Films I'm Obviously Never Going To Properly Review

+The Red Violin [B]
I hope you like violins, because that's what you get in The Red Violin. Lots of virtuoso violin on the soundtrack, lots of shots of violins (including a dazzling montage where the shots dissolve around a seemingly-fixed violin), even a little violence to violins to push the story along. Breezingly entertaining in a high-gloss arthouse way, especially in the film's final act when Samuel Jackson steps to the plate as a violin restorer and expert obsessed with the titular instrument.

Titus [B]
The fault lies not with the stars, who are much stronger than I expected (I take back everything I said in my e-mail to Alex), nor much with Julie Taymor's extravagant direction but with the plain simple fact that Titus Andronicus isn't a very good play: proof that even the Bard resorted to the Idiot Plot. Still, Titus has a decadent and baroque Grand Guignol flair much like Thomas Harris' much-maligned Hannibal, the second funniest book I've read this year.

Girl, Interrupted [B]
Intelligent and superbly acted (I can't think of a more quintessential role for Winona Ryder), Girl suffers from the general shapelessness of memoir-based films.

Galaxy Quest [B+]
An absolute blast for anyone who's ever been fond of cheesy sf tv series, Qalaxy Quest manages to be both a rousing space adventure and a loving spoof of same. And underneath its fizzy pop surface, it plays with the same issues of artifice v. reality and self-identity that drove The Matrix and Being John Malkovich. Only real negative is Tim Allen in the lead.

The Talented Mr. Ripley [C]
Wings of the Dove flashbacks: sumptous Italian detail, glossy arthouse direction, and as dull and lifeless as a wet noodle. I suspect one's admiration depends on how one feels about Matt Damon's performance as the amoral Ripley; I think he's badly miscast and awful.

Any Given Sunday [C-]
Ridiculously overblown football saga that's best enjoyed as unintentional macho camp. Which is good, since if I actually took this seriously, this would be one of the most foul and hypocritical films ever made.

Stuart Little [B-]
The story's mawkish crap, but all the little details are quite amusing. I enjoyed the dollhouse look of most of Stuart's props, the fairy-tale quality of its New York City, and the moments of absurd whimsy that occur throughout.

+The Lovers of the Arctic Circle [B-]
Kieslowski as filtered through the rather florid mentality of Spanish melodrama; a fine example of the latter (and rather sedate compared to others I've seen) until it goes awry with a lousy ending.

Topsy-Turvy [C+]
Add to list of things I don't care for: Gilbert & Sullivan. There's nothing seriously wrong with Leigh's film but given the subject matter, there's plenty of their work performed, and the vast majority of it leaves me cold -- musically dull and clever without being remotely funny. For the Leigh stuff itself, the acting is great w/ an especially terrific performance from Jim Broadbent and there's some wonderful scenes as the actors rehearse but the film takes an awfully long time to get there.

Magnolia [A-]
Plays like absolute gangbusters; Paul Thomas Anderson wants nothing less than to give you a three hour cinematic orgasm. Naturally, with something that ambitious, he doesn't quite succeed and there are times when the intensity of his approach makes you want to slip him some Valium. (There's also the little problem that the film ultimately doesn't cohere.) Still the guy's maturing and even now PT Anderson is such an awesome talent that Magnolia is never less than vastly entertaining and absorbing with a weirdly wonderful climax.

Cradle Will Rock [C+]
Diffuse, sprawling and lightweight account that suffers from far too many characters and subplots to give any but the most superficial treatment to them; only Cherry Jones and Bill Murray (who seems to be making the transition from comic lead to his place in the William H. Macy Pantheon of great character actors) seem to inhabit fully-fleshed human beings instead of sketches and caricatures. And is it just me, but is anyone else annoyed by the missing article in the title?

Holy Smoke [D]
First it's boring, then it's stupid *and* boring when it throws in bad Aussie comedy leftovers, then Harvey Keitel starts wandering through the Australian desert in a red cocktail dress. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

The End of the Affair [A]
Immaculately acted with a magnificent score from Michael Nyman, Neil Jordan's latest feels like a hypothetical version of Breaking the Waves where Stellan Skaarsgard tells God to fuck off.

Liberty Heights [B-]
Another fine period drama marred by a dumb crime plot.

All About My Mother [B+]
Supremely entertaining (if you enjoy the occasional wallow in melodrama; terminal cynics need not apply) and finely acted, but as much as I want to adore it, I have to admit there isn't much actual drama in its numerous moments of bathos and comedy.

Felicia's Journey [C]
First Scorsese, then Burton, now Egoyan. It's been a lousy few weeks from some of my favorite directors. Egoyan should perhaps reconsider doing adaptations, as fine as The Sweet Hereafter was, since when his trademark obsessions and tics go against ill-suited material (the case here) the results are catastrophic. One moment of immense emotional power, but a waste of Egoyan's and my time otherwise.

Sleepy Hollow [B]
The most accomplished and thrilling action film Hollywood's made this year, with a wonderfully eccentric turn from Depp and truly astonishing visuals. It's a symptom of how ludicrously high my expectations are of Tim Burton that I consider this a major disappointment, as he fails to flesh out most of the intriguing subtext bubbling underneath the surface.

The Insider [B]
I have to give Michael Mann credit; he makes an intriguing and never-dull 150 minute film with less than promising subject matter. However, the methods he's used to inject drama are suspect. He starts with the paranoid claustrophobia from the word go, making the early parts of the films overheated. Still, it could be worse; I shudder at the thought of Oliver Stone's take on this material.