Capsules for 2006

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Capsule reviews for movies released in the U.S. in 2006. Includes all the movies of 2006 I've seen that I did not write a full review for.

The Painted Veil
Director: John Curran
Rating: 8/10
To be perfectly honest, I haven't seen many Merchant-Ivory films, but if I imagined them to be of a particular shape and style, The Painted Veil would resemble their lineage. Its period-piece production is about as handsome as can be, with all of the elements working to create a believable sense of place -- in this case, a cholera-ravaged village section of 1920's China. I don't find any one or two things particularly special about the movie to make it stand out so much other than my feeling that all of its parts run together so well -- it's an alluring, photographically sumptuous, character/story-driven film about flawed people who have made mistakes, move on to face a life-challenging situation in a foreign land, and eventually find dignity within themselves. The two main characters are convincingly portrayed by Edward Norton, channeling both personal bitterness and moral nobility equally well, and Naomi Watts, who reminds me once again of her great acting talents. Hers is a part acted from the inside out; to play a shallow character who uncovers the depth inside her, we have to be convinced that the character has the potential for that depth, and Watts is able to do that. She's smart but superficial, and her awakening doesn't come with epiphanies but with struggle and, ultimately, a willing perseverance. And perhaps that approach, the willingness to see people as ongoing storms of ever-changing and contradicting sides, speaks to what I find so appealing about the whole movie -- that, on top of its high production value, it's singularly about the inner journeys of these two characters, and the two actors who play them are well up to the task. Movies don't elicit sighs from me often, but for The Painted Veil I sigh. (added 12/19/2006; edited version featured at ReelTalk Movie Reviews)

The Pink Panther
Director: Shawn Levy
Rating: 3/10
The incongruence of Henry Mancini's jazzy theme song and the crudity of the movie's humor says it all. It's been a long time since I've seen any of the original Pink Panther movies (a series I'm not terribly fond of, although A Shot in the Dark was very funny), but I remember the comedy having the air of sophisticated buffoonery, underscored by the music, and given sublime life by Peter Sellers. His Inspector Clouseau played natural, held back enough at most times so that his most ridiculous feats would appear by comic surprise; by contrast, Steve Martin's version feels forceful, like if nothing stupid happens to him in a scene we should expect to feel disappointed. Martin, as we all know, has fine comic gifts, but he's doing a conscientious impersonation here -- just listen to the ridiculous French accent, which Sellers delivered with smooth, funny unassumingness and Martin draws attention with. The feeling extends to the whole of the movie, which feels more Naked Gun than Pink Panther, only even without Gun's knowing deadpan irony. There are a few inspired moments (like a Clive Owen cameo) but otherwise the new Pink Panther is self-conscious, as further demonstrated by the casting of Beyonce as an obvious against-type attempt to draw in a demographic that wouldn't normally come to see this movie. She's treated with an annoying out-of-place reverence, as if everyone is fair game for laughs except her. In Naked Gun, Priscilla Presley got to be the butt of plenty of jokes; here, Beyonce's butt is just for display. (added 2/9/2006)

The Proposition (2005; released in U.S. in 2006)
Director: John Hillcoat
Rating: 8/10
Director John Hillcoat and writer Nick Cave (of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds fame) deliver an Australian western without genre traditions in mind -- instead, their movie explores the complexities of moral relativity. Set in the harsh times before Australia was fully settled, the story features a fragile society barely clinging to civil order. It suggests that man is not so far away from beast, and what potentially sets him apart is his desire to lead a civilized life shaped by moral concerns. But how do you hang on to them in a land as rough as this, and does it bring redemption to your primal instincts in the end? The Proposition is shot with an eye for visuals and strangely applies a glossiness to its brutal setting; its violence is explosive in short bursts, and usually arrives only after some amount of brooding. The movie's an ambitious work that's also a bit of a navel-gazer, with some strong performances (particularly from Ray Winstone and Danny Huston) making the most of the limited screen time allotted to each character as the movie jumps to and fro amongst its several threads. (added 12/30/2006)

