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The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015)
TV fare, but the wrong series
It's hard to imagine who the audience for "The Man from U.N.C.L.E." might be. I went to it expecting a camp homage to the '60s television series that starred Robert Vaughn and David McCallum. Instead I found what looked like an extended episode of "White Collar," with superior special effects and an eccentric soundtrack, awkwardly removed to the decade that gave us the Berlin Wall and the Kennedy assassination. It must be said, however, that everybody looks good, even if they rarely get out of their tight-fitting suits. Matt Bomer-lookalike Henry Cavill's character is known mostly as Solo, presumably because the writers were concerned that modern audiences wouldn't know who Napoleon was (this is NOT the generation that learned its history at the knees of Bill and Ted), and Illya Kuryakin is now a hulking Armie Hammer, whose main asset seems to be that he has the stamina of the Energizer Bunny but can't control his temper. I found it pretty to watch and actually kind of fun. But then I'm hardly the demographic Hollywood is aiming at, even if I did survive the '60s. All of which is to say, I didn't buy the popcorn.
Man of Tai Chi (2013)
Tai Chi Feely
"Man of Tai Chi" arrived with a great deal of fanfare in my present city of employment this weekend, and I rushed to see it. Is it any good? Well, it plays like an unlikely blend of "Fight Club" and "The Wizard of Oz," but if you like chopsocky, this is for you. The action sequences feature a minimum of wire-Fu, and the fight scenes are shot in such a way that you see all the kicks and blows. There's a minimum of blood, but I didn't mind that, especially given that the last film I saw (the abysmal "No One Lives") was awash in it. In addition to being kickass, "Man" is also a meditation on old and new Hong Kong, and traditional versus contemporary values, especially as they apply to the gentle art of Tai Chi--and did I mention that it's kickass?
Star Keanu Reeves has been toying with this project since he first met stuntman Tiger Chen on the set of "The Matrix," and the film was five years in development, with a budget of $25 million. Keanu not only stars in but also directs "Man of Tai Chi," and he acquits himself admirably on both counts. He plays a reclusive billionaire (is there any other kind?), who collects Lamborghinis and Bugattis (not to mention a Bentley or two), but who is lacking the one thing in life that would make him happy: a soulless fighter who doesn't object to killing his defeated opponents.
Enter the Tiger!
Actually, Tiger is a sweet young man, with a sweetheart who works as a Building Inspector, who is still looking for his Tai Chi Master's approval and suffering abuse at his job, where he works as a mail carrier (of some kind). He's often late to work, and, worse still, he can't seem to deliver his packages on time. When his Master's temple is threatened by building inspectors who claim it's a fire trap (have you ever seen a temple that wasn't?), Tiger accepts a mysterious offer from a security firm owned by Donaka Mark (cleverly disguised for box office purposes as Keanu Reeves), to work as a security guard.
Did I mention that Master Yang looks like a watery-eyed cross between Mr. Miyagi and Jim Beavers? It's all part of his charm campaign to keep Tiger on the right path, which put simply is, "Don't Kill Anyone!" But Tiger can't seem to control his chi.
Meanwhile, Tiger's girlfriend is working to save the Temple (did I mention that she's a building inspector?), and Tiger is mopping the floor with his opponents, first at the local championships at what looks like a YMCA and later at Donaka's fight club. At one club, he fights a tag team that looks like the Hong Kong equivalent of Jedward. Most of these guys are much bigger than our boy Tiger, but he has little trouble taking them out. In fact, he's kind of got a thing for ultra-violence.
Well, I don't want to give the game away, but some of you have probably already guessed that Good and Bad will eventually have to duke it out. And Keanu and Tiger do not disappoint. It's great seeing Keanu play evil. He's played nerdy ("Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure"), and he's played sad (see youtube)-heck, he's even played a Shakespearean-inspired call boy ("My Own Private Idaho")—but the last time he got to play pure D evil was in "The Watcher" (we knew he was evil because he danced every time he made a kill), and he's more than overdue. Like Alain Delon before him, he may divide the critics on his acting, but you've got to admit that Keanu is a wonder to behold. Never mind that he's pushing 50, his ruthless take on Donaka Mark is riveting, and reason alone to see "Man of Tai Chi."
