Thursday, April 01, 2004

A Few New DVD Review Blurbs

Since the Full Frame Documentary Film Fest in Durham is starting today, I thought we’d kick off these blurbs with a highly recommended new release documentary DVD: 

(Dir. Andrew Jarecki, 2003)

At first, Andrew Jarecki’s debut documentary comes across like a modern reality-TV influenced update of Kurasawa's RASHOMON, but then it unfolds into something completely different to quote a beloved British comedy troop who themselves are quoted in this fascinating film.

Concerning a Long Island family getting torn apart when accusations of child molestation are directed at the patriarch, formally respected teacher Arnold Friedman, this film uses tons of home movie footage and video mostly shot by son David Friedman. It's an endlessly involving myriad of allegations and defenses that lingers long after the film is over.

The DVD's second disc is full of just as involving bonus material, most interestingly the featurette “Altercation at New York Premiere” and the short “Just A Clown,” which was Jarecki’s original film about clowns hired for children's parties. It was while making that film, that Jarecki came across David Freidman - one of New York's most popular clowns for children's parties - and learning the Friedman family's intriguing yet confusing story. 

CAPTURING THE FRIEDMANS can be seen as an alternate AN AMERICAN FAMILY (the pioneering 1973 PBS reality series about the Loud Family) with a much darker truth within.

GOTHIKA (Dir. Mathieu Kassovitz, 2003) 

For Christ's sake, when is this trend of thrillers in which a supernatural force guides somebody to solving a murder going to freakin' end? Halle Berry heads a great cast (Charles Dutton, Robert Downey Jr, John Carroll Lynch) through a movie nightmare of psycho gibberish. To get the plot, if you could actually call it that, straight - Berry is a prison psychiatrist who wakes up after an automobile accident to find she's accused of murdering her husband and that she's jailed in the same prison she worked at. 

Berry can only remember flashes of imagery surrounding her accident and has no idea what really happened at the scene of the crime. Flashes of imagery and screeched dialogue are the only things I remember after viewing this badly named maze of contrivances. Now, the MONSTER'S BALL Oscar winner is a very talented actress, and a gorgeous woman, so it's easy to get somewhat caught up in this silliness for a bit, but in the end you'll hardly feel this is time spent well.

The darkness of the prison does little to shadow obvious plot points coming, the murky jarring music (sounding a bit like the staccato whale sounds in STAR TREK IV) tells us when we are supposed to be scared or at least pay more attention and when it's stated in the first 10 minutes that the security center's electrical system is faulty with the lights occasionally going out, I don't know anyone anywhere that would not consider that a extremely contrived convenience. 

GOTHIKA is bad as you'd think Limp Bizcuit covering the Who's "Behind Blue Eyes" would be, and that's featured on the soundtrack.

SHATTERED GLASS (Dir. Billy Ray, 2003)

In the true story of New Republic writer Stephen Glass, who had fabricated much information and sometimes entire articles back in the '90s, Hayden Christiansen proves that he actually can act. No joke, Christiansen is way more convincing as a sniveling whiny man-child caught with his hand in the proverbial cookie jar than a Jedi in 2 (soon to be 3) misguided STAR WARS prequels.

Peter Sarsgaard as Glass's harried editor is the voice of reason in this tale, despite the fact that he barely says anything until the storm really starts a-brewing. When Glass's fraud is found out by way of sources who were quoted proven to be fake, reports of committees holding conferences exposed as false, and a website a non-existent software company is suspected of being created after the fact, true human nature also comes out of hiding.

Although there's great work by the cast (including Steve Zahn and Rosario Dawson as webzine reporters who investigate Glass's work), the story really is the star here, and what a star it is. Funny how a movie about lies is actually one of the most accurate "true stories" to get an run (albeit limited) on the silver screen. Go figure.

Dr. SEUSS' THE CAT IN THE HAT (Dir. Bo Welch, 2003) 

You've probably heard this was awful, but it's far worse than you could possibly imagine. Mike Myers brings nothing new to the the famous Dr. Suess character;  he just shows up with his ratty bag of over used tricks. 

Obviously, this is a cash-in after the success of the Jim Carrey GRINCH movie which was bad as well but still superior to this catastrophe. Pun intended. 

I'm not going to go into the plot or tell you about production values or how painful it is to see talented actors like Alec Baldwin and Sean Hayes humiliated in this brightly colored crap. I'm just going to give you this example of the humor in this movie:

Conrad: (jumping up and down on the couch) It's like being in a circus! 
Cat in the Hat: Yeah, but without those tortured animals or drunken clowns that have hepatitis! 

And that's one of the better one liners. The only good news I have to report here is 1. It's only 78 minutes long. 2. Because it was a massive flop (budget : $109 million. US box office gross: $38 million) it is unlikely we will have to suffer further lame ive action film forays into the work of Dr. Suess. 3. Uh, I guess there's only 2 good things to report. 

As pointless as the Paris Hilton cameo (I mean who in the target audience would that mean anything to?) this is definitely a contender for a list of worse children's movies ever. Do yourself a favor take the kids to a circus. The tortured animals and drunk clowns with hepatitis will surely provide more wit and entertainment than anything under this hat.

More later...

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