Monday, December 18, 2006

Film reviews that didn't make the Dec. 18 issue

Films out now, recently, or already on DVD or in second run:

'Copying Beethoven' doesn’t copy ‘Immortal Beloved,' thank god
They probably got B’s personality right, and, unlike in that abomination, “Immortal Beloved,” they got the music right—didn’t go on repeating the shmaltziest stuff over and over, such as the Emperor Concerto’s middle movement. And didn’t try to make his music-making a refuge from the trauma of alleged abuse by his father. And are correct in having him called, colloquially in the tavern, “Louis” (as in my unfinished screenplay about him). Uneven dramatic arc, though, since the climax with the performance of the immortal 9th comes virtually in the middle of the film. The aim of exploring B’s later, more impenetrable, even grating works, such as the Grosse Fugue—there must be a different way it could have been handled. And Ed Harris has the presence, but not the right voice for the role. Tommy Lee Jones would have been just right, with he and B sharing a pretty pockmarked complexion, in addition to the angular bone structure. But again, the voice ...? “National Treasure’s” Diane Mueller handles herself well, except the tripe written as “her composition”? Somebody fell down on that one. (Like B as if on his whoopee cushion, so unkind.)

Why not call it ‘The History Girly-Boys’?
Did they intend to prove that all Englishmen are really queers? Or just confirm that English “public” schools are rife with casual, “experimental” homosexuality (as well as the more ingrained kind)?

'Little Children'—Full-grown whiners just seem like adults
Perhaps we sometimes benefit from not being a top-tier city. (Why not all films released are screened here?) Well, I was misled by comments on into expecting “Little Children,” viewed on DVD screener, to be a fine film. Don’t be misled! While the acting is OK and the themes are of some importance, the script is extremely clumsy and the thrust obvious—and the general spurious grotesqueness of the behaviors and events reminds me of Pat Conroy’s work (The Great Santini, The Prince of Tides). There is intelligent exploration of the question of whether classic tragedienne Emma Bovary is struggling justly for happiness or is merely a selfish, unrealistic, foolish woman whose poor choices hurt her and others*, but overall, this film is one of the bigger stinkers I have seen in quite a while. If this were 20 years ago, the film would be accused of featuring a great deal of yuppie whining, ineffectuality and gratuitous angst. Oh, what the heck: This film features a great deal of yuppie whining, ineffectuality and gratuitous angst. To say your kid “refuses” to sit in its car seat? Give me a break.
*My wife read me a passage recently from Philip Roth’s novel Deception that contained a very good assessment of the false and injurious approach to love that Emma Bovary’s attitudes and behaviors represent.

'For Your Consideration,' for your consideration
Spoiler alert!!!: For the record, I guessed that Ricky Gervais, as the Philistine movie company executive, was warming up to suggesting that--and would succeed in getting--the film-within-the-film to tone down its “Jewyness” (to use Jon Stewart’s less politically correct term for it). Jennifer Coolidge as the similarly clueless but more ingenuously immured “producer with the heart of gold” is also watchable, for that and other reasons. Overall, the film is mostly pretty amusing, especially Fred Willard’s constant in-your-face sarcasm and other gratuitous but well-aimed vulgarity and offensiveness. (Especially enjoyed his snarky comment on foreign film: “Yeah, what’s with all the writing along the bottom of the screen? That ain’t breaking news! …”) Some other gags are rather predictable, such as agent Eugene Levy answering his cell phone in the middle of telling client Harry Shearer there’s nothing more important to him than … Then there’s Shearer’s dead-on understated “shmo-ness,” and the wonderful moment in the scene in “Home for Purim” where his Southern accent suddenly becomes Yiddische, like the chain jumping the sprocket on your out-of-adjustment 10-speed. If you liked “Guffman,” “Best in Show,” you’ll want to add a notch to your bedpost for this one, too (though it’s likewise probably not a very mass-appeal film. Then again, how’d the similarly inside-joke/cultish “Prairie Home Companion” do at the box office? This is better than that, at least.). (And now we learn Christopher Guest is married to Jamie Lee Curtis? What a stud. Stud? What a mensch!)

'The Last King of Scotland' star kind of a pretender
It’s weird: By contrast, I thought Forest Whitaker, who plays the jolly and charismatic but brutal and paranoid Ugandan dictator Idi Amin here, seemed really really empathetic in “Species.” (And James McAvoy seemed more principled, and less casual in his morality and superficial in his idealism, as Tumnus the Faun in “Narnia.”)

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