New Reviews – ‘Battle in Seattle,’ ‘Ghost Town,’ ‘Towelhead’ and ‘Igor’

New reviews in the Seattle P-I this week.

Battle in Seattle (dir: Stuart Townsend)

I’m not sure what it is about this film that makes me like it while finding so much fault with it. I guess that for all the drably predictable and preachy fictional stories, the inevitable simplifications, the sloganeering and the empty gestures standing in for symbols of protest and courage, I’m  impressed with what he got in there: the sense of organization and planning that turned this loose confederation of activists and protest groups into the most effective organized protest in recent history.

The directorial debut of actor Stuart Townsend is a conventional drama about the unconventional and landmark 1999 WTO protests — a real event explored through the familiar fictional stories of various protesters, delegates and bystanders.

Townsend’s real triumph is in getting beyond the sound bites to grapple with the issues behind the protest. He illustrates the methods and organization of the loose affiliation of protesters that caught the WTO and the local authorities by surprise and effectively shut down business downtown with nonviolent tactics. He captures the chaos of the anarchist violence and police clashes without losing the viewer in the confusion. And he shines a light on the protests within the WTO that were largely ignored in favor of the splashy spectacle on the streets.

Read the complete review here. I also interview Stuart Townsend for the P-I here, and in a longer interview for Parallax View here.

Towelhead (dir/scr: Alan Ball)

My feelings about Alan Ball’s feature directorial debut, a discomforting, darkly satirical drama centered on a 13-year-old Lebanese-American girl of divorced parents dealing with issues of identity and sexuality during the first Gulf War (adapted from the novel by Alicia Erian), couldn’t be more different. His ambitions are admirable, especially when it comes to his exploration of sexual identity and sexual activity in young teens. Girls are physically maturing earlier, getting their breasts and their periods at increasingly early ages, and are being confronted with sexual imagery more openly all the time, which is a troubling combination in someone so young. They don’t have the maturity to deal with it, and Jasira, the thirteen-year-old girl at the center of the film (an excellent performance by Summer Bishil) certainly doesn’t have the adult guidance to help her through it. But when it comes to the satirical portrait of American suburban life and the hypocrisy of adults more concerned with the appearance of morality than the real thing, Ball resorts to shrill caricatures of human behavior so exaggerated that you can’t miss the rampant hypocrisy on parade.

How is it that Alan Ball wrote some of the most nuanced, layered, dynamic characters on TV in Six Feet Under, yet when it comes to film scripts he comes up with little more than cartoon characters?

"Towelhead" - the money shot
"Towelhead" - The money shot

Ball’s compassion for Jasira is unqualified and her performance is affecting, especially when she slips into a high, shy, tentative little girl voice in the presence of domineering adults. But, as in his script for American Beauty, he puts the screws to the rest of the characters with a glib comic flip, and his direction only compounds the cartoonish characterizations.

Read the complete review here. My interview with director Alan Ball is at the P-I here. A longer version is at Parallax View.

Ghost Town (dir/scr: David Koepp)

Ricky Gervais plays a man who sees dead people and is really annoyed by them in David Koepp’s comic take on Ghost with a sarcastic seer who just wants to be left alone by both the living and the dead.

Gervais, of the original British series The Office and the go-to guy for self-absorbed jerks, carries the film as a man who spent so many years avoiding connection that he’s unprepared to face how empty his life has become. His sudden decision to play the suitor in Kinnear’s romantic distraction feels a little out of character, but Gervais’ oblivious enthusiasm makes the fumbling ploy work.

Director/co-writer David Koepp doesn’t let the sentimental gush get too sticky in the inevitable redemptive makeover. Gervais underplays the boorishness and the reflexive humor that charms Leoni’s gawky but smart professional, and their byplay gives the unlikely relationship a ghost of a chance of working.

Read the complete review here. My interview with star Ricky Gervais is here.

Igor (dir: Tony Leondis)

Igor and pals
Igor and pals

John Cusack voices a hunchback mad scientist minion with big dreams in the animated spoof of Frankenstein films and evil genius horror movies. Films like this tepid monster mash are reminders that it’s not the technology that makes Pixar’s computer animated features the best of their kind, it’s the craft, the loving attention to detail and the art of the well-written script. And while it’s no secret that the vocal performances of most animated films are recorded individually, often on different days and almost never with actors even meeting, there’s no reason to remind us of the fact with lazy editing that makes it sound like they’re talking at each other instead conversing.

With the assistance of his creations/sidekicks — a sardonic, suicidal, immortal rabbit (Steve Buscemi) whose death wish becomes an existential joke without a punch line, and a giant brain in a jar (Sean Hayes) with all the focus and fierce intelligence of a hyperactive puppy — Igor brings his masterwork to life. And what a monster: Eva (Molly Shannon) stumbles into the world with a song in her heart and stars in her eyes, an overgrown ingenue ready for her close-up.

Too bad Igor didn’t jolt the film to life with his Frankenstein shenanigans. “Igor” trudges through its story without a single surprise or unanticipated turn while marginally clever sight gags fill in the dead spaces between the flat jokes. Despite a familiar moral, this is no “Iron Giant,” just a haphazard collection of spare movie parts cobbled together in a pale imitation of better-animated comedies. Send this one back to the drawing board.

Read the complete review here.

Author: seanax

I write the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website (www.streamondemandathome.com). I'm a contributing writer for Turner Classic Movies Online, Keyframe, Independent Lens, and Cinephiled, and the editor of Parallax View (www.parallax-view.org).. I've written for The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, The Seattle Weekly, GreenCine.com, Senses of Cinema, Asian Cult Cinema, and Psychotronic Video, among other publications, and I am a contributing editor to Parallax View. I currently live and work in Seattle, Washington, with my two cats, Hammet and Chandler.

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