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Film I Neglected To Review: Road To Nowhere.
by Peter Sobczynski

Please enjoy short reviews of the new releases "Ginger & Rosa," "The Girl," "On the Road" and "War Witch."

"Ginger & Rosa," the latest work from filmmaker Sally Potter is a coming-of-age tale featuring Elle Fanning and Alice Englert as two teenagers and lifelong pals in London circa 1962 who begin to drift apart when the former gets involved in the burgeoning anti-nuclear movement while that latter gets caught up in a whirlwind of sexual experimentation that eventually lands her in the bed of her best friend's father (Alessandro Nivola). Although fans of Potter's more experimental films, such as "Orlando" and "Yes," may find this semi-autobiographical tale to be a little too conventional for their tastes, the simple and direct approach that she utilizes here is a better fit in that it allows the feelings and emotions generated by the material itself to come through without being tricked up with narrative gimmickry. Although the cast is filled with strong performances from veteran actors like Annette Bening, Christina Hendricks, Oliver Platt and Timothy Spall, the two young actresses at its center are the ones who make the strongest impressions--Englert (the daughter of Jane Campion) gets a far better vehicle with which to demonstrate her off-beat personality than she did with that "Beautiful Creatures" boondoggle and with her heartbreaking turn here, coming on the heels of equally impressive appearances in films such as "Somewhere" and "Super 8," Elle Fanning demonstrates conclusively that she is without a doubt the money Fanning of the moment.

Abbie Cornish is another extraordinary young actress who just has not yet found the big breakthrough role designed to let everyone know how good she is and her latest film, "The Girl," is unfortunately not the film that will do it for her. In it, she plays a young woman in Texas struggling to pull her life together in order to be reunited with the child that she had to put into foster care. In need of money, she finds herself drifting into the seedy world of smuggling Mexicans over the border into America and after one job goes sideways, she finds herself stuck with a young girl who has no one else to care for her. this is, of course, heart-rending material and writer-director David Rikers clearly knows that but he lays things on so thickly here that it is impossible to look at the film as anything other than a mawkish melodrama with nothing more on its mind than getting Cornish the Best Actress Oscar nomination that Melissa Leo received for her similar role in the indie drama "Frozen River." Cornish does what she can with the material and it is a testament to her gifts that she makes it at least somewhat more palatable than it should be by all rights. Nevertheless, her efforts are pretty much for naught and the end result is a film that takes material that cries out for serious and thoughtful treatment and presents it with all the dramatic tension and heft of a Lifetime Original Movie.

Ever since it was first published more than a half-century ago, people have been trying to figure out a way to bring Jack Kerouac's groundbreaking novel "On the Road" to the screen and now that it has finally arrived, people may find themselves spending the next half-century wondering why they bothered in the first place. One of the problems in bringing it from the page to the screen is that there really isn't much of a strong narrative--its power rested almost entirely in the thrilling and compelling voice that Kerouac deployed in bringing to life the sex and drug-filled misadventures of charismatic anti-hero Dean Moriarity and fledgling writer Sal Paradise. Unfortunately, neither screenwriter Jose Rivera nor director Walter Salles are able to conceptualize that voice in cinematic terms and the result is a plodding bore that feels more like an ad campaign for a clothing line inspired by the book rather than the book itself. As the two leads, Garrett Hedlund absolutely fails to demonstrate the charisma that would seem to be a requisite for anyone tackling the role of Dean and Sam Riley is similarly callow and uninteresting as Sal. The large supporting cast, including Amy Adams, Kirsten Dunst, Tom Sturridge, Alice Braga, Elizabeth Moss, Viggo Mortenson and Kristen Stewart, does a better job of making an impression but that is more due to the fact that they have more distinct personalities as performers than anything else--the top honors go to Stewart, who acquits herself quite well as the wild child who comes between Sal and Dean, literally at a couple of points. Although it will no doubt go down in the record books as some kind of massive disaster, the film isn't even weird enough in its badness to go down as an interesting failure. In fact, the most surprising thing about it is just how instantly forgettable the whole sorry enterprise turned out to be in the end. What a drag.

If you are looking for a truly harrowing film to watch this weekend--one so painful and wounding that even the hardiest moviegoers may emerge from it a little bit shocked and stunned--no film currently in release can begin to match "War Witch" in terms of both raw power and the punch that it packs. One of this year's Oscar nominees for Best Foreign-Language Film, this docudrama looks at the hideous plight of children in Africa who are forcibly abducted from their families by guerrillas and forced to take up arms in the war against government troops. Our guide is a 12-year-old girl named Komona (Rachel Mwanza) and the story follows her over the course of two years as she learns to fight, rises in stature in the army when the leader becomes convinced that she has magical powers and plots an escape with another child soldier that she has fallen in love with. Alternating scenes of unspeakable cruelty with moments of unexpected sweetness (such as when Komona sends her would-be fiancee in search of a white rooster before she will consent to marry him), writer director Kim Nguyen brings an existence that seems utterly unfathomable to most of us to vivid life and as Komona, newcomer Mwanza is simply extraordinary in a performance as complex and nuanced as any in recent memory. True, "War Witch" is a grim moviegoing experience but it is nevertheless a truly rich and rewarding one as well.

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originally posted: 03/23/13 09:02:12
last updated: 03/23/13 09:18:47
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