Friday, March 28, 2003

Austin Powers in Goldmember (2002)

I think Mike Myers needs to get out more. Granted, the first film was genius. The second film was pretty funny too, but in that film was born the tendency towards repetition and sloth that torpedoes this third installment. The humor is self-referential to the point where any joke that doesn't originate from some previous joke in the Austinverse should be judged an anomaly. And that's a shame, because the only bits that really work (besides the brilliant opening montage) are the bits that have as little as possible to do with the previous two films. (Nigel and Austin's regression into untranslatable Brit-slang patois is a highlight.) I'll admit, I laughed. I laughed fairly often. But my laughter faded the longer the film stretched, for I saw the truth -- Myers has bought his own hype. He's turned his biggest success into an ouroboros, and he's gonna choke trying to swallow himself. (Okay, that's way too prententious, especially for this film.)

Grade: C+
ZigZag (2002)

In which two fascinating and complex characters get stuck in a plot that doesn't deserve them. Worth seeing for the handful of moments that work like they should and for John Leguizamo's first restrained performance in his entire career. (The change did him good.)

Grade: C+
Charade (1963)

Now THIS is some damn fine entertainment. Breezy, knockabout concoction with everyone involved at the top of their game. Certain niggling elements aside (why in hell does Audrey Hepburn suddenly become so enchanted with Cary Grant, anyway?), this is what they talk about when they say they don't make 'em like they used to. (Now I need to see how The Truth About Charlie holds up next to this...)

Grade: B+

Wednesday, March 26, 2003

Tears of the Sun (2003)

Steve's Rule of Effective Moviegoing, #47: Any 'prestige' pictures that get released prior to May 1st will inevitably suck. And boy, did this 'noble' war flick suck. Shameless and manipulative in the extreme, it more or less states that the U.S. military can and should intervene anywhere at anytime for any reason because we're the good guys dammit and we're noble and selfless and hey look at that fetus! Even by the constraints of thinly-veiled-propaganda *ahem* I mean, noble war movies, Monica Bellucci's character is pretty senseless and wrong-headed -- an attempt by the filmmakers to inject artificial drama into a scenario that already had plenty thank you very much. (If I had a tribe of refugees with me, and I knew a rebel force was pursuing us with the intent of horribly murdering us, I wouldn't insist on stopping to rest every fifteen minutes. In fact, I'd probably double-time the refugees until their feet fell off. But that's just me.) The climax of this film is lousy even in comparison to the rest of the film.

Grade: D
Dreamcatcher (2003)

Well. This plays like a compendium of Stephen King tropes ground up and served as goulash, minus the coherence and good judgement. It'd probably be unwatchable if it wasn't all so fucking hilarious. I mean, seriously -- this movie has aliens that burst out of a man's ass. It has Morgan Freeman referring to real Americans as the kind of people who "never miss an episode of 'Friends'". It has Donnie Wahlberg as a retarded man whose battle cry is "Scooby-Dooby-Doo, we've got work to do!". Fer crissakes, it has Thomas Jane talking into a pistol like it was a telephone! There's more too, oh so much more. Sure it's a failure as a horror film... but it might be the best comedy of the year. It's berserk and misguided and awful and I think I love it. I'd see it again in a heartbeat. Though I do wish it was about twenty minutes shorter. (Memo to William Goldman: You churn out an incoherent piece o' shit like this and have the chutzpah to slag Gangs of New York? Pots and kettles, man...)

Grade: C
Willard (2003)

Some movies, you know you'll like right away. The opening credits hooked me here -- done in a ghoulish, Brothers-Quay, Tool-video style with a jaunty haunted-house score laid atop. It set the mood perfectly for what followed. It's ostensibly a horror flick but pitched more like a blackly comic character study, and Morgan & Wong have clearly worked hard to both create a mood and jam little bits of fun into the sidelines. (In fact, there's so many blink-and-miss-em gags and winking references that it almost starts to feel like an especially macabre episode of "The Simpsons".) The real attraction, though, is Crispin Glover's awesome performance. Seriously, it's like his entire career has been marking time until he got to this film. A more tailor-made role just can't exist, and he's damn near perfect in it. He's creepy, yet somehow you're with him every step of the way. He earns the audience's sympathy, which is damn hard to do when you're required to show alarming amounts of feeling towards a white mouse. It's not perfect (the film's a little too insular and has almost no interest in its sparse supporting cast), but after two crappy films, this small nugget of black-hearted deliciousness was muchly appreciated. (I could have done without the scene with the cat, though.)

