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Movie Reviews by Paul Preston and Mary Gent
Reviews in alphabetical order
ABOUT A BOY (***)
This coming of thirty-something comedy succeeds entirely because of the appeal of it’s lead. Hugh Grant has grasped ahold of his age, and looks more mature than ever, which is in great contrast, of course, to his character’s mentality. He plays a guy who does nothing for a living, and is therefore bereft of responsibility. But responsibility forces it’s way into his life in the form of his choice to start dating single mothers. Suddenly women and their children become significant parts of his slacker lifestyle. Grant handles all of this baggage with the whimsy and charm he brings to all his characters. What’s missing is the stammering (which is usually good, think “Notting Hill”) and the mugging (which is always bad, think “Nine Months”). “About a Boy” is based on a Nick Hornby novel. Hornby also wrote “High Fidelity”, which was turned into the John Cusack movie set in Chicago. “Boy” keeps its roots in England, and it fares better for it. The manners and culture there suit Grant and he’s wonderfully comfortable in this role. Grant’s character becomes a mentor/babysitter for a schoolkid who’s facing the nerd label at school. The boy is well played and their relationship is real and comical at the same time. The ending of the film is just right, when it had the potential to go in many different directions. Toni Collette, although looking like hell, is once again strong as the mother with an oddball kid (as she was in “The Sixth Sense”). The plot begins, moves and ends with precise neatness, nary a scene out of place. But the beginning and ending of “About A Boy”’s appeal lies with it’s star.
ABOUT SCHMIDT (***1/2)
I’m going to cut right to best part of this film – the ending. This film has the BEST ending of any film this year. And many times, that’s crucial to the film’s success (just as it can KILL a movie – see “Unbreakable” and “Pay it Forward”). With “About Schmidt”, the film meanders a bit in the middle, so to come back with an ending that’s just right in every aspect is a great service to the story. Jack Nicholson gives a surprising perfomance (keeping his trademark charisma in check in lieu of suppression and mild-manners) as Schmidt, a retiring insurance actuary who evaluates his life on the brink of his daughter’s wedding. Schmidt’s journey of self-analysis is poignant, outrageous, odd, and, as I mentioned before, sometimes meandering (I didn’t find importance in every scene as Schmidt travels across the midwest to the wedding). Throughout, it is very real. The character relationships are so real, it’s sometimes heartbreaking, with the script lacking the stand-offish comic bite of director Alexander Payne’s previous films (“Citizen Ruth” and “Election”), and instead going for a more personal examination of Schimdt’s life. And it doesn’t always play out like a Hallmark card. Dermot Mulroney is great as Schmidt’s daughter’s fiancee, and Hope Davis is also very good, striking an interesting balance between dependence and revolt as Schmidt’s daughter. But the film is About Nicholson, and he is brilliant. To see the film end with such delicate care is the finest work by director, writers and actor this year.
Whoa, this movie’s nuts. With the writer and director of “Being John Malkovich” re-uniting, there will be obvious comparison. Mine would be that both films start with an outrageous premise, but can’t quite keep the car on the tracks till the end of the film. “Malkovich”, I thought, burned out a little at the end. Ditto, “Adaptation”. Nicolas Cage stopped whoring around to put in a good performance(s) here where his old-school quirkiness was thankfully tapped again. Meryl Streep is good. Jesus, she’s ALWAYS good. ALWAYS. So now let’s address the script. I’ll admit, there’s a big connection (a gimmick) required by the viewer in the second half of the movie that I didn’t make. I’ll admit it. There was something going on I didn’t “get”. When it was explained to me later, it made me appreciate the film more. But, ENJOY it more? Not necessarily. It’s the story of screenwriter Charlie Kaufman’s real-life attempt to adapt a novel into a script. Kaufman’s imagination of himself is full of very funny dialogue (he has severe self-doubt), but many of the out-to-lunch plotlines get so out-to-lunch, I lost track of what the movie’s trying to do. It’s alot of funny stuff in a big mess.
ANTWONE FISHER (***)
Denzel Washington’s directorial debut is wise material to start from. Denzel knows human drama, whether it’s “A Soldier’s Story” or “The Hurricane”, Denzel’s got it down. By not choosing an intense sci-fi script or a complex period piece, we get to see Denzel’s strength and confidence in every frame of “Antwone Fisher”. The story and scope of the film never got away from him. Speaking of confidence, who is this Derek Luke dude? Outta nowhere, he’s headlining a Hollywood film and he puts in a very controlled, emotional performance. I wish Joy Bryant, as his love interest, was as strong. But the heart of “Antwone Fisher” is in it’s ageless story, a man’s search for the family he never had. Sound hokey? Admittedly, the film slips into melodrama on more than one occasion, especially the ending, but by the end I really cared about the characters and any histrionics didn’t distract. Denzel acts in the film, too, as Antwone’s therapist and his storyline doesn’t get the attention it deserves. By grazing over it, it remains interesting enough to care about, but too interesting in that it’s disappointing to see it underdeveloped. Antwone Fisher wrote the screenplay himself, and the whole production has the same gentle hand guiding it that someone would handle their ‘baby’ with. There are some things that seem suspect, such as a military therapist inviting his client to dinner at his home, but I rolled with it. Fisher either knows how it happened, or sanctioned truth stretches himself in adapting his story for the screen. This is a very engaging, uplifting story for everyone, handled smartly by one of Hollywood’s most talented actors. Make that actor/DIRECTOR!!
AUSTIN POWERS IN GOLDMEMBER (**1/2)
This movie is hilarious! So, why two and a half stars and not three or three and a half? “Goldmember” is a sloppy movie, not nearly as deft a satire of spy films that the original was. Satire has been traded in favor of outrageous character play. Mike Myers is so sure that we all are in tune to the characters in Austin Powers’ world that he just lets them run rampant. After a STELLAR opening (which is funnier than the entire movie “Ice Age” – the only other comedy I’ve seen this year), Myers goes right to what we know – Dr. Evil trying to hold an evil meeting with his usual gaggle of freaks (#2, Mini-Me, son Scott, and the Frau) – all back with the original actors. They do all the old shtick and dammit, I laughed. Myers relies alot on what we already know is funny. That’s why we get to see Fat Bastard again. Mysteriously missing is Will Ferrell. As for the new stuff – Michael Caine is a natural as Austin’s dad. Fred Savage supplies a good sight gag that’s less funny when it’s revisited (ditto the end of the film when they practically replay the beginning – there’s no need for that). Beyonce Knowles is good as Foxxy Cleopatra, certainly a step-up from boring Heather Graham. Knowles didn’t quite have Pam Grier’s badassness, which, again, would’ve been more accomplished satire. But as I said before, “Goldmember” focuses more on goofy character shtick, and for that, the film belongs to Myers, as he rips “Silence of the Lambs”, the ‘70s, and every celebrity (and there are TONS) who shows up for a cameo. Least exciting, however, is Goldmember himself, a take on Gert Frobe’s classic Bond villian, Auric Goldfinger. Outside of a few good interchanges with superior villian Dr. Evil, Goldmember doesn’t have much to do. Mini-Me’s part is greatly increased. They beat the living shit our of Verne Troyer in this flick. The humor in that’s just going to have to come down to you. To me, midget getting beat up = funny. So, the franchise definitely lives on. But instead of being comfortable in what we’ve already made a cult hit, I’d be very excited by a next Austin Powers movie that tries a little bit harder. And, hey, it’s this of “Scooby-Doo”, “Mr. Deeds”, or, god help us, “Juwanna Mann”.
AUTO FOCUS (***1/2)
I wasn’t really that familiar with the details of Bob Crane’s life. I just had the general idea that he was kinda twisted. “Kinda Twisted”, you say? Quick, call Paul Schrader! From movies like “Taxi Driver” and “Raging Bull”, where he served as screenwriter, to his directorial efforts like “Affliction”, Schrader is damn good at exploring the seedy dark side of his characters. Turns out there’s plenty to tell the world about Bob Crane. “Auto Focus” has the same kind of arc that “Boogie Nights” had – everything starts out idyllic and slowly plunges into darkness. Drugs brought down Dirk Diggler (and “Goodfellas”’ Henry Hill, who also had a seemingly idyllic beginning). What tarnishes Crane’s career and life is an addiction to sex, which he continually insists is just human nature. The rest of the world didn’t see it that way. Schrader and his production staff pull out all the stops to visually represent Crane’s descent from stardom. The photography turns from steady to hand-held, from colorful to washed-out, the score switches from cheery to gloom-and-doom and the performers are sharp throughout. Greg Kinnear is excellent at showing both Crane’s comedy stylings and his penchant for all things raunchy. His matter-of-fact-ness towards the things that shocked the rest of the world is well-played. Throw in the nuances and the nudity, and it’s a very daring performance. And Dafoe…oh, Dafoe, the GREAT Willem Dafoe. He’s built a body of work to the point where you know things can’t be good when he’s around. Yet he’s so likeable, even when he’s creepy. But as the ambiguous layers of his best-friend-of-Bob-Crane charcter are peeled away, Dafoe never misses an opportunity to impress in a richly bit of acting. Equally good are Rita Wilson and Maria Bello as the lost wives of Crane’s life. Wilson especially draws great sympathy as Crane’s first wife. Overall, this is a well-crafted movie that’s effective at creating place and time (it didn’t help Crane to be addicted to sex in the Swinging Early ‘70s), with classic scenes (the dual masturbation scene is one FOR THE AGES!) and never a dull moment.
“It’s not who you are underneath but what you do that defines you.”
It is interesting to me how apathy has put a stranglehold on our society. There was a time in the history of man where matters of the soul or spirit if you will, infused the blood to beat strongly. Passion and survival were intertwined and often times became one. Every species on the planet experiences suffering in some form or another. No matter how insignificant or how enigmatic, everything understands pain. However as Homo sapiens we were cursed with the intelligence to have emotional responses to situational outcomes. This enables us to become a superior species. This is our greatest gift. This is ultimately our downfall.
As a boy, Bruce Wayne learned the difficulties attributed to human nature and all its fallible complications. Bearing witness to the murder of his parents began the gestation period of anger so deep and festering it threatened to destroy his very being.
The literal definition of vengeance as a noun is: punishment inflicted in retaliation for an injury or offense. The idea behind vengeance lays a visceral human response to injustice. Whether it is blatant inequity to your personal being or those you love negotiates the severity of the act itself. In Wayne’s case, his guilt over the responsibility of his parent’s death grew bitter with age eventually poisoning his entire body and finally manifesting itself into rage.
The idea of revenge for wrongdoing or vengeance is not unnatural but it takes a unique bloodline to dedicate one’s life to it. Wayne’s lone-wolf complex led him on a journey of a lesser man wrought with criminal antics and eventually incarceration. It is our assumed knowledge that his desperate need to understand the criminal mind spirited him to his final hellish destination.
At this moment salvation is his only option. It comes to him in the form of Ra’s Al Ghul, a samurai of sorts, a shaman, and a man of higher moralities. Al Ghul, leader of the League of Shadows, offers Wayne the chance to fine tune his anger into an ethical weapon. He learns the ways of the League and he will be responsible for the cleansing of the corrupt and desiccated Gotham City.
There is no doubt that Gotham resembles a certain American city but in my humble opinion Gotham has become America. As it is mentioned on more than one occasion in the film, the League of Shadows works as the collective moral high ground. Slightly resembling the Freemasons, the League lays claim to a history of societal judgment. They boast of their involvement in the fall of Constantinople and Rome, both cities who had reached their decadent and sinful threshold. They are quite simply: population control. Their latest target is Gotham City, home of Wayne Enterprises and the prince of the kingdom is their newest member.
What the League underestimates in Bruce is the one human capacity they have no tolerance for: Compassion. This leads Wayne to abandon the League and return to Gotham unassumed and retaliate against the sorrows of the rotting city in his own way. He becomes Batman.
Batman is an “idea”; a representation of fear and dread that separates Bruce as a man from his peers. His dedication to creating the myth is inspiring. He pulls from all his resources to create an entity of justice. Batman, unlike other superheroes, has no special powers. He is simply an extremely innate and finely-tuned man who will stop at nothing to save Gotham and restore the city to the ideal that his parents had so dearly fought for.
Christopher Nolan’s version of this story is fantastic and driving. It is truly an excellent film with a cast as impressive as the story itself. Christian Bale was born to play this character. He brings everything that Batman should be and delivers it to the audience without arrogance.
The story of “Batman” is perhaps my favorite of the comic book heroes. I understand and relate to the darkness that can envelop one’s entire being, forcing them into a corner of pain and anger that is almost unbearable. I also understand that he is a human whose faults make him that much more appealing. And finally, his absolute determination to his cause is humbling. How many of us stand by with our eyes lowered to the ground when faced with ugliness. I, like Batman, will always fight. Perhaps the rest of the world will catch up.
“Why do we fall, sir? So that we might better learn to pick ourselves up.”
BLOODY SUNDAY (****)
One of 2002’s best films that never found that audience it deserved. SEEK IT OUT!! This Irish film recounts the 1972 killings by British soldiers of Irish marchers at a Civil Rights rally. The filmmakers go one step beyond by shooting the film documentary-style, and I’ve never seen that device used so brilliantly. From the camera work, to the expert acting in EVERY role, to the masterful re-creation of place and time, the documentary-style feel of the film is never, ever gimmicky. Historically, I didn’t know a whole lot about that event from thirty years ago, and was impressed with how director Paul Greengrass brought me into conversations with the Catholic marchers, the British army and the Derry politicos and families equally. James Nesbitt plays Ivan, the founder of the rally, and his assurance to the townspeople that there will be no bloodshed at the rally is heartbreaking. And the aftermath is equally harrowing, as angry masses lay down the groundwork for what will be the next thirty years of violence in Ireland. The “shaky-cam” with which this story is shot is some of the shakiest yet, but it contains urgency in every shot. Most shaky-cam these days is shaky for the sake of shaking. This film is also another good example of the you-are-there film making that set apart “Saving Private Ryan” and “Black Hawk Down”. The actors never have confessionals, it’s documentary-style as fly-on-the-wall type movie-making. Every actor is to be commended for pulling this movie off without once seeming stagey. A great film.
THE BOURNE IDENTITY (***)
Matt Damon’s spy thriller is another in an unusually long line of smart movies for adults that came out in summer 2002. No doubt Robert Ludlum’s source material promises a good film and the director, star and everyone involved know what they’ve got to do to create a good film. And they don’t miss a beat. Damon both pulls off a solid performance and regains a position as a box office draw. It seemed like he would leave the money-making to his buddy Ben, and concentrate on good films that don’t make money (see “Rounders”). Now, he’s found both quality and broad appeal. Director Doug Liman kept his focus, it seems, on “the classic look”. With its European locations and hand-to-hand combat (instead of extended gunplay), Liman seems to be channeling William Friedkin or someone from the ‘60s and ‘70s spy flicks normally populated by Michael Caine of Redford. The result is a solid, suspenseful story that follows one man’s attempt to recover his identity, after waking up in the ocean with amnesia. This spy story doesn’t jump locations quite as free-wheelingly as a Clancy movie, so it helps to have Damon, a good actor, anchoring the whole thing. He’s believable, strong and entirely watchable. Franka Potente is also good as a hesitant helper of Damon’s who quickly falls for him. There are a few moments where I questioned character choices or plausibility, but overall it’s a fun ride and worthy of a franchise.
DAVID BOWIE: THE BEST OF BOWIE
My momma said to get things done you better not mess with major tom
I know I haven’t written a column in months, it seems and I really have no excuse. So here is my feeble attempt to get back into the writing game and the good graces of my readers. Listening to David Bowie has always been a liberating and artistic gift for me. He truly is an earth-shattering entity whose talents are legendary. “Heroes” alone would be a groundbreaking accomplishment for any musician, so imagine a decade of albums that changed the way we comprehend music and it’s ability to morph and manipulate a sound that would become familiar for future generations.
Bowie’s unabashed openness in the 70′s gave the world something unusual and original. Albums like “Space Oddity”, “Low”, “Aladdin Sane”, “Hunky Dory”, “Diamond Dogs”, “Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars”, “Station to Station”, “Lodger”, “The Man Who Sold the World” and “Heroes”.
Accomplishments that far outweighed their success. Each album telling a different story accompanied by a new and unique sound. Not many musicians can compete with that. Maybe a slew of great albums but not the chameleon-like sound that Bowie produced. Everything from dirty bluesy rock to operatic, theatrical epics to heart-tugging chord changes that is specific to his sound. His innate almost otherworldly sixth sense of pop culture the way he creates it in his own soul is unnerving. To put it quite simply: Bowie changed the music world forever. It has never been the same since. His web of magical, sometime apocalyptic sounds in the 70′s has paved the way for many other amateurs who tried to emulate him. “Five Years” is 34 years old and STILL makes me sob from the deepest corners of my heart. That is the signature of a prodigy.
So it is in your best interest, Bowie fans, to rent “The Best of Bowie”. It’s a 2-DVD set of performances that span a good deal of his career in the seventies and eighties. I am only writing about the first disc which consists of many different performances. A few full-length BBC studio recordings that are brilliant. It’s almost eerie how tight and perfect the songs are. Not a flawed performance from any of the players. Bowie’s bizarre vocal range and changes in tone are what sets him apart from the rest. The musical romance between Ronson and Bowie is a driving tour de force. The Mick and Keith of their own time. It was a sad day when they parted ways. Bowie’s ambitious understanding of his talent is subtle and powerful. His involvement in different instruments makes him even more honest as a genius. Feminine in his looks, there is nothing but a ballsy rock star inside. There are great little gems, such as Mick Rock’s strange videos for “John I’m Only Dancing” and “Life on Mars”. The minimalist white background with just Bowie in that fabulous suit is vision before it’s time. The white background shows up again in “Be My Wife” with a much more serious, low-key Bowie and his guitar. These were the years of him living in Berlin and trying to get clean. C ocaine had become his “main man” evident in the “Young Americans” performance on the Dick Cavett show. Bowie is unnaturally thin and his voice is shot. By the time we get to the video for “Heroes”, we have a stripped-down, solitary Bowie. No makeup, gimmicks, or outlandish fashions. Just a gold cross around his neck. Overtones of Germany’s influence on him perhaps. Then a new, energized Bowie in “Boys Keep Swinging” and “DJ”. And, of course, the groundbreaking video for “Ashes to Ashes”. Understand MTV generation, this was before the launch of the music video explosion and before MTV had even aired. The video did get heavy rotation when MTV first started. The rest of the first disc is just videos from “Let’s Dance” and “Scary Monsters”, stuff from the Serious Moonlight tour. This is when I lose interest. Bowie loses his edge as the eighties get into full swing. But I will always forgive him his mistakes quite simply because of what he did for music in the 70′s.
Bowie’s iconic and edgy style made him a pinup star for the girls whose music was rockin’ enough for their boyfriends to appreciate. He slipped in and out of androgyny with ease. Leading the pack of a bevy of glitter boys such as Marc Bolan, David Johansen, Gary Glitter, Freddie Mercury, Elton John, Bryan Ferry and Eno and of course Mick Jagger. The 70′s was rife with ideas, fashion and musicians that weren’t afraid to flaunt it. The important thing to remember is that they had the chops to back it up. A 10-year vortex of imaginative creativity that has never been seen again. Bowie’s willingness to share his vision, manipulative though it may have been, invited those he admired or was fascinated by to willingly collaborate. This openness to others’ ideas and contributions is a big part of his longevity.
