Volume 2, Number 7
This Week's Reviews: Boiler Room, Boys Don't Cry, Felicia's Journey, Diamonds, All About My Mother.
This Week's Omissions: Hanging Up, Pitch Black, The Whole Nine Yards.
(Dir: Ben Younger, Starring Giovanni Ribisi, Vin Diesel, Nicky Katt, Nia Long, Scott Caan, Ron Rifkin, Jamie Kennedy, Taylor Nichols, Bill Nichols, Tom Everett Scott, Ben Affleck, and David Younger)
BY: DAVID PERRY
Wall Street and Glengarry Glen Ross, two of my favorite films of all-time (Wall Street was my #5 choice in 1987 and Glengarry Glen Ross was my #1 choice in 1992). Neither are true achievements in filmmaking, but both, with their post-Reaganomics cynicism and well-groomed iconoclasts, make a statement that holds true, even in these days of Clinton administration prosperity and casual dress entrepreneurs. I happen to consider each of these films to be prerequisites to becoming interested in business, the ups and downs are all here in this collective four hours; if there has ever been a more grand sight than a prosperous Michael Douglas in Wall Street or a more disheartening sight than a disillusioned Jack Lemmon in Glengarry Glen Ross. These are films that took me by the collar and made me learn of the world I'm in, and there is no doubt that this same thing happened to Ben Younger.
Nothing was given in the press material, but I'd say that Younger and I are both in the same age group, learning everything we know from mass-media. And both of us seem to have a shared interest in the austere look to business based films. A certain panache is here in his directorial debut, Boiler Room.
There is nothing to place him outside of the hundreds of young filmmakers who make an early film only to go onto crap (George Huang of Swimming with Sharks would go on to do, well, Trojan War, which is about the condoms). Well, nothing except for his bond with his cinematic elders. No this is no Hard Eight (Paul Thomas Anderson) or Reservoir Dogs (Quentin Tarantino), but I have not felt this encouraged by a first time filmmaker since those two (for the record, last year had Spike Jonze with Being John Malkovich, Kimberly Pierce with Boys Don't Cry, and Sam Mendes with American Beauty blowing away the filmmaking debut away, but none of them seem as internationally threatening as Younger [let's face it, with Tarantino's second film, the entire filmmaking community changed gears as independent films with crime became commonplace in the film market -- just how many can you spot in the straight-to-video section of your local video outlet?). I sense that if Younger would kill the so-called stylistic editing coinciding with beats to rap songs, he might find himself with work for the rest of his career.
Boiler Room is about the wealth, the greed, the anguish that is also present in those films I went on a rant with earlier, in fact the film even quotes both films going as far as showing a scene from Wall Street with the young, wealthy men of the film showing off their knowledge of the film's dialogue. Seth (Ribisi) has quit college and is now running a small casino for his college friends in upstate New York. He is making a living and he is happy, but there is still something missing, he cannot find the acceptance of his judge father (Rifkin). For this, Seth gives up the illegal casino and gets "real" job, en route to becoming a day trader. The stock company that he finds work at JT Marlin, a nice stock brokerage in Long Island owned by young multimillionaire simply called Michael (Scott). And that is just how low-key this place is -- they won't even hire already established brokers, they only, as advisor Jim Young (Affleck) says to a number of new recruits, train new ones.
But this incredibly auspicious business, with all its perks, has a dark secret. What Seth does not know, and will not accept when he finds out, is that JT Marlin is selling fake stock, options that are there only to plump Michael's portfolio. The FBI is on to them, and they know which workers to turn to, one of whom is Seth.
I have never really liked Ribisi. In fact I think that the only time I ever remarked that I could stand him in a film was in Saving Private Ryan. Otherwise I have detested him, whether in an episode of The X-Files or in films like The Other Sister and The Mod Squad. But I actually liked him here. He gave off the impressionable kid in heart that is needed for this role.
