Don't tell me there is no God. Don't even think of scoffing at Sting's Synchronicity or Jung's collective unconscious. If Adrien Brody can win for The Pianist and Halle Berry for Monster's Ball, the two of them kiss on stage at the Awards and then both go out and make sci-fi/asylum films well, what can I say. I mean you've got the music thing going with The Pianist and the Ball (that's another term for dance), she's a model with great acting talent and he's a great actor that did a Coca-Cola commercial, their first names both have less than eight letters, both The Jacket and Gothika were awful but worth watching for the acting, both should have gone straight to video, I mean the list goes on and on. So did The Jacket but that's OK, Keira Knightlley and Jennifer Jason Leigh made it worth waiting for the end. I've already forgotten how it ended, though.
Director Sam Mendes leaves us with some memorable images, the desert afire, the shimmering advance of camels, the retching of sand, and the misery of oil baths. I got one once. There was an oil spill off Galveston Island some years ago and I went to see it. Wading into the surf I found some gooey balls of tar that took several dozen alcohol wipes to remove in the hotel bathtub. A miserable experience but one I'm glad I had. Why I don't know, there was nothing fun about it. So Swofford seems to say.
As Bush, from their debut album, refrained in their paen to hope without justification, "everything zen, i don't think so." This is about nothing but box office. Slasher film in the age of steroids and techno geeks. No morals here. Let's make some money here and move on. To what? We are watching.
Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back 08.29.01
The democratization of media has gone too far. If novel or even mildly amusing characters can warrant a feature length film then it's time to bring in some sort of imperial control. I'd volunteer but I'm too afraid that Jay and Silent Bob will come to my house and beat me up. They do that to the anonymous chat room posters that are the driving wheel in this jalopy of a movie. Seems a character from Chasing Amy (Jason Lee as Banky Edwards) sold the movie rights to his comic book characters based on Jay and Silent Bob to Miramax. Jay and Bob want to stop the movie from being made because they don't like the mean comments posted about them by hateful internet geeks.
Gay bashing and misogyny make up most of the humor. Some slapstick and scatological filler makes up the balance. Twice during the film the characters on screen look out at the audience and ask, "who would pay to see a movie like this?" I looked around and there were about six of us. We would have been better off at the dollar store looking for bargains.
Jesus' Son 07.10.00
Many years ago, I left a movie theater marvelling that the director had somehow found a heroin addict that could act. The movie was Panic in Needle Park and the actor was Al Pacino. Billy Crudup is either a hopeless dead end loser or a phenomenally gifted actor. His performance in this devastatingly sad film is cause enough to hunt up his previous half a dozen films and take a look.
Jack Black, one of the redeeming features of High Fidelity, turns in another inspired performance as a drug addled orderly.
Crudup plays a character known by his well earned moniker F***head (FH for short). He falls into bed one night after a fight with his girlfriend, Michelle (Samantha Morton), and wakes to find the note he slept on, "I took some pills, wake me if you still love me." Michelle is dead. FH's life is a series of such tragedies. The thought that there are thousands of people just like FH living lives of not so quiet desperation is almost too much to bear. Finally trying to clean up, he tells the ubiquitous Holly Hunter (is she ever not working), playing a crippled seven-times widower, he has taken a new direction, "I've stopped stealing and I'm trying to see things all the way through to their conclusion." He takes a job editing the newsletter of a retreat/rehab center for "people who have deformities that you and I don't even know about because they're sent away to places like this." While walking to work one day he becomes enamored of a blind Amish woman's shower singing. He walks into the house and lays down on the Amish couples bed to listen. The husband comes home and tells him to "take what you need." FH slowly backs out of the house and shuffles off down the street.
Grace and redemption seethe just below the surface of the tarnished and tawdry lives that make up this very different film by Alison Maclean.
First, a confession. I walked out after twenty minutes. The bad guys had yet to perpetrate their evil and Jimmy had yet to save the day. I met Jimmy, his overweight dufus but sweet friend, the female lead, the way cool character, Jimmy's parents and Jimmy's teacher. I'm not altogether clear why I left but I think it had something to do with the pitch - shrill, loud, and frenetic. The animation was hard to take as well. It began with something like claymation as the local military traffic control center spotted something that was too fast for a commercial liner and not on the scheduled list of military flights. Four fighters were scrambled as the General, a massive headed, sweaty, block-jawed character exclaimed with a grin, "we got ourselves a bogey." Of course, it was Jimmy and his overweight friend launching the family toaster, modified to serve as a communication satellite to better receive the alien life form transmissions. Following their mission, Jimmy's friend is ejected and floats upside down tangled in his parachute to hang in a tree until freed later by Jimmy. He bounces on the sidewalk when Jimmy cuts him down from the tree. One of Jimmy's classmates' head is drawn as a rombus, resting on one of the obtuse angles. His ears appear at the acute angle ends and a cap divides his hair. It's an altogether frightening image and not uncommon in children's cartoons these days. Where we once saw animals as characters, humans are used, but as caricatures, surreal and occasionally ghastly.
Back to the characters, though. The cool guy comes late to class, all the girls adore him, he appears to be smoking but it's actually a sucker he sticks into some girls face as he passes, he spouts advice on disobeying parents, and says, when asked by the teacher, "I don't do show and tell." The teacher responds with, "Oh yes, that's right." The teacher is a crone, ancient, wears her gray hair in a bun, is oblivious to what happens in her class, and lapses into a crow-like shriek at the beginning or end of her words. The female lead is hostile and denigrates Jimmy at every turn. Jimmy's fat friend suffers endless abuse and accepts it all with resignation if not forced cheer. Jimmy is, obviously, a genius. He lives with his parents and a variety of inventions to remove his t-shirt (an overhead vacuum), comb his hair (descending scissorhand robot), and a pet robot dog that poops nuts and bolts. His father is a Jimmy fan and is constantly scolded by safety conscious Mom. Mom is on Jimmy's case relentlessly.
This is all a Nickelodeon creation, as are most of the cartoons and films children see these days. Nickelodeon is an MTV offshoot and, as such, is populated with teens and young adults. Thirty is old in the Nickelodeon universe and no creative talent is on staff that was born before the Beatles broke up.
Excerpts from the New York American Marketing Association write-up of the 1997 induction of Nickelodeon into their Hall of Fame: -
What happened in those focus groups?
The early eighties were also the time of the rash of child-care horror stories. The McMartin pre-school scandal set the mold. Police interviewers determined that children's stories about animal sacrifices and satanic rituals in the basement were based in fact and prosecuted the McMartin school staff. After almost three years of testimony, including tapes of interviews with the children, the McMartin staff was acquitted. Police interviewers, including psychiatrists and psychiatric social workers, apparently led the children to conclusions the interviewers themselves suspected might be true. Children were viewed as unwilling to communicate their feelings and hence were led to tell their story. A whole body of work followed as police and the psychiatric community studied and revised their methods for eliciting information from children.
One can't help but wonder what the "focus group" coordinators had in mind when commissioned by a fledgling network of MTV by-products. "These kids don't like the happy, wholesome stuff we're throwing at them so find out what they do want." Armed with the information that the children don't like what's on the menu (compare a supposition that "something" happened at McMartin - a "where there's smoke there's fire" mentality) and met with a natural reluctance to verbalize to strange adults, what would the focus group interviewers do? Suggest some things they think the kids would like and look for confirmation? Sound unlikely? That is exactly what happened in a dozen cases of "ritual and satanic child abuse" in the eighties. If answers meet the interviewer suppositions, non-verbal signals of affirmation are sent. Similar answers are then given followed by more non-verbal affirmations and the cycle continues until the story elicited is the interviewers story, not the child's.
Now take another look at the Nickelodeon cast of characters. They are bizarre caricatures, wise-cracking, super children. Not children at all, really, but miniaturized versions of adult characters. Not adult, actually, but people in their late teens. Cool rules, anyone over thirty is superfluous at best, sarcasm is humor. Is this a world that exists in the minds of children or the often-cynical minds of teenagers? Focus groups gave us negative campaign advertising, New Coke, and polyester pants.
Are we ready for Beavis as President? We're getting closer...
Thirty five million people in the United States live in poverty. Poverty as defined by the US government is a family of three with an income of less than $13,000. That's $375 a month for housing, $100 for utilities, $50 for clothes for the three of you, $75 for such miscellaneous expenses as doctors, school supplies, and bus fare (you didn't think you could afford a car, did you), and almost $500 a month for food. That's a little less than $2 per meal per person. And that's at the poverty line. Below it, way below it, in the category called extreme poverty, live fourteen million men, women, and children. Not your version of living, or mine. The money plays out like this - $162.50 a month for housing, with a dollar a meal per person for food. And there are fourteen million of them. The number is almost unimaginable. Standing shoulder to shoulder they would form a line from New York to Los Angeles and nearly back again. To bury fourteen million people you'd need a graveyard the size of Massachusetts. Or a society that denies their existence.
A sub-set of the people in poverty are the homeless. Estimates of the homeless in America range from 700,000 to two million. Define homelessness as permanently without shelter and the 700,000 figure may be reasonable. Define it as being without shelter for some portion of the year and two million becomes a conservative estimate. Define it in terms of you or your family living in your car for three weeks or on the floor of your sister's one room sixth floor walk up and it becomes a whole other picture.
How can homelessness be possible? After all, even a minimum wage job pays enough to keep a family of three above the poverty line. And with food stamps and Aid to Families with Dependent Children, and a host of social service agencies, how could anyone be without a home? The only answer that we can live with is that these people choose this lifestyle. The choice is made to drink or abuse drugs or refuse mental help or just to be lazy. That has to be it. Otherwise, we will have to assume some of the responsibility ourselves. And we're good people. We wouldn't live in a society that allows fourteen million of its citizens to sustain themselves on three dollars a day, would we?
Estimates of the number of homeless people with serious and persistent mental illness range from 15 to 30%. If two million are periodically homeless, and 25% of them have serious and persistent mental illnesses, that means half a million people are homeless and probably incapable of doing anything about it. Of the one and a half million or so remaining, they choose the lifestyle. Maybe the one million children in that group didn't choose to be homeless. But the half million remaining chose that lifestyle, right? That man and woman on the corner begging for money chose that life, didn't they? They could get a job and save up enough for a cheap apartment, right? Twenty percent of the homeless population hold down full time jobs. The pay isn't enough to get them into a home, or an apartment, or even a shack. Maybe they'll make it in a few months. But they'll be holding on by their fingernails. And they'll slip. And they'll be homeless again. Their choice. Right?
A choice is being made allright, but the choice is the one we make. We vote for the people who say they'll trim the welfare roles. We walk past the cardboard lean-to. We drive by the man with the sign. We choose to believe the millions and millions of our fellow human beings living in poverty or without shelter somehow want it that way.
