Volume 1, Number 36
|Being John Malkovich
(Dir: Spike Jonze, Starring John Cusack, John Malkovich, Cameron Diaz, Catherine Keener, Orson Bean, Mary Kay Place, and Charlie Sheen)
BY: DAVID PERRY
Being John Malkovich is one of those absurd films that you either enjoy for the pleasure of its sheer zaniness or cringe over its cloyingly unusual humor. There are many critics (namely Rex Reed) that hate such films, thinking that anything that tries to be different for a laugh is less than important. On the other hand I think that being dislocated from reality is an asset to comedies. One must remember that I for one enjoyed Casino Royale. Being John Malkovich never tries to be smarter than the audience by having characters that use sophistication for a laugh, but instead director Spike Jonze utilizes just being different to get the laugh, a choice that I think pays off.
If the storyline is unknown, then this should be interesting. Being John Malkovich is about what happens to a well-meaning man when he finds a portal into the head of John Malkovich, the actor in In the Line of Fire and Places of the Heart. Craig Schwartz (Cusack) takes a job as a filer in a business on the seventh and a half floor to make money to take care of his career (puppeteer), wife (Diaz), and her many animals. When he gets there he falls for a coworker named Maxine (Keener) who could care less about him. Craig is miserable, that is until he finds a door behind one of the filing cabinets. The portal actually allows him to see the world through the eyes of John Malkovich for about fifteen minutes. This is life affirming for Craig, but when he tells Maxine, it becomes a business chance also.
The whole premise of the film is funny enough and luckily the film is not a one-joke film like one might expect. It is off the wall and crazy, so disorganized yet perfectly mapped out that one cannot help but appreciate it. There was not a one scene in the film I could see coming ahead of time, especially the scene in which we get to see John Malkovich go into his own head.
Director Jonze (best known for directing music videos, as
well as appearing in Three Kings recently) and writer Charlie Kaufman have made
the comedy of the year. The film is this year's Rushmore, a laugh riot that
perfectly compliments the better, more dramatic comedy of the year (this year: American
Beauty, last year: Happiness). All of the actors give great performances,
with John Malkovich standing out as Oscar worthy (though I doubt that there will even be a
nomination). Being John Malkovich is one of those films that words cannot do
justice to. Just take my advise and see the film.
(Dir: Michael Mann, Starring Al Pacino, Russell Crowe, Christopher Plummer, Diane Venora, Philip Baker Hall, Lindsay Crouse, Debi Mazar, Stephen Tobolowsky, Colm Feore, Bruce McGill, Gina Gershon, Michael Gambon, Rip Torn, Lynne Thigpen, and Hallie Kate Eisenberg)
BY: DAVID PERRY
Michael Mann, the best director to come out of the eighties? I really cannot say whether that is true or not, but Mann seems to always make the best films time and again. Plus they often vary in genre and he makes films only every once and a while. Could he be the Stanley Kubrick of the next twenty years? Whether it is Thief or Last of the Mohicans, Mann gives an edge to films that few directors can do. Look at Heat. The film is a so-so story, made up for by two great actors and a high-octane direction pushing the story beyond its limits. I'd dare say that without Mann's direction and merely his script, Heat might have stood as a mediocre place in film history. Of course all I've ever known Mann for has been action films, so the news that his next film was going to be a drama caught me off-guard.
The Insider is not simply some action director trying out another genre (re Wes Craven and Music of the Heart), it is testament that Mann is not a one note director -- he can do drama better than he can do action.
The Insider is the film I've been waiting for all this year. Sure I saw Eyes Wide Shut, a beautiful film, but more of a trek than a true drama, and American Beauty, a drama hiding in comical clothing. But the first true drama that has been terrific is The Insider. I had to wait until early this year to see last year's great drama (The Thin Red Line) and I'm just happy that it was thrown at me without having to wait for a wide release. Devoted readers that know my Kubrick adoration, brace yourselves, The Insider is actually the second best film of the year and now a second film to surpass Eyes Wide Shut.
The Insider is the true story (though, as always, filmically dramatized) of Jeffrey Wigand, the man that blew the whistle on the tobacco business, implicating high officials of knowing the great medical effects of their products. After the cigarette company he works for lets him go with a secrecy document and severance pay, Jeffrey becomes a target for both the industry, who does not want him to tell their secrets, and the press, who wants him to open up to them. In charge of the press is cocky 60 Minutes producer Lowell Bergman (Pacino), who at first sees Jeffrey as another person to get on the air, but when problems arise in the CBS law department, the Wigand story becomes his mission.
