STUDIO: Castle Rock
RUNNING TIME: 83 minutes
It’s Yes Man meets Aguirre, The Wrath of God.
Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Emily Mortimer, Sarah Chalke
However – there’s a subtle edginess flowing just beneath Chaos Theory‘s surface that helps redeem it a little. Ryan Reynolds’ Frank goes to a few painful places, and while Theory doesn’t fully follow through with these darker moments, at least his character gets put through an emotional gauntlet that makes the movie’s saccharine ending a little more deserved.
Reynolds’ mature portrayal of Frank also helps. Other actors might have played Frank’s neuroses as gimmicky, but Reynolds wisely tones it down. He’s flanked by the wonderful Emily Mortimer, who plays Frank’s more impulsive wife. They spend about 60% of the movie yelling at each other. The fighting serves Frank’s story, but it’s all so pat that it’s hard to care about. After all, we’ve seen Chaos Theory before. That’s not to say there aren’t a few surprises, but they all play out as variations on a theme.
If there’s anything worthwhile about Marcos Siega’s polished but derivative man-finding-himself movie, it’s the generally good performances and its slightly subversive undercurrent. Don’t bother with it if you’re looking for something new.
5 out of 10
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RUNNING TIME: 83 minutes
It’s Cool Runnings meets Fitzcarraldo.
Cast: Alex LeMay
Growing up in Spain, American Alex LeMay and his Dad spent plenty of time watching bullfights. Years later, a bout with alcoholism leaves him facing an existential crisis, so LeMay turns to a San Diego training camp to help him realize his dreams of becoming a Matador. Unfortunately for him, he’s pudgy and clumsy, and seems afraid of animals. LeMay documents his journey, which leads him to remote ranches in Mexico and stadiums in Spain, where he gradually learns to overcome adversity while stylishly killing bulls. His Dad gets cancer and – spoiler – dies, but not before LeMay can show him what a macho man he is by killing an animal in front of a crowd.
I’m not a card carrying member of PETA, but I hate bullfighting. I feel similarly toward dogfighting and cockfighting. In American Bullfighter, bullfighting is a manly, important, and deeply heroic cultural ritual, and if you’re not on the same page as the film on this point, the documentary can’t work. You needn’t bother giving it a try.
Playing the devil’s advocate: Assuming that bullfighting is an acceptable pastime, is American Bullfighter worth watching?
American Bullfighter is a hero fantasy. While it spends a good portion of its running time featuring LeMay struggling with animals and falling on his ass, the ending – featuring LeMay as a proud, victorious, and wildly gesticulating Matador who flaunts both for his father and the camera – feels like a shameless ego trip. This would have been fine, or at least bearable, had the first hour of the film been worth watching. For a documentary about facing down wild animals, Bullfighter’s setup is stunningly boring. We follow Alex as he trains alongside a geneticist and a seemingly fearless girl named Katie, both of whom seem like far more interesting people than our protagonist.
There are a few touching moments, especially Alex’s final farewell to his father, but they’re all wrapped up in a rather average documentary. Making matters worse is the awful punk soundtrack. A Klezmer band would have sounded less out of place.
It’s entirely possible that my personal take on bullfighting wound up souring the film too severely. If you’re into bullfighting, American Bullfighter is available as an insta-view title on Netflix. And if you’re into bullfighting, for shame.
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STUDIO: Genius Products
RATED: UR (TV)
RUNNING TIME: 186 minutes
• Making-of featurette
• Cast, crew interviews
• Photo Galleries
Uh, It’s The Adventures of Baron Munchausen meets Rescue Dawn.
Cast: Ted Danson, Mary Steenburgen, Ned Beatty, Peter O’Toole
Obviously influenced heavily by Terry Gilliam’s Munchausen, this multiple-emmy-winning Travels does a really decent job fleshing out Swift’s story. It’s the only adaptation so far that shows Gulliver traveling to all four islands, with Harryhausen’s 1960 The Three Worlds of Gulliver coming almost as close to capturing the whole trip. The rest of the adaptations – as of this writing, there are 13 – seem really obsessed with Lilliput and not much else, so it’s nice to see the whole story for once.
While the Munchausen comparison isn’t a slight, Travels is Munchausen lite. Since it’s told in a series of flashbacks, there’s nothing much at stake besides the outcome of Gulliver’s lame asylum “trial,” and compared to giants, dwarves, and magic horses, Travels’ present day conflicts all seem mundane. I came to dread the impending flash forwards from Swift’s strange fantasy worlds to the lousy asylum scenes. They’re a drag. Travels isn’t nearly as clever or funny as anything Gilliam ever did, but it does enough with Swift’s satire to be worthwhile. If there’s a missed opportunity, it’s that Swift’s humor is underplayed in favor of a tame fantasy adventure plot.
One of Travels‘ most valuable asset are its effects, which look good now, and must have stunned back in 1996. Gulliver’s universe is rich and detailed, especially Lilliput and Brobdingnag, and even though there are a handful of moments that look built for TV, it looks mostly cinematic. It also features Peter O’Toole in a surprisingly meaty role, which doesn’t hurt either. It’s cheap, and won’t disappoint if you’re looking for a fantasy spectacle fix.
The talking horse is awful, though.