Three Dramas from Lionsgate
Akeelah and the Bee (August 27/06)
While there's certainly plenty within Akeelah and the Bee worth admiring, the inclusion of a cliched, shamelessly manipulative vibe ultimately ensures that the film never quite becomes anything more than a sporadically engaging drama. The story revolves around the efforts of an English professor (Laurence Fishburne) to coach a promising young girl (Keke Palmer) to victory at the National Spelling Bee, much to the chagrin of the girl's mother and friends. Writer/director Doug Atchison has infused Akeelah and the Bee with a slick, overly polished sense of style that's generally more of a distraction than anything else; there's simply no authenticity to any of this, despite the best efforts of talented performers such as Fishburne, Palmer, and Angela Bassett (the latter, in particular, is unable to escape the confines of her broadly-written, distinctly over-the-top caricature of a character). And yet, in terms of its feel-good qualities, Akeelah and the Bee undoubtedly succeeds; with its genuinely suspenseful climactic showdown at the Bee, the film finally becomes the sort of uplifting, inspirational piece of work that Atchison desperately wants it to be. But it seems clear that viewers would be far better off with the 2002 documentary Spellbound, which far more effective and flat-out compelling in virtually every way imaginable.
The Apartment (October 24/06)
It's interesting to note that both The Apartment and its American remake Wicker Park suffer from precisely the same sort of problems, although - admittedly - at least this version isn't saddled with a lead performance from the notoriously stiff Josh Hartnett. The almost absurdly complex storyline revolves around the tangled love lives of several 20-something characters, including Vincent Cassel's Max, Romane Bohringer's Alice, and Monica Bellucci's Lisa. With its distinctly Hitchcockian sense of style and labyrinthine structure, The Apartment is - more often than not - more intriguing in terms of its technical attributes than anything else. The convoluted plot ensures that the viewer is kept at arm's length throughout the film's 116 minute running time, and although everything comes together fairly well in the third act, the overly deliberate pace and seemingly aimless vibe make it difficult to actually care once that happens. That being said, there's no denying the effectiveness of the performances and the film does seem as though it'd improve on repeat viewings - yet in terms of its ability to make any kind of emotional impact on the viewer, The Apartment (surprisingly enough) fares worse than its successor.
Two Family House (November 17/06)
Low key yet utterly charming, Two Family House revolves around the exploits of Buddy Visalo (Michael Rispoli) - a circa 1950s dreamer who strikes up an unlikely (and controversial) friendship with single mother Mary O'Neary (Kelly Macdonald). Written and directed by Raymond De Felitta, the film moves at an expectedly deliberate pace and it consequently doesn't take long for the various characters to become figures worth caring about. Rispoli and Macdonald are absolutely superb in their respective roles, and De Felitta does a nice job of filling the screen with a whole host of engaging supporting characters. The director doesn't fare quite as well in terms of the film's storyline, which is thoroughly predictable virtually from start to finish - particularly with regards to Buddy's crumbling relationship with his shrill wife (played by Kathrine Narducci). There comes a certain point at which the viewer can't help but wish that Buddy would just grow a pair already and leave her, though - due to the conventions of the genre - De Felitta prolongs the inevitable far longer than one might've liked. Still, the palpable authenticity with which the filmmaker has infused virtually every aspect of the production makes it easy enough to overlook such concerns.