As my graduate school semester grinds toward its conclusion, I haven’t been keeping up with my Netflix queue quite as well, but here’s some of the titles I’ve been watching. Just in time to hit the used DVD racks during your holiday shopping!
Romeo + Juliet
The story has survived nearly half a millineum for a reason, and the Bard’s words retain a shocking immediacy even when spoken on the screen in a modernized version of the play. Director Baz Luhrmann’s extravagent visual sensibilities definitely keep things lively, but they also frequently dip into excess, overshadowing the excellent work done by the film’s then-unknown cast. The film is just too visceral at times for the material. Young Leonardo DiCaprio manages to hold his own amidst all the razzle-dazzle, and his committed performance makes the dialogue every bit as enthralling as Shakespeare meant it to be. (3 stars)
This is definitely second tier John Carpenter, but his 80s cheapie is still a remarkable masterclass in atmospherics and mood creation. As the ghosts of long lead sailors descend on the quiet coastal town to seek revenge, the sense of dread and creeping menace is palpable. The script and the somewhat disappointing climax can’t live up to how well the whole thing is set up, but second tier Carpenter is still better than most other horror out there. (3 stars)
The Devil’s Rejects
The folks over at the AV Club trump this films up as some kind of brilliant and subversion post-9/11 allegory concerning the dangers of revenge. There’s some of that here, but mostly it’s just director Rob Zombie trying to throw as much filth as possible on the screen to get a reaction. His photography and direction is sharp and the performances are strong, but to what end? The film can’t possibly put the viewer on the side of people so terrible, and any attempt to do so comes off as callow. (2 stars)
The Fog of War
Robert McNamara is many things to many people, but one can’t fault the guy for not having some interesting stuff to say. Errol Morris’ documentary features a remarkably candid interview with the former U.S. Secretary of Defense, and the subject himself comes as sharp in his old age, defensive, willing to reassess past mistakes, elusive, and startlingly observant all at the same time. Morris makes expert use of stock footage (as well as some intriguing audiotape that seems to clean up McNamara’s image a bit with regard to Vietnam), and he knows just when to let his subject talk and when to press him. An excellent documentary from one of the best filmmakers in the genre. (5 stars)