Films I Watched - March, 2005

  • 3/26 - Guess Who - This film is supposedly a remake of the over-rated Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, but I’m willing to wager a pretty penny that the film this will most strongly echo in viewers’ minds is Meet the Parents. Time has taken any bite the original concept might have had and left this more of a comedy about in-laws than about race, and that could’ve worked fine if this film didn’t play more as an extended sitcom with about thirty minutes of humor stretched across a much longer running time. The good news is that this is not horrible; the acting is fine (yes, Asthon Kutcher is not the weak link; he may make bad films, but he really is not a shabby comic actor), and the movie is gentle enough not to hurt. The writing, however, is competent but uninspired; it would have trouble justifying a television episode, much less a feature-length movie. **

  • 3/20 - Fail-Safe - Wyatt Earp chats up J.R. alone in a basement with a few telephones while Oscar Madison argues for all out nuclear war, all because nobody paid enough attention to Dr. Strangelove to learn where little mistakes can lead. Yep, it’s that time, and I feel fine. Somehow, all the above turns into an incredibly gripping, powerful suspense/social thriller. I think Sidney Lumet may have had something to do with that… ****

  • 3/19 - Assault on Precinct 13 - Pity John Carpenter, something of the indie cinema world’s Rock Hunter. As he has raked in greater money and acclaim, he has begun making lesser and lesser films. He made feasts out of bread and water, and he rarely figured out how to do the same with duck and caviar. This is one of the early movies, hitting theaters right before his masterpiece, and it is great film. The low budget keeps it lean and mean, while his cheapo cast of unknowns proves that anonymity can provide the juice as well as celebrity. Darwin Joston projects cock-sure, smart aleck charm by the ton, and Laurie Zimmer is indeed, as Uncut pointed out, a “low-rent Bacall”. Why did we not see more of these people? Alas, but they do show up here, even if lured only by the free catered food, and Carpenter owes them big. He pays them back by giving them some great action film dialogue and a steady direction. In the end, the ending credits roll several hours too soon. This ain’t no Citizen Kane or high-brow fodder for top 100 lists, but it is incredibly fun, much more so than just about any big-budget, dumb as dirt action film you could randomly select out of this summer’s coming attractions. It all about those quick edits timed to gunfire, Wilson’s attitude and delivery that disappeared for a decade or so until it surfaced again in David Addison (played by another unknown actor at the time), and the way Leigh lights that cigarette and deadpans that even smokier dialogue. Not impressed? You try squeezing Elysian adrenaline from chump change some time…*** 1/2

  • 3/16 - Only the Strong Survive - D.A. Pennebaker, Chris Hegedus, and Roger Friedman follow around several veterans of the soul scene that stayed just on the opposite side of gritty from Motown. Sure, we can all dream of more archival footage for this, and we can all wish more historical background was given for these artists, but if the mere mention of names such as Jerry Butler, Isaac Hayes, and Sam & Dave set yearning whistles off inside of your spirit, then this film is certainly worth a visit. If nothing else, American Idol contestants can learn much; even with too-slick backing bands and aging voices, these singers know how to interpret a song, and that honest tone of ache and joy is what sets classic soul apart from the often soul-less music shamelessly parading under its name today. ** 1/2

  • 3/13 - Always Outnumbered - Anyone who knows Laurence Fishburne solely as Morpheus owes it to the actor to catch this terrific, superior made-for-television HBO film. Fishburne owns this movie, dominating nearly every frame and achieving the difficult task of taking Mosley’s difficult Socrates Fortlow and giving him believable life. Mosley also did his own adaptation here, and somehow, nearly every nuance seems right. The source is a collection of short stories, and the film certainly reflects its origins, but the stories are interlocked and tell a greater tale of Socrates’ evolution, overcoming any tendency toward the overly-episodic and keeping this film unified. The entire cast and crew is excellent, but Fishburne and Mosley overshadow all, and Always Outnumbered is a stellar film as a result. *** 1/2

  • 3/10 - Amateur - Yeah, I'm going to slime out of writing a review for this one at the second, as I am not feeling up to it. Still, you really should see it... ****

  • 3/9 - The Bourne Identity - As a source for film recommendations, I have a much higher success rate with Jim than with any other party I can think of off the top of my head, so I hope he will forgive me for not quite taking to The Bourne Identity. Perhaps I am to blame; I have a hard time surrendering to a paranoid suspense thriller that proves so incredibly implausible at the tensest moments. If a narrow trap can be escaped by
    Spoiler: Highlight to view
    freefalling down several stories of a building with only another body to cushion the fall
    , I just stop feeling threatened, and a scary action film that can’t give the viewer a reason to fret is a tough sell at best. I also found the mix of Euro-realism and Hollywood dynamics an uncomfortable brew to quaff, and the death blow falls with the dreaded feeling all too familiar nowadays that this is really more of a franchise setup than an actual film; the set pieces fly past with little pause for building emotions or developing much in the way of a believable plot. I’m grumbling, and truth be told, this is not a bad film; it just does not impress me as a particularly good one, and I ended the film with lower blood pressure than I had at the onset. Still, I do anticipate seeing what Paul Greengrass did with the next installment. **

