Let’s just do these in alpha order.
Idlewild. There’s a couple of highly choreographed musical numbers that are good fun but everything surrounding them is dead weight. No matter how tricked up the film is with idiosyncratic visual flourishes like moving freeze frames and talking alcohol flasks, this movie just can’t stay energized. The story is dull. The acting is bland. D+
Lady in the Water. Remember when it became clear that Michael Jackson had completely bought into his own myth: the statues of himself on album covers, the royal moniker, the ‘leave me alone but worship me’ persona. M Night Shyamalan might as well be moonwalking or wearing one sparkly glove. He’s locked himself into his own Neverland. Instead of a castle, it’s a movie. Though I hesitate to even call Lady in the Water a movie. It’s more like a radio show in that the camera is, for the first time in a Shyamalan movie, almost beside the point. This movie is basically a string of scenes of various characters telling you the story or, rather, pieces of the story. The story seems to be made up on the spot thereby escaping those pesky screenwriting demands of interior logic, structure, and audience accessibility (which you’d think would be sacred for a filmmaker that fancies himself a populist). Unlike Shyamalan’s other films which invite you to play along to some degree this one keeps you forever in the dark. You can’t ever join in because there’s so much withholding and backtracking and sudden “oh, by the way, we forgot to tell you this part” cheap evasions.
Lady in the Water is like a drowning victim that thinks itself a lifeguard. The water is all of the M Night’s worst instincts. The only thing that’s not incomprehensible, maddening, and immature about this film is that it does have a bit of a sense of humor. Thanks for small favors. D (when I’m in a good mood) F (when I’m not)
The Last King of Scotland . While most of the acclaim surrounding this film attachs itself barnacle like to Forest Whitaker’s massive frame, there’s more going on within that a baity biopic portrait. Everything you’ve heard about Whitaker is true: he’s frightening, funny, and practically possessed by the spirit of Idi Amin. But the rest of this film is good, too. At first it appears to be just your typical liberal white guilt epic (wherein you see the plight of minorities through the eyes of a white do-gooder) but what’s shifty and superb about The Last King is the way it doesn’t even pretend heroism in its protagonist, Amins personal physician (a sly and nimble James McAvoy) but rather gives him to you warts and all. Some people read the film as a racist tract about a scary black man but its flexible enough as a movie to offer other ways of looking at it. I saw it more as an indictment of ignorant and clumsy Western intrusiveness. Doesn’t the doctor in fact make the situation worse as the film progresses? I’m not sure that The Last King of Scotland knows how to connect all of its strong pieces into one devastating whole, but even when it oversells its own merits (take the sound editing for example: lots of loud whispering to denote paranoia –uh huh, got it.) it’s impressively scrappy and forceful. B
Miami Vice. Michael Mann’s adaptation of his own hit television series is too ambitious and plotty for its own good but however lacking it is in the storytelling department, it’s got some good setpieces, inspired tech touches, and atmosphere to spare. Plus, there's a restrained and effective performance from Colin Farrell and a lived-in "team" feeling from the ensemble cops that is sadly lacking from most action films. Worth a rental. B