A writer for The New Yorker Magazine sat in a coffee shop one day in the 1950's and overheard the interchange between the cook and a homeless man, Joe Gould. Joe had come in during the daytime and was being told once again to come in at night for his bowl of soup. Joe Gould, as it turned out, was a writer as well and working on the Oral History of New York. A collection of overheard conversations. The common man or woman in ordinary conversation. And Joe Gould was recording it. Countless volumes of the Oral History were stored in and around New York and would be assembled posthumously for publication. The New Yorker writer, Joseph Mitchell, publishes a Profile in his magazine on Joe Gould. The balance of the film follows Joe and Joseph together and apart through the next few years of their lives. Mitchell is eventually successful in "dumping" Joe Gould (he has become an enormous drain on Mitchell's time and energy) when he accuses Gould of making up everything about the Oral History. He accuses Gould of laziness and they part. Some time later a psychiatrist from the state hospital encounters Mitchell at a party and tells him Gould is at the state facility. Mitchell goes to see him and finds Gould calm and apparently resigned. The spark appears to be gone. At their final parting, Gould says, "tell them it was never about laziness." Mitchell finally finds several volumes of the Oral History and they turn out to be the same single story, written over and over again. The story is of Joe's recognition of his mother's lament. "My son, my son," she cries. Joe knows and has known all along, he is mentally ill. Not so sick that he is unaware, just sick enough to not quite make ends meet. He dies alone and miserable.
We learn, in a cocktail party conversation, Joseph Mitchell, like Joe Gould, is working on a book. And, like Joe Gould, he hasn't written a word.
The line between that man on the corner with his "homeless, please help" sign and me in my clean shirt is finer than any of us want to believe.
The only meaningful choice in any of this is the choice to help.
The film is based on a true story. Ian Holm, as Joe Gould, should and most assuredly will receive a Best Actor nomination. Stanley Tucci, as real life New Yorker editor and writer, Joseph Mitchell, directs this important film.
If you're going to immerse me in meanness, cruelty, and desperation please give me some hope. Joe's father is a mean drunk (Val Kilmer), his mother (Karen Young) desperate and defeated. Joe is an apparently amoral creature to whom stealing is as normal as disappointment. I feel sorry for him but not empathetic. A huge gulf to bridge. This doesn't qualify for tragedy, no one has sufficient redeeming qualities to make their predicament tragic. No elevation, no fall. This is ninety minutes of squalor and sadness. Wish I hadn't seen it. Hope to soon forget it.
Joseph Girzone penned a series of books about a reappearance by Christ in modern times. Not the second coming, mind you, at least not the one seen by John in Revelation. This is more like Christ dropping in for tea and cookies. Pre-dating the WWJD craze, Girzone takes a more thoughtful and heartwarming approach. His Jesus is someone you'd love to know, more about helping than judging.
The What Would Jesus Do refrain presupposes we can, by glancing at a bracelet reminder, act and respond in Christ-like fashion. This sort of pedestrian approach to the teaching and example of Christ more often tends to dress our own less lofty motivations in a Jesus mantle. At best, the wrist reminder approach to spirituality may blunt our baser behaviors. But I digress.
F. Murray Abraham (as a jaded Roman Catholic Priest/Jewish elders/Pilate) lends this happy tale some credibility, Tony Goldwyn plays Jesus, Stacy Edwards is a modern Mary Magdalene, and Kurt Fuller is this epochs Peter. Playing the Lord is always a risk but Girzone's Christ is more human than divine and Goldwyn does a good job refraining from casting sad eyes heavenward (a la Jeffrey Hunter in the all time over-the-top Jesus). Joshua moves a little fast in the second half and before we know it, Joshua is chatting up the Pope. A decent effort, though, and certainly a better story for the little ones than what comes out of Nickelodeon Studios these days. The rest of us are condemned to continue to see through a glass, darkly.
Brad (Sam Rockwell) and Abby (Vera Farmiga) are no match for their somewhat precocious and utterly evil little boy. Now this may be a surprise for you and, if so, I am sincerely sorry. Not nearly as sorry, though, if you planned or went to see this movie thinking it was a remake of the Christian film of the same name. It longs to be a scary suspense thriller. Instead it is predictable and more sick than scary. The only suspense present in this Joshua is driven by the forlorn hope that Vera Farmiga will move back to center stage. Not that Sam Rockwell isn't great, he is, and little Jacob Kogan who plays Joshua isn't terribly compelling. Certainly not when compared to the incomparable Vera Farmiga. Is that an oxymoron? Can you compare the incomparable? I will see this film again several times as I will stop flipping channels when I see it on cable. Uh-oh, I forgot, once the Tour de France is over we're dumping cable. The two or three shows we like (Grey's Anatomy, at least until the ratings dip and they start up with the emergency room explosions or off hospital forays, and The Riches, a wonderful little-watched dark comedy starring Eddie Izzard and Minnie Driver) are available on iTunes. That leaves news and movies. I only watch the local news when I'm depressed, the national news is mostly rabid right wing drivel or testy talking heads. I've already seen most of the movies in the theater that come on cable or broadcast. I guess I'll have to return to Blockbuster. Low level retail is enough to send me back to local news. There were six people behind the counter at the Angelika Saturday, one was working the concession stand while the balance visited with the "manager." Sadly, our local Angelika is headed down the tubes. Stains aren't being removed from the carpet, the same tired clips precede each film, one of the urinals is perpetually bagged to indicate its broken condition and the theater floors are no longer being cleaned. The local Kroger is making a Herculean effort to compete with the local Whole Foods but they can't hire anyone except attitude riven inner city teenagers. I don't particularly like being despised when I go shopping. Office Depot, on the other hand, is doing an extraordinary job of offering quality service. The problem is that most shops treating customers with respect and decency will do so only so long as the stock value is increasing. There's no larger commitment to what is right, only what serves our interest. It's why we've destroyed a society (Iraq) and crippled our armed services instead of addressing the causes of 9/11 (see Pax Bushama). Hate freedom, indeed. What a stupid, stupid line has hooked us. These guys hate us because they think we're evil. Since we're not (no more than "they" are) the obvious answer is to solve that incorrect understanding. But as long as we continue to elect leaders like George Bush, Dick Cheney and Mitt Romney we have only ourselves to blame. Mitt gets lumped in with these guys because he abandoned everything he said he stood for in order to increase his chances to get the nomination. What does that tell us? Our Vice President says he isn't a part of the executive branch in order to avoid revealing documents and directed his chief assistant to out an undercover CIA agent because her husband revealed a lie he told. These criminals have saddled us with a Supreme Court that recently held attempts to right historical wrongs caused by racial prejudice is the same as racial prejudice. Things have clearly turned upside down and we march along in silent acquiescence. My oh my.
It isn't often we're there at the moment an actor's career careens into the ditch. I hope to one day learn that Hayden Christensen is a bad person. Otherwise this is just too sad. The moment came when Hayden agreed to appear in yet another unimaginably bad film with Samuel L. Jackson. These two seem more like guys in a TV commercial for the Copa Cabana Acting School who confess they aren't actually actors but play actors in the movies. The film tries to make sociopaths into people with whom we can empathise. Write for yourself David S. Goyer. Screenwriter Goyer has brought us not one, not two, but three Blade films, and if you order now, he'll throw in ten episodes of a Blade television series.
Jamie Bell (we last saw him in Billy Elliot) and Diane Lane kept me from walking out. The digital effects are thicker than flies in this pseudo sci-fi film and almost as annoying. What with Hayden jumping to the frig, jumping across the couch to grab the remote and jumping to the umbrella stand we weren't as impressed as we should have been by the London double-decker bus or the Coliseum altercation. Director Doug Liman also appears to be on a downward spiral, from 1999's Go to Mr. & Mrs. Smith to WB's O.C. this fellow is right in tune with Hayden and Samuel L. Since a sequel is clearly in the offing maybe they can all jump right to the last ditch of the Eighth Circle of Hell where they can impersonate real actors for all eternity.
Fifteen seconds preview of Amy Adams as a back woods innocent with her new friend from the big city and this became a must see film. When it opened with a yodeling contest I began to feel a little uneasy. When Alessandro Nivola as George gets clubbed by his brother Johnny (Benjamin McKenzie) all bets were off. In retrospect, the clues were everywhere. Nothing is simple and nothing straightforward. Characters act then withdraw, offer and refuse, love and reject. Director Phil Morrison shoves us off balance early on and we don't recover. Each character in this bizarre and disturbing story is memorable, a few unforgettable. Frank Hoyt Taylor is inspired as back woods artist David Wark. Amy Adams dominates Junebug in a haunting and charismatic performance. This is one of those performances that makes me want to seek out all previous hoping for a reprise. Junebug is more than great acting, though, it is a deep and moving portrait of a real and tortured family, painful to watch but edifying to see.
"This years Little Miss Sunshine" someone said. Except no one is a heroin addict, no one is a suicidal Proust scholar and no one teaches the female lead to dance suggestively. In fact, every one is fairly normal. Ellen Page is Juno, a sixteen-year-old unexpectedly pregnant. Her best friend, Leah (Olivia Thirlby), suggests the Penny Saver for the adoptive parent search and she meets Mark and Vanessa (Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner). Her dad (J.K. Simmons) and step-mom (Allison Janney) are supportive but the baby's dad (Michael Cera) is a bit disengaged. Rainn Wilson has a cameo as a store clerk. Diablo Cody wrote this enormously smart, touching and funny work and Ellen Page was an inspired choice for the lead. Page's role in the difficult and intense Hard Candy was a precocious teen at the dark end of the spectrum from the Juno with whom we fall hopelessly in love. Mad at Mark at one point she tells him she "bought another Sonic Youth album and it was just noise!" Exactly. There are so many exactly moments in Juno I googled author Diablo Cody and found she's written a book, Candy Girl: A Year In the Life of an Accidental Stripper. Apparently she decided to take up stripping as a hobby. Just in case you were thinking offbeat is a creation of the movies...
As the pteradactyls fly into the sunset and the logo for Jurassic Park IV explodes from off the horizon, I think to myself, "subtitle, The Birds Are Back... Bigger and Badder Than Ever!"
New dinosaurs are introduced and the old ones can talk! The bad guys are dispatched and the kid rescued early on, he was para-sailing over the dinosaur rich 'second island' with his mom's (Tea Leoni) boyfriend. Step-dads - aren't they grand?! Every encounter (save one) is with 'flesh eating this' or 'angry mom that' and the situation is invariably utterly hopeless. Everyone is locked inside a cage and dropped into a lake by an angry palentasaurus, trapped on a walkway with a flying scampiclops, surrounded on all sides by four fierce fallafelopolis, and dropped into a nest of hungry bouillabaisaurus. Somehow, our heroes escape every time. Oh happy day!
K-19: The Widowmaker 07.27.02
Is it a law of the sea that in order to be the Executive Officer you have to be the ex-captain reluctantly serving under the new tough guy Captain? How come we don't see any Army movies about the new tough guy general commanding his troops through their former general? Maybe we'll have a whole new batch of bidness movies about a new tough guy CEO commanding the corporation through the former malfeasing (to quote our functionally illiterate President) CEO? OK. I'm sorry, I know it's tantamount to treason to call the President a functional illiterate in wartime. But really, can't the puppeteers control him any better than that? Maybe momma Bush needs to be on the team, "Dammit junior, if I've told you once I've told you a thousand times, never, ever, ever, depart from your prepared text!" But I digress.
