Movie Reviews by Paul Preston & Steven Lewis
Reviews in alphabetical order
ALMOST FAMOUS (**1/2)
There was something about the arc of the main character’s story that never drew me in to this film. It’s openly likeable and undeniably charming. But I had a more visceral response to Cameron Crowe’s earlier films like “Say Anything” and “Singles”. No doubt there were great performances (Frances McDormand & Billy Crudup, for example) and great music, but, I don’t know…there was just something…not in place for GREATNESS. And GREATNESS is what many other people are calling this flick. One effect it did have on me was the high quality of the music scene in the ’70s. It really was event-oriented, with worshippers and an overall sense of “cool” about it. Rock stars, as evidenced in the film, do act like asses a majority of the time, but they were LIVING IT, you know? Today’s music scene is a weak JOKE. Pathetic by comparison. And it was great to live in that world for a couple of hours. Just needed a better traveling companion.
ANALYZE THAT (**)
I was only a middling fan of the original “Analyze This”, so my expectations for this second installment were practically nil. However, the first fifteen minutes or so of this movie just blew me away – I was rolling on the floor laughing, and contemplating with glee all the various subplots that had been set in motion. This was, I felt, going to be a great comedy – surpassing its predecessor by far.
And oh, how it could have! The original pretty much got by on the one-joke premise of a gangster seeing a shrink (already passé at the time, incidentally – not only because HBO’s “The Sopranos” had just recently introduced that same theme, but also because another DeNiro movie had even mined this territory before; anyone remember the Bill Murray character from “Mad Dog and Glory”?). Crystal and DeNiro worked well together, there were no major gaffes, and the whole thing had a certain low-key charm – but it was no big whoop.
By comparison, the opening of “Analyze That” promises a movie of so many different clever plot strands that the only seeming danger is that none of them will be developed completely. There’s the fact that the DeNiro character has to pretend to be crazy in order to get out of prison (the ways DeNiro finds to do this are all admittedly over the top, but hilarious nonetheless); there’s the fact that he’s released into Crystal’s custody and is forced to stay at the latter’s house as a live-in (promising culture clashes abound); there’s the corresponding fact that the cops, the Feds and even other gangsters have Crystal’s house staked out and under scrutiny for just this very reason; then there’s DeNiro’s various ill-fated attempts to get jobs in the respectable 9-to-5 world that, as a gangster, he’s been insulated from his entire life (seeing him as a pushy used-car salesman is a hoot: `Look at this trunk space, it’s big enough to fit two bodies in there!’); then, when DeNiro’s Paul Vitti character gets brought on as a `technical advisor’ to a very Sopranos-like mob TV show, one begins to feel that this thing has inspiration enough for three or four different movies.
However, none of those movies made it to screen. For, as fast as any of the above-listed concepts are introduced, they are either dropped or relegated to the back-burner. What the film becomes instead, inexplicably and intolerably, is a third-rate hack job mob revenge film, with Vitti working to put the pieces together of who was trying to kill him in prison, and to hunt down and bring to justice the bad guys. This is all done without a trace of wit or intensity – and, even if it was, what’s it doing hogging center stage in a supposed comedy? For, one thing this movie clearly is not (after those hysterical first 15 minutes) is a comedy. It’s not just that things are not funny, it’s that the filmmakers literally don’t seem to be trying for jokes; they seem to want to involve us completely with the action and intrigue elements of the story. Since these are not in any way interesting, novel or inventive (and would not be even if the movie had been done as a drama), there’s simply nothing to hold your interest. Nothing.
Once the film reveals its hand, not even DeNiro and Crystal can save it (as they did the first one). Their relationship in this one is tangential at best: DeNiro is mostly on his own, pursuing his own agenda, while Crystal hangs back out of the way, alternately fuming or obsessing (a sub-strand about his father’s recent death and his backlog of grief and resentment toward the old man, which could have provided yet another rich vein of material, is handled so shallowly and incompetently as to make Crystal’s character particularly annoying and ineffectual).
It’s a shame. This movie could truly have been a comic masterpiece. And, if not that (realizing that masterpieces are tough to pull off even with the best ideas in the world), then at least solidly decent. The fact that it falls so far off the charts – after such a promising beginning – is a big disappointment indeed. My recommendation: if this is ever on television, watch up until the first commercial break, then turn sharply away. And if you’re in a rental mood and have got a DeNiro-Crystal jones going on, rent the first one. Even if you’ve already seen it, and can recite all the lines by heart – it will still be a fresher and more invigorating experience than watching this.
BATTLEFIELD EARTH (*)
This movie blows. Don’t even bother. Travolta is not convincing, the action is incoherent (I’ve mentioned this before, only Spielberg and Cameron can film action that is sensible. The era of Michael Bay and Jerry Bruckheimer has ruined action – just wait to see how much of “Gone in 60 Seconds” you actually comprehend), the dialogue is laughable, the plot is useless. Don’t get me wrong, they look like they’ve spent some money, but it’s a pathetic attempt at entertainment. And, for all the money they’ve spent, it still looks like they occasionally had to borrow matte paintings from “Logan’s Run”.
BEST IN SHOW (***1/2)
Funny, funny, funny. Some CLASSIC characters show up in this film, from leads like John Michael Higgins (who played Letterman in “The Late Shift”) as a gay dog owner who treats his dog like a princess (and acts like one!) to bit parts like Larry Miller, KILLING as an ex to Catherine O’Hara, who is inappropriate practically all the time. Fred Willard – EVERYTHING he says is funny. Everything. It may be the first role in history to have a funny line in EVERY line he says. He’s EXCELLENT. You really do end up rooting for a winner, too. Karen and I wanted two different people to win Best in Show. Besides a character parade that can’t be beat, Christopher Guest and Eugene Levy do lampoon the event of a dog show as well, by giving us so many cross-sections of this off-the-beaten-path sporting event. This is the funniest movie of the year thus far.
BILLY ELLIOT (***1/2)
I LOVED THIS MOVIE!!!! This is just a great frackin’ movie!! Some have called it unabashedly sentimental. If so, then call me the same, ’cause I went right along for the ride. There’s no denying that the director (Stephen Daldry, who’s from the same theater-to-film direction league as Sam Mendes – and I liked this film more than “American Beauty”. I mean, “Beauty” was good, but are we really shocked that the suburbs are sleazy? It was no “South Park”) captured a place and feeling quite convincingly. Sure, the poor British workers, we’ve seen them in “The Full Monty” and any Ken Loach film, but there’s never been a character quite like Billy Elliot. You really, really get behind this kid, and I became totally involved in his story. I also think there’s Oscar nods to be dealt out to both Jamie Bell (Billy) and Gary Lewis (his father). It seems like the wussy, Merchant-Ivory, Vanessa Redgrave entry into this year’s awards fray. But don’t be put off, SEE IT.
BLOOD SIMPLE (****)
See this rerelease, it’s such a damn good script, full of character actors at their best, including M. Emmett Walsh and Dan Hedaya.
It also has an A&E’s Biography-type intro that is signature Coen Bros.
CAST AWAY (****)
Total excellence on behalf of Robert Zemeckis and Tom Hanks. I saw this film and enjoyed it. But it’s the conversations I’ve had since seeing it that have really prompted my total interest and perhaps a second viewing sometime soon. It comes down to this, if you’re going to spend 2 hours on a desert island with anyone, Tom Hanks is the guy. Plus, it’s good to see Robert Zemeckis dealing with material in a smart way, as he did with “Contact”. The themes and symbolism in this movie run deep and stuck with me for a long time. The final shot is priceless. Again, this is another film where I’d love to discuss more, but it would be at the price of giving the ending away. If anyone wants further ranting, please write to me what you thought. Without giving too much away, I’ll say that the pace at the end was a little slower than the rest of the film, perhaps too slow, but in retrospect, I felt as awkward as Tom Hanks’ character Chuck, and that empathy was strong stuff. There are some crucial monologues beautifully delivered and directed towards the end. It’s great writing, and there’s an Oscar-worthy supporting performance by a volleyball.
By the way, in not giving away the end of “Cast Away”, I keep my New Year’s resolution in tact. I’ve still seen NO previews this year, except for “Original Sin”, which I have no desire to see. I recommend this for everyone. The “Traffic” previews are ruthless – see the movie first.
CHARLIE’S ANGELS (**)
Not the absolute junk I expected, yet not the more focused film it could’ve been. I love the reviews in LA’s New Times Magazine. But, alas, they give away many plot lines (ALOT of reviewers do in their full-length reviews. I try not to do that here). So, I usually wait till I’ve seen the flick to read the review, unless it’s stuff like “Little Nicky” or “Red Planet” I’m pretty sure I’m not gonna see. I had no intention of seeing ANGELS, so I read the review (which I’ll post at the end of this letter, ’cause it’s hilarious). Turns out I’d forgotten the unwritten rule in my house (where Karen lives) that we see every movie that has Bill Murray in it, despite buzz. Hell, we even saw “Larger Than Life”! The odd thing was, the parts of the film the review trashed, I enjoyed. Example, a second look the director gives to a certain shooting was dismissed as perceiving the audience as stupid and they couldn’t get it the first time out, I thought was cool! There were many other ways the director thought the audience was stupid. No doubt director McG (too cool for vowels) didn’t know if he wanted to make a satire, or an action movie. Characters as dippy as these angels were didn’t look like the type to have “Matrix” moves. I think the choice to make the angels dippy was a choice of satire (think “Dragnet”). But big-budget action scenes says to me “reinvention” (think “MI:2”). So, which is it? But, the dude (McG IS a dude, right?) makes a number of scenes exciting. The opening credit sequence (Where the movie title finally appears on screen) is more exciting than scenes where people talk! Hey, if you’ve ever wanted to see George McFly in an action scene, check it out. I still say hang on for “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” for big-time action with a more solid director.