The Protector (2005; released in U.S. in 2006)
Director: Prachya Pinkaew
Rating: 6/10
The editing is wildly haphazard, the story continuity is a mess, and some of the photography is just terrible, but I'll be darned if the movie isn't fun. Martial artist Tony Jaa follows up Ong-Bak with this tale about a young Thai fighter trying to recover his stolen elephants; along the way, he ends up in Sydney and some other people get involved, including a Thai cop, an attractive young Thai woman, and a Chinese dragon lady who's the boss of some crime syndicate that never seems to run out of heavies. Oh, and there's corrupt police or something, too. How they all figure in matters little (and you might go crazy trying to make sense of it, anyway), so concentrate on the action and the fierce athleticism of Jaa. The Protector goes for some pretty ambitious (and some silly) set pieces, including a trio of fights in a sprinkler-flooded room with characters who I swear jumped out of a Tekken machine, but the most impressive of which is a one-continuous-take ascent of a spiral terrace, replete with thugs for Jaa to launch into all manners of breakable props. Some of the action pieces run the risk of wearing thin (late in the movie, Jaa shows us 101 ways to break various attackers' bones); contrasted with the variety of physical prowess displays in Ong-Bak, The Protector isn't quite as satisfying, yet I had enough fun watching it and I'll continue to look forward to more Tony Jaa flicks and their reverence of pure physical ability. (added 9/12/2006)

The Pursuit of Happyness
Director: Gabriele Muccino
Rating: 7/10
The Pursuit of Happyness might be one of those rare instances of a successful mainstream conservative story, although for the most part it appears to be shaped as a liberal critique of capitalism. Will Smith plays real-life Christopher Gardner of 1981, before he would go on to become the founder and CEO of a brokerage firm. The movie, named after Gardner's same-named autobiography, tells of the time he struggled -- broke, homeless, and with only his son in tow -- as a salesman of a novelty medical gizmo while also interning at stock firm Dean Witter, where one of about 20 is selected to stay full-time at the end of each 6-month program. While chasing the American dream, Gardner is bounced all over the place due to lack of cash, and, when his sales merchandise gets occasionally stolen with his son looking on as they move about the city, the movie actually has shades of the Italian classic The Bicycle Thief. However, Happyness (incidentally also directed by an Italian, Gabriele Muccino) doesn't end like the old De Sica film, and as such it's instantly classifiable as an opposite spirit: an example of how hard work and perseverence can pay off in the land of opportunity. Leaving it at that might feel a bit disingenuous, though -- the other ingredient to success that can't be ignored is ability (as Gardner's scenes with a Rubik's Cube demonstrate). The movie thus comes off as a polished illustration of positive conservative values, but clearly its main concern is to simply tell an amazing story of hardship that leads to success, and it mainly works due to a reliably good Will Smith performance as a tired, determined, and nearly desperate struggler. It's one of those one-man-show movies, practically a vanity project, but Smith continues to employ his charisma and natural ability to earn empathy well and shows why he is one of our few current movie stars with real staying power -- if he keeps this up, he could legitimately claim to be this decade's successor to Tom Hanks. (added 12/14/2006; edited version featured at ReelTalk Movie Reviews)

Rocky Balboa
Director: Sylvester Stallone
Rating: 7/10
Effectively starting the trend of bringing back '80's franchises for 20-years-later sequels featuring old-timers who aren't yet ready to be old, Rocky Balboa provided the best general template: play up the nostalgia and stick to formula. This one begins very sadly, as we learn Adrian has passed and Rocky (Sylvester Stallone -- writer, director, and star), now an affable restaurant owner back in the Philly area he grew up in, spends most of his time missing the heck out of her. In search of meaning, inspiration, and family to fill the gap, he tries to reconnect with his adult son (Milo Ventimiglia) while befriending a one-time neighborhood bad girl, Marie (Geraldine Hughes), and her teenage son. Pretty soon, though, the ring comes a-callin' when unpopular current heavyweight champ Mason "The Line" Dixon (Antonio Tarver -- and by the way, where do they come up with these names?) loses to Rocky in a computer-simulated match on ESPN. His promoters want to set up a real match for exhibition, so can the fulfillment-starved Rocky resist? Rocky Balboa somehow manages to dance around the improbability of its premise -- Rocky must be around 60, but he applies for his boxing license, gets rejected, and then makes a heartfelt speech which turns the board around; then, when he trains, he looks as if he's in the best shape of his life. I would've liked to see at least a few grey hairs showing to acknowledge how up there he is, but aside from that, the nostalgia of rooting for Rocky absolutely works -- the obligatory training montage is practically an ode to the entire series, and pretty soon I'm leaning forward in anticipation of the fight. With Rocky Balboa, the Rocky series goes full circle and completes the tale of one of the most charming champion underdog characters in cinema with a smile and a tear. It's then capped off by a grin-inducing credits sequence. Note to any other would-be franchise revivalists -- consult Stallone. (added 1/25/2010)

