Mini Reviews (November 2010)
Vigilante, Timerider: The Adventure of Lyle Swann, Formosa Betrayed, The Exploding Girl, Atlantis: The Lost Empire
Vigilante (November 5/10)
A typically inept effort from William Lustig, Vigilante follows blue-collar worker Eddie Marino (Robert Forster) as he decides to take the law into his own hands after ruthless thugs attack his wife and kill his child. It's an intriguing premise that's squandered virtually from the word go by Lustig, as the filmmaker has infused the proceedings with a pervasively low-rent feel that's reflected in everything from the visuals to the dialogue to the performances. There's consequently little doubt that the viewer is never able to form any kind of attachment to the far-from-fleshed-out characters, and it's ultimately clear that Vigilante's myriad of problems are exacerbated by Richard Vetere's laughably heavy-handed screenplay (ie the film's central theme, ie the justice system doesn't work, is hammered home on an almost infuriatingly steady basis). And while the movie does boast a few appreciatively shocking bursts of brutal violence - ie there aren't too many flicks in which an adorable little toddler gets blown away with a shotgun - Vigilante is, first and foremost, an ugly piece of work that has aged horribly in the decades since its original theatrical release. (In all fairness, however, the film does possess a rather compelling third-act car chase that unfortunately comes far too late to make any real impact.)
Timerider: The Adventure of Lyle Swann (November 8/10)
A time-travel movie that rarely feels like a time-travel movie, Timerider: The Adventure of Lyle Swann follows the title character, Fred Ward's brash motorcycle rider, as he's accidentally sent more than a hundred years into the past by government agents - with the film subsequently detailing Lyle's ongoing efforts at evading a group of gun-toting bandits (led by Peter Coyote's Porter Reese) and also his unexpected romance with a saucy local (Belinda Bauer's Claire Cygne). It's an intriguing premise that's put to relatively watchable use by director William Dear, although the filmmaker's reliance on an almost aggressively laid-back pace generally ensures that the film is rarely as engrossing as its setup might've indicated. The opening half hour, which is devoted primarily to shots of Lyle riding around the desert, gets things off to a less-than-enthralling start, admittedly, and it's worth noting that even when the character finds himself in the past, the movie (almost stubbornly) retains its leisurely feel and rarely exploits the fish-out-of-water aspects of the storyline (ie Lyle is convinced that he's accidentally arrived in a backwards Mexican village). And although there are a few time-travel-related elements sprinkled here and there - a gun-toting gang opens fire on Lyle's motorcycle after Porter, in his efforts at riding it, loses control of the vehicle - Timerider: The Adventure of Lyle Swann is, for the most part, content to exist as a rather straightforward Old West adventure - which, on that level, the movie generally succeeds (albeit in a low-key and ultimately forgettable manner).
Formosa Betrayed (November 15/10)
Formosa Betrayed casts James Van Der Beek as Jake Kelly, an FBI agent who finds himself at the center of a massive conspiracy after he begins looking into the murder of a prominent Taiwanese-American professor. Though competently made and well acted, Formosa Betrayed remains a hopelessly uninvolving and thoroughly routine piece of work from start to finish - with the mystery at the film's core simply not compelling enough to capture and sustain the viewer's interest. It's clear almost immediately that the screenplay's reliance on heavy-handed instances of speechifying to get its points across plays a significant role in the movie's downfall, as scripters Charlie Stratton, Brian Askew, Nathaniel Goodman, and Yann Samuell's sporadic attempts at educating the viewer on various historical elements come off as laughably unsubtle and effectively infuse the proceedings with the intermittent feel of an academic lecture. The movie's pervasively routine atmosphere is exacerbated by a protagonist that couldn't possibly be more bland, with Van Der Beek's strong performance unable to disguise the fact that his character is almost entirely devoid of engaging attributes (ie there's never a point at which the viewer is able to work up an ounce of interest or enthusiasm in his ongoing efforts). There's little doubt that Formosa Betrayed ultimately comes off as an entirely needless endeavor that holds the viewer at arm's length throughout, and it's impossible to envision the film holding any appeal even for those with an inherent interest in the subject matter.
The Exploding Girl (November 21/10)
Written and directed by Bradley Rust Gray, The Exploding Girl follows a young college student (Zoe Kazan's Ivy) as she arrives in New York City for spring break - with the movie subsequently (and exclusively) revolving around the character's aimless escapades during that time (ie Ivy plays cards with a close friend, Ivy eats a bowl of hot soup, Ivy goes to a party, etc, etc). Gray has infused The Exploding Girl with an almost comically uneventful sensibility that initially proves disastrous, as the movie, which boasts the feel of an epically pretentious student film, drops the viewer into the central character's life with little by the way of context or exposition. It's consequently not surprising to note that one's efforts at working up any sympathy or interest in Ivy's exploits fall hopelessly flat, which is a shame, certainly, given that Kazan delivers a subtle, thoroughly captivating turn that deserves a whole lot better than this. That being said, The Exploding Girl does improve substantially once it passes the 45 minute mark - as filmmaker Rust hits the protagonist with a rather significant obstacle that essentially carries the proceedings through to its admittedly note-perfect final shot. The strength of the movie's final half hour isn't quite enough to compensate for the pervasive lack of substance in everything leading up to it, however, and it's ultimately impossible to label The Exploding Girl as anything more than a mildly watchable showcase for Kazan's undeniably impressive performance.
Atlantis: The Lost Empire (November 26/10)
Set in 1914, Atlantis: The Lost Empire follows a young linguist named Milo Thatch (Michael J. Fox) as he agrees to accompany a group of explorers on a journey to the fabled lost city of Atlantis. It's a simple premise that's generally employed to watchable (if somewhat underwhelming) effect by filmmakers Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise, with the movie's emphasis on familiar elements (ie the ragtag crew that eventually learns to work together,etc) generally offset by the frequently eye-popping animation style and the inclusion of several above average voice performances. In terms of the latter, Fox's energetic work ensures that his character becomes a sympathetic and likeable figure almost immediately - although it's James Garner's expectedly solid turn as the crew's stern commander that stands out as the film's most entertaining component. The less-than-enthralling nature of the movie's midsection is exacerbated by Trousdale and Wise's decision to stress the rather juvenile exploits of the offbeat characters, and it ultimately does seem as though the directors are trying just a little too hard to capture (and sustain) the interest of younger viewers. And although the film does peter out in the aftermath of its impressively over-the-top (and undeniably entertaining) finale, Atlantis: The Lost Empire nevertheless stands as a passable Disney endeavor that ranks somewhere in the middle of the studio's animation canon.