In lieu of the separate reviews for each new film, I'm going to try a column format with comments for all films, new and old, I've seen in a week. I expect I'll probably keep this up for all of two weeks, but let's hope my self-cynicism is wrong for once..
The Whole Nine Yards [B-]
(2000, Jonathan Lynn). Seen February 20, 2000 at Lincoln Square.
Rather pleasant, but largely forgettable, Yards' best moments aren't in the pratfalls (which Lynn relies far too heavily on) but with the quiet throwaway moments such as Matthew Perry and Michael Clarke Duncan's polite exchange after Duncan's calm enforcer has pummeled Perry's kidneys. The performances are a mixed bag, ranging in quality from Amanda Peet's funny turn as a hitman wannabe/groupie to horrid turns from Patricia Arquette and Kevin Pollak, sporting some of the most annoying accents to disgrace a silver screen in eons.
Not One Less [B+]
(2000, Zhang Yimou). Seen February 20, 2000 at Lincoln Plaza
A warm and often funny film that in its use of nonactors that bears more resemblance to Iranian film than anything else I've seen from the Chinese mainland in recent years. While it's clearly designed as a tract to increase education spending for rural China, Zhang buries the didactism underneath the appealing performances of his young cast -- like Truffaut with Small Change, he gets vivid performances out of them without getting overbearingly cute -- and sharp, if low-key, humor. Great final shot, BTW.
Boiler Room [B]
(2000, Ben Younger). Seen February 20, 2000 at 42nd St. E-Walk
I don't think it's possible that any actor has ever had a worse year than Giovanni Ribisi in 1999. First he played opposite Juliette Lewis in The Other Sister in what appeared to be a cringingly cute comedy about mental retardation from that master of feel-good comedies with morally offensive premises, Garry Marshall. Then there was The Mod Squad. There was some light at the end of the tunnel, though; Ribisi managed to have the one good scene in the otherwise blucky All the Rage, which premiered at Toronto. And now with the dawn of a new digit in the left column of the odometer, Ribisi has a strong leading role and he bites into it with all the fervor of a starving dog.
Ribisi utilizes the same laid-back doofiness that he deployed in subUrbia, and combines it with an external confidence that I've never noticed in him before. In the best scene of the flick, Ribisi turns an annoyance call from the Daily News for a subscription into an impromptu lesson in telemarketing where he displays that confindence. (Great punchline, too.) He's pretty much the whole show, and he carries it off with style. Too bad the film isn't quite up to his level; it saddles his character with that warhorse of lazy screenwriters: the dysfunctional father-son relationship. Ron Rifkin's judge comes off as such an asshole early on that I never bought Ribisi's admiration of his father.
The film works much better when it focuses on the macho Glengarry Street antics of the chop shop Ribisi joins as a novice stockbroker. Ben Affleck is terrific in an extended cameo as a legendary salesman who trains Ribisi and his fellow rookies in the fine art of selling fradulent stock, as is Vin Diesel as the most sympathetic of Ribisi's fellow traders.
Killer's Kiss [B-]
(1955, Stanley Kubrick). Seen February 21, 2000 on DVD.
Well, now I know why Kubrick always adapted others' works. Based on the evidence here, Kubrick simply wasn't very good at coming up with an original screenplay; the plot is a minimal and derivative film noir pastiche involving a boxer, a dancehall girl, and her lecherous boss. Of interest mainly in seeing Kubrick learning the ropes of filmmaking; as expected, the photography of 50s Manhattan is terrific and there are some virtuoso shots, but the editing is patchy at times and Kubrick indulges in some exceptionally bad ideas like having his then-wife perform a ballet sequence to the accompiment of Kane's voiceover narrative telling her sad sob story.
The Lickerish Quartet [B+]
(1970, Radley Metzger). Seen February 22, 2000 on DVD.
By god, a melange of softcore porn and abstract intellectualism that actually works as both, despite being rather dated. The setup: a bored and rich family who are intrigued by a girl they spy at a carnival, who may or may not be a star in a stag film they've just seen. They invite her back to their castle, and Metzger unleashes a series of head games as the actors in the stag film keep changing identity. And unlike most porn, the sexual fantasies and longings of the characters are tied to something that actually resembles human emotion. There's also a fantastic library set that seems to have wandered in from a Gregg Araki movie.
The Thing [A-]
(1982, John Carpenter). Seen February 24, 2000 on DVD.
The best serious-minded gore flick I've ever seen, The Thing is a creepy exercise in pure paranoia that like Seven uses its repellent visual imagery (whoever wrote the capsule in Maltin's video guide clearly missed the point) to great effect. And while others have complained about the film's minimalist characterization, I see it as a strength of the film; the characters know about as much of each other as we do (i.e. nada), making their paranoia and mistrust even more credible. But like a lot of effects-heavy films, the effects are a detriment as well as an asset, especially in the film's tepid climax where the FX crew couldn't resist making a bigger and more elaborate Thing, despite the fact that said Thing doesn't make a whole lot of sense given what the film has already shown us. (Besides, there's no earthly way you can top the head scene.) Nicely ambigious ending that keeps the audience edgy and uncathartized.
Quatermass and the Pit [B]
(1967, Roy Ward Baker). Seen February 24, 2000 on DVD.
Featuring an indescribably baroque plot, Quatermass is arguably the last great 50's-style SF flick before 2001, for better or for worse, rewrote the rules on how to do science fiction in the movies. Best seen with as little knowledge of the plot as possible going in, as the pleasure for the first half is in seeing what the next outlandish discovery is. There's a point halfway through the film where the convolutions start to become annoying and seemingly arbitrary (much like the X Files' tiresome conspiracy arc), but be patient as there's actually an allegorical point in Kneale's script.
Which I actually did rent and saw about 50 minutes of before its noxiousness (yes, it fully deserves the F Mike gave it) made me turn the DVD player off in disgust. Why on Earth would someone get talented actors like Ribisi, Danes, and Dennis Farina and then strand them in a feature film with production values worse than the dreariest 70's cop show?
Providing another data point for the Ben Affleck Rule. To wit: that the quality of a Ben Affleck performance is inversely proportional to the size of the role. Further evidence: he's one of the few high points in the tepid 200 Cigarettes and a blast as an egotistic actor in Shakespeare in Love. However, he's painfully bland in Forces of Nature and I get the impression from the trailers and TV spots for Reindeer Games that he's woefully out-of-place as an action hero. (I could be wrong, of course.)
Evoking the weird cognitive dissonance something-vu I hoped Gus van Sant's Psycho would bring out, but didn't.
Nice seeing how Carpenter sets the quickly detoriating bonds of trust among his Antarctic researchers in contrast to the Hawksian professionalism of the 1951 The Thing from Another World.