Running with Scissors
Director: Ryan Murphy
Rating: 4/10
The movie adaptation of Augusten Burroughs's memoir of the same title, Running with Scissors, is indeed the harrowing trip down memory lane that it promises to be, but perhaps not in the kindest way. Under the care of his emotionally volatile mother Deirdre (Annette Bening), Augusten (Joseph Cross) is later left to live with their loony psychiatrist Dr. Finch (Brian Cox) and his wacky household; meanwhile, under the influence of Finch and his pills, Dierdre degenerates into a sad shell of a woman. Yet sympathy runs on short supply here, as the characters overload viewers with their psychoses. It's rather amusing for about the first 20 to 30 minutes, but gets old soon enough as the film assaults you with an in-your-face hysteria. In the end, what is it for? The movie adopts a rather smug tone about its characters, as if we're meant to either chuckle or recoil in horror at them. It's reflected in director Ryan Murphy's admittedly creative shots, color-coordinated and full of '70's kitsch (but unfortunately scored to the point of oppressiveness with banal period pop hits) -- yes, it's a frightening fantasy of memory, but it's all so cute and done up that we have no choice but to concede that we're watching characters who are less real flesh and more collages of eccentricities. Performances are what usually give such characters humanity and weight, yet though all the actors are game here, none of them can escape the caricatural corners to where they've been forced. Bening will deserve whatever praise she gets for bringing patches of sympathy to her unsympathetic character, but that's about as much as I'll say about it; I've admitted before that I don't care much for portrayals of hysterical women because I find them demeaning. All of these people are depicted as figures to escape from, and this is obvious from the beginning, yet we wait all movie for Augusten, portrayed as sensible throughout, to finally do the obvious thing. In depicting a nightmare from which someone emerging intact is cause for amazement, the movie does its job; but I'm not comfortable with how flippantly the film leaves its bodies behind in the process. (added 10/20/2006; edited version featured at ReelTalk Movie Reviews)

Director: Woody Allen
Rating: 7/10
Woody Allen's second collaboration with actress Scarlett Johansson (and second film using London as a backdrop) is, unlike Match Point, a comedy in his more traditional vein. Scoop, a whimsical little story about a U.S. journalist student (Johansson) rather randomly teaming up with a skittish magician (Allen) to investigate a lead on the possible identity of a serial killer, is quite unassuming, practically admitting its own disposability, but it's cute and fun while it lasts. Entertainment comes from being amused by watching Allen and Johansson interact, with Johansson fully adopting a patented Allen neurotic lead persona; she doesn't pull it off effortlessly, but this change of pace from her usually more serious characters is a welcome glimpse at her playful side. Allen, meanwhile, is doing his thing, and he can still be quite funny. The movie adds humor with a supernatural side -- death and ghosts are all part of the joke here, with Allen still finding comedy in morbid places. (added 7/27/2006)

The Sentinel
Director: Clark Johnson
Rating: 6/10
Call it the movie starring people who are a bit overdue for being featured in a movie -- no one's seen Michael Douglas since 2003; Kim Basinger wasn't in anything last year; this might be considered Eva Longoria's first high profile big screen appearance; and Kiefer Sutherland's been sighted more often revitalizing his career on the hit TV show 24. At first glance, The Sentinel also looks like "24: The Movie," what with Sutherland walking around with gun drawn in a plot involving protecting the president from assassination, but the main character here is really Douglas's character. Just the same, all eyes on Kiefer -- it practically amounts to a second-life screen test for him, seeing how his 24 character Jack Bauer might look in a theater, setting up for the possibility of a real "24: The Movie." Sure enough, Sutherland is in Jack Bauer-lite mode, barely having to change acting gears, and is engaging enough. The movie itself is all muscle, little thought, zooming through its chase plot as if it were on a runaway wagon; it's decent, but nothing special, as an entertaining time killer and as a kind of ode to the U.S. Secret Service. All right, enough of that -- shall we bring on Jack? (added 4/20/2006)

