It started with “Ali.” There, revered director Michael Mann cautiously backed away from the stiff mechanics of traditional storytelling to form his own cinematic language, armed with a marathon script and liberating HD cameras. The John Dillinger gangster tale “Public Enemies” represents the implosion of Mann’s balloon of progress. In chasing his own insufferable visual punctuation and distancing performance needs, Mann swings and misses hard with “Enemies,” gathering an enviable platter of cold stares, blasting Tommy Guns, and lustful smirks, but losing himself in the deafening filmmaking affectation. Rarely has a wonderland of hardened gangsters, flighty dames, and widescreen bank robbing been rendered this lifeless.
“Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs” isn’t an ambitious, event movie sequel in the same fashion as perhaps “Ice Age: The Meltdown” was softly gunning for. It’s more of an agreeable installment of television than a magnificent animated effort. This is not a criticism. In fact, it’s perhaps the reason why “Dawn” is such a charming film. With a relaxed mood, a playful cast, and a plot that doesn’t sweat itself into a pointless sense of importance, “Dawn” is mild sauce but tremendously entertaining, with an easy-peasy celebratory attitude that extends to the picture’s lively 3-D visual scheme.
Inhaling the badness of “The Karate Kid: Part III,” stunned by the insanity of “Great Balls of Fire!,” and polishing the “Do the Right Thing” trophy.
The prospect of another laborious Iraq War film is perhaps about as welcome as a sharp stick in the eye. While a vital subject for discussion, Hollywood has managed to homogenize the lengthy Middle East affair, expelling too much effort to register as concerned rather than determined. Kathryn Bigelow’s “The Hurt Locker” looks to amp up the Iraq experience through a foot-long, rusty-edged needle shot of adrenaline, assuming a vigorous action movie mentality to cover global affairs. “Hurt Locker” is a superb achievement that not only constructs some of the finest suspense set pieces of the year, but manages to find compelling, innovative wartime psychological threads to pull at as well.
I think “My Sister’s Keeper” has been robotically engineered to makes audiences weep uncontrollably. It’s a tear-jerking Terminator, an unstoppable force that beats the screen with tragedies of all shapes and sizes, looking to wear down the viewer until they’re a puddle of tears and snotty tissue. It’s a hostile approach to storytelling that director Nick Cassavetes manipulated to finely tuned results with the 2004 sleeper smash, “The Notebook.” For “Keeper,” the effort is much more transparent, and for every instant of genuine tragic ache within this dubious feature, there are two served up right behind it that drip with obnoxious manipulation and creaky execution.
In 1988, director Stephen Frears, writer Christopher Hampton, and actress Michelle Pfeiffer teamed up to run through a myriad of period games of deception and lust in the classic picture, “Dangerous Liaisons.” Two decades later, the trio has reformed to plunge further into the bleak heart of obsession in the acidic dramedy “Cheri,” adapted from the novel (and its sequel) by celebrated French author Colette. It’s sexy, pithy, and enchantingly cutting, making the best use of Pfeiffer in a long time.
Remember 1993’s “Boxing Helena?” Unless you happen to be Kim Basinger’s accountant, I wouldn’t be surprised if you didn’t. The new thriller “Surveillance” marks the return of Jennifer Lynch to the director’s chair, and the extended break from the industry hasn’t quite tempered the filmmaker’s sweet tooth for performance oddity, but it has simplified her storytelling ambition. A cool, creepy chiller, “Surveillance” doesn’t exactly leap off the screen as a diamond example of procedural crime busting cinema, but taken as the next professional step for Lynch, it’s an efficient mood piece, setting out to unnerve and baffle, and achieving most of its goals.
A searing indictment of Islamic “Sharia” laws and rural Middle Eastern barbarism, “The Stoning of Soraya M.” is a surefire sock-in-the-gut motion picture that’s grueling to watch, yet perhaps impossible to ignore. I’m sure the prospect of sitting down with a movie concerning the painstaking ritual of stoning comes across as a gigantic NEGATORY on the average “Movies to See” list of multiplex adventures, yet this picture is worth a viewing, if only to be allowed entrance into the darker nuances of unspoken Islamic law.
