Friday, May 9, 2008

The Cat and the Canary, Destiny, The Ruins, Iron Man, Ils, Inside, The Testiment of Dr. Mabuse, Speed Racer

It seems that lately, I procrastinate when it comes to writing reviews. I'll try to do better. To make up for it, I'll make these reviews as short as I can.
The Cat and the Canary is a silent film directed by Paul Leni. It was a bit long and poorly written, but the lighting and acting were good. The story was well-worn in 1927; an heiress to a fortune is in danger of being driven mad by her relatives and rivals.
Destiny by Fritz Lang is more my speed. In this film from 1921, a woman who has lost her fiance makes a deal with Death that if she can save even one of three souls from being snuffed out, he will give her back her love. A solid film.
The Ruins was directed by Carter Smith and is about a group of pretty American kids on holiday in South America who accompany a German guy looking for his brother at a mysterious temple. This film's story was Hostel, but with vegetation standing in for bored rich people. The Ruins was saved by solid direction and performances with some pretty good special effects to support all of that.
Iron Man was directed by Jon Favreau and stars Robert Downey Jr. as the titular hero also known as Tony Stark, a womanizing (and, in the comics, substance abusing) weapons wunderkind who sees the error of his ways when he's kidnapped by an extremist group whilst showing off his newest weapon, the Jericho missile, in the Middle Eastern desert. The film also stars Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Pott, Stark's loyal assistant, Jeff Bridges as Obadiah Stane, the villain, and Terrence Howard as Jim Rhodes, Stark's Air Force friend.
This is what superhero comic book movies should be...solid performances from the entire cast, great effects (well composited, too...filmmakers seem to forget that it takes more than a good effect to make it real, it needs to be composited well, too), and a solid (if not entirely sound) script. Good job and highly recommended.
Ils was written and directed by Xavier Palud and David Moreau and is about a young French couple living in Hungary who are attacked by mysterious strangers (which is the name of the American remake starring Scott Speedman and Liv Tyler coming out in a couple of months; The Strangers.) The filmmakers claimed that this was based on a true story, but the story upon which it was based was completely different than what's on screen
Also, Palud and Moreau brought us the terrible American remake of the Pang Brothers' pretty chilling The Eye.
The bottom line: don't bother. Rent Funny Games instead (I've only seen Haneke's American version, but based on that, I'd vouch for the original German version.) While Ils has a run time of some seventy minutes, brevity doesn't mean better. There are some tense sections, but overall a poorly written film with wonderful acting and cinematography.
Inside was written by Alexandre Bustillo and directed by Bustillo and Julien Maury. It's about a pregnant widow who finds herself being attacked by a crazed woman who wants to steal her unborn baby.
Inside was brutal, intense, very gory, and smart. The writing, direction, and acting were all top notch. The cinematography was mostly good; while they establish that this film was taking place during the riots in Paris, they don't establish where all the smoke was coming from in her house.
The Dimension Extreme release is the original uncut version. Now, I've seen some gruesome things in movies, but this has to be in the top five most intensely gory films I've ever seen, if not at the very top. If you're one with a weak constitution, STAY AWAY FROM THE UNCUT VERSION.
The Testiment of Doctor Mabuse is another Fritz Lang film, a German-language talkie from 1933. In this one, a powerfully insane genius is somehow committing crimes without leaving his cell. His main goal is to create anarchy and destroy Humanity, but he is thwarted by Inspector Lohmann and his crack team of forensic investigators. And some informants...
This is a solid picture with good writing, cinematography, and direction. Parts of the story were even ahead of its time.
While some of the actors were obviously from the silents, quite a few of them were very relaxed with their dialogue and their physical space. It must have been tough for silent stars to make the switch to talkies... A good flick!
Speed Racer was brought to us by the Wachowski Siblings. The story...well, it's not The Matrix: Speed Racer takes down the dirty, dishonest race teams with whom he's competing while defending his family. Heady stuff for a kid's flick and I'm glad for it. Too many kids movies these days talk down to them and treat them as though they're stupid. I think this one comes close to hitting the mark of a good kids film.
Speed Racer is not my normal fare. I've never even watched an episode of the Anime from which it comes. I think it's a little over-long (two and a half hours!), but it's so fast paced you don't really notice (unless you drank a Bladderbuster during the movie...then, you'll probably feel it.) I did get a little dizzy at first -- the spinning graphics behind the production logos was slightly disorienting, but I got used to it quickly as all those colours go flying past the screen. It's very colourful and very pretty in the digital sense. There's no way they could have done this movie realistically and to have done so would have been a disservice to the fans. It feels unreal in just the right way.
The performances were all fantastic: Emil Hirsch and Christina Ricci were great as Speed and Trixie, John Goodman and the always wonderful Susan Sarandon were fantastic as Speed's parents (and they were in the film longer than I thought they'd be!) and Spritle (and Chin-Chin) were the perfect comic relief. However, I was disappointed in the underuse of Hiroyuki Sanada (I love him) and Richard Roundtree (you just don't see enough of him anymore...)
Well, I think that was pretty time, I'll try to stick to three reviews...

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