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11.5.04

Alfie Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence The Incredibles Stage Beauty

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The Incredibles
Reviewed by Uri Lessing

Pixar truly is a wonder. Not only did this company invent and revolutionize the computer-animated film, they continue to transcend the medium again and again. Every Pixar film is beautiful and visually exciting, but the real secret to Pixar’s greatness lies not in the animation, but in their wonderful choice of stories that appeal to both children and parents.

The Incredibles is Pixar’s third consecutive film to examine the adult/child relationship. Monster’s Inc. explored the unconditional love toddlers offer and the protection and care we give in return. Finding Nemo looked at the paradox of keeping our children safe while giving them independence. Now, The Incredibles beautifully compares the freedoms adults sacrifice to be in a family and the incredible strength families provide in return.

Bob Parr is a mild-mannered insurance claim agent. He hates his boss, his car is too small, and his kids fight too much. Oh...and he used to be the world’s greatest superhero, Mr. Incredible. Along with his wife, Elastigirl, he was forced into hiding when frivolous lawsuits against superheroes hit an all-time high.

Now, his family is forced to hide their special powers for fear of being discovered. Ironically, their superpowers only come into play when they are in the midst of a family argument. Elastigirl uses her stretching abilities to keep her kids apart. Their son, Dash, races around his sister Violet to annoy her, while she uses invisibility and force shields to keep others from noticing or bothering her. It’s no wonder Bob’s super-strength is now just a way he vents his anger. Superpowers and a mundane life just do not mix.

This is a dilemma anyone can relate to. Despite our obvious lack of superpowers, we desire to fit in, long to be unique, and we love our children and want them to be special. Yet too often, we succumb to society’s pressures and drive them to be ordinary.

Fortunately, a series of events draws the family out of the closet and compels them to fight an evil force bent on making the world more ordinary. No, it’s not the Bush administration, but a Superhero wannabe bent on world domination.

The Incredibles’ action sequences are imaginative. Director Brad Bird (Iron Giant) takes advantage of every superhero’s powers creating clever escapes, scary cliffhangers and ferocious battles. Pixar doesn’t fall into the Shark Tale trap. It casts actors for their voices not for their name recognition. Holly Hunter and Craig T. Nelson give nuanced performances that evoke superheroes and normal Joes simultaneously.

This movie’s running time is two hours. Yet my five-year-old son was engrossed for every single minute. The Incredibles is a wonderful children’s film that shows us what a unique and incredible company Pixar has become. (PG-13) Rating: 4; Posted 11/5/04


Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence
Reviewed by Deborah Young

In the opening sequences of Ghost in the Shell 2, viewers witness the suicide of a beautiful, life-size female doll, her face white, her dark hair accented by a large colorful flower. She rips open her chest, exposing and releasing her mechanical parts, the cold and artless metal that provides a striking contrast to her artful human exterior. She ends her life — if she’s ever had a life according to the human definition.

The new anime feature from Go Fish Pictures, a division of Dreamworks, is a 99-minute musing on the significance and obsessions of humanity. It addresses philosophical questions like why do humans have a need to create dolls and machines in their images? What differentiates humans and machines?

In the year 2032, humans and machines have become equals in many ways. Cyborgs such as Batou, the main character in Ghost in the Shell 2, have mechanical bodies but retain their human brains.

Cyborg detective Batou and his human partner Togusa, are asked by the anti-terrorist section of a government police force, Public Security Section 9, to investigate a recent spate of murders by robots. The mystery is that the robots have murdered their masters yet none of the families involved have chosen to sue the company that makes the robots.

While investigating the case, the two detectives encounter mobsters, a philosophizing police investigator and a reclusive ghost of a man. All of the characters serve as vehicles for philosophies that range from the words of Milton to biblical quotes.

Characters in this film make allusions to great thinkers in the same way that characters from recent American animated films make allusions to pop culture past and present. At one point, Batou and Togusa discuss the philosopher Descartes and how he supposedly created a doll in memory of his deceased daughter and how he didn’t differentiate between humanity and machines.

The film also relies on contrasts of color and music to illustrate its points. The cyborgs and robots in the film are pale as ghosts, the humans flesh-toned, and the world about them brightly colored. A chanting Japanese choral music plays throughout most of the film, adding an ominous tone. But in a scene, in which Batou bonds with his dog, a smooth, sentimental jazz tunes plays in the background, emphasizing the character’s underlying humanity.