OK, so this is a 2000 release, but I haven’t reviewed it here on the website yet. This movie had to have been greenlighted in order to win Oscars. But the fact that it won ZERO awards is testament to how this film actually plays. If anyone remembers, I found the plot of “Finding Forrester” very familiar (and I still haven’t found the EXACT film it reminded me of. Thanx for all the suggestions). Well, the plot of “Chocolat” is equally familiar: Oh no, this outsider sure is going to change our uptight ways! It’s basically “Footloose” with better music. So, where were “Footloose”‘s Academy Award nominations? You can’t deny the talent they brought to “Chocolat”, from the acting and directing, to the cinematography and the great score by Rachel Portman. So, if you don’t find it familiar, you could get some enjoyment out of it ’cause it’s done so well. But I found it to be moralistic mumbo-jumbo with no new story to tell. I’m still upset that it took a Best Picture nomination away from “Requiem for a Dream” or “Cast Away” or “Billy Elliot”.
THE CONTENDER (***)
Of the films with bad endings, I enjoyed this one the most. The ending is a bit of a sell-out, but it’s filled with dialogue I found to be smart and new to me. I’m also a big fan of Jeff Bridges. Even if his character is not all that spic-n-span, putting him as the president, following Harrison Ford and Kevin Kline, isn’t good for the current line-up of goofs who’ve been duking it out for the presidency in real life. I just enjoyed the political back-and-forth of this film and the idea that the personal life of these people is “none of your damn business” is a long-forgotten ideal. And the performances were stellar from Joan Allen and Gary Oldman, even if the writing occasionally undercut their intelligence from time to time. So, good, not great, enough good stuff to check it out if you’re a fan of the actors involved.
CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON (***1/2)
EPIC with a capital “E”. The best way to describe this film is to say that if David Lean were ever to make a Kung Fu movie, this is what it would be. Ang Lee has fashioned a film that’s the closest thing I’ve seen to a dream on film. The film acts, looks, sounds and progresses like a dream, full to the brim with larger-than-life characters, grandiose plots, magic and legends. The leads are terrific (I love the fact that everytime Ebert & Roeper mention this movie, they refer to Chow Yun-Fat as “The Great Chow Yun-Fat”), and I was especially impressed by Zhang Ziyi as the meddling daughter of a diplomat. Her story is fascinating, and her fight scenes are unholy!! The film also goes through every emotion in the book: fear, revenge, love, restraint, sadness, excitement, joy. It’s awesome, I recommend it to everyone. And it has a last shot that outdoes “Cast Away”.
It gets 2 stars out of 4 because I liked pretty much exactly HALF the movie. The look was great, the sound was terrible. By sound, I mean, THEY TALKED!!! The damn dinosaurs talked!! I came into the movie jaded by that, but decided to give it a chance, thinking that there must be some kind of plot-importance to the idea that they speak like modern humans. Wrong. They talk so they can pass off weak, “hip” dialogue. THEY TALK!! If it were a cartoon, I’d give ’em some slack. But, they go to such, million-dollar lengths to create a look and sound of realism. From the dinosaurs snorting to the texture of their skin. Still, they don’t come close to the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park. They didn’t eat the lawyer on the toilet, belch and say “Object this!”. So, when this film’s “villains”, the Carnotaurs, make an appearance, they’re really in the vein of Spielberg’s dinosaurs, bloodthirsty, mean and REAL. Why? Because they tried so damn hard to make them real!! But the other characters talk, and I find that to suck. They shouldn’t have Land-Before-Timed it to death.
DR. SEUSS’ HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS (***)
How strange is this? I enjoyed this film. Was everyone like me – not expecting to like this at ALL. It looked overdone, bloated, out of sync with Seuss, and a holiday downer. Two words save the day – Jim Carrey. Call it “How the Actor Saved the Movie”, he KILLED. The best scenes of the film between him and Max the Dog (another good actor. And I’m not saying that because I’m married to Karen, a fierce dog lover). Truly, this dog never seems to be looking off-camera at his trainer. He seems to be listening and enjoying himself. Furthermore, it’s a gender-bending female in the role!). I believe this movie got the Whos all wrong. The filmmakers needed a voice in their head that, every 30 minutes said, “simpler, simpler”. And the idea to have an “evil” Who in the Mayor is bad (that’s established early, I’m giving nothing away – he’s jealous and selfish). They needed filler in this movie so badly, that they forgot that at one point in the film they quoted from the book about how no one knew why the Grinch hated Christmas, he just did, THEN they created a whole backstory to tell us exactly why! Adapting a 30-minute read or cartoon into full-length film is tough, but the fleshing out (a love story, extended Cindy Lou Who storyline) didn’t work. I recommend it on Jim Carrey and he alone. He is funny, funny, funny, funny in this role, and in all the scenes he’s in. A friend once reminded me of a theory that’s out there that Jim Carrey is one of our greatest actors ’cause he’ll take dialogue that looks like this on the page:
…and make it so much more. He’s done that here. If you’re a fan
of his, don’t miss it.
A second (same) opinion:
DR. SEUSS’ HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS (***)
So much invective, so many hurt feelings on this one. Bad press and word of mouth followed this movie around like the plague upon its initial Thanksgiving release. On one level, of course, I can understand it; “The Grinch” certainly didn’t need the big-screen, live action treatment – the simple half-hour cartoon is, and always will be, a classic unto itself. But exactly because that version is in no danger of going away or being forgotten (or – perish the thought! – replaced), I for one was able to be more generous and forgiving when watching this movie. Oh hell, I might as well admit it – I watched it at all pretty much explicitly to see what Jim Carrey was going to do with the lead role. On that score, I was not disappointed; he took the basic character sketch that is the Grinch and embroidered it with all manner of tics, impersonations, and over-the-top shenanigans. As usual, if you’re no fan of Carrey – and broad humor in general – there’s nothing here that will convert you. Me, I’m constantly astonished by his resourcefulness and creativity, as well as the almost superhuman energy he brings to every role. Here it’s especially impressive, as he coaxes a pulsing life force to come through layers and layers of prosthetics. In fact, it occurred to me, watching the film, that if anyone could be a modern day Lon Chaney, it would be Jim Carrey – I could see him making a good career out of bringing to life a rogues’ gallery of monsters, grotesques, and other costumed or heavily made-up characters. It would in fact seem the natural extension of his talents and inclination; if there’s ever been anyone constrained by the notion of being a “normal” person, it’s Jim Carrey. But by the same token, no one – not Jack Nicholson in “Batman”, not Christopher Lloyd in “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?”, not even Paul Reubens as Pee Wee Herman – has seemed so at home projecting the weightlessness and exaggeration of a cartoon existence more fully than Jim Carrey. This is no easy trick by any stretch of the imagination, and I hope for all our sakes that he’ll always at least keep his hand in this style of performing; there’s many who can do “realistic” acting (in varying degrees of quality, of course) – there’s precious few, maybe no one else currently alive, who can do what Carrey does.
As to the movie itself: is there anything here beyond Carrey’s performance that makes it worth seeing? Not really. But then again there’s nothing that really gets in the way, either. The sets and the basic look of the movie are reasonably well done: nothing overtly memorable, but not the ugly and barren wasteland many reviewers have suggested. Taylor Momsen as Cindy Lou-Who is suitably cute in her part without being insufferable (and on that score let’s not forget that even Dr. Seuss’s Cindy Lou was impossibly precious and saccharine in the first place) and she develops a nice rapport with Carrey that helps anchor the film. The backstory which “explains” the Grinch and how he became that way . . . well, yeah, it’s stupid, but it also doesn’t take up much time, so if you just twiddle your thumbs for a few minutes you can get through it without too much pain or discomfort.
But many objected to the film on the basic grounds that its portrayal of the Whos was an abomination; that it took the simple, good-hearted creatures of the Dr. Seuss original and turned them into lunk-headed and materialistic busybodies – in essence, caricatures of Yuletide soul-lessness and consumerism. Personally, I think it’s an interesting change. Seuss’s heart was always more with Grinch’s cynicism and disgruntlement anyway, so it makes sense to pile on those qualities in an extended treatment of the story. Furthermore, while the Hoos as paragons of perfect virtue and simplicity works OK in a 22-minute treatment (especially one where we don’t see much of them), there’s something fundamentally false and unsatisfying about it. After all, even in the original tale, these people are pretty ostentatious and materialistic in their celebration of Christmas. It makes sense to me that they – just as much as the Grinch – would need a reminder of what the true meaning of the holiday season really is before they would lovingly burst into song at the prospect of a Christmas without any presents or decorations. And, of course, this makes them closer in conception to the average American, and thereby more identifiable and accessible (if necessarily less admirable). Especially since, as I’ve said, this new version doesn’t wipe out the old one, I think the change in the Hoos is utterly defensible and adds an interesting wrinkle that the film can truly call its own.
So that’s the Grinch, circa 2000 – no big whoop, but no big travesty either. And if you like Jim Carrey, another notch on his belt of impressive performances. That’s really all you need to know.
THE EMPEROR’S NEW GROOVE (**)
Yeah, it was funny, but… This is Disney’s effort to buck the sweeping epic notion that most of their recent projects have had (“Hunchback”, “Tarzan”), and just be funny. What did I think was missing? That sweeping, epic feel. The plot is wildly simple. You can tell that was part of the Disney suits’ plan when they scrapped this production (then titled “Kingdom of the Sun”) halfway through it’s completion and went with David Spade and a load of yuks. But the yuks come and go and you’re left with a relatively hollow movie. “Hercules”, which I thought was HILARIOUS (you can’t beat James Woods) was made a better film than this BECAUSE of the journey the hero took and the amount that you cared for him. This has simply the laughs, and they seem to mostly be plucked from something you’d find on Disney’s Saturday Morning on ABC. There’s always been something about the Disney films that separated them from standard TV animation. I hope that returns for Disney’s upcoming “Atlantis”.
