Volume 1, Number 42
(Dir: Audrey Wells, Starring Sarah Polley, Stephen Rea, Jean Smart, Gina Gershon, Tracy Letts, Jasmine Guy, Emily Procter, Francis Guinan, Sandra Oh, Carrie Preston, Paul Dooley, and Grace Una)
BY: DAVID PERRY
The May-December romance in Audrey Wells' Guinevere is just like every other relationship of such that has been in films for ages. Stephen Rea's older character is nothing more than the Cary Grant character, but what makes this film unique is its young female. Sarah Polley's Harper is beyond the requisite young, wide-eyed girl for Rea's older matured male. Nothing would tell this about Polley's character from the screenplay, it is all in the performance.
Polley is one of the most important actresses under thirty. Her work has always been great, even when the films were bad (like with the Canadian film Joe's So Mean to Josephine). I would have to put her up with Jason Schwartzman and Tobey Maguire (though that Ride with the Devil performance has not helped his place in my mind) as the best young talents North America has to offer. What Polley brings to her Harper character is a subtle supposition that no screenplay can easily evoke. Needless to say I was not blown away by Wells' screenplay to Guinevere, but I was by the performances.
Harper is a young, unaccomplished upper class girl. She has an incredibly overbearing mother (a fiendishly likable Smart) and is unacquainted with anything really big in life. When she meets Connie Fitzpatrick (Rea) as the photographer at her sister's wedding, she just sees him as an acquaintance at such an unimportant moment in her life. But Connie takes the relationship beyond acquaintances, next thing we know, Harper has become his new artistic apprentice. She moves in and he attempts to teach her art, while she serves as his incredibly youthful student/girlfriend.
The film is no masterpiece, it seems rather repetitive
and runs a little long, but still I liked it, if not simply for Polley and Rea's
performances. I know that I have gone on about Polley and how much I adore her, but Rea is
also very good in this role, however undemanding it is. I actually think that I
would have been won over by the film more so if Wells had not thrown in an unneeded
epilogue (the only positive thing of which is that it gives a quick appearance of Drop
Dead Gorgeous' Alexandra Holden). The screenplay serves its purpose, but rarely
goes beyond formula relationship drama (though Wells does have a good ear for
dialogue). The film is nothing special, but I still liked it, at least up until the
(Dir: Rob Minkoff, Voices include Michael J. Fox, Nathan Lane, Steve Zahn, Chazz Palminteri, Jennifer Tilly, Bruno Kirby, David Alan Grier, and starring Geena Davis, Hugh Laurie, Jonathan Lipnicki, and Jeffrey Jones)
BY: DAVID PERRY
Stuart Little is one of those kiddie films that I think most critics will be won over by simply because it is of such a genre. It's not the messy stupidity of Pokémon the First Movie: Mewtwo Strikes Back or The King and I, so it is destined to be liked because it is what it is. When I see a children's films, I'm still looking for what makes up a good film, not whether or not children will like it. Such is the case with both Babe films and The Iron Giant, films that went beyond a simple family film by having a good story (in The King and I's defense, it had a good story, but the altogether mess of its poor animation and horrendous subplots kept it from doing anything with the story).
Stuart Little is demeaning to kids, there is not an ounce of cinematic virtue in it. It is all just a meandering story, trying to coerce children into the theatre. If there had been some thought put into the film, it might of actually had a point. I found the film to be rather stupid -- not in the unthinkable way of Pokémon the First Movie: Mewtwo Strikes Back, but in a pointless, unthoughtout way.
Stuart Little (based on the E.B. White children's novel) is the story of a family that adopts a mouse as their son. When the Mr. and Mrs. Little (Laurie and Davis) decide to get a second child to join George (Lipnicki), they are won over by Stuart (voiced by Fox), a smart mouse that has been at the adopting agency for a long time. They adopt Stuart having fallen in love with him, but few others show the same feelings about him. George will not accept a mouse as his brother (can you really blame him?) and despises the attention Stuart has garnered. Also there is Snowbell (voiced by Lane), the family cat, who just wants to eat Stuart. In one of the film's few pleasurable moments, Snowbell and friend Scout (voiced by Zahn) hire a street tough ally cat (voiced by Palminteri) to capture Stuart.
