Eastwood's Absolute Power Crosses Generations and a President
Find Yourself on Lost Highway
Two Comedies, Austin Powers and Grosse Point Blank
The Saint Likes Women and Vice Versa
The Fifth Element: Tolkien with Special Effects
Kundun and The Boxer: Films with Spiritual/Political Agendas
The Rock and The Cable Guy:
Finally, Fun Films
Event Horizon And Other Pain in the Ear Films
L.A. Confidential: Film Noir and a Half
The Devil's Advocate: A Hot One?
A Juvenile Starship Troopers Thanks to Verhoeven
by Bob Blackwood
Alan Parker's "Evita" is an emotional film. It goes for your heart, not for your head. There is no dialog; it is not necessary. There is song, dance and montage.
Madonna and Antonio Banderas carry off their songs well; Banderas' vocal performance was a pleasant surprise. Madonna's dancing is very good. Jonathan Price, whom I had not seen since "Brazil" and "The Age of Innocence," underplays the role of Juan Peron superbly.
Madonna has already won a Golden Globe award for her acting in this film, yet, in a film with no dialog, the argument can be made that the director, Parker, deserves to be mentioned first. The montage he creates and his mise en scene are what make the film a success, plus, of course, Andrew Lloyd Webber's music.
Other films by Parker, a British director, include such hits as "The Commitments" (1991), "Mississippi Burning" (1988), "Angel Heart" (1987), "Pink Floyd: The Wall" (1981), "Midnight Express" (1978). Parker has a way of capturing a place and a time.
I have seen "Evita" on the stage in Chicago and "Phantom of the Opera" in London, but the images which Parker has brought to bear with this scenario make it an exceptional film, the sort of film which keeps me going to the cineplexes as I wade through the familiar commercial ventures.
Speaking of commercial ventures, let's take Thomas Carter's "Metro" with Eddie Murphy. It is a perfectly acceptable film. People run around San Francisco and shoot at each other in well edited sequences with good pacing. It does have an automobile chase sequence which I believe outclasses the SF chase sequence in "The Rock."
Take away the chase sequence with Eddie Murphy hanging onto a cable car, however, and it is the same old thing. I miss the great comic sequences which Murphy created in "Beverly Hills Cop," another action film which is more than the usual shoot-em-up, such as "Metro" and "The Rock."
Albert Brooks' "Mother" was a funny film about the generation gap. It made me laugh throughout the film. Debbie Reynolds, as the mother, is apparently being set up for an Oscar. "Finally, we can give Debbie one."
Well, she gives a good performance, particularly at the conclusion of the film when she gets some good lines. I could not believe that any mature, independent woman would put up, without vocal objections, with the interference in her life that her son creates when he abruptly moves in after his second divorce. Her character does not ring true throughout most of the picture.
Albert Brooks--who starred in, wrote and directed "Mother"--should be the one to get an award. And, indeed, he has received two for the screenplay from the New York Film Critics and from the National Society of Film Critics. But, alas, Oscars are not given for performances alone but rather for a series of show business reasons.
Clint Eastwood has gotten better. From "High Plains Drifter" (an almost Surreal Western), "Play Misty for Me" (psycho thriller and precursor of "Basic Instinct"), "Byrd" (biography of jazz musician), to his much acclaimed "Unforgiven" (alternative Western), we have seen Eastwood direct different types of films successfully. In "Absolute Power," he folds a father-daughter reconciliation into a thriller.
As a cat burglar who witnesses the murder of a billionaire's wife who is in a rough sex scene with the president of the U.S. (Gene Hackman), Eastwood's character is in a bind. Unfortunately, he sees a hypocritical speech by the president in an airport bar as he is about to leave the country with a phony passport in hand and gets mad. Was that Clint's Dirty Harry curl of the lip?
Then, the thief's daughter (Laura Linney) becomes a target in the cover-up of the murder, orchestrated by White House chief-of-staff (Judy Davis). Davis' performance may be her best yet. She reeks of the arrogance of power and repressed sexuality.
It is too bad that we don't see a bit more of
Judy Davis and of Ed Harris, as the D. C. police investigator of the murder.
The only awkwardness I felt in the film was in Harris' sexual overture
to Linney; there should have been a re-write there.
On the other hand, Harris and Eastwood have a great, character-developing initial discussion where Eastwood kids about his age.
And, yes, it is a bit of a stretch to see a lone thief take on both the White House, a ruthless, vengeful billionaire and the Washington, D.C. police force. But, it works, perhaps because of an unlikely reconciliation between a professional thief, who spent too much time in prison, and his daughter, the assistant district attorney. There are some nice little touches there too; check out the father's disapproval of the contents of his daughter's refrigerator.
It will keep your mind off your troubles and on the screen.
And Peter Baldwin's "Meet Wally Sparks" will do it too if you can stomach Rodney Dangerfield. The comedy is sexist. Having said that, I must confess to a number of guilty laughs as the hokey script ground to a conclusion. Blame it on my father. He always appreciated a comedian with a great delivery. You have to like Dangerfield's delivery even as you gag at the Gee-look-at-the-grossero-TV-talk-show-host-in-the-governor's-mansion-shade's-of-"The Man Who Came to Dinner"-plot.
