Saturday, August 04, 2007
THE KEYS TO THE HOUSE wants to be, tries to be, a moving little drama about a journey to manhood and father - son bonding. It begins well, with an intriguing premise (haunted runaway dad reclaims custody after 14 years) and likeable actors, but the journey to manhood isn’t particularly compelling and the father-son bonding is pretty much complete only 2/3 of the way through the movie.
This is a drab film, drearily shot, with nothing to engage the eye while the mind wanders. The actors do their jobs well enough, but they’re hampered by a directorial affection for long, motionless silences – there’s a reason why they’re called motion pictures, buddy. If you’re going to have people just stand or sit there, you’d better have good reason and you’d better not do it often.
In a recent CHUD interview, Paul Greengrass compared a major American studio picture to an orchestral symphony. THE KEYS TO THE HOUSE, a small Italian production, tries to be a charming little chamber piece, but it plays a dull tune on drab instruments. Ignore the palms on the DVD cover and give this one a pass.
Friday, August 03, 2007
BLACK SNAKE MOAN didn't get much traction in theaters, though it garnered positive reviews. I can probably sum up the reasons why in my wife's response to the film when she saw the disc arrive in the mail: "Isn't that the one where Samuel L. Jackson chains the girl from THE ADDAMS FAMILY to a radiator? I'll pass."
Well, yeah, Samuel L. Jackson does chain the girl from THE ADDAMS FAMILY to a radiator, but the movie isn't about hot "old black man / chained white chick" action (though I'm sure there are many web sites that are). It's about finding out who you are, whether you've forgotten or simply never knew. It's about dignity, and it's about a particular slice of Southern culture that's as alien to me as a Mongolian yurt, yet feels familiar and comforting.
Here's the deal: Sam Jackson is a farmer and blues musician who has the blues so bad, he can't even play the blues. He leads a blues kind of life: he looks like a bluesman, with his little pot belly and fringe of white hair; but it's been so long since he's picked up a guitar that he can barely remember what it feels like. Sam lives outside a small Delta town, and in that town lives Christina Ricci, the town whore. Not hooker, mind you - she's free. But she has no impulse control, and when things go wrong and she winds up bleeding and unconscious on the side of a country road, Sam finds her. And then he, well ... but it seems like a good idea at the time!
Now no one can deny that that's a great, pulpy core for a story. But that's not what makes the movie. What makes the movie are the sense of time and place it creates, a South both real and archetypical, a South that's far more interesting than the one I lived in for 15 painful months (Ask me about the restaurant that really did have a menu that said, "Breakfast / Lunch / Dinner."). The wonderful, bluesy score takes some credit for that, as does the perfect set and costume design. Samuel L. Jackson certainly deserves his share of the credit, reminding us that, yes, this guy is one fine actor when he brings his A game. And Christina Ricci delivers a brave, demanding performance that changes her status from "girl from THE ADDAMS FAMILY" to "amazing actress from BLACK SNAKE MOAN."
Director Craig Brewer's previous film was HUSTLE AND FLOW, which was brilliant. With this followup effort, he proves that he's not a one-shot wonder. He's a unique and assured voice of the South, and I look forward to hearing what he has to say next.
Thursday, August 02, 2007
I found BOB LE FLAMBEUR thoroughly captivating. It's held together by the titular Bob (Roger Duchesne), a guy who reminded me Burt Lancaster right up to the moment when he dons a tuxedo, at which point he reminded me of George Clooney. Bob's a high-roller, which is another way of saying he's a gambling addict, and you know what always happens to gambling addicts: they lose. Once, long ago, he'd been part of a heist (presumably to cover his debts) gone wrong, but saved the life of a police officer during the arrest. Now he's done his time and he's generally a good guy, but he loves chance so much that he has a slot machine in his closet. And, of course, you know what always happens to gambling addicts.
BOB is a film that deals in shades of morality and people who choose just which shade they'll be. It deals with nobility and weariness, and it offers one of the best heist setups I've ever seen. Jean-Pierre Melville shoots it with just the right combination of glitz and grime, and I believed everyone and everything I saw on the screen before me. What a treat.
Wednesday, August 01, 2007
THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK is a perfectly fine movie, but I have one major problem with it: it isn’t really a movie. It’s two-thirds of a movie, with a great buildup to a third act that never actually happens.
I know, I know, EMPIRE existed to serve up RETURN OF THE JEDI, but I don’t care. Films should exist on their own, as self-contained entities, even if those entities exist as part of a larger whole. Even if we know another film is coming, we should walk out of the theater satisfied with the narrative experience. EMPIRE forces us to do without that satisfaction, however, leaving us with a cliffhanger that leaves so much unresolved that we feel we wasted our time in watching it.
Some people feel that EMPIRE is best of all the Star Wars films. These are the kind of people who think that all buildup with no payoff is a good thing. As for me, give me my climax and send me home happy.
Tuesday, July 31, 2007
Busby Berkeley's TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALL GAME, starring Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, and Esther Williams, is utterly, atrociously, horribly bad.
Kelly, Sinatra, Williams, and the supporting cast don't act - they merely mark time between uninspired musical numbers. The story, your basic love triangle, isn't interesting because there's no real sense that any of these people even like one another. The comedy falls flat, Kelly's dancing is tied down by his costars, and not even the pool number can do much more than put a check in a box.
Here's the setup: Kelly and Sinatra are, basically, Ruth and Gherig, a couple of ballplayers on the vaudeville circuit between seasons. Gher-, er, Sinatra is all smiles and enthusiasm, while Kelly's all about the money and has fallen out of love with baseball. When these guys finally show up to spring training, there's bad news: the team's owner has died, leaving it to his stripper wife, who ... oh, wait, that's from a better movie. This movie's bad news is that the owner had died and left the team to his niece, a woman who, dontcha know it, has a talent for and knowledge of baseball. You can fill in the rest of the dots from here, but why bother? It's the middle of summer - why not just go to a ball game, instead?
Monday, July 30, 2007
WHEN COMEDY WAS KING is a clip show of silent – era comedies that defeats its own purpose.
Look, there’s no debating that cinema produced a great deal of comedy gold in its early years, and there are very few ways you can go wrong in stringing together a bunch of good bits and putting them out there for public consumption. WCWK, however, does find one sure way to get things wrong: the thing is narrated with condescension and spite by some guy who sounds like a kindly uncle who nurtures a quiet hatred for the world and everything in it. “Where has the laughter gone?” he asks. Hey, jackass – go to the movies, there’s plenty of laughter to go around. Now I know that this, too is an old movie, but hey, there was plenty of laughter to go around when WHEN COMEDY WAS KING was first released, as well.
The movie does a service in splicing together all those clips, however. If you want to introduce yourself or your family to this great genre, you could do worse than fire it up. Just do so with the sound off. Your own laughter is all the commentary these clips need.
Sunday, July 29, 2007
SPACEBALLS, as seen from the perspective of my 7-year-old boy:
Ha. "Pizza the Hutt." That's funny.
Darth Vader is silly.
Ewww, kissing. Gross!
What, a giant vacuum cleaner transformer? This is like the worst STAR WARS movie ever!
Let's send it back. Right away.
Now, SPACEBALLS, as seen from my perspective:
SPACEBALLS is a failure. It fails to generate laughs, insight, or even a hummable theme song. It's as if the whole thing were done on autopilot for the express purpose of making a quick buck, and it couldn't even do that. It's a wonder Bill Pullman's career survived this debacle. Avoid it all costs.