A review of the films I've seen this past week.
STRAIGHT OUT OF BROOKLYN (1991)
Not a slick debut from (at the time) 19 year-old filmmaker Matty Rich; it's got a lot of rough edges, but the powerful truth of this movie--a young black man telling a story set in his own neighborhood--makes it very compelling viewing. A high school student named Dennis wants to better himself; he knows he won't get to go to college, and listens angrily at night as his alcoholic father beats up his long-suffering mother. He and his friends see an acquaintance committing an armed robbery, and they spend most of the movie with the tension of making a choice: rob someone at gunpoint, or get low-paying but legitimate jobs. What I liked most about the movie is that it spent a lot of time with Dennis' parents, giving us an insightful, emotional look at two people whose lives didn't turn out the way they would've liked, but who have forced themselves to find ways to cope with the disappointment. For his father, it's alcohol and living in the past. For his mother, it's living in the present and doing the best she can for her children, bearing almost daily physical abuse. They're trapped in a cycle that's leading nowhere, and Dennis worries about the same thing happening to him. It's a sad movie, but very compelling. ***
SAINT LAURENT (2014)
Well-acted, gorgeous-looking French biopic of Yves Saint Laurent that captures him at the peak of his career, from 1967 to 1976. Unfortunately, the whole thing rings hollow. There's a lot of ennui and beautiful clothes and fun montages--it really does look beautiful--but there's not much insight into Saint Laurent or his style or inspiration, which is a shame. He comes across as a prisoner of his own success, but neither he nor the film have anything interesting to say about it. **1/2
FIRST FAMILY (1980)
Sounds great on paper: a political satire written and directed by Buck Henry starring Bob Newhart, Madeline Kahn, Gilda Radner, Fred Willard, Rip Torn, Austin Pendleton, and Harvey Korman... and then you watch it, and it's terrible, Unfunny. Racist. Devoid of political insight. And just... not what I need to see during this contentious election season. Just a real drag. *
TWINS OF EVIL (1971)
Hammer flick about two Italian girls (twins Mary and Madeleine Collinson) who go to live in Germany with their uncle, Peter Cushing, who is out burning witches at night. It's a pretty fun movie--the whole thing is carried by Damien Thomas as the vampire Count Karnstein, who is wonderfully flamboyant. The girls are gorgeous, although there could stand to be a lot more evil in this movie, or naughtiness even. The problem with the movie, really, is that it could go further into the realm of horror, but it's kind of a cartoon that's there and then gone. It doesn't make a big impression other than Damien Thomas being hilarious and being the one with the yummy twins from Playboy in it. Even Cushing feels tired. Plus, I'm a little tired of always seeing Christian murder-based conservatism win in these movies. The messaging is just boring to me. The third in the loose Karnstein trilogy, which I didn't realize going in, although Mircalla is there for a minute and then just disappears. Still haven't seen Lust for a Vampire. **1/2
THE SHOW (1927)
Tod Browning directed this silent film about a carnival showman played by John Gilbert who gets caught up in a murder case. I was surprised by the directions this went in; it started out like a horror movie and then turned into a movie about love and honor. I liked it very much, though; it just took me a minute to realize it wasn't going to be the tense thriller that, say, The Unknown is. Lovely Renee Adoree plays one of his fellow performers, and Lionel Barrymore is the carnival owner who wants to murder him. Good stuff. ***1/2
THE GOOD HUMOR MAN (1950)
Cute, cartoony comedy about a Good Humor Man (Jack Carson) who is targeted as the patsy in a robbery scheme who desperately tries to prove his innocence. One of the things that's cute about it now is that Carson's character loves Captain Marvel and the rival for his girl's affections is George Reeves, so it's a teensy bit of Captain Marvel vs. Superman. Cute stuff, very silly, written by Frank Tashlin. ***
Unnecessary remake of the classic Tobe Hooper/Steven Spielberg movie, Taken on its own, it a pretty enjoyable movie, even though it never really justifies the remake. Good cast, though, and the special effects are cleverly employed. I'm a little torn on the short run time. On the one hand, it's nice that the movie isn't coy about incorporating elements of the original and it doesn't meander--it's right to the races in the first few minutes, and it's nice to see a remake that doesn't even pretend you've never seen the original--but it also doesn't give us much breathing room so that there are highs and lows to the story. The original version took time out for things like that conversation in the living room at night about heaven and hell and why spirits are stuck in-between, which made the scarier moments bigger or the feeling of the supernatural feel strange and even wonderful. In this version, it's all kind of right there, and the tone doesn't change much. The cast is so amiable and having fun--Sam Rockwell, Rosemarie deWitt, Jane Adams and Jared Harris are all likable and keep things moving--and that combined with a lack of pretension and the special effects make it an enjoyable trip. Not essential viewing, which sounds like a snobbish thing to say, but not a waste of time at all. ***
Thursday, November 03, 2016
A review of the films I've seen this past week.