Scott Hicks' "Shine" contains the sort of in-depth character development that we rarely find in contemporary American films; "Shine" is an Australian production.
The father (Armin Mueller-Stahl) is domineering.
The pianist son (Noah Taylor as a young man, Geoffrey Rush as an adult)
is terribly sensitive. John Gielgud is a masterful piano teacher.
Lynn Redgrave is marvelously supportive as the wife of the mentally disturbed
pianist. It is a wonderful film, filled with brilliant moments and
insights into all of our lives.
Yourself on Lost Highway
by Bob Blackwood
David Lynch's films are always challenging. From "Eraserhead," "Blue Velvet," "Dune," through "Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me" to his new film, "Lost Highway," Lynch has explored his characters' subconscious minds more than any other American director. He always makes the jump to the outrageous, which our minds often make, even as we utter the traditional patter to each other which our often mundane existences require.
It might help to think of Lynch first in his early incarnation as a painter who had complete control of his canvas. He has control of this film too, unlike "Dune." Although he rejects being linked with the Surrealists in any way, his explorations of states of mind, particularly in "Lost Highway," remind me very strongly of Luis Bunuel's "That Obscure Object of Desire," where Bunuel has two different actresses playing the same title role.
Lynch has two different actors playing very similar roles (Bill Pullman and Balthazar Getty) after one mysteriously appears in a locked cell on death row in place of the other. Patricia Arquette plays two different women (though Pullman's character allegedly kills her early in the film) who is the object of desire of both men.
And Robert Blake, as the Mystery Man, pulls it together. Is he the pale Death out of "The Seventh Seal" or a badly made-up Count Dracula impersonator? I think he does a fine job of raising questions and keeping tensions high. Add to it one of the most creepy soundtracks since "The Exorcist."
No, I do not know if Lynch used subliminal sound. "The Exorcist" mixed the sounds of bees attacking and pigs in a slaughterhouse to keep the audience uneasy. All Lynch will admit to doing is the heightened use of ambient sound.
Give the film a listen as well as a look, but do not expect the usual things. Lynch calls "Lost Highway" a "21st century noir horror film." It is.
Bob Rafelson's "Blood and Wine," with a wonderful cast including Jack Nicholson and Michael Caine, may someday be regarded as a classic. "Blood and Wine" reminds me very much of "Treasure of the Sierra Madre." Fine actors and a deliberate director have created a study on the effects of greed. With today's audience, I do not expect it to do well at the box office. But I hope other critics remember it, as they do Rafelson's "Five Easy Pieces," and bring it back for second consideration. There seems to be cult film potential in this well crafted tale.
Mike Newell, that British director of the fine comedy "Four Weddings and a Funeral," certainly has created two memorable characters in "Donnie Brasco." Al Pacino plays a semi-comic, down-at-the-heels hitman (a made man who looks like an unmade bed) who helps a young guy (Johnny Depp in a decent role, finally) break into the mob. Yes, the young guy turns out to be a FBI informer, but he still shows his concern for his mentor.
Anne Heche is perfect as the distraught wife of the informer. Michael Madsen flawlessly portrays the guy gunning for the top of the heap.
The film is based on a true story given in a book by Joe Pistone (the real Brasco) and Richard Woodley. The film's dialog is authentic. The tackiness of the setting reminds me that "The Godfather" had a great set designer. Yes, an Englishman can get an authentic feel for this Italian American subculture and for the seeming inhumanity of the FBI as well. But for just a minute there, I thought Newell was Martin Scorsese.
by Bob Blackwood
Frankly, I am in the mood for comedies. Maybe it is the eternal gray of Chicago skies.
Jay Roach's "Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery" is a spy film spoof, a 60's spoof, almost a spoof of spoofs. Mike Myers does it. He took adequate time to write it, found a young director and a good editor (Debra Neil-Fisher) who keep it moving, a costume designer (Deena Appel) who can capture 60's fashions, and a production designer (Cynthia Charette) who can mimic the pop TV show "Laugh In" (Remember Goldie Hawn with her body paint?), all the overblown Bond sets, as well as Antonioni's more cerebral set ups from "Blow Up."
Almost all of the classic Bond films have their moment of balloon-puncturing, including the white, long-haired cat so beloved of Bond's Blofeld. The music is right. If you liked London in the Swinging Sixties, it will be a treat for your eyes and ears.
Oh, yes, the plot has Dr. Evil (Myers as the ultimate
would-be world ruler and bad guy) cryogenically suspended in orbit.
When he lands in the 90's, who but Austin Powers (Myers as fashion photographer
and British secret agent) is thawed out to face him once again.
I loved Mimi Rogers (Mrs. Kensington) in her Emma Peel black leather suit as she punched out an enemy operative. Elizabeth Hurley (the 90's Ms. Kensington) keeps her tongue in her cheek as she attempts to bring Myers' Powers into the more restrained 90's. It was a gas.