THE EXORCIST (***)
While much of the film is compelling (especially Jason Miller’s priest character’s guilt over his mom’s death), much is too confusing (the opening?), or too ’70s (supporting players giving BAD performances). It all adds up to something I wanted to enjoy more, but it was nice to see a film where the director took his time. I think that’s a quality shared by alot of ’70s directors (except Scorsese, who ALWAYS kept things moving). But look at Coppola and Lumet back then. Their films eased through the exposition. That’s refreshing, but the payoff wasn’t a great whole (the parts, great scenes were fun, though). The tacked on ending was weak, too. There are good performances (Miller especially, plus Ellen Burstyn and Linda Blair). So, to me, it’s a mixed bag. I was scared more by “Alien”.
I also recently saw “House of Wax”, the 1953 classic with Vincent Price at the Silent Movie Theatre for a special “talkie” Halloween presentation. I’m going to more and more movies that have been made at least 10 years ago if not more. “Spinal Tap”, “Blood Simple”, “The Exorcist”, “House of Wax”, “The General”. This year’s still not got alot going for it. More proof, next up for me is “The Legend of Drunken Master” – a movie released elsewhere in 1994.
I had the good fortune to catch two GREAT films in re-release, too: “The Nightmare Before Christmas” played at Disney’s El Capitan Theatre – GORGEOUS. Plus, the print was perfect and they had an accompanying room with set sculptures, people in costume, etc. LOVE that movie.
Then I caught “The Matrix” at Universal Studios’ IMAX screen. I was floored. It was bigger than God. 60,000 watts of sound. It sells out or comes near for both weekend midnight shows every week. Now they’ve got “Gladiator” there, too. This is worth doing. Plus, “The Matrix” is an exceptionally well put together piece of sci-fi.
FALL 2000 MOVIES I SKIPPED
It’s time once again for a movie rant. It’s been tough for me to pick a time to write this. Many of my online compadres have said that a new rant is overdue. But I really haven’t seen that much lately. Not that I haven’t had time, but has anything released lately looked good? I mean really good? Worth seeing good?
Not in my opinion. So, you won’t be hearing about:
“Turn it Up” (w/Pras & Ja Rule and the tag line “How you gonna win?” … Are they kidding?)
“Cecil B. Demented” (I’m actually slightly upset that I missed this and it’s not too late)
“Bring It On” (will Kirsten Dunst make ANY movie?)
“The Cell” (Darn pretty, it just needs Trant Reznor music)
“Godzilla 2000” (this may get seen, I’m still reeling from “Gamera, Guardian of the Universe”)
“Bless the Child” (maybe Basinger & Mira Sorvino should make a movie where they give back their Oscars)
“The Art of War” (killing time till “The Exorcist” rerelease opens at the Chinese Theater Sept. 22)
“Coyote Ugly” (you’d think Jerry Bruckheimer would get laid enough to prevent movies like this)
“Autumn in New York” (zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz)
“Hollow Man” (Maybe someone should make “Frankenstein” into an assnine slasher flick)
“Loser” (Mena Suvari does nothing for me, and I feel as filthy as Lester the Molester when people try to convince me she’s sexy)
“The Replacements” (required work for Hackman so he can be brilliant in something later this year)
“The Watcher” (required work for Reeves so he can suck in something later this year)
“Duets” (a movie about karaoke? Great timing. What’s next, a movie about people falling in love over the CB?)
“Crime + Punishment in Suburbia” (it comes down to this – teen movies suck. See the upcoming “Urban Legends – Final Cut” for further proof)
“Bait” (Will someone let Jamie Foxx be funny?)
If I’m wrong, please tell me and I’ll try and see one of these movies, but it just seems like a dry season.
FINDING FORRESTER (**1/2)
“Your the man now, dogg!”. I don’t know about you, but I say that all the time in a lousy Scottish dialect. It’s fun, try it. Ready…”You’re the man now, dogg!” Wasn’t that fun? I swear I’ve seen the plot involving a young man who befriends a reclusive genius before. Where have I seen it? If you’ve read this far in the longer-than-the-Odyssey e-mail before you, and you know where you’ve seen this plot, PLEASE e-mail me and let me know. It’s killing me. Nevertheless, because I felt I’d seen it before, I was never knocked out by this film. It’s smart and well made, but nothing to skip “Traffic” over. It’s GREAT to see Connery in something that doesn’t have the words “Entrapment” or “Rock” in the title. I hope he decides to make more personal films in the future. Director Gus Van Zant does a huge disservice to his film at the end in how he handles the delicate material of the characters’ writing. He drops the ball big time.
This movie had a really interesting premise, and director Gregory Hoblit (Primal Fear, a movie I LOVED) does a great job of raising the stakes continually.
But, there are some plot points that don’t belong in such a smart movie.
Dennis Quaid escapes from a police station in a completely irrational manner, and there’s schmaltz in FULL effect.
But, the suspense is enjoyable, and the clever script make for some memorable moments.
Dennis Quaid should stop doing dialects.
THE GENERAL (****)
One of the best places to see a movie in LA is the Silent Movie Theatre. Last month, I went to see a film I saw in video years ago, Buster Keaton’s “The General”. This movie is absolutely hilarious, and the production seems years ahead of it’s time. The stunts, gags and train wrecks are modern-day big, yet it’s an old-time flick. If you ever see it on video, get it. We’ll be going back for more Buster and Charlie Chase this month. The theatre shows movies as if they were events, with prizes for trivia questions, live musical accompaniment, not to mention Felix the Cat cartoons before the show.
It was a GREAT time.
Go see this movie if you’re looking for the first (and perhaps only), big-time Hollywood epic action piece. It is a truly impressive film. First of all, if director Ridley Scott is about anything, he’s about style and visual ARTs. He brings the Roman Empire to glorious life not only in a fascinating recreation of the Roman Collisseum, but huge armies, giant statues, flags and temples. You never doubt you are THERE. The plot here is similar to Braveheart, sometimes a little too much so. A man is punished by a zealous governmental leader, he seeks revenge, gets caught up in the wheelings and dealings of a new, uprising government. But all the elements are in place in this film and the gladiator battles look better then ever. It’s light years from Spartacus and Ben-Hur. The sound effects are bone-crunchingly effective (I love that adjective). Russell Crowe is great, I’ve been waiting for a vehicle for him that’d showcase his physicality and no-bs attitude. The whole cast is great, I was worried about Joaquin Phoenix, but he straddles effectively between leader and brat. I didn’t think America would give a rat’s ass about a gladiator movie, thinking they’re strictly for “Airplane” jokes anymore. I changed my mind quick. It’s real good stuff, go see it.
THE LADIES MAN (L.A. TIMES REVIEW)
Please read the attached review of “The Ladies Man” from LA’s New Times. It’s very funny in it’s…um…detail. But, please, did ANYONE see “Superstar” and just beg for THIS movie to be made?!?! Look, Saturday Night Live is Dead, can we at least respect it’s heritage in death?:
The Ladies Man
It’s perfect timing that this travesty should come out at the same time as Spike Lee’s “Bamboozled”, since it makes all of Lee’s points for him. Perhaps Lorne Michaels conceived this film as “satire,” but the KKK could probably recruit new trainees with his image of the black man (represented by long suffering and unfunny SNL cast member Tim Meadows) as semiretarded, idiotically grinning, massively endowed, large afroed seducer of mostly married white women. If racial stereotypes don’t offend you, perhaps Will Ferrell as a mincing repressed homosexual who sings show tunes and wrestles in oil will. As an angry cuckolded husband, the brilliant British physical comedian Lee Evans (“There’s Something About Mary”, “Funny Bones”) is completely wasted, as are a couple of former Kids in the Hall, Billy Dee Williams (malt liquor commercials looking for younger pitchmen these days, Billy?), and Julianne Moore, the latter apparently attempting career suicide in a small role as a horny circus clown. Director Reginald Hudlin (of the vastly superior House Party) lifts half of his gags from “Austin Powers”, while the script — credited to Meadows, Dennis McNicholas, and Andrew Steele – regales us with endless repetitions and variations on the word “butt,” while expecting us to believe that the FCC would actually fine a DJ for saying it. The only laughs to be had here are based on the sheer absurdity of the idea that no one involved ever seemed to realize just what a horrible film they were making. Easily the worst and most misguided major studio release of the year — beating out “Battlefield Earth”, which at least had a lunatic charm that made it strangely appealing – “The Ladies Man” is a disaster on every level. The only thing good about its release is that we won’t have to see the damn preview ever again.
THE LEGEND OF DRUNKEN MASTER (***1/2)
No bad ending here. The final fight scene in this film DOMINATES and we are all subservient to it. Is the acting good? Not really. Is the dubbing good? No – AND IT NEVER WILL BE. But the fights, the fights! Jackie Chan and his stunt monkeys are to be admired (or hospitalized) for what they do in this flick. Even Jackie takes a fall into hot coals! It’s a typical revenge plot with some comedy Jackie’s known for. I just enjoyed the hell out of myself. I am told that his American films (“Rush Hour”, “Shanghai Noon”) have fight choreography that is very detailed and utilizes a number of things in the room, and the rehearsals are rigorous. In his Hong Kong films, there’ll be dialogue and suddenly a blank sheet that just says “Jackie Chan fight scene”, then back to dialogue. It shows on screen.
MEET THE PARENTS (***)
That’s one star for the script, and two for DeNiro and Stiller. These guys just work great off each other. I LOVE to watch Ben Stiller squirm, he makes a GREAT loser. Think of this and “There’s Something About Mary”. The poor bastard just has the worst luck, but we get a bit of empathy and/or sweetness from him that carries the day. He almost made “Keeping the Faith” good, but I thought it was too long.
