced by the protagonist (which I think is what Zurlini was attempting). It's another thing entirely to make a film that is itself tedious and meaninglessly episodic. Despite beautiful cinematography at a haunting location - and a wonderful score - the film never lures the audience in. Too much is unintentionally funny (the phony sound of dripping water in Drago's quarters, for example, or the silent-movie mugging by some of the actors) or simply confusing (Why exactly does Drago want to leave the fort the first time?) for the film to succeed as a coherent work.