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The Black Dahlia (2006)
Preposterous events, poor script
If you have never read anything about the actual Black Dahlia case of 1947 you might find a way to enjoy this film, although even then you're likely to find the film's version of events preposterous. I have never seen such a pedigreed Hollywood film with such strange character motivations and absurd coincidences. The script has characters spouting howlingly awful lines. There's nothing funny about the hideous way Elizabeth Short (the so-called Black Dahlia) was murdered, but the audience in the screening I saw were chuckling at much of the dialogue.
The film has a disclaimer that the case was never officially solved and that the movie is based on the fictional novel by James Ellroy. I have not read the book and, assuming the movie closely followed it, I have no desire to.
This film is like other movies "based on" actual murders that go off on bizarre tangents rather than following what is actually known about the real-life cases. The saying goes, "truth is stranger is fiction." Sometimes that may be true, but the events in this movie are about as strange as it gets.
Personally, I recommend reading the fact-based book "Black Dahlia Avenger" by Steve Hodel. I found his work to be far more interesting, compelling and scary than Brian De Palma's "The Black Dahlia". I shudder to think of all the people who are going to believe the film's version of events and go around passing them off as reality.
Yes, it's true the case was never officially solved, but Hodel, a former L.A. police detective, presents solid, comprehensive evidence whether or not you accept who he suggests is the culprit -- who he said had an accomplice. Hodel believes two men were serial killers in L.A. in that era and provides a look at similarities between all the unsolved cases. However, the Black Dahlia case was by far the most gruesome.
I mention in passing that there's a lurid and not very believable book on the Black Dahlia case called "Severed" by John Gilmore that is of note because it includes more photos of the victim, including the morgue photos. This is not for the faint of heart!
The film "Black Dahlia" does score points for successfully recreating the L.A. of the 1940s. The costumes and settings are convincing, even if the acting by some of the stars is not.
I think Elizabeth Short -- the Black Dahlia -- deserves a better "obituary" than this film. I'm sure I would have seen the film in any case, but, in retrospect, I'm sorry I took the afternoon off to see it on its debut date.
The Last Sign (2005)
At least Samuel Le Bihan looks good in it!
OK, I am a red-blooded female. Sometimes I rent a flick simply because a good-looking actor is in it. When I saw the DVD box for this one I recognized Samuel Le Bihan from "Brotherhood of the Wolf". Since I thought he was "all that and a bag of chips" in that one, I decided to check him out in this one. Also, I like Andie MacDowell well enough and I was curious to see what their fellow cast mate Margot Kidder (Lois Lane in the Christopher Reeve "Superman" flicks) looks like these days.
Undeniably there are much better flicks out there, but this one wasn't all bad. There are a few kinda creepy/mysterious scenes and some interesting camera shots and angles. And, yes, Samuel Le Bihan provided some enjoyable eye candy to offset the creepy-as-usual Tim Roth. By the way, has Roth ever played a sympathetic character? If you like the current hit TV series "Medium" starring Patricia Arquette, you will most likely enjoy this movie. It sort of reminded me of some story lines on that show.
In general, I believe film audiences are jaded in the 21st Century. We are desensitized by the plethora of special effects and blast-'em-up extravaganzas with high body counts. It seems that fewer people want to invest the time in a lower-key film, such as this one, in which seemingly random details come together in at least a somewhat cohesive whole at the end. That's not to say the film wrapped up all loose ends, because it didn't. That is one reason I didn't give it more stars. Another reason is the uneven acting. In other words, some of the cast provided more convincing portrayals than others. And, Margot Kidder is as goofy as ever. I hadn't seen her in anything in a number of years.
For my time and money, I would take this film any day over "The Blair Witch Project", which, to me, is the worst movie ever.
Reign of Fire (2002)
Gerard Butler best thing about it
I read nearly half of the users' comments (there are 400+ in all)on "Reign of Fire" and saw only two references to Gerard Butler: one simply mentioning he's in it and the other slamming him in general. I disagree and am surprised at the lack of regard for his being in the movie. His is arguably the most sympathetic character in the movie and likely the only one with any sense of humor. I purposely see every movie Gerard Butler is in -- it is what draws me to the theater for certain films, such as this one. I probably would watch him reading the phone book! That being said, I enjoyed this movie. Yes, it can be seen that they cut corners in terms of the shortage of special effects scenes and the poster WAS misleading. But I think people are jaded these days. After seeing so many movies with explosive effects, people aren't satisfied with anything less. I also enjoyed "Timeline", in which Gerard also stars. That movie, too, was widely slammed, but I liked it. I like fantasy films with a bit of romance. I like effects, too, but I don't think that's all there is to it. I can't wait to see Gerard in "Beowulf and Grendel" but I'm sure people are already sharpening their knives to crucify him and that movie, too!
Soundtrack, visuals redeeming features
Having read all the other reviews on this site, I notice that most people either completely hate the film or completely love it. I take the middle ground. I greatly enjoyed the visual elements, both with regard to the good-looking leads and the stylish camera work. I enjoy a film where I can pick out performers from other films and this one offered a few. I recognized Jason Isaacs (Captain Hook in the recent "Peter Pan" film), for one. That being said I was disappointed that Sean Bean's part was so small. However, I was glad Marianne Faithful's role was only a small cameo. It is painful to me to see her looking so haggard.
I also enjoyed the pulsating soundtrack and believe that, with an inferior effort, the film would be even less appealing.
As others have pointed out, there's not much of a plot, but, beyond that, it was difficult to sympathize with the characters -- other than the police! The law officers in this film were not portrayed as sadistic or even unlikable. Frustrated, yes. The "protagonists" had no redeeming characteristics other than youth, good looks and energy. The film seems to present the viewpoint that the police deserved the treatment they received from the thugs. To me, the film produces a nihilistic, 'who gives a damn' about anything attitude. It made me think about anarchy: after "the system" is demolished, with what will it be replaced?
I'm probably waxing too philosophical about a movie that never even aspired to such musings. The producers probably just wanted to give a youthful audience the smash 'em up, 'wham bam thank you ma'am' form of entertainment many seem to want. (Witness "The Fast and the Furious" and Vin Diesel's "XXX" among others.) I like a bit of action, too, but I prefer to care about someone or something along the line.
Nevertheless, I maintain that I have seen worse films. I confess to an admiration of British films and actors that causes me to overlook aspects of a movie that I don't like in order to focus on what I consider to be redeeming features. For example, I found Sean Pertwee's character in this film interesting, even if the character is what we Americans like to call a "scumbag". The bottom line, to me, is that the positives -- including the soundtrack, visual elements, and interesting cast -- outweigh the negatives. I bought the film at what you British call a jumble sale for $2.00 (American money), so I'm not out a lot of loot in any case. I will keep the film alongside "Love, Honour and Obey", another second-hand bargain I found along the way. It too, has redeeming features.