Tiger Chen (who plays Tiger Chen) is a bit more problematic. He's a good actor, but he seems to be playing a part that was written for a younger man. Most of the time, it works, but his age and his stature work against him. He has nowhere near the charisma of a Bruce Lee, but, then, who does? As a stuntman, he's mastered the martial arts, and one sees that he's up to all the heavy-lifting in the action department. The only other character who makes an impression is Karen Mok, who plays a police officer intent on bringing Donaka Mark to justice. Most of the other actors manage to grunt on cue and look menacing, although up-and-comer Iko Uwais stands out, in what amounts to a walk-on, as a comely combatant. Perhaps Keanu will make a film with him some day.
Great locations in Beijing, Hong Kong, and Macau. Great score by Hong Kong film veteran Chan Kwong-wing. Keanu has done the genre proud.
Shakespeare's plays, Shakespeare's movie
I just saw the film and, frankly, I'm surprised it found an audience at all. Oxenfordians are always making the case that Shakespeare wasn't an actor and couldn't even read. The film makes it clear that he was both an actor and a literate (although with limitations as a writer). If you're looking for a thought-provoking two-hours traffic of the screen, you'll also be disappointed. The film plays so loosely with facts that it's really hard to take offense. It might as well be set in Middle Earth for all the similarity it bears to actual events of history. Of course, if you're looking to rehabilitate the Earl of Essex' image, it does take a (very weak) stab at that. As a film, it's actually quite boring. My interest in going was to see what arguments the filmmakers might come up with that a dyed-in-the-wool Stratfordian would be hard-pressed to refute. No such arguments are on offer. Apparently, De Vere started publishing his plays and performing them on the stage (in a very strange sequence) at a very early age, and everyone close to him knew he was the author. If Elizabeth and the Cecils knew, who was there left to offend? The people obviously didn't care, at least to judge from their universal hatred of the Cecils (where does that come from, by the way?). Was De Vere simply a coward? He claims to want to use the plays to make a political statement. Good luck with that. Richard II is replaced by Richard III as the play put on for Essex prior to the Earl's rebellion, apparently just to get in another dig at the younger Cecil. (Everyone from Thomas More on had characterized Richard III as a hunchback. It may have been wrong, but that was the conventional wisdom.) Richard III was also Shakespeare's most popular play in his lifetime and would already have been familiar to the mob. As a cinematic experience, the film also falls flat. It's dark and depressing. I had expected more color and Renaissance attitude from the reviews. The acting is so-so. I liked Redgrave's Queen Elizabeth, and was amused by Mark Rylance's "player." Derek Jacobi sputters his way through a pointless prologue and epilogue. But the most charismatic screen presence, for me, was Ralf Spall's Shakespeare, and I'm sure that wasn't intended. I appreciated his impishness and bad manners, a welcome counter to the appallingly boring De Vere and his fellow Earls. It's been said that Spall belongs in another movie. Would that I had seen that movie! The only thing that got me through this film was the anticipation of the reveal: when and how does De Vere find out he's the Queen's bastard (as well as lover)? But even that was a letdown. Why hadn't Cecil used this information against his arch enemy when he might have gained some benefit from it? And how does De Vere react? By crying. Too many tears, not enough laughs in this risibly bad attempt at revisionism.
Bollywood Hero (2009)
Like a holy fool
A young Danish actor, Nick (Egbert Jan Weeber), comes to Mumbai to film a Bollywood musical. Once there he is involved in the accidental death of a street girl and discovers that his movie camera is capable of identifying (by way of a penumbra) people who are in need of help. The scenes of Nick on the set and Nick on the street make for an effective contrast--Bollywood vs. the slums of Mumbai. Facing a personal crisis of his own, Nick may be trying to help others in order to compensate for his father's failing memory. With the best of intentions, he only manages to misread the situations of people who are trapped in a rigid caste system. He ends up doing more harm than good. This is a short (80 minutes) film but a very affecting one. Jan Weeber is excellent in the role of Nick. When he shaves his head at the end and goes on a sort of crusade to help a group of children who are being exploited as slave labor, Nick is clearly, by Western standards, a Christ figure. But he is also a lost child himself, in a world that doesn't tolerate saints. The ending suggests an interesting twist, and like all good Bollywood films, this one ends on a musical note. "Bollywood Hero" makes for a strange journey, but a rewarding one.
