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Catch-Up Capsule Reviews for Films Screened on 9/8/07 and 9/9/07:

Shoot 'Em Up



Rated R | 86 mins


     Shoot ‘Em Up represents a real critical dilemma for me: it is a movie that is as outrageously entertaining as it is degradingly offensive. There is no possible way one could watch Shoot ‘Em Up and not have a good time, but at what cost? The experience will make most viewers want to take a shower as soon as it’s over; “dirty,” “slimy,” and “mean-spirited” are all adjectives that come to mind when attempting to describe it. As I watched a scene in which vigilante protagonist Smith (Clive Owen) ridiculously shows an infant he has rescued the different parts of a hand-gun, something about the experience (albeit engaging) just didn’t feel morally-acceptable to me. Not to mention, the movie also features such questionable elements as a lactating prostitute, a sex scene during a gun-battle, and a certain segment set on a playground in which Smith has to shoot toward the aforementioned baby in order to save it from being killed by the antagonist. Shoot ‘Em Up kind of feels like watching a Quentin Tarantino film with none of the artistic merit to make the amorality present seem cinematically justifiable. Don’t get me wrong: this is a slickly-paced and hyper-stylized motion picture – but nobody’s going to be confusing it for a great work of pop-art anytime soon, nor should they. The picture is so sleek and sensuous that it engages the viewer immensely, but said engagement hardly proves fulfilling. And don’t even get me started on Shoot ‘Em Up’s conclusion, which proceeds to hit the audience over the head with pro-gun-control messages, as if it doesn’t realize that its glamorized characters use guns to kill well over one-hundred individuals throughout its duration.

The Hunting Party



Rated R | 96 mins


     “Only the most ridiculous parts of this story are true,” opens The Hunting Party’s first act, which loses itself by indulging in all of the conspiracy-theories and liberal-guilt-trips that you’d expect to find in a politically-themed film starring Richard Gere. Despite functioning as a rather introspective look at wartime broadcast media, the movie’s first half-hour can’t find its footing because it seems so desperate to prove itself ideologically. As I watched this act flounder as it set the scene to semi-biographically tell the story of a team of journalists’ attempts to confront the criminal-mastermind behind the Bosnian War, I was prepared to dismiss the film entirely. To my eyes, director Richard Shepard’s implementation of historical-parallels used to bash the Bush Administration’s current view of foreign policy was proving entirely preposterous.

     Color me surprised when The Hunting Party was actually able to settle itself down and end up an engrossing film. After the first act break, Shepard realizes the need to tell a worthy story and, accordingly, tones down the abundance of political rhetoric in his film. As the trio of journalists—Gere’s washed-up Simon, Terrence Howard’s high-profile Duck, and Jesse Eisenberg’s youthfully-deluded Benjamin—inches closer to its subject, the movie’s narrative becomes progressively more interesting. During The Hunting Party’s final two acts, I found myself consistently engaged by the film’s suspense-ripe plot. Because this aspect of the picture was able to function effectively, I alas begun to understand its political discourse, which I had previously been utterly indifferent towards. All in all, The Hunting Party establishes itself as a worthwhile and mostly-riveting effort, even if it suffers from a shaky start.


Live-in Maid



Not Rated | 83 mins


     “What the hell was that?” exclaimed one of three tourists sitting behind me at a screening of Live-in Maid as the credits began to roll. Seeking an oasis from the outdoor heat, the group had clearly plodded into Mark Cuban’s brand-new Los Angeles art-house not knowing what the movie was about, expecting something rather mainstream. The fact that Live-in Maid is a meditative, introspective look at lives of two older women did not come easy to the three. I, on the other hand, was delighted by the freshness and authenticity of this tale of a financially-pressed Buenos Aires business-woman and the relationship that she has with her maid of thirty-years. This is the kind of movie where nothing much happens, but it doesn’t need to. The lives of the two main characters progress naturally and beautifully, subtly providing insight on both the human condition and the economic situation of Argentina in the late 1990s. The lead performances by Norma Argentina and Norma Aleandro feel real and are wonderfully nuanced. The movie may not ultimately leave much of a lasting impression—the story is enlightening, although not particularly memorable—but it certainly offers open-minded viewers a delicate little experience to immerse themselves in.


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