Over the past little while, I watched these six films … here’s what I thought:
Based on the Marvel Comic characters, and directed by Tim Story, the Fantastic Four is a fun romp with plenty of action and just enough silliness to make the characters endearing (if a tad aggravating … especially Chris Evans as Storm). The story starts with the foursome (plus Victor Von Doom) heading to space and recounts their transformation – at the hands of a mysterious force – into the famous four. The story lags some as time is spent getting all warm and fuzzy as the foursome come to terms with their new selves but picks up at the end with lots of superpowerness and the (sort of) triumph of good over evil. It’s all woefully predictable but since director Story takes a tongue-in-cheek (versus dark … i.e., Spiderman) approach, it works on the whole. My rating 7 out of 10.
The Black Dahlia
This film, directed by the one and only Brian De Palma, is a muddled mess. Starring Josh Hartnett, Scarlett Johansson and Hilary Swank, it (poorly) recounts the famous – unsolved – murder of starlet Elizabeth Short in California in the 1940s. Two police officers (former boxers of course … this is afterall a De Palma film) are charged with heading up the investigation. All manner of plots and twists ensue (too many to even begin relating here, and one of the real problems with this film) before the ending comes … but you’ll have fallen asleep by then by the insipid boredom of it all. Shame on De Palma. My rating 2 out of 10.
Despite the ridiculous storyline, involving a professional assassin who awakens from a stupor to realize he’s been stuck with an oriental cocktail poison that will kill him in 24 hours, I thought this film was lots of (violent) fun. Starring ‘The Transporter’ guru, Jason Stratham, and directed by Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, it has poor Chev (Stratham) running around with vengeance on his mind to catch and do-in the West Coast crime syndicate leader, Verona, who stuck him in the first place. Filled with lots of action and a couple twists along the way to keep things interesting. My rating 7 out of 10.
Based on the name of the sex club where a third of the film happens, Shortbus is essentially soft-core pornography disguised as a highbrow art house piece. The story centers on a brilliantly acted Sophia (played by Canadian, Sook-Yin Lee) who is a sex therapist who’s never experienced an organsm. After a run in with a gay couple seeking counseling, Sophia ends up at Shortbus and the sexual adventures begin as she quests to find her G spot. Directed by John Cameron Mitchell (he of Hedwig and the Angry Inch fame) and winner of numerous awards at several (unheralded) film festivals (Zurich excepted), Shortbus puts to film some of the most explicit sexual scenes ever captured to film and released ‘mainstream’. The opening sequence itself, with its three vignettes, are worth the price of admission alone and provide the best comment on what this film is all about: summed up in its own tagline “voyeurism is participation”. This is NOT a film for children and has enough hot scenes no matter what your sexual orientation to be worth a rental. My rating 8 out of 10.
A Prairie Home Companion
Based on the ever-running radio show of the same name envisioned by Garrison Keillor, and filled with more star power than most films in a long time, A Prairie Home Companion recounts the last night performance of the show before it is axed by the new owners of the station in the guise of an axeman (played by Tommy Lee Jones). Along the way, there are plenty of quirky performances (notably Woody Harrelson and John C. Reilly playing a hilarious duo, Dusty and Lefty) and a ghost who is haunting the stage with the task of taking one of the group. To be honest, I nodded off during the bits with Garrison Keillor and think you have to be of a certain age to appreciate this film. The title sounds boring and while it does pick up at the end, I did think this was pretty boring overall. My rating 5 out of 10.
Running With Scissors
A film full of star power – the immortal Jill Clayburgh, Patrick Wilson, the always-fine Annette Bening, Alec Baldwin, Evan Rachel Wood, Brian Cox, Joseph Fiennes (to name only a few), and an excellent Australian Joseph Cross as the film’s main character, Augusten Burroughs. The story is a twisted, true tale of a young lad who is pawned off by his mentally unstable mother (Bening) to a creepy therapist Dr. Finch (Cox). Augusten lives many years within the wonky family and survives no end of strangeness from them, his mother and his alcoholic father (Baldwin). The story is very sad but director Ryan Murphy plays it all with a hearty note of zaniness which makes the sadness more poignant. This film received very mixed reviews, and is, I think, a love-it or hate-it kind of flick. Running with Scissors cuts on many levels and shows both the true harm, and ultimate resilience, growing up in a disfunctional family can wrought. My rating 8 out of 10.