Laurent Cantet's The Class (A) is a masterful examination of a French public high school and the daily life of its students and faculty. By using non-professional actors as the kids and basing the film's story on that of the life of a real teacher (lead actor François Bégaudeau), Cantet weaves together a thoroughly compelling portrait of what it's like to be a teen in today's ever- changing high school landscape. The French setting only makes the film stand out even more, the mock-doc aesthetic works perfectly, and the screenplay truly delivers on multiple levels.
Nasty, vile, and completely unecessary, The Last House on the Left (B) improbably succeeds as a piece of slick, revenge-motivated horrortainment thanks to better than expected performances (Tony Goldwyn and Garrett Dillahunt really stand out), a plot that makes sense within its boundaries, and a shiny, shimmering visual style. What's interesting is that the film is ultimately about two regular people (a husband/wife, mom/dad) who become savages after they discover that their daughter has been beaten and violated; the "what-would-you-do" question is asked repeatedly and the answer is something you might not want to admit too. Director Dennis Illiads pushes the boundaries of cinematic sexual violence with this remake of the classic 70's exploitation flick, and while it's not a movie for everyone, the film is done with such an assured sense of style and the performances are so commanding that it became extremely watchable despite all of the terrible things happening on screen.
Speed Racer (C+) is the kind of video-game-as-movie that can be best described as the end result of a bag of Skittles and a bag of Starburst having sex while engaging in a massive LSD-binge. Failing as a kid's movie (way too long, way too heady) and only moderately succeeding as an action picture (all of the races started to feel and look alike), The Wachowski brothers are still clearly interested in trying new things and expanding their technical horizons; it's just a shame that their screenwriting abilities can't match their visual sophistication. Miscast at almost every turn, the film is definitely a stunning piece of eye-candy (the Blu Ray presentation is aces), but the over-reliance on C.G.I. without any real-world grounding became a nuisance, and the stilted performances didn't do anyone any favors.
The Mysteries of Pittsburgh (C) is one of those dreary, somewhat enjoyable indies where a post-collegiate guy tries to figure out what direction his life is headed in and what he wants to do with himself -- sound familiar? It doesn't hurt that Sienna shows her Miller's and Mena shows her Suvari's, but the meandering, cliche script isn't helped by the lackluster direction of Dodgeball's Rawson Marshall Thurber (the "Terry Tate: Office Linebacker" commercials are still his best creation). The film's one major saving grace is the inclusion of Peter Sarasgaard in the cast, who once again proves that even if the movie he's appearing in is only moderately engaging, his performance can still rivet you even if you don't really care about anything else.
Howard McCain's delightfully cheesy B-movie Outlander (B-) is the kind of movie that a couple of stoners might've concocted: a space warrior crash lands in Norway circa 700 A.D. and bands together with a group of Vikings in order to vanquish the alien-dragon that hitched a ride on his space-ship. Mixing all of the hallmarks of the ancient-combat genre and the monster-in-the-woods genre, everyone in the cast (which includes Jim Caviezel, Ron Perlman, Sophie Myles, and John Hurt) knows what kind of movie they're in and they all seemed to have a blast. The low-rent special effects are actually charming in a strange way, and McCain's obvious love for the material makes all of the murky idiocy more fun than it has any right to be.