While Ribisi's sleepy eyes make him a probable nervous
wreck, it is the ultra-assured slicksters of the firm that really stand out. In
a small role, Affleck gives his best work since Good Will Hunting, just as
smarmy and tiny in time-span yet immense in importance to the story as Alec Baldwin in Glengarry
Glen Ross. There's also Nicky Katt as Seth's table manager and Nia Long as the
firm's secretary shining. But the real heart of the story is in the performance of,
brace yourself, Vin Diesel. I know that the guy has never really made a mark in any
of the action films he has made, but here he really gives a terrific turn as the most
human-like of the main members of the firm. Yes, he knows what is going on, and he
seems to have no real problem with it, but there is a sense of loss in Diesel's
performance; he is not just hulking around like in Saving Private Ryan, he is
really showing compassion. The only thing that might be considered a downfall to his
ability is his hulking voice. But that sure helped him in his vocal work on The
|Boys Don't Cry
(Dir: Kimberly Pierce, Starring Hilary Swank, Chloë Sevigny, Peter Sarsgaard, Brendan Sexton III, Alicia Goranson, Jeanetta Arnette, Alison Folland, Matt McGrath, Rob Campbell, and Cheyenne Rushing)
BY: DAVID PERRY
Brandon Teena was a young man living the life of the Midwestern rebel. He drove cars fast, he went and drank with his buddies, and he took the ladies by storm. But life was not that easy for him, for biologically Brandon was a girl. He was born Teena Brandon in Lincoln, Nebraska, where he grew up slowly changing himself into a male. When things became tough in Lincoln, Brandon headed down to Falls City, where he thought he would be happy, a place where no one knew who he was.
As perfect as this may have seemed in the beginning, all came tumbling down as he turned 21. Two ex-convicts he considered to be friends, learned of Brandon's true identity and took to retribution. Brandon Teena was shot a killed on Christmas Day along with two other people, for the simple reason that he was a she.
I saw the story of Brandon Teena in the form of a documentary last year named The Brandon Teena Story, and I have not forgotten his story since. The documentary not only wanted the world to open itself to the transgendered, but also for the world to learn exactly where Brandon was coming from. He was a person, and that is what is at heart in this story. Yes, he died allowing a cause to become clear, but the utter sadness of his murder is not in the ultimate misunderstanding leading to murder, but that a murder was committed simply because of hate. John Lotter and Tom Nissen committed one of the worst hate crimes ever, anger over someone unsure of their sexual identity.
Boys Don't Cry takes the Brandon Teena story and expands it to the cinematic effects. Sure there are some moments in the film that do not actually coincide with the actual story (the film deletes one of the murder victims, a black man at the wrong place at the wrong time), but it does so much work to meld a compassionate look at what went through the mind of Brandon Teena near the end of his life. Sure there are some moments of cinematic rewriting of history, but there is nothing here that changes the entire meaning of the film. Director/writer Kimberly Pierce does not turn Brandon into some martyr of the gay movement, the audience is introduced to Brandon as a bit of a rebel-rouser, a ladies man, and a felon. For heaven's sake, at one point Brandon steals a check from the friend who is giving him a place to live in Falls City.
The film make his story into a drama of hate and misunderstanding, not the melodramatic film that could have easily been made here (look at the way Pierce takes on the relationship between Brandon [portrayed by Swank] and Joe's ex Lana [Sevigny], with the audience being a knowing viewer and not an emotionally charged character). Every character is three-dimensional, even the two men that will be the most hated people in the world come the film's finale; Lotter is a portrayed by Sarsgaard as simply a disorganized fellow that is too one-sighted to consider other things, while still making it abundantly clear that he still loves Lana.
The performance given by Hilary Swank is one of the best performances I have ever seen. The utter anguish in her eyes tell everything there is to know about a character. The last time a performer did this for me was Ian Holm in The Sweet Hereafter. I have never really been the biggest fan of Swank having only known her from The Next Karate Kid and Sometimes They Come Back...Again (that's right kids, I did not catch her years on the television drama Beverly Hills, 90210). In fact, when I learned of a film to be made of Brandon Teena's story having hired her for the lead role, I was a little dismayed. Needless to say, she went far beyond any expectations.
