(On DVD, May 2010) For such a small market, Québec cinema has proven uncommonly adept at finding the recipes required to get audiences in theatres. In this case, take a respected actor with a good track record (Michel Côté), pair him off with a hip comic (Louis-José Houde), put them in a situation that combines family comedy with criminal intrigue and watch the results. As is the case with nearly any other Québec comedy hybrid, the film is first played for laughs, and then for criminal thrills. The movie’s entire middle third is spent yakking it up at a remote camp for estranged fathers-and-sons, with mud-wrestling, Gen-X/Boomer generational complaints and occasional reminders that there is a hostage drama going on elsewhere. Only De père en flic‘s first and last minutes are concerned with the cops-versus-criminals premise, which is just as well given how it’s the comedy rather than the thrills that made this film such a success at the French-Canadian box-office. It actually works pretty well: The script may occasionally indulge its stars in going for the cheap laughs, but the generational conflicts have more substance that you’d expect from a light summer comedy, and actually have something to say about today’s Québec. De père en flic may be a far better farce than a criminal thriller, but that’s not much of a problem.
(On DVD, May 2010) Richard Kelly is a filmmaker to approach with caution, because his capable instincts often get the better of his rational mind. The Box coming after Donnie Darko and Southland Tales, it’s not hard to see him tackle projects that he doesn’t have the discipline to keep under control. So it is that his latest film is, once again, an accumulation of strange and ominous portents that fail to cohere: We often see weirdness for weirdness’ sake, but our faith in whether he’ll be able to satisfyingly tie all of this together dwindles as the film slowly (very slowly) progresses. It doesn’t help that the morality lesson at the core of the premise is so mind-numbingly stupid: Richard Matheson’s short story had the grace of being, well, short: at feature-film lengths, we get far too much time to be exasperated at the characters’ lack of suspicions. It really doesn’t help that the nature of the latter moral dilemmas proposed to the characters is so arbitrary: From intriguing moral drama, The Box soon sinks into, basically, a demonstration of capricious powers beyond human ken. Characters are mystified; so are viewers. Some unsettling visions are likely to remain with viewers for a while, but the overall picture is so scattered that the pieces don’t fit together in a satisfying fashion. Compare and contrast to The Prestige, where absurdity and ominous portents didn’t prevent the picture from making complete sense in the end. But then again, Christopher Nolan is a far better writer/director than Richard Kelly: it’s unfair to compare the two. Until Kelly learns some self-discipline, we’re stuck with films like The Box –not fun enough to be entertaining and not even deep enough to be intriguing except at small doses.
(On DVD, May 2010) Genre parodies often depend on the good intentions of its audience, and the concept of spoofing seventies blaxploitation pictures is no exception: Ideally, viewers are expected to be reasonably familiar with the object of the spoof, and be ready to play along with the deliberate mistakes and weaknesses inspired by the source material. Black Dynamite is reasonably funny on its own (expect to quote bits of dialogue for a few days), but it’s far more amusing if you’re in the right mood for a film that intentionally apes ultra-low-budget shortcuts and mistakes. Aware that the blaxploitation-parody concept runs a risk of wearing thin, the picture keeps throwing curves and adopting new plots every fifteen minutes: by the time the protagonist is kung-fu fighting with Richard Nixon in the White House, well, we’ve been led somewhere off this planet in a grandiose fashion. Not every gag works, but they come at such a steady rate that no one has to wait a long time before the next one. Michael Jai White is great as the titular lead character, while the rest of the cast looks as if it’s having a lot of fun as well. Black Dynamite had a minuscule theatrical release, but it’s probably best appreciated at home –where blaxploitation films live even today.