Friday, February 27, 2004

The Big Bounce / 1/2* (2004)

Poor Elmore Leonard can't get much of a break these days. An acclaimed author and aficionado of the elaborate heist plot, he has lived to see several of his most famed novels turned into equally-lauded movies for over 30 years, of which only a small handful of them have been made recently. Though this might suggest that the lack of plausible consistency may have something to do with projects simply falling into ill-equipped hands, there is a bigger picture to consider: the fact that there are probably very few of us who can identify the elements that drive these stories beyond being just mildly amusing crime capers. Even I myself have a certain difficulty in grasping what Leonard's driving forces are; on the written page his stories move very traditionally and lack solid ideas, and yet still remain endlessly enjoyable down to the most brief dialogue exchanges. Luckily, the passage of time in the arts has at least taught us that we are free to enjoy certain things without having to analyze the specific reasons. But if we collectively as moviegoers can't even begin to identify the argument, how can we hold our modern filmmakers in a much higher regard when it comes to the same dilemma?

Broken Lizard's Club Dread / ** (2004)

It must be more than just a sign of coincidence that the brains behind "Club Dread" collectively refer to themselves as "Broken Lizard." Could that be because their movies tend to slither around like ambitious reptiles trying too hard to ignore crippling injuries? Quite possibly. Sitting through their latest endeavor, I was instantly reminded of their previous trek into movie territory, the ambitious but labored "Super Troopers"; like that film, this product has the kind of spark and energy so zealous that one can't help but notice the filmmakers simply using it as a mask to cover up obvious shortcomings. There is no problem, of course, in abandoning cynicism with any film that tries so hard to get past its problem areas, but not when the problems themselves are too consistent to be ignored. And as hard as Broken Lizard tries to pull the wool over the eyes of their audience this time, it doesn't change the fact that their picture is deprived of essential functions that would have otherwise allowed it to be a passable feature.

Monday, February 16, 2004

Artistic Possession -- The War of the "Exorcist" Prequel

Months after completing a prequel to "The Exorcist," art-house director Paul Schrader find himself stuck in a predicament -- his film, a psychological thriller that takes a big departure from the series, will probably never be seen by the general public

Every once in a while, a movie studio comes along and makes a decision regarding an upcoming project that is beyond dimwitted. Just ask director Paul Schrader, the latest witness to this trend, whose new opus will probably never be seen in major release thanks to the brains behind Morgan Creek Productions. Why, you ask? Because as we speak, all existing cuts of his endeavor are sitting on a shelf somewhere collecting dust while a completely new version of his movie is being shot. And get this: this new version uses different actors, an entirely different script and is being overseen by a completely new director, too. If this all sounds like the plot of some kind of anti-Hollywood satire, then no wonder—it is perhaps the first time in major cinema history a studio has gone to such extreme lengths to undo someone's effort because the end result didn't match what they had hoped for.

Sunday, February 1, 2004

The Best and Worst Films of 2003

If there's one thing more rigorous for a movie critic than sifting through piles of films trying to figure out which ones to review, it's composing lists of those select few achievements of a given year that either move us with their brilliance or scar us with their awfulness. The concept itself is restricting because there are usually far too many candidates for both sides of the quality divide for either list to be truly comprehensive. Several journalists (including myself) purposely restrict these lists to ten specific selections (with an occasional mention of those films that barely fell out of the bracket) because it allows some flexibility without stretching the selection too thin; however, particularly in the recent years, it is not uncommon for colleagues to do top 20 or even 30 best and worst lists. Whether there are even 20 or 30 movies worthy of either group in any given year is always up to speculation.