The supporting performance by Chloë Sevigny also takes the young actress to new heights. I have always felt that there was something in Sevigny that just needed the right role. As much as I cannot stand Kids, I actually felt Sevigny gave a pretty good performance, despite playing a rather uninteresting character (though, in retrospect, hers was the most interesting of that horrid cast). And I've found here to be pretty good in films like Palmetto, Trees Lounge, and The Last Days of Disco. But here she goes to new acting levels, a place that she would surely never get in those terrible Harmony Korine like Gummo and julien donkey-boy. Here she is magnificent, seeming as helpless and lost as a actor can get without becoming melodramatic (in case you have not noticed, I hate sappy melodramas).
Boys Don't Cry is the first film for Pierce, who proves that there is really a great area of film direction unattended to, the females. The screenplay from Pierce and Andy Bienen successfully grasps the feel of the Midwest, and the story that was told in The Brandon Teena Story. Pierce also shines as a director working in long sped up shots from cinematographer Jim Denault. I hope to see Pierce go on to make a successful female director career -- note to Jane Campion -- without turning it into feminist propaganda.
Boys Don't Cry is, without a doubt, the most
emotionally heartbreaking films this year; a sure bet for my top ten list.
(Dir: Atom Egoyan, Starring Bob Hoskins, Elaine Cassidy, Arsinée Khanjian, Sheila Reed, Nizwar Karanj, Ali Yassine, Peter McDonald, Kriss Dosanjh, Gerard McSorley, and Danny Turner)
BY: DAVID PERRY
There are few films to ever touch me like The Sweet Hereafter from Atom Egoyan back in 1997. I know that the film did not get my top position that year (I placed L.A. Confidential first by a hair), but I have never left it out when referring to the best film of each year. The placement between the two is so close that they are side by side in my listing of the films of the century (L.A. Confidential: #46; The Sweet Hereafter: #47). So there is no lack of respect form me towards director Atom Egoyan; I've liked every film I've seen from him. One reason that I think my adoration for Egoyan is that the is a humanistic Coen Brother. The leisurely art of the Coens is present in Egoyan's work, though the Coens are not near as interested in the way people tick. Egoyan will delve so far into a character that you might become sick from the claustrophobic setting. The whole appeal of the Ian Holm character in The Sweet Hereafter is reliant on the scene in which he recounts the occurrence when he almost lost his daughter Zoe. There is a deep sense of threatening surrealism in the helming of that sequence, a doom that is too impending to let pass by.
Where The Sweet Hereafter cut off, with people being people, however flawed, his new film Felicia's Journey looks at a different view. The lead protagonist in this film is a caterer named Hilditch (terrific job from Hoskins), a fairly nice fellow who has many friendly acquaintances. But there is much more in Hilditch than his personality shows, we learn that he is a serial killer, taking out young ladies who he produces a trust from over a long period of time. Enter Felicia, a young Irish girl, searching for her fiancé in hopes of gaining his help on her pregnancy. Of course, Felicia needs companionship, and that is exactly what Hilditch brings.
Egoyan's script gives more layers to the characters here
than there are in most psychological thrillers. Hilditch is not simply a horrible
killer, he is a nice, respectable English citizen. In fact I'd love to know
Hilditch, even more than the decidedly lovable Tom Ripley from The Talented Mr. Ripley,
the only psychological thriller from the last ten years that can compare to this film
(well, there's also The Silence of the Lambs). Of course, with Tom Ripley,
it is a plus to leave him without loving you.
(Dir: John Mallory Asher, Starring Kirk Douglas, Dan Aykroyd, Corbin Allred, Kurt Fuller, Jenny McCarthy, Mariah O'Brien, and Lauren Bacall)
BY: DAVID PERRY
84 years old, making his 84th film, that is how it is for Kirk Douglas with Diamonds. Unfortunately such a great achievement cannot come in-line with a good film.
Diamonds is one of those films that tarnish a great career, and few careers can compare to Douglas' with films like Spartacus, Paths of Glory, The Bad and the Beautiful, The Fury, and A Letter to Three Wives. But a stroke has left him unable to speak in the way he used to, with all the eloquence of a diamond in the ruff (I actually wrote that line before I thought of the poor play on words that it also serves as). He has not made a film since Greedy, where he was merely a cameo. In Diamonds he is the star. A stroke may have impaired his speech, but Douglas can still act, and that he does here.
