Stranger Than Fiction
"Blood Diamond" is set in Sierra Leone in 1999 as civil war rages. Leonardo DiCaprio plays Danny Archer, an amoral mercenary who smuggles diamonds out of the country for a powerful diamond conglomerate. Solomon (Djimon Hounsou) is a simple local black man determined to find the family from which he's been separated. Captured by the rebel army and forced to labor in the diamond mines, Solomon finds and subsequently hides an enormous pink stone. Maddy (Jennifer Connelly) is an idealistic American journalist hoping to break a story about the illegally bought and sold diamonds, used to finance the ongoing conflict. "Blood Diamond" is a good but not particularly great film. Although DiCaprio and particularly Hounsou are enjoyable to watch, director Ed Zwick relies on a few too many conventional Holly-wood plot devices (unlike "A Constant Gardener," a far better film in a similar setting). But what I liked about "Blood Diamond" is that it's a mainstream movie which draws attention to the downside of globalization, namely the interconnectedness of consumer decisions with bloody conflict in Sierra Leone. More than just entertainment, the film puts Hollywood's enormous media power to worthwhile use. If only more mainstream films could be this ambitious
1/2( Sherwin Das )
"Blood Diamond" may be a well-intentioned film but it is also a thoroughly manipulative piece of work. Once again, Africa is portrayed as a God-forsaken hell-hole, complete with child soldiers, amputated limbs, machete-wielding militia and, of course, some stunning landscapes. Director Edward Zwick would appear to be on a moral mission to expose the diamond industry's practice of selling illegally sourced stones. No problem with that, but he's also on a studio mission to make a cracking piece of entertainment. Leonardo DiCaprio plays Danny Archer, a mercenary in search of a priceless stone to buy his way out of trouble and out of Africa. Djimon Hounsou plays Solomon Vandy, a noble fisherman and father who loses his family to rebel forces and is then forced to work in the diamond mines where he discovers the priceless rock. Jennifer Connelly is Maddy Bowen, a jaded journalist trying to expose the diamond industry. So far, so preposterously black and white. The film is set in Sierra Leone, whose recent civil war did indeed see some shocking atrocitities. But I couldn't help squirming at how emotionally exploitative the story was of its subject matter. All in all, "Blood Diamond" is a slick five-Carat piece of Hollywood. Cut.
1/2 ( Tim Ochser )
Stranger Than Fiction
"Stranger than Fiction" has a clever concept. Harold Crick (Will Ferrell) is an ordinary IRS agent with a humdrum life who occasionally hears a strange voice. He soon develops the vague idea that he's the protagonist in a story and that this mysterious voice is the narrator. When the voice mentions his imminent death, Harold desperately seeks the assistance of Dr. Hilbert (Dustin Hoffman), an eccentric literature professor. Meanwhile, Kay Eiffel, portrayed brilliantly by Emma Thompson, is a nervous, chain-smoking novelist who's battling a severe case of writer's block. Kay cannot figure out how to kill her protagonist, Harold Crick, at the end of her new book. Thus, the absurd and ingenious premise of "Stranger Than Fiction" is Harold trying to prevent his literary death. The storyline was more than enough to keep me pleasantly intrigued. This is a quirky, artful film which defies categorization and isn't for mass audiences. It's a comedy in which there are no gags and where comic star Will Ferrell plays a dramatic role. Humor springs from the irony and absurdity of the situations which unfold. I liked this movie quite a bit. Here, one medium (film) takes another (literature) on a playful joyride
( Sherwin Das )
This delightful and unusually intelligent film had me enthralled from start to finish. Harold Crick (Will Ferrell) is an IRS auditor with no friends and not much of a life to speak of. One day, while brushing his teeth and carefully counting his brush strokes as usual, he suddenly hears the voice of Kay Eiffel (Emma Thompson) narrating his actions. It transpires that Kay is writing a book about Harold and intends to kill him off at the end, but only after giving him a brief and uncharacteristic taste of happiness. So when Harold falls in love with the charming Anna Pascal (Maggie Gyllenhall), he sets out to track down the reclusive author to try and persuade her to spare his life. "Stranger Than Fiction" covers very similar ground to Charlie Kaufman ("Adaptation," "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind") but does so with more warmth and compassion. The story within a story works perfectly as a meditation on narrative structure because it doesn't lapse into whimsy or self-indulgence at any point. The excellent Will Ferrell keeps his performance just on the right side of caricature, while actrice Maggie Gyllenall shines in her role as the tax-dodging baker.
( Tim Ochser )