It seems the pride of the Soviet submarine fleet sprung a reactor leak back in 1961 while on patrol west of Greenland. Several guys volunteer to go into the reactor chamber wearing chemical suits to try to fix the leak. The warehouse was out of radiation suits so they sent the next best thing. This is the stuff of real hero stories, not unlike the Soviet firefighters that crawled all over Chernobyl as it spewed radiation into the atmosphere. They knew, or had a pretty good idea, doing their duty would likely mean death, but off they went anyway. I wonder, what I would do when faced with that kind of decision?
The movie has some unusual submarine shots, from below as it dives, through the hull from the crew's quarters, but in ther end it is not much more than yet another submarine movie: all guys, lots of ducking through hatches (is there some physics thing that says hatches can't be a foot or so taller), lots of groaning and popping as the sub dives to crush depth AND BEYOND! I find it hard to believe that subs are (or were) controlled by some guy turning handles this way and that. I mean, these handles don't even have hash marks or anything. The Captain says, "make your depth 200 meters" and some guy turns two metal joysticks left a smidgeon. It all seems so imprecise. But I digress.
Liam Neeson is the sensitive former captain who loves his men and would do anything for them, including lots of stupid stuff like saying to Harrison Ford, the new tough guy captain, "but this is the first time our nuclear reactor officer has been passed out drunk during a critical test of the reactor, sir." Harrison Ford is tough but he loves the men too. Liam loves them like a girl, he's nice to them. Harrison loves them like a man, he's horrible to them. There are some real problems with the Harrison Ford character. We don't get any help in determining if he's crazy, ambitious, a good officer, or all of the above. I don't think it's correct to throw a wide variety of possible motivations into the script and at the audience and pretend it represents depth or complexity. Peter Saarsgard is pretty good as the fresh-faced nuclear reactor school graduate. He has charm and charisma, wasted in his previous effort, the bizarre and banal The Center of the World.
Kate & Leopold 12.28.01
Such promise. Overcoming the premise, however, was just too great a hurdle for the even the perpetually charming Meg Ryan. Rips in the space-time continuum are all well and good for the commander of the Enterprise, but Hugh Jackman (nee the Wolverine of X-Men and the hapless hacker of Swordfish) and Liev Schreiber (Scream 1, 2, 3 and film narrator par excellence) as Duke Leopold (inventor of the elevator) and Stuart (space-time continuum rip locator) simply can't carry off the time traveler bit.
Kate & Leopold is not without its moments. Some funny gags, Natasha Lyonne, as Kate's assistant, brightens up every scene in which she appears, and Bradley Whitford acquits himself nicely. But just when this romantic comedy begins to roll, we are treated to a lecture about ethics in advertising or another attempt to sell the rip in space-time. We hear it is discovered by Stuart through highly advanced weather forecasting (I thought some of those Weather Channel anchors looked out of place), we get an analogy to dog's colorblindness, we even get the "if you get the right angle on it" spiel. I say just put a big spinning disc behind a chair, throw in some levers and be done with it.
Duke Leopold invents the elevator. His man servant in the nineteenth century is named Otis. "Otis elevator" - get it? I don't. Why is it the Otis company, why not the Leopold? I'm obsessing, I grant, but why make a big deal in the film about the connection between the man servant and the elevator company but never explain it? Did we edit one too many scenes? Will we learn the answer in Kate & Leopold - the Director's Cut?
In the first words she speaks in eleven years, one of the patients in the Manhattan Psychiatric Hospital says to Prot (Kevin Spacey), "I know who you are." Prot is confined to the hospital because he claims to be from K-Pax, a thousand light years from Earth. He can see ultra-violet light, knows about the gravitational impact on a binary star system caused by planetary bodies that only four astro-physicists in the world know about, and we see him appear to appear on a beam of light in the film's opening sequence.
Later, we are given substantial reason to believe he is the victim of a traumatic event and not a space traveler after all. In a 2001: Space Odyssey-like ending, we are left to our own devices to interpret what we see. Unlike 2001, a Faberge-egg of a film, magnificent and extravagantly beautiful on the outside but empty, K-PAX is the real thing. A simple package containing all the complexity that is life.
Setting the stage for what is to follow, Prot's psychiatrist (Jeff Bridges) spots him through a two-way mirror for the first time and their faces merge in the reflection. K-PAX is a story about the unseen connections that bind us together. They are revealed to us by one who is apparently not connected at all, Prot. Family, isolation, hope and despair are the themes in this rich and thoughtful film. They are presented and explored with humor and pathos by director Iain Softley (Wings of the Dove and Hackers), Jeff Bridges and Kevin Spacey. We don't even mind the occasionally preachy material, as it is delivered by a master actor at the apogee of his art.
If it weren't for the fainting at the Bris, the Drunk Irish Priest, the wizened old Rabbi and the wizened old Priest... hey, wait a minute, everything about this has been done to death! It is nonetheless refreshing to see Edward Norton, the gifted actor of American X infamy, in a romantic comedy. He also produces and directs. His first directing effort, it would appear he chose to play it safe. Anne Bancroft plays Stiller's mother. Watching her made me want to rent The Miracle Worker again, she is so completely engaging. Jenna Elfman was believable but may be too cute for her own good. Tom Cruise fought a similar battle and won. Talent, like truth, will out! Entertaining and well made albeit predictable.
The Kid 07.08.00
Paula Poundstone suggests we ask children what they want to be when they grow up not to make conversation, but because we are looking for ideas. Russ Duritz (Bruce Willis) meets himself at eight (Spencer Breslin) in this not always predictable Disney movie about second chances. Russ is a successful, driven, ruthless, occasionally cruel image consultant with no friends, no dog, and no girl. Well, almost no girl. He has Lily Tomlin as his secretary and a refreshing and talented Emily Mortimer as his photographic assistant. Rusty, Russ at eight, is horrified to learn he grows up to be a loser. Together with some advice from the new local LA anchor played by the underworked and gifted Jean Smart, and a surprise marriage proposal, Rusty begins to set things right. All, of course, ends well.
Along the way though, we learn that punching out the school bully can make a world of difference, Dad laying the blame for Mom's death at an eight year old's feet is OK because he was scared, and, most importantly, few of us ever get to be who we want to be.
Settle little kiddies, settle. Uncle Walt is, no doubt, spinning in his grave. Whatever happened to Tinker Bell and Aurora?
The music. It's from ET. Remember when Elliot and ET take off on the bicycle. Remember the music? That's what you hear when Russ, in his Porsche, is chasing Rusty on his American Flyer.
Imagine the poor beseiged director in the editing room, desperately looking for something to punch up the chase scene. "Louder, really bring the music up here, louder, LOUDER!" "Yes, that's it. Cut. Print."
Kill Bill: Vol. 1 10.18.03
I'm sure this has occurred to everyone else on the planet by now but if we changed Bill's name to Charlie this would be Charlie's Angels. Bill is only heard, we see his bejeweled hand fondling the handle of a cool Samurai sword, the women all work together on dangerous assignments, they're called some sort of assassination squad, and they even appear to have a male coordinator type played by long time Tarantino favorite, Michael Madsen. Sure the girls appear to be bad and Charlie tried to kill one of them, Uma Thurman, aka The Bride, but a puppetmaster pulling the strings of a gaggle of beautiful but deadly super crime fighter/criminals? Come on, will ya? Now Charlie's Angels is a fun franchise, but life on Earth will be no better or worse for its coming, going, or replication. Not that Quentin Tarantino is under any obligation to be original or address questions of moral or ethical significance but one can always hope. What Tarantino is original about is the physics of blood spurting from severed limbs. It would appear that severed veins and arteries work more like a fire hose than previously thought. And when one removes a Samurai sword from another's midsection, the volume and force of the blood appears to be sufficient for mid-course adjustments to the space shuttle in low earth orbit. I may not be entirely up to date on kung-fu movies, but I believe Quentin is breaking new ground here. Some debt is owed Ang Lee for the more elevated martial art fighting, but the blood thing is Tarantino's own unique contribution to cinema.
Uma Thurman probably won't make the short list at the Oscar's again this year, Lucy Liu continues to mine the tough Asian girl, and who would have thought Daryl Hannah had a twisted and evil persona upon which to draw for her portrayal of California Mountain Snake? We were all thrilled to see David Carradine in what can only be described as a breakthrough performance as the enigmatic and evil Bill of the title. Volume II is already in the can so we can tuck ourselves in tonight with the sure and certain knowledge that we haven't seen the last of Uma, David, Daryl and Quentin's eclectic musical choices.
Kill Bill: Vol. 2 05.01.04
I shouldn't, of course, have expected anyhing different from Volume 2. It's the same movie, just too long to release as one feature. I believe I've seen enough of Tarantino now to draw the conclusion I have until now resisted. Tarantino has nothing to tell us. Nothing we should see or hear. His screenplay From Dusk till Dawn tells the only story Tarantino seems interested in telling - mayhem. The problem, obviously, is mayhem is not a story, heck, it's not even a verb. Mayhem originated as a legal term meaning to deprive one of a limb or organ. This certainly seems to be the salient feature of a Tarantino film. I can't help but see little Quentin in his back yard with the magnifying glass from his new chemistry set busliy cooking small creatures for his amusement. Thanks to the inordinate success of Pulp Fiction, he can afford bigger and better chemistry sets with which to torture his victims. And dopes like me keep buying tickets to his depressingly cruel and ugly films. His direction doesn't really rise to the level of gifted amateur. The distinguishing characteristic of his films are hacking, slashing, bleeding, and torture, usually performed by glibly clever, even charming characters (Clooney in Dusk till Dawn, Carradine in Bill 2, Madsen in Reservoir Dogs) presenting his vision of violence and evil as seductive. The reality is there is nothing remotely attractive about the violence and mayhem he shows us. But he seems to think so. This is the vision of a dark and twisted mind where horror is fun and violence is cool. Validating this vision is dangerous. I can't do it.
The Kingdom 10.13.07
I ordinarily try to avoid reviews before I see a film but this one has been so heavily promoted I would have to unplug the cable and avoid my news portal to keep from it. That they were unanimous in how riveting the final thirty minutes of The Kingdom were I should have taken as a warning. I don't know how many films I've seen in the last few years with some apparently cross-eyed bad guy firing a rocket propelled grenade from across the street at a car full of good guys and missing but the badly aimed rocket propelled grenade is almost as much of a cliche as the good and bad guys eventually discarding all their sophisticated weapons to go at it mano y mano. Add to this the utterly insufferable Jamie Foxx and well, I wish I'd noticed Michael Clayton was in the same theater before I bought my ticket. Jennifer Garner continues to look a little overmatched unless she's beating up somebody a hundred pounds heavier than she. Chris Cooper came as close as anyone could to making The Kingdom tolerable. His picture should appear next to gravitas in Wikipedia. Hey, I can do that, right?
