Ann Peacock

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The First Grader Review


Good
Based on a true story, this drama from Kenya reflects on the legacy of colonialism and tribal warfare in a nation trying to get its feet on the ground. It's a fairly straightforward film, and it's also a real crowd-pleaser.

As the government introduces free education for all, 84-year-old Maruge (Litondo) shows up at primary school hoping to learn to read. Head teacher Jane (Harris) takes him in, knowing that she'll get in trouble with her boss (Kunene) but never suspecting that Maruge's story will ripple around the world.

Maruge is a Kikuyu who fought with the Mau Maus against British colonialism in the 1950s, when he was imprisoned and viciously tortured. And there are still old wounds between him and those he saw as collaborators.

Continue reading: The First Grader Review

Nights in Rodanthe Review


Good
With the Gulf Coast narrowly dodging Gustav and the Houston area recuperating from Ike, now might not be the best time for a breathy romance that uses the violent lashing of a vicious hurricane to simulate foreplay between passionate lovers.

It's hard to fault director George C. Wolfe, however. His Nights in Rodanthe adaptation merely adheres to a blueprint provided by best-selling author Nicholas Sparks, who makes use of a tempest in his source novel but also provides earnest human connections and palpable heartache.

Continue reading: Nights in Rodanthe Review

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005) Review


Grim
Since the first comparison made with C.S. Lewis' Narnia fantasy series is to his friend and colleague J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings books, it is worth noting that - as recently mentioned in the New Yorker - Tolkien hated the Narnia books because their ideological underpinnings constrained the fiction itself. Tolkien was as devoutly religious as Lewis but you didn't see the hobbits going to church on Sunday; Middle Earth was a pretty pagan land where mythology, not theology, was the rule of the day. Lewis was a different sort, of course, and though the seven Narnia books were brilliant fantasy, they also had an irksome tendency towards preachiness. This same problem afflicts The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the (potentially) first Chronicles of Narnia film, a crass product of merchandised morality from Disney and Walden Media, a media company owned by Christian evangelist billionaire Philip Anschutz.

Director Andrew Adamson makes his live-action debut here after the two Shreks, but it's an easy transition for him, given that a good portion of the film has a CGI/character complexity ratio about as high as the last few Star Wars films. Although Narnia doesn't lend itself well to the cheeky pop culture reference-o-rama that Shrek did, it shares those films' same treacly sentimentality and market-researched plasticity.

Continue reading: The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005) Review

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005) Review


Grim
Since the first comparison made with C.S. Lewis' Narnia fantasy series is to his friend and colleague J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings books, it is worth noting that - as recently mentioned in the New Yorker - Tolkien hated the Narnia books because their ideological underpinnings constrained the fiction itself. Tolkien was as devoutly religious as Lewis but you didn't see the hobbits going to church on Sunday; Middle Earth was a pretty pagan land where mythology, not theology, was the rule of the day. Lewis was a different sort, of course, and though the seven Narnia books were brilliant fantasy, they also had an irksome tendency towards preachiness. This same problem afflicts The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the (potentially) first Chronicles of Narnia film, a crass product of merchandised morality from Disney and Walden Media, a media company owned by Christian evangelist billionaire Philip Anschutz.

Director Andrew Adamson makes his live-action debut here after the two Shreks, but it's an easy transition for him, given that a good portion of the film has a CGI/character complexity ratio about as high as the last few Star Wars films. Although Narnia doesn't lend itself well to the cheeky pop culture reference-o-rama that Shrek did, it shares those films' same treacly sentimentality and market-researched plasticity.

Continue reading: The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005) Review

In My Country Review


Terrible
South Africa's 1995 Truth and Reconciliation Hearings - which sought to resolve the animosity between blacks and white Afrikaners after the fall of apartheid by having victimized blacks confront their white tormentors, who in turn would be granted amnesty by publicly admitting to, apologizing for, and proving that they were ordered to carry out, their hateful actions - may one day spawn a great movie. In My Country, John Boorman's lazy and ludicrous film about the Hearings, isn't it. A prime example of why it's dangerous to concoct fictional narratives in order to tell historically important stories, Boorman's latest is awkward and ungainly, a dramatically forced and stilted tale of interracial reconciliation bereft of any rhythm and even less subtlety. With the wildly inconsistent director working more in the vein of his legendary disaster Exorcist II: The Heretic than his neo-noir masterpiece Point Blank, it's the kind of well-intentioned, but wholly unsuccessful, misfire that makes one desperately pine for a thorough documentary on its real-life subject.

Inauspiciously beginning with a clunky montage of sun-dappled vistas and police brutality newsreel footage set to rousing (but still slightly heartbreaking) African singing, In My Country focuses on Anna Malan (Juliette Binoche), an Afrikaner journalist and poet whose white father and brother disapprove of her interest in the Hearings ("Remember where you're from, Anna," racist Dad ominously warns). While covering the event, she meets Langston Whitfield (Samuel L. Jackson), a Washington Post reporter opposed to the Hearings' disinterest in persecuting the country's heinous, government-sponsored white criminals. The two quarrel over the effectiveness and justness of the Hearings' guiding principle of "Ubuntu" (an African belief in forgiveness over punishment), but their horror and sadness over the proceedings' testimonials - many of which have been recreated, word-for-gut-wrenching word, by the filmmakers - helps them eventually bridge their initial ideological differences and, in the case of Anna, learn to reconcile herself to her family's own nasty role in apartheid. After some boneheaded flirting, the two attempt to heal the country's racial divisions themselves through lovemaking, all while Anna's cheery African-American sidekick Dumi (Menzi Ngubane) gleefully confirms the hoariest of stereotypes by breaking into jubilant song and dance at every available turn (including in court).

Continue reading: In My Country Review

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