Grade: B

Wednesday, March 19, 2003

Chicago (2002)

Good film, but surprisingly workmanlike -- the staging is done with a minimum of imagination, as if everyone felt too much respect towards the material to really bother making it overly cinematic. Acting is uniformly solid, but the only real standout is Zeta-Jones. (I never suspected she'd turn into a real actress after Entrapment, but there you go.) Rob Marshall's generic direction does the film no favors, and he botches at least one major setpiece (the tapdance scene). I can't help but wish the whole film exhibited the delirious, loopy charm of the "We Both Reached for the Gun" number, but if this at least revives the movie musical, I'll be happy.

Grade: B
Lovely & Amazing (2002)

Don't have a lot to say about this one -- I liked it quite a bit more than I expected. Weird seeing Jake Gyllenhaal in another role that required him to bed an older woman so soon after seeing The Good Girl; at least this one's more realistic about the situation. The one scene you may have heard about (Emily Mortimer getting Dermot Mulroney to be honest about her body) is just as stunning as everyone makes it out to be.

Grade: B
Birthday Girl (2002)

Good, fun mindless entertainment. Should be better than it is, honestly, but the fact that it's not worse is encouraging enough. Nicole Kidman is really quite impressive; I am now convinced she can do practically anything she's given.

Grade: B

Thursday, March 13, 2003

The Good Girl (2002)

Yecch. A sour, hateful film disguised as a sympathetic portrait of a woman on the edge of a midlife crisis. I knew this film wasn't going to be for me when Jake Gyllenhaal, as Holden, announced he was reading The Catcher in the Rye. To the film's credit, it does later savagely dismantle that kind of angsty poseur attitude, but it seems to come less out of a desire to say something interesting than it does the desire to point and laugh. If Mike White really thinks these characters are morons worthy of ridicule, why would he bother writing them? Low point is the ridiculous scene with the blackberries; sole point of interest is Zooey Deschanel's dryly funny performance.

Grade: C-
The Tuxedo (2002)

Sloppy, slapped-together crapola of the lowest order. Jackie Chan doesn't even get any decent asskicking scenes in this -- hell, I think Jennifer Love Hewitt gets to throw more blows. That's just sad. A rush job, and it shows; nobody appears to have their heart in this. It's a paycheck for all involved. Which may explain why my review is so dispassionate -- you just can't get worked up about a non-entity like this.

Grade: D
Time Out (2002)

Absorbing psychological study of a man who can't bring himself to admit to his family that he's been fired from his job, preferring instead to invent an elaborate lie involving the UN and Switzerland. Director Laurent Cantet's pacing is slow but well-measured (a little too slow for some, admittedly), and he gets a tremendous performance out of journeyman actor Aurelien Recoing. A contemplative and occasionally sad look at the displacement of the modern worker, and well worth finding.

Grade: B+

Wednesday, March 12, 2003

Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter (2001)

Canadian-made insanity about Jesus, Mexican wrestler El Santo and Mary Magdalene (here dressed in leather and named Mary Magnum) taking on a crew of daywalking vampires with a taste for lesbians. It's even goofier than that plot description makes it sound. Hampered by its ten-cent budget and running longer than its ideas would ideally permit, this is still brilliant trash -- the kind of film I would make if I had the cash and a camera. I live for movies like this, man.

Grade: B
Porn 'n Chicken (2002)

Comedy Central's first original movie, and not dissimilar from P.C.U., a Comedy Central fave. Which means it's occasionally amusing but never really develops its central joke and doesn't have any other jokes besides. Eminently disposable; the only reason I know I saw it is because I wrote it down for later reference. Angela Goethals is pretty damn cute, though.

