Saturday, November 23, 2002

Femme Fatale (2002)

Hey, Brian de Palma doesn't suck after all. This here's got a whiz-bang opening, a lot of enjoyably hyperactive cinematography, a good sense of its own ludicrousness, one of the best Dead of Night-inspired twist endings on record and a twenty-minute segment near the end of the film (starting with Rebecca Romjin-Stamos launching into a striptease and ending with her full frontal nude scene underwater) that ranks as one of the most exciting and entertaining stretches of film de Palma's ever conceived. Only major demerit is the awkward and sluggish midsection, wherein it looks like the film will go all Snake Eyes on us, but even that has its moments. Romjin-Stamos appears to be having a whoopin' good time.

Grade: B+
The Salton Sea (2002)

If you took Memento, ran it front-to-back, replaced memory loss with meth addiction, turned every character into a walking quirk factory and made it really stupid, this might be the result. Embarassingly pretentious, too, which only makes it seem all the stupider when it tries something like a throwaway bit about a plan to steal Bob Hope's stool sample. Of the large, distinguished cast, only Vincent d'Onofrio gets away unscathed -- probably because he seems to be the only one who realizes the wholesale dumbness at work here.

Grade: D+

Thursday, November 07, 2002

Dahmer (2002)

Ambitious attempt to get inside the psychology of one of America's most notorious serial killers tries hard but comes up a little short in the end. The problem is that the filmmakers, in choosing to present an even-handed portrait of a troubled (to say the least) man, they end up coming off as soft. Certainly you'd expect a man whose body-count total ran into the double digits to at least seem, you know, threatening. But as presented here, Dahmer only seems like a less dangerous Tom Ripley, a bland and slightly off-center lump of a man who acts rashly on dark impulses. The film's structure proves problematic as well; rather than heightening the tension and illuminating certain aspects of Dahmer's psyche, the constant jumping back and forth between present-day and flashback gives the film an uncomfortably herky-jerky rhythm that tries the patience, especially when it becomes apparent that we're watching a 100-minute anticlimax. There's a lot of good stuff to recommend here, notably Jeremy Renner's subdued performance as Dahmer and a few creepy sequences, but it could have been a lot better. No cannibalism either, what a gyp.

Grade: C+
Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970)

It took roughly five minutes for this film to win me over. As our intrepid rock-group girls and their manager decide to try their fortunes in L.A., the film suddenly goes apeshit -- as a man and a woman trade lines in a voice-over, flash-forwards and brief images meant to evoke the L.A. lifestyle stutter onto the screen at roughly twelve shots a second. (Take that, Michael Bay!) This joyous foray into sheer filmic experimentation was audacious enough to get me gaping in incoherent awe, and things stay more or less at that level for the film's first forty minutes. Russ Meyer and Co. appear to be aiming for nothing less than sheer sensory overload, and they damn near succeed. The film does slacken a bit when the melodrama stacks up like dirty dishes at Thanksgiving, but it rallies in its last fifteen for an eye-poppingly bizarre climax. Seriously, not much can prepare for the leap into the void that the screenplay (written by Roger Ebert, as most people know by now) has tucked up its sleeves. I don't want to ruin it, but it's a berserk, ballsy and bloody mess with at least one plot point that seems to have influenced Lloyd Kaufman's sloppy magnum opus Terror Firmer. I loved every minute of it. The dialogue here, as in the only other Russ Meyer film I've seen so far (Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!), is pulpy to the point of intentional badness and wonderfully quotable -- years from now, I will still feel compelled to shout out "You will drink the black sperm of my vengeance!" at wholly inappropriate times. This is the film Myra Breckinridge wanted to be.

Grade: B+

Tuesday, November 05, 2002

Swimfan (2002)

Sometimes you just need some unpretentious mindless entertainment. This hunk o' cheddar filled my bill quite nicely. Is it art? No. Is it goofy, dorky, empty-calorie fun? Ayup. Major demerit: Erika Christensen, who's surprisingly awful. Hard to believe that the tin-eared line readings she spouts could come from the Traffic chick.

Grade: B-
Formula 51 (2002)

Dreadful. Just dreadful. Not even Emily Mortimer's hotness or Samuel L. Jackson's inherent badassness can save this leaky boat. Directed by Ronny Yu, although I assume that this is a different Ronny Yu than the talented gent who directed both Bride with White Hair films (or even the same talented gent who helped make Bride of Chucky such a hootenanny).

Grade: D

Sunday, November 03, 2002

waydowntown (2002)

Okay, so this Canadian comedy looked promising. Almost immediately, I was confronted with a problem -- the actors aren't very good. This wouldn't really be that big of a problem, actually, except the direction was also dull and occasionally downright lousy. This wouldn't have been that big a problem if the film had at least an interesting visual look, but the ugly, muddy DV made the film painful to watch. This really wouldn't have been that big a deal if the film had at least been thematically interesting, but it's terminally unfocused and ultimately pointless. This wouldn't have bothered me if the characters had at least been worth spending time with, but they were all jerks and assholes. (Only the indispensible Don McKellar escapes unharmed.) Of course, none of the above would have been worth a fig if the film had been, you know, funny. It's not.

Grade: C-

Saturday, November 02, 2002

Punch-Drunk Love (2002)

Wow. Astonishing, extraordinary, incredible, uplifting, amazing, jaw-dropping, phenomenal, awe-inspiring, beautiful... how many superlatives can I sling at this? Hard to believe I'm saying all this about an Adam Sandler movie, but there you go. That's the kind of movie year it's been. It's also kind of interesting that, although this will probably be known for all time as "P.T.'s Sandler film", this may be Anderson's most idiosyncratic and strangely personal work yet. (Seriously.) One also imagines that it has some personal resonance for Sandler as well, seeing as how his character here is essentially the same man-child oddball persona he shows off in all his other films, except here the guard of humor has been dropped. I'm guessing that most of Sandler's fans haven't thought about how maladroit and borderline-psychotic his characters can be, but it's all in the open here. I'd say a little something about the look of the film -- the art direction, the cinematography, all that jazz -- except I'm afraid I'd devolve into incoherent jabbering. I think I may already have. That's how potent this film is. It's odd and wondrous and surprising and brilliant. A lot of people are going to hate it. It's about love. See it.

Grade: A
The Sum of All Fears (2002)

Okay, so the first two-thirds of this film are comprised of reasonably engaging spy hijinks. By the time the bomb went off, I was surprised how involved I was -- Tom Clancy usually puts me to sleep. Shame about the shitty third act, then. Half an hour of two groups of pissed-off politicians waving their dicks at each other is about twenty-nine minutes too much for me, thanks. One of the credited screenwriters is Paul Attanasio, the writer of the excellent Donnie Brasco; at times like this, it's hard to forget that his name was also on Sphere. Still, it's way better than Spy Game. Clancy fanatics may want to kick the crap out of all involved parties, considering the liberties taken with the source material.

Grade: C+