Two weeks ago, viewers were drawn to the edges of their seats during a real-life drama as a malfunctioning airplane made an emergency landing in L.A. This week, they're on the edges of their seats again for another airborne thriller, one that only Hollywood could have served up … Flightplan.
Jodi Foster stars as Kyle, a recently widowed propulsion engineer whose daughter Julia (Marlene Lawston) disappears mid-flight. Where did she go? Does this have anything to do with the fact that her husband's body is in the cargo bay?
The bigger questions are these: After Panic Room, are viewers ready for another two hours of watching Jodie Foster storm about in a maternal rampage? And does this film have anything to offer other than twists and turns?
Religious press critics are split. Some find it thrilling, others find it too far-fetched.
Peter T. Chattaway (Christianity Today Movies) muses on the various reasons that Flightplan is such a disappointing ride: "Perhaps it's because Flightplan aspires to some sort of social commentary, which is handled pretty clunkily. Or perhaps it's because the bad guys, once they are revealed, turn out to be pretty lame. … Their entire plan seems to hinge on a major stroke of luck … so it's impossible to take them seriously."
David DiCerto (Catholic News Service) praises Foster as "excellent." And he says, "If you can look past its more preposterous plot elements, Flightplan is an intelligent nail-biter that keeps you guessing. And though the final departure is a bit disappointing, for its genre, it's worth boarding."
Bob Smithouser (Plugged In) writes, "I have to admit, [director Robert Schwentke's] Hitchcockian thriller played me like a Stradivarius." He goes on to explain how this mystery eluded his attempts to solve it. He concludes, "Add emotion to the mix and the result is more than satisfying. … The fact is, Flightplan is a wild, escapist ride that challenges all sorts of assumptions and gives us the most tenaciously maternal character since Lt. Ripley protected Newt from slithery, slimy Aliens."
Lisa Rice (Crosswalk) says, "Flightplan is 90 minutes of non-stop suspense that capitalizes on every mother's—and air passenger's—worst fears. Director Robert Schwentke does a masterful job at making audiences feel that uncomfortable combination of jittery, sleepy, anxious, exhausted, and jumpy, while simultaneously making us care deeply for a grieving mother and her daughter.From the very start there are little clues to the mystery, which, in retrospect, are fascinating details that weave the story together most creatively."
This big screen corpse is a beauty!
Joining the reviewers who raved in last week's Film Forum for Tim Burton's animated fairy tale Corpse Bride, Russ Breimeier (Christianity Today Movies) says, "Rest easy, families. The plot may revolve around murder, death, and the supernatural, but this is not the horror film you think it is—no more so than other fairy tales, at least. … [It's] more imaginative than any stop-motion movie to this point."
He concludes, "Unless the forthcoming Wallace & Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit is more impressive, this movie is the frontrunner to win the 2006 Academy Award for Best Animated Film. Sweet, funny, clever, occasionally creepy, and sometimes poignant—there's plenty of life in this Corpse Bride."
Steven D. Greydanus (Decent Films) says, "This macabre fairy tale becomes, variously, a poignant meditation on the daunting weightiness of the vows of marriage, a raucous danse macabre in jumping jazz rhythms and florid colors, a visually rich celebration of Edward Gorey Gothic-Victorian and Charles Addams grotesque, and, perhaps most surprisingly, a touching portrait of tragedy, doomed love, empathy, and sacrifice."
Christopher Lyon (Plugged In) calls it "a staggering visual achievement." But the story itself is "somewhat less engaging. Yes, it's fanciful and clever, especially in the jokes about the corpses (e.g., "I'll keep an eye out for him"). It even offers a couple of truly touching moments when the dearly departed are briefly reunited with their loved ones. But the course of the story is never really in doubt, and the macabre setting makes it harder to connect with the characters."
Josh Hurst (Reveal) raves, "Burton's always seemed keen on making weird, twisted fairytales for grown-ups—see Scissorhands and Big Fish—but he's never made one as delightful as this. Corpse Bride is the Tim Burton film with the biggest heart—which is ironic, since it's essentially about a guy who marries a dead woman."
At World's film blog, MovieIncite, Steven Tilson is not so pleased. "The film's view of death and the afterlife clearly has nothing whatsoever to do with Christianity; in fact, it doesn't seem to have much to do with anything beyond its own cosmology. … And while much of the film's major action takes place in a church, and its priest … is a major character, there are no crosses or Christian iconography that would make the association concrete. This allows the filmmakers to take swipes at organized religion without singling out any particular faith for ridicule—though it's fairly clear, from the movie's Victorian setting, that the priest and the church aren't anything other than Christian."
