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Movie review

  • 2006-10-25
Little Miss Sunshine
Children of Men

Little Miss Sunshine
Little Miss Sunshine is about the dysfunctional Hoover family headed by misguided dad Richard (Greg Kinnear) and bickering wife Sheryl (Toni Collette). Other family members include sharp-tongued Grandpa (Alan Arkin) who was kicked out of his retirement home for heroin use, brother Frank (Steve Carell) a gay academic who's just coming off a failed suicide attempt, morose son Dwayne (Paul Dano) who hasn't spoken in nine months and irrepressibly adorable daughter Olive (Abigail Breslin), the pint-sized star of the film. When Olive is accepted into the Little Miss Sunshine beauty pageant, the family takes a road trip in an old VW bus from New Mexico to California, and, as you might expect, emotional catharses ensue. Little Miss Sunshine is a decent attempt from first-time filmmakers at bittersweet family comedy. Foul-mouthed Grandpa has most of the movie's best lines including one in which he advises his grandson to "fuck as many women as possible." However, there are too many scenes here where family members gush at the moments you expect them to, and the attempts at quirkiness feel like you've seen them before. I also tend to think that building a movie around an extremely cute kid is a bit of a cheap trick.
1/2 ( Sherwin Das )

Dysfunc-tional families are a common theme among American independent filmmakers but I've rarely seen it done as well as with "Little Miss Sunshine." The story is basically a classic cross-country road trip. When seven-year-old Olive Hoover (Abigail Breslin) is selected as a finalist in the Little Miss Sunshine beauty pageant in California, her whole family drives out there in a rundown VW camper van. There's the heroin-using, porn-loving grandfather, the father who is obsessed with his nine-step program to become a winner, the flustered mother (excellently played by Toni Collette), the sullen son who has taken a vow of silence and finally uncle Frank (Steve Carell), the renowned Proust scholar and failed suicide. What really sets Little Miss Sunshine apart from countless other films on the same theme is its refusal to resort to whimsy. The characters all verge on outright caricature but they are so lovingly played by the excellent cast that you can't help but empathize with them. Abigail Breslin's performance in particular is one of the most moving things I've seen for years. The culminating beauty pageant scene is also quite brilliant. It's so horribly ambiguous that my face simply didn't know what to do with itself. 
( Tim Ochser )

Children of Men
Based on a P.D. James novel, Children of Men takes us to a future in which humans have lost the ability to reproduce. The imminent demise of the race has led to an apocalyptic world devoid of hope. In Britain, a repressive xenophobic state hunts down illegal immigrants while a misguided pro-immigrant activist group called The Fish plots an uprising. Theodore Faron (Clive Owen), a washed up former activist, is recruited to smuggle some people across the border. He learns that one of them, a young black woman named Kee (Claire-Hope Ashitey), is miraculously pregnant. Faron must protect her from The Fish, who plan to use her to ignite their uprising, and get her safely onto a boat called Tomorrow where scientists are working to save the human race. Children of Men reeks of someone trying extremely hard to make an important film. The movie blends achingly dramatic dialogue with a hodgepodge of heavy-handed symbols and unsubtle contemporary references. In one refugee camp, unsympathetic government authorities strip down, hood, and terrorize Muslim immigrants with dogs recalling the scandals at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib a little too obviously. Kee eventually gives birth to a girl, signifying, I suppose, the end of the era of the white, male savior. The film itself needs to be saved from its own thick layer of political correctness.
1/2 (Sherwin Das )

It's London, 2027. People can no longer procreate and the whole world is in absolute chaos. Immigrants are being rounded up and kept in concentration-camp style enclosures and terrorist bombs have become a familiar feature of daily life in the grim urban landscape. Theo Faron (Clive Owen) is understandably miserable, like everyone else. But when his militant ex-girlfriend Julian (Julienne Moore) contacts him to help obtain transit papers for a pregnant woman called Kee (Claire-Hope Ashitey), he ends up having to take care of her and risks his life trying to smuggle her out of the country. "Children of Men" is a horribly plausible vision of the near-future. There's no need for towering skyscrapers or futuristic monorails to make this future seem more credible: it's a future already in the making. Although the story doesn't clearly explain why humanity has become impotent (the past is revealed through newspaper cuttings), there is every reason to believe that such social chaos would lead to a brutal police state in which human rights would be the first thing to go. Clive Owen is outstanding as Faron, while Michael Caine gives a moving performance as a kindly, dope-smoking hippy. A riveting film in almost every respect.
( Tim Ochser )
 

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