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Film Reviews


Directed by Charles Shyer

Paramount Pictures

Alfie presents a glimpse of the dizzyingly fast-paced social life of a serial womanizer. Jude Law has the clothes, the car, and the looks to get any girl—and he does, with an endless string of paramours ranging wildly from an aging cosmetics empress (Susan Sarandon) to a flighty, semi-psychotic teenager. But the car is borrowed, the suits were on sale, and beneath Law’s charming smirk is a calculating mind. Alfie has no warmth or romanticism, despite his British charm. The movie captures his gradual comprehension of that emptiness surprisingly well.

His self-discovery is aided by the stylistic device of Alfie’s narration directly to the audience; in his self-absorption, Alfie considers his life to be the constant focus of a camera. Alfie’s concise, humanist witticisms reveal a clever, detached assessment of every woman he sees, like “There’s one thing that puts me off marriage—married women.”

But his ostentatious posing for the camera also reveals Alfie as childish and even innocent—he doesn’t think his actions affect anyone. It is often annoying, because his obvious insights intrude on the action. However, this is due to the often clunky writing.

Jude Law’s acting, on the other hand, has just the right touch of joviality and supreme confidence with which Alfie begins the movie; with better writing the narrative would flow more seamlessly. Law is also successful in depicting Alfie’s subtle discontent with his increasingly dispassionate analyses of each girlfriend. This discontent only deepens in the course of Alfie’s misadventures throughout the film.

Alfie’s first trouble is the simplest: he gets caught cheating on his one steady lover (Marisa Tomei). In his normally verbose narrative, Alfie gives no justification for his actions, because it seems obvious to him: one woman is never going to be enough to satisfy his prodigious sexual appetite.

When Alfie faces a medical crisis jeopardizing his ability to sustain that appetite, he must face his own mortality. He discovers that a one-night tryst with his best friend’s girlfriend, Lonette (Nia Long), has resulted in pregnancy. Alfie’s relief and regret when he helps Lonette get an abortion reveal the increasing flaws in his youthful assurance.

Alfie’s realization of the irrevocable harm his actions cause shocks him into change. A very human, very real distress replaces Alfie’s godlike composure, and his brushes with death transform him from a young man with all the answers to a suddenly aged, more uncertain person. In the greatest irony, his newfound gravitas leads to him being dumped by an older woman for a younger man.

Alfie’s is a believable and therefore successful story because all of the attempts Alfie makes to ameliorate the ways in which he’s hurt others ultimately fail. Alfie’s misfortunes are serious enough and occur close enough together to evoke the realization of his discontent. The film is utterly realistic in demonstrating that understanding mistakes is not always enough to rectify them.

—M.A. Brazelton

The Incredibles

Directed by Brad Bird

Walt Disney Pictures

Pixar, the ingenious powerhouses of animation that brought the world personified toys, monsters and phosphorescent fish, has taken on a PG-rated action adventure for its latest premise: the story of an average superhero family.

In his glory days, Bob Parr (Craig T. Nelson) was known to the world as Mr. Incredible, a superhero capable of foiling a bank robbery, stopping a runaway locomotive and coaxing a kitten down from a tree all on the way to his wedding.

Segue to 15 years later and Mr. Incredible and his wife Helen, formerly known as Elastigirl (Holly Hunter), and their three children are attempting to live a normal suburban life under the Witness Protection Program. Bob juggles a potbelly and a mind-numbing job as an insurance claims specialist while longing for the old days; Helen is not willing to give up the peaceful life they have earned. Everything changes when Bob receives a communiqué calling for Mr. Incredible’s help in a top-secret mission on a mysterious island. The mission eventually pulls the entire Incredibles family into a battle to save the world from their nemesis, Syndrome (Jason Lee).

Writer-director Brad Bird (Iron Giant, The Simpsons), who serves triple duty as the voice of the temperamental superhero fashion designer Edna Mode, has created a film that skillfully blends the excitement of a superhero movie with a carefully-measured dose of family film sensitivity. Stereotypes of superhero movies abound—the thick-accented foreign goon (named Bomb Voyage), the high-speed chases between soaring skyscrapers, and Mr. Incredible parting his shirt to reveal his icon emblazoned upon his chest—which are tempered by a good-natured self mockery.