Do mainstream critics love Burton's accomplishment? Of corpse they do.
James Mangold directed Gwyneth Paltrow all the way to Oscar glory in Shakespeare in Love. The pair are going for the gold again with Proof, an adaptation of David Auburn's celebrated Broadway play of the same title.
This time, Paltrow ventures into Beautiful Mind territory, playing the daughter of a genius mathematician (portrayed in flashbacks by Anthony Hopkins). She's troubled by the possibility that her father might have passed his madness on to her, and she finds comfort in the affections of a compassionate young man (Donnie Darko's Jake Gyllenhaal). Proof is already earning some rumors of Oscar nominations from mainstream critics. Christian press critics aren't enthusiastic, but they're not rejecting the film either.
Stefan Ulstein (Christianity Today Movies) says, "Proof does touch on big ideas, but very lightly, and whatever concern it expresses for the mind is ultimately channeled towards the heart. This may be a film about intellectuals, but it is not an intellectual film."
He adds, "The one major drawback, alas, is the film's central metaphor, or rather, how it makes use of that metaphor. The film … just isn't interested in mathematics all that much. … But as a story about personal and family dysfunction, and about coming to terms with life's uncertainties, Proof isn't bad."
Stephen McGarvey (Crosswalk) writes, "While Proof is certainly no Beautiful Mind, it is certainly a poignant and thoughtful look at the supposed thin line between brilliance and insanity."
Here's proof that mainstream critics are divided over Mangold's film.
Jonathan Safran Foer's complicated novel Everything Is Illuminated follows the story of a young Jewish man's search for the woman that saved his grandfather from the Holocaust. Well, that's one of the stories weaving through the book.
Under Liev Schreiber's direction, with Elijah Wood in the starring role, the film is a simplified adaptation that focuses primarily on that young man's story. Mainstream critics are describing the result as "a gentle comedy of understanding and forgiveness." A.O. Scott (The New York Times) criticizes Schreiber's version, calling it "thin and soft, whimsical when it should be darkly funny and poignant when it should be devastating."
But religious press critics are impressed. David DiCerto (Catholic News Service) writes, "Lyrically directed, the modest film is by turns poignant and mutedly funny resulting in a moving meditation on identity, memory, guilt, anti-Semitism and the human need for connectedness. And while 'everything' may be a bit of an overstatement, there are several luminous moments which serve to remind us that, to paraphrase novelist E.M. Forster, we cannot understand our present condition unless we remember the past."
Film Forum will feature more religious press reviews of Illuminated as they are published.
"Rocky on skates." That's how some people are describing Roll Bounce, a film about a talented roller-skater who disco-skates his way to fame in 1978.
David DiCerto (Catholic News Service) says, "If you dig movies like Roller Boogie and Xanadu, you'll probably enjoy Roll Bounce … [The movie] has heart, but its sentimental themes of parental loss, family love and believing in yourself are undercut by a formulaic, albeit feel-good, narrative and occasional—and most unnecessary—crassness. Given the recent trend of cynical teen-oriented entertainment, this refreshingly upbeat and relatively wholesome effort is at least a bounce in the right direction."
Tom Neven (Plugged In) says, "Roll Bounce is essentially Rocky on wheels, a coming-of-age story of underdogs bucked up by the power of family and friendship, overcoming a challenge and learning something about themselves along the way. It's too bad, then, that these super-slick '70s sensations have to go and ruin everything by being so preoccupied with sex and exhibiting such a propensity toward profanity."
Mainstream critics find the film off-balance.
More reviews of recent releases:
Lord of War: Andrew Coffin (World) opens fire. "Trailers often dumb down a movie so that it can be sold in 60 seconds. In the case of Lord of War (rated R for strong violence, drug use, language, and sexuality), the trailers promise something the film never delivers. What appears to be a biting look at gun culture and global violence has little more to offer than this: Arms dealers are sleazy and bad, and—get this—the United States is worse."
Just Like Heaven: Adam Tillman Young (Relevant) says, "As a romantic comedy, Just Like Heaven skims merrily along the surface of the genre's waters without ever bothering to dive deeper. … As long as you understand that it's not an edifying or thought-provoking exploration of the afterlife, you'll enjoy the movie."
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