Mini Reviews (January 2006)
Venom, The Land of College Prophets, Tristan + Isolde, Last Holiday, They Shoot Movies, Don't They?, Annapolis, Green River Killer, American Women
Venom (January 7/06)
From director Jim Gillespie and producer Kevin Williamson comes this generic slasher flick revolving around a group of teens that are terrorized by a psychopath, a situation that's exacerbated by the fact that said psychopath is possessed by the souls of 13 other psychopaths. Venom is, for a while, surprisingly decent insofar as contemporary slashers are concerned; the setup is sound, there are a few good kills, and the actors are effective (if altogether bland). But the voodoo stuff - previously irritating but easy to ignore - becomes far more prominent than one would like, and the film eventually degenerates into a conventional and hackneyed mess. The relentlessly dark atmosphere and surprising lack of gore certainly doesn't help matters, nor does the inclusion of a bizarre subplot revolving around one of the characters' fractured relationship with his father (who just happens to be the killer). There's one effective moment towards the end in which one character sacrifices their life for another, but the majority of Venom's latter half is flat-out tedious (although one can't help but admire the sequence featuring one hapless victim's death by paint).
The Land of College Prophets (January 11/06)
Where to start? Inept and nonsensical virtually from minute one, The Land of College Prophets is an excruciating, thoroughly interminable piece of work that will undoubtedly test the patience of even the most seasoned moviegoer. There is absolutely nothing here that works, and it's impossible not to wonder just what the filmmakers originally set out to do (the final product can't possibly bear any resemblance to their intent). The utterly incoherent plot has something to do with a cadre of students/warriors who must save their campus from the dastardly Third Reich Jones. It's clear right off the bat that the film is going for a silly, tongue-in-cheek sort of vibe, but without any compelling characters or a storyline worth following, it doesn't take long for boredom to set in. The relentlessly meaningless dialogue and narration certainly doesn't help matters, nor does the almost complete lack of competent performances. The bottom line is that The Land of College Prophets is an inane and pointless mess, one that deserves to sink back into the obscurity from which it emerged.
no stars out of
Tristan + Isolde (January 10/06)
Tristan + Isolde marks the latest effort from director Kevin Reynolds, a criminally underrated filmmaker who has only helmed eight films over the span of a 25-year career. And though he's had his share of flops (Waterworld, Rapa Nui, etc), Reynolds has long since established himself as one of the foremost purveyors of historical epics. And though Tristan + Isolde is no Count of Monte Cristo or even Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, it is nevertheless a much more engaging effort than similar efforts from accomplished filmmakers such as Ridley Scott (Kingdom of Heaven) and Oliver Stone (Alexander). The story, revolving around the illicit, ongoing romance between British soldier Tristan (James Franco) and Irish Princess Isolde (Sophia Myles), doesn't have a lot to offer in terms of complexity; Dean Georgaris' screenplay generally utilizes melodramatic and predictable plot twists to propel the story forward. And while the film is never out-and-out boring, there's a distinct sense of uneven pacing at work here - as Georgaris attempts (unsuccessfully) to merge high-octane action with a decidedly low-key romance. Still, there's no denying that Tristan + Isolde is basically entertaining - due primarily to Reynolds' innovative directorial choices and the uniformly superb performances (Franco and Rufus Sewell, in a rare non-slimeball role, are particularly effective).
Last Holiday (January 12/06)
Last Holiday finds itself saddled with a wildly inappropriate marketing campaign that portrays the film as a generic and thoroughly silly comedy with little to offer all but the most indiscriminate viewer. In reality, the film is actually a surprisingly enjoyable, thoroughly heartwarming fantasy about a woman (Queen Latifah) who learns that she has three weeks to live and decides to spend her life savings on an extravagant vacation. During her stay at the exclusive Grandhotel Pupp, she proceeds to shake up the lives of everyone there - including a snooty businessman (Timothy Hutton), his mistress (Alicia Witt), a Senator (Giancarlo Esposito), and a world-renown chef (Gerard Depardieu). Based on the 1950 Alec Guiness film of the same name, Last Holiday moves at a brisk pace and somehow maintains its light tone even through some of the more dramatic moments. Latifah deserves a lot of credit for the film's success, as the actress delivers a performance that is far more compelling and intriguing than anything she's done before. The fantastical elements within Jeffrey Price and Peter S. Seaman's screenplay never come off as over-the-top, although the inclusion of several broadly comedic sequences (ie Latifah's hijinks on the slopes) can't help but feel superfluous. In the end, Last Holiday is an admittedly inconsequential yet undeniably uplifting piece of work that's a sure cure for the January blahs.
