Volume 1, Number 43
|Man on the Moon
(Dir: Milos Forman, Starring Jim Carrey, Danny DeVito, Courtney Love, Paul Giamatti, Tony Clifton, Vincent Schiavelli, Gerry Becker, Leslie Lyles, and Jerry Lawler)
BY: DAVID PERRY
I have a great deal of respect for Milos Forman. Since I first saw Amadeus (too young to have caught One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest in theatres), I have been hooked. Sure there have been some downs (most notably the Dangerous Liasons remake Valmont), but there has never been a mistake large enough to discount some of his best films. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is one of the best films of the seventies, a fitting place in the decade of modern classics. Amadeus is the most misunderstood great film from the eighties (as the film ages, more and more people seem to hate it). Then his People vs. Larry Flynt from three years ago stands as one of the better film biopics of the nineties (though it has nothing on the likes of Oliver Stone's Nixon, Tim Burton's Ed Wood, and Bernard Rose's Immortal Beloved).
That little biography on the absurd, irreverent Larry Flynt was so good, that I had begun to reach a rather large hype for Man on the Moon, the next biopic from Forman. Not only was Forman back, along with leading lady Courtney Love, but so were screenwriters Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, who had previously written The People vs. Larry Flynt, as well as Ed Wood. The teaming of the director and screenwriters seemed perfect considering how absurd and irreverent subject Andy Kaufman was.
I never got into the Kaufman craze when he was alive, but through reruns of Taxi, along with specials airing praise for Kaufman, I've become much more affiliated with him. His style of humor is in the same style I can understand: being funny to others is only half as important as being funny to one's self. Kaufman and partner-in-crime Bob Zmuda were the kings of humor at the sake of scaring away audiences. There is very little in what Andy did beyond Latka on Taxi that did not offend someone, usually many.
And the film understands this. There is no moment in the film in which all his misgivings are forgiven in which he tries to make amends with those that he maddened; he is there all along, angering individuals and groups. Forman and company do not turn Kaufman into a misunderstood genius, they know, just as well as most of America, that Kaufman was there to make himself laugh, even at the expense of others. One scene that successfully evokes this has Kaufman being chastised for using his girlfriend (Love) as a prop in a wrestling skit. Forman does not have Kaufman go into a long recounting scene in which he takes it all back, Kaufman just shrugs it off, with a small, seemingly meaningless apology.
The Kaufman that Jim Carrey brings to the screen is exactly as those who watched him imagined, a stark raving mad individual that is just having fun. Everything on MTV's The Tom Green Show goes back to Kaufman, especially his use of common people as subjects of jokes. But Carrey plays him differently from how a Kaufman disciple like Green would have, there is more care for the man in Carrey than a spark plug like Green could evoke. I watched knowing that Carrey was one of those fans who watched and loved Kaufman throughout the years; it is this compassion that he brings to the screen. Sure there are remarks from some that Carrey is simply doing a copycat performance, but there is little in the Kaufman personality in his comedy, all that is straight from Carrey. This is not a one-note act, Carrey plays Kaufman both as comedian and man, however thin the line between may be.
Kaufman's rise to fame and quick destruction is so well directed that the film does not seem like a piece on "what a great mind we lost," but as a "what a great life that was lived." I did not see Alexander and Karaszewski crying over the material, or even wanting viewers to cry over the material. What is there is a testament to what great things came out of the Kaufman experience.
The performance from Carrey is his best to date. Though I thought The Truman Show was a superior film, Carrey puts more into this role than his Truman Burbank (however splendid he was in that role). I feel like Carrey has now officially established himself as a great comedic actor. The range he has shown for the last few years makes up for anything he did for Steve Oedekerk. He has astonished me with great turns in The Cable Guy (disown me now, I still like this film), Liar Liar, The Truman Show, and now Man on the Moon, and I even liked him in Simon Birch and Batman Forever (though I detested both films). If Carrey does not pick-up a nomination for this film, I shall be quite disappointed.