One thing that I really liked was the fact that the film
did not simply show what happened to Wigand when he decided to go public, but it actually
spends more time with Bergman. Pacino is in top form, questionably the second best
male performance this year. Also holding up their own weight as actors are Crowe and
Plummer (as 60 Minutes anchor Mike Wallace) who both deserve Oscar nominations,
especially the latter. I also enjoyed the supporting performances of Gershon (as a
CBS attorney) and the underrated Hall (as 60 Minutes executive producer Don
Hewitt.) The direction of Mann, the screenplay of Mann and Eric Roth (Forrest
Gump; based on the article "The Man Who Knew Too Much" by Marie Brenner),
and cinematography of the Italian great Dante Spinotti (L.A. Confidential) are
contenders for the year end awards of myself, other critics, and, hopefully, the Academy
of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Few films meet the magnitude of The Insider,
a film that would surely appear on the top twenty-five of this decade.
|The Bone Collector
(Dir: Phillip Noyce, Starring Denzel Washington, Angelina Jolie, Queen Latifah, Michael Rooker, Ed O'Neill, Mike McGlone, Luis Guzmán, John Benjamin Hickey, Leland Orser, Bobby Cannavale, and Larry Day)
BY: DAVID PERRY
Philip Noyce's The Bone Collector is yet another serial killer film trying to capitalize on the still remaining fan base for Silence of the Lambs. A few films of such have succeeded in my mind (The Minus Man, Se7en), but usually they turn out pretty bad. Take for example Nightwatch, a pretty well acted film, but a horrible screenplay and direction. Then there is the unbelievably overrated Kiss the Girls. Sure it had two performances that stood out, but otherwise it was a predictable mess. That is exactly the same way with The Bone Collector, where the acting of Denzel Washington and Angelina Jolie cannot save a script and direction that are from the inner regions of hell.
The Bone Collector is about the search for a serial killer that is killing people who enter his cab. On his tail is Lincoln Rhyme (Washington), an ex-police inspector who is confined to his bed after an accident left his paralyzed from the neck down. His police skills are needed in the hunt, but a hot-shot detective (Rooker) thinks that Lincoln has lasted his time and should remain home taken care of by his nurse (Latifah). Then he finds a patrol cop to help him find the clues to find the killer. She is Amelia Donaghy (Jolie), the officer that found the body of the first victim and showed great power in the stressful situation. The two set out to find the killer and stop him from taking anymore victims.
The film is pretty terrible with direction that was
reminiscent of Bats (the rat jumping on the camera still makes me laugh). Noyce
is too overly active with the camera, leaving the film in a flux. Washington and Jolie
both try, but neither give their best work. I figured out who the killer was by the half
way mark because the film is not very ambiguous about information. The ending is one of
the worst this year, leaving the finale and the motive as two of the so-bad-it's-funny
moments this year. Thanks to The Bone Collector I'm not going to look too much
towards serial killer films for now on.
|My Life So Far
(Dir: Hugh Hudson, Starring Robbie Norman, Colin Firth, Irène Jacob, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Rosemary Harris, Malcolm McDowell, Kelly MacDonald, and Tchéky Karyo)
BY: DAVID PERRY
My Life So Far is easily one of those films that most critics have seen a few too many times. Some times such occurrences are not so bad simply because the films are so well made that they make up for the cliché story. Such was the case with Dancing at Lughnasa earlier this year, and such is the case with this film. It may seem like an exact remake of My Life As a Dog just with British accents, but it does somewhat stand out as being a nice little film with pretty good direction.
The film is about a young man in the Scottish Highlands in the 1930's. Fraser (Norman) is a well-meaning child, it is just that he allows his imagination to go wild and his interests to go beyond most people's fancies. His father Edward (Firth) is facing a small problem: the estate that his family is living on will be thrown into limbo when his mother-in-law (Harris) dies. Her whole estate is pretty much promised to her already wealthy son Morris (McDowell; delightfully cold), who cannot stand the family and would be happy to see them, including his sister (Mastrantonio), thrown off the property. There is another problem in the form of Morris' young French fiancé Heloise (Jacob). Not only is she the beloved of Morris, but also that of Fraser and Edward, the latter of whom takes on actions in his infatuation. Morris and Edward quarrel throughout the film over both the home and Heloise, neither really ever getting anywhere until the final reel.
