Of the major movies that pop up on video shelves this week, three have their own particular attractions.
“Home For the Holidays,” for example, is an attempt to explore that age-old problem facing those of us who didn’t grow up in close, loving families.
In other words, it shows what happens when you try to bond with people who, in other circumstances, you wouldn’t even talk to.
The film, directed by two-time Oscar-winning actress Jodie Foster, attracted only a lukewarm response during its theatrical run. Since the film has much to recommend it, I have two theories as to why it didn’t connect with mainstream America:
1. Most people must love their families and don’t find such negative views funny.
2. Most people feel guilty because we carry ambiguous attitudes toward our families and don’t need any family inspired movies to remind us.
“Devil in a Blue Dress,” in contrast, did somewhat better in theaters. It even earned some good critical notices.
But for a film starring Denzel Washington, based upon a series of best-selling mystery novels by Walter Mosley, “Devil” proved surprisingly tepid at the box office.
It’s difficult not to blame Carl Franklin for that. After directing the obscure little masterpiece “One False Move,” Franklin simply wasn’t able to bring the same sense of empathy to characters of Mosley’s creation.
Finally, we have “Strange Days,” directed by action specialist Kathryn Bigelow. Now, like both Franklin and Foster, Bigelow has certain strengths as a filmmaker.
Unfortunately, few of them relate to either characterization or storyline. In fact, a good definition of Bigelow’s body of work could be summed up in this Leonard Maltin comment about her first movie, 1983’s “The Loveless.”
“Pretentious and practically plotless, with about five times as much rockabilly music as dialogue,” Maltin wrote. “Still, visually stunning, like an Edward Hopper painting of the 1950s.”
“Strange Days” is a perfect example of this sentiment - minus, of course, the rockabilly.
Ralph Fiennes, one of the most charismatic of today’s movie stars, was captivating in the movie’s trailers; he held the screen just by the force of his blue eyes and mesmerizing voice.
In the movie, however, Fiennes - and even such stirring screen presences as Angela Bassett and Tom Sizemore - were miniaturized. They were forced to play co-star to car crashes and quick cuts, grainy video imagery and sudden violence.
And the story? It hints at police cover-up and conspiracy theories only to pull back and end up making over the powers-that-be into the final and wise arbiters of justice. Talk about a fantasy.
Home For the Holidays
Anyone who has ever fought the urge to come home should relate to this Jodie Foster-directed comedy-drama. Claudia (Holly Hunter) compounds a bad stretch in her life by joining her family for Thanksgiving. There she meets her neurotic parents (Anne Bancroft, Charles Durning), her controlling sister (Cynthia Stevenson), manic brother (Robert Downey Jr.) and cast of other dysfunctional types, including a hunk played by Dylan McDermott.
There’s a dark side here, but it is softened somewhat by the kind of graveyard humor that can get you through most anything - including a classic dinner scene. Rated PG-13
Devil in a Blue Dress
Technically, director Carl Franklin (“One False Move”) does justice to Walter Mosley’s novel about a black man (Denzel Washington) in post-World War II Los Angeles trying to find a mysterious woman (Jennifer Beals).
The performances are even, from Washington’s every-guy demeanor to Don Cheadle’s psychopathic friendliness. And Franklin does a nice job of replicating the Los Angeles of 50 years ago, which contrasts strongly to drug-ridden, drive-by shooting ranges of today. What’s missing is the emotion that allows us to actually care about the characters we get to know. Rated R
Director Kathryn Bigelow (“Blue Steel,” “Point Break”) tends to take her audiences on wild rides, but the trip here is not nearly enough to overcome a stupid script that at every important juncture avoids resolving the issues it raises.
Ralph Fiennes stars as a sleazy character named Lenny, an ex-cop with a vulnerable side who sells visual memories that are as illegal as they are addictive. When a black activist is murdered, he becomes involved in what looks to be a massive cover-up.
The action scenes, especially those involving Angela Bassett as a limo driver/bodyguard, are imaginative. But then the whole story dissolves in a mass of incredulity, backtrack explanations, coincidence and dishonesty. It ends up being a dodge, worthy of its double-meaning: Indeed the film does leave you in a strange daze. Rated R
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: What’s new to view Now available: “Balto” (MCA/ Universal), “Devil in a Blue Dress” (Columbia TriStar), “Home For the Holidays” (Paramount), “Strange Days” (Fox). Available Tuesday: “Kicking and Screaming” (Vidmark), “Magic in the Water” (Columbia TriStar), “Smoke” (Touchstone), “To Die For” (Columbia TriStar), “Vampire in Brooklyn” (Paramount).