In the hope of actually giving a much more thorough trek through my recent viewings, I write mini-reviews/thoughts/etc. of those movies I just don't have the time to devote to writing up as a longer piece. I give you once again, an installment of the soon-to-be regular column "Blurbs":
A nasty little horror movie that takes place right after the election of an extreme Right-wing government in France. A group of friends takes the ensuing chaos as an opportunity to loot some cash, but when things go wrong and one ends up shot, they take up refuge in a small hostel along the French border where they are tortured and killed by a group of Neo-Nazis and the protagonist, Yasmine, is intended to be the new brood mare for a new master race. It starts out strong and gets really creepy before the last third turns it into more of a genre retread. I don’t mean to sound like I dislike this film at all, only that this rehash of familiar material and themes was a slight let-down from the first parts, which were so invigorating. The film stays inventive, though, and really works up until the very end instead of concluding with an incomprehensible twist like some other recent French horror films I’ve otherwise really liked (I’m talking about you, HIGH TENSION.) FRONTIER(S) is violent, shocking and contains its fair share of disturbing moments, notably the "children" kept underground in the old mine, but never compromises its characters, who are fleshed out and realistic. This film is a standout effort in a field already gluttoned by far too many meat movies.
HAROLD AND KUMAR ESCAPE FROM GUANTANAMO BAY
I’m a fan of Harold and Kumar; I like them, I root for them, and I think they’re genuinely funny characters. Their first outing, HAROLD AND KUMAR GO TO WHITE CASTLE was a fresh, R-rated comedy that stood out because it had no interest in playing by the rules of the genre, and injected a lot of broad humor and situations with very pointed, precise critiques about society at large. This new film moves into the territory of political satire while still remaining an entertaining romp through classic stoner-movie gags. The boys are caught smoking a bong on an airplane and due to misunderstandings, are held as suspected terrorists. They quickly escape from their prison, and return to the U.S. from Cuba in the only logical way, and attempt to get out of the trouble they’re in. The rest of the movie is about their journey to Texas to be cleared of the charges. The characters themselves are slightly more like charicatures this time around, and it may be the character of Rob Cordry’s Homeland Security agent that pushes the movie over the line of believability. Unfortunately, his character is so absurd that it’s seemingly incomprehensible why a turn so broad-minded and loopy could be considered good in a movie that’s otherwise grounded in the reality it is trying to satirize. Aside from that, though, the movie remains very funny, and Neil Patrick Harris still has impeccable comic timing (as anyone who watches the hilarious HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER well knows), and it makes for a good time.
FIEND WITHOUT A FACE
FIEND WITHOUT A FACE is a decent enough sci-fi/horror flick from the 1950s. A hallmark of the British genre films, which more often than not had a mad scientist at the root of all evil, the film boasts some impressive special effects for the time, including the brain-monsters themselves, crawling about and shooting through the air across the room, as well as their blood spilling out and their decay after they’ve been shot. The story concerns a town in Canada where the U.S. has set up an experimental military base that may or may not be causing mysterious deaths in the town with its radiation tests. While the science is absurd today, this is serious stuff, but I was a little put off by the lack of characterization, even by 50s B-movie standards. A solid viewing experience, and a must-see for fans of sci-fi/horror, but ultimately, it’s a trifle, and not nearly as memorable as contemporaries like THE BLOB.
YOU DON’T MESS WITH THE ZOHAN
Scripted by Adam Sandler, Robert Smigel, and Judd Apatow, YOU DON’T MESS WITH THE ZOHAN creates an absurdist realm in which the Palestinian/Jewish conflict is seen as a moot point by even the hardened fighters on both sides. As a Mossad super-agent (and believe me, there’s nothing even remotely realistic about him), Adam Sandler fakes his own death to leave the business and move to New York to become a hair dresser. While this leads to the usual homosexual jokes by commenting characters, the joke is not completely lost, thanks in large part to the dialogue, which mixes in absurd, overdone accents with words formed with just enough English and Yiddish-sounding verbiage that the end result is something that comes off mostly as pretty funny. Being written by three prominent Jewish men helps the humor (which could often be construed as offensive) come off as acceptable, especially when a multitude of Hummus jokes gives way to a message of peace and understanding. I had a fun time with ZOHAN, finding a lot to laugh at. Even Rob Schneider gets some laughs, if that’s telling you anything. This may be the first Sandler film worth watching since MR. DEEDS, which had some moments, but not enough of them.
I hadn’t seen the first film in this series in about seven or eight years, so when I watched it last week, it seemed fresh and new again. For a movie that is over thirty years old, MAD MAX has aged remarkably well, perhaps in spite of itself. After all, a post-apocalyptic action/drama where the gangs all dress like punked-out rejects at biker bars should make no sense at all to current pop culture, but here I am, not having lived then, and finding it all to be perfectly acceptable. While nowhere near as good as the visionary turn the series took with THE ROAD WARRIOR, this film does explore the beginning aspects of the semi-police state the Australian Outback has become. I had forgotten how nothing was really explained about the post-apocalyptic world - how it became what it did, etc. - and I like that immensely. Everything today seems to want to over-explain its premise, especially when dealing with future events. The films of the 70s and 80s took it at face value and said, "This is what happens, doesn’t it make sense?" Of course it does, and thank the heavens for not pandering. Modern Hollywood could take a page from MAD MAX and cut out the mindless, needless exposition. There are other ways, after all, of finding out information aside from straightforward dullness. Oh, and before I forget, the final showdown with Max and the biker gang is still one of my favorite action sets ever, despite its being short.
SHADOWS AND FOG
This little seen Woody Allen film from 1992 is a remarkable effort if for no other reason than its sheer experimentalism. Taking on the aesthetics of classic German Expressionism, and a Borscht-belt comedy that is the spiritual kin of Lang’s masterpiece, M, SHADOWS AND FOG is a comedy that gives its audience something to ponder two-fold. Apart from some real gems of non-sequiturs and wordplay, the film exudes a mood and feeling that permeates every frame; something rarely done in 1992, let alone 16 years after its release. The use of black and white photography is masterful, and the fog rolls along in great barrels, following the film’s plot threads like an enemy intent on obfuscation. The end result is, just like its ending, something of profound, moving power, and quite simply, it’s magical.
Steve Carell is a good Maxwell Smart. The film, based on the classic television series, is a breath of fresh summer air. The jokes are funny, the action thrilling, and the movie zips along, cramming in as much as possible before its termination. If ever there were a film to benefit exponentially from its pitch-perfect casting, it is this incarnation of the GET SMART franchise, which sees not only Carrell, but Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, Alan Arkin, Anne Hathaway, Terrance Stamp, and a load of others turn in some truly remarkable comedic work. The story is mostly forgettable, but that’s okay. The entire point of GET SMART is that the spy genre is overworked and labored, and it points out all of its inanities in one fell swoop. I must say I enjoyed the movie quite a bit, and found myself laughing so hard at points that I think it must surely be worthy of a repeat viewing.
KUNG FU PANDA
Dreamworks Animation has finally produced an animated film that is on a par with the work of Pixar. A step above CARS and A BUG’S LIFE, and probably worthy of the same shelf space as MONSTERS INC. and TOY STORY, KUNG FU PANDA features some of the most gorgeous animation I’ve ever laid eyes on. Bright, colorful and intriguing, there is something to offer to - quite literally - any type of viewer, from the very, very funny jokes, to the highly choreographed fight scenes that feature so prominently throughout the movie. Also worthy of note is the complete lack of pop-culture references that make other such CGI affairs unwieldy and, often, just downright intolerable.