Tuesday, August 26, 2008

In the span of a couple of weeks, I’ve attended screenings of films that featured Jesus as a pivotal character. Henry Poole is Here and Hamlet 2 both cover the issues of hope and faith, but in entirely differing ways.

I’m not sure what frame of mind I was in before watching Henry Poole, but I connected with the people in the story; most were living unspectacular lives with honesty and integrity while struggling with emotional or physical obstacles. My psyche was affected by the story of people clinging to hope in the face of adversity. Luke Wilson plays the sympathetic eponymous sad sack, eliciting tears from my eyes.

Hamlet 2 is an uneven mix of slapstick, satire, and cheekiness, yet I laughed nevertheless at its absurdity. Steve Coogan plays Dan Marschz, a washed up actor teaching high school drama to a motley group of kids stuck taking his class because other arts classes have been cut. Marschz believes his musical sequel to Hamlet (!) is his masterpiece; he just needs to move heaven and earth to make sure his students can perform it. Coogan tries to channel Charlie Chaplin on skates with a hint of Martin Short, Steve Martin or a more subdued Jim Carrey.

The supporting cast features audience faves Catherine Keener (perfect as Marschz's long-suffering wife), Amy Poehler (hilarious as the feisty ACLU rep), Elisabeth Shue (a ringer of a role but Shue brings her natural charm) and David Arquette (hunky but saddled with too few lines.)

One highlight was the pivotal song in the play, Rock Me Sexy Jesus, (slightly reminiscent of Little Shop of Horrors) which had me rockin' in my seat. Some of the scenes scored big laughs but with so many underlying themes (the elimination of arts courses at public schools, ethnic stereotypes, teenage angst, father & son relationships, infertility, the life of an actor, etc.), there were a quite a few misses.

Both films utilize time worn plot devices and never manage to overcome the contrivances. Whether Henry Poole tugs at your heart strings or whether Hamlet 2 leaves you guffawing , it all depends on whether you're willing to take a leap of faith.

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