Volume 1, Number 31
|Jakob the Liar
(Dir: Peter Kassovitz, Starring Robin Williams, Liev Schreiber, Alan Arkin, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Bob Balaban, Hannah Taylor-Gordon, Justus von Dohnany, Kathleen Gáti, Michael Jeter, Mark Margolis, and János Gosztonyi)
BY: DAVID PERRY
I am fully aware that I can at times become obsessed with films that I think are of cinematic merit. It had often been pointed out to me that I talk of Fargo, Eyes Wide Shut, The Usual Suspects, The Thin Red Line, and Rushmore too much. But there was one film that I went on the side of and supported up to the moment that it won a few Academy Awards and found an audience. The film was Life is Beautiful and it is rare that I am touched by a film like I was with that film (much like the recent American Beauty). It took one of the more horrific moments in history and made a touching serio-comedy out of it. Roberto Benigni was not going for Schindler's List drama, but instead some Au Revoir Les Enfants with Peter Sellers comedy thrown in. With Life is Beautiful so beloved and so well-known (thanks to the admittedly over-zealous Miramax), I can understand why Jakob the Liar has been on the shelves at Columbia for a year. Anything that Robin Williams might try in the film would be too quickly compared to Benigni. The fact of the matter is that no matter whether Jakob the Liar had been the best film of the year or the worst, it would be pained by similarities too large and obvious.
Jakob the Liar is about a man named Jakob Heym (Williams) that lives in a Polish ghetto overcome by the Nazi control. The ghetto is riddled with people being shipped off to concentration camps and people giving up and committing suicide. The whole community is scared of those in charge but fears anything that might give them control but would anger the Germans in the process. That is until Jakob inadvertently has the rumor spread that he has a radio hidden and is receiving transmissions from the BBC telling that the war is coming to a close. This mistake begins when he hears the radio in the office of a Nazi officer he is sent to talk to. The radio's indifferent message is spun around by Jakob in a chance that he can stop the suicide of a close friend (Balaban) and an end to free hair cuts. Next thing he knows, the entire ghetto is awaiting his daily reports on the radio's evening broadcast. As suicides drop dramatically and the ideas of the tenants spread apart, the Nazis begin to fear a loss of their control and set out to find the fellow with the radio.
Williams is in a true slump. I have not truly liked
a film with Williams since Deconstructing Harry (though I will admit that he was
one of the good things about Good Will Hunting). Here it seems like he is
throwing about as much schmaltz as he did with Patch Adams and Being Human.
Where is the indelible Mork or Garp, characters that Williams played and live on as great
characters? The entire cast is a waste, even greats like Armin Mueller-Stahl and
Adam Arkin, even the indie delight Liev Schreiber. The screenplay and direction are
about as overdramatic and sappy as it can get. Rarely am I turned off by a film so, and I
doubt that it is entirely the fault of Roberto Benigni.
(Dir: Jay Roach, Starring Russell Crowe, Mary McCormack, Ron Eldard, Hank Azaria, Lolita Davidovich, Colm Meaney, Maury Chaykin, Burt Reynolds, Ryan Northcott, Michael Buie, Kevin Durand, Scott Grimes, Judith Ivey, and Rachel Wilson)
BY: DAVID PERRY
It was only a month and a half ago that I was screaming at the poor Lake Placid. Admittedly fun at times, the film was a big step-down for writer David E. Kelley, easily one of the best television writers at this time. Kelley has been doing shows like Chicago Hope and Picket Fences, but my respect for Kelley has been much more at his more recent shows. In Ally McBeal he has shown the fun of a zany comedy when thrown into more dramatic moments (for other greats of this genre I recommend The Sopranos and, no joke, Buffy the Vampire Slayer). The series has become a Monday night ritual for me, though I must admit that it has declined in artistic vision and has become much more character based. The other series of recent day from Kelley is the mesmerizing The Practice. Rarely do I become hooked on a show so quickly. Its fine woven dramatic teleplays are beyond anything on non-cable television (i.e. it is better than Law & Order). The writing on one hour long episode of The Practice is usually better than most of the films I see in a given year put together. Therefore I was admittedly hopeful with Mystery, Alaska, written by Kelley and directed by Jay Roach of Austin Powers fame. If only Mystery, Alaska had even been as good as one of the lesser episodes of Ally McBeal.