“And no one will have seen and no one will confess. The fingerprints will prove that you coudn’t pass the test. There’ll be others on the line filing past, who’ll whisper low I miss you he really had to go well each to his own, he was another piece of teenage wildlife”
BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE (****)
Easily one of the year’s best films. Michael Moore has transcended all genres to become a style unto himself. It’s obvious that he’s very opinionated, and has immersed himself as such a PRESENT character in his films that they really aren’t documentaries anymore. They certainly aren’t narrative, so what we’re left with is a unique experience everytime he gets pissed and picks up the camera. Moore’s quest in this film is a difficult one to complete. He’s trying to determine why America has the highest gun-related death toll per year of all the countries of the world. This leads to classic interviews and segments that explore a real reckless and sometimes thoughtless attitude towards guns in the U.S. The film is superb in being in the same few minutes, both hilarious and harrowing. Moore’s interview with Terry Nichols’ brother is jam-packed with irony Moore couldn’t have WRITTEN better, and then a replay of the horrific events at Columbine High School (audio clips from 911 coupled with security camera footage) is the most powerful filmmaking I’ve seen this year. The segment on Canada goes on a little long, we get the point about our peaceful neighbor’s to the north long before the bit is done, but the rest of the film moves at a breakneck pace. Throughout, Moore’s opinion is predominant (he even comforts a subject of his interview without cutting away), so it’s crucial that you enjoy his point of view. If you haven’t dug him in the past (“Roger & Me”, “The Big One”), he’s not catering to anyone in “Bowling For Columbine”. And I’ll follow this guy’s passionate filmmaking anywhere.
CATCH ME IF YOU CAN (***)
This movie is a rollicking good time, but I believe it keeps itself from being as good as Spielberg’s best due to a lengthy ending. In fact, this is Steven Spielberg’s third movie in a row that didn’t seem to know when to end. “Minority Report” took a while to spell out it’s inevitable ending, and “A.I.” just wouldn’t END for the love of God. “Catch Me if you Can” seems to tack on extra scenes to wrap up it’s two plots. The two plots are DiCaprio’s con man running from the law and his relationship with a semi-successful father. Once dad’s out of the picture, however, DiCaprio’s family scenes lose a lot of steam, and take too long to conclude. Always interesting, however, is Tom Hanks chasing Leonardo DiCaprio. DiCaprio’s character Frank Abagnale is a con from his early teen years, and his father is attempting similar cons to keep the family financial situation above water. Christopher Walken is marvelous as DiCaprio’s dad, and it’s more proof what this actor can do with a good role, it’s a shame he whores around in stuff like “The Country Bears” and “Kangaroo Jack”. Walken and DiCaprio share a great scene early on when young Frank is caught impersonating a substitute teacher. Jennifer Garner is in this film, but I don’t know why. Her scene is pretty irrelevant. Obviously much more important is Tom Hanks as Handratty, an F.B.I. agent hot on the trail of Frank, and he’s hilarious, finding a perfect blend of by-the-bookishness and befuddlement at the continued failure to catch up with DiCaprio’s con man. And the whole film is caught up in a whimsical ‘60s and ‘70s setting that is teaming with art deco and bright colors and constantly reminding us that this was a long time ago, and Abagnale could never get away with this stuff today. It remains a fun postcard from a few decades back that works best when it remains frothy and kitschy. Also worth noting are the exciting opening credits which play with animation similar to “Vertigo” meets “The Pink Panther”, they’re a mini-film unto themselves. And John Williams score is a jazzy departure from his usual bravado and should’ve won the Best Score Academy Award.
I knew this much going in: Robin Tunney is hot. I know this much now: Robin Tunney is hot. Good news is, she can also carry a picture. Tunney appeared in such middle-ground fare as “The Craft” and “End of Days”, but is quite a presence when put in the lead of her own film. She plays a quiet animator who, through a series of bizarre circumstances, becomes confined to her house, there, naturally, to have a self-actualization. Timothy Blake Nelson plays a police deputy assigned to her, and he is excellent, adding a doofy adherance to police policy effortlessly alongside a doofy crush on Robin Tunney’s character. The film isn’t sure if it wants to be a light tale about a decent girl who’s wrongly accused of a crime, or a harsh stalker tale, but both ended up being involving plot lines, with authentic suspense and oddball comedy. This is a low-budge picture that debuted at Sundance this year, and occasionally it’s low budget fabric shows. Some of the acting by some supporting characters is mediocre at best, and the ending is good, but the way Tunney’s character got there seems a bit rushed and thin. The money seems to have been spent on a kick-ass soundtrack full of ‘80s hits! The songs compliment most scenes they show up in. Overall, I was surprised at how engaged in the story I was, seeing as how I knew nothing about it going in. It certainly has two traits most independent movies desire – it’s original and quirky. And I’ve had Hall & Oates in my head all week.
The best movie musical since “Cabaret”. And that Fosse classic is good company. Now, I don’t mean to slight Disney animated films, “South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut” or “The Blues Brothers”, all EXCELLENT musicals as well. But “Chicago” captures the old-school style of performance that hearkens back to “Cabaret” and even further back to the flash of “42nd Street” and the smart satire of “SIngin’ in the Rain”. First-time director Rob Marshall has fashioned a wonderfully imagined movie. I’m sure I would be disappointed if I saw the stage version of this show now that I’ve seen Marshall’s brilliant combination of burlesque stage production and the glitzy, fast-talking, fast-paced plot of Roxie and Velma. This is truly one of those succeed-on-every-level movies, a wonderfully imagined style of storytelling. Besides the risky and taut direction, the costumes are splashy and make the time period come alive with a love of all things showy. The production design is studied and eye-catching, from the powerfully visual imagery of the cell block tango to the lived-in burlesque feel of the cabaret space. The cinematography and editing add to the sweeping energy Marshall and the performers give to the movie 100%. As for those actors, Rene Zellweger is a good casting choice for the dim-witted Roxie, even though she misses a few moments to really crank up some other emotions besides mousy. Richard Gere gives a career performance as Billy Flynn, hitting all the right notes as a fast talker and a fast tapdancer. Catherine Zeta-Jones, however, is the TOTAL package. A blustery triple-threat who oozes charisma, attitude and humor. And now, the top 3 reasons why “Chicago” is better then “Moulin Rouge” (there will obviously be comparisons):
10. It has a superior sense of humor. The heady satire of the media and fame is leagues above the dopey (sometimes totally mental) humor of Baz Luhrmann that didn’t compliment the epic love story.
9. Better music. Kander & Ebb’s timeless showtunes are literally ‘show-stopping’. Each one brought applause when I saw the film. Luhrmann didn’t always succeed at bringing modern tunes to his ‘classic’ fable. And then, sometimes when a song seemed right for the moment, it’s presentation just lacked the punch of the music (“Smells Like Teen Spirit” sung by guys in tuxedos didn’t work for me).
8. The editing was more fair. I never felt that the editing robbed the dancers of a good performance. In “Moulin Rouge”, Luhrmann would often cut to someone WATCHING the dance instead of staying with the DANCERS!
So GO to this movie ASAP. It deserves all the accolades it can get at really succeeding after a long road to the screen.
CITY BY THE SEA (**)
I’m going to paraphrase a review I saw of this movie in Entertainment Weekly because I think it sums the movie up quite well. This film plays out like one of those “Channel 9 Theater” movies that plays Sunday afternoon or late, late at night that you might see while flipping through the dial, but is just interesting enough to stop and see what’s going on for a while. This film could also be referred to as “the obligitory DeNiro half-assed movie”. For every “Awakenings”, “Cape Fear”, “Analyze This” or “Meet the Parents”, this legendary actor tends to find himself in a “Guilty By Suspicion”, “Stanley and Iris” or “Night and the City”. These movies (and “City by the Sea”) aren’t BAD like “The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle”, but they are middle-of-the-road and if a guy like DeNiro picked his projects more like Nicholson, we’d be left with JUST the really good stuff. In the meantime, we get “City by the Sea”, from non-stylized director Michael Caton-Jones. This movie is mainly about ghosts. The ghost of DeNiro’s character’s father haunts him in the form of a bad reputation, and that rep is now getting to his son, who is on the lam after a the murder of a drug dealer. DeNiro ponders the best way to bring him in. While doing so, his own lifestyle is in question as we meet Frances McDormand’s character, who is bedding DeNiro, but is not a fan of the way he’s dealing with his boy. Her character is underdeveloped, and that’s bad for McDormand. But she could be taken out of the movie entirely as far as I’m concerned, then there’d be NO development to even be concerned about. The most interesting part of the movie is DeNiro tracking down his son. That’s worth two stars, but the rest isn’t worth another two. James Franco, as mini-DeNiro, adds another page to his catalog of really, really dour dudes. This flick is the fall filler it was released to be. Serviceable and marginally entertaining, but nothing special.
CONFESSIONS OF A DANGEROUS MIND (**1/2)
I really wanted to like this movie more than I did. I’ve been a fan of Sam Rockwell for quite some time and looked forward to him taking on a lead role. As game show host Chuck Barris, he steps up and delivers as a leading man. Funny, charming, goofy and strange. But the movie around him leaves a little to be desired. Director George Clooney shows us his green underbelly as a first-timer with this film. He seems to over-direct the look and feel of the whole story. There is barely a scene in the film that doesn’t have some sort of filter, color splash, wash-out, grainy-look, etc. for reasons I couldn’t come up with. Paul Schrader put alot of those effects to great use in the underrated “Auto Focus” to show the decline of the characters. Here it just seems like ‘a cool choice’. Well, it’s distracting. I’m itching for Julia Roberts to follow up “Erin Brockovich” with another similar-size star outing. Since her Oscar turn, she’s had unmemorable bit parts (“Full Frontal”, “Ocean’s 11” – seriously, do you remember her or the guys, despite some decent dialogue), or been in a bad movie (“The Mexican”) or upstaged (by Catherine Zeta-Jones in “America’s Sweethearts”). In “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind”, Roberts fills in the ‘unmemorable bit part’ again. Her final scene with Rockwell is quite good as product of the writing more than anything else. Clooney is more memorable in a supporting part as a creepy government guy doling out ‘missions’ to Barris to complete while escorting game show winners in Europe. That concept alone is worth a star in this review. Funny. It also seems as if the concept is so out-there that Clooney has directed the film as rather out-there, with crazy larger-than-life characters. It probably doesn’t help that Charlie Kaufman wrote the script, but this story told straighter might’ve made a better impact with me. Less “movie”, more story.
DIE ANOTHER DAY (**1/2)
This is no doubt THE action movie of the year. But the great Bond tradition of bigger than big action this time around is not surrounded by the slickest supporting cast. The good news for Bond fans is that Pierce Brosnan is more comfortable than ever as 007. When he appears on the screen, he IS Bond. He is confident in the role, he is more aware of danger than previous Bond Roger Moore (Brosnan and Timothy Dalton have brought back the sense of real danger that Connery had and Moore lacked – Moore seemed to breeze through his movies without really being affected by the danger around him). The budget is big and the villians think big. That’s what I expect from the Bond villian – think big! Like, giant space laser big! And there’s other cool stuff, like DNA manipulation, a guy with diamonds embedded in his face, gadgets and gorgeous locations. What doesn’t work? Well, there’s been all sorts of talk about how the Bond franchise is getting a boost now because of Jinx, Halle Berry’s character (they’re even considering a spin-off movie). I don’t see the attraction. Berry’s as good here as she is in “X-Men”, which makes “Monster’s Ball” look more and more like a fluke. I just didn’t buy her shooting a gun – she looked scared, not like an NSA Agent. I was more intrigued with British Agent Miranda Frost, a more complex, fleshed-out character. The opening is excellent – let’s watch Bond kick-ass. I mean, he does it so well, why make us wait? There is even a segment where Bond is captured and sent to prison. This series of prison scenes shows us a side of Bond I’ve never seen. And it led to an interesting series of espionage capers. But it could’ve gone even deeper. Is Bond a rogue agent? Traitorous? It’s dealt with quickly, but there’s good spy stuff there that Bond always seems to set aside in favor of familiar Bond plot. The familiar is as good as ever, but the enticement for more left me with blistering action, but few surprises.
DIVINE SECRETS OF THE YA-YA SISTERHOOD (**)
Full of intent and vigor and completely forgettable. A trio of southern matriarchs kidnap a writer and bring her to Louisiana to reconcile with their friend, her mother. The kidnapping seems ludicrous, and what ensues is a big healing process as they explore their lives through what seems like an equally ludicrous number of flashbacks. Does that seem petty? To think there are too many flashbacks in a movie? I got invested in neither time period fully, as a result. Sandra Bullock is the writer, Sidalee. Ellen Burstyn is wonderful as her mother, Vivian, and Ashley Judd is Vivian in flashbacks. The trio of “southern attitude” elderly women (first groomed in “Steel Magnolias” and kept alive in “Fried Green Tomatoes” and now here) are played by Maggie Smith (so sure in every film she’s in, she’s fun to watch), the GREAT Fionully Flanagan and Shirley Knight. There are two problems I had with the flashbacks – Ashley Judd played young Vivian, but the other three girls (who make up the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, created for no reason as children) blended together and didn’t reallly have distinguishing personalities. Also, Bullock’s character has siblings we never see again, even when thei mom has a big event in her life later on. Weird. But, is ther something charming about all these ladies, their sense of humor and attitude? There always is. I also had genuine sympathy for James Garner’s character. And Sandra Bullock is so ridiculously cute, I fell for whatever she did. So, whatever parts I liked made for a sub-par whole. Don’t rush, and it’s August, so if you haven’t rushed ot this June release yet, you’ll be OK.
8 MILE (***)
I’m gonna say right at the top that I don’t like hip-hop (with rap, I slant old school – P.E., ICE-T, RUN D.M.C.). However, I was won over by this Hip-Hop ‘Purple Rain’. Eminem, who previously appeared to me as a scrawny, foulmouthed little shit, plays his character Jimmy “Rabbitt” Smith as a Detroit slouch you can really enjoy watching. When Jimmy travels around Detroit in his beat up car, posse in tow, it can’t help but feel…real. Curtis Hanson’s dirty-fingers direction took me places I’ve never been, but instills in each scene a lived-in quality. Example, “8 Mile” has rapping duels where guys face off in dis contests set to a beat. But it never looks like some stagey, Hollywood convention. Instead, it looks llike Curtis Hanson was lucky to get his white ass in and out of there alive! I’m reminded of the great scene in “American History X” that takes place at a skinhead rally. Again, showing me something I’d otherwise never see. That’s where “8 Mile” succeeds. A little more floundering is Rabbitt’s relationship with an aspiring model played by the always trashy Britanny Murphy. Their sex scene is actually the best scene they have together. Her real importance to his journey is flawed to me. They never seemed to really click enough for me to buy the later conflict that she causes between him and a shot at a demo session. Eminem seems to move through it all with real street cred, pulling off emotional scenes with his mom (Kim Basinger) and high octane scenes with rival rappers. Through it all, there isn’t a whole lot of rapping by Eminem, making his best vocal stylizing at the end a real payoff. So now I know two things:
1. By working with top-notch talent, Eminem has joined the movie biz with guns blazing, carving out a riveting debut that buries the weak attempts of counterparts DMX and Ja Rule.
2. I’ll be OK if I never go to Detroit.
THE EMPEROR’S CLUB (**)
(I give away a little about plot here, just so you know) Kevin Kline is one of my favorite actors, but even his solid work can’t help some flaws in this script from affecting my ability to like it. Kline plays a headmaster at a boy’s academy who instills in his students the major importance of Roman Emperor’s and their history. Some care as much as he does, others don’t give a damn. I fell somewhere in the middle. His explanation to a US Senator of the value of what he teaches was effective, he seriously wants to build up the character of these young boys. However, he has an action in the movie’s center that sets off a tragic turn of events for everyone. It concerns his grading of the boy’s papers. I couldn’t help but lose respect for Kline’s character after his move. It would mean more to me if the child he was out to ‘help’ was worth the fight. That’s a nasty trend in the movies these days, where we’re being asked to really care for characters that are not worth the effort. Kline’s act is a move of such glaring unfairness that I couldn’t root for him, and any tragedy that followed seemed earned, which isn’t all that tragic. Another tough gimmick in the film is a time jump of 25 years. Often, films do this as a coda to the action, but “The Emperor’s Club” spends much time there, and I thought the fine work of the young actors in the first half of the film was sorely missed. The twists and turns at the end are quite good comments on society, the film doesn’t go exactly where you’d think. In fact, on the whole, I predicted that the film would be more familiar than it was. It certainly isn’t a “Dead Poets Society”, as it concentrates more on students changing the teacher than the other way around. It is, however, saddled with a bad title. The title SOUNDS like “Dead Poets Society”, when there really is no ‘group’ in the story. It could’ve easily been called “The Emperors”. A rental.
The entire existence of this movie is simply to serve it’s ending. Jennifer Lopez plays “wife done wrong” and sets out to exact revenge on her husband. As she sets her plan into action, even the eight or ten people in the house when I saw this May release in a cheapie house were cheering. But is the end worth the trip? A solid no to that. Jennifer Lopez is not a strong enough actress to carry out the grief her character feels. Because of her dating exploits and “singing” career, people just assume she’s an established actress. Truth is, she’s never had that critically lauded film that other actresses in her league have had. For example: “Anaconda” is no “Erin Brockovich”, or “Steel Magnolias”. To keep the Roberts comparison alive, “Enough” is ALOT like “Sleeping With the Enemy”, which, last time I checked was a festering pile of dog shit. I guess Lopez’ “Out of Sight” is the closest she’s come, but beyond “appealing”, I still can’t label Lopez as having solid acting chops. Outside of her performance, the film itself is pretty flat, too. The movie frames some scenes with title cards, but adandons that idea for no apparent reason. Bill Campbell is decent as the menacing husband, but it seems like his reach and means are a little far-fetched, and Noah Wyle is just goofy. There is a supporting performance by the GREAT Fred Ward that’s briefly enjoyable. Also, poor Juliette Lewis, a great actress, appears in another thankless role. I seem to remember the kid sucking ass, nothing new there. “Enough” pretty much covers the basics of both a story of spousal abuse and a revenge tale…and nothing more. It’s by the numbers, and more should be asked of director Michael Apted at this point.
Pierce Brosnan stars in this by-the-books weepie that has a lot of charm stuck in a know-how-it-ends-at-the-opening-credits plot. The government takes Brosnan’s working class Irishman’s children and he spends the film in a fight to get them back. Yeah, it is very Lifetime Network. And Brosnan isn’t convincing in all of his scenes. He shows a new side as a pub singer that’s really appealing, but his dialect wavers and the plot doesn’t help him as the film starts, plodding along and setting things up either too simply or melodramatically. Later, Brosnan puts together a law team of Stephen Rea, Aidan Quinn and Alan Bates, and the movie gets a jolt of life. In any film, it’s always fun to hang out with a bunch of bubbly Irish folk (except in “Bloody Sunday”), and when these fun characters are hammering out a defense for Brosnan’s plea to reunite with his daughter Evelyn, the result is just what the movie needed. There’s nothing surprising or even exceptionally imaginative in “Evelyn”, but it gets the simple job done.
