Monday, November 14, 2005

Reel Short Reviews, Take 13

More movies I've seen or re-seen. The ratings scale should be fairly easy to figure out, pardner.

Bell, Book and Candle (1958)
Kim Novak was mighty perty, but she and co-stars Jimmy Stewart and Jack Lemmon seem adrift in this tale of a book publisher who falls in love with a real-life New York witch (apparently a precursor of Bewitched, Judith Regan and Tina Brown). Is it a farce? Is it a romance? Bell, Book and Candle is certainly watchable, but its lackluster script sinks faster than a non-witch in water.

Citizen Ruth (1996)
Alexander Payne's directorial debut is wickedly on-target satire, a pitch-perfect skewering of pro-life and pro-choice extremists. And what better way to point out the absurdities of ideological circuses than to make your martyr a glue-huffing wastoid? Laura Dern is exceptional as Ruth Stoops, a homeless drug addict who gets pregnant and finds herself a pawn in the war over abortion.

Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989)
Woody Allen's most brilliant masterpiece; and, yes, that is saying a lot. This is such a cohesive film about some mighty weighty questions -- what is the meaning of life? is there morality in the absence of faith? what is the reward of a virtuous life? why do bad things happen to good people? -- but Allen's taut script manages to avoid the didacticism that has plagued his work elsewhere. And the performances are tremendous, particularly Martin Landau as a prosperous doctor who has his neurotic mistress murdered after she threatens to tell his wife about their affair. In a risky artistic move, Allen splits the narrative between that somber fare and a storyline with himself as a nebbish documentary maker who chronicles a self-aggrandizing TV mogul (Alan Alda, doing a neat parody of himself).

Into the Blue (2005)
Jessica Alba is hot, hot, hot. This crapfest is not, not, not.

The Miracle of Morgan's Creek (1944)
A groundbreaking film of its time, this Preston Sturges comedy pushed the limits of the Production Code in its tale of Trudy (Betty Hutton), a small-town gal who goes to a dance for war-bound soldiers, gets drunk, marries one of the boys, gets knocked up and subsequently has no recollection of the lucky groom/father. There are some inspired moments, to be sure, but a little Eddie Bracken goes a long was as Trudy's stuttering, nervous and long-suffering suitor.

Roll Bounce (2005)
A surprisingly airy, good-natured trip down memory lane, this ode to roller disco (!) stars rapper Bow Wow as a south side Chicago kid, circa 1978, who skates away the summer with his chums doing all that coming-of-age stuff: chasing girls, having epiphanies about parents and trying to beat the reigning roller disco champ. Sound corny? It's unabashedly that, but director Malcolm D. Lee knows how to craft such nostalgic schmaltz, and the soundtrack is packed with terrific Seventies classics by the likes of Kool and the Gang, K.C. and the Sunshine Band and Parliament.

3 Women (1977)
Now I know where David Lynch found his inspiration for Mulholland Drive. 3 Women has many of the signature signs of its director-writer, Robert Altman (overlapping dialogue, an improvisational feel), but it's also more focused, and certainly more surreal, than most of his oeuvre (check out my fancypants word!). Shelley Duvall and Sissy Spacek are excellent as the sad-sack women who work at a rehab center, decide to room together and gradually undergo some creepy issues of identity. Altman says the story came to him in a dream (and we're betting it was a THC-induced nap, at that), which might explain the increasingly desultory atmospherics. But what the hell -- it's still an intriguing itch of a film.

Tim Burton's Corpse Bride (2005)
Clever, entertaining and somehow unmemorable animated whimsy -- albeit with a mighty dark edge -- courtesy Mike Johnson and the hit-or-miss Tim Burton.

The Transporter (2002)
Jason Statham is an underworld transporter in this stylish, overcharged and ultimately forgettable actioner. As with most screenplays by Luc Besson, it teeters between clever campiness and utter ridiculousness.

Wallace & Gromit in the Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005)
Amusing claymation marks the feature-length debut of the intrepid inventor and his long-suffering canine, but I dunno, I'm just not as enamored as the rest of the world. And I love cheese.

Written on the Wind (1956)
Douglas Sirk made turgid, lurid, over-the-top melodramas -- juicy and tremendously entertaining tramps through trash. This was his unparalleled masterpiece, managing to encompass alcoholism, nymphomania, impotence, infidelity, sibling battles and other weirdness I probably just didn't catch.


At 11:55 AM, Anonymous turtle said...

I just discovered 3 Women a few months ago and now consider it one of my favorite Altman films. Don Simpson called him a drunk and a fraud, but after watching this film and hearing his fascinating running commentary on the DVD, it is obvious Robert Almman is and always has been a cinematic artist in the truest sense of the word as he adeptly defends every choice he made during the production of this movie.

At 9:25 AM, Anonymous Jer B. said...

It's not the best of taste to cast aspersions on the dead, but for Don Simpson to call anyone a drunk and/or a fraud is a little like a Wal-Mart-sponsored symposium on business ethics.


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