Thursday, May 31, 2007

Review – Chronos (2006)

I seriously thought about not reviewing this one. After all, it’s only 40 minutes or so long, and usually I don’t write a “movie” review for anything under 60. But I felt badly deceived by a couple of elements of the info Netflix supplied that prompted its inclusion in my queue. First, the description said that it was longer. This can only be if the special features behind-the-scenes documentaries are included in the running time (and I don’t include such items when calculating length). But second and far more important, this is by no means the groundbreaking work of innovative genius that the description made it sound like. The strong implication was that this picture does something that Koyaanisqatsi did not. Nothing could be further from the truth. Indeed, aside from the shorter length and the even-more-annoying soundtrack, little distinguishes this one from its predecessor. Further, the “special features” swiftly make clear that at least some of the crew for this entry worked on the original. That isn’t to say that this is a bad production. Some of it is a lot of fun to watch. I was especially fond of the time lapse footage of the tide coming in around Mont St. Michel. However, I think it’s dishonest to state or imply that this sort of thing has never been done before. Mildly amusing

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Review – Ed Wood

John Waters once made a side-hand remark about making a biopic about Edward D. Wood Jr., suggesting the title “Look Back in Angora.” Frankly, it sounded more promising than the Tim Burton version turns out to be. The subject just needed Waters’ eye for camp rather than Burton’s talent with quirk. Martin Landau does a brilliant job as Bela Lugosi; not only does he do the accent flawlessly, but he brings a touching, human quality to the dying actor’s final movies. Johnny Depp’s treatment of the title role comes across as largely borrowed from the Jon Lovitz school of smirking line mutilation, but the rest of the cast bears up fairly well. Beyond that the story sort of tells itself. Ed Wood was one of the worst, weirdest movie directors ever, so his tale naturally makes a good movie. Mildly amusing

Review - The Final Cut

This is one of the few times I’ve ever seen a movie’s high concept actually manage to keep driving the plot right to the end. Here the idea is that people get implants that allow them to record their entire lives. Then after they die, editors – called “Cutters” – reduce the recordings down to movie length so they can be shown at funeral services called “remembries.” The rippling effect this has on society supplies enough twists and turns for an hour and a half of fairly interesting movie. I didn’t even mind Robin Williams all that much. Here he finally seems to give the understated performance he’s been trying to pull off ever since he first began his attempts to shed his reputation for being a jittery clown. The production values are also good, especially for an indie. Worth seeing

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Review – Deliver Us from Evil

And the trend continues. Once again a director takes a potentially fascinating story and turns it into a mess of a documentary. The story of clergy sexual abuse of children needs to be told. And here we’ve got some good story-tellers: a serial abuser and a handful of his now-adult victims (and their families). However, the thrust of the production swiftly turns from how the abuse could have been allowed to take place to begin with to how the Roman Catholic Church failed to deal effectively with the situation. Even that might have been okay; official church complicity is a serious part of the problem. But alas, the potential impact of this movie is undone by the almost complete lack of story-telling. Interviews are cut together in an almost random sequence, with little attention to chronology or other organizational scheme that might allow the audience to absorb what we’re being given. Then at the end it goes completely Michael Moore when a couple of the victims try to get into the Vatican to present a letter about their plight. Apparently we’re supposed to take something away from the fact that the security guards wouldn’t let them in. That kind of thing might be good for a few laughs in a different context, but here it makes a disappointing ending to a disorganized tale that really deserved a better break. Mildly amusing

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Review – Apocalypto

Mel Gibson wastes a couple of hours proving that action movies aren’t made substantially more interesting just by shooting them in another language. The story is straightforward enough: the lives of simple villagers are destroyed by the Aztec, who enslave them and cart them off to be sacrificed in a really gory ceremony. And that’s only half the movie. I wanted to extend at least some praise based on the absence of Euro-American characters in the production, but even that didn’t work out in the end. The direction is weak (in particular, some of the subplots are awkwardly integrated into the story flow), but the technical quality is good. Mildly amusing

