It’s easy to lose hope when theatres get overrun by heavily promoted flight plans and wedding crashers, exorcised epileptics, guys wasting their lives gardening and something advertised as being like heaven that’s closer to two hours in purgatory. But we should keep watch of the movies being thrown on screens without fanfare. Arriving without much attention, Roll Bounce is the season’s brightest, happiest surprise. The new film by Malcolm D. Lee (Undercover Brother) brings us to the familiar movie turf of high school kids in the late 1970s. The difference is in its focus and style. Lee’s sanitized, very orange version of the ’70s owes more to pop nostalgia than reality. But it has an energetic, funny sense of itself — hopping along with comic humanism and a wall-to-wall good times funk soundtrack. Xavier (Bow Wow) is known as X to his friends. X recently lost his mother, and since then his unemployed father (Chi McBride) has been emotionally distant. But there are always friends and girls at the roller rink. In the time just before the emergence of hip-hop, the roller disco craze is given a thrilling, authentic spirit. Lee finds visually exciting ways to shoot rollerskating and period fashion while keeping it era-specific. It’s ’70s style made new. What sepa- rates it from most sports movies is that the sport is just a background in these kids’ lives. Their concern is getting by on daily pleasures and experiences. The outlook may seem simple, but Roll Bounce’s optimism is infectious.
A History of Violence
Terror strikes from within in A History of Violence. That’s familiar for a David Cronenberg film, but the director’s latest also evokes David Lynch in its engagement of darkness living behind normalcy’s facade. The first scenes of small-town life are played with the kind of virtuous American innocence that opened Oliver Stone’s Born on the Fourth of July. As in that film, it’s a reality that promptly comes crashing down. When Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen) kills some violent men in his family diner, he’s hailed as a local hero. But it’s having an impact on his family. His son fights off a bully at school. Strange men are harassing them. Cronenberg presents a thin line between self-defense and barbarism. Yet by keeping the violence defensive instead of aggressive, the provocations aren’t that demanding. Nothing in it is as conflicted as the scene in War of the Worlds where a man helps his own survival by killing another for his car. But Cronenberg never turns A History of Violence into a polemic; it’s absorbingly, expertly paced. It’s a credit to the film’s power that it attains a brutal impact — gratuitous only if you don’t consider how little effect most movie violence has. When dealing with themes of identity, this is a tragic spin on a superhero story.
Flightplan’s OK first two-thirds succeed based on a general skill in creating suspenseful atmosphere. There’s a seeming obviousness to the situation in which an aircraft engineer (Jodie Foster) loses her daughter in the midst of a commercial flight. In the process of carrying her husband’s casket from Berlin to New York, the workers and passengers can’t verify seeing the girl ever step onto the plane. This recalls Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes — a woman suspects a conspiracy after no one will acknowledge a train passenger’s disappearance. In this case, the lead seems so unhinged and unreliable that her search never earns viewer sympathy. But it does earn desperation. Director Robert Schwentke’s frequently moving camera creates claustrophobia in the plane interiors. Foster’s accusation of two Arabs of kidnapping her child has a discomforting intensity. And the stewardesses are curiously portrayed as secretly loathing their passengers. It’s in the final act when Flightplan goes from passable to pitiful. We get a mandatory twist, but this one’s so senseless it’s as though the screenwriters never understood the script’s first hour.
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