your daddy: (l-r) Grant and Hoult in About a Boy.
by Paul and Chris Weitz
It practically screams Hallmark, what with its conceit of
a cold, insensitive man becoming decidedly more human through
his encounter with a sweet, sensitive 12-year old. I nearly
couldn’t make it into the theater. But then again, it’s directed
and co-written (with Peter Hedges) by those guys who did American
Pie, so how schmaltzy could it be? If anything, I figured
I was more likely to be grossed out than overcome by saccharine.
Ultimately, it’s a good thing that Paul and Chris Weitz adapted
Nick Hornby’s novel About a Boy, and that they retained
its English setting. This combination of elements somehow
keeps the movie from being too cute, and too commercialized.
The result is charming, and I mean that in the most positive
Will Freeman (Hugh Grant) is 37, living on the plentiful royalties
from his father’s one-hit Christmas ditty, immersed in nothing
but his own care and maintenance. Dividing his days into half-hour
increments, he blocks three units on hair styling, three on
exercise (billiards), two on lunch and many on dates. He stumbles
upon the notion that single mums make for great affairs—they’re
needy, but too guilty to commit to anything long-term—which
is how he inadvertently meets 12-year-old Marcus (Nicholas
Hoult), a preteen mess of uncool looks and behavior. The boy
divides his time between trying to survive the taunts of schoolyard
bullies and helping his mother, Fiona (Toni Collette), overcome
her emotional breakdowns. In Will he sees not so much a rescuer
as a much-needed addition to his insubstantial support system.
Of course, Will doesn’t want anything to do with Marcus, or
Fiona, whom he deems a “granola suicide.” But upon witnessing
students’ cruelty to Marcus, this narcissist grasps something
that Fiona, for all her good intentions, can’t fathom. Reluctantly,
he allows Marcus into his life, going so far as to buy him
a cool pair of Skechers (which get stolen) and a rap CD, knowing
that these minor items can mean so much more to a boy (and
to his cool quotient) than Fiona’s well-meaning advice on
vegetarianism. Will tries, for a time, to capitalize on Marcus
as a sort of accessory for the well-groomed single man-about-town,
but succeeds only in proving to himself what a shallow being
Throughout About a Boy, the Weitz brothers maintain
a sweet, uncloying tone that, combined with thoroughly winning
performances by its leads and a very snappy sense of humor,
makes you root for the characters in spite of your initial
misgivings. How many movies can you name for which the heart-stopping
climax involves whether somebody can be prevented from singing
“Killing Me Softly” in front of a high school audience? For
that matter, how many movies of similar ilk aren’t predicated
on transforming a lead character’s life via a credit-card-busting
shopping spree? About a Boy is actually shocking in
its avoidance of market-driven clichés: Marcus will never
be as good looking or with-it as Will, Fiona will never forsake
her earthy-crunchy mien, and in spite of his nifty gadgets
and accessories, Will really isn’t all that interesting.
by Nanni Moretti
In The Son’s Room, director, co-writer and star Nanni
Moretti takes his audience deep into the shallow, placid minutiae
of one middle-class family’s life. They live in a pretty Italian
port town in which even the commercial docks and container
ships are picture-perfect. They eat. They sleep. They gently
parry each other in minor, nearly tensionless conflicts. They
sit down in the evening to discuss the day each has had. The
father, Giovanni (Moretti), is an imperturbable psychoanalyst
as reserved with his patients as with his family. The mother,
Paola (Laura Morante), works in an art gallery and still finds
time to cook lovely family meals. Daughter Irene (Jasmine
Trinca) is a basketball player with a pothead boyfriend, and
son Andrea (Giuseppe Sanfelice) prefers scuba diving and pop
After a half-hour of this, especially once the whole family
joins in a pop-song sing-along in the car, it’s clear something
terrible is going to happen. In fact, it had better. There
is only so much bland happiness the average moviegoer can
be expected to endure. So the bad thing happens, and as a
result, the family is deeply wounded. From this moment on,
the movie becomes a study of pain, dissolution, and the ways
people attempt to find healing.
This is when Moretti’s method starts to become clear. We’re
no longer watching Dad serve the lasagna, plate by plate,
to everyone at the table while discussing a missing fossil.
We’re watching the family’s horror as a workman solders the
metal lining of a coffin shut, and then screws, with a noisy,
whining power drill, every screw into the wooden lid of the
box with terrible finality.