In 1995, director Michael Bay, untested and hungry, helmed his first feature, the action comedy “Bad Boys.” It was a lean, stylish production desperate to please. In 2003, after years fattening himself on blockbuster box office returns and industry deification, Bay directed “Bad Boys II,” and it was a vast facial blast of overconfident overkill -- a joyless, humorless, bloated carcass of an event movie. After the domestic financial crumbling of his 2005 picture, “The Island,” Bay was again in a difficult position where he needed to prove his worth. Out of the ashes came “Transformers.” While hardly a mid-budget, no-expectation gamble like the original “Bad Boys,” the film nevertheless relied on Bay’s capacity to temper his proclivity for grotesque visual disorder, putting the needs of sci-fi adventure and crowd-pleasing theatrics above his diseased lust for claustrophobic, hyper-edited shenanigans. The semi-minimalist (for Bay) effort was rewarded with over 700 million dollars in worldwide box office returns. This leads up to the sequel, “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen,” and, my dear readers, it’s “Bad Boys II” all over again. Nothing kills the euphoric buzz of exceptionally articulated carefree mindlessness quite like a newly emboldened Michael Bay.
Welcoming the juggernaut of “Batman” and feeling pleasantly surprised by “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.”
I feel like I’m the only film critic around eagerly anticipating “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.” Caught in the questionable spell of Michael Bay’s previous robot-scraping blockbuster adventure for reasons I’m still having trouble articulating, it’s neat to see the franchise jump right back on its metal feet, excreting a colossal sequel in just a hair under two years. Overall, I sincerely loathe Bay and his ego-drenched industry killing ways, but my love for the original toy line and proficient big screen demolition keeps the fires of contempt at a safe distance. I just hope the sequel doesn’t spoil the landmark Bay-Orndorf truce of 2007.
“Year One” is an immense farce, reminiscent of a time not too long ago when silliness was best served as an endless buffet, dished up by the finest comic minds of the era. “Year One” is not quite the death of comedy, but it tries for a cartwheeling tone of irreverence and buffoonery that doesn’t quite fit in with today’s presentations of irony and sarcasm, and lacks the crisp, filling writing of yesteryear. There’s barely more than a few laughs during the entire film, but I suppose there should be some appreciation offered for even attempting an expansive giggle melee such as this. And then a character decides to eat a piece of poop. And then “Year One” becomes an inexcusable misfire from a group of professionals who really should’ve known better.
“Grace” is a pungent horror film that embraces the fine art of psychological intrusion. It’s a crafty bit of dementia that doesn’t play by standard genre rules, instead weaving its own diseased design of torment pointed directly at the most sacred of subjects: motherhood. “Grace” is sick, twisted, provoking, and just wrong all over; it’s everything a low-budget horror feature should be, especially to zombified audiences force-fed the same diet of spooky nonsense on a weekly basis.
Sandra Bullock has been making movies like “The Proposal” for quite some time now. The romantic comedy is her Jedi power, and while the majority of her output has been either strained or downright intolerable (“Two Weeks Notice,” “While You Were Sleeping”), Bullock deserves some credit for her refusal to give up on the genre. “The Proposal” is harmless fluff, but it’s a dull routine, somehow lassoing the jumping bean charisma of co-star Ryan Reynolds to help liven up a confused screenplay. Regardless of the changes in setting and leading men, this is still Bullock running off the same old battery, and the fatigue is becoming increasingly difficult to cover up.
“Dead Snow” walks and talks much like any other self-referential ‘80s throwback horror picture, with two laudable distinctions: its Norwegian roots and its snow-blasted mountain locations. Oh, and possibly the appearance of Nazi zombies. What should’ve been a rollicking, kick-the-air horror bonanza is instead reduced to a weirdly fruitless genre romp that looks to amuse and frighten, but only achieves a baffling, slightly mean-spirited tone that serves as the antithesis to the genre its working so diligently to celebrate.
While viewing the French chiller “Fissures,” the 2000 time-warping thriller “Frequency” sprung immediatley to mind as its Hollywood counterpart. Both films use fantastical means to explore the murder mystery genre; they head to the edge of complete and utter lunacy with outlandish plot developments, only to shoot the tube of absurdity with the grace of a pro surfer. Certainly it takes a few mouthfuls of suspension-of-disbelief pills to settle in with the peculiar mood of “Fissures,” but it doesn’t take long for the sheer invention of the filmmaking to seep through the sludgy illusion, making for a perceptive, engaging thriller.