The Films of Noam Murro
Smart People (August 10/08)
Smart People casts Dennis Quaid as Lawrence Wetherhold, a curmudgeonly college professor whose grumpy sensibilities are softened after he starts dating a fetching doctor (Sarah Jessica Parker's Chuck) following a back injury. The coupling inevitably affects Lawrence's relationship with his kids (Ellen Page's Vanessa and Ashton Holmes' James) and even brings him closer to his estranged adopted brother (Thomas Haden Church's Chuck). Director Noam Murro - working from Mark Poirier's screenplay - has infused Smart People with a laid-back, almost egregiously slow-paced vibe that admittedly does take some getting used to, yet there's little doubt that the stellar performances go a long way towards holding one's interest. Quaid is particularly good in a role that's certainly a far cry from his effortlessly charismatic persona, though it's impossible to deny the effectiveness of the supporting cast's uniformly strong work. Murro's increasingly militant efforts at sustaining a low-key tone proves detrimental to the movie's overall success, however, as the unapologetically plotless atmosphere and relentless barrage of sensitive folk songs might just be a little too much for certain viewers to handle. Still, Smart People remains a watchable piece of work that succeeds more as an actor's showcase than as a fully-realized, consistently compelling film.
300: Rise of an Empire
Though it's ultimately not successful, 300: Rise of an Empire generally fares just a little bit better than its Zack Snyder-directed predecessor - as the movie boasts a handful of decent action sequences and less of an emphasis on dull political intrigue. The storyline, which is set before, during, and after the events of the original film, generally offers up more of the same and is often excessively complicated for no apparent reason, while the pervasively artificial atmosphere ensures that attempts at character development, for the most part, fall entirely flat. This is especially true of Sullivan Stapleton's one-dimensional turn as the film's protagonist, Themistocles; though he's actually not bad in the role, Stapleton is simply unable to transform his character into anything more than a pale imitation of Gerard Butler's King Leonidas from 300. (Eva Green, on the other hand, gleefully chews the scenery as the film's antagonist.) It's ultimately clear that 300: Rise of an Empire is a handful of entertaining fight and battle sequences in search of a compelling narrative, with even the most effective of these moments - eg an epic set piece in which boats are attacked and boarded - diminished by the omnipresent sheen of computer-generated effects that's been hard-wired to every single aspect of the proceedings. And while one can easily envision fans of 2006's 300 getting quite a kick out of all this, 300: Rise of an Empire seems unlikely to convert those viewers who remain baffled by this sort of empty, spectacle-based filmmaking.