Monday, October 17, 2005

Reel Short Reviews, Take 12

More thumbnail reviews for your reading enjoyment:

The Cave (2005)
So Alien was scary in outer space, right? Well, then, why not set the slimy critter in a cave and see what happens? This movie answers the "why not?" query: 'Cause you end up with this shoulda-been-straight-to-video crapfest.

The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005)
Director Scott Derrickson has boasted that this might be the first-ever horror/courtroom drama. Well, there might be a reason for that. The two genres don't mix, at least not in this lugubrious tale. What a waste of the mega-talented Laura Linney and Tom Wilkinson.

Fight Club (1999)
David Fincher's mind-blowing satire comes close to overstaying its welcome, but not enough to sap the movie's snap, crackle and pop. Based on the novel by Chuck Pahlaniuk, this exceptional film stars Edward Norton as the nameless office drone wasting away through insomnia and addictive consumerism until he meets up with the messianic Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt). The alliance leads to Fight Club, groups of disenfranchised men yearning to slug their way out of ennui and back to the hunter-gatherer state. In its own twisted way, however, Fight Club is about everything, although it never really goes off the rails thematically.

The Man (2005)
A serviceable buddy flick that gets what little mileage it does from co-stars Samuel L. Jackson and Eugene Levy.

A Matter of Life and Death (1946)
Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger conjured up some of the most gripping, dreamlike films in the history of cinema, and this quasi-wartime fantasy one might be their best. David Niven stars as a World War II pilot in Britain's Royal Air Force who jumps from his burning plane without a parachute, only to miraculously wash ashore not too far from an American woman (Kim Hunter) whom he briefly spoke to by radio shortly before he bailed. Wouldn't you know, it turns out some incompetent angel (French,of course) failed to whisk Niven away to Heaven for his appointed time; so now the pilot, who has survived and is in love, wants to stay put on Earth. Drenched in beautiful Technicolor, A Matter of Life and Death laces the Earthbound romance with a black-and-white Heaven more reminiscent of German Expressionism than anything approaching Utopia. And somewhere along the way, Powell and Pressburger even find room for a fascinating debate on the merits of America vs. Great Britain. Terrific stuff.

Night and the City (1950)
Director Jules Dassin made this extraordinary film noir thriller after the anti-Commie frenzy of the period forced him to flee Hollywood for London. Richard Widmark stars as Harry Fabian, a two-bit con man whose dreams exceed his abilities; in his quest to corner the promotions market on pro wrestling in London, he spins a web of schemes that ultimately ensnares him -- and everyone else he comes near. A knockout of a film, Night and the City includes all the trappings of great noir. It is dark, moody, fatalistic and morally ambiguous, a nocturnal world in which the drama of loveless couplings and broken men play out in shadows. Those were the days.

Rock School (2005)
Not so much a documentary about East Coast kids with a hankering to be rock stars as much as it is a snapshot of Paul Green, a smug, delusional, powertripping snob of a rock teacher who insists he can turn his class into first-rate rock 'n' rollers. Paul is a self-important prick, but apparently a lot of his students respond to the verbal abuse. It's watchable and holds your interest, but you can't help wishing that director Don Argott went digging just a bit more into Green's backstory.

Rushmore (1998)
Wes Anderson's breakthrough film is still his most successful -- an energetic, flamboyant, ultimately good-natured comedy about edgy prep school overachiever Max Fischer (Jason Schwartman), a lost soul who squares off against a world-weary industrialist (a pitch-perfect Bill Murray) for the affections of a widowed schoolteacher (Olivia Williams). Boasting a terrific soundtrack (where the Ramones, the Who and Chad and Jeremy's "Summer Song" all find themselves fratenizing) and a fearlessness ready to try out every gloriously cockamamie idea that occurs to the filmmakers, Rushmore is that rarest of creatures; it's a hipster comedy that actually has a heart.

Saved! (2003)
The movie frustrated its audiences at the time, and no wonder. A gentle satire about young Christians, it was marketed as being a skewering of strident Bible-thumpers. The overall vibe, however, is decidedly more humanitarian in this tale of Mary (Jena Malone), who becomes pregnant after she tries saving her boyfriend from homosexuality. Helmed by Brian Dannelly, the cast is uniformly terrific, particularly Malone, Mandy Moore and Eva Amurri. Maybe Saved! could have used sharper teeth, but the movie works well for what it is, and actually achieves moments of poignancy.

The Skeleton Key (2005)
In addition to being one of the last movies shot in New Orleans before its 2005 Armageddon in the shape of Katrina, this hoodoo creeper also makes for one of the more unfairly maligned films of the '05 summer. Kate Hudson is understated and believable (and in her underwear a lot, thank goodness) as a frustrated caregiver who takes a job helping a mute stroke victim (John Hurt) in a neglected Bayou mansion. The protective wife (Gena Rowlands) might just be a bit batty or sinister, and there might just be a history in this old house. The Deep South is one of the few truly exotic cultures left in this country -- unless you count Radio Shack salespeople that is -- and director Iain Softley sharpens the edges for some moderate frights and a nifty twist ending.

Thelonious Monk: Straight, No Chaser (1988)
A solid, straightforward documentary about the be-bop jazz legend.


Post a Comment

<< Home