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Volume 2, Number 6

This Week's Reviews:  The Beach, Holy Smoke!, Topsy-Turvy.

This Week's Omissions:  Snow Day, The Tigger Movie, Trois.



The Beach

(Dir: Danny Boyle, Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Virginie Ledoyen, Tilda Swinton, Guillaume Canet, Staffan Kihlbom, Robert Carlyle, Magnus Lindgren, Lars Arentz-Hansen, Peter Gevisser, Jukka Hiltunen, Simone Huber, Paterson Joseph, Saskia Mulder, Jerry Swindall, Zelda Tinska, Peter Youngblood Hills, and Lidia Zovkic)

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BY: DAVID PERRY

Early on in the latest film from the writer-director-producer team behind Shallow Grave, A Life Less Ordinary, and Trainspotting, I knew that I was in for some trouble.  In the midst of what seemed like a completely ordinary hotel scene was Robert Carlyle.  Now I have very few things against the actor, I happened to have adored Trainspotting and The Full Monty, but I am rather sick and tired of him these days.  While Philip Seymore Hoffman, Philip Baker Hall, and Julianne Moore have been rather busy in films over the last year, they have constantly given great performances (I don't care what everyone says, Julianne Moore was incredible in Magnolia).  Carlyle has been haunting me.  I happened to have liked Angela's Ashes, but I saw no use of Carlyle in the film, Bob Hoskins would have given a much better performance.  Then there was the repulsing Ravenous, where I could have easily done with an entirely different cast, screenplay, director, etc. (though I will admit that I found Guy Pierce's performance from the film to be up to par).

So here is Robert Carlyle, looking like a cross between a Robert DeNiro in Taxi Driver and Robert DeNiro in The Fan, playing a crazed man in a hotel room who breaks the screen in between the ceilings of two hotel rooms with his head, rambling and smoking a joint.  He has some cock-eyed story to tell to the film's protagonist, Leonardo DiCaprio, and what is sadder than anything, the fellow believes Carlyle.

The film, the first from DiCaprio since the overrated Titanic (come on people, a great third hour cannot make up for a poor first two), seems to be the talk of the town, and it is highly undeserved.  If there was a chance that director Danny Boyle would retain the filmmaking ability that was present in Trainspotting, there might have been a critical interest in the film (trust me, we never forget mistakes like A Life Less Ordinary) and all the interest in the film might not have been based on the fact that it was the new film from Leonardo DiCaprio.

DiCaprio is not horrible here -- I've actually never had a problem with the fellow, just the incredible overexposure of his talent --  in which he plays an American in Thailand, swept away into a small civilization that lives on a remote and unknown island.  There he is taken in by the seduction of a French friend's girlfriend (Ledoyen) and the island's pristine beach.  But the beauty of it all soon drives him to madness as the island's quasi-queen (Swinton; doing a pretty bad imitation of Cate Blanchett in Elizabeth) become rather intent on the attraction of DiCaprio.

The film's incessant allusions to the likes of Heart of Darkness and Lord of the Flies becomes unbearable -- some films are poorly equipped to play Literature in Review.  And this truly is poorly equipped; there is not a single performance of note in the entire film, not even DiCaprio;  the flimsy screenplay goes beyond the critique of "bad"; and the direction, with many eye-catching attempts, looks like a bad riff on a film made by a cocaine-addled student filmmaker.

So why a C-?  Well, there have been few things as beautiful as that beach these days.  The cinematography, as caught by Darius Khondji, looks immeasurably stunning, and the film dies have a upper hand in that market.  Even when off the island, the film looks good with cold blue lighting on all the Thailand street shots (question, is it ever daytime in Thailand?).

But no matter what I say against the film, there is nothing as (unintentionally) hilarious as the shark attack on DiCaprio in the middle of the film.  If only Jaws had gone that course.


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Holy Smoke!

(Dir: Jane Campion, Starring Kate Winslet, Harvey Keitel, Julie Hamilton, Sophie Lee, Daviel Wyllie, Paul Goddard, Tim Robertson, George Mangos, and Pam Grier)

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BY: DAVID PERRY

Jane Campion's cinematic remarks on women have never been more eye-catching.