On a side note, the score and original songs by REM frontman Michael Stipe are great. The song "The Great Beyond" is one of REM's best works, a deserving addition to this film with the previously released title track.
The film does have its downpoints (notably a slight
overlength), but all in all this well acted romp (DeVito and Giamatti both shine as well
in the picture) deserves to be Forman's example for his work in the nineties.
|Any Given Sunday
(Dir: Oliver Stone, Starring Al Pacino, Cameron Diaz, Jamie Foxx, Dennis Quaid, Aaron Eckhart, James Woods, John C. McGinley, Matthew Modine, Ann-Margret, LL Cool J, Bill Bellamy, Lela Rochon, Lauren Holly, Clifton Davis, Daniel Ohana, Jim Brown, Andrew Bryniarski, John Daniel, and Todd Bacile)
BY: DAVID PERRY
Oliver Stone's latest opus, Any Given Sunday, does not take place in the Oval Office or the battlefields of Vietnam or even the cross-country murder spree of two people in love. The film is, more or less, an attempt by Stone to produce the greatest testament to the validity of the game Americans call football.
Without a doubt, the film is sincere in its intentions, there is no doubt in my mind that Stone loves football, and wanted this film to be the ultimate salute to it. But like many previous films from convinced filmmakers, loving your subject too much can hurt the film. Up and coming director Paul Thomas Anderson has proven that he is one of the best young directors America has to offer. His films Boogie Nights and Hard Eight, as well as music videos for Michael Penn ("Try") and Aimee Mann ("Save Me"), have shown modern filmmaking at its best. But then there is the recent music video "Fast as You Can" for his girlfriend, Fiona Apple. There is little care in the entire video on anything besides Mrs. Apple. I know that he is in love with her, but I'm not sure that ruining a potentially perfectly music video is the best way to prove it. I felt much better with the Aimee Mann video from him, which looked at the singer more cordially than the Apple video. (To Anderson's credit, the previous Fiona Apple video he helmed, "Across the Universe," came off stunningly.)
But Stone in Any Given Sunday, like Anderson with Apple, does not necessarily open the film to anyone besides himself and other rabid football fans. I'm not the biggest fan of the sport, but lack of interest in a sport does not necessarily hurt a film's performance with me (take Eight Men Out, Pride of the Yankees, Fear Strikes Out, and all the other baseball films I have liked). I'm sure that for a football fan, this film is a blessing come true, but for everyone else, it is a nightmare to sit through.
Any Given Sunday is about the second half of the season for a down on their luck football team, the Miami Sharks. Having recently lost its owner, who left the team to his unknowledgeable daughter Christina Pagniacci, the team is facing a losing streak that has caused deep emotional problems with their head-coach Tony D'Amato (Pacino). D'Amato is taking on both opposing football teams each week as well as conniving Christina every day. She has come up with a plan to move everything to Los Angeles, where the money will come in much quicker, even if it is against NFL regulations. In the first game of the film (and there are many more to follow), the team's two quarterbacks go down, and long benched Willie Beaman (Foxx) is brought onto the field. He becomes the latest craze, much to the dismay of everyone on the team, though he is great for Christina. His head gets bigger, as head quarterback Cap Rooney (Quaid) sees his image disappear. There is little that can be done to stop the juggernaut Beaman's ego has produced, and the team begins to fall apart.
Clocking in at 165 minutes, the film is one of the most noticeably overlong films this year (at least it is not as bad as Sam Raimi's baseball opus, For Love of the Game, which made 143 minutes seem like 240). The whole cookie-cutter editing of the film did not help. While making single moments go by faster, the style of editing allowed the scenes to be played back as many as three times, lengthening the film and making the tackles seem like old shoe.
