Volume 1, Number 37
|The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc
(Dir: Luc Besson, Starring Milla Jovovich, John Malkovich, Faye Dunaway, Dustin Hoffman, Pascal Greggory, Vincent Cassel, Tchéky Karyo, Richard Ridings, Desmond Harrington, and Timothy West)
BY: DAVID PERRY
I have stood behind the director Luc Besson for what seems like ages. Even when critics were lambasting The Professional (European Title: Léon) I was giving him credit as an able filmmaker. I think that the first time I took to the corner with Besson was with his 1985 French film Subway. It was not until five years later that he would become well known in America with La Femme Nikita. His last film, The Fifth Element, was far from his best, but still it was very well directed (the fight scene paralleling the aria is still a favorite action scene of mine). That half-ended credit is not nearly as present with his new film, The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc. Sure there are moments when he shows his directorial prowess, but for the most part it seems like he is attempting to direct the film like Stone did with Natural Born Killers.
The film is about the historical martyr of Joan of Arc. Her bout with the English on the battlefield and then with those Catholics she fought for in the courtroom has been done a multitude of times in film history, most notable The Passion of Joan of Arc. Here model Milla Jovovich takes on the role of Joan. She takes images she sees as being messages from God and goes to the uncrowned King Charles VII of France (Malkovich) with a message that she is to be given an army and fight for him against the English in Orleans. She is given an army and proves herself on the battlefield. When Charles is crowned after the win, he sees no use in having anymore violent battles with the English and conspires to get Joan out of the way. When she is arrested by the English, she finds herself under the looking glass of the church for heresy and witchcraft. and must also deal with her conscience (Hoffman) taking over.
The whole film is a mess at times. But I still thought it had its moments. In fact I thought that it had a terrific final half. Once Dustin Hoffman comes in, the film skyrockets, but it is a long journey before Hoffman even appears. The first hour and a half, only works when its on the battlefield. When everything is calm, the film falters, like the disturbingly bad scenes between Jovovich and Malkovich (at which time, the only saving grace is Dunaway).
Jovovich gives a valid attempt at Joan, but I think that she is incapable of such tremendous dramatic parts so early in her career. Maybe she should stick to her silent film characters and her make-up commercials (and I've been told that she is also a pop singer). If I had my way, the part would have been given to someone like Cate Blanchett, who seems to know a thing or two about playing women responsible for things larger than they think they can handle.
After seeing him play himself in Being John Malkovich, Malkovich seemed out of place throughout. I think that the his part in Being John Malkovich was far from a mistake, its just that his part in The Messenger was a mistake. He has shown himself as a good actor in dramas and action films, so now it is time for him to spend a little while in comedies.
All in all, The Messenger is a disappointment.
Still I could actually see myself seeing it again simply for its mesmerizing second half.
(Dir: Kevin Smith, Starring Linda Fiorentino, Jason Mewes, Kevin Smith, Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Chris Rock, Salma Hayek, Alan Rickman, Jason Lee, George Carlin, and Bud Cort)
BY: DAVID PERRY
I have been hearing about the film Dogma for so long that I thought that its release was all but given up on (remember Jerry Lewis' still unreleased 1972 film The Day the Clown Cried, where he plays a clown that leads children into the gas chamber during the Holocaust?). This and Titus were the two films that I had pretty much decided I would not see for many years, and now both are releases of the Winter of 1999.
Filled with controversy over its somewhat anti-Catholic sentiments, Dogma has gone through more distributors than Happiness (which is much more understandable as a controversial film). Its story of fallen angels and the attempts to catch them actually is somewhat of a decree in the favor of faith, though maybe not the Catholic religion, despite the fact that director/writer Kevin Smith is an admitted Catholic himself (much like Martin Scorsese with The Last Temptation of Christ's controversy).
Bartleby (Affleck) and Loki (Damon) are two angels that ran away from heaven years ago and are now on Earth. There has never been any big search for them since Bartleby is simply a "watcher" and Loki is lost without his job as the angel of destruction. These renegade angels have not really been doing anything until lately because a loop-hole in Catholicism might get them back in heaven. God banished them from heaven when they left, but if they make their way through the door of a church run by Cardinal Glick (Carlin), all their sins are forgiven and they can go back to heaven. But if they do this, they are going behind the decision of God, an action that would destroy everything that the world is built on since the God is supposed to be a supreme power that cannot be defied.
