Hogfather: A made-for-TV adaptation of the Terry Prachett novel. Hogswatch is Discworld's version of Christmas, and this year Death has to take over when a member of the Assassin's Guild takes on a contract to kill their version of Santa. The problem is that Prachett's style is wordy, precocious and digressive. Unfortunately, in a film (even one that goes over three hours), the intricate plotting comes off as diffuse, the wordplay is cut down and cleverness gets replaced with boring CGI. Also, the filmmakers can't decide if Ankh-Morpork is medieval or vaguely Victorian or steampunk. True, Prachett doesn't always make this clear either, but the disparities aren't so apparent on paper and his style links everything. That said, Ian Richardson as Death (and whoever did Death's effects work) are consistently hilarious, and the tone manages to balance cynicism with sentimentality quite well.
Hard-Boiled: John Woo's last Hong Kong film. Supercop and undercover cop go after Triad gun runners who hide their stash in a hospital. Utterly ridiculous and over-the-top. The plotting is rather episodic, the characterization simplistic. But the set-pieces are fantastic and moving even sixteen years later. And all the actors are still better than Jean Claude Van Damme in Hard Target.
Postal: Uwe Boll's comedy, very loosely based on the notorious video game. After a tasteless but hilarious opening, the rest of the film is downhill. Zach Ward initially captures the hopelessly put-upon nature of his character but falls apart when called on to be the bad-ass action hero. Dave Foley puts in an effortless, sleepwalking performance that has just the right comic timing. Everyone else is flailing in a cast otherwise made up of minor character actors and has-beens . Boll's trying to make fun of America, but he has no actual idea of what America is like. Imagine Strangelove with a budget cast, untalented screenwriters, bad cinematography and helmed by a bizzaro auteur. Still, it hits one or two comic moments, and is otherwise perversely bad when it fails. Worth renting to watch with friends, perhaps?
Pitch Black: A tight sci-fi thriller that mixes Aliens with Stagecoach. Wonderful cinematography, a clever script full of subtle and sparing characterization, and the pacing is top-notch. Vin Diesel is suitably threatening as an almost sociopathic outlaw, Keith David gets to stretch his range as a faithful, suffering Imam, and Radha Mitchell finds new ground for tough female heroines not covered by Sarah Michelle Gellar or Linda Hamilton.
Brothers Grimm: I love Terry Gilliam, but the film's tone can't strike the right balance for tragicomedy. Gilliam does a great job in showing both the beauty and the terror of fairy tales. But the story drags on while still containing odd transitions, and all the characters are too passive. Heath Ledger's performance as Jakob Grimm, a man lost in dreams and fantasy, understands the pity and wonder in such a person. The fairy tale flashbacks and some of the production design are quite beautiful. The CGI monsters, less so.
Twentieth Century: Hilarious portrayal of scheming theatre types (take it from me, since I'm one of them), with Barrymore exceptionally convincing as a vain director who is at heart a ham actor. On the other hand, for all the hilarity, the main characters are such awful, despicable people that their reunion (and the promise of it) fill me with nothing but dread. As a result, this screwball comedy leaves me disappointed.
P.S. I read some James Agee reviews last week. I hope it doesn't show too much in my prose.