The cast is hit and miss. The best two actors in the film are, without a doubt, James Woods and Aaron Eckhart. The normally callous Eckhart takes on a character that is much more likable than usual, and it pays off. Pacino gives his normal near exploding, angry man character, though not near as well as he has done before (for a great Pacino performance, go no further than The Insider). The normally enjoyable Diaz slumped, which is sad considering just how great she was in Being John Malkovich. Modine takes the stage as if every scene is going to revive his career, trying desperately to show emotion in his down-trodden eyes. But the biggest problem with the actors is Jamie Foxx. He is easily one of the worst actors I have ever seen and the performance in this film further proves this.
Given the problems with the film technically, as well as with the actors, one might think that Stone would make up with a great story, but that is far from true. The unbelievably convoluted script takes the sport to new lows. How many football games does it take to glorify the game? According to this film, upwards of six. And the ideas they come up with for the Foxx character are about as saddening as the decline of the French New Wave -- they even have him doing a MTV savvy music video. And let's not even start on the title track that plays across the finale of the film!
Any Given Sunday would probably work for most of
its target audience (though I think many of the football fans brought to this film are
going to be appalled at just how much male frontal nudity is in this film), but for the
average movie goers, it is nothing more than a forty year old's Varsity Blues.
|The Talented Mr. Ripley
(Dir: Anthony Minghella, Starring Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jude Law, Philip Seymore Hoffman, Cate Blanchett, Jack Davenport, James Rebhorn, Sergio Rubini, Philip Baker Hall, Celio Weston, Rosario Fiorello, Stefania Rocca, and Ivano Marescotti)
BY: DAVID PERRY
If there is one thing about me that remains consistent, it is my adoration for Alfred Hitchcock. As I stated in a salute to the director about the time he would be celebrating his 100th birthday, he is pretty much the reason I became a film aficionado. (To refresh your memory: loved his show, saw his movies, began to like his actors, led to seeing their works, ... ,fifteen years later, film critic.)
So one can guess that I have felt a void in my film viewing over the years -- a lack of Hitchcock films. The last time I saw a Hitchcock feature for the first time was The Ring, about ten years ago. There have been many remakes of his film, mostly poor (especially that highly touted shot-for-shot remake of Psycho from Gus van Sant). Also there has been perennial films from Brian DePalma, who has not had an original idea since the seventies. DePalma has at least allowed me to see some Hitchcockian films over the years (which may account for my recommendations of Dressed to Kill, Obsession, and even Raising Cain). But as much as DePalma tried (he has since given up and stolen from Antonioni, Welles, Kubrick, and others), he has never really succeeded in making a film that screamed Hitchcock.
This is not true with Anthony Minghella. The Oscar winning director has been best known for romance films, both comedic (the insipid Mr. Wonderful) and dramatic (the beautiful The English Patient). The director may be known for such lovey-dovey fare, but there is little of such in his uniquely Hitchcockian The Talented Mr. Ripley.
Calling the film simply 'Hitchcockian' does not do the film justice, it is, in all actuality, a Hitchcock film. There is the mystery, the eroticism, and even the MacGuffin. The parallel to Hitchcock does not simply entail Minghella's additions of Hitchcock allusions (my favorites were the dead body in the water [Frenzy] and the lone light bulb illuminating a face [Psycho] among others), Minghella takes the helm as if he is the 'Master of Suspense,' and succeeds in doing so. There is no real wannabe Hitchcock in Minghella, he is too able a filmmaker to sink to that, but he simply directs the film in as if he is Hitchcock directing in a Minghella-esque style.
I find it rather interesting just how close the film is to Hitchcock considering that it is based on a novel by Patricia Highsmith, who's first novel, Strangers on a Train, was made into a film by Hitchcock. And Highsmith seemed to have a fixation with the character of Tom Ripley, considering that he appears in five of her mystery novels.