So, see “Meet the Parents” for some quality laughs.
It’s DeNiro’s best pairing since Charles Grodin.
MISS CONGENIALITY (**1/2)
One of Sandra Bullock’s more enjoyable efforts, and I think the right vehicle for her if she still wants the Julia Roberts crowd to go to her films, too. The whole idea of calling out beauty contests as shallow and lame is nothing new. In fact, “Beautiful” with Minnie Driver came out earlier THIS year, following “Drop Dead Gorgeous”. But the whole idea of a tomboy in the race seemed fresh because of Sandra. She’s got her funny bone back. That’s why people liked her in the first place, and this will hopefully make people forget non-funny (and non-interesting) movies like “Speed 2” and “Practical Magic”. It helps her to be surrounded by some great performers. Shatner’s in this. SHATNER!! Need I say more!?!? Candice Bergen is having a blast, and will hopefully appear in more films (I miss her since she left TV). But the perfect touch to make Sandra look great is putting her alongside Michael Caine. This guy is BRILLIANT! He is a total pro, and he kills as the pageant coordinator hired to whip Sandra’s tomboy into shape. He’s in classic “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” mode which reminds you (after seeing him in “Cider House Rules” and “Quills”) that he can do anything. And do it well. (Read his book!) The movie gets bogged down in plot about halfway through it, and doesn’t dispense as many huge guffaws at that point, but there are enough for me to have had fun.
NURSE BETTY (**1/2)
If only Neil LaBute had written this. What they have without that is an OK movie. To me, Betty travelling across the country to live in her make-believe soap opera life is not that exciting an idea. I feel the crazy-person-getting-everything-they-want plot has run it’s course. Betty goes to LA and she’s so nutty she gets a place to live and a part on the show. I’ve seen that in “Forrest Gump”, “Being There” and parts of “Big”. “Wow, you’re crazy as a damn fruitcake, we better make you head of programming at our radio station!” – etc., etc. But, Morgan Freeman is untouchable. There’s no doubt he’ll be great in anything. I didn’t really get the arc of his character, though. Why is he acting the way he is about Betty? “Why?” is a good question. And, I have never been a big Chris Rock fan. He’s never been a particularly good ACTOR. He seems shifty and uncomfortable in his skin. Same in this case. So, it’s a well made film, but nothing surprised me much. By the way, there’s an establishing shot of The Saharan Hotel where Rock and Freeman are staying in LA. The big, salmon color building behind it is where Karen and I live!
THE NUTTY PROFESSOR 2 – THE KLUMPS (**1/2)
I’m pretty much done thinking about this movie now. But while I was watching it, I remember laughing quite a bit. Karen (my wife) loved it. I think we agree that Eddie Murphy is some funny, funny shit. He kills and he’s extremely good at playing all the characters. The film isn’t as good as the original, though. There are some much cheaper jokes that could’ve been cut out. I just remember laughing at Eddie. He’s been hilarious in multiple roles in “Coming to America” & “Bowfinger”, and he’s good here, too. There are moments of sweetness, but not as real or believable. Janet Jackson is a waste and the ending is pretty anti-climactic. So, not a great movie, but there are funny characters in it.
O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU? (***)
Damn that fence!! This one…um….I don’t know. It was good. Here’s the problem I have that’s at the heart of this film. It’s based on “The Odyssey”, and I think I just don’t LIKE “The Odyssey”. It’s a Greek story of a guy who has a bunch of stuff happen to him. He doesn’t really go on a quest, he doesn’t have an emotional journey. It’s not unlike Candide after a while. So, when the heroes of “Brother” have their adventure, it seemed to go nowhere fast. But, because it’s the Coen Brothers, it was never boring. The dialogue they give EVERY character is interesting. I LOVE the Coens so much, I almost wish they just took these characters and wrote them an original story. Even a plotless movie like “The Big Lebowski” comes alive through the Coen’s originality. This one meanders a bit more than “Lebowski” and for that never achieve’s greatness. It probably should be **1/2, but I’m working with more bias.
THE ORIGINAL KINGS OF COMEDY (**)
I wanted more from this.
It just wasn’t that funny. Normally, I’m hit & miss on Def Comedy Jam, but this was mostly miss. DL Hughley’s one hour special on HBO was much more enjoyable. There’s no doubt these guys have confidence and energy, some have compared it to Pryor and Murphy. Set it straight – these guys can’t touch Pryor and “Eddie Murphy RAW” was better. If you’re interested in this, see “Richard Pryor-Live in Concert”. One of the funniest live shows ever.
These guys don’t have strong enough material for a whole film.
OSCAR RANT 2001:
(Honoring the best films of 2000. This was written after the awards telecast)
ACTOR – LEADING:
Javier Bardem – BEFORE NIGHT FALLS
Russell Crowe – GLADIATOR
Tom Hanks – CAST AWAY
Ed Harris – POLLOCK
Geoffrey Rush – QUILLS
Normally, the Supporting categories are full of the best performances of the year, but this year’s crop of Actor and Actress categories are STACKED! All these performances are good. Here’s the problem I have – I’ve said before that “Gladiator” is basically “Braveheart” in Rome (one man’s personal revenge story becomes a story of his overthrow of a government), so how can Crowe win, and Mel Gibson couldn’t even get a nomination back in 1995? Gibson’s William Wallace was far more driven than Crowe’s Maximus. Some people say that he’s also winning for “The Insider”, and, to me, neither performance matches the work he did in “L.A. Confidential”, for which he didn’t even get a nomination!! See the cruel circle? Maybe I’m still upset that Jack Lemmon didn’t get a nomination for “Glengarry Glen Ross” in ’92, I’m always upset that they omit somebody. Damn the omissions!
WHO SHOULD’VE WON: Tough to say, not having seen Harris or Bardem’s work. I really liked Hanks, for all the reasons to like a screen performance – physical feats, drama, eloquently delivered monologues, humor, vulnerability, and the ability to keep my interest when doing scenes with sporting goods. However, when it came to voting for the SAG awards (which I did for the first time this year!), I threw the nod to “Billy Elliot”‘s Jamie Bell. That kid was dynamite, damn his omission!
ACTOR – SUPPORTING:
Jeff Bridges – THE CONTENDER
Willem Dafoe – SHADOW OF THE VAMPIRE
Benicio Del Toro – TRAFFIC
Albert Finney – ERIN BROCKOVICH
Joaquin Phoenix – GLADIATOR
My choice (and he won the SAG award!) would’ve been Finney. The idea of this guy juggling a thousand different feelings during the course of his pursuit of PG&E sucked me right in. I sensed his frustration at trying to maintain a sense of power with this ridiculous woman talking trash at him. Plus, he ended up being vulnerable, and ultimately, likeable, and that was a transformation from who you thought you were meeting at the beginning of the film. However, you can’t slight them for honoring Del Toro’s low-key effort. His subtle nuances enhance every scene he’s in. Usually this is the strongest category, where it could go to anybody, but I thought this year that Actress held that distinction – where only Binoche was the weak link (due to the writing).
BIGGEST OMISSION: Gary Lewis, Billy’s dad in “Billy Elliot”. This was a strong ensemble, and Billy’s brother and dad were both excellent, but Gary Lewis’ scenes at the strike lines and doing anything to see his son succeed were very moving, and provided a wonderful character arc. He was great. There’s a strong case for Gary Oldman in “The Contender”, too. Oldman was great, he’s ALWAYS great. I had the pleasure of seeing him when I sat in the audience at Dennis Miller Live last month. Dennis didn’t even know he was English! That’s how damn good he is!
ACTRESS – LEADING:
Joan Allen – THE CONTENDER
Juliette Binoche – CHOCOLAT
Ellen Burstyn – REQUIEM FOR A DREAM
Laura Linney – YOU CAN COUNT ON ME
Julia Roberts – ERIN BROCKOVICH
As I just said, this is a very strong category. Linney’s work was as great as anything Streep’s ever done, Roberts’ work was her career’s best, Joan Allen WILL have her Oscar one day, but I go with Burstyn on this one. Again, if you’re an actor, you gotta marvel at her diving abilities. Diving into some dark places to drudge up the despair, loneliness and heartbreak to NAIL some of the key scenes, diving into fat suits and fat-neck makeup to be as un-pretty as possible (and not caring the whole time – let’s see Liz Taylor do that), diving into each moment of the film to draw out the right amount of sympathy, empathy and horror. She’s gonna be on television!
ABOUT THE WINNER: About Roberts, she just got the Gwyneth Paltrow award. Paltrow was in about 130 piece of junk movies, OR she had a tiny role in a good one. Yet, she appeared on the cover of every magazine in the world and was considered this wonderful thing. So, at least when she won her Oscar, she finally deserved it (I thought it should’ve gone to Cate Blanchett, but Gwyneth didn’t SUCK, is what I’m saying (see The Talented Mr. Ripley)). Roberts has been in a load of junk, and at least she won for a performance of charisma, power and polish (and NOT for Pretty Woman). And I can sleep knowing Burstyn already has an Oscar.
ACTRESS – SUPPORTING:
Judi Dench – CHOCOLAT
Marcia Gay Harden – POLLOCK
Kate Hudson – ALMOST FAMOUS
Frances McDormand – ALMOST FAMOUS
Julie Walters – BILLY ELLIOT
No doubt the biggest surprise of the night. Everyone thought Kate Hudson had the Mark-Tucci-penned “Best Supporting Woman We in the Academy Would Like to Sleep With” award locked up. We want to sleep with Marisa Tomei, we want to sleep with Mira Sorvino, we want to sleep with Angelina Jolie, we want to sleep with Kate Hudson. But in an upset, we want to sleep with Juliette Binoche, we want to sleep with Kim Basinger, we want to sleep with Marcia Gay Harden – they skewed a bit older. You’ll have to make up your own theories about wanting to sleep with Anna Paquin and Judi Dench. I’ll tell you this much, it makes me want to see “Pollack”. Harden’s always been pretty solid, from her great performance in the Coen’s “Miller’s Crossing” to today.
