Mini Reviews (November 2012)
The Man with the Iron Fists, The Imposter, Red Dawn, Hitchcock
The Man with the Iron Fists (November 3/12)
The Man with the Iron Fists details the bloody chaos that ensues as several warriors descend on a small village in search of gold, with the movie detailing the exploits of several underwhelming, underdeveloped characters - including Rick Yune's Zen Yi, Lucy Liu's Madam Blossom, RZA's nameless blacksmith, and Russell Crowe's Jack Knife. Filmmaker RZA has infused The Man with the Iron Fists with a gleefully over-the-top feel that is, at the outset, impossible to resist, as the first-time director places a continuing emphasis on irresistibly (and brutally) violent action sequences that are heightened by a decidedly garish visual sensibility. It is, as such, initially rather easy to overlook the movie's almost laughably convoluted storyline and total lack of compelling protagonists, although, perhaps inevitably, there does reach a point at which the movie, hindered by a pervasively superficial and context-free atmosphere, transforms into an unpleasantly arms-length experience. There's little doubt that the film's absence of momentum plays a key role in its ultimate downfall, as RZA, for the most part, lurches from one scene to the next with little thought towards coherency or consistency (ie the movie generally feels as though it's been cut down from a much longer running time). The comically baffling plot - RZA and Eli Roth's script doesn't even seem to be trying to make sense - grows more and more problematic as time progresses, and it doesn't help, either, that RZA is simply unable to elicit compelling performances from the majority of his actors (including himself). (Crowe's scenery-chewing turn, on the other hand, is a rare bright spot within the proceedings.) And although the action-packed climax marks an improvement over the static midsection, The Man with the Iron Fists is, finally, nothing less than a misbegotten mess that frustrates and annoys more than it entertains.
The Imposter (November 19/12)
An increasingly fascinating documentary, The Imposter explores the unbelievable case of a Frenchman who passed himself off as a missing 16-year-old from Texas - with the young boy's family immediately convinced by the con man's far-from-convincing performance. Filmmaker Bart Layton has augmented The Imposter's real-life footage - ie interviews with all the major players - with a fictionalized portrayal of the described events, with this strategy initially serving only to detract from the inherently engrossing nature of the real events. There does reach a point, however, at which the blending of fiction and non-fiction begins to pay off, as the progressively enthralling narrative, for lack of a better word, ensures that the viewer is completely and utterly drawn into the jaw-dropping tale that's being spun by the movie's various participants. (It really is incredible, for example, just how many impossible-to-predict twists there are within the movie's brisk 99 minute running time.) The movie's captivating atmosphere is heightened by the participation of several irresistibly off-kilter figures, including an incredulous FBI agent and, most notably, a scrappy private investigator who quickly establishes himself as the real star of the proceedings (ie one almost wishes there were a reality TV series revolving around his folksy antics) - which ultimately does confirm The Imposter's place as one of the most involving and compelling documentaries to come around in quite some time.
Red Dawn (November 21/12)
Based on John Milius' 1984 actioner, Red Dawn follows a group of scrappy young adults - including Chris Hemsworth's Jed, Adrianne Palicki's Toni, and Josh Hutcherson's Robert - as they take up arms and launch a counterattack after North Korea invades the United States. It's a palpably ridiculous premise that's employed to rather underwhelming effect by first-time filmmaker Dan Bradley, although, to be fair, the strength of the initial attack does ensure that the movie gets off to a somewhat promising start - with the inherently captivating nature of this short-lived stretch going a long way towards compensating for the film's various deficiencies (including a roster of almost uniformly one-dimensional protagonists). The first half of Red Dawn is subsequently more watchable than one might've expected, as it's difficult not to derive some enjoyment out of the characters' ongoing efforts at foiling the villains' vaguely-defined plans (ie what's the endgame for the North Koreans?) The repetitive nature of Carl Ellsworth and Jeremy Passmore's screenplay results in a stagnant feel that grows increasingly problematic, however, and it's clear that the progressive lack of thrills is compounded by Bradley's aggressively shaky camerawork. (There is, for example, an attack sequence towards the end that's rendered incoherent by Bradley's infuriatingly jittery visuals.) By the time the overlong and tedious finale rolls around, Red Dawn has certainly established itself as just another redundant contemporary remake - which is too bad, really, given the strength of both the cast and the movie's early scenes.
Hitchcock (November 22/12)
An almost astonishingly misguided piece of work, Hitchcock follows Anthony Hopkins' Alfred Hitchcock as he attempts to raise the funds and eventually film his seminal 1960 horror effort Psycho - with the film, for the most part, focused on the legendary auteur's relationship with his loyal yet frustrated wife (Helen Mirren's Alma). It's a promising setup that is, virtually from the get-go, employed to disappointingly middling effect by director Sacha Gervasi, as the filmmaker has infused the proceedings with a static feel that grows more and more problematic as time progresses - with the novelty of the premise and the parade of familiar faces initially offsetting the otherwise pedestrian atmosphere. There's little doubt that the movie's biggest problem, aside from Hopkins' oddly unconvincing performance (ie the actor, clad in copious prosthetics and a distracting fat suit, is never quite able to disappear into his iconic character), is its emphasis on the somewhat fractured relationship between Hitch and Alma, as scripter John J. McLaughlin's takes an aggressively trite approach (eg Alma feels unappreciated by Hitchcock and considers an affair with a dashing writer friend) that renders a good portion of the movie's midsection unwatchable (ie it's all just so tedious and familiar). It's worth noting, too, that Hitchcock fails as a behind-the-scenes look at the making of Psycho, with Gervasi's persistently glossy modus operandi ensuring that such moments, for the most part, ring hopelessly false. (This is especially true of what should've been the movie's highlight, Hitch's filming of the infamous shower scene.) The ongoing inclusion of absolutely ludicrous daydreaming sequences, in which Hitch imagines himself conversing with Psycho's inspiration, Ed Gein (Michael Wincott), cements Hitchcock's place as a terminally misbegotten endeavor, with the mild effectiveness of the movie's final stretch ultimately unable to compensate for the mind-numbing silliness of everything preceding it.