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A couple of New Worlds

Posted at 12:59 PM on January 20, 2006 by Euan Kerr

Terrence Malicks's "The New World" bathes a film-goer in sumptuous images. We see the new Eden settled by Captain John Smith and the other English adventurers who arrived in Virginia in 1607. We meet the local people, who the settlers call "the Naturals." And we encounter the stunning young princess who dances enticingly through the woods then saves Smith's life.

That's the good part.

What's emblematic of the worst part is that it wasn't until the final credits rolled, and I saw her name, that I remembered she was Pocahontas. It's not just that my grasp of history is lacking, but we rarely hear names, and then only in passing. Malick's film is gorgeous, but it suffers from muttered dialog, and a circuitous approach that muddies a simple story to the point where it's really hard to follow.

Don't get me wrong. I am a sucker for a plot-lite film if it's beautiful, but this movie just needs more meat, or maybe 45 minutes less watching the sunlight play through the trees.

Perhaps I am also a little miffed that one of my favorite actors, David Thewlis, ends up having such a small part. Thewlis is someone who is always worth watching ("Naked" is an amazingly intense film which will set you thinking for days.) But sadly he is one of the early casualties in the ill-fated first days of the Jamestown settlement, and I realized then things were not looking good for the film either.

Some people will love this film, and no doubt they will snap up the three hour version which is apparently going to be available on DVD. I won't be one of them.

Meanwhile "Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World" is a wry, understated, comedy, which reminded me how few genuinely grown-up comedies there are nowadays. Albert Brooks plays a comedian named Albert Brooks who travels to India and Pakistan on a US Government mission to find out what makes muslims laugh.

This movie could have gone so many different ways, and it could have been done really badly. But Brooks adeptly pokes fun at himself and the strictures of government bureaucracy.

Brooks is told he has to produce a 500 page report, primarily because it has to be at least 500 pages to justify the expense of the commission which came up with the idea. He told that he can't have too many charts, but not to worry too much about the content, as the reports tend to be weighed rather than actually read.

It's not giving away too much to reveal his trip is less than successful. Brooks does a marvelous job of avoiding the obvious and the cliched. This film works on a number of levels, being both funny and through provoking.

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