The Indie Scene
Spider: 3 Stars. I think this little character study of the titular schizophrenic wanted to be a bit of a murder mystery as well, in the vein of The Usual Suspects, or something of the sort. It doesn't succeed there, as the "plot twist" was fairly obvious. However, simply the delving into Ralph Fiennes' Spider is a fascinating journey into a disturbed mind. The direction by David Cronenberg is slow, but not plodding, and consequently it feels like one is taking a long, hard look at Spider to see what makes him tick. Miranda Richardson is, as always, wonderful, and John Neville, Gabriel Byrne, and Lynn Redgrave (clearly off the Weight Watchers plan) fill out the cast quite well.
The Quiet American: 3.5 Stars. It's pretty clear why the distributors of this film were worried that would be perceived as anti-American. This romance set against the backdrop of American manipulation of 1950s Vietnam clearly exposes the ethically-bankrupt operations of the CIA in its efforts to oppose the communist insurgence from the north. That said, this is a heck of a film. Michael Caine turns in yet another Oscar-nominated performance as a older, married British journalist in love with a beautiful local girl, and Brendan Fraser does his standard "sweet dork" character who falls for the same girl (he falls really, really quickly...like immediately...way too fast...you get the idea). Only Fraser's not a sweet dork, he's running the entire CIA operation to discredit the communists, by any means necessary. What this film lacked was more of Fraser as the CIA-dude. He only gets one scene to chew up as a badass, and he does such a good job, one wonders why we can't get more of the same. But, alas, the script doesn't allow it, so we're left to wonder whether or not there could've been two Oscar nominations, instead of one.
City of God: 4 Stars. Wow. Go South America. After last year's Argentinian masterpiece Nine Queens blew me away, I had high hopes for this Brazilian tale of mostly teenage gangsters in the impoverished outskirts of Rio. And it delivered. While watching this, I had the feeling that this was the directors' (Kátia Lund and Fernando Meirelles) first chance to make a movie with a decent budget...there's all sorts of gimmicky stuff reminiscent of Run Lola Run, Traffic, and even Amelie, but it works. Lund and Meirelles have put together a gripping, nonlinear story of vicious violence, love, drugs, murder, and redemption shown through the eyes of City of God resident and would-be photographer Rocket (Alexandre Rodrigues). Special Kudos for everyone involved in this film...keep up the good work! And to the Americans: Don't remake this film.