FAR FROM HEAVEN (****)
I saw Douglas Sirk’s “Imitation of Life” in a film class in college. It’s on many critic’s lists of the great films, but I’ll be damned if I didn’t simply dismiss it as an over-the-top soap opera. Well, it turns out I was right. The overly dramatic, stylized presentation of the 1950s was a popular way for directors of the time to represent their era. Films like “Casablanca” and “Citizen Kane” had come and gone, proving that acting could be less stylized and more real, and stories could be told, not presented. Yet Sirk’s films resonated with an old-school bluster of melodrama and Acting with a capitol A. Todd Haynes’ brilliant “Far From Heaven” is best described by star Julianne Moore, who said (and I’m paraphrasing) that it’s not a film about the ‘50s, but a film about people from a ‘50s movie. Sirk’s style is intact, but Haynes has masterfully infused themes into the story that you’d never find in a Sirk film. So what happens if you peel away the smiley layers of the perfect Mr. and Mrs. 1950s? That’s explored to fantastic effect by Haynes and everyone involved. The production design is top notch, creating the postcard, technicolor world of near-perfection. It is lit with great attention to color (for example, blue is evil – EVIL, I SAY!). Elmer Bernstein has fashioned a score that is so PRESENT in dictating the events that are unfolding that it’s practically a character in the film. You know immediately from the sprawling credits and Bernstein’s score what you’re in for. Dennis Quaid gives an award-worthy performance (woohoo! Finally, some award cred for Dennis!). His character sets the wheels in motion for what ultimately turns Julianne Moore’s Pleasantville-esque life into a sad story. But fear not, every actor is having so much fun playing the style that their are many laughs to even out the experience. This is certainly one of the oddest and best films of the year. Go now. NOW, I SAY!
I know little about Frida Kahlo. No, I mean now, after I’ve seen the movie. Truth is, I sat through the biopic about this acclaimed author, and left wondering why it was made. It seemed, like Forrest Gump, she was always around when interesting world events and people were going on, but was she really that inspiring that you make a movie about her? She did survive a crippling accident as a child to go on and become a famed painter. But the movie never portrayed her as having that aforementioned fame. It seemed like she was always in the shadow of fame (mostly Diego Rivera’s), and oh, yeah, she painted, too. Salma Hayek is super-hot except for the catepillar-eyebrow she sports during the film. This makes for some great nudity and lesbian scenes. As for her performance, she does a fine job in making me forget that up to now I didn’t believe she could carry a flim. Equally, or even more impressive is the actress who plays Frida as a young girl. She is spirited and edgy. The movie shares these same qualities, but not always as successfully. When I think of director Julie Taymor, I think of puppetry and models, two things that distinguished her acclaimed production of “The Lion King”. So, the question is, does she have to use them in everything? Apparently, yes, but the effect is jarring, not the good way, but the take-you-out-of-the-hard-work-the-actors-are-doing way. I mean, some of the obligatory puppetry in this film is just odd. One effect that does work is the life-size re-creation of Frida’s paintings. Frida will either imagine herself in her painting’s world, or physically see herself in it, and the production design is stunning. Frida does one of those stupid things where she allows her husband to fool around, and then she gets mad when he does. There’s little tolerance in my world for sympathy when characters make a dumb-assed move like that. But hey, SOMETHING had to happen to Frida, and it’s all bad. So are the paintings. Make that *1/2.
GANGS OF NEW YORK (***)
Martin Scorsese has always been in love with New York. I’m sure if he could have, he would’ve set “The Last Temptation of Christ in Queens. But unlike his other NY-loving filmmakers Woody Allen and Spike Lee, Scorsese is taking a trip back to one of the city’s roughest historical rides in “Gangs of New York”. This is another in a trend of big, historical epics that really involves, at its core, a revenge tale. “Braveheart” did that plot brilliantly, “Gladiator” ripped it off, and “The Patriot” did it not quite as successfully. In my “LOTR: The Two Towers” review, I mentioned that lack of emotional connection I had with that film. All three previously mentioned films and “Gangs” connect with me on a high charged emotional level because of the visceral power of the revenge tale. In this case, Leonardo DiCaprio seeks revenge against the man who murdered his father. One flaw in “Gangs” is that the history is so interesting, and there’s not enough of it. Crooked politicians, competing fire fighting units, draft riots and Irish immigration made for very interesting segments of the movie. However, they are intermingled with a love story involving main character DiCaprio and Cameron Diaz. Diaz’ involvement with villain Bill “The Butcher” fuels the film’s conflict, but the love story is the least exciting or developed segment of the movie. What’s continually exciting is Scorsese’s kinetic scope and direction. And as usual, Mahty is dabbling heavily in excess. This movie is A LOT. A lot of blood, a lot of grandeur, a lot of set decoration, a lot of pageantry. If you’re up for the in-your-face-ed-ness of it all, it’s a hell of a ride. In fact, the movie’s climax is so chaotic and insane, I had to hit the internet to read up on the facts behind the story. New York was indeed a crazy place back then. Embodying all of that craziness is Daniel Day-Lewis in a bravura performance that’s so focused, it’s scary. He manages to make sick freak William Cutting likable! Day-Lewis can be as believable making an argument against immigration as he can be carving up a rival gang member. And he pulls out all the stops, from a glass eye to making a top hat look evil. DiCaprio, in comparison, is pretty straight-and-narrow. He’s the focal point of the narrative, but gets a little lost in the shuffle of the Day-Lewis show and Scorsese’s excess. Brendan Gleeson, John C. Reilly, and the GREAT Jim Broadbendt add quality support. The streets of New York in this film were built from scratch at Italy’s Cinecitta Studios. They’re very impressive, as are the costumes which look blood-stained and lived-in. Like, three or four lives lived in. There’s no shortage of atmosphere in Scorsese’s epic, but it even, at times, seems like a lot for me to handle. And my “handle it” meter is pretty high. But if you can weather the onslaught, Mahty’s latest opus is a wild ride.
HARRY POTTER AND THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS (***)
Certainly as good as the first, this Harry Potter outing has magic in literally every scene. Blue pixies, giant spiders, man-eating snake creatures, flying cars, you name it, there’s more and more stuff in this sequel and it’s all good. There’s also more plot – LOTS OF IT – that made me pull out the notebook I haven’t used since “Back to the Future, Part II” to take notes. The prestige of the book series has afforded the films the luxury of getting the best British talent to climb aboard. And they’re all as equally good here as before – Robbie Coltrane, the GREAT Richard Harris, Maggie Smith and Kenneth Branagh – HILARIOUS as a foolish magician. The filmmakers also knew to pump up what we’ve seen already, and that makes for a faster and more dangerous Quidditch match that will be in competition for action scene of the year. We also have the joy of bypassing all the set up (who are these characters? What is Hogwart’s?) and get right to the action, and the special effects department did a flawless job. I’ve already praised the Quidditch match, and Dobby, a new, all CGI character is extremely well done, from his full-physical interaction with Harry to the believable texture of his clothing. Beates the mushy, rubbery aliens of “Attack of the Clones”. The flying car is fluid and graceful, match-cutting efx and real car shots seamlessly, the giant spiders look better than a movie full of Eight Legged Freaks, and each flash of a magic wand brings something new. Now, I want to make sure I get a special shout-out to Rupert Grint, who plays Ron Weasley. Daniel Radcliffe is all poise, comfortability and assuredness this time around as Harry. In great contrast is Grint, who makes the greatest faces at every scary encounter they have. The three leads have an easy-going repoire, but Grint stood out a bit this time ‘cause he just cracked me up. With smarts, high-quality production and a pant-load of fantastical adventure, I look forward to this franchise living a long life.
HUMAN NATURE (***)
To say that “Human Nature” is lowbrow doesn’t seem right, even though that’s certainly what it is. But with the recent crop of comedies that have no hope of being funny so they cram the celluloid with gross-out humor, “Human Nature” looks relatively highbrow. It would be a disservice to compare “Human Nature” with “Van Wilder”, “Tomcats”, or “The Sweetest Thing”, because there’s just something about it that says “I’M TRYING HARDER”. By virtue of it’s attempt, I went with it. The screenplay was written by Charlie Kaufman, who wrote “Being John Malkovich”, so already you know you’re in for a bizzaro ride. Kaufman succeeds at being a writer with a specific tone. “Nature” matches the crazy feel of “Malkovich”, and goes even further in terms of risky comedy. In a nutshell, the story is about a woman (Patricia Arquette) with excessive hair growth who retreats to the wild to be a hairy beast, which is certainly easier than covering up her malady. There’s also a plot involving a scientist who discovers another man-beast in the wild, and his attempts to civilize him. Both of these stories succeed because of the sheer seriousness of the character’s desires. Tim Robbins plays the scientist, and his reasons for wanting to play Henry Higgins to Rhys Ifans’ Eliza Dolittle are earnest and hilarious. This may be it – it’s as if the film’s ideology shoots high, but takes the low road to get there. But god help me, there is just something HYSTERICAL in Rhys Ifans’ performance as a mountain man (believing he’s a monkey) who just wants to hump everything. There are a few misfires, occasionally reminding that they may be trying to do too much, but overall, the big guffaws are worth the time.
ICE AGE (*1/2)
Unfortunately for all computer animated movies that come out, the bar for feature-length films was set pretty high with “Toy Story 2”. “Ice Age”’s animation fall’s way short of what Pixar or PDI have achieved.
Unfortunately, this movie conjures up little of the humor and pathos that made “Monsters, Inc.” and “Shrek” so great, too.
Many, many of the jokes fall flat, and the filmmakers almost seem aware of that, putting in a bunch of slapstick when it seems they have nothing else.
I was quite disappointed.
IGBY GOES DOWN (**)
This film no doubt achieved notoriety because of its crackling dialogue and, like “Rushmore” before it, it shows a rebellious and empowered youth tackling youth issues with an adult style. Well, style is prevalent throughout “Igby Goes Down”, but I didn’t feel that heart necessarily was. Icy cold teenager Igby (played impressively by Kieran Culkin) is sent to military school by his family. He goes AWOL and has adventures in NY City. Well, these adventures don’t teach anything, they don’t have a point and really don’t go anywhere. That leaves the plot just meandering around for something to do. Interesting characters, played by interesting actors, come in and out of Igby’s life. Most notably, the triumphant return of Bill Pullman, great as Igby’s father, Amanda Peet in the best performance of she’s ever given, and the GREAT Jeff Goldblum, who can make anything entertaining, even “Holy Man”. Ryan Phillipe has never seemed real, with his upper-crust, snotty demeanor, and the dialogue here (which is spoken only in the movies) doesn’t do much to change that. By the time Igby’s getting his ass beat up, he certainly had it coming and I wondered why we didn’t follow somebody else around Manhattan. Maybe Kevin McCallister?
THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST (**)
I’ll admit I don’t know the play on which this film was based. I’ve heard of it forever as Oscar Wilde’s greatest work. So, with little knowledge going in, did I laugh? Yes! Did I think this was a great film, at least as great as the play? No. The play seems to lend itself to dramatic contrivances that don’t stand up in the film world. Things that wrap up so easily on stage seem dorky on film. Perhaps it’s because film itself is so new and constantly evolving, and the words and characters of Wilde’s play are old and set in the ways of the theater. The film’s strongest asset is Wilde’s dialogue. Again, I’m not sure how it may have been butchered for the screenplay version of Wilde’s story, but the dialogue in “Earnest” is at times sharp as a knife and at times refined to flow out of the actor’s mouths like butter. And best equipped to live in these great words is Judi Dench, who is both hilarious and malevolent as a noblewoman determined to prevent her daughter from marrying unsuitably. The other actors certainly seem to be having a good time. Rupert Everett hams it up as a rapscalion, Colin Firth is as enjoyable as always and the two men have a good rapport. Equally silly are Reese Witherspoon and Frances O’Connor, swinging moods like golf clubs. But there’s something about the mood swings, love him/hate him back-and-forths, stunning revelations and pretty, tidy package wrap-ups that seem put-upon. Maybe it’s a style that follows Wilde’s work around on stage, but on film, it seems a bit too stagey. Is stagey a word? So points for chuckles, but the overall experience is better left on stage.
A moody, well-acted thriller that can stand alongside “Memento” as another fine Christopher Nolan film. Don’t get me wrong, this film isn’t nearly as ambitious or successful as “Memento”, but it further proves that Nolan is a fresh new talent to be reckoned with. Al Pacino looks like walking death in this movie, and it just gets worse and worse the less his character is allowed to sleep. Besides the look, Pacino nails the flaws, panic and duty of his complex police officer. Robin Williams is very strong as he commands his scenes with quiet menace. Nolan’s rich sense of location and atmosphere make the mountains and lakes of Alaska a character unto themselves, hiding the crimes of a small town beneath. The film’s major flaw, to me, was that it seemed a bit long, but I can’t quite put my finger on what led me to that feeling. It is a sprawling drama in a remote setting that seems wrapped in the same cold mist the characters walk through. Hilary Swank is fine in her role, and she’s quite cute in a tomboy/cop way. She reminded me of Laura Linney in “Mothman Prophecies” (also cute) in that they’ve both recently been nominated for Oscars (and Swank won), and followed the nomination up with a supporting cop role. I think they could both have chosen showier, lead roles for the follow-up. The mind of a killer and the mind of a flawed cop are both examined quite effectively, with interesting double-crosses and sturdy production values throughout.
JOHN Q (**1/2)
I remember when “John Grisham’s The Rainmaker” came out with Matt Damon and Danny DeVito. The main characters set out to bring down a corrupt insurance company. Is there a better villain? Pretty much everyone hates sleazy insurance companies and their loopholes and self-importance. That same disdain makes it easy to root for Denzel Washington, who plays a man whose health care coverage fails his son, and he goes to drastic measures in “John Q”. It also doesn’t hurt to have Washington, whose pride and desperation are made very apparent in an emotional performance. He’s pretty much good in everything. The supporting cast of hospital hostages are OK, but I had the same problem with them that I did with hostages in “The Negotiator”. They’ve written rather lightweight in contrast to the gravity of the main character’s situation. This film also has genuine suspense in a couple of moments at the end. I couldn’t help but get wrapped up in Washington’s turmoil. But a couple of other things in the film kept it from earning another 1/2 or whole star. “John Q” gets a little preachy at the end. As I mentioned, it’s EASY to get behind a pro-“health care for everyone” platform. So easy that when this film drives it home a little to heavyhandedly, it’s unnecessary. Also, there’s a heart translpant scene who’s visuals should be reserved for doctors only. YUCK. Other supporting turns by Ray Liotta and Robert Duvall are good, but Anne Heche’s performance as a hospital administrator is so icy, she practically has foggy breath every time she speaks. It’s rather two-dimensional compared to Washington’s textured work. He’s the reason to check this movie out.
K-19: THE WIDOWMAKER (**1/2)
Unfortunately, the last GREAT Harrison Ford movie remains “Clear and Present Danger”. But this submarine adventure isn’t entirely without merit. It’s as solidly put together as the ship itself, but the narrative at times falls below the radar. Let’s start with the performances. Thirteen years ago, Sean Connery played Harrison Ford’s father. Now it seems that Ford is getting offered the roles Connery used to (drawing a parallel with the Russian sub commander Connery played in “The Hunt for Red October”). So, this is a wise script choice for Ford to jump aboard. Flying starships and swinging over chasms on a whip may not be in his repertoire anymore. He seems at home in a more grounded role that still can bring out the commanding presence he brings to any role without us ever having to say, “OK, you’re a little bit old for that.” This is also the second character in a row that Ford has played that is of questionable character. As a HUGE fan of Harrison Ford, I’m glad he’s reaching beyond the hero image, and I think he’s up for the challenge. Liam Neeson is strong alongside Ford as a former sub captain now relegated to #2, but he was a bit bombastic in his scenes, rarely acting without snorting or barking his lines. They are surrounded by a slew of actors you’ve never seen before, with the exception of Peter Skarsgaard as a young nuclear expert. The crew for the most part is good, but they suffer from what most submarine movies suffer from – no standouts. They remain Russian guys number one through fifty. Their story is different from most, as it’s an internal story of a Russian sub disaster. Unlike Clancy, or “U-571”, the scope isn’t as grand as most sub movies. It’s pretty much self-contained. The actions on the ship are crucial to…those on the ship, with only one or two cutaways to the mainland. This leaves alot up to director Kathryn Bigelow, and unfortunately, after “Das Boot”, the claustrophobia of a submarine and the impressive, winding camerawork that takes a viewer through it’s hulls can only be copied, not invented. And there isn’t a whole lot here that advances the genre. I was pulled in once again by the badge of courage worn by soldiers. I talked about it in “Black Hawk Down” and other war films. I’m a sucker for the self-sacrifice device. So, overall, it had it’s moments, but doesn’t quite stand out in an unusually good summer. And I will warn you now – this film contains the WORST line of dialogue of the year. And as a big fan, I’m sad to say it’s uttered by Ford. I won’t even say it hear because you will ABSOLUTELY KNOW IT when you hear it. When you see Ford on talk shows, he seems like such a smart adult, I can’t imagine why he wouldn’t read the line and say, “There is no way I’m saying this”. But he did, and it’s worse than “Get off my plane”. (But it’s not “Get off my sub”, for the record…)
THE KID STAYS IN THE PICTURE
This review contains spoilers
“When a director hires a producer, you’re in deep shit. A director needs a boss, not a yes man.”
We all are familiar with the Hollywood “dream.” It usually entails some bright eyed kid struggling to eat and pay rent who happens to be in the right place at the right time and overnight his luck changes. He becomes the next Jack Nicholson or she becomes the next Faye Dunaway. Or he happens to be a successful executive in the garment industry visiting Los Angeles on business, is lounging by the pool at the Beverly Hills Hotel, “discovered” by the great Norma Shearer, garners brief attention as an actor, saves Paramount from bankruptcy, becomes one of the biggest producers in Hollywood, retires to scandalous headlines, only to be reinstated at Paramount where he still resides. Or you could be the next Robert Evans.
I have seen “The Kid Stays in the Picture” numerous times. It is by far one of my favorite documentaries. The entertainment value of this film far surpasses most of the “fictional” blockbusters that Hollywood keeps churning out. Robert Evans as a human being is a parody of himself. He is immensely fascinating in an endearing and yet tragic in a way. The old “watching the train wreck” cliche. You can’t take your eyes off of his enormously successful yet bizarre life. I, for one, love “behind the scenes” Hollywood. It can be far more interesting than any other aspect of this crazy industry.
Robert Evans is a true success story. However, I feel that perhaps his deal with the devil eventually fell through, hence the latter part of his career. To start, Evans was already immersed in a profitable career. He worked for Evan-Picone, the clothing company started by his brother. His previous attempts in show business had been a flop. He was set on a career path that was in and of itself, glamorous. But all of that was about to change.
Thanks to the legendary Norma Shearer and Darryl Zanuck, Evans had a short lived career as an actor. Evans left the garment business for fame and soon-to-be-fortune in the City of Angels. Shortly after wrapping Zanuck’s epic “The Sun Also Rises”, Evans decided he wanted a piece of the action as a producer. At the end of the fifties, Evans writes, “I was sure of one thing: I was a half-assed actor.” He quickly teamed up with Peter Bart (then working for the New York Times) and they offered up a $5000 movie deal for Paramount. “When I went out to LA, I knew one thing: property is king. No one wanted me – there’s nothing worse than a pretty-boy actor who wants to be a producer, especially a lousy actor. And I bought a property called ‘The Detective’ to get my foot in the door. So, I went to 20th Century Fox and demanded a three-picture deal and got it. Without the property, they wouldn’t have given me anything.” Before that came to fruition, he was hired by Charles Bluhdorn, head of Gulf & Western, to shake up the deteriorating Paramount Studios. Within months, Robert Evans became Head of Production and saved Paramount with a little film called, “Rosemary’s Baby”. And that was just the beginning. Under Evans reign at Paramount, the following films were created making film history:
Evans took risks with all of these films, but with a somewhat preternatural knowledge of their longevity and success. In this whirlwind of power and fame, Evans married Ali McGraw (whom I believe to this day was the love of his life). He was on top of the world. “Snotnose” McGraw, as Evans called her, had one simple request: that he never leave her.