George Armitage's "Grosse Pointe Blank" is funny. Just as "The Saint" is a love story disguised as an action film, "Grosse Pointe Blank" is a comedy disguised as a love story with a certain amount of gunfire as needed.
Imagine being a professional killer. How do you explain it at your 10-year high school reunion? John Cusack's Martin Blank just tells the truth; no one believes him. Minnie Driver, as the woman (Debi) Blank ditched on prom night to join the U.S. Army and find a trade that he was suited for, is just fine, as she was in "Big Night."
I attribute the success of the film to these two fine actors, helped by Dan Aykroyd as a comic killer, Alan Arkin as a terrorized shrink (he needs more lines), and Joan Cusack as Blank's efficient administrative assistant. But the man who really deserves the credit is the director, George Armitage.
If you saw and liked "Miami Blues" (1990)
with Alec Baldwin, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Fred Ward, you can appreciate
Armitage's unusual sense of humor. I suppose it is as close to the
whimsy you find in a British film like "A Fish Called Wanda" as an American
director ever gets. Have a few laughs, folks.
by Bob Blackwood
I remember reading many of Leslie Charteris' novels about The Saint in my early teens. He was an enigmatic character; I found the TV series with Roger Moore to be a bit dry too.
Thank heavens Phillip Noyce, the director of "Patriot Games" and "Clear and Present Danger," decided to fill in the background of Simon Templar in "The Saint" with Val Kilmer and Elizabeth Shue. We see his early childhood struggles, and we see him falling in love.
"The Saint" is a love story disguised as a big heist thriller. Instead of a little sex thrown in by women with big busts and small brains, we have a credible woman character who is developed at some length. And Val Kilmer still gets to put on elaborate disguises which he seems to enjoy as much as creating his Templar character in depth.
So, women, if your fellow insists on an action film, tell him that you'll go see "The Saint" just to make him happy. Don't tell him there is a love story; just tell him there is a lot of action. Frankly, I think the action goes on a bit too long; the romance should have been beefed up.
Bruce Beresford, who directed "Driving Miss Daisy," has done another period film with a strong role for women, "Paradise Road." It is real life story set in an all-women Japanese prison camp in Sumatra during World War II.
Glen Close plays a British music student who creates a vocal orchestra despite the vicious opposition of the prison guards and their corrupt administrators. Close seems to be very good in whatever she does.
Frances McDormand, the Oscar-winner for "Fargo," makes a flawless appearance as a German Jewish camp doctor. Like almost all the cast members, she must have dropped one-quarter of her natural body weight to make this picture. It is an uplifting film, though very realistic in its portrayal of brutality. It is the female answer to "Bridge Over the River Kwai."
Alan Pakula's "The Devil's Own" with Brad Pitt and Harrison Ford is a bit of a puzzle. First, it is Pitt's picture. He initiates almost all of the action; his character has a real complexity. As a young boy who witnessed the murder of his father for supposed IRA activities near Belfast, he becomes a soldier in the Provisional IRA.
Pitt is ruthless and, at times, philosophical. His great line is, "This is an Irish story, not an American story. There is no happy ending."
Unfortunately, when Pitt comes to New York to pick up a load of Stinger missiles, he boards with Harrison Ford, who is ignorant of Pitt's IRA involvement and is the most impossibly whitebread NY police sergeant imaginable. Whoever decided to script Ford, a veteran of the force, as a black and white moral absolutist made a mistake. Reuben Blades, as Ford's partner, has to pay with his life because of the script's goody two-shoes approach to morality.
Still, it is good to see a film about Ireland
which shows with some sympathy the plight of the working class Catholics
in Northern Ireland and reveals the ruthlessness of the British opposition.
It is a pleasure to see that Hollywood is no longer dominated by a group
with British imperialist perspectives.
by Bob Blackwood
Yes, Luc Besson's "The Fifth Element" feels familiar. Let's see: a warrior (Bruce Willis) sets out on a quest helped out by a wizard/priest (Ian Holm), an elf from outer space (Milla Jovovich), and a comic sidekick (Chris Tucker) to defeat the ultimate evil in the universe. The evil techno-wizard (Gary Oldman) and his crew of orc-like Mangalores are really bad guys. Yes, it is a videogame version of Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" in outer space and in the 23rd century.
The special effects are fun; the sets are the best since "Judge Dredd." New York in the 23rd century is so congested, yet it looks so well on the screen. The movie moves quickly. Jean-Paul Gaultier's costumes are memorable. "Fifth Element" cost $90 million, and we know that the money was spent on production values and not on the script.
I really needed to see another film in which the hero/heroine just barely escapes a blazing fireball. The script is strictly "Dungeons and Dragons" on film. Think about seeing it with young people.
Luc Besson did a better version of this film with
a much lower budget and a very similar plot--"The Professional" (1994).
Jean Reno was the warrior; Gary Oldman (again) was the villain. Natalie Portman was the sprite. Maybe some directors do keep making the same film over and over, but sometimes their earlier films are better.
If you are in the mood for a love story, you should consider Scott Winant's "'Til There Was You."
