Mini Reviews (April 2009)
Cloud 9, Bolt, Shall We Kiss?, Fighting, The Signal
Cloud 9 (April 2/09)
There's little doubt that the almost disastrously deliberate pace with which Cloud 9 has been infused proves an ongoing obstacle to its pervasive success, as director Andreas Dresen places a consistent emphasis on scenes that are either too long or flat-out superfluous. It consequently becomes increasingly difficult to admire the authenticity that's been hard-wired into the proceedings by the filmmaker, although - to be fair - the stellar performances play an instrumental role in ensuring that the movie never entirely becomes the interminable bore one might've expected. The unapologetically thin storyline follows an aging seamstress (Ursula Werner's Inge) whose exceedingly dull marriage - ie she and husband Werner (Horst Rehberg) spend an evening listening to a record of train sounds - eventually leads her into the arms of vigorous 77-year-old Karl (Horst Westphal), with the bulk of the film subsequently revolving around Inge's inner turmoil as she must confront the consequences of her actions. With the exception of a few needlessly graphic sex scenes, Cloud 9 generally feels as though it could've premiered on PBS - as the film boasts precisely the sort of stately vibe that one has come to associate with public television (ie had the movie been shot in English, it's not difficult to envision Judi Dench taking on the central role). Dresen's decision to stress Inge's day-to-day exploits lends the proceedings an almost documentary-esque atmosphere - this is despite dialogue that's often just a little too on-the-nose for comfort - yet the film's inability to consistently hold the viewer's interest ultimately lessens its overall impact.
Bolt (April 3/09)
There's little doubt that Bolt, though hardly in the same league as Pixar's output, stands as a perfectly acceptable computer-animated feature, with the film's colorful sense of style, brisk pace, and unexpectedly heartfelt third act playing an instrumental role in its mild success. The movie, which opens with a series of impressively over-the-top action sequences, follows the canine star (John Travolta's Bolt) of a top-rated television show as he comes to the realization that he doesn't actually possess any of his character's powers, with the remainder of the story following the pooch as he attempts to rescue his lovable co-star (Miley Cyrus' Penny) from a perceived (yet entirely non-existent) threat. The high-octane nature of Bolt's opening half hour effectively ensures that it's initially more kid-friendly than one might've liked, and it's ultimately not until the title character embarks on his cross-country journey that the film expands its appeal beyond the adolescent set - with this change triggered by the welcome (but all-too-brief) appearance of three tough-talking New York pigeons. The road trip that dominates Bolt's midsection is engaging and entertaining (and even touching), and there's certainly no denying that this striking about-face proves instrumental in paving the way for an involving, downright affecting third act. Travolta's distracting voice work aside (ie we're never not aware that we're listening to John Travolta), Bolt boasts a number of stand-out performances that perpetuate the affable vibe and it's consequently not surprising to note that the movie finally establishes itself as a fairly winning animated endeavor.
Shall We Kiss? (April 8/09)
Unapologetically bubbly and cute, Shall We Kiss? follows a pair of strangers (Julie Gayet's Emilie and Michael Cohen's Gabriel) as they meet cute on the streets of Paris and spontaneously decide to spend the evening together - with the bulk of the proceedings subsequently revolving around Emilie's tale of two characters (Virginie Ledoyen's Judith and Emmanuel Mouret's Nicolas) who attempt to turn their platonic friendship into a romantic relationship. Though it possesses few attributes one could easily rank as authentic, Shall We Kiss? boasts an atmosphere of lightheartedness that inevitably proves impossible to resist - as filmmaker Mouret effectively establishes the unabashedly quirky landscape within which the various characters reside (although, to be fair, this is mostly true of Judith and Nicolas' escapades). And while Mouret's oddball modus operandi does take some getting used to, there ultimately reaches a point at which the increasingly compelling nature of the two storylines essentially forces the viewer to embrace the movie's distinctly out-there sensibilities. It's just as clear, however, that the progressively ludicrous plot developments within the Judith/Nicolas subplot - ie the two conspire for Judith's husband to fall for Nicolas' girlfriend - ensure that the film sporadically feels like a comedy sketch that's been expanded to feature length, yet this never becomes as big an issue as one might've feared thanks primarily to Mouret's appropriately easy-going directorial choices and the uniformly personable performances (Ledoyen's never been more charming) - with the end result is an irresistibly blithesome piece of work whose positives ultimately outweigh its negatives.
Fighting (April 21/09)
Filmmaker Dito Montiel's follow-up to A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints, Fighting follows scrappy street hustler Shawn MacArthur (Channing Tatum) as he's lured into New York City's underground fighting scene by a seasoned scam artist (Terrence Howard's Harvey Boarden) - with the bulk of the proceedings subsequently revolving around Shawn's efforts at landing bigger, more lucrative fights (as well as his ongoing attempts at wooing Zulay Henao's Zulay). Despite the utterly (and hopelessly) routine nature of its storyline, Fighting - armed with a typically idiosyncratic performance from Howard - generally does an effective job of sustaining the viewer's interest through its unapologetically repetitive opening hour. It's ironically worth noting, however, that the movie is at its worst during its fight scenes, as Montiel's inexplicable use of aggressively hyperactive visual tricks (ie extreme close-ups, rapid-fire editing, impossibly shaky camerawork, etc) transforms the majority of such moments into a meaningless jumble of images. And while there is admittedly one exception to this - Shawn's battle with Cung Le's Dragon has been infused with appreciative bursts of slow-motion cinematography - the relentlessly inept nature of what should have been the film's highlight eventually proves too much for the remainder of the proceedings to bear. The oppressive lull in the build-up to the final confrontation - as Montiel and co-writer Robert Munic emphasize Shawn's eye-rollingly dull relationship with Zulay - ensures that Fighting is destined to disappoint viewers hoping for an enthralling bit of brawl-centric entertainment, with the final realization that the total number of mano-e-mano confrontations add up to a paltry four (and about ten minutes worth of screen time) cementing the film's place as an utterly worthless endeavor.
The Signal (April 30/09)
Though it does boast a few intriguing sequences, The Signal suffers from an increasingly uneven sensibility that ultimately becomes oppressive - as the film slowly but surely squanders the good will established by its admittedly effective opening half hour to become an unexpectedly tedious piece of work. There's little doubt that most of the movie's problems stem from the ill-advised decision to allow three separate filmmakers to tackle a third of the story individually, with the disjointed atmosphere that inevitably ensues exacerbated by the almost hopelessly low-rent visuals and production values. It's worth noting that the intriguing set-up - a mysterious transmission essentially transforms those that encounter it into blood-thirsty killers - is only used effectively in the first segment, as one can't help but sympathize with central character Mya Denton's (Anessa Ramsey) efforts at safely fleeing the city with her boyfriend (Justin Welborn's Ben). The strength of that interlude is counterbalanced by its eye-rollingly silly successor (which follows a frustratingly deadpan character as she attempts to mount a New Year's Eve party amidst the growing chaos), and it goes without saying that the viewer's interest level subsequently drops to such an extent that the comparatively masterful third act is essentially rendered moot. The end result is a progressively aggravating horror effort that ultimately possesses the feel of a pretentious film-school project, which is certainly a shame given the strength of the eerie premise.