No sooner than those words lingered gently above her head, then she was off to Texas to shoot “The Getaway” with the handsome and rugged Steve McQueen. Evans was in Paris translating “The Godfather” into different languages. Not once had he been to visit her in Texas. Realizing his mistake, he flew to El Paso to meet with her. Confessing her affair with McQueen, McGraw walked away from their marriage and Evans was never quite the same.
After the roaring success of Paramount in the 70’s, the 80’s ushered in a silent greed that was gnawing away at Robert Evans. He was Paramount’s golden boy and yet was not reaping the financial rewards. He decided to step down from the throne and become an independent contractor making his own films. Suffice it to say this was the turning point for Evans. The events of the next few years would ruin him. He was introduced to cocaine. In his words, “the seducer had been seduced.” This led to a drug bust in which Evans name was smeared. Later he would be involved in a murder case that revolved around his friend Roy Radin’s ties to drugs. All of these ingredients were a recipe for disaster. Paramount asked him to vacate the premises. “Once king of the mountain, now I was not even allowed to climb it.” He lost his beloved home “Woodland” (Garbo’s old place) and then he lost his mind. He checked himself into a sanitarium and realized that this was the last place he needed to be. He just wanted to go home.
Little did he know that his good pal, Jack Nicholson had flown to Paris to beg the current owner of “Woodland” to sell it back to him. Done deal. Evans had his sanctuary back.
Over the years that followed, Evans found his way back to Paramount and back in the game where he still remains.
“The Kid Stays in the Picture”, brilliantly pieced together by Nanette Burstein and Brett Morgen, is a visually creative and bittersweet story of the Hollywood dream.
“There are three sides to every story. My side, your side, and the truth. And no one is lying. Memories shared serve each one differently.”
THE LIFE OF DAVID GALE (***)
Wow. This film got REAMED when it opened. I think Karen (my wife for those of you who don’t know) and I were the only people to land on the positive side of the fence on this one. It’s a challenging drama, no doubt, and has drawn the wrath of critics for its subject matter and mainly for its harsh twist at the end. Kevin Spacey plays Gale, an anti-death penalty activist on death row for the murder of a colleague, played by Laura Linney. He enlists the help of journalist Bitsey Bloom (what an awful name), played by Kate Winslet, to free him. SPOILER ALERT – some things may get mentioned here that affect the plot, but it’s tough to talk about this movie without bringing up the ending. This film is about the death penalty, but something about it doesn’t make me assign it a certain side of that ongoing argument, whereas a film like “Dead Man Walking” is definitely anti-death penalty. “David Gale” chooses, I believe, simply to be provocative, and I thought it succeeded in doing that. The choices Gale and Linney’s characters make in the film are HARD CORE. They aren’t necessarily likable, but I was fascinated with the lengths they were willing to go to argue their case against the death penalty. Sickening lengths, but always fascinating. The plan put under way by these cause activists is so flawed and reliant on things working out PERFECTLY, that it seems too flimsy to risk what they risked on it’s success. But, nevertheless, all the details are thought out, in place and make sense. It’s an enthralling story. Spacey is OK, but his usual cold demeanor doesn’t work as well as a warmer approach to the character might have. I’ve got a thing for Kate Winslet, so even when she’s downright bad, as is the case here, I like watching her. No nudity, however, which is always a plus for me (even that piece of trash “Iris” was better when she skinny-dipped). Alan Parker’s direction was solid, but he hasn’t quite returned to his “Mississippi Burning” mode since that ALL-TIME GREAT racial drama. But Parker likes to be provocative, as “Angel Heart”, “The Wall” and “Midnight Express” have shown, and “The Life of David Gale” can stand with that good, daring company.
LIFE OR SOMETHING LIKE IT (**)
I saw this new-to-DVD release on a plane recently and was surprised by its earnestness. I thought it was just going to be a dopey Angelina Jolie romance. However, the movie actually addresses loftier goals like examining life choices, happiness in life and work and even throws in some legitimate suspense. However, despite its addressing of these themes, it doesn’t meet them. The writing is rather trite, offering nothing new in the NY-socialite-who-has-it-all-or-does-she? plot. Plus, you got Ed Burns phoning it in (I’m looking forward to the day he doesn’t play laconic guy and really invests in some big-deal storyline). And what’s the deal with that fembot hairdo, Ang? Even news anchors went “What the hell is that?”. I want to see a really good movie with Angelina Jolie. Still waiting.
LILO & STITCH (***)
The best all-around pleasing conventionally-drawn animated Disney film since “Tarzan”. Sounds like a mouthfull, but it basically means that the last two big Disney flicks were misfires in one way or another. “The Emperor’s New Groove” I found dopey and not the least bit engrossing. “Atlantis” was wonderfully drawn with some good voice work, but with a needlessly cryptic plot. “Lilo & Stitch” is hilarious and impressively drawn, exciting and emotional. At the heart of the success of this film, for me, is Stitch, the alien experiment who flees his home planet for Earth, with other aliens in hot pursuit. He is a hothead, off-the-wall character by Disney standards that really livens things up. He just wants to eat and kill. Not many Disney characters out there like that and a brave direction to go that paid off. The film also contains a lot of Elvis songs and humor that appeals to adult sensibilities. There are also action scenes that beat anything most summer fare like “Windtalkers” had to offer. “Lilo & Stitch” was a big hit, and it will hopefully re-invigorate a movie genre I’ve always enjoyed that can share a piece of the pie with CGI features.
THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE TWO TOWERS (**1/2)
MY feelings for this film can be summed up in one of it’s main characters – Gollum. Gollum is a ground-breakingly impressive all computer-generated character that represents some of the best yet CGI in terms of believability. Gollum blends in seamlessly with the real life sets and locations and is one of the first CGI characters to be a decent actor. However. Am I right in thinking that he was really obnoxious? I don’t feel he overACTED like the ridiculous Jar-Jar Binks, but he was just kind of annoying. I can’t think of one CGI character that just acts like the other characters in the movie. Maybe I don’t know the source material, but is Gollum that annoying in the books? I can understand his attraction to the ring, but the not-always-understandable voice and continued hyperaction just turned me off. This mix of technical brilliance and frustration with the story has troubled me this whole series. Loved the battle scenes, was bored by the politics. Dug the talking, walking trees, could always do without the pace-deadening Liv Tyler. So it exists for me as an uneven franchise. “The Two Towers” is filled with good HUMAN actors (although I find it odd that they are any match for the hulking Urak-hai). Viggo Mortensen looks even more comfortable than before as Aragorn. I can totally buy his transition to king. Ian McKellen is always good, as is Elijah Wood in these films. I thought it was an odd choice to have John Rhys-Davies play the voice of the old tree, seeing as how he also plays Gimli. Maybe you’ve got to be a geeky as me to recognize his voice, but he was still quite good in both roles. The climactic battle at the end of “The Two Towers” is impressive, and there’s an assuredness in Peter Jackson’s direction that shows that his expansive vision would never be denied. I just missed the connection that made me care as much as I did in other fantasy movies like the original “Star Wars” trilogy. This franchise is certainly admirable, but it’s yet to arouse my passion.
THE MAN FROM ELYSIAN FIELDS (*)
Mick Jagger as a pimp daddy? Where do I sign?! There is much to enjoy, watching Jagger work his magic as a smooth operator, but he and Andy Garcia are lost in a murky script. What do I mean by murky? Missing details and pointless scenes mostly. Example, as fun as Jagger’s presence is, he’s horribly underdeveloped. He has A SCENE or two to get an idea of how tough and conflicted his life is, but that’s it. Either develop it or don’t mention it. I want to see Andy Garcia in “The Regis Philbin Story” just so I can see if he’s capable of not being so damn gloomy all the time. His character resorts to being a gigolo in an act of desperation, but I can’t imagine him EVER seeming like he’s enjoying being in the movie. You know what, I’ll extend that to his career. I don’t see him acting non-sluggish in anything since “The Godfather, Part III”. The late James Coburn shows up in a plot that’s downright goofy, uncomfortable and just doesn’t work. The whole male gigolo story could go two different ways – “American Gigolo” or “Deuce Bigalow”. “Elysian Fields”, however, works as neither drama or comedy. The characters make so many stupid decisions, I couldn’t root for romance, and it’s just too stuffy for laughs. We can still cross our fingers that Jagger will make “Freejack 2”!
MINORITY REPORT (****)
Another one of the year’s best films. Here is a perfect coming together of talents:
- One of the world’s best film director’s looking for adult-oriented material
- An ace short story from a writer who’s stories have made for some of the best sci-fi.
- An actor in his prime who gives his all for the director.
It’s the material just right for the director, who’s got a hungry actor at his beck and call, and all the ingredients make for a supremely enjoyable movie. I have been impressed with the number of films this summer that are aiming high. It seems like adults got lucky this year with a great number of high-profile films looking to play to the adult crowd (“The Sum of All Fears”, “Road to Perdition”, “K-19”, “Insomnia”). “Report” trumped everything playing the field right now. Take one scene for example – the fight with the jet-pack cops that ends in a kid’s bedroom while he’s playing the saxophone. There was ample room for something dopey to happen – i.e. a “Holy shit, missah! You done fell from space!”, but they skipped it in favor of maintaining the established tone. Get on with the chase, don’t stop to cater. I LOVED the look of the whole movie – practically devoid of color, even in the greenhouse scenes. Washed out in dark blues, greys, white and black. Gritty was the order of the day, and the jobs of these cops was just that, with no glamour lens to see it through. Spielberg’s vision was an enhancement of the story. A complex looking world that never went – “WOW! LOOK AT OUR COOL SPECIAL EFFECTS!”. Speilberg wasn’t trying to be Kubrick or anyone else, and we know how good Spielberg can be with the right material. The plot was guessing, guessing and more guessing, with a major red herring thrown in for good measure. It was equal parts murder mystery and science fiction. Tom Cruise is as good as he’s ever been. As soon as I saw the phrase ‘Everybody Runs’, I figured he’d be good, he ran so well in “The Firm”. It really seems like he’s giving his ALL ’cause he knows he’s with the best director in the biz. He’s really, really, REALLY going for it in every scene, and it pays off – IT SHOWS. There were only a couple of times that John Williams’ score seemed like a Williams score, but other times it was breathtaking in new and exciting ways I haven’t heard from him before. Especially when Cruise was jumping from car to car on the expressway – that scene played out in look and music like futuristic Hitchcock. This is extremely smart and impressive science fiction the likes of which we didn’t see last summer – see it while you can!
MOONLIGHT MILE (**1/2)
Great performances can’t quite keep this dour drama from slogging around in its own depression. Jake Gyllenhall plays a young man dealing with a death in the family (the reveal of who the characters are in relation to each other is worth not spoiling it here). I wish Gyllenhall was one of the great performances, but it seems like alot of young actors do so little with their characters (perhaps to show their detachedness) that they do nothing at all. Gyllenhall kind of wallows around and he never really drew me in. The writing makes his character so indecisive that I got tired of waiting around for SOMETHING to make me care. The story is good, but the execution is lackluster. The truer studies in human nature are in Dustin Hoffman and Susan Sarandon’s performances. Hoffman is a brilliant study in grief, as we watch a man so lost after the loss of a loved one, that he doesn’t even leave himself time to mourn. He’s either busy working or busy talking, walking a fine line between paternal strength and denial. Sarandon’s character is a bit wiser and gets to play the more articulate version of grief, and she’s just right for that. Brad Silberling directed this story based on his own experiences, and the movie is great at depicting place and time, the production design is particularly good. However, despite a good look and some good actors, I just never got the evisceral feelings I needed from the characters. And, oh yeah, as always, Holly Hunter is hot.
THE MOTHMAN PROPHECIES (*1/2)
Looking forward to the year’s first intelligent thriller, I instead got this incoherent mystery that still remains a mystery to me now. Richard Gere attempts to track down the source of ‘mothman’ visions his wife had before she died. Inexpilicably, he ends up in a town where other people have had a similar vision. And you know what? A BUTTLOAD of other stuff happens in this film INEXPLICABLY. No, make that EVERYTHING happens in this movie INEXPLICABLY. The director has no shortage of style, finding most scenes captureed as dark and creepy as possible, but with no logic attached, they don’t go far. I felt bad for Laura Linney, who’s coming off an Oscar nomination, and can’t do much with her supporting part as a cop in the town Gere winds up in. Any feelings Gere and Linney muster for each other don’t seem fleshed out. Now, I pride myself on not being a spoiler in my reviews, but I HAVE to talk about the end of this flick. So please read on trepidaciously. First off, the ending does have real suspense. An impending disaster builds effective tension and technically, the disaster itself is impressive. HOWEVER, the entire idea of this ‘mothman’ and what he’s all about just gets thrown away! Worst of all, it’s replaced by dream prophecy. If a dream is what we should’ve been fearing all along, don’t waste our time with the mothman crap which never gets beyond “Mulholland Drive”-ish sensibility. If you really like Richard Gere and Laura Linney, please rent “Primal Fear”, which is much more, well, primal.
MURDER BY NUMBERS (***)
I caught this April release at the discount cinema after it had been out for a while. I liked it more than I thought I would. Sandra Bullock is believable in a dramatic role that certianly asks more from her than her comedies, and the subject matter is seriously dark, especially for a Hollywood thriller. This movie seems more the subject of indies, but director Barbet Schroeder brings good control to the proceedings and it ends up being creepy and slick. It’s more of a how-are-they-going-to-find-out-that-they-did-it than a who-done-it. For the most part, it’s “Movie By Numbers”, but I found myself intrigued by the notion of a movie having the balls to tell a story about high schoolers on a killing spree. And it creeped me out.
MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING (***)
STILL in the top ten at the box office SIX MONTHS after it’s release, the biggest independent movie of all-time is worthy of its universal appeal. Nia Vardalos’ script is full of “Oh yeah, I’ve been there”-moments. It’s lightweight story is really an ugly duckling getting her due, but here’s an example of the execution winning the day. Vardalos’ script is filled with wonderful characters who pull off that much-desired feat of being over-the-top funny and undeniably real at the same time. The mother and father of the Greek family invoke real tears at the movie’s end. Vardalos herself is a great comic actress, and I wonder why her perky look and indelible charm haven’t been put to good use up to now. I could see her as the star of “While You Were Sleeping” or “Bridget Jones Diary”(dialect pending). John Corbett has got to be thanking GOD for her, as “Wedding” is the biggest thing he’s ever done after solid work for years on TV. It’s tough to criticize a movie that moves along at such a fun, likeable pace. It really is nothing but a good time, with, as I said, loads of empathy. Now, why is Joey Fatone in this movie again?
An adrenaline-fueled cop story that I saw twice. Ray Liotta and Jason Patric drive this movie with daring, energetic performances that are equally matched by a kinetic directing job by Joe Carnahan. This movie has the second-best ending of the year (second to “About Schmidt”) that puts a fitting, unique spin on the dirty-cop storyline we’ve seen before. “Narc” takes place in Detroit, and if anyone has seen a movie that takes place in Detroit that makes Motown look beautiful, tell me about it, ‘cause between “True Romance”, “8 Mile” and even parts of “Beverly Hills Cop”, it’s a nasty place. (Now I’m pretty sure “Narc” was shot in Toronto, but it’s just how the filmmakers CHOOSE to portray the city. They always choose NASTY). Ray Liotta has always had a personality that lends itself to playing high-energy, almost manic characters, and his Henry Oak in this film is a volcano of vehement intensity. Oak’s on a mission to bring down his partner’s killers, and his passion instantly grabbed me. In brilliant contrast is Patric, employing his usual brooding to excellent effect, and countering that with a blowhard quality when needed. The two do everything in the cop partner book (chat while on stakeout, interrogate bad guys, investigate crime scenes) and, together with Carnahan, manage to make it look refreshing. Damn good stuff.
NICHOLAS NICKLEBY (****)
I suppose one of the criticisms of a film adapted from a novel must endure is how faithful it is to the original text. However, I have numerous magazine subscriptions that take up a lot of reading time, leaving me only time for Michael Moore, Dennis Miller and George Carlin books as quick-reads. As I don’t expect “Entertainment Weekly: The Movie” to come out any time soon, many of the only visitations of most classic literature I get are on the Silver Screen. Such it is with the massive Charles Dickens novel “Nicholas Nickleby”. In the ‘80s, there was a theatrical adaptation of “Nickleby” that supposedly ran eight hours and was tremendous. Coming in at around two hours, it seems that the film version of the novel is trimmed quite extensively, but whatever is left behind is absolutely fantastic. The richest element of Dickens’ story is the wide array of extremely colorful characters. The fact that they’re bolstered by a stellar cast only makes them richer. Jim Broadbendt immediately comes to mind as a horrible schoolteacher – he’s the slime of the earth. Nathan Lane is hilarious as an outrageous actor who takes Nicholas under his wing. Charlie Hunnam as Nickleby is an ass-kicker. I didn’t know that going in, but Nicholas really doesn’t put up with anybody’s shit, and EVERYONE is dishing out shit in Dickensland. And Jamie Bell, so good in “Billy Elliot”, is equally good and heartbreaking here. Keep an eye on him. Technically, the sets capture both the beauty of some of England’s rolling hills, and the squalor of the poorest places in the country. The costumes recreate the Victorian age properly and the cinematography is lush. Don’t miss this film, as it’s most likely doomed to slip under the radar.
ONE HOUR PHOTO (***1/2)
If you’ve heard that Robin Williams is excellent in this film, you’ve heard correctly. The good news is that the film surrounding Williams is great, too. This story of a film developer at the local pharmacy who collects photos of his favorite family is genuinely creepy. Director Mark Romanek has achieved Coen Brothers-like quality work out of his filmmakers. Especially the stale environment of the SavMart where Williams’ character Sy works. Practically whited-out by the harsh flourescent lights, the SavMart seems to put Sy under the same scrutinization he gives his subjects when examining their negatives. “One Hour Photo” is a one-man show, and Williams is up to the task. There’s always been something about Williams that says ‘peel here to reveal dark side underneath’ and it’s fully tapped. His nervousness is felt in every detail. The cinematography is Oscar-worthy, framing a lost Sy in the washed-out banality of suburbia. The ending is particularly interesting (it has frustrated some). In the end, I didn’t know whether to cheer on his vigilante ass, go vigilante ON his ass, or just read him a bedtime story…
OSCAR RANT 2003
(Honoring the best films of 2002)
ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE:
Glaring omission: Richard Gere. The problem for Gere is that his accomplishment in “Chicago” is a career performance. However, it just had bad timing, because there’s not a bad nomination in this bunch, no one he could absolutely replace. I suppose an argument could be made that Gere took more of a risk than Michael Caine in “The Quiet American”.