The film is pretty much a filmming of Mighty Ducks with swearing. It is about a rag-tag hockey team that has become lore of the city in their Saturday games on the local frozen pond. When a ex-member of the community writes about the team for Sports Illustrated, the town is given a present: the chance to have the New York Rangers come and play them. The town must first choose whether or not the game would be a good idea and then how to handle to the new press and tourists the game would bring. The team is made up of your normal run of the mill characters, being led by a man who is incensed by the fact that he has been thrown off the team (Crowe).
Running through stuff like two trials, a funeral, and a
teen sex comedy, the film actually attempts to do a formulaic run through of the most
overdone scenes in modern day filmmaking. The film is poorly directed and, painful
as it is too say, poorly written. I was bored out of my mind throughout the film and
I could have predicted every single turn in the entire film. The only things in the
film that I thought were positive additions were Maury Chaykin as the local attorney and
Michael McKean as a man holding charges against a townsperson that shot him in the
foot. One of the most predictable films since She's All That, Mystery,
Alaska is even worse than Kelley's Lake Placid.
(Dir: David O. Russell, Starring George Clooney, Ice Cube, Mark Wahlberg, Spike Jonze, Cliff Curtis, Nora Dunn, Jamie Kennedy, Said Taghmaoui, and Mykelti Williamson)
BY: DAVID PERRY
As I entered the theatre for Three Kings I was questioning the film without even a line of dialogue stated. The film had garnered unbelievable reviews from some of the most well known and beloved critics, but I was still irked by it having a trailer that made it look like an awful film. One of the things that people had brought up to me before entering was that the film was from David O. Russell, a director that I've always seen as just mediocre with films like Flirting with Disaster and Spanking the Monkey. I'm all for independent directors finding their mark in studio films like Martin Scorsese, but one must remember mistakes like Kevin Smith being given a different experience for his follow-up to Clerks, a film named Mallrats which he even went to the trouble of apologizing for at the Cannes Film Festival. So need it be said that I was not really sure of the film like I usually am before seeing a film that I shall turn out recommending (notable exceptions: The Sixth Sense, Drop Dead Gorgeous, and The Iron Giant). In the end Three Kings both surprised me and disappointed me at the same time.
The film is about four army soldiers that go on a trip to steal some gold from Saddam Hussein just after the cease fire in the Operation Desert Storm. The group is lead by Special Forces Captain Archie Gates (Clooney) who comes up with the plan after three other soldiers find a map hidden on a prisoner of war. Sergeant Troy Barlow (Wahlberg), Staff Sergeant Chief Elgin (Cube), and Private Conrad Vig (Jonze) are not exactly the greatest team to work for Gates in this fleecing of the enemy, but they will have to do. The four get into the small Kuwaiti town that supposedly has the gold, leading to the entire plan to blow-up in their faces. One of them turns out in a Iraqi prison being interrogated and they must then save him as well as the entire village rebellion.
I thoroughly enjoyed the look of the film, thanks much to
the cinematography of Thomas Newton Sigel. The drained, sepia look to the film gave
it a type of desert feel that would not have been found in normal bright
Technicolor. The film is very reliant upon its leads who all give pretty good
performances, especially Clooney and Jonze (best known as director of vanguard music
videos and the upcoming film Being John Malkovich). I thought the film was
rather good at first glance, but as the story progressed and the film attempted to become
more political, it lost most of its steam and began to drag out. I respect the film
as a well made testament to independent filmmaking gone studio and I did enjoy the film,
but to this moment I'm still annoyed by its latter half.
|Drive Me Crazy
(Dir: John Schultz, Starring Melissa Joan Hart, Adrian Grenier, Stephen Collins, Faye Grant, Mark Metcalf, William Convers-Roberts, Susan May Pratt, Kris Park, Ali Larter, Mark Webber, Gabriel Carpenter, and Lourdes Benedicto)
BY: DAVID PERRY
After spending what seemed like a large amount of teen-based comedies it seems like the late Summer and the beginning of Fall have been nearly free of the genre. It has been refreshing to be free of seeing names like Freddie Prinze, Jr. for a while and I'd be happy if his performances would hereby cease. Still when I heard that this weekend's films would include a teen-comedy, culminating in a prom of all things, I was not too angry. Considering that there was no huge cloying ad campaign, Drive Me Crazy seemed to be an interesting inclusion into the genre that has always been way too overused. Drive Me Crazy also had an actor named Adrian Grenier, who has received reviews much like those for Jason Schwartzman in Rushmore for his performance in The Adventures of Sebastian Cole (a film I have not yet had the pleasure of seeing).