Jeanne Tripplehorn scores highly in this tale of a woman whose life represents a sort of fairy tale, living out the romantic legend of her mother's meeting her father, which her mother (Christine Ebersole) has told her again and again. Somehow, when her father (Michael Tucker) clues her in that her mother's romantic meeting with him was largely fiction and that he is divorcing her, you accept the situation.
In handling Tripplehorn's character, Winnie Holzman, the creator of the "My So-Called Life" television series (1994), did a fine job of showing us a young woman going through her education, her 20's life experiences, facing up to her 30's. She gave us Tripplehorn being happy, sad, in control, out of control. It was a great role for Tripplehorn, and one which I hope will give us an opportunity to see her in more films.
Would that Dylan McDermott--as the man whose Tripplehorn's character meets after just missing him through grade school, high school and college--had a role half as rich as Tripplehorn's. Winant, the director, also the director of the "My So-Called Life" series, should have stepped in here and given McDermott more to do in the film. Even Sarah Jessica Parker, who has a relatively small role, has much more interesting lines to deliver than McDermott. Oh well, this is the film-that-might-have-been thinking, and we should not do too much of that.
I plan on seeing Steven Spielberg's "The Lost
World: Jurassic Park" when it comes out on video or cable. I know
a dinosaur can walk again; I saw the original film. I also know a
cow can fly thanks to "Twister." But can either the dinosaur or the
cow act? And, really, why did Michael Creighton rip off the title
for his novel from Arthur Conan Doyle's novel? A lack of originality
can be contagious.
Martin Scorsese's "Kundun" is a spiritual film with a political agenda. Jim Sheridan's "The Boxer" is a political film with a spiritual agenda. I enjoyed them both.
I appreciate Scorsese's taking on a major challenge. He jumps to another continent to attempt a visual depiction of Tibetan spirituality in the life of the fourteenth Dalai Lama with Buddhism, reincarnation, the mysteries of the high places.
Goodbye to Italian-American gangsters, at least for a while. Hello to the spirituality which first appeared in "Who's That Knocking at My Door?" (1068) and which culminated in Scorsese's unique treatment of Kazantzakis' "The Last Temptation of Christ" (1988).
Scorsese uses a number of different Tibetan sand mandalas, which are destroyed after their creation, to get a visual fix on things. As I looked at his bronzed Tibetan actors with their turquoise jewelry, I kept thinking of the Navajos of Arizona with their turquoise jewelry and their sand paintings. Some of these themes are universal in human cultures, but this linkage also led me to disappointment.
Essentially, Scorsese was trying to dramatize a spiritual state--a kinship between spirits which can create some sort of subconscious vibration that individuals can share. Well, you cannot really depict that in a film. It is something, if you are willing to admit that it exists, that defies visualization.
"Kundun" cannot really succeed as a film, but it was a good effort to try to do the impossible. The political side of the film told the story of the fourteenth Dalai Lama's and the Tibetan peoples' conflict with the Chinese for the largest portion of the film, even more so than in "Seven Years in Tibet" (1997).
"The Boxer," directed by Jim Sheridan who also made "In the Name of the Father" (1993) and "My Left Foot" (1989), is a well acted tale of a boxer (Daniel Day-Lewis), who leaves prison for a youthful IRA action and then tries to pull his life together after 14 years. Attracted by his old love, Maggie (Emily Watson), he finds that his problems are not so much the British, per se, as the intolerable situation which British interests have created among the Catholics of Northern Ireland.
Brian Cox as Maggie's father is an IRA leader trying for peace, who has a problem when his daughter, married to a long imprisoned IRA member, is linked romantically with another man. Gerard McSorley as a local IRA tough gives a wonderful performance of a man consumed by hate.
Day-Lewis' character has reached a spiritual awakening. Sheridan shows him reaching it one step at a time--first as a teacher of children in a gymnasium, as a man in love and, finally, as a man in his chosen and necessarily brutal vocation.
Day-Lewis' character opts for love regardless of the cost, very much like Scorsese's Dalai Lama. But unlike Scorsese's Dalai Lama, we can relate to the boxer very closely.
by Bob Blackwood
Michael Bay, the director of "The Rock," has done some good work. "Bad Boys," which he tended to dismiss in an interview as almost an improvised film (at times reminiscent to me of the best moments of the Crosby-Hope "Road" pictures) had a certain tension, a certain flair, a few laughs.
"The Rock" is a much more expensive production with some very heavy actors: Sean Connery as a British secret agent who escaped from Alcatraz, Nicholas Cage as the FBI's top expert on chemical weapons, and Ed Harris as a renegade U. S. brigadier, who is determined to hold San Francisco hostage from his post on Alcatraz until the families of his soldiers slain in covert operations receive generous compensation. The film sinks like its title.
Of course, action films are having their problems at the box office. Last year, apparently only "Die Hard with A Vengeance" with Bruce Willis and "GoldenEye" with Pierce Brosnan as the new James Bond made it into the Top Ten list. If you can't make a hit with established actors like Connery, Cage and Harris, who do you need? Maybe, just maybe, those old tried and true formulae don't always work anymore.