BIGGEST OMISSION: How, how, how, how, how, how can you not nominate Zhang Ziyi from “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”? HOW?!??! She was magnificent! Breathtaking! Sparkling! Electric! Sexy! Feisty! And she could kick your ass! It’s a travesty, a travesty, I say.
CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON
DR. SEUSS’ HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS
It’s no wonder that “Gladiator” won Best Visual Effects – the majority of it’s setting is re-recreated, from 90% of The Coliseum to all the statues, columns and winding roads. This doesn’t leave much to be created by the Art Directors. So, right the Academy was to look past their glitz and award “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”. I again compare the film to the best work of David Lean – it takes a good eye to make a film look ‘epic’. The locations and sets of “Tiger” were majestic AND lived-in. Well done, Academy.
BAD NOMINATION: “Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas” I enjoyed this film somewhat, and that’s ONLY for Carrey’s performance. He pulled out all the stops and was hilarious. What didn’t work at all for me was the film’s translation of the look and feel of Seuss’ Whos. The Whos were a little too bizzaro for me, and they just got it wrong on all counts, from the script, to art direction, makeup and acting.
CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON
O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU?
I have compared “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” to a dream many times. And the cinematography contributes greatly to that, in cooperation with the art direction. This was another solid win. But…
BIG-TIME OMISSION: “Requiem for a Dream”. This film is the companion piece to the dream film – the nightmare. Whereas cinematography and art direction helped “Tiger”, “Dream”‘s cinematography works brilliantly with the editing to make one of the year’s most exciting, visually charged films.
PS: I had problems with “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”, I wish it was an original script as opposed to the Homer’s rambling “Odyssey”. BUT, the cinematography is GORGEOUS – that’s a good nomination.
CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON
DR. SEUSS’ HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS
Well, you know how I feel about “The Grinch”. So, to me, it came down to “Tiger” and “Gladiator” (nothing symbolic there, eh?). So, giving it to “Gladiator” was fine with me. You’ve got to admire a film that re-creates the heyday of the Roman Empire and sparks a modern trend – it seems that women are wearing the armbands that Connie Nielsen sported in the film.
CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON
I can’t say I was upset with this outcome, although I was rooting for Ang Lee. When I first heard that a HIGH quality filmmaker was going to make a kung fu movie, I shit myself. Then when I saw it and realized it’s on par with Lawrence of Arabia (with more romance!), I was doubly impressed. Most directors can’t do one thing right (fight scenes, romance, drama, epic scenery, comedy, myth, revenge), Lee balances ALL of it perfectly. They made a big mistake not nominating Darren Aronofsky for “Requiem for a Dream”, he’s going to get an Oscar in the next ten years, just like Soderbergh.
ON THE WINNER: If this was the only film Soderbergh directed, then grainy, you-are-there realism would be his signature. But with his filmography, we can see he adapts to the material, and he did an EXCELLENT job with Traffic.
INTO THE ARMS OF STRANGERS: STORIES OF THE KINDERTRANSPORT
LONG NIGHT’S JOURNEY INTO DAY
SCOTTSBORO: AN AMERICAN TRAGEDY
SOUND AND FURY
THE MAN ON LINCOLN’S NOSE
ON TIPTOE: GENTLE STEPS TO FREEDOM
I saw none of the above two category’s films. I may be lame to some, but after “Hoop Dreams” & “Roger & Me” got snubbed, and the Academy showed a complete lack of admiration for Errol Morris, screw these categories!
CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON
Talk about another highway robbery!!! The editing in “Requiem for a Dream” is flawless! Flawless! And a real challenge (by the way, the best editing of 2001 so far has GOT to go to “Memento” – I don’t know if I’d kill to work on a project that challenging, or if I’d kill myself trying to do it right. They did it right, more on that film later…). “Requiem”‘s editing was 75% responsible for its breakneck pace.
ON THE WINNER: For what was nominated, I probably would’ve picked “Traffic”, too. It jumped around between over a hundred different characters and never let us lose our grasp as viewers. This is usually a category that has a few mainstream (so don’t include “Tiger”) action films involved – “The Matrix” won last year, and “Terminator 2”, “Speed” and “Robocop” have all been nominated in the past. This year, the closest we get is “Gladiator”, but I contend that there was no GREAT action movie last year.
FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM:
CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON
DIVIDED WE FALL
THE TASTE OF OTHERS
NO CONTEST – “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” should’ve and did.
DR. SEUSS’ HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS
SHADOW OF THE VAMPIRE
This should’ve gone to “Shadow of the Vampire” for a job well done, and all the reasons I mentioned before about how they got the Whos all wrong. But Hollywood loves Rick Baker.
ON THE CELL: Haven’t seen it…
CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON
This was a good category made only better by Itzhak Perlman and Yo Yo Ma in a class performance at the Oscar ceremony. But Williams’ “Patriot” score and Zimmer’s “Gladiator” score seem like versions of previous work. Ennio Morricone’s “Malena” score was little heard, but as gorgeous as anything he’s ever done. I hope his career doesn’t end Oscar-less. He didn’t even win for “The Mission”!! And “Chocolat” – well, this is the only nomination I probably would’ve given this film. It’s catchy and we’ll probably have the soundtrack in a few weeks (Karen wants it for her birthday)
MY CHOICE: “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” The only other score I remember was Cast Away’s, because Zemeckis was wise enough to not have it PRESENT for 75% of the film! But the action scenes in Tiger were accompanied by the coolest music that often was in contrast to the wild movements on screen, yet always traditional, lending itself to the grandeur and mythology of the story.
CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON
DANCER IN THE DARK
THE EMPEROR’S NEW GROOVE
MEET THE PARENTS
I never saw Wonder Boys (currently serving jail time because of it), but from what I know of it, Dylan’s song captures it right on the money. That pains me to say, ’cause Dylan does nothing for me. Newman should’ve won last year for “When She Loved Me”. He really, really, really, really, really should have. He may not write a song that beautiful again.
MINI-RANT: Is that Bjork piece of worm-shit even a song? What the hell was that freak show at the Oscars? You took up valuable time ABC could’ve spent on advertising. You wasted money and time and YOU, yes YOU, Bdork, are the reason I didn’t see “Dancer in the Dark”. If your music didn’t suck, it looked like an interesting concept, but I’d rather listen to cats screw than your music…
…speaking of music, a while ago I commented on how the Grammy nominations BLEW, and they BLOW every year. Last year, they managed to pick through their bad nominees to hand Grammys out to deserving folk. They did it again! U2’s rock song had all the joy and rich sound that a Grammy-winning single should have, and the Dan, the DAN, man! Steely Dan’s album was my second favorite of the year, but they didn’t nominate Barenaked Ladies “Maroon” (#1), so good for Fagen and Becker – “Two Against Nature” is a tight, jazzy piece of rock craftsmanship. And for the record, Eminem is a poser, just like Brittany Spears. I look forward to your comments.
CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON
Well, if you’ve noticed a theme yet, you’ve got to know that I believe that the best film of the year wasn’t nominated: “Requiem for a Dream”. My five nominees would’ve looked like this (direct from my Top 10 of the Year 2000):
CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON
REQUIEM FOR A DREAM
So, from the matching nominees, I would’ve chosen “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” as Best Picture. It’s between that and Traffic, with what’s nominated, both having stellar casts, interwoven storylines, magnificent cinematography, all the elements came together. But, hey, “Tiger”‘s got kung fu, man!!! Plus, it’s groundbreaking in it’s nomination. Has a film that featured martial arts and weaponry so prominently ever been so heralded? The Academy had a chance to reward it and balked in favor of content that’s been tread on a thousand times. Can we be happy enough that it took home Best Foreign Film honors? I guess, but it’s just BETTER than “Gladiator”, period.
ABOUT OSCAR NIGHT: By the time they gave out Best Picture, “Traffic”, “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and “Gladiator” had all won four awards. The final prize was up for grabs! And “Traffic” had won for it’s script and direction, so I thought FOR SURE it was going to be the winner. “Gladiator” actually ended up winning as an underdog, winning up till then for Crowe, but other than that, only technical categories. But Oscar night was a night to celebrate the ITs of the moment. The indie feel that movies like “The Piano”, “Pulp Fiction” and “Fargo” brought to the proceedings left with “Titanic”‘s win, and the Hollywood monster is still in control, throwing out Oscars to all the top three Golden ITs – Roberts, Gladiator and Crowe.
SHORT – ANIMATED:
FATHER AND DAUGHTER
SHORT — LIVE ACTION:
ONE DAY CROSSING
QUIERO SER (I WANT TO BE…)
A SOCCER STORY (UMA HISTORIA DE FUTEBOL)
I haven’t seen any of the films in the above category, and I agree with Siskel and Ebert, who once upon a time suggested that instead of the lame-oid entrances of the stars, where we find out they have nothing interesting to say, we could spend that time airing the shorts on TV so people get a sense of what they’re all about.
THE PERFECT STORM
I thought they got this one right with “Gladiator”. I say this because I saw “Gladiator” when I was still working on the cruise ship and I saw it in the Bahamas mid-week, midday. Nobody there to interrupt or make noise but me and my friend Greg. The sound in this theatre CRANKED and it knocked me out and put me in the middle of it all. So, due to my experience at the viewing, I go with “Gladiator”.
ODD NOMINATION: “The Perfect Storm” was nominated for sound, but not sound effects editing. That’s odd, ’cause alot of the waves were CGI created and needed quality storm effects to add reality to the look.
