An overacted, overdirected, overripe slice of ludicrous urban hysteria, Spike Lee's new film, his most bloatedly self-important and inhumanely void movie to date, is ostensibly about the melting pot fury of New Yawk life boiling over during the summer of 1977 (Spike tries to fit it all in: Studio 54, CBGB's, Plato's Retreat, race wars, neighborhood insularity, heatwaves, the Yankees, a talking dog right out of a beer commerical, etc.) when the serial killer Son of Sam was terrorizing the streets. However, the film is really about Spike's need to mercilessly provoke, even when the source material doesn't match his "ambitions." When given a strong script and a clear purpose, Spike Lee's films can be gripping (e.g., "Do the Right Thing," "Clockers"), but Spike is all over the map here, blindly shooting at every urban stereotype imaginable. This is auteurism without vision, a misguided attempt at overstylized "intensity" every bit as frustrating and miserable in its scattershot hugeness as past notorious focusless pet project disasters (e.g., "1941"). As a filmmaker, Spike Lee has truly lost his way.
29 March 1999
Pleasant is the word for it: amiable, entertaining, likable, blissfully reassuring, lovely to look at, and ultimately toothless. I give it a 7 (marked down from an 8 for Fiona Apple's soporific trashing of Lennon's "Across the Universe" over the end credits)
Infinity (1996)golden slumbers
27 March 1999
A tired, tragically somber dying-wife drama, "Infinity" is a noble effort, but a chore to sit through. It was Matthew Broderick's directorial debut, and he proves utterly incapable of maintaining any sort of pace or shaping a single scene. Based on a true-life story and obviously made with the best of loving intentions, "Infinity" is a hard movie to hate, but impossible to like.
Blue in the Face (1995)Disgraceful
27 March 1999
Possibly the worst film ever made, "Blue in the Face" is the worst incidence of actor over-indulgence and N.Y. self-congratulation ever captured on celluloid. A downright queasily embarrassing exercise in forced, flailing improv, the terribleness of the film is made all the more baffling by a)its pedigreed cast, including Harvey Keitel, Mira Sorvino, Jim Jarmusch, and dozens more; and b)the fact that its source material (for characters and settings, anyway) is the lyrical and engaging 1995 film "Smoke" (my vote for the 2nd best film of that year, after "Crumb"). "Blue in the Face" is one of the few films that could actually be described (with pinpoint accuracy!) as unwatchable.
Another Day in Paradise (1998)the end of the ad-lib
26 March 1999
Can we please place a permanent injunction on improvisation in films? This movie, an incomprehensible hash of bored, "shocking" casual drugs-and-sex-and-violence and limp criminals-as-surrogate-family themes carelessly thrown Pollock-style across the screen, almost nudges "The Daytrippers" and (the worst offender) "Blue in the Face" as the most irritating example of shameful, self-indulgent cinematic improv. Keitel and De Niro's sublimely playful guy-banter in "Mean Streets" has given way to a steady stream of desperately babbling pretty faces trying to fill silences with big emotion. Of course, it isn't such a terrible problem if you have great actors, tight direction, and a strong story, which you don't here. Yes, James Woods is electric as always (though his mid-film transformation from role model to abusive "dad" is as annoying as it is baffling) and heck, I'll pay 8 bucks to look at natascha gregson wagner for 2 hours. But as a movie, it's a joke.
A Night Before Christmas (1942)Likable
26 March 1999
A goofy, giddy adult satire that plays like a kiddie comedy (replete with broad jokes, slapstick, and a lovable oaf played by Broderick Crawford). Three crooks (including Edward G. Robinson, with mind-racing gusto) give up plans to rob a bank when they realize the sweetest racket of all: capitalism. An entertaining little film.
Affliction (1997)Affliction: boredom
12 March 1999
Spoon-fed entertainment for the art house/Academy voters. An unengaging "character study" that is nothing but an excuse for horribly broad acting; a "cycle of abuse" theme that's laughable in its naked obviousness; a conspiracy storyline that is as pointless as it is uninteresting; sloppy, logy direction, utterly lacking in artistry or intelligence. Overall, an exercise in bloated enervation. If you want to see a real crackerjack film by Paul Schrader, do yourself a favor and rent "Blue Collar."
Babe: Pig in the City (1998)this pig won't hunt
6 December 1998
Yes, the animals are cute, Babe is a charming creation, and the movie looks like a million (or 90 million) bucks. As the saying goes, it's all up there on the screen. But what's also up there is a weird mean-spiritedness and a sense of frantic desperation. I wasn't hoping for a mere rehash of the first film (in fact, I was hoping it wouldn't spawn a sequel at all), but "Babe: Pig in the City" follows the standard blueprint for sequels: bigger, faster, louder, MORE! Not to mention unnecessary and utterly inferior.
Celebrity (1998)A Great Man Chokes
20 November 1998
One of Woody Allen's worst films, a brilliant defense for anyone who considers Allen out-of-touch, self-indulgent, and irrelevant. A storyless mishmash of tired, unfunny gags, Woody has absolutely nothing to say and takes forever to say it (uncharacteristic for Allen, who's films have been the last bastion of auteur-brevity, the movie is a trying two hours-plus). Sure, the movie looks dynamite, and sure it's got a great cast trying its best, but can anyone honestly tell me that this movie's humor wasn't musty, it's narrative wasn't rambling, it's attempts at satire weren't annoyingly weak? A real disappointment, especially following last year's wonderfully vulgar, honest, and funny "Deconstructing Harry." This has to be the worst fall-winter film season in years.
Bound for Glory (1976)How I Spent My Summer Vacation
13 October 1998
This is a frustratingly uninvolving Woody Guthrie biopic. I felt that I learned more about Woody the person from the Billy Bragg/Wilco album "Mermaid Avenue" than this fragmented and dull film. The movie is nice to look at (probably the sole reason for its existence) and gives us one of the more realistic portrayals of depression-era life, but tells us nothing new or particularly revealing about Woody Guthrie: all it offers is "he was just a regular guy" revelations about his adultery. Hal Ashby's film is an empty and enervated postcard.
Salvador (1986)how I spend my Saturdays
11 October 1998
Like "Platoon," this film is an interesting middle ground for Oliver Stone between the goofy, gritty pulp of his earlier work (such as the script for "scarface") and the arrestingly suspicious muckraking of his more recent films. James Woods gives a dynamite performance in this tough, weirdly entertaining film, which was slavishly knocked-off by (among others) the makers of last year's "Welcome to Sarajevo" (which, admittedly, is also a fine film).
The Lady from Shanghai (1947)Tino Martinez
9 October 1998
I saw a re-release of Orson Welles' "classic" this afternoon. It's not a particularly well-made film, but what with its eye-candy set-pieces and bizarre characters, one can almost overlook that the film seems to have been written by about a dozen different writers who never spoke to each other: the plot moves in fits and starts, with scenes abruptly ending and beginning, it's wildly over-narrated, and the plot doesn't make a bit of sense. Still: the hall of mirrors. It's a frustrating film, but impossible to completely dislike. However, it makes me think about the re-release craze that seems to be going on these days. It's easy money for the studios, but is every movie made before the Kennedy administration a "classic"? It's getting out of hand.