Mini Reviews (March 2004)
The Other Side of the Bed, Monsieur Ibrahim, The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra, Never Die Alone
The Other Side of the Bed (March 4/04)
The Other Side of the Bed is a cute, frothy little comedy from Spain, one that incorporates musical numbers to surprisingly positive effect (Chicago this is not). The film revolves around two couples that are having problems within their respective relationships. Not helping matters is the fact that each person is having an affair - with someone in the other relationship. It's the sort of premise romps are made of, and the film easily seems like it could've been made 50 years ago with Doris Day and Cary Grant (you know, if Day took off her top). The musical numbers are memorable, and actually do a fairly decent job of furthering the plot. Though the movie is perhaps a little too long - a run time of less than 90 minutes probably would've been more appropriate - The Other Side of the Bed is a breezy and fun ride that's enjoyable but instantly forgettable.
Monsieur Ibrahim (March 9/04)
Though Monsieur Ibrahim can easily be summed up in one cliched sentence - a young boy and an older man forge an unlikely friendship - the film rises above the familiarity of the genre thanks to the performances and unexpectedly perceptive script. Director Francois Dupeyron does a wonderful job of establishing two characters that are original and compelling, and remains worthwhile despite the fact that the movie falls apart towards the end. Set in a 1960s suburb of Paris, Monsieur Ibrahim revolves around Momo (Pierre Boulanger) - a latchkey kid with a hardworking father that's gotten used to supporting himself. His latest preoccupation involves the various prostitutes that linger around his neighborhood; his first encounter is paid for with money from a childhood piggy bank. It's around that time that he finds himself drawn to the proprietor of a nearby convenience store, a genial man named Monsieur Ibrahim (Omar Sharif). The two become fast friends, spending their time talking about various subjects. Monsieur Ibrahim is a slight slice-of-life tale that effectively captures the feeling of what life must have been like in that small Paris neighborhood in the '60s. Anchored by two superb performances, the film becomes slightly more engaging than it has any right to. Newcomer Boulanger more than holds his own opposite Sharif, and both create characters that we genuinely care about. The film does falter as it approaches its conclusion, though, as the pair take a trip to Turkey. It's at that point that Monsieur Ibrahim stops being about the relationship between the two, and turns into a far more reflective affair. Dupeyron's need to have something happen in a movie dominated by dialogue leaves the story with a bad aftertaste.
The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra (March 12/04)
While there's no denying that The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra is a dead-on homage to cheesy '50s sci-fi flicks, the film also reproduces their inability to keep viewers engaged for more than a few minutes. Once you get past the initial premise of a movie like The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra, there's not much left to hold one's interest. Writer/director/star Larry Blamire admittedly does an amazing job of replicating the look and feel of movies like Plan Nine from Outer Space, complete with stilted performances and campy dialogue. But it's just not enough to keep the movie from becoming a colossal bore somewhere around the midway point, primarily because there's nothing here for the viewer to connect to. These aren't characters so much as they're stereotypes, which was (one would imagine) the point, but the broad performances become awfully tiresome. The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra isn't funny enough to stand on its own, and it's played so seriously that it's impossible not to imagine the Mystery Science Theater 3000 guys having a lot of fun with it. It's that slavish devotion to the schlock of the '50s that prevents the movie from ever becoming anything more than a bizarre curiosity.
Never Die Alone (March 25/04)
About halfway through Never Die Alone, it becomes perfectly clear what director Ernest R. Dickerson is doing here: he's re-inventing the blacksploitation genre for the 21st century. With its themes of revenge and honor, and healthy doses of sex and violence, the story is certainly a throwback to the films of the '70s. Based on the book by Donald Goines, Never Die Alone opens with King David's (DMX) death and the majority of the film occurs in flashback - with David narrating his own tale. David Arquette plays a down-on-his-luck writer who receives tapes of King David's autobiography after he tries to save his life. The gritty and almost overly-stylistic approach that Dickerson takes to the material takes a good half hour to get used to; along with cinematographer Matthew Libatique, Dickerson spends a lot of time experimenting with the film's look. It works, though, as the movie's style matches the dark tone of James Gibson's script. DMX still isn't much of an actor, but the role primarily requires him to exude menace - something the rapper has no problem with. Arquette gives a surprisingly non-goofy performance, while Barbershop's Michael Ealy is fine as the film's hero. There's even a twist towards the end that's genuinely unexpected, turning Never Die Alone into an above-average urban thriller.