These reviews are supposed to come 1-by-1 some day.
Les Triplettes de Belleville (2003) ****
Wickedly original animated film from cartoonist Sylvain Chomet about an old woman whose grandson is kidnapped by the shady French Mafia and sent overseas to the city of Belleville. So, obviously, she and her dog Bruno rent a small boat and cross the ocean to get the grandson back? with the help of three really, really old ex-vaudeville stars: the Triplets of Belleville. Chomet?s film is certainly something new: a wacky, bizarre, irreverent animated film that?s black without being mean-spirited and features some very original artwork. The thing is, although the plot is relatively engaging, the film feels slight and by the end, the movie?s impact is so minimal that you?ll soon forget pretty much everything about it. It?s a good movie, no doubt about that, and I had a blast watching it? but in the end, you have absolutely nothing to show for that.
Psych-Out (1968) ***
Bizarre hippie flick produced by Dick Clark (of all people) stars Susan Strasberg as a deaf runaway who goes to San Francisco to find her brother. However, San Francisco in 1967 was a time of peace and love and hippieness? and Strasberg soon falls in with a rock band called Mumblin? Jim (played by Jack Nicholson, Dean Stockwell, Max Julien and Adam Roarke). She becomes Stoney?s (Nicholson) ?girl? and together they search for her brother, who they soon find out is a particularly messed-up hippie called The Seeker (Bruce Dern, who wears a ridiculously large, ill-fitting wig)? and drugs, also. Main attractions here are early performances by Nicholson and Dern, trippy photography by Lazslo Kovacs and a soundtrack by the Strawberry Alarm Clock. The film itself eventually falls to cheap moralizing (not surprising? it?s Dick freakin? Clark) and the dialogue is often ludicrous? but it?s all quite fun. A very minor cult classic.
The Order (2003) *
This practically unwatchable ?religious thriller? written and directed by the usually reliable Brian Helgeland manages to be both unbelievably boring and laughably over-the-top. Heath Ledger plays a priest who is sent to investigate the activities of a certain ?sin eater?? and that?s about what I got from the movie. Frankly, the entire thing is so absurdly boring, and takes itself so seriously that I had trouble even staying awake throughout most of it. Add to that ridiculously self-important dialogue, dull performances from an otherwise promising cast, and incredibly silly special effects (the sin-eating itself looks more like pulling giant soggy spaghettis from someone?s mouth) and you have an awful, awful film. The kind of film that seems to truly have gone through pre-production, production and post-production without anyone actually realizing what a horrible mistake they had made greenlighting this.
Elephant (2003) ****1/2
There?s something beguiling about this film; it?s shot so effortlessly that it does not even feel like a movie at all, but more like a free-flowing daydream. All of its flaws are completely correlated to your expectations of it; Van Sant simply lets the viewer make up his own mind for everything. He?s created an almost completely neutral film where everything you see, hear and think is brought on by your own thoughts. (This sounds incredibly obvious and pretentious, I realize this? but? you try and describe the movie!) Despite the fact that pretty much nothing happens for a good hour, the film?s free-flowing tracking shots are so entrancing that by the time the first bullet is fired, you?ll be feeling it for a long, long time. I?m not too fond of one choice that Van Sant made (I won?t reveal it here? but it involves a shower? and almost shatters the impression of neutrality that Van Sant had previously established) but otherwise this is a beautiful, disturbing film through and through.
Sunset Boulevard (1950) *****
I?ve always been fascinated by the seamy underbelly of celebrity; frankly, I?m more interested in how Hervé Villechaize ended up killing himself than who?s dating who. Sunset Boulevard is a look directly into the seamy underbelly as we follow the strange relationship of a young screenwriter (William Holden) and a fallen silent-screen idol named Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson). Like all truly great films, it transcends genre to create something that?s sorta noir, sorta black comedy, sorta dramatic? The film?s Hollywood is one that?s half-invented and half-realistic, creating a sort of down-to-earth fantasy (akin to, say, Altman?s The Player did forty years later) that?s an absolute joy to watch. Swanson is delightfully over-the-top in the performance of a career, Holden is terrific and the supporting cast (which includes Erich von Stronheim and future Joe Friday Jack Webb) is top-notch. I can?t understand why they?re thinking to remake this.