Saturday, September 23, 2006

The Black Dahlia

Wallowing in its grisly subject matter, THE BLACK DAHLIA movie takes a look at the brutal murder of Elizabeth Short, a wannabe Hollywood starlet back in the 1950s and the two police detectives who investigate her death. Aaron Eckhart and Josh Hartnett play the cops who become partners and friends after boxing each other under the names of Mr. Fire and Mr. Ice -- in order to help pass a city bond that would result in pay raises for policemen. Mia Kirshner is the haunting, doomed actress. Scarlett Johansson and Hilary Swank are the ladies who entice our heroes during the course of their investigation.

Directed by Brian De Palma from a Josh Friedman adaptation of the James Ellroy novel, THE BLACK DAHLIA is a descent into an even darker world than the one explored in HOLLYWOODLAND, but I found it a bit more intriguing to watch, primarily because of hottie Josh Hartnett, who is extremely photogenic. And, as the narrator, Hartnett brings his deep, sexy tones to that job, which also enhances the film. However, Eckhart, whose role is more mysterious and complicated, chews the scenery for the first time here, so he’s not as believable as usual. Johansson, as the woman Eckhart is dedicated to protecting from a soon-to-be-released criminal, looks like she’s playing Lana Turner dress-up; and Hilary Swank, as the daughter of a rich construction magnate – and Elizabeth Short look-alike -- makes an unconvincing femme fatale.

THE BLACK DAHLIA ends up being a rather clumsy fictionalized version of the Elizabeth Short murder case. This is definitely no CHINATOWN or L.A. CONFIDENTIAL.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

A Creative Musical

I found IDLEWILD to be a very rousing and unique musical. Set in the South during the Prohibition Era, it focuses on two men who are former childhood friends. One, the high-living Rooster (Antwan Patton) manages and performs in a speakeasy; the other, a quiet fellow named Percival (Andre Benjamin) plays the piano there at night, but during the day he is a mortician working for his very domineering father (Ben Vereen). However, my top performance award here goes to Terrence Howard as Trumpy, a gangster who simply oozes evil in every scene.

IDLEWILD has its own special look and combines contemporary hip-hop with music and styles of the 1930s. The dance numbers are so exuberant they almost jump off the screen. Sorry to say, though, some of the songs are not too memorable, and an over-the-top performance by a particular character becomes extremely annoying early on, but he soon gets his comeuppance, so this is a minor problem.

One of the surprises in IDLEWILD involves whimsical animation you would not expect to see in a movie like this, but it is really quite delightful. Musical notes come to life and scamper across song sheets, a cartoon of a rooster on a whiskey flask heckles its owner, and so forth.

I would be remiss not to mention that the two leads in this film are members of the hip-hop duo called OutKast, and that director Bryan Barber has directed some of their music videos. IDLEWILD definitely proves all three men know their way around a feature musical.