Along with that scene there are moments in which the film
stands out: the scenes involving Stuart and some vermin kidnappers (Kirby and Tilly) and
some scenes showing the entire Little family (including Getty and the underrated Jeffrey
Jones). But for every good scene, there are a handful of bad ones (I'm still getting
over the horrid boat race scene). The screenplay by Gregory J. Brooker and M. Night
Shyamalan lacks any of the edge that Shyamalan had in his The Sixth Sense
screenplay (a film that I stoutly remain on being incredibly overrated). I thought
that Laurie was likable as the affable dad, but Davis and Lipnicki were rather cloying.
Most of the vocal performers gave splendid readings, but Fox is rather boring to listen to
(I actually used that same criticism on his vocal work in Homeward Bound: An
Incredible Journey). The film does have its moments, but, for the most part, Stuart
Little never gets anywhere beyond its target audience.
|The Straight Story
(Dir: David Lynch, Starring Richard Farnsworth, Sissy Spacek, Jane Heitz, Everett McGill, Jennifer Edwards-Hughes, John Farley, John Lordan, James Cada, George A. Farr, Ralph Feldhacker, and Ed Grennan)
BY: DAVID PERRY
There are some things that come as more of a treat than just about anything else. The release of a new Kubrick or Malick film after a long wait, the defeat of "Old Hollywood" (Lauren Bacall) by "Young Independents" (Juliette Binoche) at the Academy Awards, and, probably most of all, the G-rating of a David Lynch film. I know that I have carried on about him toning down and receiving a G-rating on The Straight Story for a long time, but so has most everyone else that is acquainted with the director's work. Who would ever expect that the man behind Blue Velvet, The Elephant Man, and Twin Peaks would make a G-rated film, from Walt Disney Pictures at that? In fact one of the most memorable parts of film viewing this year was seeing the titles cards saying "Walt Disney Pictures Presents ... A David Lynch Film" at the beginning of The Straight Story.
The film is the true story of Alvin Straight (Farnsworth), an elderly Iowa resident that cannot drive due to his poor hips and failing eyes. So when he learns that his long estranged brother has suffered a stroke, Alvin comes up with the easiest way for him to get to his brother in Wisconsin: he takes his lawnmower. There is no way his slightly retarded daughter (Spacek) could drive him, and there is really no one else that would drive him, so the lawnmower seems to be the only way. So he sets out on the highways across Iowa, making speeds in excess of five miles per hour. Along the way he meets a wide array of (Lynchian) characters: a pregnant drifter, twin lawnmower repairmen, an irate woman after running down a deer in her car, and many others.
I think that this is easily Lynch's kindest film. I had never really thought about it, but every Lynch film, beyond the crazed characters and hypnotic film style, features a lead character that Lynch allows the entire film to feel pain and joy for. This is much more present in The Straight Story. Alvin is so incredibly kind, and all his flaws are presented lovingly by both Lynch the filmmaker and Farnsworth the actor. While I thought that the performance from Kevin Spacey in American Beauty was a better performance for this year, I think that the Alvin Straight character is a much more likable character. I came out of the film loving this old curmudgeon. There is one thing I would have preferred: a documentary on Alvin Straight preceding this film by a year. That is one thing that I think helps Boy's Don't Cry, most of the material has been run through quickly with less drama, allowing film fans to get to know the person ahead of time.
The actors are all great, with Farnsworth giving the performance of his career. While I did think that her performance was rather good, I found the incessant stuttering of Sissy Spacek's character to become rather old. Lynch and cinematographer Freddie Francis show-off beautiful vistas of Iowa farmland, even if a little too often. Of course there are moments in the film that definitely have David Lynch written all over them, especially the hilarious demise of Alvin's first lawnmower.
A little long around the edges, but still a beautiful
film. David Lynch has proven (much like David Mamet with the PG-rated The
Spanish Prisoner and G-rated The Winslow Boy) that making a film slightly
off-character is as much a great film as a noteworthy moment in his filmography.
|Ride with the Devil
(Dir: Ang Lee, Starring Tobey Maguire, Jewel Kilcher, Jeffrey Wright, Skeet Ulrich, Simon Baker-Denny, Jonathan Rhys-Meyer, James Caviezel, Tom Wilkinson, Jonathan Brandis, and Tom Guiry)
BY: DAVID PERRY
There is a certain amount of adoration I give Ang Lee. He directed the good, though overrated, adaptation of Sense and Sensibility in 1995 and made The Ice Storm, one of the year's best films, in 1997. After such incredible work early on, I expected Ride with the Devil to be quite the film, especially considering its reteaming of Lee and The Ice Storm star Tobey Maguire. Unfortunately, Ride with the Devil comes far from meeting expectations.