Shakespeare Behind Bars
Director: Hank Rogerson
Rating: 8/10
It would be enough to appreciate Shakespeare Behind Bars for what it is: a documentary about a prison program in which inmates meet to rehearse putting on a Shakespeare play. The movie focuses on one Kentucky prison troupe's preparation for production over the course of a year, and there's more than enough fascination and insight to be gained in getting to know the performers, learning of their crimes (most of which are murders), hearing about their wills to find self-forgiveness and redemption, and even discussing how Shakespeare's works are significant to them. What caught me more by surprise, though, was how it presented an image of prison far different than the one that's been popularized by TV and the movies. Surrounded by a media all too eager to show prisons as dangerous, isolated worlds, with their gangster cliques and sadistic wardens, I found this documentary to be sobering, even optimistic. It's heartening to know programs exist that do make an honest attempt at reform, and while Shakespeare Behind Bars doesn't make the mistake of only offering a rosy view of the situation -- some of the inmates who sound quite resolved and dedicated end up getting transferred or put into solitary confinement for bad behavior, and others are denied parole despite what seems to be very good behavior -- it at least lets us know that there are attempts at progressiveness at work, and that there are prisoners who are genuinely receptive to it. Finally, it's a reminder that being human means being complex -- there should never be any one way of reading a person because we are all capable of so much, both good and bad. (added 8/10/2006)

She's the Man
Director: Andy Fickman
Rating: 7/10
Updating Shakespeare's Twelfth Night for the high school set sounds like quite a stretch to make, and She's the Man proves that it is. However, the filmmakers took the correct route of not taking this premise (about a girl pretending to be a boy) seriously, so the movie winds up being unexpectedly and endearingly goofy. The tone is set mostly by Amanda Bynes tackling the role of Viola (for the most part, the movie retains the names from the play, even naming the "Duke Orsino" character as someone with the first name "Duke," last name "Orsino") as essentially a sketch character. Simply put, there is no way she's really believable as a teenage boy, and the movie knows it, so she plays the role as one of those comic creations that stands out to a movie audience while the people in the movie are relatively oblivious to it. In other words, the humor comes from her doing a bad impersonation of a guy, yet one that nobody notices. The schtick does run the risk of getting old, which is a symptom of any sketch character-based movie, but Bynes's genuine comic energy -- with which gives her the air of being a performer, not a star on camera -- is what keeps it going. The whole thing exhibits more of the kind of well-meaning silliness that Legally Blonde was equipped with yet held a bit back on (a valid comparison, as both were written in whole or in part by Karen McCullah Lutz and Kirsten Smith), while still trumpeting today's popular calls of grrl-power. (added 3/16/2006)

Director: James Gunn
Rating: 7/10
Troma alumnus James Gunn should stay away from writing crap like the Scooby-Doo movies and stick with sick-and-twisted horror -- he penned the Zack Snyder remake of Dawn of the Dead, and now delivers his first feature film, Slither, as writer/director. The movie's a horror-comedy somewhat in the vein of Tremors, and it's also an everloving non-stop homage to the horror movie genre. Movie geeks who get their kicks from reference-spotting should have a field day with this one. The nice thing about Slither is that, even without all the references, it's a pretty fun movie that makes good on laughs and gory gross-outs. Its self-awareness forces it to be a bit lacking in the kind of thematic stuff that might really hit home and stay with you, thus turning the picture into an efficiently lighthearted affair. That said, it still offers a bit of subversion in regards to the thin line between redneck behavior and primal zombie instincts -- there's at least some stuff to chew on to go along with your bloody raw meat. (added 12/3/2006)

Snakes on a Plane
Director: David R. Ellis
Rating: 7/10
Years and years from now, will people find out about Snakes on a Plane and not have any idea that, at the time of its release, it was accompanied by a large and largely unexpected internet-fueled hype? The story of how net fans fell in love with the movie's title and potential for B-movie cheesiness may indeed be the movie's most trumpeted legacy, more so than the actual movie itself. Truth be told, Snakes on a Plane is what it is -- a quick and dirty little high-concept thriller (starring the actor of the people, Samuel L. Jackson) which was probably produced in the first place to make a fast buck in genre space-filler territory. All together, it's pretty fun and takes advantage of its goofy premise in every way it can; I was surprised at how much mileage it really could milk from snakes on a plane. And yet its overall approach is a relatively modest one -- initially not meant to be ironic, the production was affected by the postmodern cries of the internet denizens, so it conspicuously shoehorned in a few moments of self-aware silliness. That and the already built-in humor of some scenes and characters (intentional or not) just made the whole thing feel rather non-committal in tone, a straight-played movie with satirical spikes here and there. In any case, I really don't envy the position this movie found itself in; it became a victim of our decade's overflowing postmodernism, the center of a vortex where irony has imploded upon itself. In other words, should it be played straight, self-aware, serious, campy, or all of the above? After the life its pre-release build-up took on, there was no correct answer anymore. No movie deserves that. But there we have it -- Snakes on a Plane will always have an external story greater than its actual core, and lessons will doubtlessly be learned from the results of this impromptu experiment for years to come. (added 8/24/2006)

