Friday, July 15, 2005

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory / **1/2 (2005)

Tim Burton's "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" plays like a road trip through the mind of a recovering psychiatry patient, zany and unsystematic, and so encased by its own bizarre reality that at times you wonder whether you will need a few prescription drugs to get through it. The visual look provides clues to the mindsets of the director and his special effects artists; here, on a canvas that has essentially been cleansed of all previous concepts of the famous children's novel by Roald Dahl, they unleash an environment that feels less like pure creative enterprise and more like a hallucination induced by illegal substances. That's not to say the movie lacks the enticing quality that make most of Burton's offbeat visual feasts so enjoyable, but to utilize it in a story which has, at its very basic core, been targeted towards children ever since its inception certainly blurs the focus. Is this movie for the kids, or is it for the Burton aficionados?

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Land of the Dead / *** (2005)

There is a certain morbid obsession I share with the average moviegoer when it comes to zombie movies, an ongoing allure that has me inexplicably flocking to stories in which mankind is being victimized by walking corpses with a taste for warm human flesh and blood. The approach is certainly not without its restrictions, true - exactly how much can you do with a villain when he's dead? - but something about the stagnancy of the setup (or maybe even the complete lack of seriousness of the concept) makes it impossible to disregard. Thankfully most filmmakers seldom stray far from these sentiments, too; in the years that the zombie has walked the celluloid, they have come to recognize their mindless mute antagonists as a creation whose only viable purpose on film is for synthetic thrills. Some might consider this a kind of back-handed exploitation of a genre that began with relevant psychological context, but consider this more carefully: if you are going to spend two hours at a movie for nothing other than sheer visual stimulation, wouldn't you rather be around brainless zombies rather than brainless teenagers getting hacked to death by masked killers?

Fantastic Four / * (2005)

"Fantastic Four" is the most insipid and dispiriting of the super hero comic book screen adaptations of recent times, an obnoxious muddle of a movie in which potential adventure is sideswiped in favor of watery characterizations and dialogue that feels like it was lifted from five or six reality shows. As a concept the movie houses vast potential - its focal points are seized from a foundation which has garnered great success on the printed page for decades - but as a full-fledged undertaking it quickly crosses the threshold of stupidity, expecting audiences to tag along all the way through as if hinting that the outcome will justify the build-up. The problem: if there is any payoff here, it lies in the notion that the movie actually ends before it gets even more stupid than it could have. At a time when the superhero film has been cinematically reinvigorated by crusaders who are driven by inner conflict rather than absurd crime sprees, four clunky human mutations whose superpowers are their only distinguishing characteristics just don't stand up.