Brainstorm will always have a reputation–among those who are familiar with it at all–as a film maudit. Casual film buffs know it as the sci-fi picture Natalie Wood was shooting when she drowned at the age of 43, under circumstances that remain clouded by mystery. Some of them know that it was one of only two narrative features (Silent Running being the other) directed by special-effects genius Douglas Trumbull, whose work on 2001: A Space Odyssey, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and Blade Runner is the stuff of legend. Real movie nerds remember that Brainstorm was intended by its director to be one of those landmarks that forever changes the future of film–like The Jazz Singer debuting sync sound, Becky Sharp employing three-strip Technicolor, or The Robe introducing CinemaScope. As a movie partly about the afterlife, it is a weird kind of eulogy to Natalie Wood, yes, but it also memorializes Trumbull’s enduring dream of a new breed of cinema that would make moving images more likelife, and more mind-expanding, than any photographic process that had come before.
Neither as resolutely crass nor as offensively sexist as buzz might suggest, Hall Pass is pretty much what you’d expect of a remarriage comedy from the conservative Farrelly Brothers – a dopey but earnest endorsement of monogamy. Here, they cast Owen Wilson and Jason Sudeikis as Rick and Fred, 40ish suburban horndogs of the stripe that fantasize about the vigorous sex lives they might be enjoying had they remained single. Jenna Fischer and Christina Applegate are the wives who tolerate their ogling, childishness, and other dopey dudebro behavior, eventually issuing them hall passes in hopes of getting the overtly raffish behavior out of their systems.
Certified Copy, which opens on a lecture consigning the concept of originality in art to the Academy of the Overrated, is an awesomely playful intellectual romance (or is it a farce?) from the great Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami. When I say playful, I mean confounding in the manner of Last Year at Marienbad, which basically dared viewers to say which competing, contradictory story threads represented real events in the film’s world. I mean bewildering in the style of Bunuel’s That Obscure Object of Desire, which had two different actresses playing a single character. And when I say that, what I really mean is that it’s a bracingly reflexive exercise that flouts basic rules of narrative cinema and manages to come out ahead of the game.
When Hollywood types assimilate exploitation tropes and tactics, they start concocting films like Obsessed, in which Skinny White Bitch Ali Larter runs seriously afoul of Virtuous Black Woman Beyoncé Knowles by throwing herself at Good Husband Idris Elba. In fact, Obsessed is less a movie than it is a marketing plan, calculated to snare audiences entranced by its whiff of sex, celebrity, and dysfunctional race relations.
The American horror movie, so vital in the 1970s, is still enjoying its recent and long-running resurgence in popularity, although the market is glutted with skillful but unambitious exercises in nihilism (The Strangers, the Final Destination series) and dull rehashes of existing horror properties (examples are too numerous to mention, but the recent My Bloody Valentine and Friday the 13th reboots are basically what I’m talking about). So with the whole genre keeping a safe distance from anything like risk or relevance, it’s a relief to see a movie like Orphan, which is on fucking point from its very first scene. If you’ve seen the trailers and TV spots, you know that Orphan is ostensibly the story of a very bad little girl. But this film is really about Kate Coleman (Vera Farmiga), a very sad Connecticut Mom who was profoundly traumatized by the stillbirth of her third child, and it opens with a harrowing nightmare sequence that begins with Kate going into labor, making her way to the hospital, etc. Events on screen quickly turn gruesome. It’s an effective horror-movie gambit. If the film is this unhinged from the first reel, the audience wonders where else the director might be willing to go before it’s over.
It’s less than 10 minutes into Riptide, and already Norma Shearer is decked out in insect-woman garb, adjusting the fit of the skimpy costume and complaining that part of it must surely be missing. Mary, the easygoing city girl Shearer plays, never makes it to the masquerade ball scheduled out on Long Island. Instead, she falls easily in lust with a lonely New York swell named Lord Philip Rexford (Herbert Marshall), equally ridiculous in an unrecognizable bug costume that fits him like a suit of chain mail might, if chain mail came with bug eyes a pair of antennae. As meet cutes go, it’s a terrific pre-Code absurdity — the movie hasn’t even begun yet, and already the leading lady is half undressed.
First, the obvious. Made of Honor is what’s generally known as a “chick flick.” I’m not totally comfortable deploying that term,
especially in its usual derogatory, casually-sexist usage–but in a purely descriptive and possibly cynical sense, that’s what we have here. It’s a love story, featuring a conventionally handsome leading man (Patrick Dempsey) playing opposite a conventionally pretty woman (Michelle Monaghan) whose character is engaged to marry the conventionally wrong guy (blond Scot Kevin McKidd). It’s directed by a man (Paul Weiland), although to its credit there is a woman prominently involved (co-writer Deborah Kaplan), and it’s designed from the bottom up to appeal to undemanding female filmgoers.