This Film Is Not Yet Rated
Director: Kirby Dick
Rating: 8/10
I shed no tears for the MPAA, so I got a certain amount of schadenfreude watching This Film Is Not Yet Rated. This is Kirby Dick's pull-the-curtain documentary on the mysterious movie-rating institution, and it's a rather funny meta-twister that actually includes coverage of the process of getting this very film rated. Dick gleefully skewers the current and historical inconsistencies and hypocrisies of the organization and its leaders, particularly Jack Valenti; his main charge is that the ratings system is a form of censorship imposed upon filmmakers, who often must edit their artistic visions in the hopes of getting a non-NC-17 rating so that their films actually have a chance of getting distributed and exhibited by the middlemen standing between them and the discerning viewing public. It's entertaining enough, but may only really be educational to those who've never given a thought to where those ratings come from; for those who know something about the industry, hardly anything here is a real shocker. Dick also pays too much attention to the infernal process of rating the films, following around the secret ratings board members with private detectives and pointing out contradictions, and not quite enough on the bigger picture of the MPAA as a self-sustaining political wheel spinner and image machine. Sadly, Dick's focus on the petty details runs the risk of trivializing his (justified) overall gripe; luckily, it still deals out a decent amount of damage to its target such that his movie becomes a handy summary piece for many of the complaints about the MPAA over the years. (added 10/13/2006)

Three Times (2005; released in U.S. in 2006)
Directors: Hou Hsiao-Hsien
Rating: 9/10
The more Hou Hsiao-Hsien movies I see, the more I admire the way he is able to make a movie his way without somehow caving in to populist concerns. Even Stanley Kubrick once said that he wished he could make a film as popular as those by Steven Spielberg, but I can't imagine Hou going anywhere near a notion like that. He makes movies to observe, explore, study, and record -- average Joe won't find traditional "entertainment" here, but if he's patient and open-minded enough he might find something more rewarding. In the case of Three Times (or its literal translated title, "The Best of Times"), Hou examines and contrasts the challenges of romantic coupling using three different time periods, using the same two lead actors for each story (Shu Qi and Chang Chen). It starts in 1966 with an idealistic, soft-spoken valentine of a pursuit; the middle tale is a 1911 tale about a love that can not be between a courtesan and an activist brothel client, charmingly presented as a color silent movie (complete with speech cards!); and the final one takes place in 2005, almost too predictably about how today's callous youth can't make any real lasting connections despite being ironically surrounded by instant communication technology. Both Shu and Chang shine throughout, each playing three different characters so believably you might forget they're the same actors. Naturally, all of this is done with Hou's most important character -- the country of Taiwan -- as support. His work gains significance due to his specifically tying this theme of love to Taiwan in particular, as opposed to just proposing a general essay on love -- it creates a meaningful context from which the events are naturally set forth. Always, Hou reminds us that cultural, political, and regional (location and time) specificity is an essential ingredient to contextualizing, and thus imagining and fully understanding, any local history. (added 12/3/2006)

The U.S. vs. John Lennon
Directors: David Leaf and John Scheinfeld
Rating: 6/10
As a big John Lennon fan, I was looking forward to seeing this documentary, but was disappointed by its relative simplicity in scope and presentation. The movie covers the part of John Lennon's life as a peace activist in the late '60's and early '70's, while trying to introduce a little element of paranoia by revealing that, during the first years of his stay in the U.S., the government was secretly keeping tabs on him. However, the revelation doesn't feel like much of a revelation at all (it was the Nixon administration, after all), and the film spends much time covering the events leading up to it (the various, unusual methods he and his wife Yoko Ono employed to speak out against war, and the company they kept) and the aftermath of it (their battle with U.S. immigration services, which tried to have them deported), most of which isn't terribly unfamiliar to the Lennon fatihful. The amount of information on display here is broader than it is deep, and much of it are songs we already know, literally and figuratively. The movie works as a summary or reminder piece, a paean to both Lennon's political expressions and the fermenting consciousness of the '70's youth-driven peace movement. Mostly a parade of archive footage and some fascinating talking heads (among them Walter Cronkite and Black Panthers co-founder Bobby Seale), the film seems content with being a time capsule piece that could've been made anytime -- it unfortunately misses a chance to create a relevance to the timing of its production and release, coming out at a time when the U.S. is again in the midst of a questionable war (there is one rather random, offhanded comparison of Bush to Nixon). Rather, its connection to our times is circumstantial, which indirectly blunts both the significance and the timing of delivering Lennon's messages of peace afresh. (added 9/14/2006)