  • 3/6 - The Sea Inside - In a year that delivered the incredible Vera Drake and the quite good Million Dollar Baby, the flaws of The Sea Inside are only all too obvious. The previous two films are character films involving issues; the last is an issue film involving a few characters. Unfortunately, too many of those characters seem to exist solely for sounding forth various viewpoints, and even a fantastic lead performance by Javier Bardem, who certainly should have nailed an Oscar nomination, cannot give this film the emotional involvement it needs to bring its views all back home. Despite Bardem’s charismatic turn, his character still remains too elusive for the weight he is supposed to carry, and although the film does improve as it rolls along, it never overcomes its central goal of advocacy to provide the human drama to make it succeed as a film as well as propaganda. Additionally, its plot points are moved about and assembled as awkwardly as bulky furniture, and even a genuinely touching scene or two towards the end cannot remove the aching throb the audience may feel when they realize just how much they are being preached at. Earnestness does not guarantee success, and this film is sad proof of that truth. **

  • 3/4 - The Naked Man - Oh, the wacky, quirky films that are manufactured with cult status in the makers’ eyes. This one is pretty out there, a cheap, wacky blast of bizarre co-written by Ethan Coen to boot. In fact, I dare say you can see some similarities between this and The Big Lebowski. This, however, really does not work. In some ways, it may be not be silly enough; the laughs are there, and they are funny, but they are all too infrequent, and the film never cuts loose into, say, Repo Man territory, which is obviously a country it would love to call home. The slow beginning doesn’t help; Rachael Leigh Cook in stunning biker-chick mode does. One can’t help but suspect that this film’s lack of availability is an intentional decision aimed at boosting its cult status, but believe me, there are better films to grow rabid followings around. Still, this one isn’t too bad for a little mindless fun. I just wish there was more good times to be had. **
Author Comments: 

I'm rating the films on a zero to four star basis. ** 1/2 is average.

Excellent review on The Sea Inside. For a long time, I didn't know whether to watch it or not, and finally I decided not to go to the theatre. Apparently a good decision.

Thanks! I was pretty excited about this film, but I was very disappointed after watching it. It probably does not help that the first thirty minutes are probably the worst part of the film. The sad, sinking feeling of wasting money and time quickly slowley welled up within me.

Too bad Bad Education and A Very Long Engagement were ruled out of the Best Foreign Film category. They (and I'm sure many films I've yet to see) would have been much better choices.

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

If you can get your hands on the German film Downfall, take the chance! It is an impressive film.

I will keep my eyes open for it. I don't think it even opened in the US as a limited release until a few weeks ago, and I don't find it scheduled for DVD release yet, so my local art house theater might be my only hope for some time.

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

Jeez, I really have to see Amateur, or at least one film by Hal Hartley.

P.S.: One of your "favourite" critics has written a review on 'Downfall' here. :)

Blast! Now that I know I have a good track record with you I'll have to be more careful. :-)

Sorry Bourne Identity didn't pan out for you! Based on your review though, I feel pretty safe in believing you'll like the sequel quite a bit better.

After typing the above, I read your review of the sequel, and you may well be right. It sounds like The Bourne Supremacy might be more up my alley (my narrow, European alley, that is).

Besides, with your track record, you have nothing at all to fear...

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

Wow, another Mosley movie! I had no idea. I loved Devil in a Blue Dress, so I'll definitely have to check this one out, thanks!

Jim, I oddly enough thought of you while I was watching the film. I think you would love it, and it is available through Netflix (which is where I got it from).

Give it a shot! I nearly snuck this one up to four-star status.

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

Duly queued, thanks! I may move it up the ranks, but I'm moving at a decent clip these days, so it shouldn't take too long to get to, even it its current position.

Jim (who has no excuse for not switching it with Alien vs. Predator right this very second.)

I was honored by your noting of my review, but then I was horrified when I spotted two nasty typos glaring out at me (now fixed). Oh, well.

I hope you enjoy the film.

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

I didn't notice either one, so of course I had to go back and scour the "deleted" one to find 'em. I kinda like referring to him as "the Mosley". :-)

Loved it, thanks so much! I never would have found it without your review. I too, very nearly snuck it up to four-star status.

Excellent! I am not entirely sure why I thought of you while I was watching the film, but I certainly said to myself, "Wow, I bet Jim would dig this...".

Great review, and yes, I also thought the narration was an odd weak point to the film.

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs