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Volume 2, Number 15

This Week's Reviews:  American Psycho, Where the Money Is, 28 Days.

This Week's Omissions:  A Map of the World.



American Psycho

(Dir: Mary Harron, Starring Christian Bale, Willem Dafoe, ChloŽ Sevigny, Jared Leto, Reese Witherspoon, Samantha Mathis, Justin Theroux, Josh Lucas, Cara Seymour, Guinevere Turner, Matt Ross, and William Sage)

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BY: DAVID PERRY

Mary Harron has delivered a deliciously evil, insidiously funny look at the mind of a serial killer and will almost assuredly get little to no acclaim for it.  American Psycho is off-setting and despicable, and for that reason it is a good film.  I can see the long listing of critics and film viewers that have hated this film.  Why?  Simply because it is what it is, a no-holds-barred look into a twisted mind.

There are moments in the film that could disgust the most adamant horror film fan, while psychologically confusing the normal film viewer.  Not to say that people are not quick enough to catch what novelist Bret Easton Ellis and screenwriters Harron and Guinevere Turner, but that it takes the keenest of eyes to catch what really happens in the film's finale.  Is that poor storytelling?  I don't think so, anyone that would like this film would put a great deal of thought into its psychological side and could make way for what the ending means.

I saw this film in first-run, not at a critical screening, and was rather surprised at how few people walked out.  Compared to Your Friends & Neighbors, American Psycho was nearly walk-out free.  I doubt that this means that it was an audience that was taken to liking the film, but that it was a voyeuristic feeling to the audience; what was being projected on the screen was a must-see however upsetting it was.

Patrick Bateman (well played by Christian Bale) does some things that are utterly repulsive, using everything from an axe to a chainsaw to a nail gun as weapons, but never does the film truly portray him as the enemy.  Where The Talented Mr. Ripley worked was in its characterization, a nice guy that could not be hated even when he murders; here, Bateman is not a likable guy, in fact he is downright hatable, but one cannot help but feel a slight kinship to his escapades.  It is doubtful that we, the viewing public, truly want to do what he does, but the way he lays it out to him in the narration is so thought-provoking, so textured, that it almost seems like a good idea, even though the plans, of course, call for someone's demise.

Most of Bateman's victims in the film are people that we see daily but never really know.  To keep from spoiling the film, I will refrain from naming off these characters, but almost all the corpses are abstract ideas, not really people.  Most of the dead are one-dimensional, but that is meant to be, the film serves as a type of allegory, straight from the mind of Bateman.

The film's ending is contrived, that is one thing I must admit, but there is nothing to keep it from succeeding beyond that.  Everything we know from this film is straight from Bateman, he is literally in every single scene of the film with the exception of some counter-cutting towards the end.  It is like a Faulkner novel, where everything we know is from a biased storyteller.  To consider the ending to be a failure is only true if we were to consider Bateman's mind to be that of a sane person.

Christian Bale gives a starmaking performance as Bateman.  I must admit that I was weary when I learned of his casting in the pivotal role, the Welsh actor had never left me enthused with a performance in films like Swing Kids, Newsies, A Midsummer Night's Dream, or The Portrait of the Lady.  The only time I had ever felt compelled to like him was his reporter in Velvet Goldmine, but that was much more in the character than in the acting.  Here, Bale does work the Bateman character to the bone.  The only other actor that I could see pulling this off from the top of my head is Ethan Hawke.

Mary Harron and cinematographer Andrzej Sekula (the man behind the lens for Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction -- but not Jackie Brown, go figure) have made the film look like the mystic mood set by a wicked mind, and designers David Wosco, Daniel Bradford, Sandy Reynolds-Wasco, and Mary Clarie Hannan  have successfully grasped the feeling of 1980's decadence.

To consider the film to be a justified classic is one thing that time will tell. It could easily find a nice little niche to fall into, but it could also be lost in a flame of controversy, a la Martin Scorsese's The Last Temptation of Christ.  Either way, my recommendation of the film should be taken with restraint, this film is not, in any way, for all tastes.


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Where the Money Is

(Dir: Marek Kanievska, Starring Paul Newman, Linda Fiorentino, Dermot Mulroney, Susan Barnes, Diane Amos, Anne Pitoniak, Bruce MacVittie, Irma St. Paul, Michel Perron, Dorothy Gordon, Rita Tucket, Dawn Ford, T.J. Kenneally, and Roderick McLachlan)

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BY: DAVID PERRY

Where the Money Is stands as a simple genre picture, one of those caper films that come across every once and a while.  That is not necessarily a debit, as was proven with Keeping the Faith.  Very often genre pictures are enjoyable.  There's little to hold against a film simply because it does not push the envelope, either morally or stylistically.  Where the Money Is never really asks anything from the viewer, and sometimes that is refreshing with all the complex human dramas that come out in the late period of the year.  Coming off of films like The Straight Story, The War Zone, and Boys Don't Cry, Where the Money Is is refreshing.  It is simply one of those films to sit back and enjoy.

The film is about Carol (Fiorentino), a nurse in an elderly home who is in a personal precipice.  Her life is not meeting the future she imagined when she ran off with her high school sweetheart after being named king and queen on the prom.  Her husband Wayne (Mulroney) has become demanding and lost; at most they see each other for ten minutes a day, just long enough for a fight to commence. 

Things seem pretty bad for Carol in this job and marriage heading nowhere.  That is until the home takes in a new patient, incarcerated bank robber Henry Manning  (Newman).  Right away Carol sets out to prove that the stroke he is diagnosed with is simply a hoax to get him out of jail.  She does everything from startling sounds to a lap dance to get a rise out of him, but nothing really works until she rolls his wheelchair into the river.  Now the two of them are plotting, planning what to do.  He feels that Carol and Wayne knowing his secret may hurt his scheme, but she sees him as a ticket out with her own scheme in mind.

One thing that places the film on the mark is its performances.  Fiorentino has long been one of the most underappreciated actresses of the nineties.  I think that no one notices her because she is never given films that push her as an actress -- funny or not, there is nothing in Dogma that asks for an Olivier or a de Havilland.  Fiorentino brings in a spark, I've seen many actors at ease in films, but here she seemed like an old pro.  No, she did not seem as free and easy as Paul Newman, but she seemed like she was terribly into the character, even having a great deal of fun while still keeping the performance going smoothly.

As one might expect, the same can't exactly be said for Dermot Mulroney.  Don't get me wrong, the guy may very well be a splendid guy in person, but his acting ability is so stringently low that he might as well give up.  The only thing he can sell is a persona, that gullible, nice guy that everyone likes.  The film spends some time with Fiorentino deciding between turning towards the straight gun Mulroney or the less than lawful Newman, and the sensible Mulroney is too likable to keep her.

Last fall I was present to the painfully bad film Diamonds which featured a fine performance from film vet Kirk Douglas, I was truly afraid that Where the Money Is might turn out in the same ballpark, with a fine performance failing to save an unsalvageable script.  While the film does take the backseat to the incredible Newman, it does sustain enjoyability and make way for a story that suits such a great actor while pleasuring the audience.

This is actually the return to filmmaking for director Kanievska, who's best known for her last film 1987's Less Than Zero (of small note:  the film was also written by Bret Easton Ellis, the brain behind fellow 14 April 2000 release American Psycho).  The direction is likable, however by the book it is.  I was much more intrigued by the way the film was photographed by Thomas Burstyn, who kept the film visually simplistic while covering some doted areas.  Also of note is the fun little score from Mark Isham, who keeps it in the realm of the genre but goes out of its way to seem new.

Still, there is nothing in the film that can compare to Newman, it is literally his film.  The secret to Where the Money Is being successful is in that Butch Cassidy smirk, those Fast Eddie eyes.