Alice's Restaurant (1969)
You had to have been there
This is such a beautiful movie. In some ways, Arthur Penn was truly the cinematic voice of the '60s, at least in America. The decade was a mass of contradictions, and, no, I don't think I'm the first to say that. In the face of Vietnam, racism, and political division, young people everywhere suddenly pulled together, until drugs pulled them apart. The casualties weren't all on the battle fields of Southeast Asia, as Penn and Herndon's screenplay aptly demonstrates. Comedy and tragedy go hand in hand in this adaptation of Arlo Guthrie's simple-minded (yet edgy) song. I can still recall the chill I felt at Shelly's funeral--"Songs for Aging Children," indeed! But this is really Alice and Ray's story. Drugs may have been the Trojan Horse that ultimately destroyed the movement, but the sexual revolution put the troops in disarray. It's fine to say that we are free, even in marriage, but somebody always suffers. The iconic final scene, of Alice in her wedding dress standing at the church door, is a haunting reminder of the ambivalence we all felt at the end of the '60s. And what a memorable performance from Pat Quinn!
Lewis: Allegory of Love (2009)
Holes in the plot
That's Lawrence Fox's father James as Deering, by the way, and it's always a pleasure to see James ("Performance") Fox on screen, even in a role that is poorly written. But I agree with the previous poster that the Whately/Fox coupling failed to catch fire this time around. Could it be that (given some hints in the last series) the producers got cold feet about making Fox's character gay, leaving the actors and writers with no "chemistry" to play off of? That said, I loved the location shots and the music. It's also good seeing Art ("Jewel in the Crown") Malik again. But a lot of the story just didn't add up. What was the murderer trying to say with the mirror and the cane--er--I mean, sword? What was Hayden's problem? Was Deering bisexual? Like father, like son?
No Night Is Too Long (2002)
Possible Spoiler - But I won't spoil the ending!
This film is based on one of those psychological thrillers by Ruth Rendell writing as Barbara Vine. Like "Gallowglass," and others, it betrays her fascination with all things homo-erotic. Every thing here is ambiguous, from Tim's "love," first, for Ivor, and second, for Isabel. Is he capable of love? Does he even know what it is? The casting of Lee Williams (Seth, from "The Wolves of Kromer") as Tim is a stroke of genius; as anyone can sense his attraction, whether they respond to it or not. Marc Warren as Ivor is a bit more problematic; it was not too many years ago that he was being routinely cast as a street hustler or a cop, and he doesn't fit into a paleontologist's shoe's very comfortably. But he and Williams make a convincing couple. Mickela Mikael is attractive, in a feline sort of way, but her character's motivation is often obscure. The important thing is that she is blonde and seductive enough to be an appropriate stand-in for her brother, who also figures in the plot. The most interesting aspect of the story to me is Tim's self-destructive nature. He is only a kid when the story starts, in his first year of college. Yet he enters into a love affair that obviously has no future. Just as he falls magically "in" love, so does he fall "out." Some of the plot contrivances that follow are hard to accept (Ivo just allows Tim to go traipsing about Cananda and Europe on his dime?), but they all work as counterpoints to Tim's psychological development. This is an intriguing story, one that raises more questions then it answers, but I dare anyone to see it and not be affected by the conclusion.
Fah talai jone (2000)
A Stylistic Hybrid
"Tears of the Black Tiger" is a stylistic hybrid that brings together the cinematic excesses of Douglas Sirk and Sergio Leone, with a smattering of Quentin Tarrentino. The storyline and dialogue are strictly from hunger, but the voice-over narration can be hauntingly beautiful. It involves a poor boy who falls in love with the governor's daughter. They are separated in childhood and then reunited as adults. In the meantime, the girl has become engaged to a policeman, and the boy has linked up with a band of outlaws and is now known as the Black Tiger. His male-bonding with one of the outlaws is reminiscent of the Monty Clift/Arthur Kennedy relationship in "Red River." It's all very clichéd and yet strikingly original (I half expected a Brokeback angle). The music is folkish, the colors pastel, and the violence over the top. But somehow it makes an impression; this is a film that will continue to haunt me.
Run the Wild Fields (2000)
A Lovely Period Piece with Fine Performances
Somebody asked what the "radio waves" speech was all about. I believe Tom is trying, without reference to Christianity, to say that we are all immortal in the sense that radio waves are immortal. Even though FDR is dead, his words will continue to bounce, forever, like radio waves, from star to star in the universe. This struck me as a quite touching and genuine moment in the film. I was less enchanted with the biography provided for Tom, especially as it became known at the most opportune moment (the scene when Tom is being heroic). But the performances by the three leads were enough to keep me interested in this bittersweet film.
