Sunday, June 29, 2003

Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle (2003)

The first flick was a genuine surprise -- a lunatic kitchen-sink action-jiggle fest with an extraordinarily weird sense of humor. Distended and slapped together haphazardly, it shouldn't have worked but it did magnificently. The sequel, then, must represent what could have been. It's a chaotic, senseless fiasco that Xerox-copys everything that worked in the first film and gives it a second go. (I already saw the first film, thanks; I didn't need to pay to see it again.) At times, the film is so bloated and overextended in an attempt to recapture that lightning-in-a-bottle kick that it tears at the seams and hardly seems to exist at all. Disposable pop entertainment is one thing, but this is like ordering a hamburger and getting wax fruit. Bill Murray is sorely missed; Justin Theroux, so good in Mulholland Drive, turns in the kind of performance that could kill a career. Even the Thin Man gets neutered here. So it's the worst kind of sequel -- a lazy ripoff made simply because someone saw money to be made. What a fucking waste. (Oh, yeah -- if you do end up seeing it, hope ya like 'angel' puns.)

Grade: D+
28 Days Later (2003)

Director Danny Boyle has stated that he didn't want to make a conventional horror film. I don't think he's really made one at all -- what we have here is a high-minded drama with occasional bursts of gore. I give him credit anyway for generating large dollops of tension (as well as shooting one of the best jump sequences ever) in the film's first half, but the film trudges on and the zombies (oops, I'm sorry -- the "infected") stop showing up and may as well have been forgotten and we're left with long bits where nothing happens. It's basically a redux of George Romero's The Crazies filtered through Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead -- in fact, the third act of the film plunders Day so fully that Romero probably has grounds to sue. The difference is that Romero, while no stranger to zombie-free down time himself, used that time to develop his characters and give them personality so that we root for them to not end up as lunch. Boyle's characters, on the other hand, start out as ciphers and pretty much stay that way, which makes the film real embarassing when emotion and sentimentality are artificially injected halfway through. Still has a handful of great moments, and it's always nice to see Brendan Gleeson in anything, but the movie kinda sucks overall in my opinion.

Grade: C+
Alias Betty (2002)

Alias Crap. The score's use of a jazz-piano version of Radiohead's "Exit Music (For a Film)" was a nice touch (full disclosure: it's one of my favorite songs), and I grudgingly admit that the film's climax is fairly clever, but a lack of sympathetic or believable characters torpedo this one.

Grade: C
Rififi (1955)

The heist-movie genre is one of my favorite genres, so it seemed high time that I finally go and visit the progenitor of damn near every single film in that subcategory. And it's a real winner, a stark noir-based tale that only gets better the longer it goes. The central heist is justifiably famous (for both its intricacy and the fact that it takes place in almost absolute silence), but my favorite bits are during the redemptive (and very, very French) closing scenes. If all movies were this solid, I'd never leave the house. It's more evidence for my growing suspicion that terrible books make the best movies, too -- director Jules Dassin has said that the source novel was one of the ugliest piece of garbage he'd ever read, and he almost passed on making the film because of it.

Grade: A
Quai des Orfevres (1947)

Louis Jouvet as Inspector Antoine makes this movie. Seriously, he walks in halfway through and just starts blowing people off the screen. The film would be good even without him, but damn. Oh yeah, the film... it's excellent. Compared to the other H.G. Clouzot films I've seen (Diabolique and The Wages of Fear), it's not as ruthless or nerve-shredding, but it has something that the other two don't: humanity. As the tale unfolds, it moves from a hard-luck film noir story into something altogether more affecting -- an examination of commitment, family and the things we do for love. Coming from the mind of Clouzot, whose films were often downright misanthropic, that's a head-spinner of a surprise. Engaging, deep, tense and altogether unmissable, this one is.

Grade: A
The Navigator (1924)

Funny indeed, but nowhere near Buster's best and has some surprising dry stretches. (The underwater scene springs to mind -- even with the loopy swordfish swordfight, it's too damn long.) Best sequence is probably the trying-to-find-a-place-to-sleep bit, though Buster wrestling with the chair is good too; the cannibals smack of a desperate way to end an aimless narrative.

