The Films of Mick Jackson
Indictment: The McMartin Trial
Volcano (March 20/17)
Volcano casts Tommy Lee Jones as Mike Roark, an emergency-management director who must spring into action after downtown Los Angeles is besieged by molten-hot lava - with the film detailing Mike's efforts at directing the deadly liquid away from the city. It's a somewhat thin premise that's employed to decidedly erratic effect by director Mick Jackson, as the movie, written by Jerome Armstrong and Billy Ray, progresses through a skeletal storyline armed with a whole handful of palpably underwhelming subplots. (The best and most obvious example of this is everything involving a local black man and the racist cop determined to arrest him.) It's clear, then, that Volcano is at its best during the expected scenes of mass destruction, with, especially, the initial devastation wreaked by the title occurrence standing out as a clear and obvious highlight in the proceedings. Jones' predictably gruff performance proves effective at infusing the narrative with a much-needed down-to-earth feel, while the movie's eclectic supporting cast, which includes John Carroll Lynch, Don Cheadle, and Michael Rispoli, often elevates some of the movie's more overtly repetitive sequences. The fairly anticlimactic final stretch ensures that Volcano concludes on a less-than-engrossing note, which is a shame, really, given the movie's relatively promising first act and ongoing proliferation of appealing elements.
Tuesdays with Morrie
The First $20 Million Is Always the Hardest
Live from Baghdad
The Memory Keeper's Daughter
Based on the book by Kim Edwards, The Memory Keeper's Daughter revolves around the turmoil that ensues after David Henry (Dermot Mulroney) elects to give away his Down's-afflicted newborn without informing his wife (Gretchen Mol's Nora) - leaving selfless nurse Caroline Gil (Emily Watson) with little choice but to raise the girl as her own. It's a solid (yet admittedly soapy) premise that's essentially squandered by Mick Jackson, as the director's low-rent sensibilities ensure that there's never a point at which the film's movie-of-the-week origins aren't painfully obvious. The less-than-subtle bent of John Pielmeier's screenplay is exacerbated by the inclusion of several melodramatic interludes and superfluous subplots (ie David and Nora's respective affairs), with the relentless emphasis on needless elements effectively lessening the impact of the abandoned girl's story (which is, as becomes clear almost immediately, the most intriguing aspect of The Memory Keeper's Daughter). Mulroney, Watson, and Mol's respective efforts at infusing the proceedings with bursts of authenticity are rendered moot by the sensationalistic nature of the script, and although the conclusion does pack something of an emotional punch, it's simply not enough to salvage what is otherwise a fairly standard made-for-television production.
Anchored by Claire Danes' best performance to date, Temple Grandin effectively rises above the limitations of its genre - the biopic - to become an engrossing, downright fascinating look into the life and times of the title character. The storyline follows autistic scientist Temple Grandin (Danes) as she attempts to overcome a series of obstacles - some entirely unrelated to her condition (ie sexism) - while devising humane methods for handling livestock, with the inclusion of well-placed flashbacks covering her upbringing and her education. There's little doubt that Temple Grandin gets off to an admittedly slow start, as director Mick Jackson - working from a script by Christopher Monger and Merritt Johnson - essentially drops the viewer into the protagonist's life with little by way of explanation or exposition. It's only as the movie progresses and the details of Grandin's life are fleshed out that Temple Grandin begins to morph into a seriously compelling piece of work, with Danes' captivating turn certainly playing a significant role in the movie's unexpected success (ie in the actress' capable hands, Grandin never becomes the twitchy, over-the-top caricature one might've expected). The presence of several undeniably poignant moments - ie Grandin (badly) sings "You'll Never Walk Alone" at her graduation - ensures that the film sporadically packs an impossible-to-anticipate emotional punch, and it's consequently not surprising to note that Temple Grandin ultimately establishes itself as a stellar true-life tale that's consistently heightened by Danes' award-worthy performance.
Inspired by true events, Denial follows historian Deborah Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz) as she's forced to prove the Holocaust actually happened after a notorious denier (Timothy Spall's David Irving) sues her for libel. There's little doubt that Denial benefits from an opening half hour that instantly draws the viewer into the real-life scenario, with the promising, intriguing vibe perpetuated by an emphasis on the ongoing rivalry between Weisz and Spall's respective characters'. (There is, for example, a pretty riveting early scene in which David confronts Deborah during her presentation to an auditorium of students.) The first act has likewise been infused with sequences of an unexpectedly mesmerizing nature, including Deborah's initial meeting with one of her lawyers (Andrew Scott's Anthony Julius) and the legal team's eventual tour of the Auschwitz concentration camp. It's fairly disappointing to note, then, that what follows is a predominantly by-the-numbers courtroom drama, with the progressively less-than-enthralling atmosphere compounded by David Hare's dry, almost mechanical screenplay - although, to be fair, there are a few electrifying moments sprinkled throughout (eg Spall's David is questioned by an opposing lawyer, brilliantly played by Tom Wilkinson). The predictable bent of Denial's third act confirms its place as a well-meaning yet overly routine endeavor, with the movie rarely as captivating and engrossing as its searing subject matter might've indicated.