Don't expect much here. I've gone through periods where I've watched a fair selection of movies, but I've also gone through stretches where I watch very little. Nowadays, I find myself growing increasingly awry of the prospect of being entertained, and much of what I see doesn't even rise to that level. I may even be becoming sensitive in my senescence -- or possibly just irony-impaired. These are notes on the culture, for whatever it's worth.
PS: Don't read further if you're one of those who don't want any plot twists disclosed. I'm not writing teasers.
PPS: Apologies for attributing these roles to the actors who play them. I don't pay enough attention to recall character names.
Requiem for a Dream: Aronofsky has a rhythmic editing style that will wow impressionable film buffs, but making horror films more cerebral hardly makes them less horrible. This film is relentlessly down, painful to watch, and remorseless. Note however that much of the damage here attributed to drugs is a consequence of treating drug users as criminals -- the hospital scenes are pure malpractice -- and the lawlessness of the drug trade is cruelest fruit of prohibition. Also note that the drug of consequence here was plain old heroin, which for me was more effectively debunked in The Man with the Golden Arm and the life stories of Charlie Parker, Lenny Bruce, et al. Roger Miller said it better: "Dad blame anything a man can't quit." B-
Bamboozled: If Spike Lee has a point, it escapes me. This is merely what little I've been able to glean from the wreckage. What is clear is that Bamboozled is a classic tragedy: almost all of the main characters are destroyed, and almost all from their own internal faults. The faults are harder to discern. Most evident is the fault of black performers trying to endear themselves by adhering to white expectations. However, what are those expectations? Damon Wayans is confused enough that he opts for minstrelsy, then rationalizes that as satire, then produces a remarkably unsatirical minstrel show. The ridiculous reactions of the whites seem to confirm this. (How many white Americans even know of blackface? And how many of those who do know of black performers wearing blackface? The painstaking makeup scenes are among the most striking in the movie.) However, the black actors and writers crack under the pain of history, and the movie ultimately devolves into a vignette of Jim Crow-era automata taking over the movie. My take on the fault is that in Spike Lee's hands, history is the great boogeyman. I suspect that a modern movie about historical minstrelsy would find great power, dignity, and humor; however, minstrelsy today is little more than a scare tactic -- nostalgia, but too far removed to be felt. Still, this is a movie that prods one to think, even where one cannot comprehend. B+
The Contender: The politics are a complete hash -- when Joan Allen "answers the committee" with her laundry list of political issues, they are hopelessly inconsistent by any known gauge. Even more inconsistent is the one contemporary reference -- that she voted to impeach Clinton. While Clinton might be faulted for failing to take Allen's high minded refusal to dignify the innuendo, to vote against him Allen would have to cede far more ground. And the ending is pure Hollywood conceit: that one eloquent speech can move all Washington to see the light, to put pettiness aside and embrace greatness. Sure. On the plus side: Jeff Bridges and Gary Oldman are always interestingly oblique; Sam Elliott has a sly grin; and I'd like to think that the FBI does have agents like Kathy Morris, but I don't. Entertaining. B
Almost Famous: A delicious movie, even if I must admit that nothing that happens here ever happened to me -- except for acquaintance with Lester Bangs, which made Philip Seymour Hoffman look all the more like Philip Seymour Hoffman. Still, Lester's death-of-rock gravitas was perfectly of the period, and his wallowing-in-LP-covers was something I could identify with. A
American Psycho: Phil Collins, Huey Lewis, and Whitney Houston may not kill, but can they make the living envy the dead? This and other uninteresting questions are raised. Best thing is the razor sharp imagery of upper crust anality. B
Best in Show: Christopher Guest's bloodhound is no better looking than the bloodhound next door, but the neighbor dog's personality is a more like Parker Posey's weimaraner: instant disqualification. Much fun. Especially the miserable Posey, and Catherine O'Hara, who doesn't seem to be able to open a door without finding a former paramour. A-
Black and White: As confused as it ought to be. Left to its own devices, I can imagine race in America not blending and certainly not separating, but mutating into some sort of fractal weirdness. I can almost imagine Spike Lee crafting Bamboozled as an antidote. Didn't care for some of the plot twists, but it was almost worth killing Alan Houston to watch Mike Tyson order the hit. B+
Dr. T and the Women: There's something rotten at the core of this -- the unexplored dissolution of Farah Fawcett's marriage, and the casualness of Helen Hunt's affair. There is also much to savor, including a dollop of Sullivan's Travels. B+
High Fidelity: Only time I can recall ever reading the book that became the movie. Record junky, obsessive list maker, girlfriend named Laura, why not? Critics always bitch that the movie doesn't live up to the novel, but from my sample of one, who cares? A
Keep Breathing: Shown only in Wichita KS, and starring my nephew, you probably missed this one. Caveat emptor, but I'm a hard-assed critic anyway. The plot is too pat, the ending too cute, and my while my nephew mopes effectively, he never quite seems to have earned the right. But the girls, as in My Day in the Barrel and The Dirty Sanchez, are better, perhaps because they have more to work from. Curious? Click here. B-
The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg: Took two years to get here, lasted one week. Great story, great film. A+
Meet the Parents: Squirm 'til you laugh. Ben Stiller reprises There's Something About Mary, without Mary. Hardly seems worth it, but Owen Wilson's carpenter-for-Jesus is indeed hilarious. C+
My, Myself and Irene: If nothing else (and there isn't much else), chalk this up as tribute to the pervasive influence of Richard Pryor on American culture. B+
Nurse Betty: Strange movie. The core being Renee Zellweger's trauma-induced absorption into acting out her sitcom role, which is daringly conceived and boldly acted. But the reality around this fantasy is more problematic. Morgan Freeman's profession clearly allows him too much time for idle thought, while Chris Rock wisely compensates with thoughtlessness. B+
Shaft: So, he's a cop? Hush your mouth. C