Volume 1, Number 11
This Week's Reviews: Trippin', Black Mask, eXistenZ, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Notting Hill.
(Dir: David Raynr, Starring Deon Richmond, Donald A. Faison, Maia Campbell, Guy Torry, Countess Vaughn, and John Amos)
BY: DAVID PERRY
The only laugh I can get out of this failed comedy is that I saw a trailer for it with the foreign language dance film Tango. Just two weeks after giving a F rating to Foolish, I must strike that weapon once again at another comedy hitting upon the African American viewing audience. I don't know what it is, I just never seem to get into comedies like this (Friday, Foolish, Don't Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood, Booty Call). I've loved many dramas and action films from the African American community, especially those from Spike Lee, Carl Franklin, and F. Gary Gray (except for, well, Friday). My list of respected directors does not find a new addition with this directorial debut for Raynr (co-producer of A Thin Line Between Love and Hate, production consultant for, oh boy, Woo).
Trippin' follows the story of Greg (Richmond) who has set out to capture the love of Cinny (Campbell). While he spends his time day dreaming (trippin') about a better life and a future with Cinny, his parents attempt to get him to start a search for colleges to go to upon the impending senior prom (yes another senior prom in a 1999 release; will the pain ever end?). Along for the ride is the crazy Fish (Torry) and the capitalistic June (Faison). The June character allows the film to submerge into a idiotic subplot in which the three must stop the evils of the local black market underlord.
I've seen funnier things come out of A&E
documentaries about the first World War; I found Trippin' to be utterly
laughless. The acting is about as bad as Baby Geniuses (and that film had Dom
DeLuise). The direction is absurd as the beginning, for no apparent reason, delves into a
rainbow of colors. But at least, I will admit that in the slightest of ways, I hated Trippin'
less than I hated Foolish.
(Dir: Daniel Lee, Starring Jet Li, Karen Mok, Francoise Yip, Lau Ching Wan, Françoise Yip, and Xin Xin Xong)
BY: DAVID PERRY
I'm sure that this film is perfect for fans of Hong Kong action films or anime films, but this far from met my fancy. Black Mask (Hong Kong title: Hak Hap) looks about as cheesy as a Roger Corman film during the sixties. The only difference is that Corman's films were fun due to their cheesiness, Black Mask is just stupid due to it.
Jet Li plays Simon, a Terminator-esque cyborg/man that escaped his makers and now must stay free from them while, and I'm sure you'd never see this coming, making the world safer from the evils of man. He dresses in the biggest homage to Bruce Lee's Kato character in The Green Hornet ever, by going as far as even wearing the same hat and suit. When an ex-lover of his who is also a half man/half robot finds him and attempts to bring him to the, I guess, cyborg underground, he must save himself and a local librarian that loves him from the wraith of his maker and ex-lover.
The at times well done martial arts scenes are the
only reason I'm taking this film above the F rating. Those little assets are tarnished by
the hilariously awful special effects. I'm sure that this film would have never made its
way to wide American release if it was not for his less than enthralling American debut in
Lethal Weapon 4 (the success of which still leaves me with shame at the American
viewing audience). If you have some big yearning for a non-comedic, non-Jackie Chan Hong
Kong film, take my advice and rent Beat Takeshi's Hana-Bi (Fireworks).
(Dir: David Cronenberg, Starring Jennifer Jason Leigh, Jude Law, Willem Dafoe, Ian Holm, Don McKellar, Callum Keith Rennie, Sarah Polley, Christopher Eccleston, Kris Lemche, and Vik Sahay)
BY: DAVID PERRY
People often tell me that one of my biggest problems is that I don't succumb to "funny" films like Patch Adams, October Sky, and A Night at the Roxbury, and instead sing praises about "nearly unwatchable" weird films like A Clockwork Orange, Blue Velvet, and Dead Ringers. The fact of the matter is that I'm always on the search for originality. Those so called weird films are the closest to original that we seem to have these days. When I see there is a new film from David Lynch I think two things: "Oh, boy this will be weird" and "Thank heavens, something different." I get more joy from the three Davids' films (Lynch, Cronenberg, and Fincher) than I get from the entire filmographies of George Lucas, Steven Speilberg, Penny Marshall, et al.
If you look at a listing of my favorite films, almost all go in three categories: pre-1970 films (when originality came easier), crime dramas (thanks to geniuses like Scorsese and pre-1980 Coppolla), and vanguard films. Since Lynch has been off since 1997s poor Lost Highway, Cronenberg since 1996s underrated Crash, and Fincher since 1997s mesmerizing The Game, the pickings for new and unusual films have been placed to more comedic directors like Neil LaBute and Todd Solondz, who use the deconstruction of characters more than the mind startling realism intertwined with science that the three neo masters (though Lynch and Cronenberg have been working for quite a long time, some of their weirdest stuff have been in the last ten years) had given us. With all three finally making films this year, I'm ready for some interesting cinema (another unusual director has a film this year as Stanley Kubrick could be called the father of vanguard films with his followings behind 2001: A Space Odyssey and A Clockwork Orange; though I think the true father is Metropolis' Fritz Lang). The first of those three is from David Cronenberg called eXistenZ.
