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Review for the Week of 12/28:

In America



(Changed from 3 on 4/8)


Rated PG-13 | 103 mins


     Ariel (Emma Bolger) and Christy (Sarah Bolger) are two little Irish girls, who have hopped the U.S./Canada border, and immigrated into the States with their parents (Paddy Cosidine and Samantha Morton), who buy an apartment in a rundown and dangerous Manhattan complex with literally all the money they have. Their father, Jim, is an actor, searching for any performing job that will allow him to start immediately. Their mother, Sarah, was a teacher back home, but she must settle for work at an ice cream parlor, in order to support the family. In many ways, the girls would like to adapt to the American way. They begin this transformation by going trick-or-treating in the building that they live in, but only one man opens the door for them. His name is Mateo (Djimon Hounsou), but he is referred to as ďthe man who screams,Ē by the occupants of the apartments surrounding his. This is because he keeps to himself, but yells so loud sometimes that the entire complex can hear him. However, he ironically befriends the girls and their family, and halts their transitioning, making them aware of many things about life, in general. In the midst of all of this, the four are also still mourning the death of their son/sibling, who was just two-years-old when he fatally fell down a flight of stairs.

     In America works because the story is told in the eyes of the girls, making for a light tone. Because of their young age and simplistic knowledge about the world, they have little fear or worry. For example, take the incidence in which they go trick-or-treating. Despite the fact that they live in an unhealthy and frightful place, full of bad people, they still anxiously pound on everyoneís door multiple times, in an effort to get their fair share of Halloween candy. When he first meets them, Mateo shouts at the two as they chant the beloved words ďtrick-or-treatĒ at his apartmentís entryway. Rather than running away, as a normal person would, they increase their voices. Theyíre clearly intrigued by the new country, not afraid of it. Also: look at the time in which they first observe how badly their parents are in need of money. Ariel and Christy believe that their mom and dad will be able to work their way out of it, and that good times ensue in the future. If In America had been about Jim and Sarahís hardships, then I guarantee you that I wouldíve despised it. It couldíve been a blatant and helpless film, only discussing losers and their problems. But, instead, itís an uplifting one. Itís made in such a way that will cause audiences to root for the girls and their parents. Ariel and Christy have hope, and this is key to the impression that the movie will make on its viewers. In America isnít profound, but director Jim Sheridan, who has written this screenplay with his two daughters, and based it on their own personal experiences, knows how to find an emotional resonance with his audience. This, alone, makes it well-worth seeing; you will undeniably leave the theatre touched.

     As good as the Bolger sisters are as Ariel and Christy, and Cosidine and Morton are as their parents, I believe that the best performance belongs to Hounsou. He creates one of the most wonderfully emotionally violent characters in the history of film. When with the girls, Mateo remains subtle and gentle, a model figure for them. But when contemplating his own personal issues, he has eruptions of confliction and craziness. Thereís something remarkable about Hounsouís work when this happens; his performance doesnít only appear to be real, it feels real. Acting is certainly the strongest aspect of In America, and he is a terrific representation of this.

     When we watch this movie, we feel as though weíve been transported into a world of only optimism and ambition, in one of the most paradoxical of places. Our protagonists do not seem like dreamers, but wishers. And for the whole film, weíre merely wishing with themówishing that their wishes come true.


House of Sand and Fog




Rated R | 126 mins


     This is not a movie about the world, in general. Itís about the conflict between and the contrasting ways of people, and their behavior as a result of it. All director Vadim Perelman requires of his audience is that they understand his characters, even if they may not sympathize for them. House of Sand and Fogís intentions are pure; realism isnít nearly as important to the story as the interests and opinions of personalities that we become acquainted with during it.

     Jennifer Connelly plays Kathy, a woman whose house is mistakenly taken from her, when records show that she has not paid her taxes. Itís auctioned off to Behrani (Ben Kingsley) and his family, who have been exiled from Iran. The house has been in Kathyís family for years, and was left to she and her brother (who does not live there) by their late father. Since Behrani will not sell the house back to the government, Kathy will face an uphill battle in getting it back. Kathy also has hardly any money, because sheís a low-paid housecleaner, making the traumatic event even tougher. On top of all of this, she begins to fall in love with Lester (Ron Eldard), the police officer who comes to evict her. Heís unhappily married, only staying with his wife to make life easier for his children, but instantly changes his mind when his relationship with Kathy begins to bud.

     Kathy and Behrani arenít likeable characters by default, and director Perelman doesnít give viewers an answer as to who they should root for. Itís not his job to guide us into taking someoneís side. Thereís no need for us to do so, either. We pondering the actual confliction between the two characters is much more crucial to the impact in which the film will put upon us. Why should Kathy and Behraniís disagreement affect their physical actions so much? Is it human nature, their pasts, or the given issue thatís causing this? Can we relate to them? On the surface, perhaps not, but their desires are usual, just presented in an exaggerated form. However, itís this exaggeration that leads to the depressingly painful finale, which both shows and symbolizes the intentions of the two. These are noticeably triggered by both Kathy and Behraniís passion towards various aspects of their lives and them beginning to be true to themselves. This is presented in a frankly brute form, but itís a strikingly honest one, albeit stretched. The point of House of Sand and Fog is not to depict a situation, but to observe via reflection.

