Sunday, January 18, 2004


This year has had its share of epic films. Huge, big-budget productions with every trick the contemporary cinema of attractions has on its palette. All of it is geared to one end - creative control.

So, a director is charged with creating and sustaining an emotional experience for masses of viewers. Everything in cinema - as entertainment- serves this goal. In so far as the audiences' emotions are engaged and held in a movie is the measure of whether the director is successful or not (as a cinema director...not necessarily as a moral man or a catholic storyteller....).

Budget and scope are irrelevant. This must drive studio executives nuts. But they never seem to learn. So, the $130 million dollar The Hulk had audiences yawning, and the $3 million dollar In Amerca, had the twenty-something, male, nose-pierced ticket-taker at the theater warning me and my friend, "Hope you feeling like crying."

More than anything, 2003 movies have made the case that, in cinema art, size doesn't matter. Rabbit Proof Fence, Whale-Rider, Spellbound, Lost in Translation, and now In America - all movies made for under $10 million are all better films than most of the studio films this year with budgets topping $50,000,000.

And when I say "better", I mean the smaller films delivered sustained emotional journeys

Back to In America... what a beautiful, positive, and surprisingly artistic film! Set in a tenement in a drug and crime infested neighborhood in NYC, the film is lovely and beautiful. Dealing with death, illness and poverty, the film is uplifting and inspiring. Without any stars to distract, the film delivers a carefully crafted ensemble performance from a wonderful group of talented actors. Directing and cinematography is artful in terms of imagery and composition. Most important for me, the script knows exactly what it is about from the very first scene. So, the very last scene provides the cathartic and intelligent denoument that is so missing in many movies that just seem to stop as opposed to ending.

In terms of the meaning of the film? Well, In America made me want to be kind.

Don't miss this one.

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