a seemingly random journey through cinema's heart of darkness. so to speak.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Where 2004 never sleeps...

A couple more stragglers, with still more on the way:

Friday Night Lights (Peter Berg)
The difference between this largely faithful Buzz Bissinger adaptation and Remember the Titans is the difference between journalism and soft-eyed platitudes. Not everything that should be touched upon is, but definite traces of it pop up in spurts: instead of delving into the crippling socioeconomic climate of Odessa, TX, Berg -- far, far, far away from Very Bad Things -- lets the dilapidated houses and lack of upward mobility say it all. (The best scene: dirty guy gives Lucas Black your standard let-me-take-a-picture routine, before playing a bizarre prank on him. Then we see he’s wearing a championship ring.) That’s why I’m not so sure there is, as hinted in the A.V. Club, a director’s cut out there somewhere: it’s all about quick glimpses, minute dots that add to the big picture. Glad, too, to see a football movie where the m.o. is clearly about doing your best, even if that doesn’t result in winning (a soft spot for we Philly-delphians given the last Super Bowl). Even more glad about the inclusion of a scene whose entire purpose is to show the racial difference between our team and the other -- exactly the kind of scene that’s the first to go in the paring-down process but adds immeasurably to the film’s scope. Grade: B

I, Robot (Alex Proyas)
Requires you to completely disavow any knowledge of the Isaac Asimov source (and Asimov, too) to enjoy even a little, though the movie itself doesn’t help. The brains-to-brawn quotient is roughly 15-85, with the heavy questions -- where does the body end and the consciousness begin?, et al. -- dropped like chocolate sprinkles on a curdled sundae. Throw in the latest arbitrarily labyrinthine mystery -- where’s the era’s Chandlers and Hammetts? Is Hiassen any good? -- but, on the other hand, at least it’s not entirely devoid: there’s just the right amount of attention paid to the irony of a black character being accused of prejudice for it to not be an accident -- or for that matter a distraction from the video-games-you-can’t-play vibe. Will Smith’s not bad either, making the most of the Akiva Goldsman-written one-liners and pulling off a more smooth than ever transition between Action Man and Quip Man. (He also underplays his big monologue to somewhere approaching, but not quite getting to, the hilt.) Didn’t realize Edelstein thought this, too, till I read his review post-watch, but I was convinced Le Twist was that Bridget Moynhahan was a robot. Lo and behold, she’s just a block of wood with perky breasts. Had I seen The Recruit I might have known that. Lesson: don’t watch The Recruit beforehand and you’ll be genuinely surprised by an even more asinine twist. Grade: C

p.s. (Dylan Kidd)
Kidd apparently took those harsh words about the rocket-in-pocket shakiness of Roger Dodger to heart, ‘cause sakes alive! He’s got himself a tripod this go around. This technical switcheroo -- jarring to say the least from an auteuristical standpoint -- does nothing to his love for hearing smart people talk smart. (Or in Topher Grace’s case, and at least for the first half, hearing smart people talk dumb -- “That was fuckin’ awesome!” now being one of the great post-coital lines.) But it has, apparently, done something to his choice of scripts. Dodger wasn’t much of anything when you cut into it, but its simple trajectory was the perfect clothesline with which to hang an endlessly loquacious cast. Here, he tackles a particularly ambivalent member of the chicklit catalogue -- is Grace’s doppleganger for Linney’s dead high school boyfriend a case of the metaphysical? new age twaddle? just a coincidence? or all of the above which by the way is pure cheating? -- and fumbles big time...but not before delivering a heck of a first half-hour, promising a perceptive little character study and delivering a instant entry in the best sex scenes of all time. (It just happens, he fumbles for the condom, Kidd lets it play out in real time, etc.) Linney’s typically Linney and Topher’s pretty damn Topher. Grade: C+

Cellular (David R. Ellis)
Just plain nifty, really: one awkward expository scene and it’s off, never looking back for stuff like, for starters, the presence of a telephone in an attic. Not much else to say but this: William H. Macy wearing a face mask. Grade: B

Good Bye, Dragon Inn (Tsai Ming-liang)
Lots of theories going around on what exactly Tsai’s doing signaling the death toll for cinema -- not to mention making a classic autumnal film at 46 -- and the closest I can come up with is the result’s a fairly cranky reaction to the DVD age, where people use theater-going experiences to test out future Best Buy purchases, if they go at all. (Not that any of this is acknowledged in the film, but it’s the kind of hyperbolic postulating that Tsai’s bare bones movies tend to encourage.) A bit of an average, my grade, basically because I was torn between the tut-tutty message and the hypnotic fashion with which said message was delivered, and figured it comes out a little lopsided. As ever, Tsai’s shots are both redundant and isolated mini-masterpieces: the shot/scene of our gawky quasi-protagonist dealing with first a stranger’s feet on the back of his seat and finally a woman loudly munching on food doesn’t add up to much more than the annoying-ness of inconsiderate fellow moviegoers, but Tsai’s timing is on par with Tati. I’m not the kind of guy who berates Playtime for it’s one-note technology-is-evil tirade, so I’ll extend the same to another of my favorite filmmakers. The final ten minutes, particularly, put it above the old mixed grade: whatever its signaling, it’s the end of something personal, fading ever so gradually into the fog. Grade: B

Ray (Taylor Hackford)
Utterly useless as a biography; close to priceless as a parade of euphoniousness. Lesson: Biopic-makers, chose good musicians to lazily iconicize. Okay, I can’t resist: Ray Charles (Jamie Foxx, not quite going beyond mimicry) meets a stranger on the street tooting a horn, the two hit it off, Ray asks him his name and he casually replies, “My name’s Quincy Jones.” A theater of people go “hmm...!” Grade: C+

In Good Company (Paul Weitz)
Humanistic to a fault. Weitz lets nascent corporate tiger Topher Grace off the hook within five minutes, causing him to pussyfoot when it should, could be digging to the heart of capitalism. It’s like being set up with a bravura slam dunk and taking the boring two pointer instead -- and missing. Still pretty amiable, for what’s left, but I seem to remember that at least American Pie let the guys be cretinous idiots and About a Boy allowed for many prickish moments from Hugh Grant. This is a stepdown, even with a soulful Dennis Quaid and a couple more quotables from Mr. Grace. By the way: Clark Gregg, at least the actor, is the man. (See also: State and Main, the sadistically uplifting final two episodes of Sports Night.) Grade: B-


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