By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By David Villano
By Jose D. Duran
By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Luther Campbell
Hollywood served up no shortage of literary adaptations in 2005, but only one of them see Thumbsucker as soon as possible was an unqualified success. Even Andrew Adamsons Chronicles of Narnia was largely a disappointment. Sure, it had its charms (namely a pair of adorable beavers), but most of the film was a bust, advertising its grandeur and its pathos rather than digging into the drama of either. There were other notable letdowns.
Liev Schreiber, an actor respected for his intelligence and erudition, botched his adaptation of Everything Is Illuminated, Jonathan Safran Foers astounding debut novel. Schreiber stripped the book of its folkloric magical realism, then altered the plots defining events so as to make no sense. What is supposed to be illumination becomes obfuscation, and what is supposed to be a brave look at the atrocities of the Holocaust becomes a sentimental apology for not having done so.
Equally plagued was Bee Season, an adaptation by Scott McGehee and David Siegel of the best seller by Myla Goldberg. This film was over as soon as it was cast: Richard Gere is simply not believable as a towering Jewish patriarch, nor does Juliette Binoche make sense as his distant, obsessive wife. And instead of delving into the Kabbalistic teachings at the heart of the novel, the film merely dabs, attempting via clever graphics to paint the picture of a young girls otherworldly talent for spelling. Thats lazy storytelling, and it doesnt work.
Joe Wrights Pride & Prejudice won critical praise, and its first half-hour is fun. But then it dissolves into such silly faux-romanticism that it misses the point. Jane Austen was nothing if not arch: She saw the absurdity of her situation. To have no career and no hope of advancement other than marriage was not a happy state of affairs for a woman, and Elizabeth Bennet strains against it, even as she falls for the sullen, tight-assed Darcy. In Wrights version, Elizabeth and Darcy melt into woozy teenagers who believe in True Love, and trundle across hill and dale, tresses flying, to proclaim it. Feh.
Other dishonorable mentions include Steve Martins syrupy Shopgirl; the overly chipper Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio; and the generalized disaster of Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. All are united by their primary achievement: reminding us of the power of books. -- Melisa Levine
War is hell, but it can also be high drama. In boots-on-the-ground documentaries like Gunner Palace and Occupation: Dreamland, we got a discomfiting look at the brutal realities and moral ambiguities of Americas war in Iraq, where the death toll rises along with the administrations rhetoric. I want some answers, an army private first class says in Dreamland (directed by Garrett Scott and Ian Olds), which chronicles a few months of infantry action in the doomed city of Fallujah. I want some clarification of what were doing. Stephen Marshalls Battleground provides a few bewildering hints as insurgents openly talk about their hatred of the U.S. and an Iraqi interpreter blithely explains that the invasion was a result of an American economic collapse. Inside Iraq: The Untold Stories, is a lesser piece of work. Its maker, ABC-TV freelancer Mike Shiley, has cluelessly boasted that he joined an army tank unit as a gunner and earned a civilian combat award after firing in a village along the Syrian border.
The Iraqi-made doc The Dream of Sparrows may be the most disturbing of all, a glimpse of life under occupation in which Iraqis directly address Western viewers in tones ranging from despair to anger to guarded hope, and The Control Room is a revealing portrait of Al Jazeera, the satellite news giant that attracts 40 million Arab viewers every day and gives a far bloodier (and more local) view of the war than American TV.
With truths like these, theres scant need for fiction. But Sam Mendess star-studded Jarhead (Jake Gyllenhaal, Jamie Foxx) provided a look at Marine Corps culture in the first Gulf War, and writer-director Stephen Gaghans Syriana (with George Clooney and Chris Cooper), a political thriller set in an unnamed Persian Gulf nation, has plenty of harsh things to say about intrigue and corruption in the global oil industry.
Given 2005's output, can filmmakers now declare Mission Accomplished where Iraq is concerned? Hardly. -- Bill Gallo
Until this year, nature documentaries generally found their homes at PBS and Animal Planet, enjoying modest audiences made up of children and scientists. Then came March of the Penguins, which earned close to $80 million at the box office and is still playing in some areas six months after its release. Thats a long run for a bunch of tubby butlers Charlie-Chaplining their way across the ice. So why the fuss? Here are four answers:
They bring the cute. If nothing else, March makes a very strong case for the emperor penguin as single most adorable animal ever, waddling its impressive bulk for 70 miles at a stretch and using its ample, glistening belly for sliding as well as warmth.