What a mess of a time. As he did so successfully in Black Hawk Down, Ridley Scott makes war look like the uncontrolled and uncontrollable nightmare it must always be. Ghastly hacking wounds, blood poisoning, thirst and filth were the rewards of these Crusaders. The church comes off pretty badly, Priests stand about exhorting the murder of Muslims, jeering at suicides, recommending Islamic conversion as a skin saving device. The Muslims come off as honorable as do a few of the Westerners. The slow motion gravity free blood explosions Scott introduced in Gladiator are back aplenty. Equal parts depressed blacksmith (Orlando Bloom) Balian, mournful smoldering beauty (Eva Green) Sibylla, semi-retired Roman consul Tiberius (Jeremy Irons), sniveling effete evil-eyed (Marton Csokas) Guy, pronounced by a deep throat clearing expectorate, the wizened fate embracing doctor (David Thewlis), and the only truly charismatic character (Ghassan Massoud) Saladin well serve their stereotypes and stretch this hexagon to fit the centuries covered by the Crusades. Few directors would attempt an epic of this magnitude (fewer should) and Scott manages to deliver a more than tolerable version. The political correctness virus that I was told diluted Kingdom of Heaven escaped my notice. Nobody looks good in this nightmare, save Balian, of course, our hero, but what Hollywood film would make it out of committee without a hero upon whom we can pin our personal aspirations to glory?
Peter Jackson should next try something original. Having redone Tolkein's Ring trilogy as well as one could imagine and now redone King Kong as well as one could imagine, what's left? Something original please sir. Something with meaning, maybe even something with historical significance.
Unfortunately I agree with many that Jack Black might have been cast a little over his head. Against Academy caliber talent like Naomi Watts and Adrien Brody, not to overlook the physically inspired Andy Serkis (from Gollum to Great Ape without missing a beat) Mr. Black, who was brilliant in High Fidelity, and phenomenal in Jesus' Son occasionally came off as tinny and unbelievable in Kong. Naomi Watts was captivating and Brody very strong. The story of greed and man's inhumanity toward animals has been done to death. The only reason to remake this classic is to take advantage of the digital age and take advantage the newly slimmed down Mr. Jackson does quite well. The ape is incredible, the dinosaurs as good as anything in Jurassic Park, even the shipwreck was breathtaking. But. If you're a filmmaker of Peter Jackson's amazing stature you shouldn't spend any more time on remakes. Find something original and bring it to us. Like Asimov's Foundation Trilogy or Haruki Murakami's Kafka on the Shore. Show us what your enormous talent can do when not shackled by the shadows of historical film. I'll go - twice if I need to.
Sex. Whoo boy, this'll be a tough one. I think of myself as liberated from the tentacles of our Puritanical background. Hurting people is bad, sex with minors is bad, sex between people in unbalanced power relationships is bad, pretty much anything between consenting adults is Ok by me, the problem being determining whether the consent is freely given. In a class I took recently the question was posed, "what are some examples of methods for encountering God?" Prayer, pain, meditation, all the usual suspects. I volunteered sex as another method for encountering God. Titters abounded, the otherwise erudite professor cough/laughed and said he didn't know how to respond to that. "Anyone else," he asked? I was surprised. I suppose I shouldn't have been.
Kinsey the movie, starring Liam Neeson as Kinsey, Laura Linney as his wife, and Peter Sarsgaard as one of Kinsey's research assistants, Clyde Martin. Kinsey is a biopic, telling Alfred Kinsey's story from childhood under the brilliant John Lithgow as a backward small town minister to his old age as a semi-disgraced professor desperately trying to finish his work on sexual behavior in America. Despite some uneven editing toward the end, Kinsey is a gripping account of the obstacles encountered in publishing the first comprehensive study of sexual behavior.
The giggling in the theater took a while to subside and we eventually stopped laughing at the mores of generations thrice removed from today. The truly frightening thought is that we're moving backwards. All these ballot initiatives banning gay marriage and even civil unions are, I fear, just a warning shot. Sex needs to go back under cover, especially homosexual sex. Homosexual sex is bad all right, I mean look at what happened to Sodom. All that offering up of virgin daughters and multiple wives and rape and human sacrifice was only the icing on the cake of gay sex. God might have overlooked the rest of it but for the gay sex. That's what spelled their doom. And the Greeks, and the Romans, and the Nazis, and the Russians. If only those great civilizations had been able to hold onto their heterosexual sex, or at least heterosexual sex with concubines and multiple wives, then maybe we'd still be laying about the town square in white robes discussing philosophy. We can only dream, I suppose, but then those damn Soddomites took over and it all fell apart. Well, maybe George W and Wolfowitz and Cheney can take us back to that golden age of America when the only real problem was lynching black people and starving farmers. Ah, the golden age. Come back, we beseech you, make sex normal again, make life pure, rid us of the perverts who see sex as something other than a means of procreation. Problem is, if all we could get out of sex was children I think we'd be in real danger of extinction.
I'll jump straight to the ending. The Kiss of the Dragon is a forbidden acupuncture procedure wherein one needle is placed between the first and second thoracic vertebrae stopping all blood return from above the neck. Arteries continue to pump blood in but the veinal system collapses. The victim is paralyzed and dies a painful death within minutes. This technique is used, as opposed to, say, the billiard ball technique, when the intended victim is a particularly heinous criminal. You don't know the billiard ball technique, you say? Find a billiard ball alone in a pocket, kick it up into the air and then launch it with a flying vertical sidekick at the intended victim's forehead.
Jet Li, Bridget Fonda and Tcheky Karyo team up in this Luc Besson/Jet Li joint venture. Luc Besson's penchant for stories of the pure soul plowing through a malevolent and twisted world (The Professional, The Fifth Element, Joan of Arc were all directed by him) combined with Jet Li's penchant for the pure soul plowing through a malevolent and twisted world combined to give us this year's story of a pure soul plowing through a malevolent and twisted world.
Since nothing original in the story line or plot present, one must look for distinguishing marks in the acting, cinematography, or choreography. Alas, this corpse carries no distinguishing marks at all.
A final question, can the Fonda family tell us something about acting and genetics? If Bridget Fonda's grandfather Henry was one of our greatest actors, and her Aunt Jane rises to that level only once every ten years or so, but it took her dad Peter fifty years to deliver a stunning performance (Ulee's Gold), will Bridget have enough time before the Grim Reaper comes for her?
Argentine director Hector Babenco spends two years begging his fellow countryman and author Manuel Puig to sell him the rights to his cult novel,╩Beijo da Mulher Aranha. Puig, wanting an international production and not Babenco's planned Brazilian feature, won't budge until he learns Burt Lancaster, fresh off his "comeback" in 1980's Atlantic City, wants in. Lancaster has no patience for Leonard Schrader's glacial pace in penning the screenplay and begins his own version. When Lancaster delivers his screenplay Puig and Babenco are in despair. The Hollywood icon has rewritten Beijo and cast himself as the central figure. The book was supposed to be about a struggle between two equals from entirely different political and social worlds suddenly confined together in a backwater prison cell. One, a straight Marxist revolutionary, the other an utterly apolitical aging gay queen. Their struggle with their own prejudices and preconceived notions set against a backdrop of degradation and intrigue has become a gay soap opera starring Burt Lancaster. ╩Beijo da Mulher Aranha╩is headed back to regional cultdom when a hippie Santa Fe lawyer, a movie junkie from Warhol's Factory and his old Factory buddy, a party girl by the nom de plume Baby Jane, decide to sink a million dollars American into a Brazilian film that no American studio will touch. William Hurt wants the role Lancaster lost, Raul Julia is signed on as the revolutionary and Sonia Braga, just happens to be dying for a small role so she can hang with the crew. The stars that were once swirling about a black hole suddenly align and filming begins in Sao Paulo on Kiss of the Spider Woman.
Several inspired creative souls come together to realize a work of real significance. Hurt and Julia agree to work for scale, Schrader delivers a brilliant screenplay, director Babenco gets an old friend and choreographer to help Hurt uncover his feminine side. Sonia Braga has a ball and Hurt and Julia spend endless hours working out their characters, unconstricted by studio demands. Hurt tells us of one Sunday Julia and he show up on the unconstructed set to work on a particular scene. They're at it for hours before they realize the crew, not wanting to interfere, put down their hammers and is watching in rapt tearful silence as the two stars rehearse and rehearse.
Everyone associated with this project is in it for all the right reasons. Independent film at its most genuine. The result is an original work of unsurpassed strength and intensity as fresh and moving any film of the past twenty five years.
Jackie Hoffman as Joan, Jessica's pregnant co-worker and friend and Tovah Feldsuh as Jessica's mother are the finishing touches on this thoroughly entertaining film. The smart script helps, Heather Juergensen as Helen, Jessica's special friend, is delightful. There are no detours and no wasted scenes. Jennifer Westfeldt (Jennifer) and Heather Juergensen wrote the script and Charles Herman-Wurmfeld directed (and cast his mom as Jennifer's grandmother).
Jessica answers a female seeking female ad after a series of pathetic dates. Both women are "experimenting" for the first time. Jessica is so thoroughly neurotic that she nearly sabotages the relationship with her hang-ups. She just about wore me out as well.
Joan's reaction, when she finds out her friend is with another woman, is hilarious. Jessica's mother is the archetype Jewish mom but brings a freshness and believability to the role normally missing.
The whole thing takes place in New York City. I wonder how long it will be before I see the skyline without looking for the Towers.
Katherine Heigl is wonderful and Paul Rudd eminently watchable. Judd Apatow is the guy I found obnoxious thirty five years ago and still do. There are plenty of people I can't relate to and only a few I don't want to relate to. The few are distinguished by either racism or willful ignorance or disgusting personal habits. It would seem Mr. Apatow is in the latter of both categories. Don't want to know and disgusting. Bong joke, fart joke, penis joke, repeat ad nausuem. Cut, print.
La Cienega 02.18.02
Two families in the summer in Argentina, one happy, the other miserable. The weather is also miserable. The opening scene gives us a half dozen adults sit around a fouled pool, drunk and drinking. One of the characters, the mother of the sad family, passes out, falling onto the drink she's carrying, lacerating her chest and arm. The other adults are too stupefied by drink and heat to move. The daughter and the maid drag her off to the gringo doctor.
This is yet another miserable story of miserable people in a miserable environment. The thick and humid tropical air captures and suffocates everyone. There are some hints of class distinctions and injustice but everyone is mired in the same miasma. This is a film that should only appeal to cinema junkies and the terminally depressed. Cinema junkies because the atmosphere (figurative and literal) is so successfully transferred to the screen and the terminally depressed because this may make them feel better.
Ladder 49 10.02.04
If not for a laugh at the expense of gay folks I would have described this homage to firefighters as pedestrian at best and manipulative at worst. But the gay joke makes me rethink. The bar scene, for example, when Jack Morrison (Joaquin Phoenix) introduces his buddies to his new girl and future wife, Linda (Jacinda Barrett). This is their second date, Linda gets hammered and wakes to a splitting headache and Jack's declaration of love and commitment. Next scene, they're getting married. Now I've only lived one life and am only about halfway through it but this girl is unlike any I've ever met. She is like the one I imagined I'd meet when I was fourteen and thought sex was performed in some sort of levitating, twirling motion. At least that's what the guy in gym told me and he was a ninth grader for heaven's sake. One night Jack comes home with second thoughts about the whole fire-fighting thing and Linda, darling that she is, pours them both about four fingers of scotch, neat. This whole story is told from the perspective of a young teenage boy. The men drink tons, the women all love and support them, they save little girls and kitty cats and have the respect and admiration of everyone. Now I think firefighters are about as special as anyone but if you're going to memorialize them in film they should be real people and not cartoon cut outs. In the simplified and possibly cynical world of director Jay Russell and screenwriter Lewis Colick, though, it's OK to use gays for a good laugh, girls as foils, and our sympathy for the firefighters killed September 11 as fodder for making a buck.
