Saturday, March 25, 2006

Movies opening this week

Inside Man (Denzel Washington, Clive Owen, Jodie Foster, Chiwetel Ejiofor, dir. Spike Lee)
Lee delivers the most mainstream film of his career with this slick heist thriller that takes a clever but flawed script and turns it into a fascinating portrait of the melting pot of New York City. I usually hate movies where the camera can’t stop moving, but Lee uses fluid and kinetic camerawork to capture the tension and chaos of a bank robbery, as well as the resentments seething just under the surface of the interactions between people of various races. Along with the sadly underrated 25th Hour, this movie finds Lee becoming the most pointed chronicler of post-9/11 New York. Forget all the 9/11-inspired movies to come - what Lee has done in his two films is not directly respond to the event, but depict the way that life has changed (and the way it's stayed the same) as the backdrop to telling stories that are fascinating on their own.

The cast here is phenomenal – Foster finally proves herself worthy of the comeback she’s attempting – and the direction is assured and precise. The plot sort of falls apart in the last 20 minutes, when everything gets overexplained, only to make it more confusing. Even if the story is lacking, though, the rest of it is pitch-perfect. Wide release

Unknown White Male (documentary, dir. Rupert Murray)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
I think this is one of the best movies of the year so far and an early contender for the best documentary, and I'm bothered by reviewers who seem to be giving it negative reviews based solely on the fact that they think it's a hoax. I don't see how you can simply assume - without concrete evidence - that the movie is fake, and then pan it based primarily on that. Now, I'm not saying that it's not possible that the movie is fabricated, but unless some hard proof is uncovered, it's really unfair to review a movie based on extraneous rumor and speculation rather than the actual content of the film. Of course it's more moving as a true story, but at the same time, as Manohla Dargis notes, even if it's fake it's still quite an affecting and accomplished bit of filmmaking. Opened limited Feb. 24; in Las Vegas this week


Reel Fanatic said...

Good blog ... Agree with you about frenetic camera work, but looking forward to seeing Inside Man later today

Katie said...

Wait, Josh, I'm surprised! You hated Crash but you liked the race commentary in Inside Man? That part of the script felt pure Crash-lite to me (and don't get me wrong, I wasn't a big Crash fan.) I'm not convinced that Inside Man says anything of substance about post-9/11 New York-- it just happens to take place in post-9/11 New York. And the bank robbery hostages felt like "types" to me (compare with Dog Day Afternoon, where the characters, for all their one-liners, are much harder to reduce or label.) I agree that Lee's direction is assured (even if it annoyed me at times) and I think the acting is the best thing about it. But the movie and its plot twists just didn't seem to add up to much. What did I miss?

On the other hand-- reading your comments & review, I really want to see Unknown White Male. I'll have to keep an eye out for it.

Josh said...

I don't necessarily think that what Lee was doing was race commentary per se so much as simply depicting the chaotic melting pot of types in NYC, and the way that sometimes people live right up to those types. Unlike Crash, what was great about Inside Man was that it didn't hit you over the head with any of the race stuff, or the post-9/11 stuff. I think you're right that it just happens to take place in post-9/11 NY, and to me that's exactly what Lee is saying - this is how things are now, we're not going to dwell on it or lecture you about it, but it's clearly there in the background.

And, yeah, the plot twists didn't add up to much, which is why I found the last 20 minutes or so pretty disappointing. But until then I thought it was suspenseful, wonderfully acted, beautifully shot, smart and even funny. Basically just really good entertainment, which is exactly what Hollywood should be delivering.

Unknown White Male is awesome. Don't miss it.