The film is about Tom Ripley (Damon), a lower-class piano tuner that finds himself with the chance to have a pay day. By a cinch of misunderstanding, Herbert Greenleaf (Rebhorn), a wealthy shipbuilder, hires Tom to retrieve his son from Italy thinking that he went to Princeton with his son. Dickie Greenleaf (Law) has been won over by the Italian life and cannot bear the thought of returning to America, leaving behind Italy, his mistresses, and his fiancé Marge (Paltrow). Tom takes the offer and meets up with Dickie and Marge, quickly making friends with them and even telling them the truth as to why he has come.
But the film does not just follow the misadventures of these three. By the end of the film, there has been murder, mayhem, and some double-entendre situations. Tom and Dickie have a falling out and Tom begins impersonating the much more popular Dickie while Dickie remains missing.
Damon perfectly sells both sides of Tom Ripley, especially as a leech-like nerd. I'm incredibly happy with Damon given that this film is nothing more than an acting excursion for him; there is no possible way that playing a gay homicidal maniac could help his career as a hot young actor (coverboy of Tiger Beat), it is more proof of talent than star power. Paltrow seems to be acting the same way she did with A Perfect Murder, which is not necessarily a debit. But the main two actors in this film are two of the smaller characters. Jude Law, who I have been following since Gattaca, gives a stellar performance, incredibly believable as the cannon that is Dickie Greenleaf. I also found a great fondness in Blanchett as Meredith Logue, a woman whose path crosses Tom's occasionally.
But the grandness of this film does not simply lie in its incredibly able cast. What makes this film one of the year's best is its technical achievements. The Minghella direction, John Seale cinematography, Roy Walker/Bruno Cesari art direction, and Gary Jones/Ann Roth costumes set the stage for a beautiful canvas that evokes the beauty of Italy. I'd say that this is the best looking film of the year (and credit is also due to Walter Murch, the editor).
Also of great note is the sound of the film. With or without such great actors reading the script, the dialogue to the film is music to my ears. The eloquence of Meredith's speech, contrasting from the sometimes loving, sometimes aggressive speech of Dickie, is just one of the notable parts of the film. (I once heard it said that the most probable reason for a great supporting cast is in a great script, smaller parts shine in better works.) Along with such splendid dialogue are the sounds of composer Gabriel Yared, who perfectly mixes the feel of Italy with a Bernard Herrman tone.
All this works into the Hitchcock film structure (just
think To Catch a Thief meets Frenzy). To put it simply, The
Talented Mr. Ripley is the best film Alfred Hitchcock never made.
|Anna and the King
(Dir: Andy Tennant, Starring Jodie Foster, Chow Yun-Fat, Keith Chin, Ling Bai, Shanthini Venugopal, Tom Felton, Syed Alwi, Deanna Yusiff, Randall Duk Kim, Kay Siu Lim, and Melissa Campbell)
BY: DAVID PERRY
I must admit that I liked the first two film versions of the Anna Leonowens story. Anna and the King of Siam from 1946 and The King and I from 1956 are two greats of classic cinema; but that cannot be said for the two recent filmings of the story. Earlier this year Warner Bros. brought out a horrendous animated film of The King and I, retaining all the songs from the 1956 musical while dumbing down the story. One of the few things that I can say about the latest (and hopefully last) filming of Anna Leonowens story is that it is better than that animated film.
There is no real feeling of drama in this version that was present in the 1946 version, and all the joyous pleasure from the 1956 version is absent. This one is just an overlong mess. It is like director Andy Tennant (whose debut, Ever After, actually garnered pretty good reviews) just wanted the chance to make an epic, without taking any time to care about what was going to happen in it. Where David Lean (the king of epic filmmaking) could keep a three hour film interesting, Tennant muddles through his two and a half hours, leaving the audience bored in the first thirty minutes.
For those who have actually gone without learning about Anna and her trip to Siam, the film is about Anna Leonowens (Foster), a widowed Englishwoman, who goes to Siam with her young son Louis (Felton) by request from King Mongkut (Yun-Fat) for someone to teach his many children. She finds that the main child under her care is the heir to the throne Prince Chulalongkorn (Chin), who learns from her the importance of freedom and civilization. The prince is not the only one that learns from Anna, the king too both falls for Anna's beliefs and for her. Thanks to Anna, Siam becomes a free and civilized place, steering away from the imperialist worlds that surrounded it at the film's setting.
