Now in Cinemas: Reviews for July 5, 2007

Now in Cinemas: Reviews for July 5, 2007

Reviews by Jason Pirodsky
for Expats.cz

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.



Death Proof
Rating:
Written and Directed by Quentin Tarantino. Kurt Russell, Rosario Dawson, Vanessa Ferlito, Jordan Ladd, Rose McGowan, Sydney Tamiia Poitier, Tracie Thoms, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Zoe Bell.
Showtimes
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Surprisingly, with Tarantino´s Death Proof, we have a better standalone film than what was presented in Grindhouse. Twenty minutes have been added to the proceedings, with two extended scenes in particular dramatically improving the proceedings. Film grain inserted to make the film look older has been removed. And what was presented in Grindhouse as a “missing reel” has been re-inserted to the delight of many male audience members. The film is presented in two entirely separate acts, which follow two separate groups of young women: the first (Vanessa Ferlito, Jordan Ladd, Rose McGowan, and Sydney Poitier) suffer at the crazed vehicular hands of Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell) and his ‘death-proof´ car; the second (Rosario Dawson, Tracie Thoms, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and Zoe Bell) gets some revenge.

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.

***

Miss Potter
Rating:
Directed by Chris Noonan. Starring Renée Zellweger, Ewan McGregor, Emily Watson, Barbara Flynn, Bill Paterson, Matyelok Gibbs, Lloyd Owen, Anton Lesser, David Bamber. Written by Richard Maltby Jr.
Showtimes
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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.

***

Ocean’s Thirteen
Rating:
Directed by Steven Soderbergh. Starring George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Elliot Gould, Al Pacino, Bernie Mac, Don Cheadle, Casey Affleck, Eddie Jemison, Scott Caan, Shaobo Qin, Carl Reiner, Eddie Izzard, Ellen Barkin, Julian Sands, David Paymer, Vincent Cassell, Andy Garcia. Written by Brian Koppelman & David Levien, based on characters created by George Clayton Johnson and Jack Golden Russell.
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They´re not even trying anymore, and yet a lazy, inconsequential Ocean´s Thirteen easily bests the previous two Danny Ocean movies. Director Soderbergh is no longer trying to please us, no longer desperate to be “cool”; much like Gene Siskel´s barometer for a film (is the movie as interesting as watching a documentary with the same actors sitting around having dinner would be?), here we watch the cast sit around for two hours and the film thrives on nothing but their charm. This time around we have Willie Bank (Al Pacino) as the baddie; after he screws Reuben Tishkoff (Elliot Gould) on a casino deal, Clooney, Pitt, Damon & co. jump into action to enact revenge. The plot of the heist – which is designed simply to cause Bank to look bad – is so complicated and ridiculous (involving boring machines, earthquakes, and a revolt by Mexican factory workers) that we no longer care; we know a twist with an explanation awaits us at the end anyway. Most of the cast is given nothing to do (I´m guessing Eddie Izzard is intended to be Ocean´s thirteenth, but he seems to be lost in the background for the majority of the movie) but hang around and wait for a brief scene in which they´re called into action. Even Clooney and Pitt have their most memorable moments watching & discussing Oprah. Julia Roberts and Catherine Zeta-Jones are completely absent from the proceedings, but – to be honest – they aren´t really missed. Yet it´s still fun watching these actors have a good time; Clooney and Pitt have charm to spare even if they´re still no match for Newman and Redford, and Pacino is delightful as Bank.

***

Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer
Rating:
Directed by Tim Story. Starring Ioan Gruffudd, Jessica Alba, Chris Evans, Michael Chiklis, Julian McMahon, Kerry Washington, Andre Braugher, Laurence Fishburne, Doug Jones, Beau Garrett. Written by Don Payne and Mark Frost, from a story by John Turman and Mark Forst, based on characters by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.
Showtimes
IMDb link

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.


Jason Pirodsky

Hailing from Syracuse, New York, Jason Pirodsky made his way to Prague via Miami and has stuck around, for better and worse, since 2004. A member of the Online Film Critics Society (www.ofcs.org), some of his favorite movies include O Lucky Man!, El Topo, Berlin Alexanderplatz, and Hellzapoppin'. Follow him on Twitter for some (slightly) more concise reviews.

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