The Films of Chris Weitz
The Golden Compass (December 5/07)
Based on Philip Pullman's novel (the first in a trilogy), The Golden Compass has clearly been geared primarily towards fans of the source material - as the film possesses few attributes designed to draw in (and hold the interest of) neophytes. There's consequently no denying that most viewers will find it impossible to comfortably follow the incredibly convoluted plot, which is rife with obscure references to a number of increasingly meaningless elements (ie dust, daemons, gobblers, etc). The dull and talky opening hour eventually does give way to several admittedly exciting sequences, with the mid-movie introduction of a talking, fighting polar bear named Iorek Byrnison an obvious highlight (it's impossible not to derive some pleasure from the polar bear throwdown that eventually ensues between Iorek and a smug competitor). But there's ultimately nothing holding everything together; the film's few effective sequences are almost always followed by exposition-heavy moments that prove less-than-enthralling, while the special effects are unimpressive and underwhelming (something that particularly applies to the many cartoonish creatures populating the proceedings). In the end, The Golden Compass feels like a classic case of set-up with exceedingly little pay-off - ensuring that most viewers will probably not have much interest in exploring the continuing adventures of these sketchily-drawn characters.
Click here for review.
A Better Life (April 28/11)
Directed by Chris Weitz, A Better Life follows blue-collar gardner Carlos Riquelme (Demián Bichir) as he attempts to improve the lives of both himself and his son (José Julián's Luis) by buying a truck from his retiring boss - with the film subsequently detailing the various problems that ensue as a result of the character's extravagant purchase. It's a rather simple premise that is, for the most part, employed to entertaining (if far-from-engrossing) effect by Weitz, as the filmmaker, working from Eric Eason's script, has infused the the movie with an old-fashioned feel that's generally difficult to resist. The pleasant, sporadically gritty atmosphere is heightened by the striking performances, with Bichir's accessibly charismatic turn anchoring the proceedings on an all-too-regular basis and effectively forcing the viewer to root for his character's ongoing efforts at overcoming a series of obstacles. It's only as Weitz begins to weigh the narrative down with interludes of a decidedly needless variety - eg Carlos and Luis visit a rodeo - that A Better Life begins to lose its hold on the viewer, with the flabby nature of the movie's second half unfortunately (and ultimately) dulling the impact of the emotionally-charged sequences that crop up towards the end. (This proves to be especially disappointing in terms of Carlos' tearful conversation with Luis near the film's conclusion.) The end result is perfectly watchable piece of work that never quite becomes as searing or memorable as Weitz might have liked, yet there's little doubt that the movie benefits substantially from the stellar efforts of its largely unknown cast.