Mini Reviews (June 2005)
The Cat Returns, Falling Hard, Head-On, Cyber Seduction: His Secret Life, Land of the Dead, Rebound, Overnight
The Cat Returns (June 5/05)
The Cat Returns is evidently based on a Japanese graphic novel, which makes sense given its bizarre and seemingly unfilmable storyline. The movie revolves around Haru, a klutzy, insecure schoolgirl who - after saving the life of a seemingly random feline one afternoon - receives an invitation to visit a secret world comprised entirely of cats. But when Haru discovers that the aptly-titled Cat King intends to transform her into a kitty so she can marry his son, Haru (along with a couple of sympathizers) must attempt a bold escape before the change is complete. The Cat Returns moves along at a brisk clip and features a bright, vibrant animation style, yet the film never quite becomes anything more than an entertaining time-killer. And though the movie features several bits of comedy that are clearly aimed at adults rather than kids, there's no shaking the feeling that younger viewers will probably get a lot more out of this than grownups.
Falling Hard (June 15/05)
Though it's obviously been shot on a miniscule budget, it's hard not to become wrapped up in Falling Hard's simple yet incredibly effective storyline. Mike (Sitara Falcon) has a good job and a loving girlfriend, yet it's clear that he's not entirely happy with the way his life's turned out. Problems ensue when Mike begins spending more and more time with Amy (Rebecca Sanabria), who just happens to be dating Mike's best friend and roommate. The two begin having an affair, and it's not long before Mike's girlfriend and roommate figure out what's going on. Falling Hard has its share of problems - ie it's occasionally more melodramatic than it needs to be and there are a couple of questionable pop songs on the soundtrack - but there's no denying that writer/director Matt Kurtz has imbued the film with a real sense of sincerity and honesty (no small feat, given that Kurtz is making his debut here). Falcon and Sanabria are surprisingly effective in their roles, while Kurtz has a keen ear for unforced, natural-sounding dialogue. It's that sort of authenticity that elevates Falling Hard to more than just another low-budget, self-conscious indie flick about relationships (and it seems likely that Kurtz is destined for bigger and better things).
Head-On (June 17/05)
Aside from a decidedly unsentimental conclusion, Head-On is essentially the sort of movie one imagines a mainstream-Hollywood filmmaker like Garry Marshall tackling. The story revolves around a mismatched pair - a middle-aged drunk named Cahit (Birol Ünel) and Sibel (Sibel Kekilli), a suicidal free-spirit - who enter into a marriage of convenience and soon find themselves actually falling for one another. Writer/director Fatih Akin peppers Head-On with a variety of needlessly self-conscious touches that serve only to distract the viewer from the sporadically intriguing storyline, something that's particularly true of the chorus that reinforces the on-screen action. It's a shame, really, given that both Ünel and pornstar-turned-actress Kekilli are actually quite good in their roles, though it's hard to ignore the unpleasant, almost relentless vibe of seediness.
Cyber Seduction: His Secret Life (June 25/05)
It really is astounding just how terrible Cyber Seduction is, as it's incompetent on virtually every single level (the screenplay, the acting, the direction...everything sucks). The movie plays out like a 21st century Reefer Madness, with internet porn substituting for marijuana. Jeremy Sumpter plays an all-state swimmer whose life begins to spiral out of control after he finds himself addicted to pornography (ie his girlfriend leaves him, he's kicked off the swim team, his mother practically disowns him, etc). It's hard to determine whether or not screenwriters Wesley Bishop and Richard Kletter actually expect the viewer to take any of this seriously; the film is so over-the-top and ridiculous, it often seems to be operating on the level of parody. Aside from the fact that Cyber Seduction's entire premise is patently absurd (a teen's life is destroyed by doing exactly what teens do), the film doesn't feature a single moment that feels even remotely authentic. It's as though Bishop and Kletter wanted to present the absolute worst-case scenario in terms of internet porn, and went one step beyond that. The acting is expectedly broad, with Sumpter and TV-mom Kelly Lynch offering up horrific and egregious scenery-chewing performances (though, in their defense, the screenplay doesn't exactly allow for a whole lot of subtlety). Cyber Seduction is a complete mess, and because the film appears to have been crafted to appeal solely to ultra-religious viewers, the majority of rational folks will find themselves rolling their eyes throughout.