Sure, Bay blows up more cars in San Francisco than were racked up in "Bullitt." But the tension is not there. Sean Connery is running for it because he has seen J. Edgar Hoover's secret intelligence files. Somehow, I don't think Oliver Stone is losing sleep over Connery supposedly knowing who really killed JFK. Connery's character is merely a sketch of a character. If it were not Sean Connery playing him, we would demand more details. This film is rather thin on the backstory.
What little backstory there is involves Cage's love life. Most of the humor focuses on him; Connery gets a few sarcastic jabs a la his old James Bond persona.
Harris has to play it deadly seriously. We are asked to believe that Harris turns from a devotedly down-the-line officer, who is both highly motivated and highly efficient, to a rogue leading a band of mercenaries and a few equally disturbed old comrades. The fact is that Harris is a fine actor in revealing the gentle nuances of his characters, but we're just supposed to buy his about-face without extensive character development.
I can hear someone screaming at a script conference, "This is an action picture, not Shakespeare, and it's too damn long now anyway." It certainly is. Now if we only had some credible characters in this action film, maybe it would be worth seeing. No, let's just blow up another San Francisco cable car.
Thank you Ben Stiller for "The Cable Guy," or should I call it "That Carey Guy"? I thought Jim Carey was funny in "The Mask." That mixture of fantasy and antic comedy worked for me. I avoided the "Ace Ventura" films (it's hard to do when you teach college students). I stumbled over "Dumb and Dumber." Well, I never liked the "Three Stooges" much either--the Marx Brothers, yes; the Stooges, no.
We know that Jim Carey has received a $20 million pay check for at least one recent film, but let's hope he visits Vegas a lot after seeing "Cable Guy." Carey gave "over the top" comedy a new definition.
Now slow down, Jim. Don't try to outmug
Jerry Lewis in every sequence of the picture. Just give a few seconds
to establishing a certain center to the character. If you can't do
that, use your influence with the director to throw custard pies at a would-be
seducer of Matthew Broderick's girl friend instead of beating him up in
a toilet. On second thought, maybe this picture does merit an extensive
stay in the men's room.
This has not been a great summer for American films. More big budget bombs with fireballs have exploded this summer than any other I can remember living through.
It feels a bit like the late 50's or the early
60's when American producers were trying to lure people away from television
with "bigger and better" productions which were empty of human values but
high on technology--then it was Cinemascope, 3-D, VistaVision, etc; now
it is special effects.
Now, don't get me wrong. Mark Dippe's "Spawn," based on a best selling comic book series dealing with the denizens of hell and their cohorts, has incredible special effects, gorgeous set design and John Leguizamo going over the top again and again (and often getting laughs, unlike Jim Carey in his last two efforts).
"Spawn" has such a two-dimensional plot and rapid pacing, that you can appreciate it as a video comic book. That is, if you like comic books.
Frankly, I have not bought a comic in the 90's.
And at my age, I am a little more interested in trying to make it to heaven
on a technicality than musing about hell. But the film is fun.
I turn to Cedric Klapisch's "When the Cat's Away," for a reason to remember why I started camping out in theaters in the 60's. This low-budget film set in Paris won a critics award at the Berlin International Film Festival. There is no bloodshed or violence, hardly. There are a few laughs. There is sex, but the sort of sex that you find in real life as opposed to something on cable television, and even a hint of real romance.
In "When the Cat's Away," a young French girl is looking for her cat and meets people in her neighborhood during her search (urban female coming-of-age film). The people are probably like the people in your neighborhood, if you bother to meet them. The film creates characters you can care about. I have been waiting for this one for some time; it is at the Music Box Theatre.
Richard Donner's "Conspiracy Theory" was fun too. Mel Gibson plays a quirky New York cabbie with a conspiracy newsletter who attracts the attention of "them." Instead of playing a national icon ("Braveheart") or a corporate gangster ("Ransom"), Mel has fun with the role and with Julia Roberts. His role is one step beyond the nutty cop role he played in Donner's "Lethal Weapon."
A recent survey shows that 74 percent of the American public believes that the government is covering-up something all the time. The Fox television series "X-Files" reflects this belief and probably is the best written show on television.
Whether you believe in conspiracies or not, however, "Conspiracy Theory" will give you something to see that you do not often see--actors in a big budget film having fun.
Kevin Reynolds' "187" has Samuel L. Jackson as
a virtuous, religious school teacher who goes over the line in trying to
bring order to his chaotic urban classroom. The character is very
sympathetic. The rage he feels is genuine. This is not a pretty
story with a happy ending, like "Dangerous Minds," but it is a fascinating
character study, well worth seeing.
Paul Anderson's "Event Horizon" has a promising cast: Laurence Fishburne, Sam Neill, Kathleen Quinlan. If only Anderson had a decent script and control over the volume knob.
Set in a supposedly abandoned deepspace ship, this is a horror film sans Freddy Kruger. The characters act like the characters always do in horror films ("Well, kids, let's abandon common sense, split up, and run around like 10-year-olds on speed.") You can kiss off character development.
You can also forget your chance of a quiet snooze, which is the best thing this film could have done for an intelligent viewer. Anderson's soundtrack is so loud that it becomes painful; yes, that was me who moved to the back row of the theater near the door.
