Wednesday, May 20, 2009


Since just about everyone and his second-cousin-by-marriage has weighed-in on VALKYRIE, how can I not offer my thoughts? If you know nothing about the Third Reich, the demise of Adolf Hitler or any of the many attempts on the life of the original "Good German," then you may find this Bryan Singer-directed film suspenseful and exciting. For me it was the ultimate bore, with but a single fun scene: How does a guy with one working hand (the other's missing parts of two fingers) plant a bomb in a valise with the deadline fast approaching? I did not buy most of the back-story involving the various officers and gentlemen who help our hero on his way, though the performances from these first-rate Brits & Germans generally outshine that of Mr. Cruise, who remains, as ever, perfectly competent at appearing relatively competent.

Not so Jean-Claude Van Damme, who ranges from competent to better-than-that, depending on the moment-to-moment goings- on in JCVD, the mock- umentary about the action star becoming involved in robbery & extortion. It's fun to see Van Damme engaged in something other than hand, arm, leg & foot action; in the acting department, he holds up well, even during a very long and rather moving monologue. He's a pleasant surprise, and so's the movie.

There are three good reasons to see PASSENGERS, one of the more poorly-reviewed films of last year (only 22% "fresh" on RottenTomatoes): its two stars and its director, who is not even mentioned until the closing credit roll. Rodrigo García has made two of my favorite films: Things You Can Tell Just by Looking at Her (2000) and Nine Lives (2005). He's master of the tiny-but-vital moment; his films are full of these, bringing together rich characterization and subtle plot development into a splendid whole. While these moments are on display in Passengers, unfortunately the genre here is the supernatural thriller, which may not be García's forte. Yet the performances he draws from Anne Hathaway and Patrick Wilson are wonderful. What a romantic pair these two make! He, effortlessly combining intelligence, good looks, sex appeal and humor; she, equals part vulnerability and need and looking particularly ravishing. It's worth the watch just to see their chemistry -- not to mention the many lovely moments García manages. But the thrills and suspense? Maybe another time.

A movie that seems to tell us how terrible it is that there are so many surveillance cameras gazing at us 'round the clock, Adam Rifkin's LOOK is instead a voyeur in scold's clothing. I admit that watching these characters get "watched" is pretty interesting, and since their stories deal with everything from a teacher being stalked by his student to ATM robberies and the kidnapping of a child, there are built-in "grabbers" throughout. But the more you watch, the more you realize the unreality of much that you see. It's both too easy and too fake. But performances are generally good, and there is that undeniable "sleaze" factor at work....

You can also find several of my recent reviews (on GreenCine's Guru site) of five worthwhile films: Rod Lurie's fine melodrama NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH, Chris Marker's great documentary GRIN WITHOUT A CAT, the terrific dramedy from Uruguay THE POPE'S TOILET, the involving, funny and jolting Lebanese drama UNDER THE BOMBS and Parvez Sharma's documentary about Islam and homosexuality, A JIHAD FOR LOVE.

No comments: