All posts by Steve Norwood

Review: The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans

Nicolas Cage gets a bad rap, and perhaps Werner Herzog gets too good of one.

On the one hand, rather than admit Cage underplayed his role (to great effect) in 2009’s science fiction drama Knowing, critics tended to harp on his haircut.  Cage made a boisterous start as a young actor, and has been a prolific performer over the years.  Before and after his Oscar-winning performance in 1995’s Leaving Las Vegas,  he has balanced art-house favorites and mainstream, sometimes highly profitable films, for better or worse (no one is going to say the remake of The Wicker Man is a defensible film).  If he’s made a mint with Disney, he’s also been in a number of critical darlings and given evocative performances in a string of films somewhere in the middle.  It’s this Cage, the goggle-eyed, wildly gesturing madman found in films as diverse as Raising Arizona, Vampire’s Kiss, Wild at Heart and Snake Eyes that gets some of the best notices.

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Review: The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

Filled with striking images and terrific acting, Parnassus is that rare fantasy film where the strange and the unexpected mingle politely with delicate human emotion.

Terry Gilliam's 'The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus'

One of the many joys to be found at Austin’s Fantastic Fest is a series of “Secret Screenings” that occur throughout the program week, where films remain unannounced until moments before the lights go down. This past September we were treated to a diverse set of surprises that included The Men Who Stare at Goats, Robogeisha and A Serious Man. It was a real pleasure to discover Terry Gilliam’s The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnussus was one of them, but even more so that the film is a terrific return to form for the director. After dreary disappointments of clutter (The Brothers Grimm) and grim detachment (Tideland), the lovingly rendered Parnassus brings Gilliam back to a jovial dream-world that feels pleasantly familiar to some of his earlier films, and he excels at conveying such good-natured whimsy.
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Review: Sherlock Holmes

Good-looking, briskly paced and filled with clever wordplay and physical action.

Guy Ritchie's 'Sherlock Holmes'

Until Sherlock Holmes, the phrase “period piece” would not have been attributable to Guy Ritchie.  But one of the most surprising and pleasing aspects of the director’s new film is that he gets the look and feel of Victorian London down so well that if it weren’t for the slow-motion, bare-knuckle fight scenes and recurring, signature “here’s what really happened” sequences, you might not have thought it was a Guy Ritchie film at all. The set design, costumes, re-imagined architecture, background images and infrequent, almost flawless CGI effects depict the sprawling city quite well. Ritchie more than adequately pegs the sense of a different, tumultuous age, right down to the tools and jargon used by each character. The depth of these surroundings allows the viewer to more easily swallow Holmes’ shenanigans as the film’s mystery unfolds.
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Review: Avatar

Not a great film, but it does its best to provide an engaging, eye-popping, (almost) three hours of fun.

James Cameron's 'Avatar'

I recently bought an HD television, and within the first hour had seen so many crisp, vividly detailed images that I knew it would be hard to ever go back and watch things without that advanced technology.  James Cameron’s much-ballyhooed, long-anticipated Avatar feels like it should have garnered that same response, a kind of technological ecstasy that would be difficult to disregard.  But the killing joke of Cameron’s new film is that for all its lush beauty and enjoyable action, the vaunted advances of its 3-D format are completely unnecessary, and sometimes a hindrance.
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