Ultimately, Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence is more about talk than action. The talk is interesting, but if you’re looking for space-out entertainment, this one isn’t for you. (PG-13) Rating: 2.5; Posted 11/5/04


Stage Beauty
Reviewed by Russ Simmons

In England in the 1600s, women were not allowed to participate in theatrical productions. As a result, men played all of the female parts and a few men, like Ned Kynaston, became stars by perfecting a feminine mystique.

Playwright Jeffrey Hatcher scored a theatrical hit recently with a fictionalized comic drama about Kynaston’s life called Compleat Female Stage Beauty.

Director Richard Eyre (Iris) has adapted Hatcher’s play into a realistic costumer that offers some meaty roles to a couple of American actors, Billy Crudup and Claire Danes.

Crudup (Big Fish) plays Kynaston, who is enjoying an acclaimed run as Desdemona in Shakespeare’s Othello. Maria, his costume assistant played by Danes, (Terminator 3) is secretly borrowing his costumes so that she can play the part in a clandestine competing production.

Things take a major turn when the king’s mistress, a cockney scamp named Nell Gwynn (Zoë Tapper), thinks it’s time for a change. When she discovers Maria’s ruse, she persuades King Charles II (Rupert Everett) to change the law so that Maria can legally perform.

The king goes one step further, making it illegal for men to portray women. This poses a major problem for Ned, who has worked so hard to achieve an artificial female persona that he no longer knows how to act like a man.

In spite of their competition and the machinations of some of the social elite who work to thwart Ned’s career, he and Maria begin an unlikely romance.

Crudup gives an extraordinary performance and is especially compelling in a scene where he is commanded by the king to perform a male role, and he finds the task nearly impossible. Danes is fine, too, and the romantic chemistry between the actors is genuine. (The duo began a well-publicized affair while filming the movie.)

Eyre had the good sense to surround Danes and Crudup with a fine ensemble of stalwart British actors, including Tom Wilkinson, Ben Chaplin, Richard Griffiths and Edward Fox. The production values are first-rate, too, with the costumes and scenery helping to establish a believable period atmosphere.

Although the film builds to a compelling climax, most of Stage Beauty moves at a pace that many will find a bit too languid. Others may have a bit of trouble accepting these upstart Americans in these very British roles.

In the final analysis, Stage Beauty is an impressive acting exercise that should appeal mainly to theatre buffs. (R) Rating: 3; Posted 11/5/04


Alfie
Reviewed by Uri Lessing

Alfie is a remake of a Michael Caine classic that is loaded with contradictions. It’s a sex film that vilifies sex. It’s a film that revels in glitziness, style and fashion while criticizing today’s bright young things for being to shallow and materialistic. The movie even glorifies the main character’s behavior while simultaneously punishing him at every turn for being immoral. In short, what we have here is a good old-fashioned exploitation flick disguised as high art.

Alfie (Jude Law) is this really horny British guy who lives in New York. He works as a chauffeur, lives in a tiny apartment, sleeps around with a lot of women and talks to us incessantly about his life. His stable includes a single mother (Marisa Tomei), a powerful businesswoman (Susan Sarandon), a psychotic party animal (Sienna Miller), his best-friend’s girl (Nia Long), and a married frustrated housewife (Jane Krakowski).

The film loves to point out how wrong Alfie is for treating the women in his life like objects. Yet Alfie doesn’t develop the female characters past their hang-ups. The women are presented as shallow, horny, stupid, well dressed, sexy and contemptuous: not exactly a feminist view of women. We also get to watch women degrade themselves by shedding their panties, participating in ménage a trois and gossiping about Alfie’s sexual prowess.

Jude Law is a superb actor, whose performances are always meticulous and clever, and he works hard at injecting likeability into the character of Alfie. But it’s just not enough. One moment Law’s Alfie is cheerful and pleasantly shallow. The next moment he’s doe eyed and depressed. His monologues to the viewer are well acted and sincere but rarely memorable, and as the consequences of his sexual adventures start hitting home, the character becomes more hollow and wooden. Look for more entertaining performances from Law in Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow and I (Heart) Huckabees.

Ultimately, it’s not stupidity or shallowness that sinks Alfie, but boredom. The movie tries to overcome a paper-thin message and underdeveloped characters by infusing Mick Jagger songs into the mix and adding flashy visuals, but these tactics are as effective as placing a red ribbon on a dung heap. (R) Rating: 1; Posted 11/5/04


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