The film, bare with me now, is about a virtual video game creator named Allegra Gellar (Leigh) who must flee a testing of her new game called eXistenZ when a failed assassination of her is attempted. She tries to find a safe haven on the road with a marketing student (Law) from the company releasing the game. They meet a nice collection of characters, some on their trek, some while plugged into the virtual world of eXistenZ. I especially liked the heavily German accented Ian Holm character that is almost an opposite to the character of Mitchell Stevens, Esquire in The Sweet Hereafter.
In my opinion, this is Cronenberg's best since
1988's Dead Ringers (if you have a DVD player, the Criterion version of this with
a commentary with the director should be on your to buy list). His visual sense has only
been paralleled by names like Kubrick, Welles, and Hitchcock. Here he keeps things so real
seeming in this futuristic world that what is real and what is virtual remains a questions
in the film's middle third. His screenplay (his first original one since the somewhat
similar but lesser Videodrome in 1982) is unflinching. Jennifer Jason Leigh makes
a great performance and looks better in this than she has looked in years (of course over
the past few years she's made films like Georgia and Kansas City). I
really liked Jude Law in this as he reminds me of why I awarded him the Golden Brando
Award for Biggest Acting Find in 1997's Gattaca. You don't know just how happy I
am to finally give a **** rating to a film from 1999.
|A Midsummer Night's Dream
(Dir: Michael Hoffman, Starring Kevin Klein, Michelle Pfeiffer, Rupert Everett, Stanley Tucci, Calista Flockhart, Anna Friel, Dominic West, Christian Bale, David Strathairn, Sophie Marceau, and John Sessions)
BY: DAVID PERRY
First of all, I guess I should state that I had the predisposition of disliking the Shakespeare play that this film is based on. First I saw the 1930s James Cagney version, which, beyond some interesting visuals, was nothing special in my opinion. Then I read it for high school English, finding it an easy read, but still thoroughly uninteresting. Now I see trailers for a new film version. The trailers make the film seem whimsical and fun. If only the film had in fact delivered that instead of a dreadfully boring two hours.
The story is nice, but far from one of Shakepeare's masterworks (i.e. Hamlet; for Shakespearean comedies I actually like The Taming of the Shrew and Much Ado About Nothing). I have enjoyed the subplot of the play and films where the acting group is trying to perform just right for those that could very easily have them killed. The two pairs of lovers, though, have always seemed to keep the play from the true star in my opinion, Bottom (Kline in this, Cagney in the 1930s). For those unacquainted with the story, it is about four couples. Couple number one is Hermia (Friel) and Lysander (West), who cannot marry because Hermia's father wants her in the arms of Demetrius (Bale). That brings me to Demetrius' follower Helena (Flockhart). Her love for him is not returned due to his for Hermia. Then there is that of Bottom and Titania (Pfeiffer), the Queen of the Fairies tricked into loving Bottom in a game of spite by the King of the Fairies Oberon (Everett) and his assistant Puck (Tucci). The final couple is Theseus, Duke of Athens (Strathairn), and his betrothed Hippolyta (Marceau). They really do little for the story beyond making a few choices. When asked to make Demetrius fall for Helena by Oberon, Puck accidentally does the trick to Lysander and he falls away from Hermia and for Helena. Upon noticing this mistake, the trick is then played on Demetrius leaving Helena with two fighting suitors, while Hermia is left alone.
The look of the film is nice as the set design and
the feel work well for the story. The biggest problem is that the film takes little effort
in pacing itself well. The two hours spent on the film seems to take forever. There were
some bright spots in the film though. While Bale, Flockhart, Friel, and West all falter
miserably, Tucci, Everett, Pfeiffer, and Kline are on the top of their forms. It has some
nice set pieces and a look that would shame Fosse, but all in all A Midsummer Night's
Dream is a lost cause.
(Dir: Richard Michell, Starring Julia Roberts, Hugh Grant, Hugh Bonneville, Emma Chambers, James Dreyfus, Rhys Ifans, Tim McInnerny, Gina McKee, and Richard McCabe)
BY: DAVID PERRY
The team that brought us Four Weddings and a Funeral has struck again. The writer-producers-actor team of Four Weddings has been reunited for the first time since the 1994 film (though the producers worked together last year on Elizabeth). Their new film is Notting Hill and plays off the fame found by both of the leads in the film.
The story sets off when a small travel book store owner (Grant) sells a book to a movie star (Roberts) trying to keep a low profile. When he spills a drink on her and she is forced to change in his house, one thing leads to another and next thing you know, they are having a casual affair, while trying to keep the press hidden from what is happening. The only people that are in on the relationship are the mad cap friends and family of Grant (characters in the vein of Four Weddings).
The film veers between British humour and American
humor throughout (staying away from a debit many pointed out about the highly British Four
Weddings). I liked the film in a marginal sense because I thought it was funny at
points. Sure it was not perfect (trying to paint a "let's feel bad for the poor movie
star" strategy falls a little flat). I especially liked Grant in it. He showed both
compassion and likability in a well written character. I actually think he is the main
asset of the entire film. Roberts is nice, but her character just does not seem to work
for her. I would recommend this to anyone who does not have the ability to see eXistenZ
despite a poor 2001 homage (or was it a spoof?).