The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)
What's all the fuss?
I watched the Bourne Ultimatum. Actually, I was hoping for a bit of Daniel Brühl, and that's all I got. Why bother hiring a brilliant up-and-coming young actor like this and then not give him any screen time? The movie itself was okay--pretty standard spy vs. spy stuff. What bothered me was the camera work. Can't anybody in Hollywood hold a camera steady these days? The cuts were so quick, you couldn't really make out what you were watching half the time. I guess that's the point; the loss of detail covers a multitude of sins and is a special boon to the stunt-persons, who can step in and out of the action practically without being observed. Just turn the sound effects up and no one's the wiser. That being said, I did enjoy parts of the movie. Matt Damon is very effective when he doesn't have to act (think of his Thespian turn in last year's The Good Shepherd). Julia Stiles had the best moment in the film, when she finds a reason to smile. The villains were interesting, especially the hit men, all of whom, like Brühl, deserved more screen time. So, I liked the film; I just don't understand why critics think it's the second coming of the spy genre. Producers, please note: three Bournes were at least two too many. That well is now officially dry.
Shakespeare's Sonnets (2005)
A Trailer for the Movie
To begin with, although Samuel Park's novella of the same name is based in part on Oscar Wilde's "The Portrait of W. H." his film makes no mention of Wilde at all. In fact, even Shakespeare gets short shrift. And, although, it has the same title, Park's film is not really based on his novella. The characters names have been changed (from Adam and Jean), for one thing, and the novel covers a lot more territory. The short film does serve as an intriguing introduction to the essential milieu of the book, which is superior in every way. Park has assembled an excellent cast, especially Vincent Kartheiser as Sebastian, and I hope he'll now get the chance to expand his film to feature length. This is just the kind of part a young actor like Kartheiser should be able to get his teeth (no "Angel" pun intended) into.
Un amour à taire (2005)
An Important History Lesson
In a perfect world, all screenplays would be perfect. I'd like to be able to report that the screenplay to "Un amour a taire" (A Love to Hide) is perfect, especially as it covers such an important, and hitherto neglected subject, as the reeducation of homosexuals under the Nazis in Vichy France; but, alas, it is not. There are holes in the plot, and motivation is often unclear. In addition, the viewer is sometimes spoon-fed images that are intended to underscore important themes, but which just seem contrived. I am thinking, for instance, of the moment when Jean's father puts up the sign refusing to serve Jews at the family laundry. Remarkably, a young, beautifully turned out, Jewish woman, and her son, just happen to be about to enter the laundry. Jean then gets a chance to show his humanity when he takes the bundle of laundry she has come to collect out to the woman and lets her have it for free. But even this kind of manipulation cannot undermine the film itself, the lynchpin of which is a riveting performance by up-and-coming French superstar, Jeremie Renier (also so very good in "The Baby") as Jean. He commands attention from his very first appearance, and he maintains it until his tragic last. The entire cast is good, although characters are often underwritten, as in the case of Jean's lover, Phillipe. It's not until the very end of the film that we come to know, and understand, Jean's parents. But I want to recommend this film as a history lesson, one that demonstrates what comes of the kind of hate that takes a particular set of human beings and demonizes them. The tragedy is that this sort of thing is still going on today, particularly in countries like Iran, which recently hanged two teenage boys for being gay. The tendency exists even in America, where hate-mongers like Fred Phelps summarily assign homosexuals to hell. I don't know how much a film like this can do to educate people, but I do know that such education is necessary. In spite of its flaws, "A Love to Hide" performs a service in illustrating, as in "Bent," how overmastering and dehumanizing a force hatred can be.
The Fruit Machine (1988)
"You think you're a man"
The film "Wonderland" (aka "The FruitMachine") is a surprisingly dippy, imaginative romp involving two gay teenaged boys who happen to witness a gangland murder and are forced to flee Liverpool for Brighton. The film takes many inventive turns, several of which involve Eddie's dream lover, a man-dolphin hybrid who actually appears at crucial moments in the film to save Eddie and his partner, Michael. There are many subplots and colorful supporting characters, and the ending, albeit sad, is inevitable. It's worth it if only for the dance sequence at the Fruit Machine, a gay showbar in Liverpool, in which Michael competes for thirty quid. His dance is both erotic and touchingly naive. Both boys, Emile Charles and Tony Forsyth, should have had big careers in film. Apart from one distracting editing lapse that blunts the finale, this is a superior film, in that it refuses to indulge in stereotyping and doesn't condescend to its lead characters.
