Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Review – Caesar and Cleopatra

This may well be the most improbable epic ever made. For starters, it was shot with a huge budget during the hardships and shortages of World War Two England. They got Claude Rains to play the male lead, and apparently shooting for some kind of half-baked British answer to Gone with the Wind they borrowed Vivien Leigh from David O. Selznick to play Cleopatra. But strangest of all is the script, based on a play by George Bernard Shaw. Only such a great playwright would ever attempt to turn this grim historical debacle into a romantic comedy, and honestly even he can’t really make it work. But I was in the mood for a costume drama, and this worked as well as anything. Mildly amusing

Friday, September 25, 2009

Review – Barton Fink

Though not as good as some of their earlier and later work, this is still a respectable outing from the Coen brothers. A successful playwright from New York (John Turturro) gets lured to Hollywood to work on the script for a B movie about wrestlers. The studio sets him up in an odd hotel where he meets a travelling salesman (John Goodman). Things get stranger and stranger until finally the whole thing collapses in a climax that would have been genuinely chilling if it hadn’t been so contrived and bizarre. Turturro himself is a big part of the problem. He plays the protagonist as flat, aloof and neurotic, which makes him unsympathetic. It’s hard not to respond to his plight with, “Of course the world seems weird to you, weirdo.” Overall it’s a stylish little indie pic with at least some of the Coens’ usual charm. It just takes a back seat to their less forcefully artistic work. Mildly amusing

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Review – All the President's Men

This was big stuff back in the day when the events upon this were part of recent memory, but now I’m guessing you have to be a journalism nerd to get much out of it. Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) and Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman) work together to unravel the cable knit sweater of the Watergate scandal that eventually toppled the Nixon administration. The flow of the story is choppy, filled with aha! moments that seem like the newspaper writer’s equivalent of “Col. Mustard in the hotel suite with the screwdriver.” Despite its dated awkwardness, I got a kick out of it. But then I’m a member of the dying breed of people who relish good reporting and enjoy watching its creators (or at least the Hollywood versions thereof) at work. Mildly amusing

Review – Absolute Power

Clint Eastwood directs and stars in this tale of crime and high-level government intrigue. He plays an aging burglar who breaks into a mansion. While he’s looting the good stuff from an upstairs bedroom, the occupants return home. Long story short, our hero witnesses a murder committed by the Secret Service in order to protect the President. Once sinister forces in the government figure out who else was in the house, they pin the murder on him and try to hunt him down so he can’t testify to the contrary. Unfortunately for them, he’s a cagey old guy who’s constantly one step ahead of them. The production values are solid, and the script even borders on clever in spots. Though it’s unlikely to make a top ten list of any kind, it’s an entertaining way to spend a couple of hours. Mildly amusing

Monday, September 21, 2009

Review – Broadcast News

The parts of this movie that are actually about the title subject are quite good. In many ways it makes the transition between the days when Network was a ridiculous farce and the new era in which Network is a grim reality. Watching the characters wrestle with the complexities of their jobs and the ethical demands of their profession is tremendous fun for a journalism nerd like myself. Watching them wrestle with the complexities of their tangled personal lives, however, was less enjoyable. Though the Albert Brooks romantic comedy angle puts a serious damper on things, overall I’m still not sorry I saw it. Mildly amusing

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Review – Crowley

This movie’s as muddled and bizarre as the man for whom it’s named. Before the end credits roll, we get virtual reality, time travel, transmigration of souls, bloody murder, satanic sex orgies, college journalism and no end of other aberrant behavior. Unfortunately it never comes together into a cohesive whole. So if you like looking at bare nekkid English chicks, this supplies at least a taste. But if plot, character, logic, or anything else that might suggest an effort at craft are important to you, seek elsewhere. See if desperate

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Review – Blue Velvet

David Lynch’s mainstream work – particularly The Elephant Man and Dune – tends to sport little “Lynchy” moments in which the director’s art school background shows through a bit too strongly. This is a whole movie made of such moments. Even simple, everyday dialogue takes on an odd, hallucinatory quality. Lynch-look-vaguely-alike Kyle McLachlan finds a severed ear in a field. Subsequent events tie him to an innocent girl next door (Laura Dern) and an exotic lounge singer (Isabella Rosselini). And his seamy affair with the singer in turn brings him into unfortunate contact with her nitrous-inhaling psycho boyfriend (Dennis Hopper, in what must be the role he was born to play). Frankly, the plot is an irrelevant detail, consistently taking a back seat to strange visuals, quirky characters and arty editing. See if desperate

Review – Blood of the Vampire

Isn’t there some kind of FTC regulation that says if a movie has “vampire” in the title that there has to be a vampire in the movie? If not, there should be. To be completely fair, the villain in this dreary little English picture is prolonging his life by consuming human blood. But beyond that he’s really more of a mad scientist than a traditional bloodsucker. He performs experiments on the “patients” at the mental hospital where he presides, drafting a wrongfully-imprisoned inmate with medical training to become his unwilling assistant. A mistake, as it turns out, because the assistant’s desire to escape proves to be the undoing of the whole operation. Mildly amusing

Friday, September 4, 2009

Review – Devil's Diary

Two “outsider” teens find an old, blank diary in a graveyard. One of them starts writing her hate fantasies in it, only to discover that they start coming true. The more she uses it, the more goth she becomes. The only difference between this and every other supernatural-teen-revenge movie is that midway through the cheerleaders figure out what’s going on, and one of them steals the diary and starts using it against the outsiders. The new twist was not an improvement. See if desperate

Review – Dead Mary

So what happens if you look into a mirror and repeat “boring crap” three times? Does this movie appear? If so, don’t try it. Honestly, pictures from Candyman to Urban Legends: Bloody Mary have already thoroughly used up this storyline. They try to spice it up by adding a dash of Evil Dead. But nothing can overcome the bitter taste of 20-somethings squabbling with each other first about their petty, stupid problems and then about the evil spirit that’s killing them. See if desperate