The actors are all rather good, with the exception of the
cloying Norman and the overacting Firth. I especially like McDowell, who makes an early
remark about Edward being a rogue, bringing back minds of his years as Alex in A
Clockwork Orange. I did enjoy the film, including some of its sparse moments of
fancy, but the film as a whole is nothing really special. Well directed by Chariots of
Fire director Hugh Hudson, and sufficiently written by Simon Donald, My Life So
Far is an adequate film, though nothing special.
(Dir: Stewart Raffill, Starring Daniel Clark, Bryan Brown, Ton Jackson, Oliver Tobias, and Richard Harris)
BY: DAVID PERRY
Grizzly Falls is yet another one of those "backwoods, good ole time" films that I'm forced to see in my impending quest to see every film that opens in 1999. I hate to say it, but I am really weary of these films. They are poorly directed, written, and acted. They are also only directed at one type of person and I evidently do not meet the requirements to be such a person. Look at Southern Heart, or even more so, Hunter's Moon. These films are degrading, cloying attempts at filmmaking without an inch of knowledge in proper film storytelling. Such is easily the case with Grizzly Falls.
The film is about Henry (Clark), a young man whose mother has died without the side of her country-hopping husband Tyrone (Brown). When Tyrone returns, he decides to take Henry out on a hunting trip with him. They are going to humanely hunt bears, by using drugs to put the grizzlies to sleep. After Tyrone sanctions some hunters to help him, they find a problem in the fact that one of the hired is out for blood (Tobias). They capture two bear cubs and that night the mother bear comes and kidnaps Henry (far fetched enough for you?). Tyrone and his best friend Joshua (Jackson) set out in the mountains to find the bear and the lost son, fearing for Henry's life. Of course as one can guess, the bear and Henry become dear friends and begin looking out for each other.
The film is pretty bad. There is some nice scenery, but
that is about it. I usually like Richard Harris in films like Wrestling Ernest
Hemingway, but here he is chewing up the scenery as the narrator. The direction and
story are pretty bad. Of course what would you expect from Stewart Raffill, the man that
brought us The Philadelphia Experiment, Across the Great Divide, Mac
and Me, Tammy and the T-Rex, and (my favorite) Mannequin 2: On the Move.
(Dir: Gary Sinyor, Starring Chris O'Donnell, Renée Zellweger, Artie Lang, Edward Asner, Hal Halbrook, James Cromwell, Peter Ustinov, Marley Shelton, and Brooke Shields)
BY: DAVID PERRY
I will admit that The Bachelor surprised me. I know that I did not give the film a recommendation, but still I expected much less from the film. Considering that it is from the director and writer of a small, yet still poor film called Solitaire for Two. Then there is the fact that it featured two actors that I literally cannot stand. Sure I had some concessions to Chris O'Donnell, but Artie Lang is another story (see Lost & Found review). The Bachelor is a likable film, with highly likable leads that the audience can't help but root for.
The film is actually a remake of a lesser known Buster Keaton silent film entitled Seven Chances. Here Jimmy Shannon (O'Donnell) is faced with a problem: to inherit 100 million from his uncle (Ustinov) he must marry within the next day and a half. Things would not be as bad if he had not just recently ruined a proposal to the woman he loves, Anne (Zellweger). With her out of town, Jimmy must go through his old box equivalent of a little blackbook to find the woman that he would not mind spending the next ten years with. After some comical encounters with ex-girlfriends, Jimmy comes to know that the only woman that he could ever spend the rest of his life with is Anne and sets out to get her back, while getting away from those that are now dying to marry for his cash.
The film is a nice, quaint little film. There is nothing
really special about the film, and it is not really that funny. It is just that there is
very little wrong with the film otherwise. Admittedly there is very little to laugh about
in the film, especially those jokes from the seriously unfunny Lang as Jimmy's best
friend. I liked Asner, Holbrook (as Ustinov's lawyers), Cromwell (as a priest that follows
Jimmy around), and especially Ustinov. At least there are some funny moments from them.
Even if there are some nice things about The Bachelor, there is really no reason
to see it unless in dire need of a film.