Were there really only two films worthy? Unfortunately for “Space Cowboys”, we’d heard alot of their effects when “Apollo 13” came out. “U-571” was a decent movie, and deserving.
JUST GOES TO SHOW YOU: once again that the sparsity of this category is due to the lack of great action movies last year (which usually populate this area).
THE PERFECT STORM
I wish I felt more danger from the fake-ish waves in “The Perfect Storm”. I was just continually reminded by their look that they were fake. “Hollow Man”‘s invisible shtick has been done a thousand times. It was good here, but nothing new. “Gladiator” was all that was left for me. The re-creation of place alone put this over the top in my voting. The massive columns, the statues, the ornate Coliseum, it all worked for me. Critics are getting down on it for it’s bad effects, but I just didn’t see it that way. Unfortunately, there’s no hands-down “Matrix” to win this year, so it goes to the best of three lessers. In a brief sidenote, how great is it that “The Matrix” beat “Star Wars Episode 1” in every category last year. Those rubbery-looking bad, overacting CGI characters had it coming. There may have been room for “X-Men” here.
CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON
O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU?
When I heard that “Traffic” was based on a 5 hour British mini-series, I was impressed that it could be condensed into the 2 hour-plus film I saw. This film seamlessly brought together over a hundred characters, and could’ve been made into three or four good films. There’s been some talk about the faults in some of the narrative choices, but I didn’t see them. They’re similar to comments I heard about “U-571” that were valid, but I don’t know enough about submarines to have that affect my viewing. I give it to “Traffic”.
BAD NOMINATION: “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” This script is filled with great Coen Brothers dialogue, but all the Coen Bros. movies are filled with great Coen Brothers dialogue! What “Fargo” has that “Brother” doesn’t is a great story to go with it. I’ll say again that if “Brother” were an original script, it would’ve been a better movie. “The Odyssey” and “Brother” both go nowhere, accomplish nothing, and I didn’t care. I was amused now and then, but it’s not Oscar-worthy.
YOU CAN COUNT ON ME
This category is STACKED! All (but “Gladiator”, which is a re-telling of “The Patriot”, which is a re-telling of “Braveheart”, which is a kickass movie) nominees being of high, high quality. But this is usually where they award the film that was slighted by not being nominated (“Thelma & Louise”, “Almost Famous”) or when it won, you knew it was the consolation prize for not winning the upcoming Best Picture (“Pulp Fiction”,”Fargo”, “Good Will Hunting”)
WHO SHOULD’VE WON: I don’t think “Almost Famous” is better than “Say Anything”. Crowe’s always good, but the story arc was a bit rambling and never sucked me in, despite good performances. Good performances only enhanced an already marvelous script in “You Can Count On Me”, a smart film that everyone can relate to. It’s not TV drama, it’s higher than that, plus it has humor and crackling dialogue. Lonergan, like Mamet, has captured the way people really talk, and he doesn’t use film gimmicks to let his characters escape the moments they’re involved in (ie – flashbacks, fancy editing). This movie’s characters really breathe.
So, there you have it! As far as the Oscar telecast itself goes, I was thrilled. I LOVE Steve Martin to begin with, and he was rock solid. My favorite moments (paraphrased):
“I don’t understand the ratings these days, I took a nine year old to see ‘Gladiator’, and he cried through the whole thing…….maybe it’s because he didn’t know who I was, but…”
“I love supporting the young talent today, because it reminds me of my own death”
“There are millions of people watching us from all around the world, and they’re all thinking the same thing – that we’re all gay.”
“It’s not easy to keep a marriage going in Hollywood because, well, we sleep with so many different people.”
“You loved him in ‘There’s Something About Mary’, you loved him in ‘Meet the Parents’, and you were fine with him in ‘Mystery Men’ – Ben Stiller!”
“They call him an actor’s actor. I call him an opthomalogist. Kevin Spacey!”
“Here’s a man who for years I’ve called my best friend. Until a judges order made me stop. Tom Hanks!”
He was witty, droll and right on all night, including bringing Danny DeVito some dip for the veggies he was caught eating. His jokes had some bite, but never offended to the point where they were uncomfortable (except for Russell Crowe – can’t you see the good time Tom Hanks was having, take a lesson), and they were often at his own expense. He is the man.
Everything else moved along nicely, from the pace (the show was about 30 min. shorter than last year), to the special segments (nothing extraneous, no tributes that didn’t have awards attached to them). The songs for the most part blew, so they couldn’t do much to enhance them. I enjoyed the fights that were part of the “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” song, but does anyone remember that song? I think it played during the “Let’s all go to the lobby” part of the night, ’cause it wasn’t in the movie I saw.
That’s all for now, and that’s plenty!
PAY IT FORWARD (**)
The first 7/8 or the movie – ****. The last 1/8 – zero stars. Total – **.
There is a plague in our midst: that of bad endings in recent movies. This movie has one, two others do, and I went to see “The Sixth Day” ’cause I knew Arnold would find the guys who were mean to him, and blow their heads off – SATISFYING ENDING. And I needed that after “PAY IT FORWARD”. The acting is really strong in this film. Helen Hunt does better work than I thought she did in “As Good As It Gets”, the role is more challenging. Spacey is rock solid. I even enjoyed a number of scenes ALOT – Spacey’s character gets to blow up at someone who can’t realize they need to get out of a bad relationship (I know a number of people who need that speech, so when Spacey said it, I related). The idea of paying it forward is really intriguing, enough for a movie. But it unravels with some unnecessary scenes. But the end, oh the end – it’s terrible. It’s unwarranted, it’s like a betrayal, the film truly takes a second to take a giant dump on its audience. Thanks alot!! We appreciate it! Why don’t you send someone to break into our car while we’re here. Then the very, very end is lame, too! So, I left thinking the ending so bad, it actually tainted the whole film.
More good stuff. The dialogue of this film (and the way it’s delivered by Geoffrey Rush and Michael Caine especially) absolutely crackles! Just as it’s subject, the Marquis De Sade, lived through his words, this film finds it’s finest moments in conversation and talk. Another one not for the timid, this film is ripe with urgency – just how far will people go to censor words they feel are offensive? It happened then, it happens now. Classic line (paraphrased) after people react violently to the Marquis’ words:
Abbe – “You did this!”
Marquis – “Come now, if people tried to walk on water and drowned, you wouldn’t blame the Bible, would you?”
There is not a word of dialogue that the Marquis says that isn’t particularly chosen and full of double-entendre and secret meaning. I like to think he spoke like that. An exceptionally prolix, no…how about periphrastic? No…VERBOSE man and brilliant writer, but he simply wanted to write about prostitutes and sex. Again – wall to wall great performances. Rush is great, and I’m very impressed that Joaquin Phoenix is twice the actor his brother was. He’s been great in both this and “Gladiator” this year. And his choices for how to play his characters in both films are never the obvious. I like Phillip Kaufman alot (especially because he had a hand in writing “Raiders of the Lost Ark”, my all-time favorite film, and I loved “The Right Stuff”), and it’s good to see him back (about 8 or 9 years since his last film) in top form.
REQUIEM FOR A DREAM (****)
Oh, my, do I love Jennifer Connelly. She’s been on my hottie list since “Labyrinth”, right on through “The Rocketeer”, “Higher Learning” and “Dark City”. Well, she starts out this movie as the beauty I’ve always thought she was, then she goes straight to hell. They made her look sickly!! Not fair! Everyone in this movie goes to hell, actually. It’s another uplifting tale of drug addiction. Just as I thought we were dipping into the cliches of a junkie tale, “Pi” director Darren Aronofsky took this movie by the balls and impressed the hell outta me. He certainly doesn’t just tell a tale, he gives you a MOVIE, full of choice camera play and editing to show you the story just as he wants to. This could’ve gone terribly wrong in less capable hands. But Aronofsky is surprisingly commanding in his visual style in only his second film (remember “Mallrats” and “Kafka”? – sophomore slumps all, but not here). He had help with a career performance by Ellen Burstyn. I liked it better than “Pi”.
SEXY BEAST (**)
I was hoping the big deal would be bigger. The critical raves this film got made me very excited to check it out. But I thought the film was caught in a plot device that didn’t pack enough weight. A main character is killed at one point, and that death is supposed to hang over the head of the lead character. Then brews the tension, suspense, lies and deceit that are the consequence of the death. Sounds good on paper, but I never got a real sense of danger from the evil characters or the consequences of murder. I didn’t care like I did in something like “Blood Simple” or “Bound”. You can also put this one in the “Trainspotting Hall of Fame” of films shot in the English language that need subtitles.
SHADOW OF THE VAMPIRE (**1/2)
This is a pretty good movie, but I think it loses a half a star for me because I don’t recall ever being surprised. Even avoiding the preview, I don’t recall seeing much beyond the story I expected to see. It’s not without great performances. Willem Dafoe is great. He’s always been great. He will continue to be great. And any movie with Eddie Izzard warrants a viewing (see his stand-up special “Dress to Kill” if you haven’t yet). It’s got a feel all it’s own, it’s original, it’s occasionally funny, and it’s very well made. But….I don’t know…I just….I don’t know. It does have a good ending. I’m really on the fence with this one…can you tell?
THE 6TH DAY (**1/2)
Arnold hasn’t made a GREAT movie since “True Lies”. “Eraser”, “End of Days”, “Batman & Robin” and this have ranged from OK to dogshit. This is OK. A bit more high-minded than you may expect from Arnold, but something’s missing. Maybe it’s Arnold’s choice to play such sweet people. He could use his edge back. Maybe another movie with Verhoeven, Watch what Mel Gibson is doing in movies like “Payback”. That aside, Robert Duvall, following up his heart-wrenching performance in “Gone in 60 Seconds” is actually good here, providing real depth to his cloning doctor. He’s got conflict. So does Arnie, but it doesn’t register as well. What does register is a plot with lots of ethical questions and high-tech fun stuff. The cloning process is depicted especially interesting here, especially when it goes awry. As I said, at least it has a good ending.
