Reviews in Short: March 2013

                           Juan of the Dead                                  

Juan1 Juan2


Senseless and silly, but with a goofy kind of charm, Juan presents zombies invading Cuba with the fate of the country left to a small band of ragtag Havanans.   The zombies are rumored to be part of a nefarious plot by the United States (the walking dead are referred to as “dissidents”), but this movie is much too wacky and good-natured to concern itself with politics.  Release:  2011  Grade:  B





Cache1  Cache2


For most of its two hours, Cache is a gripping drama.  Someone is secretly taping events and places related to a French family, then sending the videos and disturbing letters to the increasingly paranoid parents.  And now I’m going to break a cardinal rule and give away the film’s resolution:  There isn’t one.  I spoil the ending because there’s a difference between thought-provoking enigma and simple cop-out.  Cache, by failing to provide answers to its central mystery, is a frustrating tease.  Release:  2005  Grade:  B




Fast Times at Ridgemont High



It’s choppy and unpolished, but there’s a good reason that Ridgemont is a high-school comedy classic.  Amy Heckerling’s film (scripted by Cameron Crowe) features one unforgettable character after another.  Sean Penn’s pot-fried Spicoli is legendary, and many a male has freeze-framed Phoebe Cates’s, uh, poolside charms, but repeat viewings are a hoot thanks to Ray Walston, Judge Reinhold, and too many others to mention here.  This ain’t no Porky’s; yes, there are sophomoric hijinks, but there are also moments of genuine heart.  Release:  1982  Grade:  A-




                                 The Searchers

Searcher1 Searcher2


Psst … don’t tell Searchers fans like Martin Scorsese, Curtis Hanson, or pretty much any critic who votes in “best of” lists that I’m saying this, but John Ford’s famous western is — at least in some respects — badly dated, with some truly cornball acting and key scenes that don’t ring true.  The movie does, however, showcase John Wayne at his orneriest and some spectacular outdoor photography shot at Utah’s Monument Valley.  Release:  1956  Grade:  B




                             Zero Dark Thirty

Zero1 1134604 - Zero Dark Thirty


The first 90 minutes of Kathryn Bigelow’s docudrama aren’t so much about the hunt for Osama bin Laden as they are about the hunt for bin Laden’s courier — an interesting, but not particularly compelling, historical footnote.  The other problem with Zero is Jessica Chastain, an actress who lacks the strength of personality to convince as the tenacious CIA agent who locates the infamous terrorist.  Claire Danes does this sort of thing much better on Homeland.  But the climactic raid on bin Laden’s compound is tense and worth the wait.  Release:  2012  Grade:  B


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