Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Film Week

A review of the films I've seen this past week.

COOL RUNNINGS (1993)
It's a perfectly nice movie that's entirely predictable and somewhat of a disappointment. This is a weird position to be caught in on this one. I mean, this is a Disney sports movie through and through, embracing each and every tired cliche of the sports movie genre to the point where you could set your watch by every plot turn. I mean, since it's about Jamaicans, you can even predict what music you're going to hear. But the movie's just so damn sincere and the performances are better than a by-the-numbers movie deserves. Leon, Doug E. Doug, Malik Yoba and Rawle E. Lewis are all so likable, and as their coach, John Candy gives one of his best (and, tragically, last) performances. They're all good and the movie's pleasant, but I wish the movie had risen above its cliches. **1/2

THE POSSESSION (2012)
I'm not generally a fan of exorcism movies, but this one really grabbed me. Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Kyra Sedgewick are getting a divorce, and one of their daughters buys a strange box at a yard sale. The box, as it happens, contains a dybbuk that possesses the younger daughter in ways that involve, alternately, slow burn scares and jump shocks. It's nothing you haven't seen before, it's just done really, really well and with characters real enough that it makes the whole thing--based on a supposedly true story--feel immediate. Matisyahu adds an interesting presence to the proceedings as the son of a Hasidic rabbi who intervenes. Regarding the true story, I have to share a great line from Roger Ebert's review: "Whether the real box caused the phenomena on display in the film I somehow doubt, but I don't want to open it in order to find out." ***

THE LAIR OF THE WHITE WORM (1988)
For a Ken Russell movie, this is surprisingly straightforward. I mean, yes, there are moments of psychedelic, bloody, sexualized, naked nun weirdness that you more or less expect from Russell, but the main body of the story is oddly matter-of-fact in its supernatural elements. Based on a Bram Stoker novel, the story concerns a young archaeologist (Peter Capaldi) who finds a strange reptile skull from the Roman occupation of Britain, a young lord (Hugh Grant) descended from the family who might have killed it, two sisters (Sammi Davis and Catherine Oxenberg) who are threatened by it, and a mysterious, serpentine femme fatale (Amanda Donohoe, as fatale as it gets) who worships it. I found myself wrapped up in it from start to finish. I completely embraced its style; it's a bit like a horror movie from the 1930s in its style, but with a creeping strangeness all around the edges that occasionally bleeds through and then comes in big at the climax. It ends on a funny line, too. I think sometimes Russell's works get a bad rep because people don't get that so much of the humor and absurdity that seems unintentional is actually quite intentional. Of course, liking all of that is entirely subjective, but generally I like it. ****

1492: CONQUEST OF PARADISE (1992)
A lot of pointless bluster for a movie that has nothing much to say, and to the extent that it does say something, I have a lot of problems with it. I knew this was going to be bad when the opening word crawl characterized the Spanish Inquisition as "punishing men who dared to dream." So the movie only sees Christopher Columbus as this noble seeker of knowledge who, to the extent that trade entered into it at all, promised ease of trade merely as a way to get his important journey of scientific curiosity financed. Much of the big dialogue reflects that, so the filmmakers clearly think that Christopher Columbus--murderer, slaver, conqueror--had benevolent intentions that were perverted by others and, I guess, he had no power to stop it. What especially makes this hard to bear--besides, you know, the actual history of what happened--is that the film is so deadly dull. It's an overlong, tedious nightmare; it feels like it was cut down from a 10-hour miniseries and is accordingly incomprehensible. And Gerard Depardieu is totally miscast; he can't carry the film at all, especially when he's constantly flying into histrionic rages or just moving all the time and prognosticating in his thick accent. Depardieu's not a bad actor, he's just not a very good one in English. Why director Ridley Scott had to have him so bad (and Scott's participation in this film hinged on this casting point) is beyond me, especially when the film is full of potentially better Columbi (particularly Armand Assante, who is generally good here even though he's directed to glower and growl most of his dialogue in his later scenes when you just wish the movie would goddamn end already). Further hampered by a terribly inappropriate Vangelis score and a lack of plot, this is that kind of a movie that just makes you feel relieved when it finally ends. I know a lot of guys think Ridley Scott is some kind of genius, but this is exactly the kind of overblown bad movie I associate with the guy. There are little moments in the movie that are glossy and pretty to look at, and once again I say that Scott's the kind of director who would be relegated to music videos and perfume commercials if he didn't luck out every so often with a decent script. *

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