Thursday, August 20, 2009

Review – The Elephant Man

The tragic life of John Merrick has tremendous cinematic potential. Indeed, I recall seeing video of a stage production in which the actor playing The Elephant Man (I think it may have been John Hurt, as it is here) did so without the benefit of special effects makeup, and it still turned out to be fascinating stuff. Here the effect is even more powerful thanks to the recreation of Merrick’s condition. My only big objection to this movie is that every once in awhile – especially in scene transitions – it takes on a certain David-Lynch-iness that detracts from the story. Worth seeing

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Review – Child's Play 2: Chucky's Back

I’ve been watching way too many cheap horror movies. Apparently I’ve become a sucker for pictures with any redeeming value at all. The slightest hint of a script. Any attempt at acting. Even mechanical doll puppets that don’t suck too much. This isn’t as clever as the first one (and that wasn’t exactly a huge hurdle to top), but I expected it to be much more terrible than it was. Mildly amusing

Monday, August 17, 2009

Review – The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother

Though it was directed by costar Gene Wilder, this silly little picture has a distinct Mel Brooks flavor. My favorite part of the movie was Madeline Kahn’s fine performance, but I’m sure Young Frankenstein fans will cherish the Wilder – Marty Feldman pair-up as well. The story – the famous detective turns a tricky case over to his younger brother Sigerson – is purely goofy, but the script sports a clever line or two. Mildly amusing

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Review – Bollywood Hero

Wow, all that hype on the Independent Film Channel, and this was all it was? Seriously, the network put up ad bugs for this thing so big that they actually covered up parts of subtitles in other movies. Don’t get me wrong: this wasn’t a terrible movie. Chris Kattan does a passable job as Chris Kattan, a comedy star lured to India by the promise of a dramatic lead. It works just fine as a garden-variety romantic comedy. It just wasn’t worth all the promotional noise. Mildly amusing

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Review – Deadline (2004)

In the last days of his term in office, Illinois Governor George H. Ryan decided to commute the sentences of everyone on the state’s death row. This documentary chronicles some of the hearings leading up to the decision. And as usual with productions of this ilk, we spend a lot of time with the apparently wrongfully convicted, the mentally disabled and the insane. Though some of the talking heads make some excellent points about the nature of capital punishment as practiced in the United States, the almost total absence of counter argument throws the integrity of the case into question. Mildly amusing

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Review – Blown Away

This one’s worth it just for Tommy Lee Jones’s Psycho Killer Dead Crab T.S. Eliot Puppet Theater. Unfortunately, that’s about all it’s worth it for. A retiring expert with the Boston PD bomb squad (Jeff Bridges) is drawn back into the fold when an old terrorist acquaintance (Jones) turns up with revenge on his mind. Though Jones’s frantic over-acting is a sight to behold, the rest of the picture is a run-of-the-mill thriller. Mildly amusing

Review – Defiance

One of the biggest questions posed by the Holocaust is “why didn’t anyone fight back?” After all, if you’re going to be butchered anyway, you might as well take a few Nazis with you. Well, the answer is that many people did fight back. But of all the resistance groups, the Bielskis were one of the few that managed to organize a safe haven for refugees. Of course “safe” in occupied Belorussia was a relative thing, as this drama shows. Tuvia (Daniel Craig) organized the community in the forest while his hot-headed brother Zus (Liev Schreiber) joined the partisans to fight the Germans. The production values are Hollywood standard, and the script and acting likewise don’t particularly stand out. But the story alone is sufficiently fascinating to carry the day. Mildly amusing

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Review – Coraline

I genuinely enjoyed this movie. Henry Selick – the director of The Nightmare Before Christmas – once again proves his gifts for both storytelling and the technical aspects of stop motion animation. Coraline is bored and frustrated in her family’s new house until she discovers a secret door that leads to an alternate version of her life in which everything is perfect and everyone has buttons for eyes. Needless to say, something’s wrong here. The production is full of pretty, odd little moments that are endearing without being cloying. And though it contains a line or two that will go over most pre-teens’ heads, this isn’t as vulgar as some kids-and-adults-both productions. For some reason – perhaps the voice work by Dakota Fanning – this reminded me of My Neighbor Totoro. That’s a good thing, because both productions do an excellent job of being clever and entertaining while avoiding many of the pitfalls that often ruin animations designed for family audiences. Worth seeing