+ "Cinderella Man": A subtle film, this is not. "Schmaltz" and its kindlier brother, "sentimentality," seems to be the operative words here. Roger Ebert says "There is a moment early in "Cinderella Man" when we see Russell Crowe in the boxing ring, filled with cocky self-confidence, and I thought I
knew what direction the story would take. I could not have been more
mistaken." He’s the only one even remotely surprised by any of the plot twists in this, by all accounts, archetypal Ron Howard Uplifting Movie. He also likes it the best.
How much others liked "Cinderella Man" hinges on their tolerance for being manipulated. At Slate, David Edelstein says that "It’s schmaltzy â€” but it’s schmaltz veined with foie gras," but also admits that, as much as he was a sucker for this film and for "A Beautiful Mind," he always feels a little dirty afterward. Anthony Lane at the New Yorker, who, underneath the elegant cynicism is a big softy himself, also pegs the film as brutally manipulative, then blames the acting from Russell Crowe as boxer James J. Braddock and Paul Giamatti as his manager Joe Gould for making "it seem a better and more bristling film than it actually is." Everyone else is impressed by Crowe, save LA Weekly‘s Ella Taylor, who finds him and most of the film’s other major players to be "calamitously miscast."
Salon‘s Stephanie Zacharek, certainly not one to indulge her inner sap, unsurprisingly hated the film. So did Ella Taylor, while the New York Press‘ Matt Zoller Seitz seems far more affected by it than we would have expected. He, along with Taylor and Edelstein, notes the odd anti-welfare tinge the film has â€” Braddock is ashamed to be seen in the welfare line (seriously, it was the Depression!) and Braddock’s friend, played by the very talented Paddy Considine, is a would-be union organizer who, as Taylor puts it, is cast "as a bit of a pinko, know what I mean, and a drunk to boot."
It’s hard to tell what La Manohla, with her Mona Lisa smile of a review, really thinks of the film, other than that it tows the aforementioned schmaltz/sentimentality line (and maybe that’s wise â€” reviews will slide off this film like Teflon). But she does find that Crowe and Giamatti have lent more complexity to "Cinderella Man" than its creators intended:
One of the satisfactions of "Cinderella Man" is that, in the end, the story that unfolds inside the ring is not the same one that Mr. Howard,
his screenwriters and the composer Thomas Newman seem keen to sell.
Their Cinderella Man is the decent little guy who affirms what movie
people call the triumph of the human spirit. The story Mr. Crowe tells,
with Mr. Giamatti riding shotgun as a gleeful Mephistopheles, is that
of a man who, having sampled the blood of others, clearly enjoyed the
+ "Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants": Roger Ebert likes the film (he does tend to like everything these days, as Stephanie Zacharek seems to dislike almost everything), which sounds like a well-done, not surprising but also not too condescending tween flick. Or, as Dana Stevens in the New York Times puts it: "’The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants’ has plenty of plot twists that grownups will see coming a mile away,
but that’s no reason to deny its pleasures to the less jaded younger
set." Oh, and a name check from Ebert:
Tibby [played by Amber Tamblyn] has perhaps been watching IFC too much and possibly envisions herself at Sundance as she heads off to the Wal-Mart clone with her video camera.
IFC, motivating the disaffected and summer retail-entrapped! Howard, you got nothing on us.
+ "Lords of Dogtown": Never mind, Roger Ebert doesn’t like everything: "Not only is there no need for this movie, but its weaknesses underline the strength of the doc." The doc would be Stacy Peralta’s 2001 "Dogtown and Z-Boys," which tells the same story of the rise of street skateboarding in non-fiction form. A. O. Scott disagrees, finding "Lords of Dogtown" "from start to finish…pretty much a blast," and speaking of an authentic feel to its construction. The LA Weekly‘s Scott Foundas is put off by the sense that the film,
which was scripted by Peralta, seems a movie made by an entirely different person â€” by someone looking at the material from the outside in, as though Peralta fed his own experience into some screenwriting software program that homogenized everything into threadbare clichÃ©s about the innocence of youth and the pressures of success.
The only saving grace, for him, is Heath Ledger‘s scene-stealing turn as the Z-Boys’ erratic, charismatic manager Skip Engblom, a performace A. O. Scott also admires (he suggests it’s "a demented tribute to Val Kilmer’s performance in ‘The Doors’").
Stephanie Zacharek, again with the hypersensitivity to obviousness, is irritated by director Catherine Hardwicke‘s heavy-handed means of showing how hard life was for the Z-Boys, growing up in SoCal poverty. But she’s entranced by a few sequences of beauty, particularly the scenes in which the boys sneak into the backyards of the wealthy to skate in their empty pools (the state being the midst of a drought): "The kids dip and swirl against these magnificent matte-blue surfaces, like empty bowls of sky. It’s a simple, effective metaphor, showing us how for them, skating equals freedom."