HOUSE OF D Maybe not a "D," but this coming-of-age yarn from writer-director-actor David Duchovny certainly rates no better than a "C." The former X-Files star here plays Tom Warshaw, an American artist living in Paris who flashes back on a pivotal time during his childhood years in Greenwich Village. Thirteen-year-old Tommy (appealing Anton Yelchin) lives with his pill-popping mom, who's in a fog following the recent death of her husband - the fact that Duchovny's character's mom is played by his real-life wife Tea Leoni brings up Freudian connotations that I'd rather avoid. Meanwhile, young Tommy's best friend is a mentally challenged janitor who gets erect watching horror flicks and who's prone to telling teenage girls that he's got a big penis - as if this isn't frightening enough, also consider that the character is played by Robin Williams in full cuddly-creepy mode. And when Tommy needs valuable life lessons, he turns to an inmate (Erykah Badu) housed several floors up at a women's House of Detention - though the low volume level of their chatter made me wonder how they could hear each other at such a distance and with typical NYC street sounds blaring around them. Truly, there's much in House of D that's ghastly - and clearly the work of an actor still cutting his teeth on the other side of the camera - yet there are also plenty of small moments of sensitivity and insight that save this from being utterly unbearable. Whether it's the kid who repeatedly yells "Sabbath!" to the DJ while standing in the middle of the dance floor (this must be a generational rite of passage: one of my own school dances was marked by some drunken clod repeatedly screaming, "AC/DC!") or the stern yet fair priest (Frank Langella) whose lame jokes don't cut it with his pupils, there are some choice bits to temporarily offset the amateurishness.
THE AMITYVILLE HORROR Jay Anson's 1977 novel The Amityville Horror was such a worthless piece of literature that the only way it could have moved any copies was for its author and its limelight-soaking subjects to declare it was all based on a true story. That did the trick: The book, about a couple who insisted their house was haunted, became a best-selling phenomenon, though it was soon discredited as pure hokum. A clunky 1979 movie version followed, and now we get the remake, which manages to be even worse than its screen antecedent. Leads Ryan Reynolds and Melissa George try their best, but as a creep show, this slicked-up version is painfully inadequate, preferring to traffic in quick shots of blood-dripping ghouls than establishing any real sense of dread. I've seen episodes of Sesame Street that were more frightening than this generic junk.
CHRYSTAL If it weren't for Billy Bob Thornton heading the cast and other notable pros on both sides of the camera, Chrystal could easily pass as a prime example of low-budget regional filmmaking; even in its present state, it's not far off the mark. Writer-director-actor Ray McKinnon has made an affecting melodrama that's deep-fried in Southern heritage right down to its ribs - this is the sort of film in which the story often feels incidental to its makers' ability to capture a specific landscape and its people. Thornton, as a tortured soul who returns to his home in the Ozarks after a lengthy prison stint, is effective in his own understated way, even though he's essentially repeating his characterizations from Levity and Monster's Ball; more interesting to watch is Lisa Blount, whose work as his emotionally damaged wife provides the film with a haunting stillness that permeates every scene.
FEVER PITCH The true subject of this adaptation of Nick Hornby's novel isn't the love between a man and a woman but between a man and his favorite sports team. As such, the movie's ability to balance the yin with the yang makes it the ideal date movie, a crowd-pleaser that follows many of the conventions of the modern romantic comedy yet doesn't betray its convictions for the sake of the usual embarrassing sops to formula. Successful consultant Lindsey Meeks (sparkling Drew Barrymore) is happy with new boyfriend Ben Wrightman (OK Jimmy Fallon) until she notices that his undying devotion to the Boston Red Sox begins interfering with their relationship; he's reluctant to lose her but can't commit to her the way he does to his team. Like the character of Ben, Fever Pitch comes across as a scruffy romantic, not always suave on the surface but harboring an irresistible tenderness inside.
THE INTERPRETER An interpreter (Nicole Kidman) working at the United Nations overhears a plot to assassinate the tyrannical president of her African homeland, but the Secret Service agent (Sean Penn) assigned to the case thinks she's hiding more than she's revealing. As a thriller, The Interpreter never matches the sweaty-palms intensity of director Sydney Pollack's excellent Three Days of the Condor, though it largely gets the job done. But between the soft-hearted assessment of the UN, the creation of a fictional African nation to propel the narrative (why not employ an actual African country that's had to deal in modern times with ethnic cleansing?), and an ending that takes the easy way out, it's clear that the Sydney Pollack behind The Interpreter isn't the same Sydney Pollack behind Three Days of the Condor. Just because a man mellows with age doesn't mean his movies should. 1/2
Great observations, Titus. Thanks for posting!
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