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Mini Reviews (January 2005)

Stateside, Stardust, Bollywood and Vine, In the Realms of the Unreal, Alone in the Dark

Stateside (January 6/05)

Well-acted but ultimately bland, Stateside details the rocky relationship between juvenile - delinquent - turned - marine Mark (Jonathan Tucker) and schizophrenic actress Dori (Rachael Leigh Cook). The film doesn't have a whole lot more to it than that, although it is packed with an absurd amount of quirky supporting characters - including Mark's oxygen-huffing dad (Joe Mantegna) and a lisping priest (Ed Begley Jr.). Director Reverge Anselmo, despite employing the widescreen format, imbues the film with all the style of a made-for-television production (along with some seriously sluggish pacing). Fortunately, Tucker and Cook are very good in their respective roles - allowing the audience to, at the very least, root for Mark and Dori's relationship to overcome the various obstacles provided by Anselmo's screenplay.

out of

Stardust (January 21/05)

That Stardust's cast includes genuinely talented performers including Amanda Donohoe and Giancarlo Esposito is beyond baffling, given how complete and utterly bad the film is. The storyline involves a spunky little boy who must protect his recently incarcerated father's invention - a robot with living tissue - from a series of bad guys, who want nothing more than to use the technology for their own diabolical purposes. Stardust, written and directed by Charles F. Cirgenski, is incompetent virtually from the word go, something that's exacerbated by Cirgenski's obvious lack of talent behind the camera (the movie has all the style of an infomercial). And star Jared Robbins isn't much better, overacting his way through every single scene he's in (there's probably a reason he's never appeared in anything else). It's hard to imagine who Stardust is meant to appeal to (ie kids will be turned off by the slow pace and subpar production values), ensuring the film's place as a totally superfluous cinematic experience.

no stars out of

Bollywood and Vine (January 25/05)

Despite the obvious shoestring budget and lack of a single recognizable star, Bollywood and Vine is the sort of romantic comedy that one might expect out of Hollywood (albeit with a slightly more twisted sense of humor). The film stars Jamey Schrick as Bhuvan Bannerji, an Indian bus driver who winds up infiltrating the lives of a has-been scream queen named Delilah Leigh (Skye Aubrey) and her transvestite son (played by J.R. Jones). Bollywood and Vine has been co-directed by Donald Farmer and Edward Jordon (the latter of whom also wrote the screenplay), and though there's no denying that the film is quite rough around the edges, it's hard to resist the story's inherent charm - something that's particularly true among the three leads. Though both Schrick and Jones are newcomers, the two possess a distinct amount of charisma and talent - while Aubrey, herself an actress who hasn't made a cinematic appearance in over 20 years, is appropriately Norma Desmond-ish in the role of Delilah. Bollywood and Vine runs out of steam towards the end, but that's easy enough to forgive - particularly given the strong performances and witty screenplay.

out of

In the Realms of the Unreal (January 27/05)

Sporadically intriguing but mostly interminable, In the Realms of the Unreal is a so-called documentary that traces the life and career of one Henry Darger. Darger was a mentally disturbed janitor/recluse who, in his spare time, cranked out a 15,000-page fantasy novel (along with pictures) - never sharing it with anybody (it was only recovered after he died). Darger seems an unusual choice for documentary treatment, given that nobody really seems to have known him all that well (there are only three photographs of him in existence!) Director Jessica Yu compensates by employing a style similar to that used in The Kid Stays in the Picture, mostly eschewing interviews (though there are, thankfully, a few) in favor of an almost non-stop barrage of Darger's drawings (some of which have been animated). Yu accompanies these images with narration by Dakota Fanning and Larry Pine, a stylistic choice that effectively keeps the viewer at arms-length from the material. And while we do learn a few tidbits about Darger's life - ie nobody is entirely sure how to pronounce his last name - the film spends far too much time dwelling on his novel, a disastrous choice that simply does not work (honestly, who cares about this book?) It's clear that In the Realms of the Unreal would have been far more effective as a short, because at this length (around 82-minutes), the film wears out its welcome almost immediately.

out of

Alone in the Dark (January 27/04)

Is Uwe Boll the worst director working in cinema today? If House of the Dead asked that question, Alone in the Dark answers it (yes, he is). The storyline, close as I can figure it, has something to do with a mad scientist who unearths some ancient artifacts that wind up unleashing badly animated monsters. Also thrown in for good measure: orphans-turned-zombies, slow-motion shoot-outs, and a museum curator played by Tara Reid (!) It really is astounding just how stupid Alone in the Dark is; if Boll's intent was to create a film that's remarkably easy to mock, he's undoubtedly succeeded. The laughably bad dialogue (ie "some doors are meant to stay shut ") is compounded by some seriously broad performances, with leads Christian Slater and Stephen Dorff apparently amusing themselves by competing for title of Most Grizzled Antihero. And asking the viewer to accept Tara Reid as a scientist is pure insanity, requiring a staggering leap of faith that I can't even begin to contemplate. Watched with the right sort of crowd, Alone in the Dark just might be worth a look - if only for their almost incessant laughter at the lunacy that's occurring on screen.

out of

© David Nusair