I went into the theatre expecting a great Civil War drama, but what I was given was a muddled mess. there is rarely a moment in the film where I could get beyond its horrible dialogue. As great an actor Maguire is, even he could not rise above the lines given to him. The screenplay is so horrible that I feel like omnipresent bad actor Ulrich must have felt at home.
The film is set in Missouri during the final moments of the Civil War. Jakob (Maguire) and Jack Bull (Ulrich) are two southerners (though Jakob is actually from Germany but raised in the South, causing him to be nicknamed "Dutchie") fighting the Yankees while not part of the Confederate army as a way of getting back at the murder of Jack Bull's father. They set out with a group of other Confederate wannabes, led by Black John (The Thin Red Line's Caviezel). Also in this group is an overzealous Pitt Mackeson (Rhys-Meyer), who seems to have it out for Jakob, and George, a longtime friend of Jack Bull. George is always followed by his friend Holt (Wright), a black man that he freed from slavery and now serves as a credible Confederate soldier. Along the route to fight, Jakob, Jack Bull, George, and Holt take refuge in an underground home to keep from being spotted by the Northern soldiers who are on the lookout for Jack Bull and Jakob. While there, they meet a recently widowed Sue Lee (Kilcher) who serves as an important factor throughout the rest of the film.
I felt like there actually was a point to the film, but
Lee and screenwriter James Schamus were unsuccessful at evoking it. Much like Luc
Besson's The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc, the film is a very well
directed, however flawed at times, but cannot pick itself up beyond a poor script (the
pain I was hit with by hearing Maguire have to udder such a mess in a bad Southern accent
is unforgivable). I felt like Maguire was trying somewhat, but could not see his way
beyond the horrid accent. Ulrich, as well as the supporting players Guiry and
Brandis, is once again proving himself as one of the cinema's worst actors (his top
billing is sad considering that his character is fourth in importance). Ride
with the Devil stands as one of those films that I will try to forget about when
thinking back on this year.
(Dir: Don McKellar, Starring Don McKellar, Sandra Oh, Callum Keith Rennie, Roberta Maxwell, Robin Gammell, Sarah Polley, Trent McMullen, David Cronenberg, Geneviève Bujold, Tracy Wright, Karen Glave, Jessica Booker, Charmion King, Arsinée Khanjian, Chandra Muszka, and Jackie Burroughs)
BY: DAVID PERRY
Don McKellar's Last Night is one of those films that is based on such a good, intriguing idea, that it cannot go anywhere beyond it. The last script by McKellar, The Red Violin (directed by François Girard) was able to work beyond the premise of following a violin through five hundred years of Asian, European, and North American history. In fact The Red Violin is one of this year's best, a fate that I can promise will not meet Last Night.
About the final six hours of Earth and how various people react to their quickly impending death, the film chooses some of the worst characters to follow. Of the fourteen or so main characters, the only one that is interesting enough to carry a film is David Cronenberg's gas company manager (admittedly, my adoration for this character may go hand in hand with my adoration of Cronenberg the director). McKellar does not even write an interesting character for himself (in his defense, carrying three major parts in the making of a film must be incredibly tough).
The characters in this film range from the near intriguing (the Bujold character could have been enjoyable if more time was spent on her) to the absurd (the sex-hungry Rennie character is about as interesting as Jar Jar Binks). The film actually des follow two leads, a tired of life man named Patrick (McKellar), who has been through everything from a horrid Christmas get together to the death of his wife, and a down on her luck woman named Sandra (Oh), who just wants a car to get back to her husband after vandals smash up her own car.
There are few moments in the film in which anything
intriguing happens after the premise is set. McKellar seems to have spent so much
time thinking up details for his scenario to work that he had little time to thoroughly
consider the actual individual storylines. All of the actors give pretty good
performances, with the easy exception of Rennie. The direction from McKellar is
pretty good, with some shots that could be considered outstanding. The fact that
McKellar successfully pulled off direction and acting, while only faltering in
screenwriting is a testament to just how able McKellar is (he did a much better mixed
writing double team than Brian Helgeland's 1997 projects L.A. Confidential and The
Postman). I look forward to what McKellar's prowess, lens, and pen will produce
in the future even if this one project was a bit of a disappointment.