Love vs. gravity in charming, implausible sci-fi romance, 'Upside Down'
If Upside Down were in print, it would be an outline, not a complete novel. The grand sweep of the story is there, the big, climactic scenes are all plotted out exactly where they should be, and marvelous, fanciful, poetic images decorate key passages. What's missing from Juan Solanas' ambitious, interplanetary sci-fi romance are the details—the solid conceptual underpinning that would make it all plausible, and a final polish on the dialogue that would bring the characters and their unique story to life.
Authentic girls' voices highlight coming-of-age drama 'Ginger & Rosa'
Just in time for the end of Women's History Month comes Sally Potter's thoughtful and involving Ginger & Rosa. Very much a "woman's movie," with its emotional, relationship-driven storyline, it also has a distinct historical setting—London in 1962, during the Cuban Missile Crisis—as the backdrop before which its two teenage protagonists struggle to come of age. And while the plot may seem a bit far-fetched at times, there's something so touching about the authenticity of these young female voices and their nameless, formless yearning that will speak to anyone who has ever been a 17-year-old girl.
Ideas vs melodrama in meandering beat odyssey 'On the Road'
There are about 45 minutes of a great movie in Walter Salles' adaptation of On the Road, the thinly fictionalized Jack Kerouac novel/memoir that helped define the beat generation of the early 1950s. These occur mainly at the beginning of the film, informed by the writer protagonist's narration, when the characters are first meeting up and hanging out, pinging ideas, dreams, and creative energy off of each other like random electrical charges, and in the final reflective scenes, when the writer lets go of his last illusions and starts hammering out Kerouac's spontaneous "bop" prose on the typewriter.
Despite dubious plotting, Disney's 'Oz' a mostly entertaining trip
How did the Witch of the West get so wicked? If you know Gregory Maguire's novel, “Wicked,” or the stage musical, you know one version of the story of the magical land of Oz before Dorothy touched down in her flying house. And now that the Disney corporation is buying up the rights to every fantasy property ever conceived (from the Pixar animation studio to the Star Wars universe), it's offering its own take on the material in the lavish Oz the Great and Powerful, which imagines the witches and the wizard of Oz in their heedless youth.
East German doctors strive for freedom, conscience in thoughtful 'Barbara'
Grand heroic dramas are often made about the quest for freedom in a time and place of political repression. At first glance, it looks like the German film, Barbara, is going to be one of them. Set in the last decade under Communist rule in East Germany before the fall of the Berlin Wall, the story concerns a sophisticated female doctor from Berlin banished to a backwoods country hospital for political reasons. But as it plays out, this quiet, personal, deftly nuanced little drama turns into something far more affecting than the expected political thriller.
Siberian fortitude highlights fascinating Russian doc, 'Happy People'
If you've seen Grizzly Man and Encounters at the End of the World, then you know what German filmmaker Werner Herzog thinks about the terrible, unforgiving grandeur of Nature. So it's interesting that he's chosen to sponsor Happy People: A Year in the Taiga, a Russian-made documentary about hardy villagers eking out an existence as their families have done for generations on the edge of the (mostly) frozen Siberian wilderness (called the "taiga"). The original version was a four-hour documentary for Russian TV by filmmaker Dmitry Vasyukov; Herzog has edited the footage down to a fleet 90 minutes and added his own inimitable voice-over narration to bring the film to a wider audience.