First Reformed — Review

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Ethan Hawke in a scene from Paul Schrader’s First Reformed

4Star

“One of the most pensive and unsparing films about faith in quite some time.”

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Gattaca — Review

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3Star

by Ken B.

So the setup to Gattaca is that sometime in the “not too distant future” (next Sunday A.D., I assume), medical science and technology have evolved to such a point where many parents choose to put together a designer baby – no diseases, perfect vision, athleticism, intelligence, whatever. Children formed through the natural biological process, undisturbed by computers, are seen as inferior, and are proven as highly susceptible to congenital errors. Vincent (Ethan Hawke) developed normally in his mother (Jayne Brook), and from the moment he is born we know everything: His lifespan will be very short, he’ll likely have a heart condition, he’ll have ADD, and likely have some kind of mental disorder. How do we know? A nurse simply takes a small drop of his blood, places it in a machine, and great rolls of paper with the results come spilling out instantly.

But as Vincent enters adulthood, he has high aspirations. Despite being extremely nearsighted and physically unimpressive (especially obvious in contrast with his brother Anton (Loren Dean)), he wants to go into space, but no one will let him on a mission with his physicality. The solution is to assume a new identity. An underground business sets him up with Jerome (Jude Law), a former professional swimmer who was crippled in an accident. He isolates and stores away bits of his DNA (blood, urine, hair, etc.) and Vincent is allowed to assume both Jerome’s identity and his physical data (at least in the eyes of computers). The goal is that the space organization, with whom he has a desk job, will choose him as part of a team for a one year space mission.

Writer/director Andrew Niccol has made one of the rarest things – a major sci-fi movie with a good intelligence, an intriguing concept carried deliberately, and room for viewers to think for themselves. The screenplay divides its assets well through the 106 minute runtime; Niccol recognizes that people won’t want too much of the romantic subplot between Vincent and Irene (Uma Thurman), but doesn’t undersell its existence or eventual factor in the story. The performances are alright, but not outstanding – Hawke, in the lead, is good for the most part, but a scene towards the end where he lashes out at his brother left me in a state of confused quasi-amusement. Law is the standout of the main cast, to be sure. Thurman is never given a lot of range. Gore Vidal and Ernest Borgnine have small roles in the movie, and it is always nice to see them. It was surprising to see Vidal’s name in the main credits, as the famous writer never did do a lot of acting (the iMDB says he’s only acted in 12 roles)

On the technical spectrum, besides the plot, the most interesting part of Gattaca is the visual style, which uses a lot of sleek architecture as the buildings of the future, as well as plenty of color filters that properly convey the uneasy and odd world the film is set in. However, the score by Michael Nyman is a bit monotonous and boring – there’s no variety or memorability to the compositions.

It’s always worth wondering where the line is for genetic modification. Certianly the technology can be put to brilliant use, removing illnesses and prenatal conditions, but is there an ethical limit when it comes to picking the color of your child’s eyes for no real reason? Gattaca may seem like some to be a fantasy story gone wrong, but maybe Niccol was writing out of fear. The proper knowledge is imminent, and the results, when misapplied, could be disastrous. Our differences and talents as they form are part of what makes human development feasible. With predetermined lives, what’s left?

Gattaca

Dead Poets Society – Review

by Bret W.

Since the mid- to late-eighties, there have been an increasing number of films that one could categorize as heartfelt, warm, and wonderful. For a while, it seemed like there was only one or two a year. Dead Poets Society is such a film. It makes the audience feel good about themselves and life in general just to know that they’ve seen such a story presented on the big screen. Peter Weir is a fantastic director who knows how to capture the essence of the little slices of life he presents for us, and he does it to near perfection in this offering.

The story opens on the beginning of a new school year at a preparatory school for boys. As the boys muddle through their beginning classes, they are swept along by the tide of the classes, the uncertainty of the schedules. When the boys arrive in John Keating’s English Poetry class, however, things suddenly change. Keating is animated and alive when discussing the poetry presented to the class. He talks more about what life is about than what the value of the poetry is. He shows them a new way of thinking and a new way of appreciating everything around them. Carpe Diem, he says, Seize the day!

The boys, in their admiration and desire to be more like Keating, discover that he was a student at the school and, looking at his old school annual, find he was a member of something called the Dead Poets Society, a secret group that met in the caves near campus and read poetry to each other. The boys start their own such group, and therein discover untapped courage and strength. Neil Perry decides to go against his father’s wishes and join a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Todd Anderson overcomes his fear of public speaking and finds untapped creativity inside himself. Knox Overstreet daringly pursues a girl he has fallen in love with, who is dating the captain of a public school football team.

All this courage and self discovery is not without a price, however, as they soon discover. Keating gave them the courage to follow their dreams, but in the end, his career was destroyed by an incident that the school, in needing someone to blame, decided was his fault. The boys, in a final gesture, show Keating that they still live by the example he gave them and will continue to appreciate all he has taught them, both in and out of the classroom.

This is more than a film about a poetry teacher. This film is poetry in the cinema, inspirational and touching, fluid in meter and perfect in rhyme and rhythm. The acting is exceptional, especially from Robin Williams who, like the Susan Lucci of film, was nominated but didn’t win the Oscar for his performance. It had always bothered me that Williams’ acting ability had never been properly recognized by the Academy. Alas, it would be another nine years before he finally won an Oscar for his supporting performance in Good Will Hunting.

Ethan Hawke is another standout in this film, as the shy and reserved Todd Anderson. We see a glimpse of what is to come in his acting chops with this film, and certainly the roles he plays after Dead Poets Society are increasingly passionate and emotional.

Dead Poets Society is a pick-me-up film, and one to be enjoyed again and again. Seize the day and see it soon.