In one particularly memorable sequence, Edna Mode flies into a fury over Mr. Incredible’s request for a cape to go with his supersuit. “No capes!” the diminutive woman shrieks, her oversized spectacles filling the screen as she recounts the obviously often retold stories of heroes who had their capes sucked into jet engines and caught upon rockets blasting off into space.

Coupled with the comic-book action is the presentation of the Incredible family as a typical, if unique, American family. Elastigirl berates her husband for taking the wrong highway exit as the family careens through the city in a rocket. Mr. Incredible loses his potbelly by bench pressing boxcars. His daughter Violet turns herself invisible when her school crush looks her way.

The film’s slick action and outreach to all audiences sets it apart from regular Disney fare. The Incredibles was conceived during the acrimonious splintering of the Disney/Pixar distribution relationship. A subtle hint of this conflict reveals itself when Syndrome, Mr. Incredible’s nemesis, reflects upon his humble origins and proclaims, “You respect me now because I’m a threat.”

There are also remnants of the competition between Pixar and Dreamworks, the creator of the wildly successful Shrek animated series. The Shrek series made the talking donkey voiced by Eddie Murphy into a main character and was rewarded with favorable publicity. The Incredibles feebly attempts to expand the racial horizon of its previous films by giving a bit role to superhero Frozone—celebrity voiced by Samuel L. Jackson—who gets approximately 15 minutes of screen time. More successful is Pixar’s attempt to challenge Dreamworks on the belly-laugh front: when Jack Jack, the Incredibles’ baby reveals his unique powers, a roar of laughter went up that rivaled or exceeded anything the Shrek series produced.

However, where Shrek 2 earned its PG rating from its crude humor and suggestive content, The Incredibles is PG for action violence keeping the movie true to Pixar’s tradition of witty and clean entertainment. The audience is treated to explosive battle sequences shot amidst the breath-taking cinematography of the exotic island.

Although The Incredibles’ elaborate action sequences can sometimes overwhelm an at-best weak storyline, it is well enough presented that the audience never loses interest. The creators of Finding Nemo don’t live up to the glory of their previous work, but The Incredibles is an enjoyable romp with a contagious sense of fun.

—Julie Zhou

L'Age D'Or

Directed by Luis Buñel

Harvard Film Archive

Apropos for a campus in dire need of leftist political art, the Harvard Film Archive will screen L’Age d’Or (The Golden Age), Luis Buñuel’s classic work of surrealism, subversion and sarcasm, this Sunday at 7 p.m.

An hour-long journey into the abstract workings of Buñuel and co-writer Salvador Dali’s seemingly bottomless imaginations, L’Age d’Or is a collection of unnerving vignettes, treating the viewer to such visual non sequiturs as men climbing on ceilings, a woman caressing and kissing a statue, and a man with a face of flies. It is challenging viewing, but the rewards are immense.

The film is the companion piece to Buñuel’s somewhat better-known short Un Chien Andalou, notorious for its striking image of a woman having her eye cut open with a knife. The first film acted as a sketch of its director’s major themes; L’Age d’Or is the full portrait.

The film is enjoyable alone for its astounding visuals (stunning for 1930) and rampant slapstick. Like Jean Renoir’s La Regle du Jeu (The Rules of the Game), also recently screened at the Archive, L’Age d’Or works on two levels: it’s a knee-slapping farce, at the same time deeply wrapped up in a scathing social commentary aimed squarely at the upper class. The targets of the latter film’s satire are Buñuel’s usual suspects: the Church, bourgeois society and other institutions of alleged social oppression.

The leftist overtones are strongly pronounced, and L’Age d’Or has come under fire ever since its release from right-wing groups. Pay no heed to the fascists—Buñuel creates a work of beauty and comedy, fascinating the viewer while keeping him in stitches. A social activist as much as a filmmaker, Buñuel understood that art and laughter are the strongest tactics at one’s disposal when faced with the forces of oppression. L’Age d’Or teaches us the key to remaining sane in a world gone haywire: If you can’t fight the ruling powers, just ridicule ’em.

Democrats: Take note.

—Michael M. Grynbaum

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