Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Two DVDs: The Orphanage & American Gangster

I now own a portable DVD player with a 5" screen. It's not the best way to see a movie but I can use it whenever I want and don't have to fight with the family for the big TV. So I've watched a couple of DVDs lately. First, The Orphanage, a Spanish horror film/ghost story. It's about a woman who returns with her husband and adopted son to the orphanage where she lived as a child. They have purchased the building hoping to set up a home for "special" children. Early on, her son, who already has some imaginary friends, insists that he has met another child on the nearby beach. The new "friend" is not visible to the mother but the little boy insists that he exists and in fact, this "friend" sends the mother and son on a treasure hunt which ends with the boy yelling at his mother because the new "friend" had told him that he was adopted and that he was going to die (he has AIDS) and the parents hadn't told him this before. Later, at the opening party for the new home, the son goes missing. So begins the mother's quest to find her son and to save him from the ghosts that inhabit the old house. What I liked about the film is that it attempts to do more than provide cheap thrills. The connection between the mother and the ghost inhabitants was touching. The acting is good. The setting is beautiful, both the house and the beach. At one point they bring in a psychic played by Geraldine Chaplin. I haven't seen her in anything in a long time and it was nice to see her again. She looks so much like her father! But, what I didn't like about the film is that they didn't, or if they did I missed it, tell us what happened to the orphans that caused them to continue to haunt the orphanage. I watched the special features and in those they told what had become of the orphans, but I don't remember that scene being in the movie. For whatever reason, for me to believe in a ghost story I want to know what terrible thing happened to make the ghosts return to their place of death. Without this vital piece of information the film was a letdown to me. It just failed to draw me in to the story.
The second film I've watched lately was American Gangster. Yes, Denzel and Russell gave flawless performances but did that save the film for me? No. I looked at my watch 15 minutes into the movie and I'm still amazed that I made it to the end. Yes, it was a very well made movie but no, I just didn't care about any of the characters. I did enjoy seeing some familiar faces though. The wonderful Clarence Williams III (best known to me as Linc in the old Mod Squad TV show) played a short but key role in the film. I've always felt CWIII was an underutilised actor so it was great seeing him again. He has such a good face: strong and intelligent. The film also had the great Ruby Dee, Joe Morton, Josh Brolin, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Cuba Gooding Jr. and one of my personal favorites Kevin Corrigan (he's always such a good sleazeball!). I've never been a fan of gangster films and this didn't change my mind about them at all. For me, the film didn't have the suspense that Ridley Scott's films usually have. I was disappointed.
Both of these films get high marks in but for me they just didn't do anything. So tell me what you think. Let's talk.

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