Drive Me Crazy is completely on the formula, but has much more going for it than She's All That or Simply Irresistible. The film is about the trouble that occurs after two people have been dumped before the high school's big dance. Nicole (Hart) is the sociable popular girl, planning her date to be the lead basketball player, whose heart has instead been thrown to cheerleader from another school; Chase (Grenier) is the bad-boy, always doing pranks to the school as a sort of political remark. When the two find themselves without a date for the Centennial dance, Nicole comes up with the idea of the two being their own date. After cleaning Chase up to a more respectable façade, Nicole takes him to the social outings and makes him one of the popular people. That is all fine for Nicole, but it is changing Chase and the question is if he is really ready to become a new person.
Sure the film sounds way too much like She's All That,
and sure it stays on formula, but I still somewhat liked the film. It was not enough
to garner a recommendation, but close. The two leads work well and are quite
likable, especially Grenier. The screenplay by Rob Thomas of Dawson's Creek
fame has enough energy to make the film run well. I must admit that there was no
moment in which I was bored with the film, just a little annoyed at how absurd it was at
times (especially in the ending). Drive Me Crazy is not the best film of
its genre, but it at least is a step up from most of such that have come out this year.
|The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland
(Dir: Gary Halvorson, Starring KevinClash,Mandy Patinkin, Vanessa L. Williams, Sonia Manzano, Roscoe Orman, Fran Brill, Stephanie D'Abruzzo, Dave Goelz Jerry Nelson, Joey Mazzarino, Carmen Osbahr, Martin P. Robinson, David Rudman, Carroll Spinney, and Steve Whitmore)
BY: DAVID PERRY
There is a fine line in which films like The Adventure's of Elmo in Grouchland are aimed too young for certain audience members. I think that I have actually met that point in life. Sure I'll be the first to jump at a great animated film (as seen by my joy over Toy Story and The Iron Giant), but stuff like Muppets from Space are way too young for me. The sophomoric (or, for that matter, kindergarten) humor and remedial wording and phrasing is often less than enjoyable for someone that gets pleasure out of wicked little films like those of Todd Solondz and Neil LaBute. Still I did not hate The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland, despite it being targeted at children a fraction of my age.
The film is about the journey that Elmo the monster goes through to get back his beloved blanket. In a fit of selfishness (my morals might not be up to par evidently, but I could understand why he did not want Zoe to use the blanket), Elmo loses his grasp of the blanket. The wind blows it around before Oscar the Grouch uses it as a tissue and throws it into his trashcan home. When Elmo goes down into Oscar's humble abode to get the blanket, he is accidentally taken on a trip (taken as loosely as you would like) to Grouchland, a world where being cold and uninterested in everyone else is the favorite pastime. Grouchland is being driven to fear by a man that takes everything he can find for himself and keeps it. One of the objects he snatches is that beloved blanket, much to the dismay of Elmo. As Elmo sets out to regain his blanket, his friends Oscar, Big Bird, Zoe, et al. set out to find him.
I must admit that I did not hate the film. After
the terrible sit through Muppets From Space, Elmo is a big step
up. While I did not hate the film, I did not terribly like it either. The
character of Elmo is one of the most cloying in film to date. The story and dialogue
is highly aimed at its target audience, rarely taking anytime to give something to the
parents (though the riff on Basic Instinct was quite enjoyable and above the head
of every five year old in the audience in which I saw it). I did really like Mandy
Patinkin in the film. His harsh character like Ray Bolger in the 1961's Babes in
Toyland is the best part of the film. In fact his scenes are the best scenes of
the film. I know that trying to get analytical at all over a children's film is a
bit of a stretch, so I shall simply say that The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland
would be a treat for any small child without being too much of a threat to any parent
taking their child.
|Twin Falls Idaho
(Dir: Michael Polish, Starring Mark Polish, Michael Polish, Michele Hicks, Jon Gries, Lesley Ann Warren, William Katt, Patrick Bauchau, Garrett Morris, and Teresa Hill)
BY: DAVID PERRY
Twin Falls Idaho is one of those films that you so want to like. It is well made, has a good tale to tell, and even means well without ever getting mean spirited. Still the film never pans out with any pay-off or intrigue. To put it bluntly, the film is a bit boring.
Twin brothers Mark and Michael Polish have taken a story of the love that grows between twin brothers and the dramatic importance each one has on the other. The film does not simply look at twins, but at those that are closer than anyone else in the world, Siamese twins. The brothers wore a type of suit to make the illusion that they were joined at the hip and it looks believable, and they throw so much heart into the emotional side to those physical deformed. But that is part of the reason that I think that Twin Falls Idaho is a slight disappointment, the two try so hard at showing that these two are unable to be lonely without the ability to be alone that it is jammed down the audience's throats many times. Sure I did not expect them to perfect emotional acting in their first try, but they should have at least expected the audience to understand the first time it was thrown out.
