This was no college like I ever attended! Take three typical high-school seniors--the nerd (Kevin Covais) the good-looking Regular Guy (Drake Bell) and the hell-for-leather go-for-broke Horny Fat Guy (Andy Caldwell)--and let them loose during freshman orientation at fictional Fieldmont University. Just add beer marijuana and wild sex and you’ve got what may well be a new Frat House Classic one that adheres studiously to the tenets of the teen-comedy genre which also includes defying authority and destruction of public property. When it comes to the so-called “guilty pleasures” of 2008 this makes the Dean’s List. Like any good college hangover you’ll hate yourself in the morning--but you’ll still be laughing. Credit an enthusiastic cast and a refreshing (but quite appropriate) disregard for the rules. Drake Bell (of Nickelodeon’s Drake and Josh fame) who looks far too old to be contemplating a college career is ostensibly the leading man here. Yet the principal selling point of the film is the onscreen camaraderie between he and co-stars Caldwell who plays it full-tilt a la John Belushi and Chris Farley (and that is meant as a compliment) but holds back enough when the ensemble demands require and Covais who all but steals the film with a smart shrewd take on the big-screen geek. A good deal of the film’s energy can be traced directly to them. The whole show is the three boys and they have a great easy rapport that transcends many of the worst trappings of a film like this. They feel like friends and that goes a very long way in a film that in some ways doesn’t deserve so rich an effort but benefits from it nonetheless. College marks the feature debut of director Deb Hagan who manages at times to give the film a fresh visual perspective while maintaining a relaxed but steady momentum. College is neither original nor good but it is enjoyable (far more so than would be expected) and it is fast-paced. It also delivers exactly what it promises. If it’s bang for the buck you want it’s bang for the buck you got when you enroll in College.
Although Tokyo Drift may not be as straightforward as the first Fast and Furious it is at least more credible than the second incorporating a nice fish-out-of-water element to its story. High schooler Sean Boswell (Lucas Black) loves to street race but unfortunately it gets him into a lot of trouble. After his latest stunt it’s either go live with his estranged military father stationed in Tokyo or go to jail. Sushi sounds nice. Once there however it doesn’t take long for Sean to be introduced to the underground world of drift racing by his new American buddy Twinkie (Bow Wow)--and boy does Sean get hooked. It’s perfect for his rebel style. But it doesn’t come easy to him. He has to put in his dues first and inevitably as rebels are wont to do ends up rubbing the some of the local drift-racing denizens the wrong way including D.K. (Brian Tee) the reigning champ who has ties to a Japanese crime syndicate. That’s OK though. Sean will win the race and get the girl no worries. Oh sorry did I give too much away? Many of you might remember Black as the cute but tough little kid Billy Bob Thornton’s Karl befriends in Sling Blade. But now all grown up the actor is definitely becoming a likable screen hunk with turns in films like Jarhead and Friday Night Lights. Obviously the comparisons to Fast and Furious regular Paul Walker are expected but Black definitely has his own style and charisma thanks to that distinctive Southern drawl. Bow Wow is a tad under utilized as the relegated sidekick while the token girl part is played by the bland but beautiful newcomer Nathalie Kelley. Sean’s adversary Tee (TV’s Zoey 101) is pretty badass though and Sung Kang (Better Luck Tomorrow) does a nice job as a smooth drift racer and small-time hood who is more sympathetic towards Sean. Veteran Japanese actor Sonny Chiba (Kill Bill Vol. 1) makes a memorable appearance as D.K.’s nefarious uncle. But make sure you stay until the end for a well-placed--and crowd pleasing--surprise guest cameo. So what is drift racing exactly? According to the notes it’s an exhilarating balance of speeding and gliding through a heart-stopping course of hairpin turns and switchbacks. Whatever the definition it looks pretty darn cool up on the big screen. Director Justin Lin (Better Luck Tomorrow) gives us some exhilarating racing sequences going from close-up cuts to slo-mo shots as cars zip flip glide and burn as much rubber as possible. One particular scene has the guys racing through the streets of Tokyo in which they have to drift their way through a large crowd of people. Seat-clenching stuff. Lin also does a fine job showing Japanese culture and how street racing is treated there. At one point Sean passes some cops going 197 mph. Wondering why they aren’t chasing him his Japanese passenger explains that since he was going so fast the Toyko police won’t even try to chase him because they know they’d never catch up. Wouldn’t that be nice? Oh and there’s a disclaimer at the end: All the racing done in the movie was handled by professional stunt drivers and we shouldn’t attempt to do any of this on our own. You mean I can’t drive home from the theater drifting around the cars on the highway? Darn my luck!
Halle Berry stars as Dr. Miranda Grey a well liked and respected psychotherapist happily married to the beloved head of the psychiatric ward at an old damp women's penitentiary (Charles S. Dutton). One stormy night taking a detour on her drive home she's involved in a terrifying encounter with a young girl that causes her car to go off the road and the impact of the crash knocks Miranda out cold. She wakes up on the wrong side of a Plexiglas cell door in the very prison where she and her husband work (apparently this the only prison in the state) to find her husband's been killed and she is the prime suspect in his gruesome murder. With no memory of the past few days she is confined alongside her former patients like the Satan-paranoid Chloe (Penelope Cruz) and scrutinized by her once-flirtatious coworker Dr. Graham (Robert Downey Jr.). Miranda insists she didn't kill her husband but quickly starts to doubt her own sanity when a violent force from the not-so-sweet hereafter turns her into a Spirit World conduit. Meanwhile the good doctor wants desperately to prove her sane and innocent even as unseen forces bizarre sightings and bad lines get in the way.
