Reviews by Jason Pirodsky
Grindhouse, an exploitation double-feature experience containing two full-length films (Robert Rodriguez´s fun but underwhelming Planet Terror and Quentin Tarantino´s magnetic Death Proof) and interspersed with hilarious fake movie trailers (from directors Eli Roth, Rob Zombie, Edgar Wright, and Rodriguez), received moderate critical praise and a warm reception from fans when it opened in the US in April. It was something of a masterpiece; not for the content it contained – films that aimed low and succeeded – but for the experience it provided, a spot-on replication of a night at a ‘70s drive-in that demands to be seen with an unquiet audience. The film came and went from US cinemas with less-than-satisfactory results; now Europe gets to see it in two separate parts, the original concept junked and the experience gone. But hey, the studio gets to make twice as much from ticket sales.
Film is highlighted by two memorable, magnetic climatic car crash-and-chase scenes in both segments, with superb stuntwork and nail-biting tension. Things seem more intense this time around, perhaps because the characters (especially in the second half) are fleshed out a bit more, or perhaps because we jump right into the movie (Tarantino´s film was the second in the 3+ hour Grindhouse). Russell is a lot of fun, Zoe Bell (an accomplished stuntwoman) is a revelation, and Tarantino handles everything so masterfully that we don´t mind spending much of the film listening to twenty-something female dialogue. And it still precisely replicates ‘70s drive-in fodder; but this time around, the irony is gone. Death Proof is not a knowing throwback to Gone in 60 Seconds or Dirty Mary Crazy Larry, it´s an almost an exact duplicate of these and other drive-in films. And it works perfectly in these regards, for those who can enjoy traditional exploitation fare without winks and nods from the filmmakers.
A look at famed children´s author Beatrix Potter, Chris Noonan´s Miss Potter is a smooth and affectionate tale though it´s never a definitive portrait of it´s subject. Film covers a brief portion of Potter´s life from 1902-06, from her first book ‘The Tale of Peter Rabbit´ produced with Norman Warne (Ewan McGregor) to her independence from mother and father and country life as an unlikely environmentalist. Inevitable tragedy will likely come as a shock to those who aren´t familiar with Potter´s life; the first half of the film is so saccharine we can´t imagine anything bad could possibly happen. Zellweger is affecting but never quite disappears into the role of Potter; it´s a fine performance, but the actress seems to overshadow her role. The rest of the cast is excellent, particularly McGregor, Emily Watson as his sister and Potter´s friend, and Bill Paterson as Potter´s father. It´s all entertaining on a Hollywood biopic scale, moving while never feeling manipulative, and will leave many reaching for tissues by the end. But the look at Beatrix Potter and her work isn´t as in-depth as one might hope for (a short running time doesn´t help), and the film never quite gets across just how important her books have become.
Listless sequel to the uninspired original, this Fantastic Four flick piles money on top of by-the-numbers script to produce a nice-looking, colossal bore. Underwhelming key cast returns as the less-than-fantastic Four, with only Chris Evans´ Human Torch coming close to getting the character right. He, Ioan Gruffudd´s mild Mr. Fantastic, Jessica Alba´s unconvincing Invisible Woman, and Michael Chiklis’ broad Thing join forces with the US government and the evil Doctor Doom to investigate the mysterious Silver Surfer and prevent the world from being destroyed. Supporting cast is mostly sub-par; Julian McMahon is terribly bland as Doctor Doom and Kerry Washington is (I´m sorry) awful as Alicia Masters, playing blind with all the subtlety of a Saturday morning cartoon. The titular Silver Surfer, played by Doug Jones and voiced by Laurence Fishburne, looks good and is the best thing about the movie; when he´s captured and loses his powers halfway through, the film plods through to a weak conclusion. The lack of any kind of visual for Galactus, the world-devouring threat in the film, is another major disappointment. At least failures like Hulk and Superman Returns tried to give us something unique and spectacular; these first two Fantastic Four films – much like Mark Steven Johnson´s compromised Daredevil – have been instantly forgettable junk food items that don´t do justice to the iconic characters they contain.