Mini Reviews (November 2004)
Scenes of the Crime, Chastity, Relentless, Silent Waters, The Red and the White
Scenes of the Crime (November 2/04)
Don't let Scenes of the Crime's direct-to-video pedigree fool you; this is actually a surprisingly decent little thriller featuring a heck of an impressive cast. Jeff Bridges stars as Jimmy Berg, a mobster held hostage by a rival (Jon Abrahams) who's under strict orders not to let him go until a certain financial situation has been resolved. The film also stars Morris Chestnut, Madchen Amick, R. Lee Ermey, Bob Gunton, Peter Greene, and - in a odd bit of casting that, strangely enough, actually works - ER nice guy Noah Wyle as a sinister assassin. Director Dominique Forma effectively keeps the story moving at a brisk pace, stumbling only in the negotiating sequences between Bridges' partner and Abrahams' boss. While comparisons to Phone Booth are inevitable - the majority of the film involves the two central characters waiting in a van, surrounded by men with guns - Scenes of the Crime has a lot more going for it than just that premise (not that there's anything wrong with that premise, really). Bridges, as expected, gives an engaging, intense performance - turning Jimmy into more than just a high-ranking thug. And c'mon, it's impossible not to get a kick out of watching Wyle kill a man using a silenced pistol.
Chastity (November 7/04)
Chastity is a thoroughly bizarre and hopelessly dated relic starring Cher and written by Sonny Bono, though there's clearly a reason Bono would never pen another screenplay. Cher stars as the title character, a mentally unbalanced drifter who talks to herself. There's no real plot here to speak of; the entire film essentially consists of Chastity wandering from one town to the next, where she becomes involved with a variety of oddball characters. Director Alessio de Paola imbues the movie with the sort of excess one expects out of a film from the '60s, while Bono's script offers Cher the opportunity to act her heart out (her performance is actually one of the few redeeming elements in the movie). But the movie's unrelenting self-consciousness makes it impossible to ever really take it seriously; Chastity isn't a believable character in the slightest, and it's impossible to shake the feeling that the film exists solely because Sonny and Cher were looking for something to do.
Relentless (November 9/04)
Though he's been cast as a lot of sleazeballs and murderers in his career, Relentless marked the very first time Judd Nelson stepped into the shoes of an all-out bad guy. The film stars Leo Rossi as Sam Dietz, a green detective who - along with his partner, Bill Malloy (Robert Loggia) - is attempting to solve a series of murders in which the victims seemingly had a hand in their own deaths. Nelson plays Arthur Taylor, a serial killer who's evidently committing these killings as a way of getting back at his abusive father. The most shocking thing about Relentless is the fact that it's been written by Phil Alden Robinson, the same man who wrote and directed Sneakers and Field of Dreams. It goes without saying that Relentless isn't quite in the same league as those two films, though director William Lustig tries his best to infuse the movie with a decent amount of style. Nelson is fairly convincing as a depraved maniac (what a surprise), while Rossi doesn't fare quite as well in a rare good-guy role (there's a reason the actor's best known for playing villains).
Silent Waters (November 16/04)
As it deals heavily with the conflict within Pakistan between Muslims and Sikhs, Silent Waters requires the viewer to have some knowledge of the history behind the two cultures in order to fully appreciate the drama of the film's story (short version: they hate each other). The plot revolves around Ayesha (Kiron Kher) and Saleem (Aamir Ali Malik), a Muslim mother and son who seem happy enough, until the son falls in with a group of fanatical Islamist militants. The group is looking to keep all Sikhs out of the country, something that doesn't sit too well with Ayesha (for reasons that are revealed as the film progresses). Silent Waters is a slow-paced, sporadically intriguing film that's ultimately sunk by director Sabiha Sumar's occasionally simplistic and melodramatic treatment of the material. Saleem's transformation from carefree youth into a rabid extremist happens far too quickly to really feel plausible; one day he's wooing his girlfriend with a flute, and the next he's badgering local Sikhs. It's a shame, too, as the tragic storyline involving Ayesha is genuinely compelling and even touching.
The Red and the White (November 21/04)
The Red and the White details the Russian Civil War, circa 1918, to mostly lackluster effect. Director Miklós Jancsó packs the film with long tracking shots and other similarly impressive stylistic choices, but completely fails in terms of providing an engaging storyline or compelling characters. Regarding the latter, there's not a single figure here worth caring about - primarily because the film doesn't spend more than a few minutes on any of these many characters before moving on. Despite the presence of a few admittedly intriguing scenes (ie rogue soldiers terrorize a family of farmers), the movie is generally dominated by long, interminable sequences featuring characters of both sides either running, hiding, or fighting. The Red and the White seems like the sort of film that would be enhanced by having some knowledge of the real-life events it's covering, because - as it is - the movie is frustratingly esoteric and inaccessible.