Saturday, April 28, 2007

Review – Behind the Red Door

A photographer (Kyra Sedgwick) gets roped into caring for her estranged brother (Kiefer Sutherland) as AIDS slowly claims his life. He’s an arrogant jerk, a personality trait that supplies most of the plot points, particularly when he starts to mellow as he nears death. Just about the only story beyond that is a half-baked domestic violence murder mystery involving the siblings’ estranged father (there’s a lot of estrangement in this). Though the direction is terrible and the performances mostly mailed in, the real champ of terribleness is the script. Most of the dialogue is so awful it sounds like it was written by a high school student trying desperately to pass a theatre class (and probably not succeeding). Overall this is a pointless tear-jerker arriving a decade or two too late to say anything profound about AIDS. See if desperate

Friday, April 27, 2007

Review – All The King's Men

This would make a good double feature with Citizen Kane. To be sure, this production isn’t as slick as the Wells classic. For starters, the editing is pretty rough in spots; I don’t know much about the history of the production, but from just a casual viewing I’d guess that it had been intended to be a longer movie and that big chunks were sliced out sometime late in post-production. The characters and plot developments are equally awkward, frequently coming across as ham-handed clich├ęs rather than the subtle nuances of Kane. On the other hand, this approach is appropriate to the subject. Huey Long wasn’t exactly the sophisticated head of a vast publishing empire, so it’s only natural that his roman a clef counterpart would be more at home in a story full of simple-minded morality. The production also features some fun faces in the supporting cast, including a very young John Derek and a pre-gravelly-voiced-demon Mercedes McCambridge. Overall this is an enjoyable movie despite some stiffness around the joints. Worth seeing

Monday, April 23, 2007

Review – Catch a Fire

For some reason 2006 seems to have been a great year for terrific yet largely-ignored pictures. In this example, Derek Luke plays Patrick Chamusso, a black man trying to make an honest living in Apartheid South Africa. After he and his wife are brutalized by the police, he decides to seek revenge by joining the ANC. The result is a touching tale more than a little evocative of the Bob Marley lyrics that provide the title. Tim Robbins also does a solid job as the anti-terrorism officer responsible for the torture that transforms Chamusso from peaceful worker to revolutionary. The reality of the “true story” is brought home by the appearance of Chamusso himself at the end. Though the monstrous regime that spawned these events is no more, this is still a valuable lesson in a well-assembled package. Worth seeing

Review – Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1932)

Though this movie suffers from many of the production oddities endemic to the early days of talking pictures, it’s still one of the best cinematic versions of the Stephenson classic. Fredric March won a well-deserved Oscar – one of very few ever to go to an actor in a horror movie – for his portrayal of the protagonist / antagonist. However, a big part of the credit for this production’s success belongs to the technical tricks. Jekyll becomes Hyde rapidly thanks to twists of lighting and filters as well as makeup. The results are impressive, an excellent accent to March’s appropriately over-the-top personality shifts. And though not graphically sexual or violent by 21st century standards, the pre-Hays-Code production is also sometimes a bit shocking. Overall, of all the versions of this story I’ve seen so far, this one is the best. Mildly amusing

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Review – Children of Men

Several critics compared this grim bit of science fiction to Blade Runner. That’s apt to the extent that both movies had better visuals than scripts. However, this round of dystopia is both more and less sophisticated than the Ridley Scott classic. This isn’t a startling departure from the real world; none of the technology would seem terribly out of place in 2006. But the subtle shifts in cars, televisions, and many of the other trappings of everyday life underscore the dramatic change in the world’s politics. Something has rendered the entire human race infertile. The resulting social chaos and fascist backlash serves at the backdrop for the story of an average guy who gets dragged into a desperate attempt to rescue a miraculously-pregnant woman from the government and various rebel / criminal elements. The story is plenty depressing, so this made a vaguely inappropriate choice for Sunday evening viewing. But if you can stand a bit of a bummer, the art direction and cinematography alone are worth the rental price. Mildly amusing