Saying that the film is completely relying on Douglas would be an understatement, there is nothing new, nor interesting in the entire film. I can safely say that I was neither taken aback by any of the supposed drama nor laughing at any of the supposed comedy. The film is an utter mess from beginning to end, and there is nothing to bring it out of the rut. Some might say that Lauren Bacall's appearance in the film near the half-way point was a rejuvenation of a dying film, but I did not think she even brought anything new to the film. Is there really such a thing as grumpy old women saving a film?
And the rest of the supporting cast can be almost taken
as at fault as the horrid screenplay by first time screenwriter Allan Aaron Katz. I
have never really cared for Dan Aykroyd (who plays Douglas' son), and he does nothing here
to change my mind. But the real travesty in this film is that they actually
subjected Douglas to having to work with a horrible actor like Corbin Allred (as Douglas'
grandson). A hackneyed story (about Douglas attempting to go to Las Vegas with son
and grandson to find some diamonds he left behind when he was a boxer), a scrawny climax,
an idiotic ending, and bad acting, all make Diamonds the worst film I have ever seen with
Kirk Douglas gracing the screen.
|All About My Mother
(Dir: Pedro Almodóvar, Starring Cecilia Roth, Marisa Paredes, Penélope Cruz, Antonia San Juan, Candela Peña, Rosa María Sardà, Fernando Fernán Gómez, Toni Cantó, Eloy Azorín, and Carlos Lozano)
BY: DAVID PERRY
Pedro Almodóvar's ode to all that is woman comes as more of a achievement than I'd ever expect. In forethought, the film seemed to be a quick suck-up job for Almodóvar, giving a nice little present to his mother and all the women that have touched his life. But beyond the textual layers, there is a nice story within. The pain of loss is not simply a female pain, but universal. The title might make the viewer think that we are only brought to see what has happened to the mother in this case (very well played by Roth), but the title is simply a play on the title of the film All About Eve, a film that serves as a slight basis for the goings on in All About My Mother (Todo Sobre Mi Madre).
Almodóvar is one of the premier foreign film directors of the nineties, and pretty much agreed upon as the best current director from Spain, and this title is understandable considering All About My Mother. The film is nothing in comparison to Almodóvar's previous film, the meticulous drama Live Flesh, but here there is much more love. I know that there are some that would surely disagree here, but I consider this to be to Almodóvar as The Straight Story is to David Lynch, it is almost a complete change of pace. The early films from Almodóvar were light comedies (ok, maybe light is the wrong adjective), while Live Flesh was a tense drama; All About My Mother is nearly a mixture of both. What comedy there is here is merely fanciful (and, unfortunately sometimes dull), but the drama hits right on the head. I know that I tend to scream at my hatred for melodrama, but sometimes it works, and this is one of those cases.
The whole idea of All About My Mother comes from a single character, who's screen time is probably ten minutes. But what this character does to the lives of the rest of the characters is incredible. This character is a young man, celebrating his seventeenth birthday with his mom (in a weird chance occurrence, I happened to see this film on my own birthday). He stays outside the stagedoor after seeing a Spanish stage production of A Streetcar Named Desire in hopes of getting the autograph of the play's star Huma Rojo (Paredes). But as fate would have it, he is hit by a car while chasing Rojo's taxi. This young man dies, and from there every bit of his mother Manuela's life goes into limbo. The chance encounters she has while searching for his father to tell him of his son and that his son has died, makes up this story. She becomes the nurse to a nun who has contracted AIDS from Manuela's ex-husband, who is now living around Spain as a woman. There is also a long time friend of Manuela who keeps her on her toes, a transvestite named La Agrado (San Juan). Finally Manuela finds herself best situated as an assistant to Rojo, not knowing that Manuela's son had died for her autograph.
Almodóvar relies on his lead actress to carry the film,
a great choice considering just how great Roth is in the film. He does, though help
the film by placing some of the most interesting camera shots ever (I absolutely adored a
point in the film in which the camera sees something occur, then a title card comes up as
"Two Years Later" and the occurrence is reversed). My one, and only, real
problem with the film was in San Juan, who I found neither interesting or funny.
Other than that, All About My Mother is one of the best films of the year, and my
choice for best foreign language film of the year.