Saturday, July 31, 2004

The Village / *1/2 (2004)

For what seems like generations in M. Night Shyamalan's "The Village," a peaceful establishment of villagers has lived in complete seclusion, fearful of the idea of venturing out of their own borders and into the forests where unknown beings lurk. Their worry of the outside is underscored early on as farmers and young children feast at tables on an open meadow, and a beastly cry in the wooded hills echoes across the landscape, sending chills up and down their spines like mice waiting for a ravenous cat to pounce. No one knows exactly who they are or what they look like, but the town's elders refers to them as "those whom we do not speak of," suggesting that the outside forces may range from barbaric humans to bloodthirsty monsters. We as audience members know even less than what the characters seem to, but we share in their sense of dread; a world in which the boundaries are determined by lit torches and guard towers, after all, doesn't suggest that the outside beings are that peaceful or civilized.

Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle / ** (2004)

"Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle" is about two guys who get high on dope and decide to go to an out-of-town burger joint, only to have a series of misadventures with colorful characters along the way. There, that takes care of the plot synopsis part of this review.

I deliberately abandon the urge here to stretch narrative discussion regarding the latest Danny Leiner vehicle, because to do otherwise would be to apply more effort than what either the writers or the director employ in devising this simplistic off-the-wall vehicle. Much like "Dude, Where's My Car?", Leiner's first major outing as a filmmaker, this is the kind of endeavor that doesn't need anyone or anything to explain the fine print; all you are required to do is walk into the theater, watch 84 minutes of footage, and then exit without the slightest urge to recall anything that you just saw.

Monday, July 26, 2004

The Chronicles of Riddick / *** (2004)

"The Chronicles of Riddick" is the best-looking science fiction movie since "Minority Report," so ambitious and outgoing on the technical scale that there are moments when the viewers are staring up at the imagery as if it were getting ready to yank them out of their seats and onto the celluloid. It is this precise merit, strangely enough, that gives the picture its only firm ground for a recommendation; strip away the distinctive and limitless production values, and what you have here is your standard superhero-in-space vehicle that surrenders great ideas to an auto-pilot narrative treatment. And that's a surprise, especially when you consider the level of enthusiasm that both on- and off-screen contributors seem to share in this material. The film's technicians see the exteriors through an eye that is reminiscent of the greats in the golden age of science fiction cinema, and the actors emerge as if they are caught up in an elaborate role-playing game that they don't want to end. A shame that the movie's script does such a notable job of undermining their work for a story that moves from one detail to the next like the most conventional Hollywood blockbuster you could imagine.

Sunday, July 25, 2004

King Arthur / ***1/2 (2004)

The opening credits of "King Arthur" suggest that the filmmakers are utilizing "recently discovered archaeological evidence" as grounds for a contemporary interpretation of the story, a claim that leaves almost as much doubt in mind as the relevance of yet another retelling of the famous legend. Let's be honest here: do we really need to see another version of this material? Consider the fact that John Boorman perfected the narrative when he did "Excalibur" all those years ago, or the notion that "The Mists of Avalon" has already successfully tweaked that perspective via a famous novel and miniseries. Director Antoine Fuqua should have known better than to insist on pursuing a project in which the appeal of the concept lacks the very basic of purposes, especially considering his mediocre past endeavors ("Tears of the Sun" and "Training Day"). But then again, to second-guess anyone who succeeds Michael Bay as the primary choice for directing a movie is likely as pointless as the premise itself.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Alien / **** (1979)

The ill-fated journey of the Nostromo in Ridley Scott's "Alien" is the kind of epic space excursion that avid 1970s science fiction pioneers like Steven Spielberg and George Lucas would probably discard in early script stages. On a written page, described in broad strokes, the concept lacks the potential visual dynamics of a "Star Wars" and the innovative scope of a "2001: A Space Odyssey." As a finished screenplay, it would be hard to assume the result being anything other than a carbon copy of those low-budget 1950s space exploitation sci-fi horror films that only film-crazed teens would have paid money to see. The revolution of visual effects in the late 60s and early 70s, furthermore, meant that the concept of silly B-movie space travel was no longer something that audiences would fall for. Just as Stanley Kubrick hotwired a new reality for filmmakers with "2001," the genre dominated by fearsome aliens picking off Earth's inhabitants had lost its footing.

Friday, July 2, 2004

The Day After Tomorrow / *1/2 (2004)

"The Day After Tomorrow" follows a small group of characters around as they prepare—and ultimately witness—global warming give way to a new ice age in the northern hemisphere. That the movie manages to accomplish all of this in a span of days in the story is your first clue to how unscientific the material is, but the fact that it manages to do so while allowing Los Angeles to be torn up by Tornadoes and New York be buried under a rising waterline makes it perhaps the most comedic disaster picture of all time. Is this an effective prospect? Alas, not when director Roland Emmerich and his writing partner Jeffrey Nachmanoff want the material to rise above silly escapist entertainment and be regarded as a legitimate source of information. The idea that we have politicians in this country who are using the film as a platform to discredit the Bush administration's global warming plan would probably make a better movie than what is served up here.

Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story / *** (2004)

"If you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a ball," says an eccentric coach played by Rip Torn as he tosses tools at his team hoping that someone learns to do something other than just stand there and be hit by flying objects. A point like this is much more amusing in context with having seen it in "Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story," but in ways it serves at the ideal platform to begin this review. Why? Because Torn's dialogue plays less like instructions to inexperienced athletes and more like warnings to the audience about the convoluted logic required of such an undertaking. This is not the kind of movie you are going to see because you want comedy that is politically correct or even halfway rational, after all.