Grade: B

Saturday, June 21, 2003

The Hot Chick (2002)

Well, isn't this just ducky -- under the guise of an unassuming frat-boy shitcom, Rob Schneider and Co. have fashioned a big fat valentine to the polymorpheousness of human sexuality. Seriously, there's some weird shit going on here. In its use of gender-identity satire and sexual malleability, it almost feels like a good-natured cousin to the scathing Terror Firmer. It's also actually pretty funny, too. I'm all for Rob Schneider's hapless-shlub persona. Here, he's at his most goofily unhinged and seems to be making several jokes work by force of will. He's also been blessed for the first time with an able supporting cast (Lord knows The Animal would have been better minus Colleen Haskell); Anna Faris, in particular, is developing into the kind of comedic actress that Jennifer Coolidge wishes she was, with an extraordinarily expressive face and a willingness to go along with most anything. (I still remember her all-out attempts to make the Charlie's Angels parody in Scary Movie 2 work, which is the closest that film got to amusing.) It's lowbrow comedy at heart, but the subtext cannot be denied. And as it stands, this is the only crowd-pleasing Hollywood comedy in existence that has a scene with overtones of lesbian incest. Stick that in your pipe and smoke it.

Grade: B-
J-Men Forever (1979)

Fun with dubbing: The Firesign Theater grabbed a bunch of old serials, cut them together, added a new soundtrack and -- voila! -- a comedy cult classic was born. The formula: two parts silly lowbrow humor, two parts cheesy wordplay, two parts drug humor and one part vicious, subversive anti-Establishment satire. The result: Inconsistent but at its best gaspingly funny. It helps that I'm a sucker for cheesy wordplay -- the puns fly like golf balls at Augusta. (Best pun: a Nazi discoteque being called a place "where the music never Gestapos!")

Grade: B

Friday, June 20, 2003

The Recruit (2003)

Great setup, but what happened to the followthrough? I liked the first part of this film with its various training exercises and whatnot, but everything after the 'capture' exercise seems to have shown up from some other, stupider movie. Colin Farrell handles whatever the script throws at him, but Al Pacino's performance actually deteriorates along with the film -- by the climax, he's regressed into the Lazy Screaming Overacting Al Mode that he uses in projects of lower calibre.

Grade: C+
Narc (2002)

I do so enjoy a good gritty-cop-drama, and this flick fills the bill nicely -- it's a taut and gripping tale about a murder investigation that manages to hew out its own living space while recalling other good films in the genre. Jason Patric and Ray Liotta are both outstanding (I should probably see Rush someday, huh?) and their characters are believable and complex. Gripes: I find the third act to be a little overly convenient plotwise, and I'm not sure the final revelation of What Really Happened makes much sense thematically. Still, this is a quantum leap forward for director Joe Carnahan from his unwatchable debut Blood Guts Bullets & Octane. I'm interested to see what he's got next.

Grade: B+
New Blood (1999)

They still make movies like these? Yet another Reservoir Dogs knock-off, this time with John Hurt around to lend a little class to the dross. Not so much overtly terrible as it is completely superfluous. Note of interest: Joe Pantoliano and Carrie-Anne Moss show up together here; how do they keep getting the same scripts?

Grade: C

Wednesday, June 18, 2003

Chain Camera (2001)

Engrossing documentary about the secret lives of high-school students from Kirby Dick, the director of Sick. I'd love to recommend it, but unless you get Cinemax you probably won't get a chance to see it any time soon.

Grade: A-
That's My Face (2003)

The kind of personal-essay documentary that makes people hate documentaries -- earnest, serious and only interesting if you're related to the director.

Grade: C
Dr. Lamb (1992)

Q: Can a movie with necrophilia and disembodied tits in a jar be boring? A: Apparently so. Most of its thuder was stolen by the later, superior The Untold Story (which was worked on by many of the same people that show up here); what remains wasn't worth stealing.

Grade: C

Sunday, June 15, 2003

Finding Nemo (2003)

The Pixar winning streak continues -- their latest offering is a swift, exciting and touching tale with more laughs than any other film released so far this year and gorgeous animation to boot. One day they will make a disappointment, but let us hope that it's not any time soon. Odd, too, how their last three films have, underneath the Trojan-horse kiddie-flick amusement, been potent expressions of various parental anxieties.

Grade: A-
Secretary (2002)

Maggie Gyllenhaal and James Spader both give accomplished performances here, which is a shame because what they're in service to is a trifle bereft of any feel for the material or any sort of emotional weight -- it's more like an excuse to make a film wherein Ms. Gyllenhaal can be spanked repeatedly. Apparently, all the filmmakers' creative effort went into the off-kilter Art Deco design of Spader's office.