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28 Days

(Dir: Betty Thomas, Starring Sandra Bullock, Dominic West, Viggo Mortensen, Steve Buscemi, Azura Skye, Alan Tudyk, Reni Santoni, Mike O'Malley, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Joanne Pankow, Margo Martindale, Corinne Riley, Susan Krebs, and Loudon Wainwright III)

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BY: DAVID PERRY

After five years of making a large collection of horrible films, it is about time that Sandra Bullock succeed with a film.  I know that she has become more and more popular over the course of this time, but I have been continually let down.  Practical Magic, Hope Floats, In Love and War, Forces of Nature, not a one worth the price of a Roger Corman film.  The only films that I have come near recommending from her since While You Were Sleeping and Speed were A Time to Kill and The Net, the two films she made directly after While You Were Sleeping.  I should have known something was wrong when I saw that hideous Denis Leary vehicle Two If by Sea.

So there it is, I am bias towards the actress, she is a disgrace to the films she made early on (I even thought she gave a nice, genuine performance in her small, barely noticeable character from the remake of The Vanishing).  For that very reason I chose to skip her last film Gun Shy, which received reviews that sounded exactly like Forces of Nature meets Mickey Blue Eyes.  I'll admit that I was not truly expecting much from her in this film, nor any film, she has literally lost touch.  Or so I thought.

No, I would not consider 28 Days to be her comeback, it's going to take a pretty impressive film and role for that to happen (always remember, John Travolta's film directly before Pulp Fiction was Look Who's Talking Now).  28 Days is a good film, but neither her performance or the film truly impressed me.  But there were moments, more or less secluded to the film's early half, that made me think that something might be unspooling before me, something interesting and engaging.

But all falls apart in the film's second half where every turn is one for the worse.  I know that there are many others that have and will compare the film to Girl, Interrupted, film in the same niche, but that is only equated in a handful of moments (the lost mental patient, the off and on and off love interest), otherwise there are two independent films.  The biggest difference is that Girl, Interrupted falters throughout, 28 Days only does so in the latter half.

28 Days tells the story of a party animal facing an epiphany.  After a drunken, drug-induced stupor ruins her sister's wedding and puts her limo into a house, Gwen (Bullock) is sent to an upstate drug and alcohol rehabilitation center for four weeks to keep her from spending time in prison.  There Gwen begins to see the error of her ways and the utter unreliability of her fellow party-going boyfriend Dominic (West) thanks to the world of fellow addicts she encounters.

There was a moment in the film in which Jasper muses over the center's lack of any big name stars.  At that moment in the film I was happy, doing so would be clichťd and predictable.  Then moments later we learn that one of the inhabitants is a big name baseball player.  From there on the film is a mess, turning from poor comedy to struggling drama.  Up until that moment I was content with the film's painting of a party girl and her resistance to rehabilitation, but once she falls into conformity (i.e. Gwen singing "Lean on Me" with the rest of the patients), the film turns into a mess.

The screenplay by Susannah Grant (who also wrote Erin Brockovich) is enjoyable, however compromising it is in the latter periods (note that she cowrote Brockovich with an uncredited Richard LaGravinese).  Betty Thomas is not one of my favorite directors, only finding her mark when making films on famous people (she also made Private Parts and The Late Shift) as opposed to the less than enthralling comedies of late (The Brady Bunch Movie, Doctor Dolittle).  I have a feeling that the film's nice look comes from its fine cinematographer, Declan Quinn.

The cast is enjoyable for the most part.  Bullock is fine, selling her character.  There are also fine performances from West as her boyfriend, Jean-Baptiste as a patient, and Buscemi as her (surprisingly sane) counselor.  Of course, there are some lemons in the bunch, including Mortenson as that ballplayer, Tudyk as a German patient, and Skye as her roommate.

So 28 Days is a superior film to Girl, Interrupted, at least until it becomes a facsimile.


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Reviews by:
David Perry
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