Volume 1, Number 18
|Wild Wild West
(Dir: Barry Sonnenfeld, Starring Will Smith, Kevin Kline, Kenneth Branagh, Selma Hayeck, M. Emmet Walsh, Ted Levine, Frederique Van Der Wal, Musetta Vander, and Sofia Eng)
BY: DAVID PERRY
What is with the 4th of July movie and me? Over the past four years I've been forced into the supposed big movie of the summer and each year I've disliked what I saw. Last year's Armageddon was the worst summer film of the year, and don't even get me started up on 1996's Independence Day. The closest one to a recommendation was the C+ that Men in Black merited. That brings me to this years 4 July film: Wild Wild West. After starring in two of the three previous 4 July films, Will Smith proves once and for all that the studios are one of the few that think this is his time to be released. The only film from Smith that I have liked was last year's fall released Enemy of the State (from Armageddon producer Jerry Bruckheimer, of all people). I think that he works in most of the roles he takes, but the films never seem to work beyond the fact that they have Will Smith in them. Independence Day was laughably bad and a major reason for that was in its inability to go beyond the poorly written Smith character. His work with Barry Sonnenfeld two years ago in Men in Black was right for the work, but Sonnenfeld took a very slight direction to the film and it somewhat tanked in the realm of enjoyability (I'm sorry, with the exception of Full Metal Jacket, Vincent D'Onofrio has never been able to fit in a film with out screwing it up). Sonnenfeld has reteamed with Smith for Wild Wild West, with me hoping that they can out-do Men in Black, especially considering that they now have an impressive supporting cast with Kevin Kline and Kenneth Branagh. Unfortunately the film falls flat and just isn't funny or even fun for that matter.
Remaking the 60's series of the same name, Smith plays US Marshal Jim West stuck with inventor CIA Agent Artemus Gordon (Kline) in 1869 US. A group of ex-Confederates lead by legless Dr. Arliss Loveless (Branagh) are setting out a plot to kill President Ulysses S. Grant and take of the US with other nations that have been stomped upon by the US in the past. Joining West and Gordon is Rita Escobar (Hayek), who was saved from Loveless by them as she attempted to save her scientist father. It seems that Loveless has kidnapped all the established scientists in the world, so they can produce weapons useful to him in winning the war.
At times Wild Wild West is idiotic and
pointless, with laughs only few and far between. Easily the saving graces of the film are
Kline and Branagh who both play their parts as well as if they were doing Shakespeare. The
script is dry and predictable with most of the Bond-esque wisecracks as funny as Roger
Ebert's discovery from Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me on what can and
can't be in a PG-13 film. Levinson's direction is probably his worst (sad what can happen
to such an established cinematographer when given too much power directing). The camp fun
of Wild Wild West did not even bring me up to a recommendation, which even the
decidedly hated The Avengers was able to do.
|South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut
(Dir: Trey Parker, Voices include Trey Parker, Matt Stone, Mary Kay Bergman, and Isaac Hayes)
BY: DAVID PERRY
Never before has one film toyed with my rating system more than South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut. The film has been situated at every rating between B+ and D+, always changing before I could make a final decision. So after mulling it over for days, I decided that the best way to finally decide would be to see the film again. Well, I enjoyed the second viewing much more as I more or less looked beyond how stupid the film was and just paid attention to how mad-cap and sacrilegious it was. The film's joy at being evil and mean to everybody and everything is rather funny. Sure I felt kind of bad at laughing at things like Brian Dennehy, but it was funny (I laugh at the one joke on him more than any other in the entire film). I was not offended once by this film, quite an achievement since it tries to step on the toes of everybody.
One thing that is fun about the film is how far it allows itself to go within an R rating. I would have probably given it a NC-17 if I was an MPAA reviewer, most of the stuff is beyond things like Henry & June, The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover, and the recent cut of Two Girls & a Guy. The plot itself attempts to subdue the MPAA. It is more or less the aftermath of four boys getting into a R rated film and using the language they learned from the film. What sparks the problem is that the film, Asses of Fire, is from Canadian kings of toilet humor Terrence and Philip. One of boys' mothers starts a campaign to blame Canada for all the ills of the US. Next thing you know, Canada bombs America's greatest assets to get back at the US intention on executing Terrence and Philip (the way they are apprehended is hilarious and arguably the best work from Minnie Driver I've seen).