So God sends his messenger Metatron (Rickman) to get the only person that could stop them, an unhappy Catholic divorcee that works in a abortion clinic named Bethany (Fiorentino). She is to come into contact with two modern day prophets, an apostle (Rock), and a muse (Hayek) that will lead her to stopping Bartleby and Loki from ending the world. Those two prophets are none other than Silent Bob and Jay, the two unusual characters from Kevin Smith's three previous films (Clerks, Mallrats, and Chasing Amy) played by Mewes and Smith himself.
I must admit that the film was not that great in the line of its direction, which was a little muddled, but it easily makes up for that in its screenplay. Smith has written one of the funniest comedies of the year, coming near the likes of Bowfinger and Election. The laugh factor in this film is rather large, with Rickman shining beyond everyone else. I must admit that I was a little tired of Mewes by the end, but it was not too bad.
The big surprise here is that I liked Affleck and Damon in the film. I had lost pretty much all respect for Affleck after Armageddon and Forces of Nature, and I had actually never really liked Damon. The only times I had ever given Damon any credit as an actor were School Ties and Courage Under Fire. Otherwise I've always found him overrated, especially in the all-together overrated Good Will Hunting (in which I did admit that he and Affleck wrote a good script, but downplayed Damon's performance). Here I liked both of them, a first for the two of them working together (I though Affleck was bad and Damon was good in School Ties and vice-versa in Good Will Hunting).
Dogma is a credit to Smith, much better than the
tepid Mallrats, though nothing compared to his Clerks.
(Dir: Hirokazu Kore-eda, Starring Arata, Taketoshi Naitô, Erika Oda, Susumu Terajima, Takashi Naitô, Hisako Hara, Sadao Abe, Natsuo Ishido, Kyôko Kagawa, and Kazuko Shirakawa)
BY: DAVID PERRY
Two years ago, Roger Ebert presented his top ten list with some rather great films. Boogie Nights, L.A. Confidential, and The Sweet Hereafter were all present, along with six other films that I had seen. But there was one that caught me off-guard. A film that I had never seen, nor even heard of. It was Hirokazu Kore-eda's Maborosi, a film about a woman coping with her husband's suicide. It was Kore-eda's first film, released in Japan in 1995, and just then making it to the United States. By the time Kore-eda had made his third film, After Life (Wandafuru Raifu), a large fan base had emerged and it could make it to the states within a year of its initial release. To this day I still have not seen Maborosi or Kore-eda's second film Kioku Ga Ushinawareta Toki (Without Memory), due to lack of interest beyond Ebert's singling-out of Maborosi. After seeing After Life, I now must see those other two.
After Life is one of those films that you sit through and take in as much as you can, filling your mind with thoughts and images. Sitting through such a film, it never seems overlong, but it does seem like you have been watching for five hours. It is simply because you are taking in so much. That is why I do not recommend watching After Life right before watching another film (I took a three hour break before going to a screening of Sugar Town following After Life).
Take this for a premise: when you die, you go to a place that looks like a business, where they have you choose a favorite memory, film it, and let you relive it for eternity. After Life is about one week in the place, where you go into this office building, are questioned by a white collar worker, and spend the next three days contemplating your decision. It is somewhat like going to get life insurance.
Kore-eda is beyond most of the American filmmakers of today, with a visual sense much like that of Kurosawa (the brooding fade-to-blacks work perfectly). All of the cast is terrific with Arata and Taketoshi Naitô shining. In fact I thought the film was perfect with the exception of one thing: the last thirty minutes seem to be a little too much. It works, don't get me wrong. It is just that he probably needed a quick break from the melodrama for a minute before getting into the last part of the film.
Still, After Life is arguably the best film I
have seen from Japan since the years of Kurosawa.
(Dir: Alison Anders and Kurt Voss, Starring John Taylor, Larry Klien, Rosanna Arquette, Jade Gordon, Ally Sheedy, Michael Des Barres, Jeffrey MacDonald, Martin Kemp, John Doe, Lucinda Jenney, Richmond Arquette, Lumi Cavazos, Vincent Berry, Polly Platt, Chris Mulkey, Beverly D'Angelo and Antonia Bogdanovich)
BY: DAVID PERRY
Sugar Town is one of those films that leaves the critic with trouble in trying to describe. I guess one way to look at it is as a This Is Spinal Tap twenty years later, with some Hurlyburly and The Player throw in. The people in the film are those that either were famous and want to come back, or want to be famous and probably never will be. The only people in the entire film that are not in either the film or music business are both related to a has-been guitarist.