If you don't have a clever plot... If you don't develop your characters... Well, you can at least make all the supposedly frightening noises VERY LOUD.
What can you expect from a director whose previous film was "Mortal Kombat"? The best line from that film was "Hii-yah!" which was screamed while actors kicked each other in the groin. At least no one in the audience was kicked in the ear during that snorefest.
It is regrettable that a genre once noted for its clever use of knowledge and imagination, science fiction, is becoming trapped by mindless special effects geeks--Anderson, Spielberg's "The Lost World," etc.
This film, like "Spawn," used a villain (if you can call it that) supposedly from hell. I am getting a severe set of the yawns with screenwriters who go to hell for their villains because everything else is so two-dimensional they think it is a hell-of-a-good-idea to reach for some depth. And what is deeper than hell?
Is it beyond the pale to hope for a low budget film dealing with the Christ story--e.g. Pasolini's "The Gospel According to St. Matthew" or Scorsese's "The Last Temptation of Christ"? Maybe even without fireballs? Please.
Brett Ratner's "moneytalks" should have been named "The Chris Tucker Show." Can a fast-talking and annoying hip-hop hustler, played by Chris Tucker, outwit everyone in town and make a fortune? Well, if you can stand Tucker's constant showboating and whining attempts at humor, a la Jerry Lewis at his worst, take in the film.
Charlie Sheen had so little to do, he looked bad. Only Paul Sorvino wasn't overwhelmed by Tucker on the screen, though he was playing a cartoonish sketch of an Italian American millionaire rather than a character.
James Mangold's "Cop Land" gives Sylvester Stallone a character who can develop, for a change, instead of his usual macho boob hero. Stallone did show talent in "Rocky." But Stallone has been avoiding acting since then, usually, except in John Landis' "Oscar."
In "Cop Land," he turns from an overweight smalltown sheriff with low self-esteem into Gary Cooper from "High Noon."
A solid performance by Harvey Keitel, a very competent Ray Liotta and Robert De Niro provide support for Stallone's transformation. But, though I enjoyed the film, I kept thinking how much more interesting it might be with De Niro as the central character.
Curtis Hanson's "L.A. Confidential" is a very complicated film noir. You never know who is going to be teaming up with whom. You never know who is out to doublecross whom until wham! It is a punch in the face or a bullet in the chest.
Russell Crowe, the Australian, stands out the most as the tough cop you don't want to cross in L.A. of the 1950's. He really has an edge to his performance. Another Australian, Guy Pearce, plays the Goody Two Shoes cop who does a decidedly film noir turn or two. Why anyone would trust him seems to be a flaw in the film.
Danny DeVito is wonderful. As the publisher of a magazine called "Hush Hush," very reminiscent of the 50's magazine "Confidential," he is the ultimate sleazoid journalist. His performance as the creep who rats on everyone is deserving of an Oscar for best supporting actor, but what show business personality wants to vote for a sleazoid? I mean, a journalistic sleazoid.
Kim Basinger is sexy as a call girl. James Cromwell is a wonderful bent Irish cop. And Kevin Spacey as the ultimate Hollywood detective is an attention grabber. I wonder if he will keep that wardrobe?
"L.A. Confidential" is a bit long and, as I mentioned, a bit complex. Do not plan to attend if you want a mindless exercise in violence, though the violence is quite unpleasant in this film.
Bill Duke's "Hoodlum" shows that Laurence Fishburne just cannot be put down when it comes to making an impression. Though he had the misfortune to appear in "Event Horizon," with a thought non-evoking script, "Hoodlum" shows that if you give Fishburne a character and a halfway decent script, he will shine. Fishburne's version of Bumpy Johnson, a Harlem gangster whom Dorothy Parker had introduced to a downtown exclusive men's store, appears as a definite, positive role model.
When he escorts Cicely Tyson, as the queen of Harlem numbers, to the opera and comforts her after an assassination attempt, you see two good actors at work, making their characters display a vulnerability that too often is not seen in films of this genre.
Vanessa Williams' character is too filled with contradictions to really work. Tim Roth as Dutch Schultz goes over the top as the psychotic Dutch Schultz. Roth's career is really on the rise.
Andy Garcia as Lucky Luciano does a low key version of the enigmatic gangster. He wears clothes well, displays a variety of emotions without raising his voice and just makes you aware that he could do so much more. Perhaps there will be a "Godfather IV" with his name on it.
Kevin Sorbo of TV's "Hercules: The Legendary Journeys"
stars in Nicolella's "Kull the Conqueror." Sorbo has a good sense
of humor, delivers lines well and has the muscles for the action scenes.
Though this film is faithful in many respects to Robert E. Howard, the
author who created Kull as well as Conan, the barbarian who gave us Arnold
Schwarzenegger, it lacks the simple dramatic thrust of Howard's work.
It is too much like the TV series; better luck next time, Kevin Sorbo.
Is Taylor Hackford's "The Devil's Advocate" "Rosemary's Baby" meets "The Firm"?