Or maybe I'm the cynical one. Maybe Messrs. Russell and Colick simply adore firefighters and don't know any gays or women.
Once upon a time the race of people living under the water were buds with those of us who live on the land. The water people advised and helped us land folk until one day we stopped listening and the water people sank to reappear periodically in an effort to revive the avuncular relationship they once enjoyed. This time they choose Story (Dallas Bryce Howard) as their emissary. Lucky us. Or lucky Cleveland Heep (Paul Giamatti) as the tired apartment manager trying to catch the rule breaking late night swimmer.
Wonderful cast with Giamatti and Howard leading Jeffrey Wright, Sarita Choudhury, Tovah Feldshuh, Bill Irwin and a delightful Cindy Cheung as a wisecracking Asian "playa." I still can't help comparing everything M. Night Shyamalan does to The Sixth Sense. It's unfair and unfortunate. I almost went to see Miami Vice yesterday only because my expectations were so low I thought I couldn't help but like it. Instead I went to see Shadowboxer. What went wrong here, beside my unrealistic expectation, was a failure to suspend disbelief. The grass-flat monsters aside, when Mr. Heep is saved from drowning and awakens to find Story sitting naked in his living room we too quickly and without any preparation asked to take her as a fairy tale princess. I think I would have more readily bought into her as Snow White or Rapunzel. I never fell into this story, maybe it was the too real Young Soon (Cindy Cheng) character telling the story. She was too talented at bringing her caricature to hilarious life to make her the vehicle for the story. Never buying in, I never really cared about anyone and left unaffected, the worst that can happen.
Ray Lawrence's only previous work is Bliss, a film about a fellow who dies and goes to Hell but he can't tell the difference. Psychiatrist Valerie Somers (Barbara Hershey) and her husband John Knox (Geoffrey Rush) are numbly walking through the balance of their lives after their only child was murdered. The film opens with a long panning close-up of a field of Lantana, stopping on the body of a woman, tangled in the underbrush and violently dead. The first half of the movie we spend trying to figure out who the dead woman is and the second half we spend trying to guess who killed her. Anthony LaPaglia plays Leon Zat, a conflicted, philandering detective trying to solve the crime.
What distinguishes this from any number of murder mysteries is the undercurrent of misery that seems to plague all the characters. Zat's philandering is bereft of any joy or excitement, it is furtive and uncomfortable. Knox and Somers are terminally depressed over their child's murder and virtually every member of the supporting cast buckles under the weight of their own cross. Whatever greatness this film aspires to or attains is attributable to the extraordinary caliber of acting. From the next door neighbor to Zat's partner, every member of the cast excels in their role. Geoffrey Rush is, of course, sterling. Even the normally over the top Barbara Hershey delivers a restrained and superior performance as the tortured psychiatrist balancing on the edge of a breakdown. Clearly not a happy movie, Lantana does what the best of cinema can do, it allows us to slip on another's shoes for a moment, see life from another perspective and, in so doing, illuminates and broadens our own view.
Ho-Hum. The Cradle rocked me to sleep. We saw the jump off the building, the land in the jeep, the holographic map, the jump and roll while shooting stuff and the cool silver diving suit on previews or jeep commercials already. The super evil bad guy (he of Nobel prize winning accomplishment who decided to turn SMERSH-like super criminal) is about as threatening as a grouchy grocery sacker. And have we seen this before? I mean how many more times will we see the nameless Level 2 bad guys sitting around a table listening to the Level 1 bad guy holding forth on his motives for stealing the nuclear weapon, poisoning the ocean, pushing the Earth out of orbit super plot. Bad enough right? Well, this time the Level 1 bad guy gets rid of the traitorous Level 2 bad guy (who is actually a good guy because he turned on the Level 1 bad guy) with a super fast acting Ebola virus served in a cognac glass. Now everyone has to take a nasty looking black pill with the antidote so they don't get Ebola. Gone are the days of dropping the traitorous Level 2 bad guy out of a plane, or into a shark tank, or electrocuting him in his chair yaddah yaddah yaddah. Now this wasn't a total waste of time I suppose so why am I so mad about it? Need a life? Got one. Must be something else. Maybe it's Angelina's necklace of Billy Bob's blood? Nah.
Maybe I'm jealous because I just don't get Lara. I don't get her because I never played the video game maybe? She is a cardboard cut out of a character, no blood, no sweat, no heart. Well, she does have blood, I'll admit. She cuts her arm to attract a Great White she saw earlier so she can punch it in the nose and then grab a ride on its fin. Uh-huh. OK. This is a video game as movie, I've got to get my arms around this concept. Maybe I can rent the Mario Brothers movie. Have we made a movie of Pong yet? I really liked Pong, maybe Pong could come to life and save the world from a mad scientist who wants to sell the atmosphere to some aliens who ruined theirs with too many SUVs. Pong could block all the SUV's with a really cool sliding motion across the highway. That would be cool. I could get into that. I just can't get into rich girl Lara and her English estate and butlers and man servants and what must be a huge heating bill. Those castle things are really hard to heat. So maybe we could tie the heating bill into the SUV thing for a sequel. Wait a minute. I'm getting all mixed up. I better go do a reality check. Maybe I can catch the Prez talking about his opposition to slavery while thousands die in Liberia from Cholera because we don't want to risk any soldiers keeping peace in dirty old Africa. Now Liberia was founded by freed American slaves but what does that have to do with Dubyah's opposition to slavery? I need a glass of cognac...
The Fugitive had the an incredible train wreck in the first ten minutes, Castaway had an amazing plane crash in the first ten minutes, Tomb Raider has a great action sequence in the first ten minutes, how come they all went downhill from there? Angelina Jolie plays the role a little too seriously and the bungee battle scene was a little hard to believe. I mean even if you are jumping around on bungees one would think nine guys with automatic weapons would get at least one hit. The theft of time itself went a bit beyond the pale. Of course all this is in the context of a movie based on a video game. In this episode, the Illuminati (don't go there, there is a whole sub-culture of bizarre conspiracy theorists that link Kissinger to the Masons to some ancient alien civilization - see The Skulls if you really must) have hired Lara's arch-enemy (arch-lover?) to find the two pieces of the triangle in time for the planetary alignment. If joined at the right place and the right time, the one joining the two pieces will possess power to go back and forth in time. This triangle was split in two and hidden on opposite ends of the earth by the wise people who recognized this sort of power was not for us humans. Lara, then, must destroy the triangle. Guess the ancient wise ones weren't so wise after all. Instead of breaking the triangle in two and hiding it, why didn't they just destroy it?
Character and plot development are both a bit sketchy but maybe we're supposed to know more from the video game. Since golf is the only video game I've ever played, I'll have to wait for Tiger Woods: Grave Robber to fully appreciate the video game-to-action movie genre. Can't wait to see that Tiger arm pump thing on the big screen with special effects.
Lots of buzz about Forest Whitaker made this a must see. The rehabilitation of Idi Amin would be a tough sell for the poster child of evil African dictator. An amateur pugilist he was rumored to have dealt death sentences personally. Clearly much too much larger than life to render meaningfully into a two hour film. Kevin Macdonald does his cause little service by having us divide our focus with a dilettante child doctor. James McAvoy is easy to watch but the character he is asked to play is so thin and poorly drawn as to be little more than distraction. I turned to my friend when our young doctor decides to sleep with Amin's number three wife and asked, "is any one that stupid?" She answered correctly, " young boys." I heard that once before from a woman priest describing a male colleague working his girlfriend's gams into a sermon. We do some pretty amazing things when in the clutch of testosterone. Nonetheless, it was too much to ask that we believe even a Scottish rake would risk torture and death for a roll in the hay. Come to think of it, Gillian Anderson (Scully from the X-Files) playing a sunbleached British nurse could get me to risk much. But I digress. As did The Last King of Scotland. Too often Amin's maniacal behavior was foreshadowed and too often we knew what was coming. The raid on Entebbe even made an appearance. We were asked to believe a Scottish doctor was smuggled out on the Gentile plane that left early on in the stand-off between Palestinian hijackers and the Israeli government. The Last King had a Readers Digest feel to it, extra large type and condensed to the point of a PowerPoint presentation.
What is it about sub-Saharan Africa that attracts such monumental evil? 300,000 Ugandans lost their lives under Amin, more than that were hacked to death in the eighties when the Hutu and Tutsi's went at it. Several hundred thousand are dead and dying under Sudanese rule. We cluck our tongue and bemoan the price of gas. What do we say to our children? We were too busy adjusting our 401K to do anything?
The Last Mimzy 04.17.07
The future is struggling to survive and has been trying to communicate with the past by sending talking stuffed animals back to alert us. They only have the resources for one more try and so they send the last... you guessed it "Mimzy." This is a delightful children's film with adult thematic elements. It's too sweet to reach a wider audience, no one is tortured and nothing gets blown up but it is a charming story intelligently told.
Last Orders 03.24.02
Michael Caine as Jack, the friend gone ahead, Tom Courtenay as Vic the undertaker, David Hemmings as Lenny the bitter boxer and Bob Hoskins as Ray, the lucky one, Helen Mirren as Amy, Jack's widow, and Ray Winstone (Sexy Beast) as Vince, Jack and Amy's son. Like Tea with Mussolini, with this many stellar talents together, no matter how bad the script and direction, you can't go wrong. Last Orders meanders a bit and the dialogue is occasionally forced in an effort to clarify character development but it nonetheless succeeds. It is a story more bitter than sweet, more painful than uplifting. Jack, on his deathbed, says to Ray, "It's all a gamble isn't it?" The odds are with the house, though, and to break even is as much any of these characters hope to do.
The Last Samurai 12.06.03
I went expecting the worst. Tom Cruise is a talented actor but unable to lift a mediocre movie on his sloped shoulders without a lot of help. He gets help in bucketfuls from co-star Ken Watanabe as Katsumoto, the next to last Samurai, screenwriter John Logan, and veteran TV producer/director Edward Zwick (thirtysomething, My So Called Life). I admit to tearing up during the macho bonding stuff and sniffing my way through the honor and service parts. Maybe it was a short ugly brutish life then but the people seemed more defined, their character more visible, and more important to them. I have to stop now, though, because someone else needs the computer. Suffice to say The Last Samurai is several cuts above Pearl Harbor, the last overly long battle movie to which I went expecting little. Pearl Harbor was no surprise, The Last Samurai was a pleasant one.
