Friday, December 29, 2006

Review – Atomic Journeys

If only the DVD had featured an option for turning off the soundtrack music. This production features a ton of fascinating footage, some recently declassified and here presented to the public for the first time. Unfortunately, it’s framed in an inept documentary about “peaceful” atomic testing in the 50s and 60s. Interviewees dwell on the excuses for the testing (ranging from digging canals to tapping natural gas pockets), giving the production the feel of a movie made about an empty room that constantly shows every corner but the one with the white elephant in it. Overall this might have been a much better movie if it had just stuck with the Atomic CafĂ© mix of archival footage and period music only. Almost everything else here is an annoying distraction (as borne out by the special features, where some of the original stuff can be viewed without interruption or hysterically over-dramatized score). Mildly amusing

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Review – The Black Dahlia

I’m willing to bet that James Ellroy really liked this production of his novel about the famous Hollywood murder. On the other hand, I thought it was episodic and largely uninteresting. The slaying of Elizabeth Smart is only peripherally part of the plot, the bulk of the screen time going instead to the usual Ellroy parade of tough guy cops with deep personal problems. The result is a much duller movie than might have been made about such a sensational crime. Mildly amusing

Review – Cars

Disney / Pixar strikes again. This time our animated characters are all motor vehicles of some kind. Despite the limitations inherent in characters who have no hands, the story (celebrity race car stranded in the sticks gets a long lesson in the simple pleasures of life) functions fairly well. It was also nice to see one of these celebrity voice parades with nobody especially annoying in the cast (the absence of Robin Williams was a real plus). Though the production doesn’t feature anything especially original or interesting, at least it manages not to grate the nerves too badly. Mildly amusing

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Review – American Dreamz

What a strange little movie. I’m not sure there’s much inherent entertainment value in satirizing “American Idol,” as the show sort of automatically mocks itself. And when that’s all the picture does, it’s predictably dull. However, every once in awhile something quirky enters the fray, such as the President of the United States (clearly based on George W. Bush) getting it into his head that he actually wants to start reading newspapers. Thus while one shouldn’t expect much from the sitcom story line, viewing is nonetheless rewarded by occasional moments of genuine humor. Mildly amusing

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Review - Faust

 Jan Svankmajer strikes again, this time taking on a tale tailor-made for his bizarre blend of live-action and animation. The story loosely follows the Faust legend, dipping in and out of the bracketing plot of a guy lured in off the street and made the main character in a dramatic production of the tale. For the most part this is the same “Sprockets”-worthy film-making we’ve come to expect from the source. However, for my money I would have liked a lot more stop motion and a lot less marionette action. While Svankmajer’s animation is frequently quite good, the rest of it is run-of-the-mill European art movie stock. Mildly amusing

Friday, December 22, 2006

Review – Alexander Nevsky

This is a must-see for any student of propaganda film-making (not to mention anyone studying cinema as a graphic art). Though I suppose Potemkin is a more important work from a film history standpoint, I think this one is more entertaining. In context, the glaring (Nevsky as Stalin, the swastikas on the evil bishop’s miter) and subtle (merchants paying to appease the Teutons even as Stalin himself was working a treaty with Hitler) aspects of art in a dictatorship add a whole new dimension to the viewing experience. It also reverberates into history, not only exposing Stalin’s self-image but also giving Germany a strong hint about what was waiting for its troops four years later at Stalingrad. One can also appreciate the impact it had on subsequent productions, ranging from Conan the Barbarian to The Empire Strikes Back. And of course it can just be enjoyed as an entertaining movie (a little rough around some of the edges, but still quite watchable). The disc itself doesn’t come with any special features (indeed, it doesn’t even have a main menu), but it’s still worth it. Buy the disc

Review – Desperation

Stephen King takes to the pulpit and preaches long and hard. Honestly, there’s more sermonizing in this dumb little horror movie than the fundies build into the Left Behind productions. And what makes that troubling is that this is just that: a dumb little horror movie. Usually the closest such productions ever come to legitimate questions of faith is whether or not a crucifix will ward off a vampire. There are a couple of good, old-fashioned King-style thrills (or at least a reasonable made-for-TV facsimile thereof), but for the most part this is a parade of numbskull theology and animal cruelty. Lots and lots of animal cruelty (without which this might have gotten a slightly better score). Wish I’d skipped it

Friday, December 15, 2006

Review – The Desert Fox: The Story of Rommel

James Mason does a great job as the legendary German general. As a child I was obsessed with the African campaign, and I confess enough of that fascination lingers to my adulthood to make me wish they’d spent more time on that high point in Rommel’s career. Instead the focus here is primarily on the general’s connection to the plot to assassinate Hitler in 1944. Still, the story is exciting enough. Mildly amusing