no stars out of
Land of the Dead (June 30/05)
Given the recent resurgence in zombie flicks, it seemed inevitable that George A. Romero - the grandfather of the genre - would return to the fray. Land of the Dead is ostensibly a sequel to 1985's Day of the Dead, though there are no recurring characters. The film kicks off with the revelation that zombies have essentially taken over the earth, forcing the remaining survivors to take refuge inside a walled city. There, an evil capitalist (played by Dennis Hopper) has established an exclusive building catering solely to the upper crust - with everyone else left to fend for themselves on the streets. It's a system that most folks have grown to accept, though all hell breaks loose once the zombies figure out how to enter the city. As expected, Romero peppers Land of the Dead with instances of social commentary - yet it's hard not to wish the filmmaker would just get on with it already (the movie's midsection, as a result, is surprisingly slow and talky). Having said that, the final act - featuring the zombie blitz on the city - is just as exciting and gory as one might've hoped (it doesn't hurt that Romero takes full advantage of computer imagery to beef up the violence). And then there's the zombies themselves, which - through evolution, I guess - have apparently gotten smarter (they even have a leader). It's a silly idea, but Romero somehow pulls it off - although his efforts to garner sympathy from the audience for the creatures fall flat. In the end, Land of the Dead isn't quite the instant classic everyone was hoping for; it is, however, a better-than-average horror film (as well as a distinct improvement over most contemporary zombie flicks).
Rebound (June 30/05)
When you get right down to it, there's no reason for Rebound to even exist - apart from giving star Martin Lawrence something to do between various sequels (lord help us, there's a Big Momma's House 2 on the horizon). There's not a single moment in the movie that feels authentic or original, and as a result, even the most inept audience member should have no problem predicting virtually every single plot development. Lawrence stars as Roy McCormick, a celebrity coach who is forced to clean up his image after being suspended from the game for life. He does this by returning to his old school to help out with their losing basketball team, which is comprised of an expectedly motley crew of misfits and losers. Like the recent Will Ferrell comedy Kicking & Screaming, Rebound makes the pivotal mistake of eschewing the kids in favor of the star - a disastrous choice that doesn't fit in with the mold already established by this genre (think of The Mighty Ducks or The Bad News Bears). These films work best when we actually get to see the inept players improve, in addition to the progression of the star from inconsiderate jerk to caring coach. Rebound only features the latter, a choice that's exacerbated by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore's hopelessly incompetent and utterly predictable screenplay. It certainly doesn't help that virtually the entire movie takes place within the tiny confines of the school's gym, a cost-cutting move that lends the preceedings an increasingly claustrophobic vibe. Rebound isn't completely unwatchable, I suppose, but there's just got to be a better way to spend 87 minutes.
Overnight (June 30/05)
Ostensibly a documentary on the rise and fall of Troy Duffy, Overnight plays out like an 82-minute attack on the filmmaker by a couple of exceedingly bitter ex-colleagues. The movie revolves around Duffy's overnight success with his screenplay The Boondock Saints, following an unprecedented deal with Miramax Films (not only did Duffy receive final cut, but his band was scheduled to record the score). But Duffy's overbearing and incredibly pushy nature eventually alienated Miramax boss Harvey Weinstein, who put the movie in turnaround and made it virtually impossible for the film to get made anywhere else (Duffy was essentially blacklisted). All of this is bad news for Tony Montana and Mark Brian Smith, the two men hired by Duffy to document his post-movie contract career (they're also part of The Brood, Duffy's band, and it's soon revealed that neither has been paid well for their efforts). As a result, the majority of the film's choices feel dictated by Montana and Smith's enmity towards Duffy, something that's exacerbated by their obnoxious, needlessly arty sense of style (the movie is peppered with film-school shenanigans, including dramatic slow-motion, switches from color to black-and-white, etc). Worse than that, the movie never makes it clear just why Duffy was dropped from Miramax's roster; anybody who's watched both seasons of Project Greenlight knows that the company has no qualms about arbitrarily shelving films. Overnight does feature a few intriguing moments - Duffy's enormous ego is good for some entertainment - but it seems obvious that the movie wouldn't even exist if it weren't for Montana and Smith's overwhelming need to get back at Duffy.