When I began Holy Smoke!, I was under the impression that I was getting another look at women capturing the upperhand in a war of intelligence with a man in a grand setting.  She did it in either lavish costumes, or in lavish settings, or both in films like Angel at My Table, The Piano, and Portrait of a Lady.  So entering Holy Smoke! with the little knowledge I had on the film, I was more or less expecting a feminist agenda driven art film set in the deep East Indian tribal psychosis, so more or less Kate Winslet's last film Hideous Kinky with India instead of Marrakech (is it just me, or did that entire statement make me sound like a frumpy conservative).  Instead, to my surprise, and admitted joy, the film was actually set in Australia with only a few moments set in Northern Africa.  Unfortunately, the rest of the predispositions were true.

Holy Smoke! is about the attempts of an American "cult deprogrammer" (Keitel) to take a young Australian (Winslet) away from the bond she has gained for mystic guru in India.  Winslet has been coerced back into Australia after her mother lies and says that her father is dying and wishes to see his daughter again.  They call upon this cult deprogrammer in hopes of saving their daughter from the terminally dangerous actions of guru and the drugs they are sure she has taken while on holiday.  Keitel takes here to a remote house where he begins the three steps of reprogramming an individual, but he does not know that his mind is the one to be reprogrammed.

Keitel is sub-part here, easily one of his worst performances ever (plus did he really think that dressing in such a get-up near the end of the film would help hi chances as a respectable actor).  But where Keitel falters, Winslet shines.  I have liked the young Brit for years and she has yet to have let me down.  The performance that Winslet gives is one of the best of 1999, a year that has been strong for actresses.  The direction from Campion is pretty good, though some of the cutting-edge shots come off rather poorly.  Where the film hits its stride comes in its screenplay, by Camion and sister Anna.  The script works for the first hour, but the last part, especially the epilogue, falls flat.  Still, I found Holy Smoke! to be worthwhile if not only for the grand performance from Winslet.


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Topsy-Turvy

(Dir: Mike Leigh, Starring Jim Broadbent, Allan Corduner, Leslie Manville, Eleanor David, Ron Cook, Timothy Spall, Kevin McKidd, Martin Savage, Shirley Henderson, Dorothy Atkinson, Wendy Nottingham, Jonathan Avis, and Alison Steadman)

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BY: DAVID PERRY

The ultimate zeal of Mike Leigh's Gilbert and Sullivan praising opus, Topsy-Turvy, is more refreshing than any film this year.  Yes, I've seen some happy films this year, some of which were incredible, but films like Toy Story 2 was ground into a form that could be accessible to all ages (for the record, I actually do think that Toy Story 2 is the superior film), and The Straight Story was too serene to ever be thought of as having much zeal.  But Topsy-Turvy seems so loving, so praiseful that the heart of Mike Leigh comes out in full force.  I know that Leigh is supposedly a gruff and angry individual, but here he comes off as a highly likable guy, never thinkable as the director of films like Naked and Secrets & Lies.

Gilbert and Sullivan, a pair that I must admit having little knowledge about, prepares and starts up their new famous The Mikado musical, a mystifying cross-culture look at the feudal society of the Orient (I adored the way Gilbert comes up with the idea, having seen a Japanese exhibition and grown an obsession with a certain sword).  There are ups and (many) downs to their joining of minds to make this work.  The Mikado is the brain child of Gilbert (Broadbent), so he wants full control, but Sullivan (Corduner) is at that moment in time worried about his future as a musician and what such a musical could do to his career.  Meanwhile there are actors with their own personal problems:  a large ego, a drug problem, a young illegitimate child, a loss of his big break.

While the film is all fun and games, there are some serious undertones here.  Leigh does not really show the pair of musicians as being perfect, they are egotistical and each believe that they themselves are perfect.  The break of pure genius is brought forth here, with more comedy than most films could handle under such pressure.

Many would say that this film is highly overlong, running at over two and a half hours, but I disagree.  To remove a single song from this film would be crime.  The film is about what a great joint effort, however disjointed, The Mikado is, and the performances, along with the tense moments that brought them to the stage, show just how grand the musical is.  I know that most people seem to consider Shakespeare in Love to be the ultimate behind-the-scenes film, but I have to disagree; what Topsy-Turvy does for the tired genre is so rejuvenating that I'd love to see Leigh touch every genre (Leigh seems so interested in the darker aspects of life, why not try his hand at what brings beauty to the world more often?).

Broadbent, one of the best British character actors ever, gives a stunning performance, bringing Gilbert back to life in all the stubborn glory.  Corduner is great as well, but cannot help but be overshadowed by Broadbent.  The direction, set design, cinematography, writing, music, and costume design are incredible, some of the best works this year. In fact, Topsy-Turvy itself is, without a doubt, one of the best films of the year.


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Reviews by:
David Perry
2000, Cinema-Scene.com

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