Thursday, October 9, 2008

Miracle at St. Anna

Spike Lee is back in business. Two in a row that are solid movies. He's back.

No more good one, bad one, good one, bad one.

Inside Man was a solid bank heist movie. Miracle at St. Anna proves Lee's technical and storytelling prowess by delving into his first war drama with the same panache as his classics like Clockers, Crooklyn and Malcolm X.

For the vast majority of the film, Miracle is a compelling piece of (loosely) historically based drama that keeps the audience drawn in and offers characters that are complex and fascinating. These kind of characters are rather common in war movies, but it is usually just a couple that are interesting. Miracle has a full contingent of multi-faceted characters backed up by 99% solid performances.

The only failing of this movie is the ending. Now, I will admit that I am often picky about endings for movies, and it's rare that a movie sneaks up on me and I don't see the ending coming. But Miracle at St. Anna has no need to take the ending that it does. The final scene of the movie does not even fit the overall tone of the entire film. It feels forced and contrived.

If Spike Lee had just called it quits before the final sequence, the movie would have closed with a less-than-happy ending and would have been outside the Hollywood norm, but it would have fit the pacing and the tone of the movie.

Other than that, it apparently had some historical inaccuracies, but a: I'm not a history scholar, so I really don't know about those claims, and b: it is a work of fiction based on true events. Are there any movies that are 100% historically accurate?

The best directors in the business are the only ones able to jump from genre to genre with even success and put out consistently good movies. Spike Lee proves once again that he deserves to be in those ranks.

Miracle of St. Anna earns a B+ overall, but would have been an A if it had a better ending.
--John Berry, Online Editor--

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist

When your big Hollywood star power is coming from Kat Dennings and Michael Cera, you probably are not setting out to make a whole lot of money at the box office.

When your talent is centering around the same duo, you probably are setting out to make a good movie with plenty of hipster credibility.

Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist is setting just this stage as it opens Friday the third. Dennings and Cera are both talented young actors who should get lots of prime roles in the months and years to come because they both set the groundwork of smaller roles in which they deliver infallible performances and land bigger and better roles along the way.

This is the first time we see Cera as a romantic lead in his career and he actually starts off the movie by showing why he hasn't landed such roles. He hearkens back to his old George Michael role from Arrested Development by delivering a whimpering, mildly pathetic kid who seems afraid of life. He does that role well, but we've seen it before.

As the story progresses, Cera steps outside of his typecasting and shows his talent with a complex character who is at times awkward and funny while turning to self-assured and serious at other parts.

Dennings hits the ground running as a funny, smart, tough girl who seems to be just gliding through her quiet private school existence. Like Cera's character, Norah proves to be equally complex as she weighs following in her father's footsteps to a sure-thing job versus going to college to make a life of her own.

The romantic part of the romantic comedy shows its face early and often, but starts with Nick pining for a love lost and Norah pining for a love nonexistent. Both characters are in love with an idealized notion. Nick with a girl that his ex never really was. Norah with a guy she's never met but is certainly not the guys she has known so far.

Supported by a lovable mix of miscreants and good-guys, the lead characters gallivant around Manhattan in search of a live show by an illusive band. Nick and Norah are clearly meant for each other, if only Nick could get over his ex and realize it.

Yeah, it sounds like a bit of a cliched idea for a story line, but endearing performances from the two leads, interesting secondary characters and dialogue that plays more natural and intelligent than most teen movies makes this film a lot more watchable than most of its peers.

Most teen movies play to a dumber crowd, but Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist seems to be presenting them as I remember kids being when I was young. The characters are not mature or experienced, but are clearly intelligent and have bigger goals than just getting high, drunk, laid or all three.

While the movie overall is a little more saccharin sweet than I usually prefer, the script is a very strong first offering from Lorene Scafaria (based on a novel that I didn't read, so I'm not sure about the source material). Peter Sollett, an indie director who is treading for his first time on less serious fare, also sets his mainstream Hollywood catalogue up right with a great job out of the gate.

Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist gets a B+ and would make a great date movie since it's got a fair amount of both romance and comedy.
--John Berry, Online Editor--