Runners-up: Robin Williams in “One Hour Photo”, Hugh Grant in “About a Boy”, Greg Kinnear in “Auto Focus”, Dennis Quaid in “The Rookie”.
Great inclusion: Daniel Day-Lewis. Not a big surprise, but Day-Lewis’ FIERCE performance in “Gangs of New York” is a welcome return for a guy we haven’t seen in a movie in five years. Welcome back.
Should and will: Nicholson should and will take the day. He anchored the film (nothing against Brody who did the same), and this role is a departure for normally charismatic Jack.
ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE:
John C. Reilly
Glaring Omission: Dennis Quaid. Atrocious. Speaking of career performances, Quaid’s brave, balls-out job in “Far From Heaven” is a masterpiece among masterful performances. First of all, if you’re going to include John C. Reilly, you’ve gotta include Gere. And I know Harris and Newman are actor favorites and would be nominated for an appearance on “Sesame Street”. Don’t get me wrong, I love them, too (especially Newman), but Quaid got ROBBED.
Runner-up: Ray Liotta in “Narc”, Willem Dafoe in “Auto Focus”, Alan Arkin in “Thirteen Conversations About One Thing”.
Great inclusion: Christopher Walken. One of the great nominations of the year. See what happens when you give Walken a meaty role?! Spielberg cast the great Walken in a full supporting role and he totally shined. Too often Walken gets reduced to a cameo as a “wacky guy”. When the roles bigger, BAM – nomination.
Should and will: I think this category is really tough. Newman gave another underplayed performance that showed power without the bombast. Reilly was heartbreaking. I’m fairly sure Cooper will win the Oscar, and this guy’s been great for years. I wasn’t the biggest fan of “Adaptation”, but his role asked alot of him that he seemed to deliver without a blink.
ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE:
Glaring Omission: This category is pretty tight. The only omission I can think of is Nia Vardalos for “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”, which is in debate as far as it’s award-worthiness. It’s a big, fat hit, no doubt, but all the parts were a little lightweight compared to the inclusions here. Meryl Streep was at least as good as Nicole Kidman in “The Hours”, if not better. (Haven’t seen “The Good Girl” either, but heard much hype about Jennifer Aniston).
Great Inclusion: Julianne Moore. I think her nomination was a shoo-in, and good thing for that. I LOVE Diane Lane, but haven’t seen the film for which she was nominated. I will soon ‘cause I here she’s a sexpot – excellent.
Should and will: The race is between Kidman and Zellweger, who have momentum from the Golden Globes and their both really skinny. It’ll probably come down to which film gets the props that night. I think the Academy has a woody for Kidman and will probably go with her (and she was very, very good – I didn’t care for the script). I THINK Moore should win. She balanced both a difficult acting style and powerful emotion gracefully.
ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE:
Glaring Omission: Michelle Pfeiffer. Not that I liked her in that film, I thought she was a bit overwrought, heavyhanded, but here’s another person the Academy loves to nominate. Queen Latifah made her job look alot easier.
Great Inclusion: Catherine Zeta-Jones. While I’ve heard some talk about Gere’s singing and Zellweger’s dancing (I disagree), Zeta-Jones has the total package in “Chicago”. She’s a triple-threat in a Best Actress-sized performance. If she couldn’t get considered as Best Actresss, GREAT job including her here.
Should and will: Bates is GREAT in “About Schmidt”, but she’s ridden on her charm/abrasiveness before (she got ROBBED in “Primary Colors”), and I think Streep will win for same reasons Chris Cooper will – the part is so lively and colorful. I’d like to see Zeta-Jones win for the most assured movie musical performance since Liza Minelli in “Cabaret”.
ANIMATED FEATURE FILM:
LILO & STITCH
SPIRIT: STALLION OF THE CIMARRON
Glaring Omission: “Star Wars, Episode II: Attack of the Clones”. Were there any people in that movie?
Great Inclusion: “Treasure Planet”. That movie got a raw deal. It’s by no means great, but it’s an animated spectacle with really impressive art work.
Should and will: “Lilo & Stitch” should win for capturing the old Disney family values, but not getting bogged down in complicated plot and keeping the whole picture light as a feather and downright funny. My problem is that I haven’t seen “Spirited Away”, which is supposed to be great. However, I’ve not shown a great enjoyment for anime in the past. It’s often just too damn OUT THERE for me. “Lilo & Stitch” should win unless the Academy goes the “Shrek” route and picks another cynical offering. But “Ice Age” is no “Shrek”. Hell, “Ice Age” is no “Reign of Fire”.
GANGS OF NEW YORK
THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE TWO TOWERS
ROAD TO PERDITION
Glaring Omission: Well, this category could always stand to have 10 or so nominees every year, ‘cause there’s always good work to be found across the board. You could’ve found the nasty bars of “8 Mile” worthy, same with the stale ‘50s surroundings of “Auto Focus” and ratty depths of Dickens’ London in “Nicholas Nickleby”. I’d take out “The Two Towers” (although impressive, it just seemed an extension of what we already saw in “Fellowship of the Ring”) and replace it with Polanski’s vision of Holocaust Germany in “The Pianist”.
Great Inclusion: “Road to Perdition”. This film got a lot of flack for being TOO operatic, too serious. Well, it is also a superbly crafted gangster film that everyone should see. The dialogue is smart, the perfomances are great and the direction is solid. But if those are going to be passed over, then I applaud the nominations of the production designers.
Should and will: I think “Gangs of New York” will win here and should. Scorsese created the streets of 1800s New York from SCRATCH at Cinecitta Studios in ITALY. It’s really impressive once you see the result on screen.
FAR FROM HEAVEN
GANGS OF NEW YORK
ROAD TO PERDITION
Glaring Omission: “Minority Report”. Spielberg’s washed-out noir sci-fi epic looks dazzling. Rough around the edges, the camera (along with the special effects) creates a really lived-in future.
Runners-up: “Auto Focus” – the change in style showing the characters demise was better use of filters than “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind”, which used similar filters for no reason. “The Rookie” – I said it before, any movie that makes Texas look THAT GORGEOUS needs an Oscar nod.
Great Inclusion: “The Pianist”. A great characteristic of this film is how the main character sees alot of the war through apartment windows, and the cinematographer has captured a “Rear Window” take on WWII that’s quite fascinating.
Should and will: “Road to Perdition” should win. Conrad Hall is a legend, and his work here is as beautiful and solid as ever. His photography makes any director look like a genius. Teaming him with good director Sam Mendes has crafted a brilliant-looking crime drama. I think it’s got a good chance, too. The upset could be “Chicago”, if they start racking up award after award by the time they get to this category.
GANGS OF NEW YORK
Glaring Omission: “Far From Heaven”. Costumes were just as important to creation of time and place as the previous category in which the film was nominated.
Runners-up: “Minority Report”. Creating the future always gets the shaft in favor of re-creating the past in this category.
Great Inclusion: “Gangs of New York”. I swear, a top hat had never before been menacing until Scorsese made this movie.
Should and will: “Chicago”’s glitz will probably win on Oscar night, and I’m rooting for it, with a slight nod towards “Gangs”.
CHICAGO – Rob Marshall
GANGS OF NEW YORK – Martin Scorsese
THE HOURS – Stephen Daldry
THE PIANIST – Roman Polanski
TALK TO HER – Pedro Almodovar
Glaring Omission: Peter Jackson. I was underwhelmed by “The Two Towers”, but the old argument stands that the directors of all the Best Picture nominees should be included in the Best Director category. Or, as Rob Reiner once said, do away with “Best Director” entirely, and when a film wins Best Picture, give Oscars to the producer(s) and director.
Runners-up: Todd Haynes, “Far From Heaven”. This category is like Best Actor, in that it’d be tough to find room for a cut from the current list, but Haynes brought as much originality and risk to the screen as Marshall and Scorsese and as much assuredness as Polanski and Daldry. Haven’t seen “Talk to Her”…Mark Romanek, “One Hour Photo”, who I compared to the Coen Bros. in my original review. That’s high praise. Alexander Payne, “About Schmidt”.
Great Inclusion: Roman Polanski. “The Pianist” is such as HUGE return to form for Polanski after a LONG series of mediocre or downright bad movies. Good for him.
Should and will: Scorsese will get the nod for the right and wrong reasons. “Gangs” is not his best film. But hey, “Scent of a Woman” was Pacino’s best? “The Color of Money” was Newman’s best? And they gave Spielberg a career award cause they felt guilty for overlooking him, then he went on to do the best work of his career and EARN three more awards. In your face, Academy. So, Scorsese will probably win here. And “Chicago” has more reason to win, as far as I’m concerned. Nevertheless, I’d be on my feet if I were in attendance and “Marty” finally won the big one.
BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE
DAUGHTER FROM DANANG
PRISONER OF PARADISE
Glaring Omission: Who cares, it’s all about Michael Moore
Runners-up: Who cares, it’s all about Michael Moore
Great Inclusion: MICHAEL MOORE! OK, I’ll admit, I haven’t seen the other films, but Michael Moore’s “Bowling for Columbine” is a dynamite, powerhouse film that I was worried might be too narrative for the Academy, as Moore is such a present figure in the direction of the film. Good for them for nominating him, as they ignored his brilliant work with “Roger & Me” and “The Big One” (both of which you should see if you haven’t). He wasn’t even nominated for “Roger & Me”, which triggered and outcry from critics and a string of boneheaded nominations in this category that went on for years, snubbing films like “Hoop Dreams”.
Should and will: “Bowling for Columbine”, mostly ‘cause it deserves it and also because it is the highest grossing documentary ever, and people voting will have seen it.
DOCUMENTARY SHORT SUBJECT:
THE COLLECTOR OF BEDFORD STREET
MIGHTY TIMES: THE LEGACY OF ROSA PARKS
WHY CAN’T WE BE A FAMILY AGAIN?
Glaring Omission: Who knows? Once again, the ability to see these films is so strangulated that I have no idea what documentary shorts were submitted. I’m a broken record here, but these shorts should be screened on PBS or SOMEWHERE where we can see them. I agree with Ebert who thinks they should be shown right before the Oscars instead of listening to actors say absolutely inconsequential stuff to the press.
Should and will: I’ve got to imagine something called “Twin Towers” would win.
GANGS OF NEW YORK
THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE TWO TOWERS
Glaring Omission: Wow, normally this category is filled with the action movies not nominated in many other categories (“The Matrix”, for example). Not so this year. These are the Best Picture candidates. I suppose the one that could’ve been included is “Minority Report”. Especially ‘cause the movie moved so much faster than “A.I.”.
Runners up: “About Schmidt”
Great Inclusion: “Chicago”. Unlike “Moulin Rouge”, the editors of “Chicago” put together a film that actually complimented the performers involved.
Should and will: Again, if “Chicago” or “The Hours” is cleaning up up to this point, they’ll take this award, too. But I think the award should go to “Chicago”, as this musical was a bit more of a challenge than “The Hours” (but “The Hours” nomination is good as it blended the timejumps together quite seamlessly).
FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM:
EL CRIMEN DEL PADRE AMARO
THE MAN WITHOUT A PAST
NOWHERE IN AFRICA
ZUS & ZO
Glaring Omission: “Talk to Her”. Again, I’ll admit I missed it. But how can this movie be nominated for Best Screenplay and Best Director and miss something in the translation to Best Picture? Huh? That’s just wiggity-wacked.
Should and will: Don’t know. But I’m bummin’ that this category is getting to be like Best Documentary in that great films are getting omitted each year. “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” was great, as was “Life is Beautiful”, but last year they didn’t nominate “Amelie”, and they skipped “Talk to Her”. What’s up with that, Your Majesty?”
THE TIME MACHINE
Glaring Omission: Three more candidates! What makes this category so special? Every year there’s only two or three nominees. There’s good work that could be nominated that isn’t every year. “The Time Machine” has huge creatures and age to create, “Frida” dealt mainly with age. How about “Nicholas Nickleby”? Jim Broadbent’s crazy eye down to makeup of the acting troupe was all good. As was Mike Myers transformation into “Goldmember” and “Gangs of New York” or “The Hours”.
Should and will: Probably “Frida”, as I can’t see it winning anything else and “The Time Machine” really, really sucked.
CATCH ME IF YOU CAN
FAR FROM HEAVEN
ROAD TO PERDITION
Glaring Omission: Terence Blanchard, “25th Hour”. It was nominated for a Golden Globe, and I thought it might get recognized here. Spike Lee has always made very, very interesting musical choices in his films, and the scores, whether by Bill Lee or Blanchard seem to take on a life of their own, and are full of bombast and character. The score for “25th Hour” is a blustery sound off for the characters, who are reaching their own, personal emotional culminations.
Runners up: “Minority Report”. Williams should’ve won last year for “Harry Potter”, he’s simply the best film score composer ever. Ever. In another branch out from the usual fanfare we expect from Williams, the “Minority Report” score seems like the score to a Hitchcock film, an interesting compliment to subject matter not at all nostalgiac. “Punch-Drunk Love”. Either of these should replace “The Hours”, whose Philip Glass music belongs more in concert than accompanying moving pictures.
Great Inclusion: “Catch Me if You Can” and “Far From Heaven”. “Catch Me if You Can” is a lively, exciting, jazzy score that sounds as if the aforementioned brilliant John Williams is channeling Henry Mancini. They compliment the opening credits as if they were a movie unto themselves. “Far From Heaven”’s score is practically a character in the film, reminding us of the DRAMA going on, which is exactly what Elmer Bernstein used to do with his original ‘50s scores. A crucial element to the film’s style set up by director Todd Haynes.
Should and will: Will is tough. “Frida” took the Golden Globe, so is probably the front-runner. I’ll pick it to win, but my choice is “Catch Me if You Can”.
GANGS OF NEW YORK
THE WILD THORNBERRYS MOVIE
Glaring Omission: “Die Another Day” – Madonna. And THANK GOD. This song is the WEAKEST Bond theme in YEARS, but it still squeaked out a Golden Globe nomination. It’s just a bland piece of crap and I’m glad it got snubbed.
Great Inclusion: “Lose Yourself”. I’m not the world’s biggest Eminem fan, but the song is very relevant to the film (it’s practically a commercial for the film’s storyline), and it represents what the film’s all about.
Should and will: “Gangs of New York” will win. This is one of those songs you don’t hear till the end credits (thankfully, ‘cause U2 doesn’t really represent the 1800s), which is always a bummer. I liked the days when Disney won all the time because their songs were CRUCIAL to the movie (and Alan Menken is brilliant) and took place in the middle or beginning and moved the plot.
GANGS OF NEW YORK
THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE TWO TOWERS
Glaring Omission: “Adaptation” and “About Schmidt” and “Far From Heaven”. Again, I wasn’t the biggest fan of “Adaptation”, but with all the acclaim it’s received, I thought it might garner a Best Picture nod. “About Schmidt”, another critical favorite deserves the nod. I’d move “The Two Towers” out of the way for “Schmidt”. “Far From Heaven” is another critic’s favorite. Every year, however, the critics dont’ mean as much to the Academy. Sometimes they should, take a look at this year’s critic’s awards both Nationally, and in NY, LA and Boston, the awards always go to more daring work.
Runners up: “Nicholas Nickleby” – this film is absolutely GREAT. If you haven’t seen it (like I almost didn’t, fearing Dickensian boredom), go!
Great Inclusion: “Chicago”. This film has more energy and imagination in it than a thousand other releases this year.
Should and will: I think the Academy wouldn’t reward that energy, however, in favor of straight drama as we’ve seen it before, and “The Hours” will be Best Picture 2003. I’d go with “Chicago”.
SHORT FILM (ANIMATED):
MIKE’S NEW CAR
Glaring Omission: All of these films from my viewing schedule. The only one I know I COULD see if I wanted to was “Mike’s New Car”, ‘cause I believe it’s a PIXAR short and can be found on the “Monsters, Inc.” DVD. But I still haven’t seen any of these, and they all fall victim the same as the short documentaries.
Should and will: I’m going to guess that PIXAR will be rewarded again.
SHORT FILM (LIVE ACTION):
I’LL WAIT FOR THE NEXT ONE… (J’ATTENDRAI LE SUIVANT…)
THIS CHARMING MAN (DER ER EN YNDIG MAND)
Glaring Omission: see above.
GANGS OF NEW YORK
THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE TWO TOWERS
ROAD TO PERDITION
Glaring Omission: I thought there’d be more action movies here once again. “Spider-Man” squeaked in, but I thought we’d even see “The Bourne Identity” or “Minority Report” here. Nothing GLARING though…
Runners up: “The Quiet American”
Great Inclusion: “Chicago”. Crisp and clean with no Satine.
Should and will: “Chicago”.
THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE TWO TOWERS
ROAD TO PERDITION
Glaring Omission: You know, these categories could use more nominees, too. I’d throw in “Spider-Man” and perhaps “Gangs of New York”.
Great Inclusion: FINALLY, a nomination for “Minority Report”! Nobody makes a tighter picture technically than Spielberg and his crew (with Cameron a close second).
Should and will: I really think “The Two Towers” will come up emptyhanded for the night. Many of the films accomplishments are extensions of previous feats already awarded (although “Black Hawk Down” stole a few tech awards from “Fellowship”). This one goes to “Minority Report”! Then it can be an ‘Oscar-winning movie’!
THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE TWO TOWERS
STAR WARS EPISODE II ATTACK OF THE CLONES
Glaring Omission: Can I be more of a broken record? Once again, “Minority Report”’s intelligent vision of the future is played out very well on screen. The cars riding on tracks on those giant buildings alone is a scene for the ages. Also, “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” should be nominated. I’m sure 90% of “The Two Towers”’ nomination is the creation of Gollum. I thought “Dobby” was just as impressive.
Great Inclusion: “Spider-Man”. Here are special effects that enhance the story GREATLY. They aren’t the story, they compliment it.
Should and will: “The Two Towers” was great to look at, but “Fellowship” won last year, and that may hurt it’s chances. But I still think the whole Gollum thing knocked alot of people out. I would like to see “Spider-Man” win. If “Star Wars, Episode II” wins, I’ll kick a hole in my TV. The guys behind Dobby and Gollum blew away the people behind all those bogus, flat backgrounds and rubbery-looking creatures of “Attack of the Clones”. The creatures looked less rubbery when they were ACTUAL RUBBER SUITS.
WRITING (ADAPTED SCREENPLAY):
ABOUT A BOY
Glaring omission: “About Schmidt”! I cannot BELIEVE this script was not nominated, and it WON the Golden Globe! This is the year’s biggest travesty. A touching, original, beautiful, delicate screenplay. This sucks.
Runners-up: “Nicholas Nickleby”, “Auto Focus”, “Road to Perdition”
Great Inclusion: No script in this category that took up the place reserved for “About Schmidt” is a great, or even good, inclusion.
Should and will: I believe “The Hours” will win, and it’s the worst nomination in the whole category. Here’s a film that did nothing for me. I found the relationships underdeveloped, and alot of BIG moments fell flat. Were it not for good performances by Streep and Kidman, this script alone could not hold my attention as far as I’m concerned. I’d give it to “The Pianist”.
WRITING (ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY):
FAR FROM HEAVEN
GANGS OF NEW YORK
MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING
TALK TO HER
Y TU MAMÁ TAMBIÉN
Glaring Omission: Well, it’s not glaring, but I’d definitely include “The Salton Sea”, a COMPLETELY original and exciting thriller with Val Kilmer that has surprises throughout it. Not just at the end or beginning, but around every turn. It’s a sleeper everyone should check out.
