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Review: Red Eye


Business or coach? Window or aisle? Chatterbox or psychopath? Actually, Red Eye never bothers to explain how Jackson Rippner (Cillian Murphy), a flinty-eyed thug who’s been hired to kill the deputy secretary of homeland security, manages to get himself placed next to hotel manager Lisa Reisert (Rachel McAdams) on the overnight from Dallas to Miami. You’d think that someone capable of engineering his seating assignment could come up with a better diabolical plot than coercing a functionary into changing the victim’s suite at the last second. But then, there are a quite a few logical fallacies to ignore in this rickety claustrophobic thriller, directed by horror maestro Wes Craven with admirable brute efficiency but sans the intriguing filigree or visual dynamism that, say, David Fincher brought to the equally spare (and equally ludicrous) Panic Room. Even the most forgiving viewer will find his or her patience sorely tested once hero and villain disembark for the climax; mysteriously, the wisdom of Lisa’s decisions under stress seems to be inversely proportional to her freedom of movement.
    But forget Red Eye‘s eminently forgettable surface. Far more interesting is the film’s wonky, bizarrely retrograde Electra-lite subtext, in which Jackson is the interloper (read: suitor) who threatens to replace Lisa’s father (Brian Cox), who’s being held hostage at his home in Miami. Somewhat drab for a sociopath (though he does a mean, unexpected head-butt), Jackson is the ne plus ultra of smarmy male duplicity: He feigns interest in Lisa’s relatives and career, works to sell himself as intuitive and sensitive, then reveals the ulterior motive for all his kind attention. When Lisa twice attempts to alert the authorities, Jackson is only mildly perturbed; what truly enrages him is the fact that Lisa lies to him at the airport’s cheesy Tex-Mex restaurant when he flirtatiously attempts to guess her favorite drink: “I shadowed you for eight weeks and you never once ordered anything but a fucking Sea Breeze!” Here he’s gone to an enormous amount of trouble to assemble a foolproof pickup routine, and this chick has the gall to deny him his moment of apparent clairvoyance. Foreign accents and handheld missile launchers notwithstanding, it’s Red Eye‘s fleeting, perhaps inadvertent moments of emotional terrorism that sting. — Mike D’Angelo

Review: Asylum
One thing you can say for crazy people: They’re wildcats in bed. Need proof? Check out Asylum — David McKenzie’s torrid, trashy adaptation of Patrick McGrath’s well-regarded novel about Stella (Natasha Richardson), the troubled wife of a psychiatrist who strikes up a heated affair with Edgar (Marton Csokas), one of the inmates at the titular institution to which they’ve just moved. Through the course of the movie, our lovers roll compellingly around the floor in a variety of locations — a decaying conservatory, a bedroom, and a dingy loft among them — and their sweaty trysts are so unhinged, so raw, that at times you worry that they might hurt each other. If only the rest of the movie maintained that level of earthy tension.
    Asylum is, at heart, a silly melodrama posing as serious filmmaking. It’s the kind of movie that needs Douglas Sirk’s bold color schemes, or Vincente Minnelli’s effusive camera moves. (Think of the expressive retro sensibility Todd Haynes brought to Far From Heaven.) But McKenzie ensures that everything is muted, grim, joyless. Only when our heroes are panting in each other’s arms does the film rise to the heated challenge of its source material. — Bilge Ebiri
Review: Reel Paradise
Living among primitive Fijian tribes, indie icon John Pierson fends off religious opposition, house break-ins and cultural adjustment all in the name of free movies. Director Steve James (Hoop Dreams, Stevie) documents the final month of the Pierson family’s yearlong stay in Taveuni, the most isolated island off Fiji, where John runs a theater that shows mainstream movies to the villagers’ children. To Pierson, showing films like Jackass and Apocalypse Now was a true calling, but religious sects opposed him, his laptops were stolen, and his daughter was labeled a whore — although there may have been reason for that last one. Pierson’s sixteen-year-old daughter Georgia runs away, curses at her folks and canoodles with young Fijian men, wearing their hickies proudly. Her mother caves to her rants, exhaustedly claiming, “[at least] she’s not a heroin addict turning tricks in Detroit.” Although James’s documentary meant to celebrate Pierson for his selflessness, that message is overwhelmed by the kooky, sometimes creepy antics of the benefactor’s family. — David Diehl
Review: The Untold Story of Emmit Louis Till
When director Keith Beauchamp was ten years old, he flipped through his parents’ copy of Jet magazine and discovered photos of Emmett Till’s remains, disfigured by his white murderers. Since then, Beauchamp’s fascination with Till’s lynching and the ensuing sham trial has grown to obsessive proportions.
   His documentary about the case is deft, understated filmmaking, bereft of gimmickry, celebrity voiceovers or captions. (The soundtrack is subdued and Bob Dylan’s “The Death of Emmett Till” is relegated to the end credits.) After fifty years, the principal players are so composed that their narratives (which sometimes require subtitles, the Southern accents are so thick) are like court depositions. Till’s mother Mamie Till-Mobely, who died in 2003, is the star of a small cast. Her insistence on an open-casket funeral (“I want the world to see what I saw”) turned her son’s senseless murder into martyrdom and catalyzed the Civil Rights Movement.
    Emmett Till’s remaining relatives buried his body for the second and last time this summer, just shy of the fiftieth anniversary of his murder in Money, Mississippi, and the forty-second anniversary of the March on Washington. Till’s case was recently reopened — and his body exhumed and autopsied — largely thanks to Beauchamp’s petitioning. In contrast to Michael Moore’s reading of the Patriot Act to Congress over the loudspeaker of an ice-cream truck, it’s refreshing to see a documentary exert political pressure with the force of relentless investigation. — Sarah Crichton
Date DVD #46: Sin City
This is a tragic week for date DVDs. You risk two awful experiences that could scar you forever. The first is the sight of Vincent Gallo, an avowed Republican, getting a blow-job in the awful Brown Bunny. The second is The Wedding Date, the worst date movie of the year, which comes slouching into Blockbuster like some icky, gooey sign of a romantic-comedy apocalypse.
    The plot of this Stay-Puf Marshmallow Man of cinematic sweetness is Pretty Woman moronic. A neurotic basketcase (Debra Messing, who has no fewer high-strung disorders here than she does on Will & Grace) hires a gigolo (Dermot Mulroney) to attend a wedding as her date. And — hey! — it turns out that this prostitute is actually a man-whore in shining armor. Of course, the basketcase and gigolo fall in love, and the gigolo — sweet and kind, sensitive to women’s body issues and insecurities — reveals the wisdom of his heart-for-hire. What the fuck ever.
    This is why I recommend Robert Rodriguez’s Sin City. Yes, the dialogue is just as bad as it was in Frank Miller’s overrated graphic novels: His third-hand Dashiell Hammet prose isn’t improved by yet another watering-down. But at least Rodriguez and Miller have the courage to be trashy. After The Wedding Date, there’s something refreshingly crude about two middle-aged men (Miller is forty-eight, Rodriguez thirty-seven) so obviously indulging their fetish for young ladies in bondage wear. It’s like a Victoria’s Secret special, only in a dungeon and with guns. And at least their whores (Rosario Dawson, Jessica Alba) get raunchy. Dumb as Sin City is, it’s preferable to the alternative: The Wedding Date‘s Puritan City, where even the male prostitute can’t get laid because he wants so badly to be Dr. Phil. — Logan Hill

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