They Shoot Movies, Don't They? (January 24/06)
They Shoot Movies, Don't They? was evidently the source of some controversy when it premiered on the IFC Channel a few years ago, as many viewers were unaware that the film - which often feels like a fairly convincing documentary (despite some seriously amateurish performances) - is actually a complete work of fiction. Once the viewer is aware of that fact, however, it becomes almost impossible to overlook the movie's various deficiencies, which ultimately lend the proceedings an air of interminable pointlessness. Filmmaker Frank Gallagher introduces us to Tom Paulson, a fledgling writer/director who has recently completed principal photography on his self-financed debut. Problems emerge when Paulson realizes he doesn't have enough cash to finish the movie, forcing the would-be filmmaker to hit up his friends and family for a series of loans. There's not much within They Shoot Movies, Don't They? that works, primarily due to the incredibly meandering pace with which Gallagher has imbued the film. And though there are a few intriguing moments here and there - mostly involving Paulson's struggle to get his film seen - the movie generally comes off as a short that's unnaturally been expanded to a feature. Gallagher's overly solemn directorial choices serve only to exacerbate the film's problems, but really, the bottom line is that Paulson just isn't a compelling enough figure to base an entire documentary (real or fake) around.
Annapolis (January 26/06)
One can't help but wonder what's governing James Franco's choices as of late, following the one-two punch of mediocrity in the guise of Tristan + Isolde and now this. Neither film is terrible, necessarily, but it's difficult not to expect a whole lot more from Franco - a performer who has long-since established himself as one of the most promising actors of his generation. The story revolves around a rebellious dock worker who must prove his worth after being accepted at the titular Naval academy, where he shakes things up with his fellow cadets and enters into a rivalry with a commanding officer (Tyrese Gibson). Screenwriter David Collard infuses Annapolis with virtually every cliche one associates with films of this nature, something that's particularly true of the stereotypes that surround Franco's character (including the requisite fat guy, the brash ladies man, etc). And while Annapolis is initially kind of entertaining - thanks primarily to some handsome production values and director Justin Lin's sporadically intriguing visual choices - it doesn't take long for the tediousness of Collard's hackneyed script to overrule any of the film's positive attributes. Franco does what he can with the material, but is generally left floundering (that Gibson quickly reveals himself to be a far lesser talent than Franco certainly doesn't help matters). By the time Annapolis transforms into a third-rate Rocky wannabe, it's virtually impossible to care about any of this.
Green River Killer (January 28/06)
Green River Killer has been written and directed by Ulli Lommel, a 26-year veteran of the film industry with over 30 movies under his belt. Yet despite all of Lommel's experience, Green River Killer comes off as a completely inept and pointless effort that one would just assume is the work of a first-time filmmaker. The movie details the real-life exploits of a notorious serial killer named Gary Ridgway (played by George Kiseleff), who was responsible for the deaths of almost 50 women (mostly prostitutes). Lommel's decision to shoot Green River Killer using cheap digital cameras proves to be a disastrous choice almost immediately, as the film has all the style of a home video. Making matters worse are the various cinematic tricks employed by the filmmaker, presumably in an effort to compensate for the low-rent vibe. Lommel's equally incompetent screenplay eschews anything even resembling character development in favor of an astounding repetitive structure, in which Ridgway finds a new victim, kills them, and then moves onto the next one (this is repeated ad nauseam until the film reaches its merciful conclusion). The end result is an amateurish, utterly interminable piece of work that has absolutely nothing to offer in terms of keeping the viewer engaged (which is no small feat given the complexity of Ridgway himself, though Lommel refuses to even marginally examine the man's deranged psyche).
no stars out of
American Women (January 29/06)
American Woman, released theatrically over five years ago as The Closer You Get, is an innocuous, thoroughly forgettable comedy revolving around the extreme lengths five Irish friends will go to for female companionship. Said pals - led by Kieran (Ian Hart) - decide to place an ad in a Miami newspaper, with the goal being that their small village will thereafter be inundated with beautiful American women. Much like The Full Monty and Waking Ned Devine before it, American Women takes an assortment of colorful Irish characters and throws them into an admittedly outlandish situation. But the predictable nature of the film's storyline (it doesn't take a genius to figure out that Kieran will eventually wind up with a well-meaning coworker), coupled with an almost oppressively lighthearted vibe, makes it difficult to really connect with any of these quirky characters. This is essentially a textbook example of inoffensive entertainment, and on that level, there's certainly no denying that the film delivers exactly what it promises.