by Tim Van Schmidt
Hide and Seek ***
A creepy story of a twisted mind.
Directed by John Polson…2005…100 min…featuring Robert De Niro, Dakota Fanning, Famke Janssen, Elisabeth Shue, Amy Irving, Dylan Baker, Melissa Leo, Robert John Burke, Molly Grant Kallins, David Chandler, Stewart Summers, Jake Dylan Baumer.
One for the Money: The Birth of Rock & Roll ***
A documentary about the first years of rock and roll, hitting the highlights with contemporary interview material, critical comment, stock footage and stills.
2005…58 min…featuring Glen Campbell, Bo Diddley, Carl Perkins, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Frankie Lymon, Ricky Nelson, Bill Haley, Big Joe Turner, Comets.
Mrs. Harris ***
There’s nothing normal about the relationships in this movie, so the outcome is not shocking whatsoever- that is, manslaughter, at best, or deranged murder, depending on how the real events went. But who cares? There is nothing pleasant about this mock documentary directed by Phyllis Nagy. It’s limited by its subject- the tortured relationship between the author of the Scarsdale Diet book- a cold, voracious womanizer- and his frazzled, obsessed wife. You kind of want to get rid of these people yourself by the time it’s over. Ben Kingsley appears as Dr Herman Tarnower…Annette Benning as Jean Harris…also featuring Cloris Leachman, Ellen Burstyn…1 hr 34 min…2005.
Aeon Flux ***
The first movie experience of 2011 was chillingly appropriate. “Aeon Flux” starts with an intro that explains that in 2011, a killer virus wipes out most of humanity. Four hundred years later, the surviving human population grapples with unnerving physiological and psychological problems while living in a well-protected, super-controlled city. The problems have created a rift between the population and the longtime rulers, rebels openly challenging their authority.
“Aeon Flux” is a very cool looking movie and includes plenty of futuristic settings and more- a very subtle but effective ambiance. Everybody in the movie maintains a static kind of presence, echoing the basic ache the people are experiencing- a frustrating feeling that a lot is missing. The costuming is very effective, especially the skin-tight outfits worn by featured actress Charlize Theron. Even the hair-styling works to suspend disbelief. Other elements- like the assassin with hands replacing feet, razor blades rising out of the grass and the floating ship that contains the population’s DNA- add to the effort to create an otherworldly future. Very smart direction.
Directed by Karyn Kusama…2005…93 min…featuring Charlize Theron (as Aeon Flux,) Marton Csokas (as Trevor Goodchild,) Jonny Lee Miller (as Oren Goodchild,) Sophie Okonedo (as Sithandra,) Frances McDormand, Pete Postlethwaite, Amerlia Warner (as Una Flux,) Caroline Chikezie, Nikolai Kinski
Don Cheadle…Djimon Hounsou, Nick Nolte, Joaquin Phoenix…directed by Terry George…MGM 2005…2 hr 2 min
Their Eyes Were Watching God ***
This Oprah Winfried production tells the story of a black Southern woman and her relationships, from being married early to a grizzled old farmer to being the wife of an all-black town mayor to being a lover of a shiftless laborer. Period clothing and settings create a richly textured background for this history of the woman’s restless nature and those she loves and leaves. Halle Berry stars and finds peace only when floating in the river, looking up through the trees to “watch God.” Otherwise, this is a story of churning passions and unsatisfied emotions. Ruben Satiago-Hudson also stars. (Videotaped television broadcast.)
Fantastic Four ***
An outer space experiment goes awry and all five of the characters aboard a space station are exposed to a solar storm that changes their DNA. This effects each person differently, physically and emotionally. Four become heroes and one becomes their enemy in this action feature.
What makes this movie work above and beyond the action are the exchanges between the four characters who become the super-hero team, the Fantastic Four. They are a “typical” family unit despite their powers and they engage in a lot of arguing and backbiting. While this element has been criticized as being a fault in the movie, I found these character development efforts to be the glue to the production.
Still, there are plenty of special effects at work in “Fantastic Four.” From the elastic nature of Mr. Fantastic’s body and the fiery flights of the Human Torch to the Thing’s concrete-smashing brute force, there’s plenty to look at in between family squabbles.
Directed by Tim Story…2005…106 min…featuring loan Gruffudd (as Reed Richards,) Jessica Alba (as Sue Storm,) Chris Evans (as Johnny Storm,) Michael Chiklis (as Ben Grimm,) Julian McMahon (as Victor von Doom.)
War of the Worlds ***
Awesome special effects prop up a thin script in this reworking of HG Wells’ classic invasion story where an alien race begins its long-planned assault on Earth. It’s all told from the point of view of a regular blue collar guy, divorced and selfish, who struggles through a landscape of death and destruction to get his kids back to his ex-wife.
Director Steven Spielberg is an expert at creating flashy, slick action sequences and this movie is full of them. In some ways, these sequences are too slick. Despite the level of destruction, for example, the main characters are able to drive out of the city by simply swerving around stuck and abandoned cars. A plane crash occurs while the characters are holed up in a basement, yet their car is untouched by the carnage around it and they, again, just drive off. Hundreds of refugees crowd onto a slow-moving ferry that gets capsized by an alien machine and once again, despite the wreckage, the characters just end up swimming away. Terrible things happen on the screen, but somehow the characters always escape.
Still, even if you cannot suspend belief in reality, the action is impressive. When the first of the alien machines rises from underground in the middle of the city, the cracking pavement and busting buildings ably define the horror that is to follow. The scenes of people being instantly vaporized by the alien machines’ heat rays bring the destruction down to an individual level.
If there is a serious element to this movie, other than the basics of survival, it would be the impulse of the teenage son to want to fight the aliens. He is so compelled to do so that he rushes to the front line of the “war,” only to witness the ineffectiveness of all that human fire-power against the aliens. Added to this is the character who takes in the father and daughter to hide in his basement. Despite his sanity going haywire, this character expresses a bold resolve to resist the extermination efforts of the aliens. All of this speaks to the human spirit that does not want to give up, even in the face of insurmountable odds.
However, it is not this heroism that stops the invasion- it’s just dumb, natural luck.
Directed by Steven Spielberg…2005…116 min…featuring Tom Cruise, Dakota Fanning, Miranda Otto, Justin Chatwin, Tim Robbins, Gene Barry.
Alien Apocalypse ***
I don’t know what’s more fun here- the cheesy special effects- watch out for exploding heads!- or Bruce Campbell’s constant wisecracking. It’s a spoof!
Directed by Josh Becker…2005…88 min…Bruce Campbell, Renee O’Connor.
Land of the Dead ***
Directed by George A Romero…2005…93 min…featuring John Leguizamo, Asia Argento, Simon Baker, Dennis Hopper.