SPACE COWBOYS (***)
How can you not root for these guys? Again, some
trimming would’ve been ideal to take out some dumb jokes not worthy of the actors (a plague this year with out-of-place comments showing up in movies like “Cowboys”, “Nutty 2”, “The Patriot” & “Dinosaur”). But the overall feeling was fun for this film and the ending had real twists and suspense. Not to mention a last shot that is just plain nuts. So nuts, I actually enjoyed it.
The last few Eastwood-directed films I’ve seen seemed long (“Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil”, “True Crime”). This one didn’t feel long, even though it still ran over two hours. It’s no “Unforgiven” or “In the Line of Fire”, but it was fun.
THIS IS SPINAL TAP (****)
Just go see it while it’s re-released in theatres. Just go.
THE TOP TEN OF 2000
10. “GLADIATOR” – This film impressed me. I was done watching it, and I said to myself, “I’m impressed”. It was quite impressive the way I was impressed by it. OK, OK, it was BIG. It’s basically ‘Braveheart’ with Romans and Spaniards, instead of English and Scottish. It’s still a revenge tale that grows to be a grand-scale kingdom-wide battle. Crowe is great, he was great in ‘LA Confidential’ and has that same Oh-my-God-he-is-going-to-kill-everyone-he-sees smolder that made him so watchable before. This’ll probably win the Oscar because it is so much like ‘Braveheart’ and “Hey, that worked before, so let’s do it again!!” (a common theme in Hollywood…). Wait, my Oscar rant is another e-mail entirely. But there’s no doubt that Ridley Scott re-creates place and time effectively (with top-notch special effects), and Joaquin Phoenix is great as a sniveling little puke of an emperor. Actually, with Connie Nielson, Richard Harris and the late, great Oliver Reed, this film is filled with good acting. I’m just shocked that someone could make a seriously-taken Gladiator film in this post-‘Airplane’ society.
9. “THE PATRIOT” – I said it when I reviewed ‘What Women Want’, I’m a BIG fan of Mel Gibson, so I went with him every step of the way in this film. It’s basically ‘Braveheart’ with British and Colonists, instead of English and Scottish. It’s still a revenge tale that grows to be a grand-scale kingdom-wide battle. OK, that being said TWICE, can you tell I really, really liked ‘Braveheart’. At it’s core, this is a story of a family. And director Roland Emmerich (first time not making my 10 Worst list) has put together some VERY memorable scenes – the “ghost” imagery is fascinating, the tomahawk and sniper attack with Mel and his two sons is brilliant, the shots where the war is off in the distance and it gets closer and closer to the family’s home until it’s right in their laps is scary stuff. There are a few lines that taint the screenplay (“It’s a free country, at least it will be” – UGH. UGH!!!!), but the overall presence of Mel’s character in this film drives it. His secret past, his persistence and drive. It was this stuff that drove Harrison Ford’s greatest characters in “The Fugitive” and “Frantic”. I love watching Mel, and he’s in a good movie here.
8. “YOU CAN COUNT ON ME” – Excellent story about a brother/sister relationship that doesn’t play out like dopey film schlock. Laura Linney is as great as Meryl Streep would’ve been fifteen years ago in the role. Kenneth Lonergan (also great in the small role of a priest) has written a VERY real drama about real people. It’s about what happens to people when they can’t control every aspect of their lives and make shaky decisions. Everyone can relate to that, and that’s the same feeling you get with this film. The performances throughout are good, including Matthew Broderick and Mark Ruffalo. This is screenplay-writing school – taut and smart.
7. “QUILLS” – I had to wait forever for a new Philip Kaufman movie! I think his last was ‘Rising Sun’, reason to lie low for about 8 years. But he’s right back in the form he was in for his great, envelope-pushing films like ‘Henry & June’ and ‘The Unbearable Lightness of Being’. Geoffrey Rush is great, and that’s crucial to the center of the film. It’s a crime that this script was not nominated for an Oscar, to listen makes you think that great thought went into every line. Wait, my Oscar rant is another e-mail entirely. I do long for another film that shows us the Marquis DeSade in his heyday. Maybe Tim Burton could direct, or Scorsese.
6. “ERIN BROCKOVICH” – Yeah, I liked this. I liked ‘A Civil Action’, too. They both have the same poor-people against the establishment thing going on. But only this film has Julia Roberts and THE GREAT Albert Finney. Finney rocks! Their play off one another kept this movie very unpredictable for me. Are they pissed at each other? Are they working together? Will he sabotage her? Soderbergh does a great job, too, as there are many defining scenes to this film. It’s more than a Roberts vehicle. It’s her best work, no doubt, and if she wins the Oscar, at least she deserved it, as opposed to if she won for “Pretty Woman”. Wait, my Oscar rant is another e-mail entirely. But there are layers and layers of good writing and acting here. Liked it.
5. “BILLY ELLIOT” – So, have you seen this since I told you to go see it? It looks like the big art flick that’ll “win your heart”. It’s more, much more. And it has such a great ending. This film is also surprising, I found it less predictable than you’d think. Jamie Bell is outstanding, and how you could not nominate this kid for an Oscar is ridiculous. He carries the movie with more charisma than Brad Pitt has shown in years! Wait, my Oscar rant is another e-mail entirely. You can’t help but root, root, root for Billy Elliot, and the whole theater was involved when I saw it. Don’t miss it.
4. “CAST AWAY” – A film rich with emotion from the Robert Zemeckis who made ‘Contact’, not the Robert Zemeckis who made ‘What Lies Beneath’. First of all, is it a game in Hollywood that every plane crash that appears in a movie has to trump the previous plane crash scene? ‘Cause this one was particularly frightening, better than ‘Fight Club’, which was better than ‘Fearless’, which was better than ‘Alive’ and so on, and so on, and so on. Hanks was great, delivering his near-the-end-of-the-film monologue with perfect subtlety and resonance. This is a film I enjoy more the more I talk about it. I want to see it again.
3. “TRAFFIC” – A truly engaging ensemble drama. There is real control here. A director and screenwriter who manage to tell many stories at once without losing the dramatic power of any of them. I could’ve gone another hour (and I’m told it’s based on a 5 hour British miniseries that’s even better!) in Soderbergh’s capable hands. Del Toro is the story here. He’s finally got a role that is worth his unique screen presence. Michael Douglas continues to be effective, even if he’s played the rich-white-man-in-downward-spiral role in all of his most popular movies. I love Juan Guzman in everything he’s in, and here he’s great again as Don Cheadle’s partner. The GREAT Don Cheadle.
2. “CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON” – Since my review of this film, I’ve raised this a half of a star to an even four stars. There is really nothing wrong with this film, and when I looked at this year’s Oscar nominations, I said, “Oh, ‘Tiger’ should win.” So, why should it only have ***1/2? It shouldn’t! This movie takes all the great formulas of the genre (revenge tale, mythic warrior, epic battles, magic sword, fighting techniques, classic stand-offs, tragedy, comedy and romance) and makes them fresh again. The actors make it all look easy. And the flying-through-the-air method of fight scenes is magical. It’s been done in some of the best Jet Li movies, but never with such grandeur.
1. “REQUIEM FOR A DREAM” – If you’re a film lover, or filmmaker, see this film! Although it covers the most depressing and shocking territory a movie could cover, as we watch the spiritual, mental and physical breakdown of it’s four lead characters, I was exhilarated! Is that strange? Darren Aronofsky absolutely thrilled me with his filmmaking technique. Not to say that this film is style over substance. I was involved in the story just as much because of the way Aronofsky tells it. His fast editing, haunting music and every-trick-in-the-book-Natural-Born-Killers film style elevated this above other “junkie movies” I’ve seen. Ellen Burstyn is fantastic. She delves into the murkiest depths to pull out this performance, and it pays off. She deserves the Oscar. Wait, my Oscar rant is another e-mail entirely. ‘Requiem’ and ‘Crouching Tiger’ are dream films. ‘Tiger’ is a fantastic, otherworldly fantasy, ‘Requiem’ is a horrific nightmare. But both are masterpieces.
“ALMOST FAMOUS” – Great scenes, not enough story arc to put it in the Top 10.
“CHICKEN RUN” – For the Pot Pie machine scene alone!
“MY DOG SKIP” – I know this sounds like my Gene-Siskel-Babe-Pig-in-the-City vote, but it’s an excellent film. Frankie Muniz is great!
“UNBREAKABLE” – I said before that the end ruined the film, so the whole film then became bad.
“PAY IT FORWARD” – I said before that the end ruined the film, so the whole film then became bad.
“DINOSAUR” – Eight months later, I’m still saying to myself, “Why did they have to talk? Why, God, why?!?!?!?”
“BLACK & WHITE” – Two hours with the most annoying people on the planet. The characters in this film suck.
“BATTLEFIELD EARTH” – Karen and I went dutch to this film. I paid her back half way through. What a piece of junk.
We’re on a roll of great films. It’s that time of year. I reviewed “Requiem for a Dream” positively in my last movie rave. It’s a contender for best film of 2000 for me because of the giant thumbprint Darren Aronofsky put on that film. It was, no question, HIS movie. Well, that theory of filmmaking works again in “Traffic”, a film whose story is told, undeniably, as Steven Soderburgh wanted to tell it. I admire that in PT Anderson’s films, too (whose “Magnolia” I still love, and, most likely alone on this, wish was longer!). Intermeshing a number of stories revolving around the U.S.’s unwinnable drug war, you never lose interest in any one plot development, never get confused, and never stop being impressed. I was impressed by the acting (including “The Great” Benicio Del Toro), the script (with an amazing 90-some locations and 135 speaking roles), the photography (Mexico = yellow), and also by the fact that, like “Requiem”, this film about drugs and drug users never fell on familiar territory, and if it did, it transcended it. My only regret is that Harrison Ford was on tap to play Michael Douglas’ role and he bowed out. Douglas’ was great, Ford could’ve been, too, and he could also use some time spent in an indie feature of this high, high quality.
