Monday, June 18, 2007

Capsule Reviews


While watching William Friedkin's psychological thriller, "Bug", it's clear to see why he's such a maligned director. He never goes for the easy pass or commercial venture. In a certain way, he's still stuck in the 70's and 80's (as visual and audio references to both Sergio Leone's "Once Upon a Time In America and Coppola's "Apocalypse Now" reveal in the first 5 minutes). And while I don't fully accept "Bug" as a terrific movie, I do admire the thematic and dramatic pose of the film. In a few words, this is one mentally damaged piece of work that has great potential of being a midnight movie in the years to come. Even though the first hour is painfully slow, Friedkin picks up the pace dramatically in the second half and begins to create a bipolar narrative that's as weirdly divided as the protaganists. Written by Tracy Letts and based on his play, "Bug" clearly identifies its minimal setting (the motel room and 2 minutes in a bar) and director Friedkin does his best to open things up when possible. There are several startling moments when the entire location begins to vibrate and explode as outside danger (basically meaning real people knocking on their motel room door) threatens Peter and Agnes' confined dementia. "Bug" is not for all audiences, but it does offer up a diverse offering for anyone wanting something a little more cerebral than that Pirate movie playing on 12 of the 16 multiplex screens. And don't forget to stay through some of the credits which features a quick shot that forces the viewer to re-imagine everything they've just seen and analyze what's real and what's not.

Knocked Up

Judd Apatow's "Knocked Up" carries forward his adult sense of humor with even more warmth and comic brevity than his previous film, "The 40 Year Old Virgin". Focusing on the unexpected woes of childbirth and impending adulthood rather than the simple idea of getting laid, Apatow chronicles the whole ordeal with a mature perspective. Amongst all the fart and bong jokes, there's a clearly defined, complex structure of men AND women that exceeds the (sometimes) juvenile offerings. I guess in this competitive film generation, one has to draw both age group audiences for a film to be successful, so alot of Apatow's less than intelligent laughs can be forgiven. But, I still believe adults will be far more entertained than teenagers. There's a few too many truthful moments here that only those who've lived it can appreciate them, none moreso than the scene where Heigl and her sister played, by Leslie Mann who STEALS this movie, are denied access to a hot night club because one is old and the other is pregnant.This is a film for any 30-something still feeling their way through life, unsure if they've made the right decisions and dealing with their mistakes the best way they know how. It's not only a magnificent comedy, but a pretty damn good representation of MY age group.

Ocean's Thirteen

I'm not sure what I expect out of a sequel (the third) from a remake of a movie made in the 60's. Yes, you read that right. And the criticism that was leveled against the first 2 modern Rat Pack movies holds true with "Ocean's Thirteen"- it most certainly looks like it was more fun to make than to watch. If getting the opportunity to see George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Don Cheadle and Casey Affleck wear funny costumes intertwined amongst $1000 suits, then "Oceans Thirteen" is for you- and not all that different from the first 2 lackluster Ocean pictures. This time the motivating factor is revenge. William Bank (played by Al Pacino who appears to be sleepwalking through his flamboyant role) has double crossed one of Danny Ocean's (Clooney) partners. The boys team up to scam the casino on opening night in both inventive (timed slot machines and rigged dice ala a lighter) and extravagant (i.e. ludicrous) methods. And that's it. For the remainder of the film's 2 hour and 5 minute running time, we get the prvilage of being in on the joke with the Ocean crew as they toss out sprinkly dialogue ("I'll do the McGilroy" and "Told you it's always a Susan B. Anthony") and cruise around Vegas looking ultra cool. I'm probably not hiding my disdain for "Ocean's Thirteen" that well, but the fact of the matter remains "why?" Why does director Steven Soderbergh feel the need to toss off another wacky commercial venture with a high profile cast? Is it to complete his cycle of financing indie projects with the stakes of his more Hollywood fare? Or is there some other reason, as I stated in the first sentence? Is "Ocean's Thirteen" the boys' expensive way of getting together, throwing back drinks and spending 25 days in Las Vegas? Either way, they could've done that without producing such a boring picture in the process.

New On DVD: Straight Time
First, a little backstory here. If you've seen "Reservoir Dogs", then you might notice the face of the one criminals in that film (I believe it's "Mr Blue") has a supporting role in "Straight Time". Tarantino was an avid admirer of "Straight Time" and plucked this actor, Eddie Bunker, out of thin air and gave him the small supporting role in that 1992 film. Bunker, a career criminal, wrote the book that "Straight Time" is based on, and while its an engrossing character study, its also a very tough and knowing look at what it must feel like to be institutionalized from a precinct of life (i.e. prison). Hoffman is a method actor and while his style tends to be a little cynical at times, he nails the performance in "Straight Time", as does every other actor who graces the film with their presence (namely Harry Dean Stanton, Gary Busey, M. Emmett Walsh and a stunningly beautiful and young Teresa Russell). "Straight Time" is a hard-edged look at criminals and the uphill battle to stay sober and straight, creating an ironic title. Not only does the film chart the lead characters slow descent back into a life of crime, but it creates an anti-hero that we sorta feel sorry for, mis-trusted by the system and shoved aside from normal life. This is one of the great unheralded gems of the 70's.

Christ Stopped At Eboli- This is one terrific film by Francesco Rosi. I've seen 4 of his films now, and I'm beginning to understand that no Italian director comes close to the understated beauty he presents with each film. His is a proletarian view, often giving much more empathy with the peasants who mill around in his films rather than larger figures. In "Christ Stopped At Eboli", Rosi follows the life of exiled writer Levi as he takes residence in a small Southern Italy town. There's no real plot to speak of, only following Levi as he listens and makes friends with the townspeople. They dazzle him with stories about history, expose him to small town rituals (in themselves VERY fascinating tidbits about a lifestyle that no longe exists) and accept him as an outsider and eventual town doctor. This is minimal filmmaking, on par with the quiet, studied films of Manuel Oliveria, and another one of the best films of the 70's. Rosi is due for a MOMA re-discovery, at the very least so films such as "The Mattai Affair", "Illustrious Corpses" and "Lucky Luciano" will get a DVD release.

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