Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Children of Huang Shi

It opens this week. Something tells me this won't be beating Indiana Jones at the box office...

The rest of the reviews appeared in the May issue of Primetime A&E and is reprinted with permission. (Thanks, Trina.)

The Children of Huang Shi (Dir: Roger Spottiswoode). Starring: Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Radha Mitchell, Chow Yun Fat, Michelle Yeoh. In 1937, British journalist George Hogg (Rhys Meyers) traveled to Nanking, China to report on that city's atrocities. A series of incidents, including a near-beheading, and the help of a charismatic resistance fighter (Yun Fat), landed Hogg at a remote, dilapidated schoolhouse in remote Huang Shi. What was supposed to be a safe haven before pursuing his next assignment became the young man's life. Hogg rebuilt the school and kept the 60 boys who lived there safe from wartime horrors and military recruitment. Hogg's story is amazing. Too bad that Spottiswoode's overwrought delivery turns it into a much longer movie of the week with better production values, while Rhys Meyers acts with all the restraint of a brick through a windshield. Plus, we have to see Mitchell, the poor man's Naomi Watts, suffer as Hogg's lover and inspiration. Anyone interested in a stirring portrait of foreigners making a difference in war-torn 1930's China should skip this and rent the stirring documentary Nanking, now out on DVD. R

Married Life (Dir: Ira Sachs). Starring: Chris Cooper, Pierce Brosnan, Patricia Clarkson, Rachel McAdams. Cooper (Breach, Adaptation) shines in this dark comedy, set in 1940s suburbia, as a buttoned-down married man whose love for a much younger woman (McAdams) causes a major problem. Desperate to be with his paramour and afraid of upsetting his longtime wife (Clarkson), he convinces himself that murder is the only option. However, his smooth-talking best friend (a perfectly cast Brosnan) has his own agenda and knows too many secrets. The plot is shifty and propulsive--no one gets away clean and the movie always surprises you--but Married Life's greatest asset is that underneath the activity is a clever satirical streak on marriage: The ties that bind can also strangle. The great cast also keeps the proceedings sexy and serious, with honey-voiced Clarkson bringing the heat at age 48. By the way, it's nice to see you again, Ms. McAdams. Please stay a while this time. PG-13

Smart People (Dir: Noam Murro). Starring: Dennis Quaid, Sarah Jessica Parker, Ellen Page, Thomas Hayden Church. When Professor Lawrence Wetherhold (Quaid) suffers a seizure, it becomes a life catalyst. Banned from driving, his perpetually broke and irresponsible adopted brother (Haden Church) becomes his live-in chauffer, an arrangement that stirs strange feelings in Wetherhold's overachieving android-like daughter (Page, basically doing a gloomier version of her prized Juno). The widowed professor also starts dating his ER doctor (Parker), a former student who could be a possible savior. Wetherhold is a terrific character: sarcastic, pompous, and stubborn. Quaid has a field day, so much so that it's impossible to buy Murro and writer Mark Jude Poirier's sales pitch that this guy is possible of change. The movie also wallows so much in dysfunction--each character has a substantial subplot or three--and veiled verbal barbs that getting to know these people outside of their quirky or literate facades is next to impossible. Smart People feels like the first draft of a screenplay that has a few great characters and too many good ideas but no idea of where it wants to go. R

Forgetting Sarah Marshall (Dir: Nicholas Stoller). Starring: Jason Segel, Kristen Bell, Mila Kunis, Russell Brand, Bill Hader. When TV star Sarah Marshall (Bell) dumps musician boyfriend Peter Bretter after five years, the guy (Segel, Knocked Up) goes into a sobbing tailspin. A trip to recharge at a Hawaiian resort turns into a catastrophic setback as Sarah and her new ridiculous rock star boyfriend (Brand) are staying at the same place. Peter, in need of a self-help book and a hug, refuses to leave, opening the door for an encounter with a lovely hotel clerk (Kunis, surprisingly good) and a chance to get his life in order. Segel played the sad sack to perfection in two late, great Judd Apatow TV shows, Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared, and settles into this new absurdly lovelorn protagonist role like a pair of slippers. While Segel's script isn't as smooth--it relies too heavily on crass asides and pointless show-off roles for Paul Rudd and Jonah Hill--it is screamingly funny with a tender side. In short, this is the movie the Farrelly Brothers used to make. R

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