Mini Reviews (August 2005)
Happy Endings, The Skeleton Key, November, Deluxe Combo Platter
Happy Endings (August 3/05)
Featuring an decidedly eclectic cast (which includes Lisa Kudrow, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Tom Arnold), Happy Endings tells three separate - yet occasionally intersecting - stories revolving around a disparate group of characters. Mamie (Kudrow) gave up a child years ago for adoption, and is now being blackmailed by a filmmaker (Jesse Bradford) who claims to know the identity of the kid. Father and son Frank (Arnold) and Otis (Jason Ritter) are involved in a bizarre love triangle with Jude (Gyllenhaal), while gay couple Charley (Steve Coogan) and Gil (David Sutcliffe) are convinced that a lesbian friend has stolen their sperm and gotten pregnant with it. It's all very strange and quirky, yet Roos does a nice job of imbuing these characters with an appropriate amount of humanity - something that's cemented by the superb performances (Kudrow and Gyllenhaal, in particular, are very effective). But although it's generally entertaining throughout, Happy Endings just doesn't have the emotional impact that Roos is clearly striving for. The result is a film that's more intriguing in terms of its performances than its content, ensuring that - at the very least - fans of these actors will find something worth embracing (even Tom Arnold is good here).
The Skeleton Key (August 14/05)
Interminable from minute one, The Skeleton Key is a hopelessly misguided, utterly pointless horror flick that's nothing less than a colossal bore. Kate Hudson plays a young caregiver whose latest gig takes her to a rickety old mansion in New Orleans, where she is to look after the decrepit Ben Devereaux (John Hurt). Ben's wife, Violet (Gena Rowlands), is a mysterious woman who mistrusts Hudson's character instantly, while their lawyer, Luke (Peter Sarsgaard), seems to have a sinister agenda of his own. The most obvious problem with The Skeleton Key is its lack of a cohesive storyline; Ehren Kruger's screenplay offers little for Hudson to do except investigate the unusual house and creep around in the dark wearing as little clothing as possible. And though the film's cinematography and sound design effectively creates a spooky ambiance, there's no disguising the fact that none of this is even remotely interesting. Worse yet, it's virtually impossible to sympathize with Hudson's plight thanks to the absurd storyline which becomes more and more ridiculous as the movie progresses. The Skeleton Key is easily the worst mainstream horror flick to hit cinemas since Boogeyman earlier this year, and there's nothing here that can save it (not even the presence of the always-reliable Peter Sarsgaard, in a role that's essentially a cameo).
November (August 19/05)
Abstract and obtuse to the point of distraction, November tells the story of Sophie (Courteney Cox) - a photographer whose boyfriend is murdered during a convenience story robbery. The bulk of the film follows Sophie's efforts as she tries to piece together exactly what happened that fateful night, something that's exacerbated by her questionable mental state. Director Greg Harrison imbues November with a jittery, overly experimental sense of style that's occasionally intriguing but mostly irritating; Benjamin Brand's exceedingly non-linear screenplay certainly doesn't help matters, as it eschews character development in favor of a David Lynchian sort of reality (it becomes increasingly difficult to tell what's actually happening and what's a part of Sophie's mind). As a result (and notwithstanding an admittedly intriguing setup), November fails to engage the viewer right from the get-go - despite Cox's surprisingly effective performance (which doesn't contain a hint of the light-hearted persona she cultivated on Friends).
Deluxe Combo Platter (August 25/05)
Deluxe Combo Platter, though it features a pair of genuinely charismatic and engaging performances, never quite comes off as anything other than an instantly forgettable, unmistakably Canadian romantic comedy. Marla Sokoloff stars as Eve, a small-town waitress who's had a thing for Jeff (Barry Watson) ever since high school. She's never quite been able to talk to him about it, though, thanks to her perceived weight issues and low self-esteem. But when a mysterious woman rolls into town, Eve finds herself the center of attention for once in her life. Deluxe Combo Platter has all the depth and style of a sitcom (complete with overly quirky supporting characters), and as a result, it's hard to shake the feeling that the film would feel more at home on the small screen. And while Sokoloff and Watson are surprisingly effective, it's impossible to completely embrace the film due to some seriously cliched plot developments (ie the tough, slick city girl has her heart melted by the loving small town).