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Review – Coma

Okay, the weird scene with the bodies hanging from wires is kinda cool. Unfortunately, the rest of the movie appears to be designed to inspire just what the title promises. Genevieve Bujold stars as a courageous young doctor who discovers that the hospital for which she works makes a practice of deliberately poisoning patients during surgical anesthesia so the victims’ comatose quasi-corpses can be shipped to an organ-harvesting facility. Boring plot twists ensue. Michel Douglas co-stars as our heroine’s love interest, a man torn between affection and repeated assurances that his significant other’s paranoid obsessions will ruin her career and take him down with her. Now you know everything you need to about the story, so feel free to fast-forward to the body-suspension room (and stop watching afterward if you’re so inclined). Mildly amusing

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Review – Elizabeth

I can’t remember the last time I watched such an ineptly-directed movie. And that’s a real shame, because with the subject at hand (the early reign of Elizabeth I, which of course featured some crucial moments in European history) and the cast on board (particularly Cate Blanchett) a better movie could have been made. Sadly, Shekhar Kapur is not up to the task. Action, shot composition and editing are consistently weak, sometimes to the point of genuine error (such as the “blinking corpse” scene). Even the credits are mishandled, which of course ensures that the picture both starts and ends on sour notes. Though English history isn’t necessarily my favorite way to pass a couple of hours, I feel I could have gotten more out of this tale if it had been more skillfully told. Mildly amusing

Friday, May 11, 2007

Review – Damn the Defiant

This “heart of oak” action movie stands in sharp contrast to Ustinov’s version of Billy Budd, which came out the same year. While the Melville-inspired story at least tries to say something profound about the human condition, this one comes across as a big box full of sailing ship mutiny clich├ęs wrapped up and sealed with an exclamation point. Despite the simple-minded storytelling, the movie does feature an interesting facet or two. Though it’s set on a British warship sailing the Mediterranean, the backdrop is the famous Spithead mutiny. Though this allows the introduction of at least some of the social issues surrounding shipboard misery, the focus nonetheless remains on the tried-and-true battle between cruel officers and hapless seamen. The plot twists a bit with the locus of the problem: the cruel officer in this case is a lieutenant, an aristocrat with “connections” who makes life miserable not only for the lower decks but also for his long-suffering captain (ably played by Alec Guinness). Overall this isn’t the worst sailing ship movie I’ve ever seen, but most of the pleasures to be found here lie in the small details of shipboard life rather than in the broad strokes of the story and the characters. Mildly amusing

Review – Billy Budd (1962)

Melville’s classic comes to the silver screen with Terrence Stamp in the title role. Yes, Stamp was actually young enough to play a youthful, idealistic sailor at one point. Peter Ustinov co-stars and directs, which helps to give this the earnest feel endemic to obsessive “vanity” projects. Nonetheless it turns out to be a fairly good movie. The allegory about good and evil is just as heavy-handed here as it is in the source story. Some of the plot twists remain implausible. But that’s okay. The audience needn’t demand strict realism from a picture like this. And the production designers’ attention to detail lends an air of authenticity that provides a pleasing contrast to the somewhat artificial story. Overall this is a must-see for fans of “heart of oak” tales and a rewarding experience even for viewers who aren’t devoted to the sub-genre. Worth seeing

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Review – Bewitched

I know I spend a lot of time griping about bad writing. But wow, is this movie ever not an exception to the trend. Indeed, this is a rarity among even Hollywood productions: a picture that was completely undone almost exclusively by its own script. A straight TV-to-movie adaptation of the “Bewitched” series probably wouldn’t have won the Palme d’Or at Cannes, but it could nonetheless have been an entertaining little picture. Nicole Kidman should have had little trouble stepping into the Elizabeth Montgomery role, and Will Ferrell is, well, Will Ferrell. Supporting cast members Michael Caine and Shirley MacLaine were well enough suited to their parts. Director Nora Ephron has done funny stuff in the past. So why on earth did they decide to get “fancy” with the story? A nice, conservative retooling would have been just fine, but instead we’re treated to a pseudo-reflexive twist that throws the whole thing off. Our protagonists aren’t a human-witch married couple. They’re a pair of actors manipulating each other behind the scenes in a 21st century TV series based on the original. That she happens to be an actual witch – in addition to playing one on TV – does little to redeem this half-baked excuse for a plot. When “just a simple reheat of ‘Bewitched’ would have been better” is the nicest thing I have to say about a movie, you can bet what they actually made turned out to be pretty bad. See if desperate