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

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Short and Maybe Even Sweet

Once upon a time, each of the below films (or, okay, most of them) were to be not merely reviewed but analyzed in lengthy, incisive, brilliantly rationalized prose. That time has passed. These fuckers have been stuck on my hard drive for months, begging for the dissection they so clearly deserved. The guilt that's resulted from my inertia long ago became too much to bare. In the spirit of accepting failure and moving on, it's time to play "100 Words or Less (But Probably a Little More)."

Aeon Flux (Karyn Kusama, USA) [C+]
Anarchist women fighting the (mostly white) men who’ve taken away their reproductive rights! A character who has hands where there should be feet! Pete Postlethwaite dressed as a carrot! Frances McDormand with funky red hair! Group conferences held in the confines of, like, a communal stomach! Why don’t I like this more? Comparisons to Zardoz have been thrown around a bit too liberally, but it does point to my chief problem with this studio-diced non-disaster: it’s not weird enough by a mile.

Unleashed (Louis Leterrier, UK/France) [B-]
Hard to believe that Luc Besson Lackey #4 opened and closed last summer, but there you have it. I prefer the inventive hijinks of the August closer, The Transporter 2, but this end-of-May actioneer has its charms too, not the least of them the way Besson has dreamed up his wackiest idea to date (Jet Li as an ass-kicking manimal controlled by Bob Hoskins) only to milk it for Sirkian melodrama. No shock that the bone-crunching action’s better than the straight-faced stuff, another reason why this is the dumbest career move since...I'm drawing a blank. It might take the cake.

Bewitched (Nora Ephron, USA) [D]
There’s a pretty nifty forced perspective gag early on. Otherwise, this movie is unusually awful. Basically, imagine these events transpiring: 1) Ephron sisters watch Adaptation. with Penny Marshall; 2) all three discover there’s this meta-/pomo thing seeping through our cultural wasteland; 3) they dream up transparently terrible ideas (“what if they did a remake of the Bewitched show...only the woman they cast as Samantha turned out to be a real witch?!”) then lamely throw in jokes about how lame they are; 4) finally, they assemble an impressive crew (three former Daily Show correspondents!), and see if they can drown them all. ‘Cause, ya know, they know they’re a cancer to cinema -- that’s what makes them so fun!

Shopgirl (Anand Tucker, USA) [C-]
Thought this was a nicely democratic tri-character study for awhile. Then it turned out to be Steve Martin apologizing to a young girl he may or may not have had a relationship with. It’s not simply the blandness of its conceit that irks, so much as how timid Martin is as a confessionalist. Basically, the only problem with Martin was that he was "emotionally unavailable," and besides, shouldn't Claire Danes be gallavanting about with someone her own age -- someone like Jason Schwartzman's dunderheaded logo guy? Whatever. Martin the Actor should also remember that he can’t do serious unless David Mamet is calling the shots.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Mike Newell, UK/USA) [B-]
The last half-hour is all but breathtaking, effortlessly conveying a sense of prolonged menace, then ending with a lovely, melancholic farewell to youth (and, one hopes, any last traces of Chris Columbusisms). The rest of it is workmanlike but spotty, with a smattering of pubescent outbursts (Hermione gets hormonal; Ron gets dispondent and kinda weird; everyone dances to Jarvis Cocker) littered about Rowling’s plot, which, as with the rest, is too arbitrarily labyrinthine for my taste. (Also, could Hogwarts like fucking get their shit together re: hiring new Dark Arts professors, I mean jesus.)

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (Shane Black, USA) [B+]
I greatly enjoyed this film of the cinema of Shane Black, but I’m not sure if it actually needs to be watched by anyone other than Shane Black himself. It was written over the course of four or so years, and it’s hard not to picture him spending the fourth year simply admiring its architecture, going over and over and over its dense web of gags, references, wordplay, leftfield grammar lessons (!!), cinematic fillips, etc., etc., et al., so forth and what have you, adding, altering, and generally patting himself on the back, all the while barely able to wait till strangers get to see it. That I didn’t feel excluded is a feat indeed. If AMPAS wasn’t, well, AMPAS, Robert Downey, Jr.’s manchild would be a lock for a nomination.

Jarhead (Sam Mendes, USA) [C+]
To quote South Park: “If irony were strawberries, we’d all be drinking smoothies right now.” But clearly Gus Van Sant should've directed this. I mean, duh.

The Squid and the Whale (Noah Baumbach, USA) [A-]
My response to this requires more space than I’ve alotted myself (and a second viewing). However, I’ve been quoting Jeff Daniels’ self-mythologizing writer-daddy so much (Kafka: "one of my predecessors") that I think some people less acquainted with me have started thinking I’m in fact him. Favorite part (maybe): Daniels and son Jesse Eisenberg stop out front of the old family house, now run solely by mom Laura Linney. Daniels asks Eisenberg to do the doorbell-ringing duties as going up those stairs brings back painful memories. Staring unblinkingly out the window, he tells Eisenberg -- again, his son -- “I used to live there.” Beat. “As you know.”

Syriana (Stephen Gaghan, USA) [C+]
More than confirms that Gaghan’s work needs to pass through to another’s hands; what made Traffic more than a dense thicket of accurate if glibly-put pronouncements on geopolitics (i.e., what this is) was Soderbergh’s light but able touch, the kind of artistic temperment that, for one, casts Topher Grace in a minor role. Basically: what happened to the characters?

Where the Truth Lies (Atom Egoyan, Canada/UK/USA) [B-]
I’m with Sicinski. So fully had Egoyan transfixed me that it took me at least a day to grasp the scope of its ridiculousness -- most embarrassingly, Alison Lohman’s sporadic reevaluation of stray lines of dialogue as clues. How in the hell did this not break even the $1 mil line?

Good Night, And Good Luck. (George Clooney, USA) [B-]
Not to get all Ann Coulter here, but much of this movie is not merely overly-idealized but in fact plain fucking wrong, thus dwarfing some of the intended impact. (Not to mention, the movie’s far too close in spirit and temperment to the notoriously sanctimonious speech that opens the movie.) Still partially valuable for its Hawksian glimpses into The Process: for me, the best moment was when Clooney tapped Strathairn’s leg when he was back on the air. Having watched the original kinescopes beforehand, I was less caught up in the storyline, and wound up simply grooving on the B&W and surprising air of melancholy, most of it supplied by Dianne Reeves.

Elizabethtown (Cameron Crow, USA) [C+]
The grade’s waaaaaaaaaaay too generous considering it’s almost literally a remake of Garden State. And yet, however spot-on this is, I still partly admire the fool thing: Crowe seems to be trying to craft a new form of (mainstream) cinema, one driven by pure unbridled, stoopid emotion. Too bad Rob Zombie beat him to the punch on “Freebird,” though. Tough break, dude.

Shameless Plugs! This week's Weekly features, from me, an A-list on an evening of impossibly dull industrial and such shorts entitled "Boring Films" (second down), a review of the French pansexual vacation romp Côte d'Azur, and that thing that I do.


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