Shock to the System (2006)
Chad Allen is Donald Strachey
This is a well-plotted, superbly cast follow up to the first Donald Strachey film, "Third Man Out." I personally found the subject matter-sexual "healing" for gays-more engrossing than the "outing" theme of the first film. Once again, Chad Allen is fascinating as the macho gay detective. And his back story-he's an ex-soldier who was drummed out of the service for being gay-more ably serves the screenplay this time around. The regulars all seem more comfortable in their roles, and it's nice to see Nelson Wong returning as Donald's secretary. Morgan Fairchild appears in a rather thankless cameo, and, although Sebastian Spence is a little less ditsy as Donald's lawyer boyfriend (Nora to Allen's Nick), Timmy, Allen's banter with Daryl Shuttleworth, as Detective Bub Bailey, and the other guys at the precinct is more fun. It's a first-class production, with director Ron Oliver making all the right moves, and Allen's acting is nothing short of brilliant: he does Emmy-caliber work in a surprisingly literate script.
Doesn't Add Up
William Boyd has written some wonderful books and screenplays. I am a bit confused about his intention here. Is he trying to say that the Bard was so disturbed by the death of his son Hamnet that he transferred his affections to William Herbert? In a purely platonic way? Does he see something of the delicate Hamnet in Herbert's feminine good looks? Boyd is walking on eggshells here. He has to play around with the traditional chronology and compress events considerably to have both the young man and the dark lady of the sonnets arrive in Shakespeare's life on practically the same day. Of course, nobody knows for sure what happened, or even if the story told in the sonnets is autobiographical, so Boyd has a perfect right to postulate what he will. But I am disappointed with his treatment. He seems to have thought he was rewriting "Ulysses," with Shakespeare as Leopold Bloom. Here was an opportunity to speculate about the great loves of Shakespeare's life, and Boyd reduces one to a son-surrogate and the other to a working mom. And poor Anne Hathaway is a henpecking shrew. The daughters play no role in this drama. It's also interesting that Boyd exalts Shakespeare to the position of poet-in-residence with the King's Men, without explaining that he also took a hand in the troop's business and acted important roles in his own and others' plays, all the while he was becoming a wealthy landowner in Stratford. This might go a ways toward explaining why the playwright didn't return to live with his family until he was ready to retire. In the film, Boyd would have you believe that everybody he knew was trying to get their favorite cash cow to leave London and effectively retire from the stage.
I also liked a lot of things about "A Waste of Shame," not the least of which was Rupert Graves' dead-on impersonation of the Bard. I also liked seeing the criminally underused Nicholas Rowe as Richard Burbage and Zoe Wanamaker as the Duchesss of Pembroke. It was Wanamaker's father, Sam, who fought to rebuild the Globe Theatre on the south bank of the Thames, where it stands today, as evidenced by its inclusion in this production. The scenes with Ben Jonson and of Shakespeare at the book stalls were also inspired. But Tom Sturridge (as Herbert) looked like a clueless generation X-er in a bad wig, and Shakespeare's attraction to Lucy (the dark Lady) was underdeveloped--what did he see in her, apart from the fact that she was working, as he was, in London in order to support a family in France? I am rating this film as high as I am because William Boyd cannot help but write a literate script, and the acting in this production (with the possible exception of Sturridge) is first-rate. I also like Boyd's use of lines from the sonnets to introduce scenes. But I remain unconvinced by the scriptwriter's major premise, that, rather than take Herbert to bed, Shakespeare only wanted to be his father.
Seven and a Match (2001)
The quilts are lovely
I have watched this film several times now on IFC, and I have decided that I like it. At first, I was put off by the 20-something characters' self-absorption and unwillingness to let go of the past. Then, I realized, these are the sorts of things I don't like about myself either, but I'm really an okay guy. Actually, the film is pretty hopeful. Tim is a really sweet character, Ellie really DOES grow in the course of the film, and Peter and Sid probably have as good a chance as any couple of making a go of it, in spite of Sid's neediness. Nobody is a villain, and nobody is saint--kind of like in real life. The ensemble cast is terrific, and I look forward to seeing the actors in other roles. And I LOVE those quilts!