Runners-up: “Punch-Drunk Love”, “One Hour Photo”
Great Inclusion: “Far From Heaven”. A brilliant, challenging concept that stays true to course throughout, never derailing.
Should and will: “Far From Heaven” should. Truth is, I haven’t seen either of the Spanish-language entries in this category, so it’s tough to predict. I’m just gonna keep hoping for Todd Haynes. Nia Vardalos’ nomination is win enough for her.
PANIC ROOM (***1/2)
Here’s another director whose style can make or break a picture’s success. In my humble opinion, he did nothing to help “Alien 3”, but wonders for “The Game”, an otherwise goofy picture. With “Panic Room”, I think Fincher’s got himself a good script, as he did with “Fight Club”. This home invasion thriller finds ALOT to do with the cramped space of a NY City apartment. Also, I felt the villain’s motives were well thought out, and their roles in the heist were believable. It also helps to have really good casting. The original actress thought of for the lead in this film was Nicole Kidman. I can’t imagine her having the NY spunk Jodie Foster brings to the role. She’s great and Kidman’s a bit too glamorous. Foster anchors the film well, and she’s supported by Jared Leto, Forest Whitaker and Dwight Yoakum as the criminals. Leto is frenetic and high energy, looking VERY different than he did in “Requiem for a Dream”. Whitaker is excellent. I’m always impressed with the smart performances he gives in roles that, on paper, don’t seem to scream for his casting. Any director who takes a chance on his look gets healthily rewarded. Yoakum is also good, doing his best Kevin Spacey impersonation and remaining a wild card in this group of three thieves. I don’t remember seeing him since “Sling Blade”, and I hope he works more. As for Fincher, he goes at every script as if he’s not afraid to hear any idea on how to film each scene. What we get, then, is alot of flashy filmmaking. But, when it backs a good script, like in “Panic Room”, I think his style is complimentary. I think the titles are worth mentioning, too. It seems trivial, but, as in Fincher’s “Se7en”, they’re notable. The names and titles of the actors and filmmakers are thrust against the NY skyline, towering over the city as an overbearing presence. People are tiny figures in these broad opening shots, a jolting contrast with the claustrophobia to come. The titles are reminiscent of Hitchcock, and so is the film, as it keeps inventing new ways to make the most of it’s location, generating loads of suspense, style and genuine creepiness.
THE PIANIST (****)
Roman Polanski’s Holocaust epic is a major return to form for the legendary director. After wallowing in some pretty nasty projects (“Ninth Gate” anyone?), “The Pianist” shows Polanski’s ability as a master storyteller. When Polanski was a young boy, he survived the Holocaust himself, and the film world has been wondering if he would ever tackle that most personal topic head on. There have been dozens of movies that deal with the Holocaust, and we’ve seen the brutal actions of the Nazis numerous times. Not that they aren’t ALWAYS horrifying, but the bar has been raised on making a film like this unique. One of the things “The Pianist” delivers that I found very interesting is a view of the war from a watcher’s perspective. The main character of the film, Wladyslaw Szpilman, is no doubt deeply entrenched in the abuse and chaos of the Holocaust, but there seems to be a considerable amount of the war shot through the windows, peep holes and doorways of the various apartments and abandon buildings where Szpilman was hidden from the Nazis. The onlookers perspective is our perspective and it’s fascinating. The scenes that play out on the street are well staged, well acted and frightening. In the center of it all is Adrien Brody as Szpilman, giving a very powerful perfomance as a piano player who’s social status is upended by the war. It’s a quiet acting job that resonates long after the film is over. A film about this subject matter lends itself to being a rather depressing trip, and there are scenes of total despair that are heart-wrenching, but the overall message is one of hope and survival. Throughout, Polanski has towering technical achievements supporting his story, and they’re worthy of all the Academy Awards they were nominated for – cinematography, editing and sound. I can only hope this film empowers the great talents of Roman Polanski and improves the projects he gets involved with in the future.
What is it these days with stories of people scrambling and scrambling to find out information about dead people who were far more interesting than they are? Right on the heels of “Weight of Water” comes this snore-fest from Neil LaBute. Actually, come to think of it, the people in the flashbacks of this movie weren’t even interesting, they were a boring couple exchanging notes. These notes are discovered by equally boring and chemistry-less Aaron Eckhart and Gwyneth Paltrow. I have to admit that Paltrow is better here than she usually is (that’s about the only reason to give this movie one instead of NO stars). But the characters in the present have no reasons to become invested in them. They spend 90% of their time reading letters – not interesting. The secrets of the past that they uncover concern an underdeveloped subplot of the Victorian characters. Seriously, it’s a bore, and I long for LaBute’s bite.
PUNCH DRUNK LOVE (****)
The strangest romance I’ve ever seen. The best news about this movie is it’s confirmation that Paul Thomas Anderson is a filmmaker of unique talent. His thumbprint is all over this film and if you love him (“Boogie Nights”, “Magnolia” are big favorites of mine), you love it. Even as he fashions an old-school romance for Adam Sandler’s perennial loser Barry, he can’t help but give in to the demons that populate all his films – twisted sex, surprising violence and the bizarre and unexplained. The risks in including these things is part of “Punch Drunk Love”’s success. This film stands out from every other love story I’ve ever seen. The creation of Barry as a helpless loser in love and work is wonderfully developed with overbearing sisters, a vapid, stale job and the admission of bouts with depression and crying. He gets so lonely that he enlists the services of a phone sex operator. This sends him down the wackiest series of criminal exploits you will see this year. Anderson can include all the oddities Charlie Kaufman and David Lynch can put in their films, but he backs them with raw emotional power and that’s the difference between masturbating and creating a real masterpiece. There seems to be a real love of romance underlying in this film that says ‘no matter how weird things get, love will prevail’. This reverence for love can be seen in the splashes of color that grace the screen and the optimistic/romantic score. Anderson enlists sure-things Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Luis Guzman in supporting roles, but the movie belongs to Sandler, who has the chops for more developed characters than the goofballs he normally plays. When playing Mr. Deeds or Happy Gilmore, you can tell Sandler doesn’t give a shit about what he’s up to. The good news is when he does care, the results are quite good. His most successful film (in my opinion) up to now was “The Wedding Singer”, when he played a lovable loser. “Punch Drunk Love” proves that when he plays a character you can really, really root for, you’re in for a good ride.
THE QUIET AMERICAN (**)
This schizophrenic drama had me for about half of it (hence 2 out of 4 stars). Well, I suppose schizophrenic may not be the right word. Lemme ‘splain – I liked the political intrigue of “The Quiet American”, but was really disappointed in the romantic entaglements of the players involved. Here’s another drama that has interesting characters vying for the attention of someone who’s not worth it. “Unfaithful” suffers the same fate. Although it was dismissed (unfairly) as fluff, “Titanic” had a character worth at least rooting for in Kate Winslet. So when DiCaprio and Zane fight for her, you see why. She longs to break free of the class structure and she’s smart and pretty. The Vietnamese girl who owns Michael Caine’s heart in this film is not interesting at all. And even if Caine is an older, jaded journalist looking for solace in somebody younger, at least could it be someone young and VIBRANT? And someone like Brendan Fraser could do better, too. However, the story also deals with America’s involvement in Vietnam before the War there. I know quite little about that, and was always intrigued by the slowly developing plot that dealt with that. The production is not short on quality. Director Philip Noyce has employed impressive cinematography and great locations to tell his story, and at one point a bomb creates carnage in a town square that seems to really explore the destruction caused, from the pain and loss of the victims to debris everywhere. But overall, if the love story could pack the punch of the spy story, “The Quiet American” could’ve earned an extra star or two from me.
RED DRAGON (***)
A taut thriller that serves as a fitting end to the Hannibal Lecter movies. “Red Dragon” is such a better story than “Hannibal”, that all Brett Ratner has to do is not TOTALLY screw up, and the plot will carry the film. Ratner is a signature-less director, in that he has no flair that Scorsese or even previous Hannibal directors Ridley Scott or Michael Mann would bring to a film. Ratner got insurance for the movie’s success by rounding up an ULTRA-WATT cast. Edward Norton takes the role of Will Graham, an unusual role for him in that Will’s a relatively regular guy (as opposed to the more troubled characters he played in “Fight Club”, “Primal Fear” and “American History X”). He’s very good. Ralph Fiennes is GREAT as the creepy Francis Dolarhyde – that’s good casting. Emily Watson gives us a fragile enough love interest to care for. And, as always, Anthony Hopkins is solid as Hannibal, and the tension and history between Lecter and Graham is palpable. Throw in Philip Seymour Hoffman, Harvey Keitel and Mary Louise-Parker and you simply can’t go wrong. So, story and cast simply didn’t allow Ratner to make a bad movie. I’m a big fan of “Manhunter”, the first version of “Red Dragon” to hit the screen. The book was changed extensively for Michael Mann’s film, and this truer return to the material is refreshing, and allows the film to avoid extensive comparison (unlike a dumbassed concept like a “Psycho” remake). The suspense was real and the ending was satisfactory. All good for Lecter’s big bow out.
REIGN OF FIRE (*)
More misleading marketing. Much like the Clones who never attack, dragons never attack London, like the poster for this dud suggests. I don’t even think there’s a shot of it in a quick here’s-how-the-dragons-took-over-the-earth montage. I avoid previews, and I STILL got screwed. But please, a note to the filmmakers, all any of us wanted from this film was DRAGON, DRAGON and MORE DRAGON. Why couldn’t you deliver? Instead there’s who-cares plots with arguing humans. Boring. The interesting lives of these people would only be worth watching if we got more of the dragons that make them live the way they do. Add all that to cornball dialogue and buckets of cheese and you get a real disappointment, especially coming from some of “The X-Files” best minds.
ROAD TO PERDITION (***1/2)
(My description of some images in this review may give stuff away about the film, just so you know). OK, I looked it up. “Perdition” means ‘eternal damnation.’ After seeing the film, its a fitting title. From the skillful setup in the movie’s first half-hour, it’s apparent that things aren’t going to be cheery in mobland. “Road to Perdition” is director Sam Mendes’ follow-up to Oscar magnet “American Beauty”, and it solidifies Mendes as a major talent who can hopefully continue fearlessly transcending genres. Besides ‘utter destruction’, Perdition is also a town in Indiana where Tom Hanks longs to take his son after circumstances force him to leave his home and job. His job – hitman for crime boss Paul Newman. “Road to Perdition” has been compared to “The Godfather”. It lacks that film’s scope and vision, but retains the grandeur, atmosphere and reverance for the genre that “The Godfather” made classic. The plotting is kept to a minimum (it’s basically a revenge tale) so that style can rule the day. And it does, with indelible images that are instant classics in my book: a young boy’s peep-hole view of a murder, the silent gunning down of gangsters in the street, the creepy killer who photographs his victims. When this killer meets up with Hanks character at a diner, the tension is fierce, and makes for a wonderful scene. This movie is about themes – BIG ONES – and the film wearing them brazenly out in front of itself as a badge of honor. Like most gangster films, there’s a power struggle at the core of this film, coupled with dedication to family. There’s also an old Ibsenian adage – the sins of the father will be visited on the sins of the son. It’s a question to the very end of the flim whether that cycle can be broken or not, and I was riveted throughout. The GREAT Paul Newman brings his make-it-look-easy style to a complex gangster and he’s perfect. Hanks, Jude Law, Stanley Tucci (putting a new spin on a famous, here-to-fore-thought-less-reserved gangster) and supporting characters across the board are very good. Mendes’ direction is confident, dreamlike and inventive. I found it an interesting choice to keep many killings off-camera, relying on swinging doors, flashing light and other devices to tell the story. It helps to have cinematography LEGEND Conrad L. Hall behind the lens. His photography is just mesmerizing from character framing to choice of lights and shadows. It screams Oscar. The whole film does.
THE ROOKIE (***1/2)
Dennis Quaid has the strangest career. Despite not really being the lead in a full-on blockbuster in years, he continues to headline films. AND those films usually don’t have the greatest success, from fair (“Frequency”) to middling (“Dragonheart”). He seems to fair best in a supporting role, or in an ensemble drama such as “Traffic” or “Any Given Sunday”. Yet, here he is in the driver’s seat of “The Rookie”. The good news is that he’s terrific. “The Rookie” is about a 36 year old teacher who is coaxed to try out for the major leagues and re-kindle an old desire to pitch. Quaid’s really in his forties, and brings a weather-worn look to his part that suits him perfectly. He’s leading man handsome and down-home-aw-shucks at the same time. It seems that despite his career’s ups and downs, you can’t help but get behind the guy. Plus, the film is made with all the drama it can muster. But it doesn’t push it. The story takes place in Texas, and the filmmakers adapt the south’s humble pace. All the techinical elements are here to support the story, from gorgeous cinematography (they even made TEXAS look pretty) to high-quality production design (Quaid’s hometown looks lived in ten times over). See this movie before the houses are empty because it’s a rousing picture, with more than one moment that equals the excitement and drama of the endings of three or four films. This isn’t your typical sports picture, where we follow a team to the championships. It’s a dignified character study that’s handled with intelligence and grace with a jolt of “Rocky”-esque unabashed cheering. Remember, it’s rated G because it’s for “all audiences”, not because it’s for “kids only”. Go see it.
THE SALTON SEA (****)
Everyone reading this must run out to see this film. It slipped completely under the radar during the “Spider-Man”/”Star Wars: Episode 2” hype-fest and was unfortunately ignored. Then again, it is a film for distinguished tastes. Quirky, suspenseful, surprising, engaging, funny, slick, dark, smart and always original, there is much to recommend about this film. It’s the only movie I’ve paid to see twice this year, and for good reason. Some films impress with the characteristics of their craft. This film is at first watchable because of a thoroughly intriguing and well-thought-out plot. The plotting is instantly absorbing and takes you away from the top. On top of that, director DJ Caruso hasn’t dipped the whole film in overwhelming style, like many “hip” directors do, thus smothering the content in overpowering technique. I found Caruso’s movie to be seasoned just enough in style to suit the crazed minds of the speed “tweakers” that populate the film, while still having a firm grip on a very compelling plot. Val Kilmer gives his best perfomance in a decade. I’m sure he hasn’t been this good since “Tombstone”. And the supporting cast is solid, too, especially Vincent D’Onofrio, who is determined to be uncategorizable. He goes all-out playing drug dealer “Pooh Bear”, and is totally memorable as one of the great crime psychos of the last decade. Also very good is Peter Skarsgaard as Kilmer’s best friend. He plays hopeless, helpless and vulnerable in an acute balance.The look of the film is seedy and constant, taking me to a place I’ve never been – inside the world of speed freaks. The film has a raw energy and palpable suspense that riveted me to my seat and I recommend everyone seek it out.
THE SCORPION KING (***)
Do you like the Conan? “The Scorpion King” brings to mind a PG-13 version of the old Schwarzeneggar classics. I expected this loud, pulverizing action flick to summon up the feel of “The Mummy Returns” or the TV series “Hercules: The Legendary Adventures”. What I got with The Rock’s first starring vehicle, however, was a rousing action movie that succeeds because of its free-wheeling adventurousness. The Rock is a very solid leading man in this part. I saw a portion of a preview for this film and they suspiciously showed little of The Rock’s dialogue. This, naturally, was troubling. Perhaps The Rock would only be a natural at his WWE character. Well, unlike previous vehicles for WWE stars, this is a largely imagined vehicle, not just an expansion of a wrestling storyline, PLUS “The Scorpion King”’s Mathayus is quite a departure from The Rock. He’s not an ego-driven talker. Mathayus is all business (he’s downright mythic in his opening scenes) and tough as nails. Needless to say, The Rock looks awesome, in the literal sense of the word. He’s a huge guy, yet nimble and exciting to watch in his fight scenes…and there’s no shortage of them. They’ve had to come up with a myriad of sounds for “guy getting bashed with a sword”. It happens so often they ran out of the current effects used to simulate that bloody move. However, there isn’t alot of blood in the film. Even a severed head is bloodless. I almost wish they went all out with an R rating, but I’m sure they catered to the broad appeal of The Rock, and wanted 13-17 year old money at the box office, too. Certainly this film is not without camp. But maybe because the whole world of “The Scorpion King” is fantasy, it plays out better than the substancelessness (I made that word up) of “The Mummy Returns”, whose 2-D characters in the 20th Century carried no weight. At least Mathayus seems driven and AFFECTED by adversity. But, as I said, there is camp. I mean, the main villain is British! How great is that? A British bad guy in the middle of the B.C. desert. Kelly Hu is good as the villain’s sorceress. She is ungodly HOT and thank god the producers aren’t afraid to show us as much. Perhaps that’s because one of the executive producers is modern-day Barnum Vince McMahon. The film beats you over the head with its relentlessness, see-how-big-my-budget-is, loud FX and earnestness, just like a new ANYTHING the McMahon needs to hype up. But in the middle of it all, it remains…amiable. And The Rock was noticeably having fun. I was, too.
I really didn’t give a rat’s ass about this supposedly “quirky comedy”. It may be ‘cause I don’t relate in the slightest with S&M. In hearing about it, I thought people might have fun with S&M. However, according to the world of “Secretary”, S&M apparently means acting like a total asshole. Maggie Gyllenhaal plays a self-abusing, disturbed young woman who gets a job with abusive, dominant boss James Spader. S&M antics ensue, but it just seems like they never have any fun. As a result, neither did I. I saw a film about six years ago by Kirby Dick called “Sick: The Life and Death of Bob Flanagan: Supermasochist”. Now, this DOCUMENTARY about S&M, and Bob’s relationship with dominatrix Sheree Rose was superb. Perhaps because instead of just being pricks to each other all the time, Sheree and Bob used their antics to beat cystic fibrosis and inspire art. Watching the always creepy Spader just be mean to Gyllenhaal for 104 minutes is just lame. Gyllenhaal’s performance is decent, however, as a typical guy, I’d rather watch someone a bit more voluptuous in an S&M romp. Ooops, was that said in my outside voice? Her character grows as the story progresses, as does her love with Spader. It culminates in a media circus that seemed from another movie. As craftily as the movie was made, it just never won me over.
It seems like the elements are in place in “Simone” for a top notch satire. Yet I can’t put my finger on why it doesn’t work. It’s alot of fun watching Pacino play for laughs (it’s been a while), and the idea of actors being replaced with CGI effects is certainly topical. Yet like “Enough”, the writing here seems to just get through the story, without digging too deep or embellishing excessively. Whereas a rich script like “One Hour Photo” or “Auto Focus” can make for a more engrossing movie. So, the idea’s good, but the execution is underdeveloped. There’s even a scene at the top of “Simone” with Pacino and Catherine Keener that has all the character’s backstory explained in one conversation. It’s just an example of the rush the whole movie moves with, offering stilted dialogue in place of living in these character’s skins. Winona Ryder is awful. But she doesn’t have to worry about making the sequel when she’s doing time,
‘cause there won’t be one.
