Monday, July 14, 2008

Monday Movie Day Reviews: Loser Superhero, Pregnant Waitress, Pint-Sized Painter, and Dave Chappelle

Note: Reviews for Hancock and Bella contain major spoilers. Just be forewarned.

Hancock (2008): This film had incredible potential. A fantastic cast (Will Smith, Charlize Theron, Jason Bateman), an intriguing premise (a mysterious superhero no one likes?), and a Fourth of July weekend opening. It could have been huge. But sadly, it suffers from a confusing script and a lack of identity. Will Smith is Hancock, the lonely superhero who drinks too much and generally causes more harm than good. Suffering from amnesia and loneliness, he's got a serious chip on his shoulder. Along comes public relations guy (Bateman, in a great performance) and his attractive-but-mysterious wife (Theron) who tries to clean up Hancock's image. *Spoiler! In a plot twist that I guessed from the previews, it turns out that Theron is actually Smith's long lost wife/sister/partner of 3000+ years. (And the weather mysteriously changes when her emotions are up.) The bigger twist is that their powers are diminished and disappear when they're in proximity to one another. So like a bizarre Shakespearian romance, they can never fulfill their love without succumbing to mortality. None of this is explained; it's simply assumed you'll accept it. 

I've read other reviews who compare Hancock to George W. Bush or U.S. foreign policy--a guy attempts to save the world with good motives, but with horrible execution and a huge mess in his wake. I would describe the entire film in a similar way--great potential, but not-so-great execution. It's not a terrible film by any means; but I'd recommend waiting for it on DVD.

Bella (2006): This is a great date night movie. Two young people--a pregnant waitress and a mysterious cook--spend the day finding themselves and searching for redemption. Jose becomes a guide for Nina as she must make a decision about the unwanted pregnancy. They wander around New York, visit Jose's family, talk on the beach, and begin confiding in one another. The actors give great performances, especially Jose. At times, the film feels like an emotional roller-coaster. There are a number of scenes throughout the film that elicit emotion and tears, causing oneself to feel emotionally worn out by the end of the film. *Spoiler! The film has a strong pro-life message, with the subject of adoption coming up multiple times, especially regarding the future of Nina's unborn child. The ending with Nina's daughter is a bit vague, but the overall redemption of both Nina and Jose is beautiful. Being adopted myself, I found it especially personal; I'm a sucker for adoption stories! I'd recommend checking this film out.

My Kid Could Paint That (2007): On one level, this is a documentary about a family. This family has an super cute, super talented daughter named Marla. At age four, Marla painted some incredible abstract paintings, attracted lots of media attention, and started selling paintings for thousands of dollars. She attracted both a devoted following and doubters, putting the family in a difficult position. This film looks intently at the story of her family--her ambitious father, her protective mother, and her all-but-ignored little brother Zane--and seeks the truth behind Marla's paintings. Did she paint them herself? Was she coached by her father? The film leaves those questions up to the audience.

On a deeper level, this is a documentary about art. It raises questions like, "what is art?" "What isn't art?" "What makes art valuable, marketable, or creative?" "What is the nature of the relationship between the art and the artist?" "Who gives art its meaning--the artist, the audience, anyone, or some Truth beyond us?" "What is truth?" "How does art capture truth; how does it distort truth?" "How does fame, publicity, or a video camera alter behavior?" And so on. If a four-year-old girl can create works of art worth thousands of dollars, what is keeping me, or any of us, from creating art just as creative and beautiful? 

I watched this twice--once by myself, once a day later with my wife. We had a long talk about family, art, truth, and how we would act if we were the parents in the film. You could analyze the marriage relationship between the parents for hours. Which raises another question--is it morally acceptable to analyze and critique a real-life family? They are real people with real lives and feelings. But they are also characters in a film, with plot, antagonists, protagonists, etc. Is it okay to criticize their decisions, their marriage relationship, or their parenting? See all the questions being raised? I love that kind of stuff!

Dave Chappelle's Block Party (2006): It's part documentary, part concert film, but all Chappelle. Dave Chappelle has made quite a name for himself with his television show filled with raunchy skits and profane language. While the profanity is still very present, this film highlights Chappelle's generosity in throwing a free concert in the Bed-Stuy neighborhood of Brooklyn. He managed to bring together some of the most talented artists in hip-hop and R&B, like Common, Kanye West, The Roots, and The Fugees, among others. It's a feel-good movie, with Chappelle casually hanging out with anyone he comes across, listening to their stories and joking around with them like they've been best friends for years. The film is also directed by creative director Michel Gondry (Be Kind Rewind, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind). If you appreciate good music and can handle a lot profanity, this might be a film to check out.

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