And Chevy makes three
This is a really good show, perhaps the best of its kind since "One Step Beyond." Even the back story is interesting: Sam and Dean are the sons of a psychic hunter whose wife was killed by a demon. Separated from their father, the boys continue to hunt spirits. The boys look like models, and this probably sounds like a criticism, but somehow it works here, I think because the writers, for once, take the material seriously. I just finished watching the episode where Sam and Dean return to their childhood home, because Sam has had a vision of bad things happening there to a young woman and her children in a dream, and it was very well done. I hope the writers have the good sense to bring Missouri back in future episodes. My only complaint is that sometimes the lighting is so dark that I miss important details, like plugs pulling out of sockets. But, generally, I like the washed-out look of the cinematography and think it adds to the atmospherics. And the car, a '67 Chevy Impala, makes a great traveling companion.
Martha Behind Bars (2005)
I Want to Live!
CBS's schedule was thrown off by the football game last night, so I didn't get in on this from the beginning. And I have yet to see the first installment in the Martha saga. But I liked this made-for-TV movie well enough. There are a couple of scenes in the prison that make it worthwhile. I am thinking particularly of the ones in the mess room and those involving the Christmas decoration contest. The sweater her fellow cons present to Martha as she's leaving the prison is priceless. As an actress, Cybil Shepherd is far better suited to the scenes in prison than to those in the corporate boardroom, a thought she'd probably sympathize with. The supporting cast is first-rate. Don't expect to learn a lot about what makes Martha tick, but, if you like Cybil Shepherd, or Martha Stewart for that matter, this should interest you.
Il tempo degli assassini (1975)
Little Joe is still beautiful, but his character is plug ugly. There is little positive to say about Pierro, except perhaps that he vomits in sympathy after inviting his buddies to gang rape his girlfriend (she has the bad taste to get pregnant). Pierro's a bit of a punk, you see, and bodies seem to pile up in his vicinity. Martin Balsam and Rossano Brazzi play the feckless adults in his life, one a police chief, the other a priest. They get to speak in their own voices, but, for some reason Joe is dubbed. He'd play a mute a year or two later in "Black Moon," but on the whole, Italy wasn't very kind to Andy's superstar. He doesn't even get to appear naked in "Season for Assassins." The action scenes are the best. There's a terrifying joyride at the beginning of the film, and a car chase at the end. The short wave relay scene, involving a man in braces who must climb a stairway to alert the police of a robbery in his house, is suspenseful. But none of it adds up to much. Completists will want to see it for Joe. Others beware.
When a Feller Needs a Friend (1932)
Give a fellow a break!
Gee whiz, who doesn't like Jackie Cooper? A lot of people, to judge by his reviews. Personally, I always liked him, admired him even, especially when I was a kid in the '50s, and the airwaves were saturated with Shirley Temple. Jackie was the only boy actor with anywhere near Shirley's charisma, and he was still on TV as an adult in such classic shows as "The People's Choice" and, later, "Hennessy." To my mind, he was almost always effectively cast. Take "When a Fellow Needs a Friend," for instance. Jackie, or Limpy, as he's called here (he wears a brace on one leg, and, no, the point of the movie is not to effect a miracle cure), is no saint. He allows himself to be bullied by his cousin, Froggie, and he betrays his uncle Jonas, played by the inimitable Chic Sales. But he learns a valuable lesson about love and friendship, and, at film's end, he's reunited with his uncle and he's even friends with Froggie. It's a small film, with a homely moral, and just the sort of story Depression era audiences reveled in. He may not have been the most polished actor, but he was always a natural. Let's face it, he was swell.
Third Man Out (2005)
The Third Man Meets Beautiful Thing
This is one of the most satisfying "gay" films I've seen since "Beautiful Thing," and one of the best mystery-married pairings since John and Sherlock, or should I say Nick and Nora. It's the story of Donald Strachey, tough guy P.I. with a shady past and a sweet tooth for guy pal Sebastian Spence. It's a good story, not a great one, with a sultry jazz score and topical references to such controversial subjects as celebrity outing and pedophiliac priests. What makes it work is the unconventional casting of Chad Allen (who is gay himself, but doesn't look it--although one character dubs him "Nancy-boy Drew") as Strachey, who just happens to be very happily married to Timothy (played by Sebastian Spence, who is apparently straight, and maybe that's why his character overdoes the nelly a bit). Allen, as Strachey, is developing very nicely as an actor, and he's more interesting looking now than he ever was as a child. In "Third Man Out," he gets solid support from QAF's Jack Wetherall and Sean Young. Apparently, this is the first in a series, based on the novels by Richard Stevenson and set, contrarily, in Albany, rather than in New York City or San Francisco. Hopefully, it will prove popular enough with its intended audience that other books in the series will also be filmed. Apart from the rather pedestrian direction (by Ron Oliver) and a couple of too obvious twists in the plot, "Third Man" is entertaining throughout.
