Notes from the back row 

Inside the man

Stop the presses! Shocking news! Spike Lee has made a movie wrought with social commentary on society, class, and race.

This, of course, is actually nothing new for the controversial director. His popular 1989 flick Do the Right Thing tackled the ambivalence surrounding race issues and Mr. Lee kept the ball rolling with films like Jungle Fever, Malcolm X, He Got Game , and my favorite, The 25 th Hour. This time around Lee peppers his social commentary into a genre film, a bank heist picture, with Inside Man which opens Friday at the Village 8.

Inside Man stars Clive Owen as the leader of four bad guys (well one’s a girl) who waltz into a Manhattan bank in painter’s suits and take about 50 employees and customers hostage. Lee’s go-to actor Denzel Washington stars as the hostage negotiator saddled with saving everyone while ordering pizzas. Jodie Foster plays a big-money problem solver hired by the bank’s chairman to protect his "interests" – namely incriminating documents stored in a safety deposit box.

Working with ace cinematographer Matthew Libatique ( Requiem for a Dream ), Lee has crafted a homage to cool ’70s heist flicks like Dog Day Afternoon but with current social pertinence. Even minor or fringe characters, like the New Yorkers that gather outside or the hostages themselves, add to the themes with their moral comments or observations. Lee presents New York as a cross-section of America and reveals that from the rich to the poor and particularly the working class, society has their preconceptions, intolerances and problems.

With such a fine cast given enough room to breath and a capable director like Spike Lee, Inside Man ends up being a pretty good movie and worth checking out. Especially compared to the other film opening this week. A crap-fest, teenage horror movie called Stay Alive.

Maybe it’s just me, but the idea of a PG-13 rated video-game horror movie starring Frankie Muniz doesn’t seem like much to get excited about. First time director William Brent Bell, who co-wrote the screenplay, says Stay Alive is the hardest and goriest PG-13 flick out there, but I have my doubts.

It’s about a bunch of geeky computer game lovers who find a pre-release copy of a new horror game with scary graphics, and soon start dying in the same fashion as their game deaths. Yippee. The best thing about this movie is that there’s a character based on famous Romanian serial killer Elizabeth Bathory.

Back in the 16 th century Bathory lived in a castle in the Carpathian mountains, aka Transylvania. A noble girl married off at a young age to a frequently absent soldier, Elizabeth, as young girls do, soon fell in with a bunch of witches, alchemists and wizards. Castle life seemed boring for Lizzy so she took up the practice of whipping people, mostly serfs who owed her estate money, with a special torture-whip designed to flay the flesh right off you.

After her husband was stabbed to death by a hooker he neglected to pay, Elizabeth got a bit weird. Convinced that the blood of virgin girls would rejuvenate her aging skin, she opened a "school" for girls and began hanging young beauties by their feet, slitting their throats and bathing in their blood.

Elizabeth Bathory would even drink blood, convinced it was a fountain of youth. Of course it wasn’t and, I’m not making this up, after 600 girls went missing the townsfolk decided enough was enough. Her witches were burned at the stake, but since she was nobility Elizabeth got away with it all and died alone in her castle on Aug. 21, 1614.

Later she, along with Vlad the Impaler, would become the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and the Transylvanian Tourist board has never really recovered.

AT VILLAGE 8 March 24-30: Stay Alive ; Inside Man ; V for Vendetta ; She’s the Man ; Eight Below ; Failure to Launch ; Shaggy Dog ; Dave Chappelle’s Block Party ; 16 Blocks .

AT RAINBOW THEATRE March 24-30: A Stranger Calls ; Freedomland . March 25: Warren Miller film.

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