Full of song and dance numbers, South Park is not
dull for a moment, filling its 90 minute length with some the crudest and funniest humor
of the year. The songs are ingenious bringing back memories of Astaire ("Uncle
Fucker"), Newsies ("What Would Brian Boitano Do?"), Mary
Poppins ("It's Easy, Mmmkay"), and even the rumble medley from West
Side Story ("La Resistance (Medley)"). The writing from the South Park
series creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone is a big step up from their two previous
attempts at filmmaking, BASEketball and Oragazmo. Not the prettiest
film, but surely one of the funniest.
|An Ideal Husband
(Dir: Oliver Parker, Starring Rupert Everett, Julianne Moore, Jeremy Northam, Cate Blanchett, Minnie Driver, John Wood, Lindsay Duncan, Peter Vaughan, Jeroen Krabbé, and Benjamin Pullen)
BY: DAVID PERRY
If asked who my favorite British authors to be filmed were, I'd easily answer Shakespeare and Oscar Wilde. I have been a Shakespeare fan since I first saw Zifferelli's Romeo and Juliet and Orson Welles' Macbeth, and it seems that everyone agrees on the merits of Shakespeare. But Wilde is a different story. I like his use of varying characteristics of the most usually carbon copy characters. The inner layering of Dorian Grey in Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Grey is far from the fluffy aristocrat that someone like Kate Chopin would write about. His fine writing is well represented by Oliver Parker's film An Ideal Husband.
I was not thoroughly knowledgeable on this Wilde piece, so I found enjoyment throughout since I knew nothing of what was to happen. Proud bachelor Lord Arthur Going (Everett) must chance his beloved freedom from a wife to save the face of his best friend Sir Robert Chiltern (Northam). It seems that a woman from his past has a certain letter that would incriminate the Parliament bound Chiltern. That woman is femme fatale Laura Cheveley (Moore), who has been in love with Lord Going for years and can now use this letter to get his hand in marriage. The only person that Lord Going really loves is Robert's sister Mabel (Driver), but agrees on a wager with Laura that could make him marry her if Robert does not do the honorable thing and denounce a plan that Laura is making him agree to liking to get the letter back.
The cast is easily the greatest asset of this
film. Northam, Everett, and Blanchett (as Robert's wife) all shine in roles I could see no
one else able to play. Driver gives a really good performance considering my dislike for
her usually. As for Moore, though a bit out of place, she does put up a capable show, much
like that of Sarah Michelle Gellar in Cruel Intentions. The direction is nice and
fits the motif of the film (Parker's only other work is the highly underrated Othello
with Laurence Fishburn) and the screenplay is a successful representative of Wilde's work.
Even though I was already looking forward to it, An Ideal Husband surpassed all
|The Winslow Boy
(Dir: David Mamet, Starring Nigel Hawthrone, Jeremy Northam, Rebecca Pidgeon, Gemma Jones, Guy Edwards, Matthew Pidgeon, Colin Stinton, Aden Gillett, and Sarah Flind)
BY: DAVID PERRY
David Mamet seems to be one of the greatest modern day screenwriters. His gritty expletive-packed human nature stories seem to have a tremendous effect on me. He has made Oscar hopefuls of mine like Wag the Dog; he has produced some of the greatest screenplays of character studies like The Verdict; he has even written the best film of the year one year, 1992's Glengarry Glen Ross. But all that was until he went for a wider audience. Before Wag the Dog, the only films penned by Mamet were rated R because of his affinity for a certain word beginning with "f". Then last year Mamet directed the PG rated The Spanish Prisoner to rousing reviews and a much bigger audience than American Buffalo. The Spanish Prisoner was my choice for best film of the year so far when I saw it on 1 May and it held that spot until The Truman Show came out on 5 June. The fact that it was good was a bit of a suprise considering that it was directed by the playwright because most of his previous directing efforts (Oleanna, Things Change) had been quite lackluster. Now, after years of making parents run their children away from his films, Mamet has made a G rated film with The Winslow Boy.
The Winslow Boy is about the famous trial of Ronald Winslow (Edwards), a young British naval academy cadet accused of the thievery of a postal note. When he tells his father Arthur (Hawthrone) in the strictest of truth that he did not do what he is accused of, his father and sister Catherine (Pidgeon) set out on a crusade to clear his name. After being shot down a couple of times in front of various magistrates, they call upon the help of Sir Robert Morton (Northam) to take the case to Parliament and finally clear Ronald's name. In the process Robert begins to fall in love with Catherine while coming to believe in Ronald's truthfulness.