The film has Al Pacino going for it. Pacino
makes a wonderful overstated devil. (See DeNiro's performance in
"Angel Heart" for an understated Satan.) Pacino mugs like a trooper
and gets a great speech to deliver at the end of the film, giving a wonderful
argument for the devil's concern for the fate of man.
If this film were a Broadway show, he would stop the show.
But it is not a theatrical piece, totally dependent on actors' timing. It is a film with a sag in the middle where young Keanu Reeves, as the unbeaten criminal defense attorney, deals with the impact on his life of working for Satan in New York. (He could have worked for Satan in Gainsville, Florida, but the pay wouldn't have been as good.)
For the first time since Bertolucci's "Little Buddha," Reeves delivers his lines well. He is finally maturing as an actor. It is about time.
If you like Pacino, do not miss this film.
If you like moral allegories, do not miss this film. If you like
Reeves, I wonder why.
Jean-Jacques Annaud's "Seven Years in Tibet" has something in common with "The Devil's Advocate." It too sags in the middle.
Of course, Brad Pitt's character, based on the life of an arrogant mountain climber with alleged ties to the Nazi Party, is less likeable even than Reeves' egotistical defense attorney. It takes seven years in Tibet to change him from an arrogant jerk to a concerned father.
Of course, if he did not have blonde hair which gained him the affection of the dalai lama, he would have just been another penniless European in the Himalayas. Yes, Pitt is a good actor, but he has to have something to do aside from looking good when photographed against picturesque scenery.
Lee Tamahori's "The Edge" (director of the under-rated
"Mulholland Falls") is the best film I have seen in a long time.
David Mamet ("Glengarry Glen Ross" and "House of Games") did the screenplay,
and that is always a good start. The dialog between Hopkins and Baldwin
is taut, meaningful and not overdone.
The plot is intense too.
As a rich man abandoned in Alaska, Hopkins shows
that textbook survival skills can pay off if you have the intelligence
and the will. As the hard-bitten fashion photographer, Alec Baldwin
plays a complex character, as intriguing as the one played by Hopkins.
Bart the grizzly bear gives a great performance. If they gave an Oscar for animals, he would win one for this year. Much as I enjoy filmmaking, I cannot see many actors trying out for a role involving wrestling with a grizzly. Good for Hopkins and Baldwin!
When Robert A. Heinlein, a former naval officer, wrote his novel, "Starship Troopers," he originally conceived of it as a young adult novel, but Scribner's did not see it that way. They rejected the novel. Though it won the highest award in the science fiction field, the 1960 Hugo Award, Heinlein was called a militarist, even a fascist.
What Heinlein did was portray a society in which only veterans, or people who volunteered for service, had the right to vote. In almost every other aspect it seemed much like the post-war USA with less street crime and no apparent racism. It was an interesting concept for speculative fiction.
Paul Verhoeven, the director of the recently released film "Starship Troopers," is quoted as calling the society in his film a quasi-fascist society. He has made a fast-moving, well edited film which comes down to a bug hunt, kill the evil arachnid-type aliens. They are the ultimate evil; we must kill, kill, kill.
In the novel, Jean Rasczak (played by Michael Ironside), the high school teacher, is well developed, a war veteran teaching history and governmental theory to high school students. This in-depth character development is junked for a sort of a Beverly Hills High School kiss-and-tell story with tactical nukes thrown in to spice up the limited sexual explicitness, a sort of "Clueless" with assault rifles.
Why did almost all the people look so Rodeo Drive Anglo when so much of it was set in Buenos Aires, Argentina?
The military tactics are more appropriate to WWII than to interstellar attack troopers. The science is trashed in service to the needs of the shoot-em-up. The cast is fine; the script is the problem.
If Verhoeven could have forgotten that he made "Robocop" and "Showgirls" and stayed a bit closer to the novel, it would have helped.
A science fiction film that does not need to slather over holes in the script with violence is Andrew Niccol's "Gattaca." Ethan Hawke stars as a young man in a not-so-distant U.S. where the ability to obtain and hold a job is determined by the enhanced genetic code which the parents have picked for their children. Hawke's character survives through his nerve and his subterfuge, rather than through his blood analysis.
The depiction of a society where an elite group gains preferment from birth is a haunting prophecy of our future. The strains in this society are not preached at us, but they are evident. Uma Thurman gives a controlled performance as a woman who is not quite perfect and fears rejection. She makes it believable.
Gore Vidal, the author, makes an acceptable appearance as an actor. I just wish I could hear him comment on the film in his off-screen role as critic and social commentator.
In my appearance at WindyCon, the science fiction
convention at the Hyatt Regency Woodfield in Schaumburg on November 9,
the panel and audience maintained that this has been a great year for science
fiction films--"Men in Black," "Contact," "Gattaca." Of course, we
had to suffer through "Event Horizon," one of the worst films with a good
cast ever made.
And so Hollywood brings us tales of two historic ships--the Amistad and the Titanic. One rises to the occasion, and one sinks.
Spielberg's "Amistad" shows us the difference in culture between a young mercantile United States and a west African village, much more efficiently and more emotionally moving than "Roots." As Cinque, the leader of the Africans' rebellion on the Cuban slaveship Amistad, Djimon Hounsou reaches across all barriers and touches Matthew McConaughey, the American attorney taking on the President of the United States in full court battle.