The film is about many different people in Hollywood, with hopes that probably never will pan out. There is the band with songs like "Gravy Stain Girl" that have absolutely no chance of becoming hits, despite the fact that all of them were famous in the 1970's and 80's. One of them (Taylor) is in the midst of helping his wife (Arquette) go through a period in acting life in which all the roles she's offered are those of mothers and the surprise of having an unknown son thrown on his doorstep (Berry). Then there is the film production designer (Sheedy) that has hired a housekeeper (Gordon) that is stealing jewelry from her as she aspires to become a big name singer. There is the family where the husband (Doe) goes on tour with a hot young Latin singer (Cavazos), leaving his pregnant wife (Jenney) with his fresh from rehab brother (Arquette), who of course hits on her; there is the old band member (Des Barres) that is key to the album getting made, that is only if he will sleep with a rich woman (D'Angelo) much older than the groupies that he usually goes for.
The film is scary in how true to life it is. Then you can
take into account that those three musicians hoping for a break happen to be played by
John Taylor of Duran Duran, Martin Kemp of Spandau Ballet, and Michael Des Barnes of
Detective and Silverhead and things seem a little too true to life. Anders and Voss seem
to have a pretty good grasp on their actors, quite an achievement considering the size of
the egos that were probably present. All the actors put out really good performances,
especially Rosanna Arquette and Taylor. But I still was troubled by the film. Much of it
seemed pushed (especially a plot following Sheedy's character and a wannabe screenwriter),
and the film on a whole seemed pointless. I cannot say that I really got anything from the
film, accept maybe learning that Taylor is still alive (didn't Duran Duran have a comeback
album recently that tanked?). I will say that I liked the film, though I do not really
|Anywhere But Here
(Dir: Wayne Wang, Starring Natalie Portman, Susan Sarandon, Caroline Aaron, Corbin Allred, Heather DeLoach, Ashley Johnson, Elisabeth Moss, Paul Guilfoyle, Bonnis Bedelia, Shawn Hatosy, John Diehl, Ray Baker, Eileen Ryan, John Carroll Lynch, and Michael Milhoan)
BY: DAVID PERRY
I must admit that I had doubts as I walked into Anywhere But Here. Sure it was directed by Wayne Wang, a director whom I rather like. But of course there was Blue in the Face, a horrible Wang feature that he made following the terrific Smoke. Also it a had a pretty bad trailer and a less than enthralling poster. But the thing that made me look the least forward to it: one audience member's reaction. As I stood in line waiting for those from the previous showing of Anywhere But Here to leave, one person came out crying and saying it was a beautiful film. If you know me where, you know that I hate a tearjerker. I may have liked Love Story, but there have been many other sappy films of such that I have hated. In fact the words that came to my head when seeing this tearful individual: "Oh no, I've gotten myself into another Stepmom."
Then the opening credits came and everything changed. I saw that the music was by the great Danny Elfman and the cast included Paul Guilfoyle. But the title that most touched me was that of Roger Deakins. Even if he made the mistake of doing the cinematography for The Siege, he still stands as one of my favorite directors of photography. His work on Fargo alone makes up for every mistake he might ever make. Once I saw his name, I knew that there was surely going to be one good thing about Anywhere But Here. Luckily for the film, there was more.
The film is the story of Ann (Portman), who is taken from her comfy Wisconsin home to live the life of hopeful excess in Beverly Hills by her rather peculiar mother Adele (Sarandon). Adele sees this as the chance of a lifetime for herself and her daughter where she can become a rich teacher in the Beverly Hills school district, and her daughter can become a famous actress. But Ann does not want to become an actress, she just wants to be back in Wisconsin with her friends and family.
After being in Beverly Hills for a while, the two grow even further apart, with Adele going mad over the lack of affection from a recent beau and Ann going to tears over every wrong turn she makes in life. That was the main problem I had with the film. It seemed like there was a lack of any happy moments in this film, they seem to have a tearful moment every fifteen minutes. I know that the screenplay is from Alan Sargent of the tearjerker Ordinary People, but with that he had the characters happy every once and a while, only coming to a crashing emotional breakdown in the final reel.
Portman gives a terrific performance, though a little too
tear filled. I thought she was the superior of the two leads. It seemed to me that
Sarandon was eating the scenery too much. I'm tired of these eccentric mother figures, and
I think most everyone else is too. Still the film looks good and has a pretty good story.
However flawed, Anywhere But Here is a rather good film.