Slightly varied versions of reviews in today's Oregonian...
What the Bleep!?: Down the Rabbit Hole
(dir. William Arntz, Betsy Chasse, Mark Vicente)
Before watching "What the Bleep!?: Down the Rabbit Hole" -- an expanded re-edit of "What the Bleep do We Know!?" -- I beg you to do the following:
2. Read this.
There. You're armed.
"What the Bleep" is an intermittently provocative, silly, and maddening self-improvement tract. It mixes real science (delivered via sound-bite interviews and cartoons) with reckless conclusion-jumping.
Do the Google search; it's complicated.
Here's something less complicated: Several "Bleep" filmmakers and talking heads associate with JZ Knight -- interviewed throughout the film -- a woman who says she channels the spirit of "Ramtha," a 35,000-year-old warrior from Atlantis. No, really.
"Down the Rabbit Hole" (sloppily) argues that quantum physics merges science and spirituality -- that cutting-edge research demonstrates that (a) we're all interconnected and (b) we can create our own, better realities. The filmmakers seek to "prove" this to you by tossing random chunks of whoa-dude data in your general direction, delivered with verbose relentlessness by talking heads who aren't named until film's end. It all plays like a New Age theoretical proof of the power of positive thinking.
But the "Rabbit Hole" re-edit actually makes "Bleep" less provocative by getting more specific. It seems to pare down Marlee Matlin's parable-like illustrative skits, adds new interviews, and tacks on some incredibly annoying new animations that draw from the same data well as "Flatland" and, um, Michael Crichton's "Timeline." Most of these new cartoons star a grating, balding superhero sporting a cape and glasses who looks like SuperFreud and condescends like a physics prof guest-hosting "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood."
The new footage adds almost nothing, insight-wise -- and frankly feels like a lame, cynical, double-dipping cash-grab.
Still, all that said, I caught "Bleep" in its original incarnation at the Bagdad in 2004 with the lissome-hair yoga crowd, back before I knew some of the details of this Ramtha business -- here's the frothy report I wrote at the time -- and it was the first film I'd seen since maybe "JFK" where, after the lights came up, everyone stayed seated and started talking to each other about what they'd just seen. If you're with a willing crowd, the movie's slick.
But this is -- at best -- a starting point for some very skeptical further study.
A Good Woman
(dir. Mike Barker)
Adapting Oscar Wilde to the big screen is tricky.
His most famous dialogue, spoken by his naughtiest characters, takes potshots at high-society hypocrisy while pointing out our barely civilized impulses. Lord Darlington put it nicely in Wilde's 1892 play, "Lady Windermere's Fan": "We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars."
It's dialogue that can work beautifully onstage. But the intimacy of film raises some tough questions. How do you direct film actors to say Wilde's lines? Do you go for naturalism, running the risk of making his relentless quips sound out of place and unfunny? Or do you play up the satire, running the risk of magnifying everything into arched-eyebrow clowning?
"A Good Woman" -- a loose adaptation of "Windermere's Fan" by director Mike Barker and screenwriter Howard Himelstein -- takes the naturalistic route. And it only sort of works.
Barker sets his film during the Golden Age of Travel, following Wilde's pack of bored aristocrats as they vacation on the Mediterranean coast and gossip about the arrival of New York scandal-magnet Mrs. Erlynne (Helen Hunt). Everyone reacts to Erlynne differently: Most titter. Tuppy (Tom Wilkinson) calmly falls in love with her. Robert Windemere (Mark Umbers) climbs into cabs with her and exits her boudoir buttoning his coat. And Robert's wife Meg (Scarlett Johansson) has her blissful ignorance very nearly shattered -- even as she's swooped upon by the rakish Lord Darlington (Stephen Campbell Moore).
The movie's gorgeous to look at, the script has a killer twist, and the cast is competent at worst. Hunt's face has hardened into an alabaster death-mask that really suits her when she's saying lines like, "A man should never buy his wife jewelry -- it makes her wonder what he's buying his mistress." (This line, I should note, doesn't appear in the edition of the original play that I checked, and some of the film's quippiest dialogue is apparently lifted from other Wilde works.) Hunt is statuesque and terrifying at sharp angles, if not particularly funny, and her scenes with poor Tuppy as he tries to court her in the plainest English he can manage are the film's sweetest and saddest.
But for all its pleasures, the film suffers from problems of tone. Johansson, though adorable, sounds too contemporary to my ear to work as a Wilde ingénue. The young men are able but not memorable; this film could really use a Rupert Everett- or Steven Fry-caliber dandy, someone born to say the lines. And the wall-to-wall quippage -- featuring remarks like, "Sausages and women.... If you want to enjoy the experience, never watch the preparation of either" (another line not in my edition of the play) fails to get laughs, because everyone is working so hard to underplay them. Only Wilkinson really nails everything he says.
The result is a movie that's very fine, and occasionally compelling, but never quite electric.