Grade: C
Attack the Gas Station! (1999)

A Korean comedy from the team that later made the exuberant and likeable Kick the Moon. This one tries hard, but can't quite reach the dizzy heights of that subsequent film. This is still very much a rough film made by people still refining their craft, with wildly uneven performances and a spotty script that seems to be marking time until its hell-breaks-loose climax. That ending is a true doozy, though, and it almost redeems the film on its lonesome. A lot of people did like this better than I did, so if you're not nearly the crank I am, you can probably disregard me.

Grade: C+
Take Care of My Cat (2002)

Another Korean film, this one about five girls whose high-school friendship is starting to be broken apart by real-world pressures. Whimsical, deliberate and occasionally affecting, though the inclusion of the twins is a mystery (the film often forgets they exist for long stretches of time); as weird as it sounds to say this, the titular feline helps the film through some less-than-interesting spots. (It really is a super-cute kitty. Not as cute as my deadly ninja attack cats, though.)

Grade: B

Tuesday, March 11, 2003

Irreversible (2003)

Infamous, controversial-as-all-getout French film seems to divide people into love-or-hate camps. So why am I so lukewarm about it? It's certainly a provocative and skillful work of art. Especially near the end of the film, where the shocks are traded for tenderness, Gaspar Noe shows that he might some day develop into a great filmmaker. But it's also difficult for me to see this film as anything but attention-procuring posturing. Try as the film (and some of its more eloquent defenders) may, I'm not convinced the film is actually about anything. Yeah, I know, "Time destroys all things." But if you're going to make a film with that particular thesis, it might work better if the film's events didn't take place over a matter of hours. See, the only message I can get out of this film is "Life is cruel." Which, to me, doesn't seem to justify a stark, unblinking nine-minute rape scene. (Incidentally, I didn't find it as difficult to watch as everyone has said. So maybe I'm sick and evil.) Okay, Gaspar, you're talented. And yeah, life's cruel. So what? Get a helmet. (Addendum: My opinion is likely to change upon a second viewing. [NOTE FROM A LATER DATE: It sure did.] And, if you've seen the film, you owe it to yourself to check out Theo Panayides's lucid review, as well as his insanely perceptive follow-up.)

Grade: B-
Spider (2003)

I'd love to write just one sentence about this film and move on, but it would be too difficult. See, I'd have to find one perfect combination of words that expresses my immense disappointment in this film, the latest from Canadian genius David Cronenberg, as well as my utter boredom with the screenplay and my disgust with Cronenberg at wasting his talent on this jejune material. It's expertly directed, for sure, but that only goes so far. Despite Cronenberg's best efforts, the film is a non-starter of epic proportions, a crashingly obvious "symbolic" work made even more obvious by the decision to stick Miranda Richardson in multiple roles. The film's not helped by Ralph Fiennes's mumbly turn, either -- a performance with less substance than this would be hard to find. Gorgeous but dull in the extreme, this ranks as its director's worst film.

Grade: C-
All the Real Girls (2003)

A beautiful, assured and wise film from David Gordon Green. Two films in and he's already jockeying for a place among my favorite directors, God bless him. Not much I can say about this film that hasn't already been said elsewhere by better writers (for once, I urge you to check out Roger Ebert's review); if you dug George Washington, you'll dig this too. This film also proves once and for all that Zooey Deschanel rules. If she goes Britanny Murphy on us, I'll cry.

Grade: A-
Gerry (2003)

It's really a matter of whether or not you can surrender yourself. If you can give up on actively trying to interpret this film and just get into the cinematic rhythm of it all, it's pretty damn grand. Any attempt to leech meaning out of this will inevitably end in frustration and possible walkout; put simply, this is an experiment in pure cinema, an attempt to make a film that exists as is. To call the film pretentious is to misread the film -- there's no reaching towards some grand theme, as far as I can see. It's just about two guys lost in the desert. It's as minimalistic as film gets, and it'll drive most people crazy. But if you can appreciate the aesthetics of the whole endeavor, it's awesome. (It also helps that Damon & Affleck make for two appealing slacker buddies -- after the rock-jumper sequence, I was ready to follow this film anywhere it went.)