Spielberg made the right decision in using subtitles for all of the Africans' comments; it emphasized the difficulty these people had in communicating between the forthrightness of the Africans' lives and the shifting reality of Western equivocation.
Anthony Hopkins, as an old and cantankerous John Quincy Adams, in a wonderful address to the Supreme court shows us the kind of concern for the person and for the individual's rights that was inherent in the Declaration of Independence. His performance was so totally believable, that he left McConaughey in his shadow as just another Hollywood pretty boy.
James Cameron's "Titanic" has Leonardo DiCaprio as just another pretty face with Kate Winslet all dressed up with no place to go. Allegedly, Cameron spent $250 million on this film, and he spent it well on everything but the script.
The plot--poor little rich girl prefers handsome penniless man to handsome multi-millionaire--worked well for Gable and Colbert in Capra's "It Happened One Night," but that was a comedy. Add the dimension that the poor little rich girl is almost penniless herself, and it just does not fly. It is hokum, a necessity of the plot, a tear-jerker. Wasn't the sinking enough of a disaster?
Cameron's set-up for the sinking is technically flawless. A computer graphic, introduced early in the film, shows us how the liner sinks. The subsequent live action of the exquisite disaster sequences was placed in perspective by the computer graphic, sort of a computerized foreshadowing.
Cameron did not forget those necessary vignettes--e.g. Gugenheim refusing to leave the ship and facing death in his evening clothes--which played such a big part in Baker's British film "A Night to Remember" (1958). Luckily, Roy Ward Baker had Eric Ambler polishing his script from the non-fiction best-seller account by Walter Lord.
Basically, Cameron did the script. So when you start giggling at the anachronisms in speech and the upper class teen giving someone the finger--acceptable in only certain Chicago neighborhoods in the 1950's--blame Cameron. When the trite dialog starts to weigh you down, blame Cameron. When you see Billy Zane and David Warner as cardboard cutouts, blame Cameron.
I loved the Savannah "local color" in Clint Eastwood's
"Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil," but the courtroom drama of it
all was a drag. Eastwood showed his skill in a memorable opening
and closing though.
Some people just hate Jack Nicholson's screen persona. Too often he has played the wiseguy at the expense of other characters with whom some members of the audience can identify.
In James L. Brooks' "As Good as It Gets," Nicholson plays another wisecracker, a writer of romance novels, but, as an obsessive compulsive with no private life, he has vulnerability as big as a whale. He can't even step on the lines when he is walking down the sidewalk. And there isn't a man or woman in the world who wants to talk with him.
Probably the closest match up to another Nicholson character would be his Oscar-winning McMurphy in Forman's "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" (1975). But McMurphy was 20 years younger and had a lot of sympathy going for him from the audience. Nicholson's Melvin in "As Good as It Gets" is more of a challenge. He keeps alienating you, but you still hang in there and laugh at his problems.
The credit for this well written picture goes
to the original writer, Mark Andrus, and his screenplay co-author and the
film's director, James L. Brooks, the writer-director of "Terms of Endearment."
It is no surprise to me that they are up for a Golden Globe award for the
It has been a while since I have laughed so hard at what, basically, is a domestic drama, particularly when the main character is so anti-domestic, homophobic, misogynistic, racist, etc. The excellent casting supports the clever script.
Helen Hunt is wonderful as a waitress, the only one who will wait on Nicholson's character, and the mother of a severely asthmatic child. She does not need to say much to convey her emotions; she is a film actress.
Shirley Knight is a scene stealer as Hunt's Brooklyn mother. She says the right thing in the right way and implies more than she verbalizes.
Greg Kinnear shows his developing talents in his portrayal of a gay artist. He is learning what Hunt already knows. It is the reaction, not the action, that makes a good film actor.
"As Good as It Gets" has lines that you remember, lines that make you laugh and fine acting. There are no car chases, no fireballs and more talk about sex than action; deal with it. And it does not have everyone riding off into the sunset in a limousine at the end. What more do you want?
Whether as screenwriter ("True Romance" 1993), producer ("Get Shorty" 1995) or director ("Pulp Fiction" 1994), Quentin Tarantino merits serious consideration. It is unfortunate that his "Jackie Brown" does not live up to its predecessor, "Pulp Fiction."
"Jackie Brown" with Pam Grier reminded me of one of those French homages, in this case perhaps to Grier's earlier action films--e.g. "Foxy Brown" (1974). Tarantino had a wonderful cast--Samuel Jackson, Robert Forster, Bridget Fonda (her best in a long time), Michael Keaton, and Robert DeNiro as a dense ex-con. But he could have used a better editor.
"Jackie Brown" spent too much time covering ground the audience knew and not enough time working out the motivation for Grier or Forster's characters. The reality swamped the art, unlike "Pulp Fiction."
If you are in the second run movie houses or the video stores in the future, you may run across Jeunet's "Alien Resurrection," a memorable mix of the horror and science fiction genres with Sigourney Weaver giving her best performance as Ripley.
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