The really emotional screaming scene nearly always fails. Either the actors aren't up to it or the dialogue doesn't support it. Even if the acting is good enough and the dialogue is real enough, if the director hasn't framed it right or is too busy "contributing" with odd angles, it falls flat. Christian Bale (Sam) and Kate Beckinsale (Alex) are the actors, the dialogue and direction are Lisa Cholodenko's and the scene is perfect. Sam is confronting Alex over her apparent infidelity with his mother's (Frances McDormand as Jane) boyfriend. It lasts about thirty seconds and tells us more about the characters than the preceding hour of film and dialogue. Not that the preceding hour was wasted, it was grand. From the opening shots of LA to the final moments in the pool at Jane's Laurel Canyon studio/home, everything works. Rare enough, but rarer still, this is a film about the heart. The heart and our inability to control it. We too often think we control our lives, that we have a plan and that plan can be realized if only we work or study or pray hard enough. But then feelings we can no more control than the Sun rise up and make their desires known. We follow, helpless. To a train wreck or bliss, who knows? Resist, though, and risk your soul. Surrender, and have a little fun on the way.
Once, when I was much much younger, I tried mixing a drink using all the alcohol in the house. We were a sociable (read alcoholic) family so the concoction covered the breadth of whiskeys, gin, vodka, and vermouth. I shudder now just to think of it. Nasty mess, it saw the sink before the ice had time to melt. I recalled this doomed experiment this evening as I fought the urge to walk out on The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. This hodge-podge of a movie begins with a bloated David Hemmings claiming to be Allan Quatermain and looking much like a recently uncloseted Richard Chamberlain who had let himself go. I was prepared to accept the once sexy Hemmings (from Antonioni's BlowUp) as Quatermain when Sean Connery pokes his head from around an overstuffed chair and declares himself the real Allan Quatermain. I half expected Kitty Carlisle to howl from the wings but, alas, these folks appeared to be taking themselves seriously. No winks at the camera here. Before we have time to say, "deliver us from evil cinema" our hero has dispatched half a dozen machinegun-wielding long-coat wearing, foreign-accent laden, head-shaven bad guys, the last of whom he brings down with a long range shot a la Quigley Down Under. This attack by foreign nationals compels our aging hero to accept Her Majesty's offer to join the fight against a monstrous plot to plunge the world into war. The war appears to be on us as the result of an uncontrollable arms race spurred by the introduction of cool new weaponry. The introducer is none other than The Phantom, a scarred up guy with a gorilla hair wig and purposeless mask. Purposeless as it would probably not diminish the chances of an unmasked scarface guy passing unrecognized through the crowds. Vanity can't be its aim as it poorly hides the scarification. But I digress.
The real dagger in the heart of this dreadful feature is the composition of the League. Ready for a roll-call? Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde (Jason Flemyng), Johnathan (the original Vampire Slayer) Harker's widow Mina (Peta Wilson of "B" sex films and lately USA Network's Nikita), Captain Nemo (Naseeruddin Shah) and his first mate Ishmael, The Invisible Man (Tony Curran), Dorian Gray (Stuart Townsend), and Tom Sawyer (Shane West). Nearly every one of these characters was created and developed by a great writer within the framework of a masterwork of literature. Robert Louis Stevenson bore Mr. Hyde, Bram Stoker created Harker, Captain Nemo was a product of Jules Verne's imagination, The Invisible Man penned by H.G. Wells, Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, and Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain. What we have here is a hack, borrowing the characters created and formed by some of our great writers, slapping them together with some cheesy special effects and throwing them into action sequences as imaginative as a third season episode of Starsky and Hutch. This is worse than bad filmmaking, it is plagiarism of character coupled with an utter lack of respect for the audience. Hold on while I check the rating. As I feared, PG 13. This is a movie directed at teenage boys. And they should feel as insulted as the rest of us. From a man who honed his skills in film creating scary rubber miniatures and came into his own as the writer/director of Death Machine.
Pandering, puerile putrid pile of wasted celluloid.
We likely have Ann Rice to thank for the current revival of the vampire genre with her paen to New Orleans' Garden District and the vampires who therein reside. Two of her vampire novels, Interview With a Vampire and The Vampire Lestat, made it the big screen. The more ambitious The Witching Hour, is still best and fortunately only enjoyed in text mode. Her tribute to the Garden District architecture is unparalelled in its descritive power (from Inteview With a Vampire I recall) and she can, on occassion, pen a profoundly frightening passage - a nightime bedroom moment made me stop reading out of sheer terror. Sadly, Ms. Rice seems to have lost her way more than once, a daliance with pornography and a recent embrace of her childhood Catholicism make her vampire novels seem all the rarer. More current is HBO's 2008 entry for outstanding drama starring Anna Paquin as the charismatic human vampire companion, Suzy Stackhouse. Trueblood, the latest inspiration of HBO whiz kid Alan Ball (his prior odd vehicle was based on a family of undertakers) just completed season one. Set in a near future, Trueblood's vampires have come out of the coffin and mix openly, if gingerly, with the rest of us.
The feature film Let the Right One in is set in a less welcoming atmosphere than the Garden District, the grimy industrial wasteland of a not so idyllic Sweden. The vampire in the story is a twelve year old girl (Eli), cared for by a bumbling but loyal father. Eli meets a sensitive, friendless boy her own age (Oscar) and against her better judgement allows a friendship to develop. Although we see some dreadful adult characters and a handful peers in the film, Let the Right One In is Oscar and Eli's story.
The vampire story is nearly always told in the context of the relationship with a human companion. The enamored lover, the loyal servant, the fascinated person of science, the relentless pursuer, vampires hold little interest for us without the tension of an apparently powerless human foil. Their powerlessness is usually overstated as they hold a fascination and allure for their more deadly counterpart that can, often unbeknownst to the human, reverse the power dynamic. Children only rarely assume the vampire role but, as is the case with Rice's Interview, are aberrations even in the aberrant world of the undead. Not so with Eli. We are immediately drawn to her as she appears in the new snow of a playground where we first meet Oscar at practice challenging the school bully. She is vulnerable and charming.
Vampire characters usually either relish their condition (Lugosi's masterwork or Rice's Lestat come to mind) or have come to grim terms with their fate (Trueblood's rakish southern gent and Eli represent the more complex conflicted type). The current crop of conflicted vampires are surely a product of the times. The ever greater chasm between the rich and the rest of us, the corrupt and the rest of us, the powerful and the rest of us, the amoral and the rest of us, the unchecked poisoning of the air and water, the current great extinction of which we have only recently become aware, the separation of the world's faithful into infidel and blessed (follower versus fundmentalist in Christianity, Islam, even Judaism), the collapse of our rotted financial system, the hollow nature of the institutions that once underpinned the social contract all challenge our historical understanding of right and wrong, even good and evil. The traditional categorical imperative has been overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of that which is broken. If it can all fall apart at once, was it ever once really whole or did we hold it so for our own peace of mind? Was our perception of the duality of life an illusion? Is our present morass merely the expression of our true nature? Was there ever good?
The vampire who glories in their condition is normally center stage in the simplistic Manichian morality play where pure good wrestles with pure evil. A weakness in Rice's Lestat was the one dimensional ancient one, revived and unleashed on a helpless humanity. Her character was, because she was entirely and simply evil, not particularly interesting. The reluctant or weary vampire presents a far more complex and compelling subject and can occupy, in spite of what we are misguidedly taught by the simple purveyor of conventional wisdom who all too often passes for teacher, a place with the great characters of literature.
We too often relegate artistic expression which broaches the boundary of the real and explores the supernatural or surreal to an inferior rank, not worthy of serious attention and analysis and certainly not of a piece with the great works of our literary corpus. Shelly's Frankenstein, Poe's The Telltale Heart, Tolkein's Trilogy of the Ring, Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land, Asimov's Foundation may be seen by many as classics but classics of a lesser rank to The Iliad or Hamlet or One Hundred Years of Solitude. Despite Achilles' skin made impenetrable by a dip in the River Styx, or Hamlet's running conversation with a ghost, or Marquez's magical realism, these are the tales that purport to light our way and the works worthy of our effort to apprehend and appreciate in all their complexity while the stories of Poe, Tolkein and the rest may entertain and scare but illuminate naught.
The character who despite the recognition of their dark and destructive nature reaches for an unattainable purity and denied innocence represents the nobility that survives at the heart of our darkness in which we while away our lives and is the ultimate expression of what it means to be alive in a dying world, reaching for an ever receding light in the deepening gloom. Our struggle for meaning is anchored to these polar opposites and any exploration of that struggle is worthy of attention and can, in the right hands, approach the sublime.
The vampire, as many of the sentient among us are compelled to do, spend most of their time wrapped around the pole of grim acceptance. Always on a guarded search for anything or anyone toward which we can pull ourselves and gain some distance from the sad, brutal, and often horrific reality of life, we are, as the multi-faceted demons of Trueblood and Let the Right One In are, enamored of and drawn to the apparently innocent. Never as innocent or pure as we hope or imagine, the objects of our desire are often drawn to our dark selves in a perverse mirror of our attraction to their purity but are nonetheless the stanchions to which we attach our better selves. Are we the demons struggling against our nature or are we the innocent, fascinated by and drawn to the darkness? Both, of course, and perhaps in this duality lies the current fascination with the vampire and the companion. In a world as dark as the one we have made for ourselves, perhaps it is only through the sharply drawn outline of what has historically passed for the embodiment of evil, the undead feasting on the blood of the living, that we can feel past our nightmare to the dim but persistent pull of a purity we have all but forgotten, to an innocence we all once knew and all wish to know again.
Letters From Iwo Jima 02.03.07
I guess I went expecting too much. Maybe seeing this battle from the Japanese perspective was revolutionary for some but I've always been uncomfortable with the American lives lost theme. I heard Wesley Clark extolling his accomplishments the other day and near the top he listed commanding the troops in the war in Kosovo without losing a single American life. No mention of the tens of thousands Albanians, Serbs, and Croats killed. We all keep up with the number of American dead in the Iraq war but how many know the number of Iraqi dead? Try Googling "Iraq war dead." The first page of results is all about US casualties. Then you get some links to civilian dead (60,000). But the total number of human beings dead? That's not news. So, along comes Clint Eastwood with a film about some regular Japanese folks being burned to death by American flamethrowers and some ordinary Japanese POW's shot for being inconvenient. Must be tough for the old codgers to watch. My father wouldn't let me buy Japanese tennis shoes when I was a child because "they did this to me," as he slapped his bum leg.
As we watched "The Twenty" waiting for the show to start, we were early because the four PM showing of The Aviator was sold out, a group of hippie wanna-bes came in. All the guys had straight long hair, one wore a headband and one a poncho. Sending one for drinks with the instruction to get the free-refill kind, the horde sat down in the row behind us. About half way through my seat mate turned to me and said, "I guess you have to be stoned to get it." She was right. I certainly didn't get it. I got Rushmore and thought The Royal Tenenbaums was brilliant. The Life Aquatic didn't even get to the level of silly. It was just dumb. Cate Blanchett has never looked lovelier and that's the only positive memory I'm likely to take away.
