Tuesday, July 23, 2013

July Quick Picks and Pans

The Intouchables (2011) There’s nothing new about the basic story, culled from true events, by co-writer/directors Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano.  What’s refreshing is the filmmakers’ refusal to sugar-coat the material.  Philippe, a wealthy quadriplegic (François Cluzet), hires ex-con Driss (Omar Sy) as his helper.  They seem mismatched, but somehow click together.  Philippe is drawn to Driss because of his lack of pity, while Driss appreciates his employer’s faith in him.  Neither character is painted as a victim, but part of a symbiotic whole, where each one benefits.

Cluzet and Sy’s performances consistently hit the right notes.  Philippe wallows in quiet misery, mourning after his deceased wife and damaged body.  Using his wit and charm, Driss manages to break through the walls that Philippe and his uptight house staff construct, to connect on a human level.  It’s an alternately funny and poignant tale of class differences, loss and redemption.  It should be no surprise that an American remake is being planned, which will likely play up the comedic elements and drown the serious subject matter in sentimentality.  My advice: watch this one first.

Rating: ****.  Available on Blu-ray, DVD and Netflix Streaming

Night Tide (1961) Dennis Hopper stars in an early role, as Johnny, a Navy recruit from Denver, Colorado.  While on leave in Santa Monica, California, he encounters a mysterious woman named Mora (Linda Lawson), who works as a mermaid in a sideshow.  As fragments of her shadowy past are gradually revealed, he learns his life might be in danger, and that her act might be more than it seems.  Hopper is earnest and intense as a young sailor who just wanted to see the world, and Lawson is appropriately demure and melancholic as the femme fatale.  Writer/director Curtis Harrington’s low-key thriller, shot on a miniscule budget of $25,000, builds slowly, buoyed by an omnipresent sense of impending dread.  David Raksin’s jazzy score adds to the film noir-ish atmosphere.  It’s too bad the film is hampered by an unsatisfying ending that attempts to strip away any ambiguity by explaining everything, but Night Tide stands out as a compelling mood piece.

Rating: *** ½.  Available on DVD and Netflix Streaming

Crawlspace (2012) Nothing is particularly original about this low budget Aussie science fiction film, which borrows conspicuously from numerous other films, including Aliens, X2 and Cube.  A team of elite soldiers are sent into an underground research installation in the middle of the desert, and discover Eve (Amber Clayton), a survivor who might not be what she appears.  With the action confined to a few claustrophobic sets, it’s clear the filmmakers had little to work with, but recycling sets shouldn’t excuse re-using tired themes.  With its ambiguous central character and escalating paranoia, it could have been something more, but it just comes across as a patchwork quilt of half-baked sci-fi tropes.  Crawlspace is a prime example of something that should have stayed in development a while longer.  Then, maybe, we would have had something.

Rating: ** ½.  Available on DVD and Netflix Streaming

The Big Boss (aka: Fists of Fury) (1971) Bruce has done better.  Cheng Chao-an (Lee)   makes a promise to his uncle not to fight, and for at least half of the movie that’s exactly what we get.  Now, that’s exactly what I want to see in a Bruce Lee movie – not fighting.  When we finally cut to the chase, the fight scenes are relatively unremarkable, with close-up and medium shots when we should be viewing the action from a wider angle.  The dull story about Bruce and his pals working in a corrupt ice factory does little to exploit Lee’s natural charisma.  While the film isn’t a total waste of time, you’ll be counting the minutes until the next scuffle.  The Big Boss = big boredom.

Rating: ** ½.  Available on DVD and Netflix Streaming.


  1. Great choices of movies. I have always wanted to see The Intouchables but was afraid it would be too sapy. Based on your review. I will check it out this weekend.

    1. Thanks! I was prepared to dismiss The Intouchables, but I really enjoyed it. Not your typical schmaltzy disease-of-the-week type pic.