The film is about the help that a low-class hooker tries to bring to the two brothers. When Francis (Michael Polish) contacts Penny (Hicks) as a 25th birthday present for Blake (Mark Polish), she is initially disgusted at the atrocity of nature brought in front of her. Then upon returning, she sees the true beauty of the bond. Then she attempts to help Francis as he becomes sick, falling in love with Blake in the process.
The performers all give pretty good tries, but are
overpowered by the weighty script. There was one thing that I did not understand at
all: the director's obsession with trying out many different filmmaking styles
throughout the film (the black and white Ingmar Bergman rip-off near the end is the part
that baffled me the most). Twin Falls Idaho is a respectable film that is
just on the verge of a recommendation.
|Plunkett & Macleane
(Dir: Jake Scott, Starring Jonny Lee Miller, Robert Carlyle, Liv Tyler, Ken Stott, Alan Cumming, Michael Gambon, Iain Robertson, Tommy Flanagan, Stephen Walters, James Thornton, Terece Rigby, Christian Camargo, Karel Polisensky, and Neve McIntosh)
BY: DAVID PERRY
There are actually only a few directorial families that I truly respect. There are of course those that commonly work together like Joel and Ethan Coen and Andy and Larry Wachowski, as well as those that are so different in style that when it is learned they are family, it comes as quite a surprise. Actors may have great lineage (Joan Fontaine and Olivia de Havilland, anyone?) but directors do not normally work that way. There is of course Angelica Huston (The Dead, Bastard Out of Carolina) from father John (Treasure of the Sierra Madre, The Man Who Would Be King) but one modern day family that stands out in my head is the less than obvious Scott brothers. The two are notable as each having nominees for the best action films of the eighties and nineties. Ridley Scott is of course the better known of the two with fame coming off of his directing of Alien and Blade Runner, as well as Thelma & Louise and The Duelists. With the former two, he proved himself to an unsuspecting audience that he was a modern great of sci-fi filmmaking, an entrance that would stand better toady if he had not made 1492: Conquest of Paradise and White Squall. The other side of the Scott brothers is the underappreciated Tony Scott. I have actually been a fan of Tony for quite a while, admitting that his direction was one of the pluses to lackluster Don Simpson/Jerry Bruckheimer films like Top Gun, Beverly Hills Cop II, and Days of Thunder. It was with 1993's True Romance that he finally made somewhat of a mark in the more artistic film industry. Working with a Quentin Tarantino script, Scott had a chance to finally do a film free of the Simpson/Bruckheimer touches. Then when he returned to Simpson and Bruckheimer, he began to have more control and has made great tense action thrillers like Crimson Tide and Enemy of the State ever sense.
With brothers that have that much artistic ability in their blood, it would be expected that a son might fare well too, if only that were true. Ridley's son Jake Scott has made a film that suffers a problem I continually complain about: being too catchy. I can enjoy films that are catchy like Pulp Fiction and Run Lola Run, when that is part of the story, but when the story seems made simply to meet the chances to play with the camera, then I can be a little annoyed. Such was the case with Detroit Rock City, Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels, The Astronaut's Wife, and now Plunkett & Macleane.
Not to say that the film is terribly directed, just too much direction, not enough story. The uncontrollable camera often scared me at times, at other times enthralling me (maybe a bit of an overstatement). The film is the slight-action packed story of two men that went around at night stealing from the rich while cavorting with their victims during the day. Macleane (Miller) is friendly with many of the well-to-do in 18th century England. When he is in dire need of cash, he and a prison pal named Plunkett (Carlyle) set out to make him a proper gentleman so that he can listen in on the conversations of the rich, making them able to plan the perfect time to steal from them. Meanwhile a despicable police captain sets out to catch the robber dubbed "The Gentleman Highwayman" and a past victim attempts to get Macleane as her love.
The film is drawn out and hard to swallow, quite sad
considering that the screenwriters are The Ruling Class' Peter Barnes and Brazil's
Charles McKeown. I did not think that the two leads did their part, giving only half
the performance they gave for the far superior (and just as catchily filmed) Trainspotting.
I think that given some time and extra work, Scott might actually prove to be an important
part of the English directorial community, just not right now.