Having never received a death sentence, I can only guess at the impact one might have on my life. Would I build a house? Maybe. If I owned a piece of the most sought after real estate in the world, a cliff-side lot overlooking the Pacific Ocean, it might take a death sentence to make me want to arrange a porch or window to take advantage of the view. Maybe not, though. Maybe, if I were fired from my job building models of houses, then I might find the proper motivation to elevate myself from squalor. But yet and still, it might take my sixteen-year-old son's descent into the depravity of glue sniffing auto-erotica and male prostitution to fire me up to build that house. Certainly, though, all three together would do it. Yes, absolutely. That's the ticket.
Where do characters like this come from? Is this the product of some effete boarding schools mid-term assignment? Or maybe some romantic novel addicts foray into the world or writing? Is it possible that Osama is opening a second front in his war against our culture? Devilishly clever fiend that he is.
OK, the good news, Hayden Christensen is excellent as a miserable teen-ager. Kristin Scott Thomas maintains her understated brilliance. Kevin Kline's charm transcends almost any material and Mary Steenburgen does ditzy as good as anyone.
I guessed this film's "socko" finish from the previews. Two hours of Kevin Spacey, Laura Linney, and Kate Winslet promised to make the trek to the local mega-plex worthwhile regardless.
The first indication that something was amiss was veteran director Alan Parker's segue to flashback. The camera tilts 90 degrees this way and 180 that while jump cutting to scrawled single words on paper, words like "justice" or "murder" or "evidence." I think it would have been less distracting and more informative to have Parker shout, "CUT" and then show the grips setting up the flashback scene. It reminded me of the spinning segue's from the old Batman TV series. I was certainly not prepared for the really cheesy stuff that followed.
Our heroine, Bitsey (Winslet), is running with a videotape that will exonerate Gale (Spacey) if she can get to the prison in time. She's running because her rental car overheated. We have been foreshadowed as if we're rocks that the car will fail; was it three or just two times that the car overheats prior to this? Anyway, we see her running down the highway and into town, THROUGH A CEMETERY (oh the irony of it all!), en route to the prison. Will she make it? Will Gale be saved? In an even more critical earlier scene, she checks out her hotel room after someone plants the tape for her to find. Plants may not be right, it was hanging from the ceiling. Hanging? Hmmm? More importantly, will there be someone behind the shower curtain when she pulls it back? Well, no, but that was sure a breathless moment of cinematic suspense for utterly no reason whatsoever. But then, the movie itself may have no reason whatsoever. It does make Texas and Texans look pretty bad, but not for the obvious reason. It's not even an indictment of capital punishment. Will someone tell me why this movie was ever made?
Lanie Kerigan (Angelina Jolie) suffers an identity crisis when she learns from a Seattle street prophet she only has six days to live. Teamed with guru Pete (Edward Burns), the cameraman, she learns what's really important, or so it seems. How come in my entire life I've never met a prophet, never talked to a guru, and never suffered an identity crisis? OK, maybe an identity crisis or two. Life in the movies is just so much more interesting than the pedestrian path I'm compelled to tread. But enough about me.
Stockard Channing plays a Barbara Walters media maven and Tony Shalhoub is the street prophet. Edward Burns seems incapable of playing anything except the coolest guy you'd ever want to meet, and this time he didn't have to write his own character. The opening scene has Lanie on a hospital gurney reflecting on her life so there isn't much in the way of unexpected plot twists to keep us interested. Thankfully, the director (the accomplished Stephen Herek) keeps the pace up so we don't get too bored waiting for the inevitable. In the films most memorable scene, Lanie loses her professional persona and gets down with some striking transit workers. Miss Jolie transcends her slight character for those few minutes and the result is thoroughly captivating.
A single mother recently asked me about Lilo & Stitch.
The Limits of Control 05.30.09
Densely beautiful and beautifully dense film. Some guy goes from incredible locale to more incredible locale interacting with ever more bizarre characters using a matchbox as medium. Eventually he runs into Bill Murray channeling Dick Cheney. Tilda Swinton, Gael Garcia Bernal, Paz de la Huerta, and John Hurt make cameos as matchbook wielding comrades of Isaach de Bankole, the man with a mission we aren't privy to. A don't miss film because, if for no other reason, it is filmed by a director (Jim Jarmusch) who knows how to frame a shot and frames them in tragically beautiful and beautifully tragic Spain.
The title comes from a line Robert Redford (Professor Wisdom-War Hero-Protestor) uses to disdainfully describe the present war as "lambs leading lions" or "lions leading lambs." I really can't remember but what it meant was the people ordering others to die are worthless scumbags and the people doing the dying are heroes. As if it weren't always so. World War I generals sat back and ordered countless waves of young men to pointless deaths in a trench warfare made obsolete by machine guns. Early on, Peter Berg (he directed The Kingdom) quotes Clausewitz to his charges; Plato and Socrates make an appearance, as do Lincoln and Kennedy. Lions for Lambs veritably drips with names and philosophy. I guess Robert Redford and writer Matthew Michael Carnahan (he wrote The Kingdom that Berg directed) want to give a fair and balanced presentation. Mainly they use a caring (he tears up in one scene) Tom Cruise as Senator Fascist to present the argument for continued traditional war against an untraditional enemy. The incomparable Meryl Streep is Reporter Jaded, who almost falls for the "new strategy," but then recognizes the same old thinking that wasted nearly sixty thousand young men in Vietnam. She eventually sells out and helps Senator Fascist sell the "new strategy" that we get to see is stillborn. We see that through the bungled effort to "take the high ground" in Afghanistan that craters two of Professor Good Guys former students that enlisted to give credibility to their belief that engagement at home would be a good thing. They also wanted to avoid debt and have Uncle Sam pay for college.
This film is so busy giving both sides to every issue I'm surprised we don't get to see little baby blips of the Al Qaeda soldiers daddy blips on the drone's infra-red camera. But then I'm so cynical these days that even Redford's whole-hearted effort to protest the idiocy that passes for our leadership seems a pointless excersize. It is certainly heavy handed. I thought In the Valley of Elah was a much smarter and more damning anti-war film. That we need smart anti-war films is the real tragedy, though. When I see people driving around with W The President and Bush-Cheney bumper stickers I am reminded of just how stupid most people are. The naive version of me would have expected anyone with an ounce of shame to be out in the middle of the night desperately trying to scrape off any reminder that they once thought this criminal government of ours was good for anything but making the rich richer. But then maybe that's what they are saying to us. That is all that they care about. Maybe Bush and his criminal cronies don't care about any of this. Maybe they just want to make the rich richer. They certainly act like that's all they care about. Tax breaks that give millionaires a $168,000 break while the working class gets $45 back. A prescription drug bill that prevents negotiation for lower drug costs. A city in ruins about which we do nothing - New Orleans, not Baghdad. Lambs leading Lions, Lions leading Lambs, Criminals leading Criminally Negligent. Whatever...
Madam Bovary pops up in a book discussion group and Sarah Pierce (Kate Winslett) leans forward to say she thinks M. Bovary is a heroine for struggling to break free of her ordinary life. The struggle, she says, is what gives life meaning. If that is so, Little Children overflows with meaningful lives. Everyone struggles in this slice of modern suburbia. The film opens with a voice over the scene in a neighborhood park with Sarah sitting apart from the three cookie cutter soccer moms. Along comes Brad, aka Prom King (Patrick Wilson), and Sarah's life is soon spinning out of control. Or she takes control of her life, depending on whether you are a M. Bovary fan or critic. Nearly every character in Little Children is rich, nuanced, and believable. The only two dimensional character is Sarah's husband Richard (Gregg Edelman) and even he gets a moment in the sun at a dinner party. Jennifer Connelly is Brad's wife, a dedicated and caring PBS producer disconnected from her own life. Sarah is a a vital woman and a terrible mother. Brad is a romantic, a great father and a bit of a dufus. Even the sexual predator (Mooch from Break Away) gets to be three dimensional. Seeing Little Children reminds me why I go to the movies. I left the theater wondering who I was and why. First rate in every way.
Looked a little silly from the previews but the barrage of press eventually won out and off we went. Everyone in this dark comedy is brilliant and none more so than Ms. Collette. As Richard's (Greg Kinnear) long suffering wife she is the only thing making life bearable for the rest of the family. Granddad (Alan Arkin) is a junkie, Uncle Frank (Steve Carell) an unsuccessful suicide, son Dwayne has taken a vow of silence in honor of his hero Nietzsche, Richard is a pathetic salesman selling his own creation, Nine Steps to Happiness, to any willing buyers (there are none) and daughter Olive (Abigail Breslin) is hoping to win the coveted Little Miss Sunshine title. Directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris draw on their extensive music video experience to create a fast paced and hilarious study of this group of misfits. Along the way we are treated to some very smart dialogue capped by an uproarious indictment of the criminally obscene spectacle of the beauty pageant for children.
First of all, this is a movie, not a book. If you want something to be as good as the book then read something else as good as the book. C.S. Lewis' The Narnia Chronicles or Isaac Asimov's Foundation series. Don't go to a movie and expect the same experience as when you read. These are entirely different experiences, engaging entirely different parts of the brain. Compare, if you will, Michelangelo's Pieta with the lament from the thirteenth Station of the Cross, as Jesus is laid in the arms of His Mother, "All those who pass by, come see is there any sorrow like my sorrow, my soul is in tumult and my eyes are spent with weeping." Of the same subject, certainly, but entirely different experiences. Hear someone say they like the statue better than the lament and you'd look at them like they were from Mars, or you should. Enough of the book to movie comparisons, please.
The movie is a moral tale, an heroic quest, an action, adventure and suspense film all in one. Apart from an over-dependence on special effects, some stale acting from Elijah Wood as Frodo (he was more animated in Deep Impact as Leo Biederman), and a too-pat casting of Christopher Lee as Saruman, The Fellowship of the Ring is a delight. Of particular note were Cate Blanchett and Liv Tyler as Galadriel and Arwen, supernatural mother/defender figures. Even at three hours, The Fellowship is taut and compelling.
The second installment of Tolkein's Lord of the Rings is the one most attractive to young boys. "It's the battle one," a young friend shared the other day, "I wouldn't go, but it's supposed to be all battle and I love that." The Two Towers is, ostensibly, "the battle one." The great armies of Men and Elves versus the Orc and their spawn do battle while Frodo, Samwise, and a Gollum made possible by the miracle of digitalization, make their way to Mordor and the fires of Mt. Doom. A revived Gandalf and a determined Aragorn lead the battered remnants of Gondor against the combined armies of Sauron and Saruman at Helm's Deep.
The themes in Book 2 are courage, hope, and loyalty. Courage abounds in battle, hope continues to be kindled even at the darkest of hours, and loyalty presents itself in battle, love, and friendship
Some of my more learned friends may deride my confession that I hold Tolkein's Trilogy as one of the great works of literature. I see it on par with the epic tales of Chaucer and Homer. The heroic quest, laying dormant in the ancient, all but inaccessible tomes of Chaucer and Homer, is delivered anew to modern times through Tolkein's inspired hand.