Grade: B+

Saturday, March 08, 2003

"El Crimen del Padre Amaro" (2002)

I wish i could hate this movie more but is very entretaining and Ana Talancón is the most beautiful mexican actress since Salma.
The screenplay is all over the place, and there is not a single stand out performance, it tries too hard to be polemical, but it doesn't have one single likeable character, and many feel like cartoons, too many unintentional laughs, this subject is such ripe for parody, i wish John Waters or Buñuel directed this.

Grade: C-

"Frida" (2002)

Now i wish i loved this one more, its so perfectly filmed, perfectly acted, wonderful surreal touches, perfectly paced, but some scenes are just too silly, and it should have been filmed in spanish, so it didn't have those awkward spanglish moments. After a while it becomes a spot the cameo kind of affair, but Salma gets naked, and that is a very good thing, do not miss it.

Grade: B+

Sunday, March 02, 2003

Red to Kill (1994)

If nothing else, this film confirmed one fact to me: I am a sick, sick, sick motherfucker. You kind of have to be to even want to see this film, let alone see it to the end credits. Let me just say that this film involves a serial killer/rapist who starts to menace our female protagonist -- a young, pretty, mentally retarded woman. Yes, a MENTALLY RETARDED woman. To say that he eventually does rape her goes without saying; to say that the rape is shown on camera in long, loving detail illustrates just how Not Right this movie truly is. And yet, if you've the sensibilities for it, it's an effective and visceral film with a worldview bleaker than almost any other I've encountered thus far. (The only film I can think of right now that reaches this film's subhuman levels is fellow HK Category III nasty The Untold Story, a brilliant but relentless and ugly film so grimy that you'll wanna Windex your TV afterward.) The balls-out climax is maniacally over-the-top, even for a film like this, and the final scene is like some sick joke with a punchline too cruel to comprehend. In short, it's pretty unforgettable. But I wouldn't bother seeing it unless, like me, you are a sick motherfucker.

Grade: B-
The Isle (2002)

I've been seeing a lot of Oriental films lately for some reason. Odd. Anyway, this here's a gorgeously filmed allegory with a couple moments that wouldn't feel out of place in Red to Kill. (One word: fishhooks. Lots of fishhooks.) The problem is with the allegorical significance of said work... as in I can't fucking figure it out. Yes, the cinematography is stunning and the imagery is potent, but to what end? There's only so far I'll go with a film before it has to convince me that it might actually be about something, and when the smoke and mirrors dissipated, I was left with a bunch of pretty snapshots, some nasty business with fishhooks and a film that tackles about a thousand separate ideas during its running time but ultimately amounts to fuck-all. Often compelling, always opaque, finally frustrating. Still, those fishhooks make sure this is yet another film I'll never ever forget.

Grade: C+
The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys (2002)

While watching this, I was hoping the plot thread involving the cougar wouldn't wreck the film. *sigh* The film certainly has a lot to recommend it, enough that I feel (somewhat) comfortable giving it a mild recommendation. In particular, the plot strand with Emile Hirsch and Jena Malone, for the most part, is pretty spiffy and leads to the film's best moments. Unfortunately, that strand apparently wasn't actually what the film was 'about,' so it also leads to one of my two major bones of contention -- Malone's last stretch of dialogue is puzzling and leaves a sour taste that throws the film off-kilter, which means the overdone and borderline-retarded climax damn near sinks the ship. Maybe it does anyway; the more I think about this movie, the less I like it. Well-made and well-acted, for sure, with a wealth of excellent moments (including the comic-book interludes was a ballsy risk that paid off fantastically), but still. That ending eats it. (P.S. to Jena Malone: I love you.)

Grade: C+
Pulse (2001)

Well, here's something you don't see every day -- an existential horror flick. Yeah, there's ghosts in this movie, but the real terror comes from the idea of an empty afterlife, an eternity of nothing. Solemnly paced and creepy as all get-out, it does get too slow for its own good occasionally and may be too vague for a lot of people (which might be why nobody's picked it up for American distribution). Still, if you appreciate the effect of the cerebral as well as the visceral and have a measure of patience, this'll stick with you in a way The Ring only wishes it could. (Side note: For some reason, Wes Craven is remaking this. That's one of the worst fucking ideas I've ever heard.)

Grade: B+