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Films I Neglected To Review: Insert Hackneyed Faux-Seussian Wordplay Here
by Peter Sobczynski

Please enjoy short reviews of "The Forgiveness of Blood," "Friends with Kids," "The Lorax" and "Salmon Fishing in the Yemen."

Back in 2004, writer-director Joshua Marston caused a stir with "Maria Full of Grace," his drama about a young Colombian girl who agrees to serve as a drug mule in order to make money for her impoverished family. For his long-awaited follow-up,"The Forgiveness of Blood," Marston goes to Albania to tell the story of a family thrown into upheaval when the father goes on the run after killing a hated neighbor during a fight involving a long-standing land dispute. As a result of ancient law, his sons, an older one with plans and dreams of his own and a younger one who barely comprehends what is going on, are essentially placed under house arrest to prevent them from going outside and potentially being killed in revenge while the daughter is forced to drop out of school to take over the bread delivery route that is their main source of income. As he did with his previous film, Marston does an effective job of offering up an intriguing look at a portion of society that is rarely seen in films these days while demonstrating the ways in which ancient and seemingly archaic customs can still affect lives even in modern society. The film isn't quite as satisfying as his previous effort--at its worst, Marston's obvious earnestness can sometimes smack of second-tier John Sayles, none of the performers have the kind of immediate dramatic impact that the then-unknown Catalina Sandino Moreno and unless you are very well schooled in the nuances of Albanian law and society, some of the narrative details are liable to seem more than a little confusing at times. That said, this is a reasonably strong and sure sophomore effort from a filmmaker who clearly has more on his mind than making mindless eye candy.

Last year saw the release of two major films that asked the burning question "Can two friends have romance-free sex without it ruining the existing friendship?" Now with "Friends with Kids," the question has been expanded to "Can two friends plan and raise a kid without benefit of any form of romantic relationship without it ruining the existing friendship?" I will leave the answer to that question to the sociologists but in the case of this film--featuring Adam Scott and Jennifer Westfeldt as the longtime pals who decide to see if they can have a kid without having it intrude on either their friendship or any future possible relationships--it does not result in an especially interesting or amusing film. Although the commercials have been suggesting that it is following in the footsteps of the smash hit "Bridesmaids" (thanks to appearances for Jon Hamm, Maya Rudolph, Kristen Wiig and Chris O'Dowd in supporting roles), this is basically your standard-issue quirky indie comedy centered around the decidedly non-essential problems of a group of self-absorbed upper-class white people and for those who do not have much of a taste for such things, the whole experience will probably prove to be fairly unendurable. Ten years ago, Westfeldt co-wrote and co-starred in "Kissing Jessica Stein," a quirky relationship comedy that at least had the good taste to be funny and quietly ambitious but this film, which finds her making her directorial debut as well, is so aggressively bland and uninteresting that it makes the filmography of Ed Burns seem downright radical by comparison and this is before Burns himself turns up as a potential suitor whose evident perfection threatens to tear the friend apart in the dullest manner possible. The only real sign of life in the whole thing comes from, of all people, Megan Fox as the sexpot that Scott begins seeing--sure, she is just as shallow and self-absorbed as all of the other characters but at least her self-absorption is somewhat more amusing and entertaining than anything else on display.

The release of "The Lorax," the big-screen version of the beloved 1971 story from Dr. Seuss, was, perhaps inevitably, met with no small amount of consternation from conservative commentators who were outraged to discover that the filmmakers behind it took a story that was largely an argument for the need for environmental concern aimed at children and transformed it into a film that is largely an argument for the need for environmental concern aimed at children. (Shocked, ain't ya!) While this is a dumb argument on the surface (it isn't as if the environmental message was quietly slipped in when no one was looking), it is especially silly when you consider that commentators could have made a far more compelling argument by pointing out the hypocrisy of making a $100 million+ film pleading for environmental reform and condemning corporate , especially one that includes a SUV line as one of its numerous product tie-ins and forces viewers to view it through plastic 3-D glasses for no particularly reason except to squeeze out a few more bucks from moviegoers. I have problems with the film as well but my quibbles are less about its message--is suggesting that protecting the environment is something to be concerned about really that controversial?--than with the fact that it once again proves that Seuss' books, filled with dazzling wordplay, fascinating characters and thoughtful morals but often light in regards to narrative, are not well-suited for the extended parameters of feature film storytelling. While the book was content with focusing on the unseen Once-ler (voiced by Ed Helms) relating to a young boy (Zac Efron), curious about why there are no more trees left, about how he destroyed a forest for profit despite the best efforts of the tree-saving title character (Danny DeVito), the film tries to stretch things out by letting us see the Once-ler, introducing both a pretty girl (Taylor Swift) who inspires the boy's quest to find a real tree and an uber-villain (Rob Riggle) who will do anything to prevent a return of foliage, several unmemorable songs and numerous chase sequences that seem to be right out of a video game. As a whole, the film isn't terrible by any means and certainly better than the likes of "The Cat in the Hat" and "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" but the film as a whole is pretty much second-tier through and through. Trust me, you are better off simply buying the book--it is cheaper than a night out at the movies and infinitely more memorable and entertaining to boot.

Considering the fact that it was directed by the auteur of "Chocolat" (the once-interesting Lasse Hallstrom) and written by the creator of "The Full Monty: (Simon Beaufoy), no one going into "Salmon Fishing in the Yemen" could possibly expect anything especially hard-hitting but this film is about edgy as a January white sale but nowhere near as dramatic. Inspired by a true story, Ewan McGregor stars as a British fisheries expert with enough behavioral tics to suggest how the little brat from "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" might have turned out if he had made it to adulthood without being pushed into the path of a train. One day, he is contacted by comely publicist Emily Blunt with a bizarre request from the super-rich sheik that she represents--figure out a way of transporting hundreds of salmon from England to the Yemen in order to introduce fly-fishing to the area. Naturally, McGregor scoffs that it can't be done but thanks to the persistence of Blunt and her client, not to mention the intervention of a cynical government official (Kristen Scott Thomas) in need of a feel-good story to spin to the media, he begins to work in earnest to make the crazy idea come true. This is one of those films that tries so hard to be winsome, charming and quirky that watching it is probably a little like what being beaten by Natalie Merchant for two hours must be like. I like McGregor and really like Blunt but neither of them are able to do much with their parts--McGregor is so incredibly unpleasant throughout the first half that his second-half conversion fails to make much of an impact while Blunt has so little to do that she just basically coasts by on her own considerable appeal. Toss in any number of extraneous plot developments (ranging from assassination attempts against the sheik to the case of Blunt's boyfriend, a soldier who ships off after they have had maybe three dates and is immediately declared missing in action to lots of puerile political satire) and the end result is the kind of film that somehow manages to come across as both ridiculously overstuffed and so devoid of dramatic weight that it barely seems to have enough substance to make it from the projector to the screen. That said, there is nothing especially offensive about it (unless you are offended by bad movies) and could be the perfect viewing choice for anyone who doesn't want to run the risk of seeing anything weird, threatening or potentially different. For everyone else, this is one catch that you will want to throw back. (Hey, I am allowed one hackneyed fishing-related metaphor, aren't I?

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originally posted: 03/09/12 10:47:36
last updated: 03/09/12 11:06:00
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