Director: Roger Michell
Rating: 7/10
Venus, a caustically humorous little film, contains the somewhat grating element that it plays like a tribute and career eulogy to its still-living main star Peter O'Toole. I believe if the main character, an aging actor named Maurice, was originally written without O'Toole in mind, he has nonetheless been morphed to become his alter ego. Of course, this is not an unlikely occurrence in the land of filmmaking, but here it's been set up to show off all of O'Toole's best qualities in what feels like a thinly-disguised bid for awards (O'Toole received an honorary Oscar in 2003 for his body of work and declared that he still had the ability to earn a regular one). But this is admittedly an external distraction; viewed years from now, who will know the difference? What the viewer will get is a story about how the mind doesn't necessarily age along with the body; how the elderly's methods of harnessing and channeling youthful desires contrasts with the careless methods of the youths; and, as a result, how youth can seem wasted on the youthful. Maurice is a young man in a dying body, wiser yet perhaps not closer to any eternal truths than he might've been decades ago, and still focused on immediate concerns, like making the most of his newfound attraction to his friend's young grandniece (Jodie Whittaker), a rough-edged girl who consequently forms a peculiar symbiotic relationship with the actor. Within this shamelessly but cautiously lecherous Shakespeare-quoting rascal lies O'Toole himself, proudly not ready to surrender to his own career twilight and the onset of his winter years. He puts on a show good enough to overshadow the surface appearance of using the movie to make just that kind of statement. (added 12/20/2006; edited version featured at ReelTalk Movie Reviews)

Who Killed the Electric Car?
Director: Chris Paine
Rating: 8/10
OK, so I had no idea that this even happened to the EV-1, the electric car that made its debut in the mid-'90s. Like many people, I just thought they disappeared because they didn't catch on, but this movie is here to reveal that it was a job worthy enough for Sam Spade to uncover. Who Killed the Electric Car? works as a companion piece to An Inconvenient Truth, putting the raw, shortsighted ignorance of protective corporate and government interests so ugly on display you'll wonder if there's any hope for us as a people. Naturally, the movie isn't shy about stacking the deck in its case against the environmentally ignorant, but, frankly, it doesn't have to do that much work -- the path leading to the death of the vehicle follows a sad, perverse logic even as the actions taken to pave it defy common sense logic (General Motors wouldn't even allow anyone who wanted one to buy and keep one). Neatly put-together and presented, Electric Car is this year's Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (whose director, Alex Gibney, is credited here as a "consulting producer") -- an investigatory exposť on callous, myopic corporate greed. (added 7/6/2006)

Director: Patrick Creadon
Rating: 7/10
Wordplay is another documentary about a niche society, and as such gains attention from how much insight and fascination it can impart about its subject. In this case, it's about, specifically, the New York Times crossword puzzle, famed for being the most challenging of current regularly-generated crossword puzzles, and its creators and avid players. Wordplay does a good job of giving us an inside tour of this world -- we gain some idea of how challenging it is to put the crosswords together and maintain their integrity; it features some idiosyncratic players but never makes fun of them; and it even includes celebrities -- ones you might not have suspected are crossword addicts -- talking about their enthusiasm. The movie culminates in the latest of an annual tournament, where the featured players race each other to solve New York Times crosswords in the shortest amount of time. Though entertaining and engaging, nothing truly surprising occurs in Wordplay. If the movie emphasizes anything, it affirms that common-interest societies like this -- strewn about the U.S. (and, perhaps, the world) -- all survive by sharing the traits of community, devotion, and mutual dedication. At their most basic, they fulfill the simple human needs to be active, be challenged, and belong. Wordplay presents the warmth of one such successful community, thereby positively reflecting their experiences. (added 4/9/2010; edited version featured at ReelTalk Movie Reviews)

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©Jeffrey Chen, 2006

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