Grade: C
You've Got Mail (1998)

It's cute, it's occasionally clever, it's got a lot of first-rate actors doing their thing, and it never ever not for one minute transcends its identity as a soulless piece of product designed to sell you on Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan and AOL Time Warner. Superficially entertaining, but give me a fucking break.

Grade: C+
Escape from New York (1981)

Wow, what a surprise -- this film is so lethargic that at times it's painful. You don't so much watch this as you do wander through it, picking up stray bits and pieces that may have been really neat were they in some other movie. A great idea near-totally squandered; please, somebody keep John Carpenter the fuck away from science fiction. If anyone can tell me why Adrienne Barbeau's character is in the film at all besides gratuitous cleavge purposes, please let me know post haste.

Grade: C
Scarecrow (1973)

Impressive portrait of two drifters has two excellent performances from Al Pacino and Gene Hackman plus some gorgeous cinematography from Vilmos Zsigmond (the opening shot is fuckin' fantastic). Do you need another reason to see this? Okay, well how about that it's heavily influenced by Midnight Cowboy but manages to, in my eyes, be even better than that film?

Grade: B+
Flesh for Frankenstein (1974)

The success of this film brought about the creation of Blood for Dracula, which I saw and reviewed a couple weeks ago; despite popular opinion, I found the earlier endeavor to be the more impressive feat, maybe because this film is more content to just be an absurdly-over-the-top blood 'n' sex movie (with some great cinematography) while Blood for Dracula was somehow convinced that it was Art. There's still too many scenes that involve Joe Dallesandro's naked ass, but this film's still a hell of a lot of fun for the strong of stomach.

Grade: B

Thursday, June 05, 2003

Scarlet Diva (2002)

An Asia Argento vanity project, this film is messy, self-indulgent, ugly, pointless and crude. But it's also weirdly compelling and occasionally quite lovely; besides, it contains a scorching performance from Ms. Argento the more than offsets the film's canoodling. Happily, she does show traces of her father's cinematic flair at times -- I'd say she needs more discipline, but then Dario's best films are usually his most unhinged so what do I know.

Grade: B-
Bananas (1971)

Hilarious early-career Woody Allen film; I always found it interesting how many people play up his intellectualism while totally ignoring both his taste for slapstick and his wicked streak of bawdy humor.

Grade: A-
Seven Chances (1925)

Between this and Bananas, I nearly killed myself laughing last Sunday. This magnificent treasure of a film from the prodigious mind of Buster Keaton has few, if any, equals in the annals of comedy. In scenes like the famed boulder-dodging finale, Keaton brings physical comedy to levels it has yet to return to. In a word, exhilarating; while I haven't yet decided whether I like this more than Sherlock Jr., I think I'm starting to see why a lot of people prefer Keaton to Chaplin.

Grade: A
I, Madman (1989)

I'd wanted to see this one ever since it came out after reading Roger Ebert's surprisingly enthusiastic review of it. (See, I get around to everything eventually.) The end product did not disappoint -- fairly clever, tense and gruesome, with some extraordinary giallo-style touches scattered throughout (my favorite: the avalanche of books the heroine has to climb) that compensate for the occasional dumbness that seems to come with the territory. Some explanation at the end of why exactly the events in question had taken place would have been nice, though.

Grade: B

Sunday, June 01, 2003

The Italian Job (2003)

Thoroughly implausible every step of the way -- I don't think I bought a single minute of it. What's impressive is that I didn't care. Far-fetched as it may be, it's also still hugely entertaining (I think I need to own a Cooper Mini); immense credit to the casting department, which somehow managed to find a large portion of my favorite actors and stick them all in the same film.

Grade: B
Frankenhooker (1990)

Broader and more overtly comedic than the other two Frank Henenlotter films I've seen (Basket Case and Brain Damage), this isn't quite as good as either of those films. Partly, this is due to the eleventh-hour introduction of the title character (I seem to be the only one who finds her more grating than amusing); the film also suffers from an anti-drug message left over from Brain Damage that, while structurally important, feels somewhat incongruous. Having said that, the film is still cheeky fun. A high tolerance for severed heads and exploding bodies is required, but those in the mood will find some pleasingly unpretentious laughs, some endearingly awful makeup, a weird last-minute homage to the British omnibus film Asylum and an appropriately fucked-up twist ending. Why Henenlotter stopped directing, I'll never figure out.

Grade: B