Sunday, May 21, 2006

A: Because The Ringer hurled a Brick at Natalie... that's Why We Fight.

Brick (2005, Rian Johnson, seen in theatre)- I'm happy to report that this film has more going for it than a hook- hard-boiled detective noir in high school. In fact, what makes this really work is that Johnson (making his feature directing debut) isn't content to riff on the genre, but finds a way to fuse the noir sensibility with a transplanted setting. In other words, he takes noir seriously and respects the tone as well as the style. And to me, that makes all the difference. Between this film and MYSTERIOUS SKIN, Joseph Gordon-Levitt has completely left his 3RD ROCK FROM THE SUN past in the dust, revealing himself to be a singularly compelling performer, and he's darn near perfect here as Brendan, a role that requires him to essay a sullen, lovelorn loner who seems just inconsequential enough that most people underestimate him. The film's story owes more than a little to Chandler and Hammett, in particular the latter's RED HARVEST, especially in the film's second half, when Brendan finds himself in the middle of a crime war. The movie's also a lot of fun to listen to, with the characters volleying elaborate dialogue that might have made Chandler (or the Coen brothers) cackle with glee. And any movie that ends with "Sister Ray" is OK by me. Rating: ***1/2.

Why We Fight (2005, Eugene Jarecki, seen in theatre)- yet another in a seemingly endless string of left-leaning political docs, this one dealing with the "military-industrial complex," a phrase coined by Pres. Eisenhower, case you hadn't heard. Problem is, there's little here that doesn't feel like secondhand info- yeah, so Cheney and friends were planning Iraq in the early 90s, and the veep's relationship with his former employer Halliburton may have enabled them to play a major role in the current war effort. Really, we've heard it all before, to the point where the few bits that don't feel recycled, like the father of the 9/11 victim who later became disillusioned with the Iraq War, don't mesh all that well with the rest. And the Philip Glass-ripoff score was annoying as hell. If you've watched any political docs lately, you've probably already seen better and learned everything this proports to teach you. Rating: *1/2.

The Ringer (2005, Barry Blaustein, seen on DVD)- this film has a late-period Farelly brothers feel to it (duh, they produced), with comedy scenes interspersed with a serious message, with THE RINGER making the case that the mentally handicapped are real people with engaging personalities. Problem is, the film just isn't as funny as it wants to be- there are a few good laughs, but it ends up being more good-natured than hilarious. The story is dragged down by a romantic subplot involving Johnny Knoxville, pretending to be mentally challeneged, falling in love with a pretty Special Olympics volunteer (Katherine Heigl), who must be fairly dense, since Knoxville's act isn't remotely convincing (nor, admittedly, is it meant to be, this being a comedy and all). Thankfully, Knoxville's fellow contestants aren't fooled, and the film's best scenes involve Knoxville bonding with these guys and learning the aforementioned lesson. I also sorta liked how the film acknowledges how convoluted its setup is, referring back to it later when Knoxville has trouble explaining it all to his new friends. In short, diverting enough, but neither as refreshingly un-P.C. or as funny as it should have been. Rating: **.

Nathalie... (2003, Anne Fontaine, seen on DVD)- it's been a week since I saw this and I barely remember anything- rarely a good sign. It's never boring, and any movie with Emmanuelle Beart in tramp mode (she's one of the few actresses who can pull it off successfully and still be hot) is worth a look, but the result is unassuming to a fault and contains a climactic twist that I saw coming a mile away. Rating: **.


Steve Middleton said...

I've also seen Brick - wasn't so impressed

Jason_Alley said...

Yeah I dug "Brick" too, and am in total agreement with you about "Why We Fight". I gave it 3 stars just because it's hard for me NOT to give a serious-sounding, "deep" documentary with whose sentiments I agree a good rating. But as I kept hearing it over and over at work I realized how superfluous and manipulative it is. And yes, Errol Morris and Philip Glass should sue over the score.