A second opinion:
I don’t want to discourage anyone from seeing this film, because it’s heart is in the right place, and it says all the right things about the United States’ current “war on drugs”: namely, that it is fundamentally un-winnable, and that to even wage it, we must – as Michael Douglas’s character in the film states – “declare war on our own families” by treating addicts as criminals. Furthermore, the tremendous amounts of money to be made on the supply side, added to people’s inevitable desire for altered states of consciousness on the demand side, ensure that there will never be an end to drug trafficking, no matter how many busts the government makes. Someone will always be ready to step into the breach and pick up the slack.
The problem, as I see it, is that all of these points have been made before and Traffic does nothing to make them more lucid or compelling. I think the structure is the problem: the movie tells four different stories (well, three-and-a-half: two of the strands together form one entire story arc) spread out across four different locations: Washington D.C., San Diego, Cincinnati and Tijuana, Mexico. In theory, this should provide for epic movie making: a vast mosaic of snapshots from within and without the drug trade, as we alternately rub up against dealers and suppliers, lawmen trying to put a stop to it all, and the people whose lives are directly affected by the presence of illegal, yet available, drugs. Coming in, I was very much looking forward to the interplay of these various stories.
But the truth is, these stories don’t resonate off each other in any particularly useful way. Aside from the fact that they all have something to do with the drug trade, they may as well be separate movies. In fact, that’s exactly how it feels: as if four separate and distinct movies have been jammed together into one giant hodge-podge, with parts cut out of each in order to make them all fit. Whenever a particular story strand is getting interesting or building some dramatic momentum, it is cut away from in order to visit one of the others. After little less than a half an hour, the technique becomes annoying and self defeating.
Furthermore, because time is at such a premium for each story, any semblance of subtlety or nuance must be forsaken in order to streamline and get points across. This isn’t to say that the film lapses into Oliver Stone style polemics or overstatement, but it does mean that none of the stories yields any particular surprises, nor develops along lines that are any more than the most relentlessly cookie-cutter.
Story #1: Michael Douglas, playing an Ohio Supreme Court judge with a reputation for being tough on drug offenders, is appointed the nation’s new drug czar, only to find out (at EXACTLY the same time!) that his straight-A daughter has become a major user. Oh, irony of ironies! Story #2: Catherine Zeta-Jones, after years of living the high life in San Diego, finds out that her husband, who she previously thought a legitimate businessman, is one of the country’s biggest drug importers. After what seems like thirty seconds of soul searching, the genteel socialite turns ruthless she-bitch in order to secure her man’s release from prison, as well as the successful continuation of his drug business. The other two stories are mirror images of each other: Benicio del Toro and Don Cheadle as, respectively, Mexican and American cops trying to put away drug pushers amidst a system that is, at best, ineffectual (in Cheadle’s case) and at worst (for del Toro) actually encouraging of the lawbreakers. Cheadle and del Toro both give good performances, but we’ve seen all this before, too: the frustration of the “one good cop” against all manner of corruption and villainy. The stories in Traffic bring nothing new to the party. (In fact, in the del Toro story, when we find out that a top ranking Mexican official is in fact involved with the drug trade, it seems as if it’s supposed to be a surprise. But it was so loudly telegraphed from the very beginning that it packs absolutely no punch whatsoever.)
To be honest, I found the Michael Douglas story, though melodramatic, to be the one with the most heft and heart. I think the movie would have been much better if it had cut out the other tales and just focused on this one. After all, this one story covers an awful lot of ground in and of itself: as the new drug czar, Douglas not only must meet with Washington movers and shakers, but he also elects to visit with customs officials at the border (both here and in Mexico) to try and figure out how the situation is currently being handled. Add to that the harrowing personal dilemma of his own daughter’s drug dependence, and you’ve got a story that is already sufficiently well-rounded and existing on more than one level (and locale). Making this one story into a gripping movie would have been accomplishment enough; unfortunately, Soderbergh and everyone else involved felt they had to pack in more, and in doing so they’ve plainly overreached.
But, as I said at the outset, I mean to be kind to this movie. I ultimately can’t give it a personal thumbs-up, but I should emphasize that it’s not a painful film to sit through in any way. And, if you’re sympathetic with the viewpoint expressed, you should find something to like. Trouble is, that’s a bit like preaching to the converted. And “Traffic” isn’t good enough to win over anyone from the other side. So it fails as politics, and it’s iffy as art. But it does have the best of intentions; in Hollywood today, that’s got to count for something.
I saw this with a friend of mine who debunked alot of the military facts in it: “Germans didn’t have that sonar technology by then; Germans wouldn’t know morse code”. Etc., etc., etc. I, personally, didn’t care about any of that. I enjoyed what I saw – an excellent ensemble, good production and another film script that continually raises the stakes.
You just don’t know how these guys are going to get out of the next big problem they’ve gotten themselves into. It’s a good ride.
Plus, it’s got Bill Paxton. Bill the man Paxton. How cool is that?
A second opinion:
Against all odds, “U-571” is one of the most finely crafted popcorn movies of the past several years. One of the things which has become most regrettable about the Big Hollywood Summer Movies is their relentless pace: everything is in your face, it’s all whiz-banging by you a million miles a second, with the (increasingly hokey looking) CGI special effects hogging just about every frame of the screen. Hollywood action directors have lost touch with how to pace a film for maximum impact: that there must be peaks and valleys, moments of calm and white-knuckle tension in order for the explosions to pack the wallop they should. “U-571” gets it just about all right. It is a very satisfying viewing experience; nothing to rewrite the book on film, certainly, and nothing you will carry with you for the rest of your days – but a solid, intelligent entertainment that won’t leave you feeling like you’ve just been raped by Industrial Light and Magic.
The setup is solid and well thought out: an American submarine is retrofitted to look like a German one, and its crew is sent on a decoy mission to “rescue” a damaged Nazi U-boat in the middle of the Atlantic – all in the hopes of getting hands on the top-secret “Enigma” coding machine to help crack the German war codes. There’s a no-nonsense quality to the presentation of all this, right from the get-go: the filmmakers are not interested in any romantic subplots (there are no women in the movie), inter-crew rivalries or joshing, puffed- up backstories (no “proving something to his father” or “avenging the death of his best friend” type character profiles) and least of all no gratuitously overlong “money shots” showing off the hardware and special effects. To some tastes, this might make the movie a bit too dry and faceless, and I’ll be the first to admit that I wouldn’t want every movie to be done in this way. But it’s appropriate to the subject at hand: in such a scenario, the task – the mission – is what is most important (not whether or not Ben Affleck and Liv Tyler – or Mark Wahlberg and Diane Lane – are together at the end of the movie) and it’s refreshing to see a big Hollywood actioner get that right. It reminded me of the classic war movies of the past, like “The Guns of Navarone”, or “Where Eagles Dare”: Ok, we’ve got a job to do and we’re going to do it – that’s what we’re here for (that’s all we’re here for) and that’s what the audience really wants to see. So let’s get to it!
Furthermore, making all (rather than just some) of the story take place on the submarine was very brave. It’s the tightest, most claustrophobic place imaginable, and it does not allow for the type of cathartic, big action payoffs that other films can provide (aerial dogfights, car chases, kung-fu blowouts, etc.). There’s a clenched, constricted feeling to even the good guys’ victories here that does not allow for a satisfying “Hooray!” from the audience – just a pattern of high tension, slight release, then back again, all leading to a surprisingly muted finale which, in its own way, is as clear-eyed about battle and as respectful of the men who fought it as was “Saving Private Ryan” (though, of course, much less pointed about it).
Some might question how I can actually use a word like “respectful” in relation to this movie, since – as has been widely noted – the exploits of the American crew here are wildly fictionalized, and that the true heroes in acquiring the Enigma machines from German subs were the British. Well, I’ll agree: this is Hollywood revisionism at its worst. But you know what? It’s a cracking good tale, done with care and respect (it even lists, at the end, all the different missions – British and American both – that were responsible for successfully confiscating Enigmas). The film’s concern is not with presenting historical “truth” but with using the backdrop of history as an entryway onto a tautly constructed cinematic thrill ride. If such an endeavor strikes you as offensive and opportunistic – well, I can’t really argue with you. But if you can get past it, and are only interested in a solid, well crafted, well thought out movie. . . then I give you “U-571”.
More technical prowess wasted on a BAD ENDING. Terrible, bad ending. I hated the direction the characters went at the end of this film. And even if you do enjoy the choices made by the characters at the end, the writer does a lousy job of playing it out by putting one of those codas on after the action. BAD – SHOW IT!! Show me the damn money!! Again, there’s good acting, there’s wonderful imagery, and there’s certainly originality here. Most impressive, once again, is the sure-footedness in direction and pace by M. Night Shyamalan. But all for naught. I can’t go into any further detail without you having seen it. I will send an e-mail out to those who’ve seen it ’cause I have opinions for days on this flick. Lemme know if you want to talk more.
WHAT WOMEN WANT (***)
Well, I laughed alot. Is it great? No. Is it a funny time-passer. Well, you have to like Mel. And I LOVE Mel. “The Patriot” still remains one of the most entertaining films I’ve seen this year, despite the hubub over its historical truths (or half-truths). And I went with him for this film, too. The writing actually does some interesting things with the concept of being able to hear women’s thoughts. He goes through torture, and then he’s able to use his ability and it’s a fun ride. The bummer is that the ending isn’t all that great. The dialogue is kind of weak there.
Again, I like Mel, it was most likely because of that fact that I enjoyed this more than I probably should have.