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Read past reviews by the Film Gang

The Last Castle
K-Pax
From Hell
Reviewed by Dennis Morton

       What are the odds that you could see three Hollywood movies in a row and find something good to say about each of them. In my experience, not high. This weekend, after returning from upstate New York and not having seen even one movie in the last three weeks, I rushed to the theatres to get my fix. In rapid succession I saw "The Last Castle", "K-Pax", and "From Hell". Not one of them is great, but I'm happy to report that each is worth seeing. And what a surprise to sit through three big-ticket movies in a row and not feel insulted. 
       For sheer narrative power, the best of the lot is "The Last Castle". The story begins with a voice-over and cranks up to a steady, satisfying speed, which it never relinquishes. The ride is exhilarating enough that minor plot failures bounce off the movie's windshield. We note a few small collisions along the way, but we consign them to memory because the trip is so interesting. This movie takes place almost entirely within the confines of a high security military prison proof enough that an expansive geography isn't necessary to tell a good story. Aside from a great yarn that pits a defrocked 3 star hero against an armchair commandant, the best thing about "The Last Castle" is the extraordinary performance of James Gandolfini. Redford is Redford, which is good, and Mark Ruffalo is fine in a small part, but Gandolfini is great. If the Oscars were more than hype and PR, Gandolfini would surely be nominated for this role. Take a look.  See for yourself. Let me know what you think.
       Next on my list is "K-PAX". Kevin Spacey plays the part of 'Prot'which rhymes with remote, which is roughly how far his home planet is from earth. Or is it? That, finally, becomes the top-drawer question. For at least the first half of the film, the viewer is thoroughly convinced that Jeff Bridges' character, a jaded chief shrink at The Manhattan Institute of Psychiatry is in for a big surprise. We know he'll discover, in some climactic way, that Prot is who he says he is.  Partly because we see Bridges sleep-walking through his personal world, eyes and ears closed to his beautiful family, and partly because we see the effect that Prot has on his fellow inmates. I am, of course, assuming that you've seen the previews for "K-PAX" and know by now that 'Prot', upon his arrival, has been swept from the streets of New York and hustled to the nearsest pych ward.  
       Maybe I'm a sucker, but I found the conversations between Prot and his psychiatrist compelling. But as the film rounds the bend toward home, there is a scene involving hypnosis. Literally and figuratively, the scene almost put me to sleep and I never quite woke up after that.  
      What carries the film for me is the contrast in style between these two fine actors. If there's an irony gene, Kevin Spacey has at least one of them. And while irony seems to have passed from fashion in certain quarters, I continue to be fascinated by it. It seems always to be accompanied by a keen intelligence, perhaps, indeed, to spring from it. Bridges is no less smart. His characters mask their exasperation in a controlled gentility. They are less overtly ironic, but almost always shrewd, as is the case in this film. See "K-PAX" partly for the story, but at least as much for the performances of Jeff Bridges and Kevin Spacey. They're pros.
       Finally on my list is "From Hell". This is a re-telling of the often-told story of Jack The Ripper. What Edvard Munch did for the rictus, the Hughes brothers attempt for late nineteenth century Victorian London. But this movie is so stylized that what's really bled from it is emotion. In my book, that's not a good thing. Nevertheless, I acknowledge the craft in this surprizingly terrorless terror film. The crimes depicted were ghoulish, but the directors' dark panache overwhelms the evil, almost celebrates it. 
       After a number of numbing performances in which Johnny Depp's range seemed limited to how convincingly he could brood, he opens up just a bit in "From Hell". As a desolute police inspector, he's not half-bad. But the real accolades go to Robbie Coltrane whose physical stature and acting abilities overwhelm Depp's in this dark and would-be-moody piece.
       I know I'm not making this sound like quite the interesting film that it somehow manages to be. But in spite of my reservations about it, it's far better made than the average Hollywood crud. The supporting actors are fun to watch, and even if you can't quite believe the movie, in the end, you'll have seen a spectacle, a welcome diversion from what's filled movie screens for most of this year.
       For The Film Gang, this is Dennis Morton.

Copyright Dennis Morton 2001