Flaws, flaws, flaws. OK, there were many flaws in M. Night Shyamalan’s crop cirles and aliens thriller). However, I am continually won over by the power of Shyamalan’s filmmaking. “The Sixth Sense” was brilliant and I am SURE he has a masterpiece in him. As you can guess, “Signs” ain’t it, but it has moments of standout genius coupled with troubling inconsistencies. Let’s first focus ont he positive. I am a BIG fan of Shyamalan’s direction. He’s constantly making the unobvious (and more exciting) choice for important scenes. Example – Mel Gibson and Joaquin Phoenix struggle with a ‘visitor’ who has broken into their cellar. The scene shows a flashlight on the ground as dust is kicked up and feet scuffle by. The scene maintains its sense of adventure and suspense through the soundtrack, and result is sensational. He also shoots the alien creatures in reflection ALOT, another choice that keeps Shyamalan’s work cookie-cutter free. And overall he does a great job of showing a claustrophobic, isolated view of a scary world phenomenon. “Signs” also has a stronger sense of humor than Shyamalan’s previous flicks. His is a dark and twisted world view, but scenes of Mel Gibson’s family putting tin foil on their heads to block alien mind probes are a riot. And is there any more of a sure thing in Hollywood than Mel Gibson? He is constantly getting himself involved in the more risky Hollywood blockbusters. He remains one of the more emotionally powerful leading men, whether he’s William Wallace or Martin Riggs. And his scenes with his dying wife and his struggles with faith had me riveted during “Signs”. Phoenix is good as well, and following great turns in “To Die For”, “Quills”, “Gladiator” and “U-Turn”, I can’t remember his brother’s film work being this solid for so long. Now, about that script…that’s going to involve alot of talk about important plot details that will reveal too much if you haven’t seen the film. Read on with caution. It’s getting to be a sure thing that all sci-fi will have flaws in the script. Even “Minority Report”, which I GUSHED over, had errors (have I discussed the fact that Cruise could NOT have gotten back into Pre-Crime HQ with his own eyeball in a bag, ’cause his own eye scan would’ve either been denied or set off an alarm?). As for the water thing (even more than the ability to escape from a pantry), a species traveling this far should realize that the people that populate the planet are 80% WATER!! I wanted to argue that maybe they just wanted to kill us, but that theory dies when they’re face to face with the alien, and he’s trying to inject Gibson’s son with “something”. Could’ve killed him, but didn’t. So, the aliens didn’t do their research. The entire subplot with Gibson’s wife pinned against the car had me BAWLING LIKE A FOOL. The slow reveal of Shymalan’s character’s identity was good as well. Alot of Shyamalan’s writing needed tightening. I thought “swing away” was simply a response to Phoenix’s story about his failed hitting career. Gibson might’ve even made it up to make his brother feel good. When it tied into the whole ending, I thought that was goofy. Also, I wish Gibson didn’t rediscover his faith. That was a bummer. I have to admit that I don’t know much about the actual UFO accounts in this world, but I can see where that’d upset those who would expect research. (Mark’s review in the “Comments” section are very insightful). Naturally, this movie has spawned specials on Discovery, The History Channel, etc. all about the crop circle phenomenon, and those specials have been fascinating. But I disagree with anyone who thinks he should’ve made the movie with all crop circle theories in mind, including the hoaxes. If “Signs” didn’t deliver aliens, I would’ve been pissed. It’s just that the delivery was uneven. So, anyway, I agree that it was not the movie it could’ve been, but I’m glad that a movie that’s trying is making more money than “Pluto Nash”.
A very refreshing take on the comic book genre. It was great to see the vibrancy and life brought to this wavering variety of big-screen entertainment. The “Batman” franchise has been in the toilet since Joel Shumacher turned it into a gay fantasy, but “X-Men” proved to be a hit with most everyone, especially the box office. My first comment about what “Spider-Man” does to re-affirm the super-heroes as popular movie topics is the look of the film. It seems that since Tim Burton and Anton Furst originally designed Gotham City, that all comic book tales would be DARK. All scenes take place at night, the heroes wear black, the lighting is shady. From what I recall, Wolverine wears yellow and blue. Not in “X-Men” – black. So, it was, again, REFRESHING to see one of the main scenes of “Spider-Man” take place in the middle of the day, with blue sky and colorful floats all around, and in the middle you’ve got a red and blue guy fighting a green guy. That’s a comic book! The other thing I enjoyed was the time taken to establish our hero. The ‘birth’ of Spiderman is a wonderful series of scenes, as Peter Parker discovers his superpowers as other kids discover puberty, and it’s often just as awkward. The “Batman” movies spent most of their time developing the villain, while bland Bruce Wayne took a back seat. It’s a testament to how interesting Peter Parker is that the film spends nearly half it’s time detailing the beginnings of his transformation to crime fighter (The truth is, Bruce Wayne is VERY interesting, and the filmmakers dropped the ball, I hope Darren Aronofsky of “Requiem for a Dream” can liven up that franchise). Other elements of the film fall into place nicely – Danny Elfman’s score is typically heroic and kinetic, Tobey Maguire sports a doofy grin while learning the mutant abilities he has, he’s charming and fun, and the cinematography is unreal, as are the special effects. I’m sure the two worked together to put us in the driver’s seat with Spidey as he swung on webs through the streets of New York. The scenes where Spidey is in flight above cars, buildings and onlookers are sheer movie magic. This film is also true to the comic in many ways I wasn’t aware of at the time. After seeing the film, I did some research to see how the movie stacks up with the comic (thanks to Mark Tucci):
- Spiderman doesn’t have organic webshooters in the comic, but when the “Spiderman 2099” series came out, the ‘rebirth’ of Spiderman in the future had them. So, they didn’t make it up for the film, they chose it from another Marvel source. And I like the choice. Originally, Parker builds himself webshooters and who’s to say a millionaire genius like Norman Osbourne couldn’t do the same. I like that the ability is his and his alone.
- I had no idea Spiderman tested out his skills and alias in a wrestling ring. Wrestling! How great is that! That scene is hilarious, and there is a Bruce Campbell sighting, which is always a reason to go to the movies. It happened in the comic, too.
- The end of the showdown between Green Goblin and Spiderman is how it happened in the comic as well. That faithfulness makes the whole ending much cleaner. George Lucas could stand to take a cue from the smooth plotting of this flick.
Speaking of the Green Goblin, when I heard Willem Dafoe was cast, I thought it was an excellent choice. It was, indeed. I mean, Dafoe kinda looks like a goblin to begin with, right? He brings high energy and joyous menace to his scenes. In the end, however, the kudos go to Sam Raimi and his crew. James Cameron wanted to make this film nearly ten years ago, and Cameron is known for putting his technology needs out into the world, then the world creates what he needs to get it done. But I think the thirteen years or so of maturation that CGI effects have gone through have benefitted the current Spidey flick, all the effects happen with finesse and they compliment a strong story effectively. And how great is the Green Goblin’s arrival at World Unity Day?! He circles around the skyscrapers as if he’s the Wicked Witch of the West, laughing maniacally. Most cool
There are a few trip-ups. And if you’ve ever seen these pages before, you know I’m no fan of Kirsten Dunst. It’s not that she’s terrible, I simply don’t see the attraction. And it was a little tough to buy Peter Parker’s speech about getting lost in her eyes when she’s looking back at him with that half-stoned expression on her face. Plus, she’s gummy. I’m horrible.
Another awkward scene involved Green Goblin and Spiderman on a rooftop, when Goblin was trying to convince Spidey how worthwhile it would be to partners. Good enough dialogue, and great looking, but when you can’t see the faces of the two characters it was just, I don’t know, awkward. But even thought it was, it was cool that Raimi didn’t compromise the characters he brought to life.
Plus, and I’ve said this before, too, when it comes to CGI, you can’t do people. I’ve yet to see people created in CGI who look real. That is, people in a real world. Characters like Andy and Sid in “Toy Story” live in an entirely computer generated world, so they fit their surroundings. When Peter Parker first flies over rooftops, it’s obvious by the rubbery smoothness of his face, hair and clothes, that he’s computer generated, and it’s jolting, just like the end of “Mummy Returns” and moments of “Harry Potter” and “Lord of the Rings”. It’s usually a shame to be taken out of the moment like that. Thankfully, that changed when Spiderman donned his red and blue outfit. The CGI-created Spidey looked a little more fleshed out.
Those minor quibbles aside, it’s obvious that “Spider-man” is THE summer movie to watch, and the one to beat. Thrills, excitement and universal appeal. They’ve also tacked on a great beginning and a great ending. The opening credits move with the speed of Spiderman swinging from a web and intercut flashy, colorful images from the comic book. This was a great way to say, “Hey, we’re giving you what you know”. This isn’t a “re-imagining” of Spiderman, thank god. And in the ending, Peter Parker pulls the coolest superhero move of them all. Noble to the core. I think this is the start of a beautiful franchise.
STAR TREK: NEMESIS (***)
Wow, it doesn’t even seem as if the “Star Trek” fans came out to this movie. What happened? But again, here’s a movie that got unjustly denied at the box office. Most “Star Trek” ingredients are in place, and some are even pumped up a notch – there seems to be more action than usual, with “Mad Max”-esque chases on a desert planet and climatic fistfights. I’m sure I mentioned this when “Star Trek: Insurrection” came out, but I always refer back to a great quote from Mark Tucci (whose reviews can be seen on this site): “I’ll always like ‘Star Trek’ better than ‘Star Wars’ ‘cause ‘Star Trek’ won’t inflict Jar-Jar Binks on it’s fans.” It’s a statement on the general level of smarts that “Trek” holds over “Wars”. Well, in a year where both franchises released a new movie, that mantra holds true. Data had more life in him than human beings Anakin Skywalker and Senator Amidala. Picard can solve problems quicker than a Jedi, and the plotting is much smoother than the jumbled mess of “Attack of the Clones”. Detrements to the film include a villian that looks like a clone of Picard, but more resembles Dr. Evil on occasion. That’s not good. Also, there’s very little Dr. Crusher. Not that she’s “exciting lady”, but the ensemble took a hit there. I’m told that there is also a small discrepancy in the story in that Data has in fact seen a clone of him before, and it was treated as something new in “Nemesis”. Data remains the most interesting character in the film, and Brent Spiner’s performance is very good in a dual android role. There are moments borrowed from previous “Trek” movies (“Wrath of Khan” and “Generations” most notably), but the end result is rousing sci-fi fare that is done well.
STAR WARS: EPSODE II – ATTACK OF THE CLONES (*1/2)
I don’t want to say I read into the title at all, but I fully expected the Clones to attack. I went cold turkey on this film – didn’t watch previews (nothing new there), didn’t read articles, didn’t watch TV specials. I knew precious little about this film except that Clones would probably attack at some point. I’m still waiting. Now, it’s impossible to review this film as detailed as a fan of the original trilogy would like without being a spoiler. So, I will be mentioning major plot points. If you haven’t seen it, you may want to Bail out now.
It’s not often that someone will make a sequel to a bad film. But, it’s box office numbers that promote the continuing story of certain films. That’s why we have “Mission: Impossible 2”, “Tomb Raider 2” (yes, they’re shooting it), and “Mannequin 2: On the Move” (I’m sorry, but The Mannequin Pop Culture Phenomenon – Andrew McCarthy = Death to Franchise). Of course, despite Jar-Jar Binks, the messy bore of a Trade Federation plot and whiny “Annie” Skywalker, “Episode II” will be made. It’s pre-ordained, even if it made only one of it’s 350 million dollars domestic gross. But people went to “Episode I” because it had been twenty years. This year, they weren’t lining up like in ‘99. And did Lucas win ME back? No.
To say I’m waiting for Clones to Attack sounds like a nit-picky thing. Let me explain how it affected the plot for me. When Obi-Wan goes to the Kamino system to learn about the cloning, he’s mistaken for someone else. So, it seems that a Jedi hired the Kaminoans to create clones. Since I’m expecting the Clones to attack, I’m thinking that Obi-Wan is learning about a threat to the universe. Turns out they end up being good guys. What? Granted, Palpatine’s long-term plans for the army of Clones is not good. But, I had a real sense of danger for Obi-Wan, when it turns out I didn’t need to. Confusing. Then he meets Jango Fett. He’s DEFINITELY a bad guy, and the Clones are clones of him! So, again, who ordered the Clones be built? Honestly, I can’t remember the name of the Jedi the A.I.-esque clone-makers said ordered their creation. Why can’t I remember it? Because it’s NO ONE of consequence, and because it’s messy. The whole plotting of “Episode II” is messy. It could’ve been done so much cleaner, and instead, it’s muddled.
What “Attack of the Clones” really needs is a full-on injection of Han Solo. That element of the original trilogy is SORELY missing. Nobody in the movie is enjoying themselves, and that attitude quickly spread to the theater. Jedi banter, so full of “patience, young one”-type stodgy dialogue, needs to be countered with something exciting. Now this sounds more like I should be happy that the tone is more serious after the downright goofiness of “Phantom Menace”, but I don’t think Lucas has re-captured the happy medium that made “Star Wars” work. In “The Empire Strikes Back”, even Yoda’s dialogue was snappy. And Princess Leia was spunky. Amidala’s a bore and Portman plays her boring. I don’t see Anakin’s attraction to her. I miss the genuine attraction of two adults that was propelled by the action of the story. That made Leia and Han’s romance more believable and more exciting. The whole TIME OUT that seems to be shouted to follow Padme and Anakin around Naboo is pace-dead in the water. And there was also a healthy helping of unwanted CHEESE. Picnic by the waterfall, stilted dialogue by the fireplace, spinning a la Julie Andrews on a hilltop, and another fake-looking CGI Anakin balancing on some sort of mutant pig, FOLLOWED by rolling in the grass. I was waiting for the Faith Hill ballad to start up. Han and Leia fell in love in the belly of a worm-alien in the bowels of an asteroid. Their flirting began as they were under attack by AT-ATs on Hoth. Point is, they grew attracted to each other as the story progressed. Anakin and Padme’s forced romance KILLED any pacing Lucas may have been going for. It created the first uneasiness I’ve ever felt in a Star Wars movie. I was bored to tears and wanted the movie to pick up – so did people around me. I didn’t even feel that way in “Phantom Menace”.
Speaking of “Phantom Menace”, it sure was great to re-visit all the wonderful characters from that flick, eh? Jar-Jar, Watto, man, they should get their own spin-offs. Can we do without Laurel and Mao the mush-mouthed Trade Federation numnuts? This movie would’ve been so much more effective if they just let Count Dooku kick ass. “Clones” and “Menace” both seem to be afraid to let the villain be a villain. From the outset of “Star Wars”, Vader is choking the shit out of some rebel scum, demanding the plans to the rebel base. Who’s the villain in “Attack of the Clones”? Jango Fett could be, but instead we get a car chase through Coruscant with some less effective changeling creature. It’s the same curse Darth Maul had – pretty cool character, why don’t you let him kick ass? I guess I just needed more to counteract that awful romance. Did I mention that already? (For fun, click on comments and read Mark Tucci’s comparison of “Clones” to “Pearl Harbor”. I agree: great action, horrible romance)
Plot-wise, are we going to have to have “Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, the SUPER DUPER Special Edition”? ‘Cause now we’re going to have to re-shoot the scene where Owen buys C-3PO from the Jawas, saying he recognizes him from when he PREVIOUSLY owned him. He obviously has use for him.
Plus, what’s wrong with Obi-Wan? He needs a six-legged Vic Tayback to tell him that a poisonous dart was made in Kamino, and a child to tell him why Kamino doesn’t appear on the computer. (Brilliant answer: someone took it off the computer). Hell, even when Obi-Wan later tells Luke to go to Dagobah, he just goes. Perhaps he needs more schooling. Or maybe it’s that the easy idea that “the Dark Side clouds everything” is lame.
And as far as an all-CGI Yoda goes, it’s true that the Yoda in “Phantom Menace” looked odd. That’s because Lucas wanted to do everything, and would no longer outsource to Henson Studios to create Yoda. As a consequence, the ILM-created Yoda didn’t look as lively. Well, the all-CGI Yoda looks SUPER lively. The effects team is so determined to make you believe that their creatures are alive, that they overact. They overblink, oversmile, overbite, overgasp, etc. Jar-Jar is naturally the biggest overactor of them all, and Yoda is the best actor that’s been all CGI yet. But there’s still something unnerving about it all. And how cool would it have been if Yoda was a puppet the whole movie and THEN whipped out the Force on Dooku at the end? As far as Yoda’s now-famous action scene goes, it was handled well, in a mythic, old west manner that befit it’s anticipation. I was a little disappointed in the high number of close-ups during Dooku and Anakin’s saber fight, wanting more Maul-esque physicality.
In the acting vein, Samuel L. Jackson is solid as Mace Windu, but in my mind I heard “mother fucker” after everything he said. “This party’s over….mother fucker.” It’s Sam Jackson, that’s just what I hear. But he had genuine presence and attitude. I wish Hayden Christenson had the same. He was excellent in “Life as a House”, but in “Clones”, his performance is a bit wooden. I appreciated the journey of his character as he discovers the Dark Side of The Force, but it probably looked better on paper than in the final cut. Lucas has never had much luck directing his actors, and putting them in front of blue screens doesn’t make his job any easier. And again, there’s no break out performance. I did like Christopher Lee, and again wished there was more of him. Ian McDiarmid is again good as Palpatine.
But the magic is gone. Cool space fights in an asteroid field were partnered with such pithy dialogue as “that’ll show ‘em”. I couldn’t even get into the final battle scenes after wading through all the dreck that came before. Plus, there was no BAD GUY to guide me through the story. I wasn’t sure who was fighting and for what. There were flying monkeys or something at one point, plus those droids from the opening of “Toy Story 2” showed up, and the Clones made an appearance. I just didn’t care. And that makes me sad, given that I LOVED the original trilogy. But Lucas’ vision just gets further and further away from what I loved so much. His digital backgrounds and CGI characters create a cold film that is ultimately soulless. And his high definition digital projection made some scenes look brilliant and some look like “Doctor Who” (HINT: Anyone seeing this digitally projected should sit back far enough to avoid seeing pixelation).An LA newspaper summed it up well by saying that Lucas is so determined to make everyone know that everything in his movies is fake, to the point where we have nothing left to wrap our arms around.
Alright, this review has been particularly rambling, there’s just so much to cover concerning this flick. If I missed anything, please let me hear about it, and we’ll talk.
As Yoda said at the end of this film, “Begun, this Clone War has.” So, I’m looking forward to “Star Wars: Episode III – Attack of the Clones”.
