Now Playing: Stuff you've probably already forgotten
THE DEVIL'S REJECTS (2005, Rob Zombie)- turns out Zombie can direct a movie after all, if this scruffy, violent thrill ride is any indication. Perhaps it took a guy who is more famous as a musician to make a film this unapologetic, amoral and unironic in its violence- since it's not beholden to Hollywood for his livelihood, he's free to crank everything up to 11, be it the story, the gore, or the performances (in particular the snarling indignation of William Forsythe). What's miraculous, then, is that the film is as good as it is- not for everyone, certainly, but surely good for anyone who grooves on a movie with a title like "The Devil's Rejects." The film also works as a kind of corrective to the romanticized "young-hot-fugitives" genre propagated by films like BONNIE AND CLYDE- why are the Firefly family's actions reprehensible, while Bonnie and Clyde became counterculture heroes? Could it possibly have anything to do with the fact that Bonnie and Clyde were played by Dunaway and Beatty whereas the Fireflys are dentally-challenged rednecks? The final scene is a kind of masterpiece, rescuing "Freebird" from a thousand classic rock stations and turning it into the keenest re-examining of an old song since Tarantino found his Nancy Sinatra albums. Rating: ***.
BAD NEWS BEARS (2005, Richard Linkater)- think the original BNB mashed together with BAD SANTA, and you've got it. Often very funny, but doesn't really feel like Linklater until the final reel, when the heroes [SPOILER FOR THOSE WHO HAVEN'T SEEN THE ORIGINAL] commit to having fun and losing their way. Of contemporary American directors, maybe only Linklater could make a movie this enjoyable and still disappoint. Rating: **1/2.
HUSTLE AND FLOW (2005, Craig Brewer)- between this and DEVIL'S REJECTS, 70s-inspired cinema is out in force. The film's feel for the broken-down dirty south setting (strippers who don't look like models, two-tone cars, lots of sweat- and not movie-sweat either) makes the story feel almost secondary, but for such a formulaic plot- pimp dreams of being a rapper- it still works. I also enjoyed the unhurried feel of the recording-session scenes, in which the characters gradually hammer away at the music to create a finished song. Terence Howard is as good as you've heard here, particularly in his scene with Ludacris (I love the moment where he hangs back for a minute to smoke a cigarette before switching conversational gears), but the whole cast is effective. Also, the sexual politics are something less than cool, but when you're watching a movie about a pimp-turned-rapper, you don't expect political correctness. Rating: **1/2.
DONKEY SKIN (1970, Jacques Demy)- as Stults said, "the more Demy I see, the more canonical he gets." Even within the framework of a fairy tale, the film manages to be absurdly funny, full of the rough edges that get smoothed down by Disney and other American purveyors of "kiddie movies"- the incest plot, the donkey that "expels" jewels, and so on. I also love the repeated nods to Cocteau, from the "future poems" read by Cocteau regular Jean Marais (playing the widowed king) to the doozy of a non sequitur that comes at the film's climax. Some critics have complained about Deneuve's performance, but I liked the heightened theatricality of it- she plays the sheltered princess as an archetype rather than a fully-rounded person, which works in the film's favor, especially in bizarre moments like her duet... with herself. Views of several of France's most beautiful chateaus are icing on the love-cake. Rating: ***1/2.
DIARY OF A LOST GIRL (1929, G.W. Pabst)- not quite as awesome as PANDORA'S BOX, but even more sordid, as we follow run the gamut with Louise Brooks here, from virginal youth to pregnant daughter to reform-school girl to prostitute to respectable woman. What makes the film shocking is how unapologetic Brooks becomes about her sexuality by the end- even today, most Hollywood movies shy away from sexually-frank women, prefering to cast them as prostitute or edgy bad girls like Angelina Jolie. Also interesting to see how Pabst accomodated Brooks' trademark black hair into the style, avoiding any other use of the color until a funeral late in the film. Rating: ***1/2.
MARTIN (1977, George A. Romero)- a wicked piece of work, this, focusing on a young man who seems convinced that he's a vampire, despite his lack of fangs. Martin is a compelling character because he's so awkward socially, and his drinking the blood of others is the only real opportunity he gets to connect, which is not to say that the film excuses it, but merely sympathizes with his plight. It's entirely possible that he might not even be a vampire at all, but from a young age he has been told that he is, and his life has been shaped accordingly. Several awesome set pieces, with my favorite being a late-night home invasion by Martin that yields an unpleasant surprise. This film is proof positive that there's more to Romero than the DEAD movies. Rating: ***1/2.
PRINCE OF DARKNESS (1987, John Carpenter)- in which Carpenter creates a supernatural thriller from little more than a tank of green liquid, some mirrors, and an old church. The film is almost goofy in spots- as when the demonic liquid squirts out of people's mouths- but that's part of the charm. I'm convinced that, if Satan were to return to Earth, it would probably happen more like this than the way it does in movies like THE EXORCIST. The film also works almost like a cautionary tale of how matters of faith aren't to be treated lightly- scientists are called in to investigate strange goings-on, and the ones who perish are the ones who shrug them off and try to walk away. Favorite moment: Walter, trapped in a closet by two possessed colleagues, tries to keep them at bay with a bad Jewish-mother joke. Rating: ***.