Giovanni can no longer bear to listen to his neurotic patients.
In a nicely drawn reversal, one man who has been suicidal
becomes physically ill, giving him a reason to live; Giovanni
is not pleased. Paolo is compelled to talk about the tragedy
at odd times and in inappropriate places. Their breakdown
is calibrated with the same close attention as their happiness
The question is, does this technique play out well over the
course of the film? Partially. Just through sheer directorial
doggedness, we follow these people, and are drawn to their
story out of an intellectual curiosity about what their ultimate
fate will be. Yet at times, it seems like there’s no there
there. The family is not intrinsically interesting. The plot
does include the minimum number of narrative twists to be
officially certified as a “story,” but Moretti’s insistence
on making everything “real” means too many scenes are bloodless
and random. Is it entertaining, or rewarding? Yes and no.
Does the family find again the peace of the bland they enjoyed
so quietly? Whether or not you care by the end of film is
the measure of how well Nanni Moretti ultimately succeeds.
Wars: Episode Two: The Attack of the Clones
by George Lucas
The good news: Ewan MacGre- gor, Christopher Lee, the art
direction and special visual effects, some battles, Natalie
Portman’s action costume, minimal screen time for Jar Jar
Binks, and C3PO gets decapitated.
The bad news: plotting déjà vu, other battles, John Williams’
score, cartoonish aliens, Natalie Portman’s early hairstyles,
Jar Jar Binks doesn’t get his ears lopped off and his throat
cut, C3PO still doesn’t shut up.
This episode of the most commercially successful movie serial
of all time ranks high in its digital visuals and is far better
than the numbingly dumb Episode One (which surely would
have spawned no series had it indeed been the first one produced).
But that comparison is faint praise. All of Episode Two
looks splendid, and several sequences produce a sense of awe
that the original Star Wars introduced. The story,
however, is moribund and gives the title an unintended meaning.
Too much has been cloned from previous Star Wars films
and other films of the genre. At least on his first time out,
George Lucas was inspired, he says, by Kurosawa’s The Hidden
Fortress, and had something to draw from. This time out
there are few exciting twists and a scarcity of inventiveness
in the conflicts—certainly not enough to compete with the
best of sci-fi action films.
The superficially complicated, but actually simplistic, story
involves a plot to assassinate former queen, Padmé Amidala
(Natalie Portman), who is now a senator in the Republic. She
is protected by the Jedi knights, Obi-Wan Kenobi (MacGregor)
and Anakin (Hayden Christensen), mentor and student, respectively.
Not only must Anakin deal with his growing disaffection for
Obi-Wan, but he must also deal with his growing love for Padmé,
an emotion forbidden by the Jedi code. Sound familiar?
There is also the matter of a separatist movement that is
threatening the Republic, and the Republic’s disturbing reliance
on cloned warriors (shown in a nifty shot that suggests Nazi
forces) to help the Jedi turn back the evil tide. There’s
interesting material here, but it doesn’t get sufficiently
Of the visuals: There are stunning backgrounds and environments
that are cloned, stolen or inspired by Maxfield Parrish paintings,
and there are remarkable cityscapes with airborne traffic
in the grand tradition of Metropolis and Blade Runner.
The former is the setting for some very silly and boring love
scenes; the latter is used to terrific effect for the film’s
best action, a dizzying chase through the congested airways
between the skyscrapers. Here, there is simultaneously a sense
of sweeping lateral movement and vertiginous vertical drops;
unfortunately, this happens early in the film. All that will
rival it later are two sequences: a gladiatorial pitting of
Padmé, Obi-Wan and Anakin against three nasty creatures, and
a flashy laser fight between Yoda (voiced by Frank Oz) and
Count Dooku (Christopher Lee) that is cut off too soon. But
it is satisfying to see Lee join the ranks as one of the series’
most worthy villains, and it is fitting that his character
should serve as a predecessor for Star Wars’ best villain,
the totalitarian Moff Tarkin, who was played to perfection
by Lee’s former colleague in horror, Peter Cushing.
Again MacGregor does solid work and manages to make us believe
that his younger Obi-Wan could grow into the Obi-Wan that
was played by that other old master, Alec Guinness.
In some places, the spacecraft and architecture make the later,
supposedly more advanced Star Wars look less sleekly
futuristic. But I’m sure there are legions of fans who can
explain this away with the same ease that they can justify
why the ambling, cane-assisted Yoda can turn into an airborne