Flash of Genius. Miracle at St. Anna and Religulous.
Flash of Genius
Directed by Marc Abraham
Reviewed by Sean Burns
Opens Fri., Oct. 3
Roger Ebert is fond of saying, "It doesn't matter what a movie is about, but how it is about it." I guess there's a lot of truth in that statement, as even a subject dubious as the insular world of competitive Donkey Kong was fodder for last year's enthralling documentary The King of Kong.
But on the other hand, director Marc Abraham's debut feature Flash of Genius follows a years-long patent dispute regarding the invention of the intermittent windshield-wiper motor.
It's not as exciting as it sounds.
Greg Kinnear stars as Bob Kearns, a fussy academic and devoted dad who saw his design for the precious windshield-wiper motor stolen by the Ford Motor Company, then spent the rest of his life fighting for credit.
Structured as a simplistic David and Goliath story, the movie follows plucky Bob wrangling with legal issues for years on end, immersing himself in Byzantine patent law precedents while his family falls apart, all building up to the inevitable courtroom theatrics as Kearns (naturally) acts as his own counsel.
By now you know the drill: Old adversaries make dramatic entrances halfway through the proceedings, then stand silently in the back waiting for their big moment to applaud on cue with the rest of the audience. You've seen this movie before. Everybody has.
It's befuddling that such banal material was ever considered worthy of big-screen treatment. Kearns is as bland a protagonist as one could imagine, and despite Kinnear's occasional attempts to hint at a darker side, it's all just too milquetoast for words. The usually vivacious Lauren Graham tamps down her charisma and sleepwalks through the long-suffering wife routine, and even dependable Dermot Mulroney flat-lines as Bob's Judas business partner.
The only pizzazz the movie gets is from an all too brief hambone turn from Alan Alda as a smooth-talking lawyer who seems to have wandered in from a far more engaging movie.
The only surprise is an end-credits revelation that the bleary, television-standard cinematography comes from Dante Spinotti, who previously shot Heat, L.A. Confidential and many more of the most sumptuous movies of recent years. Flash of Genius looks like something you'd find on the ABC Family Channel, which is probably where it belonged in the first place.
Miracle at St. Anna
Directed by Spike Lee
Reviewed by Matt Prigge
There's a price to pay for Spike Lee's genius. In order to get to singularly great ideas he's fated to plow, bravely and foolishly, through many singularly awful ideas.
When he's firing on all cylinders you get the freaky banner year of 2006, when he followed up Inside Man with When the Levees Broke. Of course, to get there Lee had to make 2004's She Hate Me, one of his unwieldy follies with too many characters, too many subplots, too many undernourished ideas, too little focus and much too much blaring from longtime composer Terrence Blanchard. (See also: Jungle Fever, Girl 6 and Summer of Sam.)
After 2006's double shot it was inevitable that Lee would backslide. And so he has with Miracle at St. Anna. The film opens in 1983 with a black veteran watching John Wayne in The Longest Day. "Pilgrim, we fought for this country, too," he mutters, laying the groundwork for what could very well be Glory for World War II. Turns out the underappreciated service of African-American soldiers is one of about 20 ideas banging around St. Anna's two and a half hours.
The basics involve a quartet of black soldiers (most prominently Derek Luke) who find themselves in a remote and labyrinthine Italian village. As German soldiers advance they befriend the villagers, enact a love triangle, get involved in the bloody business of Italian partisans and so on and so on and so on.