Saturday, October 01, 2005

More Movie Reviews

Quick capsule reviews of movies I've seen in the last few weeks:

Fresh: A surprisingly good adventure/drama from the '90s that deserves to be known much better. "Fresh" is the right word, for it is a unique blend of the authentic Brooklyn settings of Spike Lee with the clever double-crosses of Kurosawa's Yojimbo with some characters right out of Scarface thrown in for good measure. The story revolves around Fresh, a smart, twelve-year-old schoolboy in a Brooklyn neighborhood who strives for a normal life while learning chess from his hustler dad (Samuel L. Jackson), squeezing in drug runs into his daily schedule while becoming the right-hand boy of the local kingpin, and protecting his elder sister from the clutches of the big bad men.

The Constant Gardener: Based on the John le Carre novel, this stylish and strongly scripted drama from director Fernando Meirelles is the most intelligent film to have emerged from Hollywood this year. Meirelles combines the soulful melancholy of the le Carre novel with the vibrant earthy portrayal of the third world that characterized his earlier, and superior, effort City of God. The movie eventually runs on too long and its artiness wears thin at times but it feels unfair to quibble in a season full of unworthy trash.

Short Cuts: Yet another of Robert Altman's large-canvas productions, telling the intertwined tales of nearly two dozen people over a few days in L.A. While not all of the stories are compelling, Altman does a fine job of sketching three-dimensional characters and keeping us engrossed. I would rate the movie a notch below his best work in M*A*S*H and The Player but your mileage may vary, depending on how much you care about plot versus characters.

I'll Sleep When I'm Dead: Disappointing British crime drama from Mike Hodges and Clive Owen, the same tandem that brought us the far superior Croupier. There are some good scenes here and there and the story builds a fair bit of atmosphere and portent but fails to go anywhere and collapses in an air of muddled confusion.

Ed Wood: Tim Burton and Johnny Depp team up for yet another home run in this hugely enjoyable biopic of the infamous Edward D. Wood, Jr., acclaimed as the worst director of all time -- and with good reason. Right from the inventive opening credits, the film blurs the line between author and subject by mixing in a surreal atmosphere and overwrought acting that might almost belong in an Ed Wood-directed movie. Almost being the operative word, for the movie also boasts of some excellent performances, most notably by Martin Landau as the fading star Bela Lugosi. Vincent D'Onofrio is also quite good in a cameo as Orson Welles.

Million Dollar Baby: Overrated. Clint Eastwood reprises his usual role as the strong silent type, and Morgan Freeman does his by-now-familiar voiceover commentary that lends an air of majestic solemnity to proceedings, and I must say that the duo do quite a good job of holding up the picture -- with help from the always impressive Hilary Swank -- until about two-thirds into the movie. There were just too many shades of "Unforgiven", too many silly boxing scenes and poor caricatures passing for characters that robbed the film of its authenticity, and it didn't help that the story was robbed of all its suspense by that lunatic Michael Medved. Not that it would have changed things much even if the twist had been a surprise, as I failed to empathize with the emotional complications involved in the story.


Anonymous guile said...

the ralph fiennes i love is back in the constant gardener..

10/21/2005 3:36 AM  

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