STOLEN SUMMER (**)
If you saw “Project Greenlight” on television, you definitely have expectations about this film. As the release date got closer, it seemed that Miramax had expectations, too. The movie slipped into theaters weeks after the conclusion of the TV series without real fanfare, and there were no posters or trailers that I could see anywhere. In fact, the ad in the paper I saw called the film “Stolen Summer: THE PROJECT GREENLIGHT MOVIE”, demanding all fans of the TV show to check it out. I’m sure ONLY fans of the show made it to the theater, and I for one was not impressed. That’s not to say I was disappointed, only because I had an idea of what to expect, thanks to HBO. From the moment the “Stolen Summer” script was chosen over others in the screenplay contest, I knew we were heading down the road to making a safe, sanitized, afterschool special that took no risks because the marketability would reach a wider range. Well, a GOOD movie might reach more people than “Stolen Summer” will. It’s called word of mouth. And I believe preview screenings of “Stolen Summer” put it on the fast track to spin control. I must admit that the filmmaking is fairly competent in the fact that the story is coherent, the actors watchable, and the look professional. But it’s bland as bland can be. And I would be remiss not to mention a personal gripe of mine – it’s two leads are children. Once again, when your movie focuses on precocious tots, you’re either making “The Sixth Sense” or “The Phantom Menace” – I’ll let you determine which one you should emulate. And first-time director Pete Jones has his hands full trying to wrench good performances out of these kids, and he doesn’t have much success. Luckily, always strong Aidan Quinn and Bonnie Hunt pick up the slack. But they are all in a plot whose ending can be seen 10,000 miles away. The urgency to care about anyone in this movie is simply not there. So, if you’ve never seen “Project Greenlight”, don’t bother with “Stolen Summer”. If you have, go ahead and bother, but hope that somewhere, somehow, Brendan Murphy gets to make his movie…
THE SUM OF ALL FEARS (***)
This could waver between **1/2 and ***, but I rounded up due to the impressive supporting cast in this film. “The Sum of all Fears” is about a lone nut stirring up hatred between two superpowers in the political scene (sound familiar?). Obviously, the idea of a lone terrorist, as opposed to a great nation, starting a world war is hauntingly familiar. This will be good for marketing, and downright creepy for the audience. “Fears” is based on a Tom Clancy novel furthering the adventures of Jack Ryan, played in “The Hunt for Red October” by Alec Baldwin and in “Patriot Games” and “Clear and Present Danger” (still the best in the series) by Harrison Ford. Now Ben Affleck picks up the part, and Ryan is no longer a strong-willed family man, but a eager political science geek. The change isn’t all that jarring, as each Ryan movie stood on it’s own. Affleck, however, I believe is the least effective of the three actors to try on Ryan’s badge. That’s not to say he’s bad, but some lines longed for Ford’s delivery. Affleck is lucky to have a superior supporting cast moving the story along, including Morgan Freeman, James Cromwell, Ron Rifkin, and Liev Schrieber. Schrieber is particularly good as Clark, the role Willem Dafoe played in “Clear and Present Danger”. Clark is so good at his job Clancy wrote a few novels based on his exploits. Clark’s experience and Ryan’s desk-job naivete come together to great results. The story is sprawling, causing director Phil Alden Robinson (“Field of Dreams”) to cut from Russia to the U.S. to Israel to Air Force One to France and back again. But he moves cleanly, never letting the plot get away from him. I was never confused, in fact, I was always in suspense as to what political move would be taken next. A summer movie with this many adults discussing weighty ideas seems out of place in what I’m sure Paramount hopes will be a summer blockbuster, but it’s also refreshing. I’M GOING TO MENTION A PLOT POINT OF THIS MOVIE – The terrorist explodes a nuclear bomb on American soil in an attempt to bring the superpower nations to arms against each other. The main fault I have with the film is its treatment of the world, post-explosion. Naturally, there are a number of things to be dealt with in terms of radiation and security. These things are blown over rather quickly, with Jack Ryan having a picnic outside the White House lawn after an arms deal is signed. It’s just tough to move along after you kill hundreds and thousands of people. I felt the same way about “Independence Day”. When you off that many people, you gotta deal with it. But there’s certainly no lack of visual power when it comes to the mushroom cloud towering over American soil. I thought it was a hardcore move to detonate a nuke in ANY story, let alone one released after 9/11. The movie’s got balls and suspense and Morgan Freeman. That’s enough to get me to go.
THIRTEEN CONVERSATIONS ABOUT ONE THING (***)
I still don’t get the title really. The one thing is happiness, but luck and fate are themes just as major in the stories told here. And the stories aren’t thirteen conversations but instead five interlocking plots involving New Yorkers of different fiber seeking happiness. Writer/director Jill Sprecher’s sober drama is reminiscient of something Paul Thomas Anderson would make as an East Coast “Magnolia”. Maybe he’d call it “Wall”. Alan Arkin is especially good, reminding us what he can do with a lead role. The hardships these characters face while trying to be happy make the movie quite dour and dreary. As a result, it seemed a bit long. It was, however, always interesting, and Sprecher has a good ear for dialogue, never having to spell things out for the viewer, and keeping the speech of characters of all classes quite colorful.. Which is good, ‘cause they like to talk.
THE TIME MACHINE (*)
Now I see why they bumped this from the holidays. Just because Simon Wells is “Machine” author H.G. Wells great-grandson doesn’t mean he’s a great-filmmaker. OK, it may be a classic, but I find most of the trouble with this film in the story. We’re set up with the tale of a man who’s fiancee is murdered, and he invents a time machine in a rage of despair. I got invested in this – his sadness, the “what if” possibilities, his desire to set things right, and his deterioration. But this intriguing story is QUICKLY dropped in favor of a bad “Land of the Lost” plot! And that storyline, which ends up being 85% of the film, I just never invested in or cared about. There’s even a brief stop in the near future, where the moon has shattered to pieces, which seems fascinating, but it also summarily dropped. Guy Pearce tries real hard, but ends up looking goofy, and everyone else isn’t trying at all. The futuristic tribe-people are especially bad. By the time Jeremy Irons appears, the movie has gone to the B’s. Not “Evil Dead 2” B, but “Last Action Hero” B. And why is Orlando Jones in this film? He plays a computerized librarian that I thought would’ve been more effective played by someone with more prestige. Ben Kingsley? Victor Garber? Was Omar Epps unavailable? I also wrestled with some sci-fi stuff that seemed uneven. Mostly, it was the division of the film into two stories that recalled “From Dusk Till Dawn”, another piece of shit.
TOP TEN POINT FIVE OF 2002
10.5 PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE – rooting for Adam Sandler’s character in this film was one of the most fun things to do in the cinema all year. And Paul Thomas Anderson continues his trend of bringing a very unique style to the screen that I can’t stop watching.
10. ROAD TO PERDITION – a powerful, extremely accomplished drama with towering performances. With Conrad Hall’s cinematography, each scene is a movie of it’s own.
9. THE SALTON SEA – an extremely underrated, stylish movie about all sorts of stuff – junkies, cops, revenge, redemption, friendship and pidgeons re-creating the shooting of JFK. Just see it. Best thing Val Kilmer’s done in years.
8. BLOODY SUNDAY – a documentary-style recount of the civil rights march in Ireland that ended in bloodshed. The documentary angle NEVER plays as a gimmick and no scene seems “stagey”. That’s testament to great direction AND acting.
7. THE PIANIST – Roman Polanski’s lifetime achievement. Top-notch in every performance and technical category, “The Pianist” is a great story.
6. NICHOLAS NICKLEBY – Absolutely lost in the shuffle unfairly, this Dickens fable is jam-packed with wonderful characters, and they’re all in a story that’s exciitng! I think snoozeville when I think Dickens – this is NOT the case here.
5. MINORITY REPORT – I love it when good sci-fi comes along, as it doesn’t come along enough. Now that “Minority Report” is here, so is good sci-fi. Smart, exciting, involving as a futuristic adventure, thriller and mystery. Spielberg is a genius.
4. FAR FROM HEAVEN – An ingenious blend of style and emotion. Todd Haynes’ masterpiece never loses it’s heart, even when portraying a time when the heart was wildly repressed. Dennis Quaid gives a career performance.
3. BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE – It’s ALWAYS good to see someone shaking up the system. And how great is it to see Moore actually PROVE one of his points (success at KMart). Bold (daring historical recap of America’s business overseas), harrowing (BRILLIANT re-creation of the Columbine shooting), and hilarious (Terry Nichols couldn’t have had better lines WRITTEN for him). Moore’s at the top of his game.
2. ABOUT SCHMIDT – a very real, very funny drama anchored by a masterful turn by Jack Nicholson. Alexander Payne knows the dreary midwest and he nailed it. Best ending of the year.
1. CHICAGO – the most dazzling movie of the year. Wonderfully imagined, with risky, creative direction that never lapsed. Great performances all around. And yes, it is LEAGUES better than “Moulin Rouge”. Brilliant.
Runners-up : “Auto Focus”, “Narc”, “One Hour Photo”
I haven’t seen: “Rabbit-Proof Fence”, “Y Tu Mama Tambien”, “City of God”, “Atanarjuat”, “The Kid Stays in the Picture”, “Personal Velocity”, “Spirited Away”, “Talk to Her”
REIGN OF FIRE (would it kill you to put a DRAGON in that movie?)
STAR WARS, EPISODE II: ATTACK OF THE CLONES (looked more like Toy Story 3)
POSSESSION (BORING as HELL)
ENOUGH (this is really just a pile of dopey shit, isn’t it?)
THE TIME MACHINE (it’s a classic book. This made me never want to read it.)
Too bad to even see: “Scooby-Doo”, “Swept Away”, “The Adventures of Pluto Nash”, “Crossroads”, “Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever”, “Rollerball”
TREASURE PLANET (**1/2)
The first of two movies that got a bad rap last year. I’ll say right off the top that “Treasure Planet” lacks something Disney holds to its heart as pride and joy – “Disney MAGIC”. The film is at times too coarse, too cold or too convoluted to reach the level of magic that something like “The Lion King” of “Beauty and the Beast” achieved. However, “Treasure Planet” succeeds in two departments that keep it watchable throughout. It’s dazzlingly drawn, with the animators stepping up to create detailed, fanciful images of futuristic spaceships and planets. Plus, it’s action packed. There are sequences in this movie that rival Aladdin’s carpet ride or Tarzan’s swing through the trees. When “Treasure Planet” first came out, it was universally trashed, and I don’t think it deserved a fate as harsh as it recieved. And it’s also one of the first Disney films to succeed without a mega-watt soundtrack. There’s on Johnny Reznick song, and that’s about it. I’m also surprised more young kids didn’t connect with the boy hero of the story. Maybe the past success of Disney is that they connected with young girls on the whole “princess” level with strong heroines in “The Little Mermaid” and “Pocahontas”. Boys are probably more inclined to switch over to “The Matrix” for connection at an earlier age than girls. I should stop singing “Treasure Planet”’s praises, ‘cause it certainly isn’t flawless. Despite the solid animation, I got a little bored with EVERY creature in this universe being some three-eyed or ten-legged thing. Were Jim and his mom the only humans? And most of the humor falls flat, as Martin Short tries hard to re-capture Robin Williams’ antics from “Aladdin”. By now this is nearing video release, and it’s a shame the best parts of the film require the big screen to make an impact.
25th HOUR (***)
I’m never one to miss a Spike Lee film, he is usually a sure thing for something different. And in “25th Hour”, he is one of the first major filmmakers to deal with New Yorkers in a post-9/11 environment. The recent tragic events in NYC hang over all the characters we meet in this film, but this isn’t a movie about the terrorist attacks, or about anyone who had direct involvement with the events that day. But Ground Zero is practically a character in the film, setting a tone of melancholy that haunts the NYers in Lee’s film, and reminds them of the importance of life. That theme is especially brought home to Monty, played perfectly by Edward Norton, who’s recently been brought up on possession charges and is bound for prison. He gathers his friends together for one last night out before he’s got to go away for seven years. Tensions and secrets rise as they talk, reminisce and plan for a future without Monty. Now, Spike has never been one for subtlety, and here he’s fashioned an ending that may be a little too grandiose for it’s own good, as it undermines the personal story we’ve dealt with up to that point. The idea for the film’s ending is good, but it’s played out a little too pompous. Also the score is not the least bit subtle, Terence Blanchard adds a horn-blasting-heavy musical exclamation point to a lot of visuals. But this works more than the ending. I’ve always found Lee’s uncommon use of music very intriguing and unique. The performances are great throughout. Norton’s got another role that suited for him, likable guy with a streak of brashness. Philip Seymour Hoffman is very good as a teacher in love with one of his students (his character, it seems, has carpe diem inherent in him after 9/11). Barry Pepper is really, really good as a fast-talking trader who is asked a difficult favor from Norton. You can sense his depression at the thought of the whole idea of Monty going away, yet he remains tough guy throughout. Barry, this makes up for “Battlefield Earth”, OK? Lee’s last GREAT film is still “Malcolm X”, but he continues to put out solid dramas that are always quite impressive.
TWO WEEKS NOTICE (**)
We should demand more of two high-quality charmers like Hugh Grant and Sandra Bullock. It seems as if the teaming of these romantic comedy veterans alone may get butts in seats, so why work too hard thereafter, right? The “You’ve Got Mail”-esque plot is predictable as can be. Here, I’ll make some space where you can print out this review and write in what happens next yourself. Grant is a corporate heel and Bullock is a liberal hippie trying to save a building on his property. They really don’t like each other. Then, _____________________. Well, you’re right. There are even moments of desperation here, such as the ‘ol hair-caught-in-the-zipper-routine. UGH. What’s a shame is that much of Grant’s dialogue is funny, but his delivery seems as if he couldn’t be bothered to invest enough to give them real zing. He’s going through familiar territory with a familiar approach, and longtime Bullock director Marc Lawrence isn’t asking for anything more. Maybe it’s time for Bullock to pair up with new blood. Bullock hasn’t lost any of her beauty, but I see no reason why her character would even want to be FRIENDS with Grant. So, I’m to blame for wanting more, I guess. Can $93 million at the box office be wrong?
YES! (sorry, I cant’ just let my sarcasm lie…)
I saw this film at a SAG screening to support Diane Lane’s SAG award nomination. So, by now, it’s been out about a year, so I won’t spend too much time on it. I love Diane Lane. Love her. She’s my kind of mature, brunette hottie. And now showing her mettle as a damn good actress! Unfortunately, she’s being showcased in a severely sub-par thriller. This movie is hampered by the same thing that plagues many crime of passion movies lately: the main character’s risk A LOT for someone not worth the effort. Look at “The Quiet American” or “Charlotte Gray”. Make the subject of Diane Lane’s “Unfaithful”-ness worth it! Please! Instead, he’s just skeevy and creepy, and his pick up moves are dumbassed. She must’ve really wanted to cheat on Richard Gere. If she’s that desperate, make her cheat with Abe Vigoda. Who doesn’t like Abe Vigoda?! That would’ve been at least worth another half a star (nudity excluded). Despite her bogus so-star, Lane is very good. Hell, I loved her in “Judge Dredd”.
WEIGHT OF WATER (*)
Lame. My first comment after seeing this hokey story of a bunch of ‘literates’ exploring on old murder was “The dialogue in ‘Far From Heaven’ was more realistic.” And “Heaven” is SUPER-stylized. “Weight of Water” is FULL of “movie-people” conversations that real people would never have. And I don’t care how cultured, educated or worldly-wise these people are, their dialogue was bogus. And if I’m wrong, then they’re the LAST people I want to see populating a movie. Catherine McCormack plays the way-too-obsessed-with-the-old-murder character. Didn’t buy it. I wouldn’t believe that she’d wake her husband up in the middle of the night to talk about a 120 year old murder if we hadn’t just cut away from a flashback of it. It reminded me of the stupifyingly bad film, “The Haunting”, in which Lili Taylor runs around crying “the children!”, worried, again, more about the dead people than others in the movie. And in “The Haunting” and “Weight of Water”, no other characters share the one crazy character’s obsession. They could give a shit. Well, same here. The best parts of the movies occur in flashblack, following the depressing life of an immigrant girl. Sarah Polley gives the best performance of the movie as that girl, saddled with an uncaring husband and overwhelming chores. But even her story gets needlessly murky towards the end. As for the other actors, apparently Elizabeth Hurley was enticed to make this film by the opportunity to play a giant whore (who does a really, REALLY dumb thing at the end that is UNEXPLAINED), and Sean Penn is and looks SUPER-BORED. The connections between the murder and current time are unconvincing and nonsensical, reaching a conclusion that carries with it a major “whatever”. It sucked, and I could go on.
WE WERE SOLDIERS (**)
I love Mel Gibson, and certainly wanted more from this war epic than what I got. This film details the first U.S. engagement with Vietnamese troops in the 1960s. I left with an interest in what led up to the war, causing these otherwise decent men to have to kill, and not much else. For the record, I taped “Path to War” on HBO, with Michael Gambon and Alec Baldwin, which is supposed to be good, and it’s about that very thing. But “We Were Soldiers” has loads of battle action. It’s a DAMNED bloody movie, but it suffers from the same thing “Black Hawk Down” did – alot of the soldiers who die really don’t have distinguishable characteristics. This may be the point, but it also makes me care less.
Oh, so Hernandez is dead…who was he?
He wasn’t Gibson, Barry Pepper or Chris Klein, so I wasn’t sure. Speaking of Barry Pepper, he plays a war journalist and there’s a HORRIBLE montage of his photos, mixed with “dramatic” shots of him taking the photos. It’s awful. You have to see it to know what I mean, but you’ll know it’s awful. Gibson probably should’ve just directed this film. I like when he has some sort of personal vendetta, that makes all his movies fun – think “Braveheart”, “Lethal Weapon”, “The Patriot”, “Payback”. Here, he’s a colonel, bound to the law of the Army. I wished he’d fly off the handle, though, and go Riggs on ‘em.
WHITE OLEANDER (**)
Drama, drama, drama. Who’ll stop the drama? Certainly not anyone involved with this project. Michelle Pfeiffer is particularly guilty of being too dramatic for her own good as an overbearing mom in this mother-daughter Oprah-fest. Robin Wright Penn and Alison Lohman are quite good, but I couldn’t help but feel a sense of let’s-throw-everything-in-the-book-at-this-poor-character going on in the script. I thought Oprah was a feminist? All her Book Club recommendations are stories of women living in and dealing with shit. The problem is that the main character doesn’t necessarily draw empathy with the decisions she makes. Don’t get me wrong, flaws are OK, it doesn’t have to be black and white, but it doesn’t seem like she wants her life any better than we do. Another major problem with the movie is the voice-over. Entertainment Weekly’s review said an interesting point – that too much voice-over in a movie is a sign that the director relies too much on the source material, and not enough on the medium of film That’s certainly an excellent point, but I would add that the voice-over here is just garbled. It’s a bunch of self-indulgent claptrap that no one would ever say. About two minutes into the movie, the main character was talking (in voice-over) about her mother and I had no idea what the hell she was really saying. It was a bunch of novel-voice, not teenager voice. Don’t bother.
Early on in “Windtalkers”, there’s a shot of birds flying in slow motion. So if you’ve been wondering if John Woo met his quota in that department with this film, wonder no more. The tougher quota to meet is “effectiveness of a World War II film, post-’Saving Private Ryan’”. “Windtalkers” doesn’t meet it. In fact, it’s a damned tough quota to meet. Woo has kept his war drama rich in color and crisp, clean photography. Certainly the opposite of Spielberg’s dark, grainy, near black-and-white opus. Woo’s old-fashioned look actually became a detriment to all parts of the film. The characters were old-fashioned, the heroism is old-fashioned, the dialogue is old-fashioned. A guy like me is wired into the new wave of war films where there’s no time for a dramatic scene amongst the bullets flying. When Nicolas Cage and Adam Beach are engaging in high drama in the foxhole, it can’t help but feel hokey. “Windtalkers” refers to the Indians recruited to use their native language as a code to disguise messages, thus enabling the messages indecipherable to the Japanese. The film centers on the taking of a Japanese island, and I was troubled by how little the code language was used. More in focus was the human drama element – the Windtalkers CANNOT fall into enemy hands alive. To make that more weighty, I suppose I needed a more CRUCIAL demonstration of the code. Instead, they seemed to pretty much just give each other directions. Nicolas Cage is doing his usual balance between dramatic and cartoonish that he’s perfected in summer blockbusters since he won an Oscar. There’s no doubt the film is action-packed and it wins points for that. I just fell that we’re still waiting for Hong Kong legend John Woo’s first GREAT American-made movie.