If only the line between good and evil were so easily drawn. We see hints of the sad reality in which we live in references to "the weakness of men" and their easy corruption by power and in Frodo's dawning realization that Gollum was once "a regular fellow not unlike a Hobbit." These subtleties are dwarfed, though, by the twin Towers of Evil. Like today's Axis of Evil, Sauron and Saruman are nothing but bad and deserve any horrible fate the powers of good can dish out. Dangerously, too many of us see the world in these simple terms and are prepared to act out of that ignorance. We have embarked on our own epic struggle against perceived evil and are prepared to bring down all who oppose us. From the hunt for a clearly mad and guilty bin Laden, we have broadened our target scope to include the bad guy Sadaam. Once Iraq has been remade we will no doubt seek "regime change" in North Korea, Syria, and then what, Venezuela? We no longer have a foreign policy, we have a mission. Like George W's born-again fundamentalism, we have supplanted a complex and rich spirituality with a judgmental, singular obsession.
The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King 12.29.03
"Everyone's talking about Lord of the Rings this and Lord of the Rings that and I feel left out," she said. She walked out of the first installment after fifteen minutes because she was bored.
"That's crazy," I told her. "Are you telling me if a movie doesn't thrill you in the first fifteen minutes you walk out?"
"I didn't feel like being at the movies that day," she explained.
I can buy that. I don't go on those days for that very reason. But that's me. She wasn't done.
"Those people are just stupid - wizards and goblins, they totally wasted three hours of their lives."
"Wait a minute," I said. "You're right, wizards and goblins, sure, but it's also about loyalty and sacrifice and friendship."
"May be, but the fools I know don't get that, they just want to see arms and heads chopped off."
She's right, of course. I absolutely loved the siege and the catapults and battering rams. The effete people I know wouldn't be caught dead cheering for elves. But she's wrong too.
"So, you're in line at the store with your ten year old daughter and the lady in front of you is short seven cents. You make up the difference. Your daughter thinks she saw you give seven cents to a stranger. What she really saw was kindness and generosity. If you had a talk with her about karma or Jesus or the existential imperative to act altruistically, she would nod off. Instead, you model behavior hoping she'll emulate. Great art does that, of course."
Many, if not most, would shy away from putting any film on a par with The Thinker or The Scream. But if the measure of great art is the twin metric of evocation of feeling on the part of the viewer and that evocation occurs over multiple generations, then film can only qualify on the first count. Few films have survived multiple generations and the ones that have find a smaller audience with each succeeding generation. A Place in the Sun, Suddenly Last Summer, The Wizard of Oz, even The Sound of Music have lasted through a handful of generations but the audience shrinks each generation. Is it the art that fails or the medium? The hyper colors of The Sound of Music and The Wizard of Oz speak more to the newfound Technicolor engine than the eye. The color saturation of those films distracts and ultimately detracts from the value of the work. The black and white Place in the Sun and Suddenly Last Summer, though, maintain their power, if not their audience. More time will tell but my vote is in the affirmative, great film is great art. I no doubt find myself in the minority, though when I put The Lord of the Rings in the company of The Wizard and the VonTrapp family singers, marvelously entertaining but ultimately dated by the limitations of the medium. While the new digital realism scores high in The Rings, the wasteland of Mordor and the army of Orcs can only truly be realized in the imagination. On screen, the mind is prevented from seeing the land and the characters as they were meant to be seen, through the imagination.
Still, a wonderfully entertaining and magnificently attempted enterprise, worth many times the price of admission.
Piper Perabo, last seen as the only memorable element in the forgettable Coyote Ugly, is powerful and convincing as Pauline (Pauly) Oster, one of the "Lost Girls" at an exclusive all-girl boarding school. She and her roommates, Jessica ParÚ as Victoria Moller, and Mischa Barton as Mary Bradford/aka Mouse/aka Mary B for brave, deal with each other, their classmates, their teachers (only two of whom seem to teach the entire school), their absent family, and their feelings of love and loss, in this visually rich, passion-filled and articulate drama. Pauline and Victoria are in love and headed for a crash. Victoria wants to "grow out" of her love for Pauline in order to maintain her familial bonds. It's never clear if her interest in holding onto her parents is driven by practical motives (they're rich) or real feeling. She describes herself as addicted to her mother, whom we never see, but is described by Victoria as cold and shallow. She repeatedly confesses her love for Pauline but breaks off the relationship when caught in bed with Pauly by her little sister. Pauline lives a life of high drama, and when she is dumped by Victoria and her biological mother in the same week, abandons what few social niceties she once held. Her English class is immersed in the study of romantic love and Pauline takes the dramatic characters protestations about lost love to heart.
Described as a lesbian, Pauly protests, "is that what you think of me? I'm not a lesbian, I'm Pauly in love with Victoria." Although we may never break free of our need to label and categorize each other, it is refreshing to be occasionally held to a higher standard. Sadly, too few people will see this film and still fewer understand its message.
The Lost City 07.05.06
It was only after reading Joan Didion's Miami that I came to terms with how entirely hopeless it is to ever truly comprehend what it is to be the other. When that which separates one from an other includes the fundamentals of race, ethnicity, gender, the distance between who we are and who they are is compounded almost beyond recognition. We can empathize, understand, care, even love, but we can never know. Maybe that which separates most of us from the Ghandis and Kings is their ability to move closer to the knowledge of the other. Or maybe they were no closer than we, maybe the separation between us is as immutable as the speed of light.
In any event, Andy Garcia's film The Lost City seeks to bridge the chasm that separates us from understanding what it means to lose your homeland. Taken over by what Garcia, as most exiled Cubans, believes is an evil empire of heartless thugs, the Cuba of his birth was a beautiful and multi-faceted paradise, presided over by an effete and ruthless dictator. Missing the opportunity to effect change through the democratic process, his Cuba was lost to the mindless mechanics of a socialist dictatorship. The politics are too close to the surface and too strident to allow us the luxury of warming to Garcia's romantic notion of his lost home. The Lost City is a propaganda film. For all its beauty and intelligence, of which it is full, we never go more than a few scenes without having to face the mindless evil of a revolution gone south. I have no doubts that had Batista been replaced with a democratically elected leader the Cuba we know from The Lost City and Havana would have been replaced by a giant Atlantic City replete with McDonalds and Surf 'N Turf's on every corner. The poor would have been relegated to their perennial position in the name of free enterprise instead of liberty or equality. I've always had a fondness for this radical island standing in proud defiance of it's gauche neighbor. Thanks to Ms. Didion, though, I now have no faith that I can ever know what would have been best - Fidel or Vegas.
Found in Isolation might be a better title. What an encouraging movie. Two isolated people find each other in an isolating environment. They make contact; they don't make love or a million dollars or an energy efficient car. From above the bed in which they lay fully clothed, he (Bill Murray as over the hill movie star Bob Harris) puts his hand over her (Scarlett Johansson as philosophy major newlywed Charlotte) foot. He doesn't stroke it or squeeze it, he lightly touches it. The way these two otherwise lonely people touch each other - lightly. This is an exquisite study of the possible. No matter how lost or tired or lonely, compassion and salvation can be as close as the next person. We will almost always miss it. Even when we see it we usually muck it up with sex or greed or fear. But sometimes it can happen. Sometimes our humanity can be shared. With profound grace and beauty Sofia Coppola shows us this redemptive truth. Halleluiah!
Lost Souls 10.14.00
There is a cinematographic effect that yields a soft, grainy, washed-out effect on screen. Like most cinematographic effects, it is designed to create a mood, communicate an atmosphere, signify something. The bright pastels of But I'm A Cheerleader create a cartoonish effect making the bizarre inhabitants of the True Directions camp seem all the more ridiculous. The hand-held 16mm of "The Blair Witch Project" creates the home movie, "this must be real," atmosphere necessary to sell the construct of that film. The soft, grainy, washed-out effect achieved by Janusz Kaminski (cinematographer of Saving Private Ryan and Schindler's List) in Lost Souls is designed to... make this look like a documentary? I couldn't tell. Most of the action occurs at night or in semi-darkness. Of course, this is a movie about the AntiChrist, it has to be dark. But what Kaminski was trying to accomplish escaped me.
Another example of an awesome skill set (Kaminski's abilities with a camera are remarkable) gone to waste on a story with no soul. This is a dark, depressing and oppressive film of the Book of Revelations claim that the AntiChrist will come to wreak havoc on Earth.
Winona Ryder, the only bright spot in this movie, plays a once-possessed woman, called upon by the Priest who previously exorcised her evil spirits, dedicated to stopping the AntiChrist. I had more faith in Arnold Schwarzenegger in his battle with Gabriel Byrne in End of Days. Winona is, though, much more fun to watch than Arnold.
I watched about fifteen minutes of this from the wings last week and then saw the film in its entirety last night. I would have not gone back after my fifteen stolen minutes. Big mistake. Like opening a Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel in the middle, reading a page or two and pronouncing it uninteresting.
Giovanna Mezzogiorno and Javier Bardem were magnificent as Fermina and Florentino, Benjamin Bratt may never equal his performance in Pinero but he was believable as Dr. Urbino. John Leguizamo sounded like Marlon Brando doing Brooklyn. Leguizamo does seem to be enormously gifted but does he have to try so hard?
I don't know where I got the idea this was a happy movie. The previews maybe. This is about broken people. Big sister Michelle (the brilliant and always convincing Catherine Keener) is in a loveless marriage with a cold callous jerk. We meet her trying to sell her miniature chairs to an upscale trinket shop. She runs into an old middle school mate who, she learns much to her surprise, is now a pediatrician. Michelle was the homecoming queen and her classmate was a hopeless loser. The roles have reversed. Little sister Elizabeth (Emily Mortimer) is a narcissistic and insecure struggling actress. Mom (Brenda Blethyn) is about to undergo liposuction and asks Michelle to watch her adopted daughter Annie, an eight year old black girl with an eating disorder (Raven Goodwin), for a couple of days.
Lovely and Amazing takes us through a week in the lives of this unhappy trio. What makes this film attractive is their accessibility. What makes it rewarding is their struggle. None of these three would consider surrender. It isn't in their vocabulary. The odds against them are overwhelming but they can't, or won't see it. Annie speaks of her crackhead birth mother the way you and I speak of the weather. Elizabeth stands naked before her new lover and begs a frank assessment, good and bad, of her body. Michelle takes a job at the one hour photo after failing to sell her home made wrapping paper. Mom thinks maybe her liposuction doctor is flirting with her. Through it all we empathize more than we sympathize. Their lives, like ours, occupy the space between tragic and heroic, in sight of both, touching neither. Painful to watch but as real as it gets.
Clever dialogue trapped in an absurd premise decorated with grand actors. Relative newcomer Josh Hartnett not only holds his own with veterans Sir (he's billed this way now, heaven help us) Ben Kingsley, Morgan Freeman, Stanley Tucci and Bruce Willis, but especially when he and Lucy Liu share the screen, outshines them all. He is a delight to watch until what was for the first ninety minutes a zany if not light-hearted farce, turns ugly and leadenly serious. The entire enterprise sinks under the weight of the unnecessarily grim conclusion. Still worth seeing for Hartnett's fresh and charming style.
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