The Tesseract (2003)
Elvis in Bangkok
I'll have to admit, I was pretty much confused by this film. All the flashbacks and flash forwards had me reeling. Nevertheless, I was fascinated at the same time. It isn't quite the same story as the Alex Garland novel. To begin with, it's set in Bangkok, rather than Manila. I've seen "Bangkok Dangerous," which is a film by some of the same crew, and I think this is the better film. However, there are some incongruous elements. For instance, the boy "Wit" seems to have wandered in from another movie. He reminds me of one of those mischievous Third World sidekicks from one of the later Elvis films (fans of Rhys Meyers may appreciate the irony here). He can't really act, and he's obviously not Thai, but he's a winning presence nonetheless. The opening scene in the hotel room reminded me of "The Matrix," with its slow motion bullets. Later scenes were out of the "Reservoir Dogs" factory. Sandwiched in between were a couple of interesting stories, especially the one involving Saskia Reeves, as the psychologist who had lost her child. I also liked Jonathan Rhys Meyers, whose character is a mass of contradictions but who seems to grow as an actor with each film. See it for the film it could have been, but enjoy it for the experiment it is.
House M.D. (2004)
Laurie, I hardly knew Hugh
I have always enjoyed Hugh Laurie as Wooster, and I don't object to him branching out into drama, but "House" is one of the most embarrassing hours on TV. Witness the episode entitled "Love Hurts." Why pick on a guy as nice as Peter Graves to humiliate? Can't anyone in Hollywood grow old with dignity? I have watched this show three times now, and I have yet to see Robert Sean Leonard get more than a minute or two screen time. Does he live with House? Are they lovers? Is Chase into S&M? On which side of the ampersand? Do all doctors take "mints" from unlabeled bottles? And how many quirks does House need? He's got a day old beard that must be hell to maintain, a cane and a limp, and the most abrasive bedside manner since Dr. Crippen. But his absolute worst quirk may be the producers' decision to give House an American accent. He sounds like a cartoon character. No one would ever mistake Laurie's voice for Richard Burton's, but he has a perfectly serviceable home-grown accent. Every doctor I meet in America these days has some sort of an accent, so why not let Laurie speak in his own voice? Calling Dr. House! Shave that beard first, then cut the accent.
Shakespeare in... and Out (1999)
This is a rather pleasant little outing from the Troma team. I was, frankly, a bit let down by its tameness. Even some of the acting was good! The film purports to be a satire in the "spririt" of Spinal Tap, but that vein was mined years ago by better films. That being said, any film that ends with an amateur production of Hamlet, staged in a nursing home, at least has its heart in the right place. The reactions of the seniors are genuinely touching. This from the team that gave you the Toxic Avenger! The story of Rich Longfellow's rise to stardom in the porn biz should have been a lot funnier, however. Shakespeare in and Out is no Boogie Nights, and Rich is no Dirk Diggler. But, if you've got eighty minutes to kill some night, it's better than reruns of Law and Order.
Again, it happens
So predictable. I wonder how many of the folks who are dissing this film have even seen it. When the name Keanu Reeves appears on screen, the knees jerk. It happened with the "Matrix," "Feeling Minnesota," "The Devil's Advocate," etc. Yet, all of those films are highly regarded in retrospect. I know nothing about the comic book character, but, for my money, Constantine is a throwback to the films of Jean-Pierre Melville--think "The Samurai"--with Keanu a worthy successor to Alain Delon. Other characters in the film are fun too, and I especially like Tilda Swinton, who thrives on sexually ambiguous roles such as that of the angel Gabriel. Nobody is going to claim that "Constantine" is a masterpiece, but it remains a fine entertainment, with some interesting ideas on the nature of heaven and hell and on the perils of suicide. At forty-one, Keanu doesn't need to prove himself as an actor to anyone. He's been pleasing crowds for two decades now. For those who don't get it, don't despair: the new Vin Diesel flick just opened this weekend. Go forth and multiplex.