The Winslow Boy is a treat to watch and
listen to. The cast puts up a very good job, especially the terrific Northam. Mamet's
scriptwriting seems to even work when its not set in a present day moment of personal
deconstruction. The only real problem with the film is in his direction. I thought that it
looked magnificent, but not near as interesting as Mamet tried to make it look. There were
points in the film where it seemed pushed and tired, like it had a weighty extra 20
minutes on it. Even if a bit overlong, The Winslow Boy stands as an achievement,
even if its own biggest achievement is being rated G.
|Summer of Sam
(Dir: Spike Lee, Starring John Leguizamo, Adrien Brody, Mira Sorvino, Jennifer Esposito, Michael Rispoli, Saverio Guerra, Brian Tarantina, Al Palagonia, Ken Garito, Bebe Neuwirth, Patti LuPone, Mike Starr, Anthony LaPaglia, Roger Guenveur Smith, Ben Gazzara, Joe Lisi, James Reno, Arthur J. Nascarella, John Savage, Michael Badalucco, Spike Lee, and Jimmy Breslin)
BY: DAVID PERRY
I have been a fan of Spike Lee since seeing Do the Right Thing and have followed his career through all the ups and downs since. He has shown me terrific drama (Do the Right Thing), mesmerizing violence (Clockers), and interesting characters (Get on the Bus), but one thing he has never perfected is making a film completely free of Afican American themes. His latest film Summer of Sam attempts to do so with poor results, even though the only black character of any stature in the film is a news reporter played by himself (though I will admit that when he makes a poor choice in interviewing some black Brooklynites it is the best part of the film).
Summer of Sam is in a way about the killings of 1977 by the man called Son of Sam, David Birkowitz. But that is only the backdrop for the film, it is the killings mixed with the hot summer of that year that affect the characters of the film even if never really physically. That is the simple reason why the film is called Summer of Sam and not Son of Sam, the Son of Sam character is simply a supporting role.
What Summer of Sam really is about is a group of old friends that turn on each other in the wake of the killings. One of the friends, Vinny (Leguizamo) is having problems in the field of being faithful to his wife Dionna (Sorvino). This begins to trouble him after he is in the area of one of the killings and sees God's sparing of him as a sign to stop cheating on his wife and he promises to stop, a promise he quickly backs out on. Meanwhile a friend that had left the neighborhood Ritchie (Brody) returns, but has picked up a new punk look and a fake British accent. The film more or less follows the growing feeling amongst the neighborhood that Ritchie is the serial killer and the loss of trust between Ritchie and Vinny. Meanwhile Vinnie and Dionna quickly grow more and more apart.
I liked the way Spike Lee used the camera, but not
what he used it on. The characters are as one dimensional as a Warner Bros. cartoon and I
really couldn't have cared less what happened to them. While I was enjoying the few scenes
of Birkowitz going crazy (the talking dog scene is fun) and his lack of care for who he
kills, I was forced to take down useless and uninteresting subplots. Lee seemed to know
exactly what he wanted, easily proven by his well done direction, but he seemed to take
little care for what would come out of what he wanted. Yes the idea of having a film about
people tangently touched by an occurrence was interesting, but the trick is making the
finished product interesting itself. The cast makes a good try at the material (that is
all but Leguizamo), but they cannot save a dying script. It is an overlong mess of a film,
but still has some redeeming features.
(Dir: Tony Bui, Starring Don Duong, Ngoc Hiep Nguyen, Manh Chong Tran, Harvey Keitel, Zoe Bui, and Huu Duoc Nguyen)
BY: DAVID PERRY
Three Seasons ran off with an unprecidented three prizes at this year's Sundance Film Festival (defeating running faves like The Blair Witch Project) and I can see why. It is a beautiful film that perfectly blends dreamt beauty and the harsh realities found in present day Vietnam. No this film does not even once try to point any fingers into the Vietnam War or even act like it ever happened with the exception of there being an ex-American soldier character in it.
Three Seasons more or less keeps up with four stories, interlocking at times. The main story is that of a cyclo driver named Hai (Duong) that falls in love with a prostitute he drives around named Lan (Bui). He does not really yearn for her body like most do, but for her dreams. In fact when given the chance, he attempts to give her the thing she wants: a night's sleep in an air-conditioned hotel.
The next story is about a young lotus picker (N.H. Ngoyen) that is befriended by a poet teacher (Tran) that sees her as the beauty that can put his prose on paper since he lost his fingers. This story is probably the one that is most touching and beautiful, especially in scenes in which we are just treated to watching the women pick the lotus flowers in a stream in small boats while the elders sing songs of the past.
The third and fourth stories go hand in hand, intertwining a few times. A small boy named Woody (H.D. Ngoyen) that sells trinkets from a box sets out to find the American he believes stole the box from him (Keitel). Meanwhile the American is on a search for the daughter he left behind in Vietnam after learning that her mother had died. This story is easily the lesser of the four as most of it seems like it has been done many times before.
The film is the equivocation of why
cinematographers are important to a film. The cinematography is remarkable and reminds me
of British masters like Roger Deakins and John Seale. The film is masterfully directed and
well written. It does get slow moving at times but quickly makes up for it by stunning the
eyes with stunning images. What is really suprising is that this is the first film from
director Hui, an American born in Vietnam. His work looks to be an impressive start
towards a promising future.