Truffle Shuffle Tuesday Vol. 3: Walk Hard, Ultraviolet, Attack from Space and An American Crime Reviewed

John C. Reilly is finally utilized in a comedy deserving of his gifts. WH perfectly parodies music biopics, cribbing laughs from every conceivable cliché in that genre. While it takes most of its cues from the Johnny Cash story, Walk the Line, everything from Ray, Great Balls of Fire, LaBamba, Sweet Dreams and The Doors provides WH with a bottomless supply of familiar melodrama touchstones. A childhood tragedy (a young Dewey Cox accidentally slices his favored brother in half with a machete) sets the stage for a rise-to-fame/fall-from-grace/come-out-on-top epic life story that you’d expect from the serious-minded source material. Cox has the expected bouts with infidelity, drug addictions and career destruction and plenty of “turning points” like dropping acid with the Beatles (played by Jack Black, Jason Shwartzman, Paul Rudd and the Mac computer commercial guy) and an incomprehensible backstage pep talk from a strung-out Elvis (played by the White Stripes’ Jack White!). WH is packed with laughs and funnier to the Gill Man than the good but universally overrated This is Spinal Tap. Jenna Fischer is perfect and surprisingly sexy as Cox’s duet-sharing, friend-turned-second-wife love interest. WH is both smart and raunchy making it low-brow comedy that you don’t have to be ashamed of laughing at.

Milla Jovovich continues her fruitful career as a sexy kick-ass genre darling. A nice companion piece to her Resident Evil outings, UV is a comic book-oh! Excuse me-graphic novel-inspired sci-fi actioner with style to spare, but not much else. In the future a virus splits the human race into hemophages (those infected) and non-hemophages. Set in an almost entirely CGI world, Jovovich’s Violet is a member of a crusading group of the infected and she spends the entire movie fighting (sword fighting, fist fighting, gun fighting) the evil corporate powers that control her world. Her infection evidently has its perks in that she has ridiculously perfect reflexes, strength and fighting ability. Why? Who the hell knows? Managing to be both confusing and simple-minded at the same time, UV is content to move from fight scene to fight scene with graciously short bursts of exposition here and there. Jovovich is hot, like always, and naturally graces us with the expected “partial nudity” scene that she’s trotted out in nearly every movie she’s made – from Return to Blue Lagoon to The Fifth Element to the above-mentioned RE series. UV is easy on the eyes with its shiny faux exteriors, bold colors and futuristic anime aesthetic, but it’s all flash and far too hollow to recommend. That same year’s Aeon Flux had a lot of the same problems in addition to wasting Charlize Theron.

A wholly unpleasant affair that is redeemed by fine performances and historical accuracy (much of the dialogue is taken directly from court transcripts). Katherine Keener is Gertrude Baniszewski, a decidedly troubled widow who temporarily takes in the two daughters of a traveling circus family in hopes that the twenty bucks a week she is promised will help her make ends meet. Juno‘s Ellen Page is the elder daughter, who doesn’t take long to figure out that this arrangement is going to absolutely suck. Keener, already the mother of seven, takes out her angst and frustration on the two new children in her care, with misguided discipline doled out for bogus reasons. When their parents’ checks come late, the type of punishment administered quickly spirals out of control leading to the kind of torture and abuse you’d expect from a Saw movie rather than a true crime tale. When the neighborhood kids are invited into the basement to abuse and assault Page, you realize that you’re never going to want to watch this movie again. From cigarette burns to sexual assaults with Coke bottles – it’s really hard to imagine how things could get much uglier. But, sadly, they do. Though well-made and packed with really great performances – particularly by many of the unknown young actors – the only thing that seems to be missing here is a point to justify the existence of documenting this dark chapter in the annals of American crime. Recommended but with strong reservations. AAC is fascinating but an afternoon-ruiner to be sure.

Starman, a superhero from beyond the stars, has come to earth from the planet Emerald (?) to save us from the aliens and their earthling co-conspirators. His three super powers, which he proudly rattles off, are the ability to fly, speak and understand any earth language, and detect cosmic radioactivity (??). With the help of a young sibling duo and their scientist grandfather, the team infiltrates the underground bunker of the verrrry Nazi-like bad guys where much heroics and awkwardly-staged fight scenes occur. Starman has some serious paunch in his shiny spandex uniform and his flying scenes are hilariously unconvincing, but this priceless piece of early Japanese sci-fi is outrageously watchable – especially the fight scenes which look less like violence and more like West Side Story dance numbers. It’s a public-domain classic that is probably available from a zillion different sources. Starman appeared in several related films (Evil Brain from Outer Space and Atomic Rulers) and AFS is actually two serial shorts spliced into one feature. It’s hokey but sincere and impossible to resist.

~ by Number5ive on July 2, 2008.

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