You can practically see Berry's slight shoulders hunching under the weight of this oppressive wet flapdoodle of a psycho-mystic mystery that has The Ring written all over it. Berry gets the baffled/terrified/uncontrollable prisoner thing right says "Shit!" a lot and gets plenty of screen time to flesh out her character (no not THAT kind of flesh; she's drenched in the shower and submerged in the swimming pool but Berry never once pulls a Swordfish). Still cute after years of hard living Downey Jr. as Miranda's skeptical doctor ably smarms his way in and out of scenes in which he says little but raises much doubt about his true motivations--just one of several intriguing concepts abandoned in the face of a progressively trite storyline and escalating hoo-haw. Where it all just goes wrong--so so wrong--is in Cruz's greasy raving crackbird who shrieks lines like "He opened me like a flower of paaaain!" while trying to convince Miranda the Devil rapes her nightly in her cell.
Auteur Mathieu Kassovitz admirably sets the stage for a spooky thriller in the massive turn-of-the-century St. Vincent-de-Paul Prison an abandoned maximum-security facility near Montreal that serves as his women's prison. The setting is the only part of the film that holds any interest--it almost develops a life of its own which is more than can be said of the characters. Though Kassovitz resorts to Horror 101 (flickering lights suddenly appearing figures things that go bump in the night) these elements inspire dread and trigger a jolt regardless. So if the setting is suitably hair-raising the first few scenes effectively suck you in and the acting is passable what's the problem? Screenwriter Sebastian Gutierrez's script that's what. After an auspicious start the film drowns in nonsense and plot holes the size of which rival Michael Jackson's legal troubles until finally sinking like a stone with a truly pedestrian and ridiculous finale that unravels any interesting question raised in the two hours prior followed by a real howler of a denouement. "I don't believe in ghosts but they believe in me " says Miranda. Sorry we don't believe a bit of Gothika.
Based on the best-selling novel by Diane Johnson Le Divorce gives a rather uninteresting take on the classic American-in-Paris theme. Fresh off the plane from sunny California Isabel Walker (Kate Hudson) arrives in Paris to stay with her expatriate and pregnant sister Roxanne (Naomi Watts) who has just been dumped by her French husband Charles-Henri de Persand (Melvil Poupaud). While helping her brooding sister get through a very difficult--and very French--divorce Isabel manages to also embark on her own fling with Charles-Henri's older uncle Edgar (Thierry Lhermitte) an important French diplomat. Scandalous as this affair is what complicates matters further between the free-spirited Walker sisters and the rational Persand family is a painting Roxy took with her to Paris. It is discovered to be worth millions of dollars and by French law might fall under Charles-Henri's settlement in "le divorce" even though it belongs to Roxy's family. But then an unexpected crime of passion rocks the two families and ends up washing away the bitterness and opening up a better line of communication between the two cultures. Unfortunately at this point you're only thinking about getting a cup of coffee to wake yourself up.
Le Divorce has a cast of thousands who all do an adequate job but also do nothing to make themselves stand out. Being the bubbly blonde Californian suits Hudson to a tee because er that's who she is but somehow Hudson misses the mark when trying to show how Isabel blossoms with French influence. As lovely as she can be Hudson seems sorely out of place. Watts on the other hand fares a little better as the wounded Roxy but doesn't get nearly enough to chew on. Since blowing audiences away in Mulholland Drive Watts has been careful to choose interesting roles including her lead in the horrific The Ring. Yet with Le Divorce it's obvious she signed on because of the talent attached rather than looking at how bland Roxy truly is. The rest of the cast list is impressive: the exquisite Leslie Caron as the Persand matriarch; solid character actors Sam Waterston and Stockard Channing as Roxy and Isabel's parents; the always good Glenn Close as an American writer in Paris (sooo cliché); even Matthew Modine shows up as a jilted American husband gone mad. Yet with all these great actors the performances and relationships between characters can't elevate the film from being stuck in dullsville.
Coming from the Oscar-winning trio of producer Ismail Merchant director James Ivory and writer Ruth Prawer Jhabvala (Howard's End A Room With a View) one would expect something a little more meaty from Le Divorce. The story is right up their alley revolving around colliding cultures and foreigners in faraway lands--minus the period costumes. Le Divorce also looks wonderful capturing the spirit of gay modern-day Par-ee. Yet this is one time where the filmmakers seem to have stuck just a little too closely to the book. It feels like you are reading a novel rather than watching a movie. Sure in a book little vignettes work when you are piecing things together on your own. But a film with so many individual subplots floating around needs a central through-line to hold it together and make it a cohesive story. Is Le Divorce about how Americans perceive the French and vice versa? Or is it about two American women and how they deal with their relationships with men who just happen to be French? Choosing one of these as the driving force would have made the film far more interesting. Instead in mixing them up Le Divorce simply loses the audience's attention--quickly.