I have a love and hate relationship with shoveling snow. While engaged in the act, I lose myself in the to-and-fro movements and begin to drift away in my mind's eye. I take strange pleasure in shattering ice with the sharp tip of my shovel and hearing the scrape-ing sound of plastic conflicting with asphalt. Frankly, I'm amazed I have so much fun doing what so many others hate and dread so much, especially because the winters here are so relentless. I suppose I like that I can so easily control the snow, that I'm able to manipulate and pack it away so neatly in piles along the edges of my driveway. It's very therapeutic for me, even more so during this time of year when things become hectic and I feel I have no control over anything. The "hate" part of the relationship comes in after the fact, when I wake up the next day unable to move my arms up beyond a 90 degree angle. So I'm sitting here wincing every time I move a muscle, hoping that the five Tylenols I've just taken in tandem will kick in at some point or another. Yeah, yeah, I can't take pain. Go ahead and laugh.
I have no proper segueway into my movie reviews. I was going to say something about how it looks like Narnia outside and then move into talking about the Disney film (snow... White Witch... get it? get it?), but it didn't work. Forget about it. I saw all these films on Tuesday, which was a lot of fun; kind of felt like a film festival day. Even at the end, I was ready for one more, but the theatre was closing up. Here we go.
Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (Adamson, 05) C+ [Well, kids obviously love the hell out of this film, if the audience I saw it with is any indication (oh, and the box office numbers as well). It seems like this toned-down, very easy-to-swallow film has been made exclusively for them. Four of my cousins go the same elementary school, and they asked me to come along as a volunteer on their field trip to see this movie. It's not a bad effort by any means, but it's seriously lacking daring and vision. It's the equivalent of how a Chris Columbus adaptation of this book would play out - entirely faithful, but dry as day-old toast. Shrek's Andrew Adamson was the best director they had for this? For Lewis's Narnia? Really? A lot of the time I was thinking this guy had no idea what he was doing and I also frequently wondered why the camera was placed like it was. He also suffers from a Lord of the Rings-hangover, but only somewhat succeeds in hitting the same highs. The special effects are spotty as well, and there are some moments that are almost Die Another Day bad. Overall, it's far from a disaster, but I'm disappointed because so much more was possible, and I think a better director would have made a lot of difference. The cast is okay (aside from a boring William Moseley as Peter and a rather grating Anna Popplewell as Susan), with James McAvoy and Tilda Swinton (no surprise there) stealing the film. Swinton especially makes the most of her screentime (she owns those super-diva outfits), and is absolutely terrifiying during the final battle. A few years ago, I saw a very scaled-down theatrical production of this novel, with only five (!) actors filling out the roles. They had minimal props and costumes, but they made the most of them. It's telling that even after all these years, that adaptation resounds more in my mind than this film, which I just saw a few days ago.]
Walk the Line (Mangold, 05) B- [It may be terribly predictable, but it's a lot more fun than last year's interminable Ray, which tried my patience even in the first fifteen minutes. This film follows the standard biopic formula (unhappy childhood, infidelity, drugs, yada yada yada), and there's virtually nothing new here on display. Years pass by in matter of minutes, and a lot of depth and other details are overlooked in favour of focusing solely on the love story between Cash and Carter. Gennifer Goodwin's Vivian (Cash's first wife) gets a little more sympathy than you'd expect in a film like this, but she's still depicted as a jealous, irrational shrew who we are supposed to look down upon in favour of Reese Witherspoon's saintly can't-do-wrong savior figure. But it's still entertaining because Joaquin Phoenix and Witherspoon are electrifying on-screen together. It seems probably hyperbolic to say that these to "make" the movie, but I have no other way to explain why this film works as well as it does. Furthermore, Witherspoon proves herself the film's MVP, outshining Phoenix (who's been better) and creating a three-dimensional figure in spite of her character's very standard construction. From start to finish, I couldn't take my eyes off her, and the film fared better whenever she was on-screen.]
Syriana (Gaghan, 05) B- [I have no idea where to start here, and if you've seen or heard a lot about this film, you'll know why. The majority of it is absolutely impenetrable, and about half of the time, I was at a loss to understand anything that was happening. I actually spent about an hour on-line afterwards trying to make sense of an entire subplot which completely flew over my head (Jeffrey Wright's). So why the marginal positive grade? Well, I still like it for the same reasons Roger Ebert liked it, and his great review can be found here. Dumped right in the middle of it all, I found myself engaged in the stories and characters, even though I didn't always know how they connected. I also found that became better as it went along, as the disparate threads starting coming together and finally crashed together in a stunning, very depressing ending. However, on the flip side, there are just as many elements that hurt the film, including a surprising lack of depth and subtlety ("Corruption... is how we win" - come on now!) in the proceedings. Then there's one story about a young Pakistani man manipulated and brainwashed by a terrorist group into following their instructions that could make an entire film on its own. The whole thing is very ambitious, very revealing and very commendable for the points it makes, but it comes in both an equally engaging and off-putting package of confusing visuals and words. I have a weird desire to see it again, actually. By the way, in terms of Oscar potential, I think it will be a shame if George Clooney wins Best Supporting Actor for this - Alexander Siddig is ten times better.]
I also had the chance of re-watching Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind recently, almost a year-and-a-half after seeing it on the big screen. I've had the DVD for months now, but I always was afraid to give it a spin because I was afraid it wouldn't live up to the highs of the first viewing (this happens to me a lot, most recently with In the Bedroom). Obviously, I shouldn't have worried. What I was left with this time was how good the entire cast is here (not just the two brilliant leads) - from Tom Wilkinson to Jane Adams, everyone is performing at their best. What a great, great film.