Fisk grad Rel Dowdell’s (www.reldowdell.com) hit and acclaimed writing/directing feature film effort “Train Ride,” recently got the same 3.5 out of 4 stars review that the recent super blockbuster film “ “ got on the noted film review website The Movie Report, says James L. Deame.
He goes on to report,
“That’s another amazing feat of recognition for Rel’s debut feature film effort that was made on a shoestring budget. “Bourne Supremacy” cost $75 million to make and has grossed over $177 million at the box office and counting. “Train Ride” has been on the amazon.com best selling African-American films’ list for over 2 years and was called “one of the best American films” of 2005 by noted film critic Gerald Peary.”
all movies are graded out of four stars ()
Train Ride (R)
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Rel Dowdell’s Train Ride can easily be pigeonholed into a number of simply-defined categories. College film. Issue film. Low-budget film. Black film. Independent film. While all of these descriptions do apply, to attach any of them–or their frankly less-than-promising sum–to the film is to too tidily and dismissively label a tough, intelligent, and riveting drama. Personifying all three of those qualities and then some is Wood Harris, whose performance here (which pre-dates his more recent and well-known work in the likes of The Wire and Remember the Titans) begs the question as to why hasn’t (yet) made him a superstar. As Will, the university senior who tricks his buddies Ellis (Russell Hornsby) and Ron (Thomas Braxton Jr.) to join him on a videotaped “train ride” of date-rape-drugged freshman Katrina ( ), Harris indeed nails all the requirements of creating a menacing and truly despicable villain, but what makes his performance all the more creepily effective are the attractive qualities he lends the role. His Will is charismatic, affable, sharp as a tack–and hence an all more believable and diabolical seducer and manipulator. No scene better sums up all the symbiotic charm and smarm that is Will than an astonishing single-take monologue where he positions himself as the victim to one of Katrina’s concerned friends; his behavior is remarkably repellent, yet it’s undeniably captivating to witness such a mind at work. That scene is also reflective of the film’s deceptive surface simplicity and Dowdell’s sly filmmaking smarts. Based on the basic plot summary, Train Ride can be pegged–and fairly accurately at that–as a message film of sorts, addressing the issue of college guys gone far too wild. But the film never comes off as preachy or sermonizing as Dowdell embeds his social and moral commentary in a story that works alone as an engrossing dramatic piece. The issue of the rape looms large, but it’s not the be-all end-all of the film; its greater function is as a catalyst for more compelling, character-based dramas where every single move and decision organically set off events that rapidly, messily, and all too realistically spiral out of control. As whispers of a scandalous videotape grow into a campus-wide roar, tensions build not only within the circle of the three guys but also between Katrina and the two friends (Nicole Prescott and Anika Hawkins) who initially joined her for the fateful get-together at Will’s apartment. Neither of these conflicts, however, are as dramatic as those within Katrina herself. As her memories of that night gradually resurface, the truth of the night ironically becomes even less clear for her–was she a victim, or did she invite this upon herself? As doubts devolve into despondence, her heartbreaking trajectory is made all the more so by how believably it develops in Dowdell’s script. But good writing would remain just that it if there weren’t capable actors giving it life, and it speaks of the abilities of Dowdell’s ensemble that they all make formidable impressions alongside the commanding Harris. The casting of hip-hop star Lyte as the naive and fragile Katrina is a definite stretch, but the risk pays off; knowledge of her tougher real-life image just intensifies the impact of her character’s arc. Like Harris, Hornsby has gone on to snag more high-profile work, and his strong debut performance here shows why; on the other hand, Braxton’s impressive turn as the increasingly harried Ron makes one wonder what this promising (and heretofore largely unseen) young talent has been up to since. Each of the principal actors makes their own unique mark, but there is a unity in their fearlessness–mirroring the largely uncompromising nature of Dowdell’s vision. The finale, while satisfying for many viewers, rings somewhat false in offering an overly tidy coda to a story that rather bravely reveled in the untidiness of bad deeds and their tangled web of consequences, but the bum note is easily drowned out by all the top-notch work and food for thought that lingers long after it’s concluded. The sole extra on Music/RuffNation Films’ DVD release is a feature-length commentary with Dowdell, executive producer Louis Brody, and associate producer Craig Carpenter, but then no other supplements are needed given the comprehensive discussion they have during the film’s tight 90-minute run time. Only on a couple of occasions do the three fall silent and start watching the film, and even when that common commentary malady does occur, it quickly passes. They also generally eschew the bad habit of simply describing what is taking place onscreen, instead discussing various production logistics as well as the meanings and intents behind certain choices. In a rare showing of humility on a director’s yak track, Dowdell doesn’t dominate, often throwing out questions to his cohorts to keep them involved and active throughout. The commentary’s glaring misstep, however, is through no real fault of any of the three: nowhere on the disc, menus, or packaging are Dowdell’s fellow participants identified, nor are they given any introduction at the head of the track. However, such a practical oversight is easily forgiven when there’s an unusual amount of intelligent substance–in both the film and the audio discussion–to compensate. Specifications: 1.85:1 letterbox; English 5.1 Surround; English Dolby Surround. ( Music/RuffNation Films)
The Bourne Ultimatum (PG-13)
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Rush Hour 3 (PG-13)
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The last two entries in the summer three-quel glut provide two contrasting approaches to that most reliable of cinema cash-ins, the action sequel. Unlike most franchises, the Bourne series is one that’s grown more assured and exciting with each successive installment, and unlike the implosions usually seen with the third go-round, director Paul Greengrass continues to up the ante for this wholly satisfying wrap-up to the saga of amnesiac spy Jason Bourne (Matt Damon, who has really settled nicely into the part of an intense action hero). The film hits the ground running right alongside Bourne as he continues to evade his government ex-employers (this time led by a terrifically cold David Strathairn) while searching for his true identity. This is one relentless chase from start to finish, with some terrifically suspenseful set pieces, expertly-staged smash-ups, and incredibly brutal fight scenes. As in the most previous installment, The Bourne Supremacy, Greengrass is a bit too enamored of the shaky, hand-held documentary-style camera work, rendering a lot of the action a bit too chaotic and dizzying visually, but that doesn’t detract from the smart plotting, spot-on performances, and slam-bang action that ends this thrill-ogy on a series-best note.The Rush Hour series is like the cinematic equivalent of an old, reliable piece of furniture: although it predictably brings comfort, age ultimately catches up with it, and is simply isn’t as refreshing as it once was. And so goes the third installment of the mismatched, cross-cultural buddy cop action comedy series–Chris Tucker runs off his mouth as LAPD detective James Carter; pulls out some nimble martial arts moves (though maybe not quite as impressive as in his younger days) as Inspector Lee. By now director Brett Ratner and writer Jeff Nathanson know that just as long as these elements are in place, not much else matters to the masses, and as such they’ve put in the bare minimum effort to come out with a releasable product. There’s no point into going into much detail about the plot as it gives new meaning to the word “perfunctory” (not to mention the one big “twist” should be plainly obvious)–all one needs to know is the new locale is , thus opening a new can of culture clash comedy. But as for the reliable ingredients, Tucker seems bored coming out of screen semi-retirement to dip into this well again, and Chan isn’t given as many impressive set pieces to call his own. I doubt this will matter to most audiences as that certain expected comfort is still there, but it will be harder to deny the signs of creakiness.
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