     Kingsley and Connelly are both fabulous, and quite daring in their portrayals of these characters. The two talents show us the clash between Kathy and Behrani in an unlikely, but wondrously profound way. For Kingsley, this means dramatizing his character, and emphasizing the grounds on which his position is based upon. I believe that the life that he has lived creates his opinion, in addition to imminent fear that lurks within his family, as a result of previous experiences in their native country. The way in which he deals with the entire situation may not be a good method, but itís evident why he chooses it. Connellyís work is a little more ambiguous, but she undeniably hits the right note. It is, however, clear that Kathyís life has always been a never-ending cycle of negativity. Connelly illustrates this in a flawless manner, which is, in a sense, exhaustingly magical. She and her co-star deserve Oscar nominations.

     To create a story, you need a conflict. House of Sand and Fog is about conflict. This, alone, makes one hell of an enriching, interesting, and emotionally engaging story. It is one of the yearís best motion pictures.


Peter Pan




Rated PG | 113 mins


     The family film is one of the only genres of the medium that the industry can never quite master. Most movies that are content appropriate for kids, and advertise themselves as fun for adults as well, usually fail because theyíre one of three things. (1) Too cutesy. (2) Too kiddy. (3) Too obvious. I couldnít even attempt to make a list of how many pictures have been torturous to view, because they are characterized by one of those adjectives. But if I managed to write one, the latest version of Peter Pan, directed by P.J. Hogan, would not be on it. This movie is sweet and honest with its viewers, always maintaining a delicate balance of humor, romance, and adventure. Imaginative and inventively wondrous, it has the ability to sweep every viewer away. Peter Pan is engagingly brilliant, a stroke of true geniusóso amazing that itíll be a complete shame if it doesnít get the recognition it deserves.

     Iím confident that I watched at least one of the original versions of Peter Pan when I was younger, but I donít remember anything about them. Going into this movie, all that I knew about the story was that it featured a boy named Peter, that he could fly, and that Michael Jackson thought that he was him. Hence, it was no surprise that I was so greatly immersed in the plot, and the ideas that it presented. The experience was wildly unpredictable for me; I was able to respond to it in a wildly infectious and loving way. The world that Hogan has created is hypnotizing, and I am confident that anyone, even if theyíre familiar with the story, will be transfixed by it.

     For those of you who are in the minority (as I was), and have absolutely no clue as to what Peter Pan is about, please allow me to indulge you in the following explanation. Wendy (Rachel Hurd-Wood), a British girl, is visited in her home by Peter Pan, a boy who can fly and lives in the magical world of Neverland, where children remain young for an eternity. Wendy hesitantly leaves the world as she knows it and goes with Peter to Neverland, along with her two brothers, John and Curly (Harry Newell and George MacKay). They, too, learn to fly like Peter; all you must do to do so is think happy thoughts (or touch fairy dust). In Neverland, they must fight along side Peter against his arch-enemies, the villainous Captain Hook and his fellow pirates, but they are happy for quite awhile. However, when Wendy thinks about love and the other luxuries of growing up (which are absent in Neverland), she soon convinces several of the kids there that they should return home, even though Peter refuses to leave. This leads up to a mystical climax thatís completely satisfying. Itís a big and grand story, and has a sort of epic feel about it, which is pretty astonishing, considering the material.

     And while the gigantic scope of the film certainly enhances it, the best part of the entire story is rather smallóLudivine Sagnier as Tinker Bell, the tiny fairy that accompanies Peter everywhere he goes. Sagnier, the sexy French actress who starred in both of Francois Ozonís latest efforts, Swimming Pool and 8 Women, has become one of my favorite modern-day performers. Sheís actually quite miraculous in this role; even though she doesnít have any dialogue, her talented expressions make the movie. Sheís both hilarious and saddening; Iím not using hyperbole when I say that her work the most poignant and expressive of the year. This fact may be scary, but itís true.

     The visuals are also extremely impressive, and it doesnít take us long to notice this. When the kids leave for Neverland, and soar past the planets in the solar system, I was stuck by a feeling of joy. I grinned the entire way through Peter Pan, simply because of the eye candy, let alone the other dazzling features. Though it may sound silly, this deserves to be a contender at the Academy Awards, two months from now. Itís one of the biggest technical triumphs of the year.

     There have been many adaptations of the classic novel Peter Pan, but this one most definitely deserves to be recognized as the best. If it isnít, then Iím going to scour my local video store, in search of unbelievable greatness in one of the previous editions of the film.


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