Foster gives a good performance, as one would expect. But she is the only actor that works in the film. Yun-Fat shows why he should stick to being an international action star. Then again, Yun-Fat looks pretty good beside the two young supporting players. Chin is pretty bad (his narration late in the film is hilariously bad), and Felton is a contender for worst supporting actor of the year.
I thought that there were moments in the film in which it
seemed like Tennant was an able director, but they were few and far between. The
story is good, but the script is bad, spending egregious time on poor subplots. It is sad
that this version is supposedly the closest to Leonowens writings, but it completely omits
the finale, which serves as a proper summing-up of the story. I'd say that Leonowens
would be ashamed of this film, except for having Foster play her.
(Dir: Dean Perisot, Starring Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman, Tony Shaloub, Daryl Mitchell, Robin Sachs, Enrico Colantoni, Sam Rockwell, Missi Pyle, John Patrick White, and J.P. Manoux)
BY: DAVID PERRY
In a season bogged down with costume dramas and edgy psychological fare (you know what I'm talking about, Mr. Minghella), sometimes it is fun just to set all this aside and enjoy oneself. And that seems to be the whole idea behind Galaxy Quest: let the serious tone of the films go away and just have fun. Sure the film is no Toy Story 2, but it still delivers enough laughs to make even a day of viewing the depressing Angela's Ashes a little lighter.
There is no portion of the film that takes itself seriously in the slightest, and it is expecting the same from its viewers. If you go into Galaxy Quest looking for a smart comedy like Election or a witty satire like Bowfinger, you will probably be incredibly disappointed. Taking this film for anything beyond dumb fun is an offence to the filmmakers, they know the material and that is exactly how they play it.
The film is set around the fictional TV show Galaxy Quest, which aired during the early eighties and now has a humongous fan base (in other words, it is Star Trek). All of the actors take part in fan conventions and promotional tie-ins, but none of them are happy with where their parts have taken their careers (my favorite is the unflappable Rickman as a Shakespearean actor stuck being best known as an alien). The only one that seems to get a kick out of this is Jason Nesmith (Allen), who stole the show at every chance and is now loved by fans much more. An ego has grown for Nesmith causing all the other cast members to dislike him.
After he happens to overhear a conversation from two unhappy followers of the show, he begins to understand what a jerk he has been, and he starts disliking the show and its fans. At such a sour note, he is then taken in by some aliens that need him to save them from being devastated by Sarris (Sachs), a villain that has destroyed most of their people already. It seems that these aliens have been receiving transmissions of the show recently and thought that it was visual logs of real space travelers. Seeing their peril, Jason decides to aid them in their fight with Sarris, taking the rest of the cast with him.
There are moments of sheer joy in this film. The way these people have taken to showing their faith in the show is often hilarious (a series of vertical and horizontal crushing mechanisms is placed inside the alien ship simply because it was on the show). Sure the film is stupid at times, but it works for the film. Where this film works its stupidity into laughs, films like Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo plays stupidity for absent (at least in my case) sophomoric laughs.
Weaver, Shalhoub, and Allen give able performances, while Rockwell and Mitchell are pretty horrible (Rockwell's incessant grumblings about being the disposable 'guy' character almost merits a thumb down for the film on its own). The best thing about the film is Rickman, who does his fish out of water character so well because he himself seems out of place in the film.
The direction and visual effects are both overdone. I actually enjoyed Perisot's previous film, the black comedy Home Fries, but this film pales in comparison. I'm quite surprised that there are moments in the film that are funny since it was co-written by Robert Gordon, the man who wrote the horrible Addicted to Love.
Galaxy Quest is not a great film, but during
this awards heavy film season it is rather refreshing.