> Volume 2 > Number 20

Volume 2, Number 20

This Week's Reviews:  Joe Gould's Secret, The Virgin Suicides, Mission: Impossible 2.

This Week's Omissions:  The Big Kahuna, Dinosaur, Road Trip, Small Time Crooks.

Joe Gould's Secret

(Dir: Stanley Tucci, Starring Stanley Tucci, Ian Holm, Hope Davis, Celia Weston, Patrick Tovatt, Susan Sarandon, Patricia Clarkson, John Tormey, Allan Corduner, Sarah Hyland, Hallee Hirsh, and Steve Martin)



Joe Gould's secret is that there is nothing.

Nothing necessarily real, yet something in the mind.  Joe Gould is an eccentric, one that has been seen in every film from The Fisher King to With Honors, the difference being that he was a real person.  Gould was a member of the beat generation, admittedly an older member of the generation, but still pure Bohemian.

And today we'd have no earthly idea who he was if not for the coverage her received from New Yorker writer Joe Mitchell (Tucci).  And, like Anywhere But Here, the film's real center is not that crazy mind that eats the scenery, but instead is about Joe Mitchell.

Joe Mitchell has many little demons of his own, it is rather easy to see a weird relationship between his father and himself.  Even Joe Gould (Holm) catches on to this, questioning Mitchell's decision to not work in the tobacco industry without knowing anything about his past beyond his mannerisms.  Mitchell is the real heart of the film, even if most of the film is about him learning about Gould.

Mitchell sets out to write about Gould after sees the man go off in a bar for some food.  It seems that Gould is a great writer, currently at work on a huge project called The Oral History of the World, entirely comprised of conversations he has overheard over the years.  Much of the film is spent as Mitchell tries to get Gould to scrounge up the book so that he can read it.

Tucci is a fine actor, working in a certain representative nature of his Italian up-bringing, even when doing a pretty horrible southern accent.  The Mitchell he portrays is perfect in contrast with Ian Holm's Joe Gould.  While each one is an interesting fellow, each is such in a different way.  Mitchell is often caught steering away from confrontation, even hiding from Gould when he finally tires of Gould's persistence.

Tucci makes Mitchell almost impish, even though he towers over Gould, looking much like a hermit or an troll from folklore (as one person mused, "he would scare the billy goats gruff").  Gould is a strong person, though weak in many ways.  He stands direct on what he intends to be done, understandable since he more or less remains in the same run of things on a daily basis (the panic that hits him when his home of three months is put on the line is testament to such).  Gould screams and startles everyone until he gets exactly what he wants, a far cry from the near personal Mitchell.

I happen to adore Ian Holm as an actor, he is really one of my favorites, but I really rarely find much in such characters like Gould.  I feel that Holm did the best he could, but it does not take a Shakespearean actor to play a loose-string.  Holm simply walks around chewing the scenery to a pulp, nothing more.

Though better than The Imposters, Joe Gould's Secret cannot compare to Tucci's first film Big Night, which he made with Campbell Scott.  The film is often weary and slow, and too often repetitive.  Admittedly, I was tired of Gould by the third act, understanding why Mitchell told him he was on a two week vacation.

And I was ready to write-off the film from the first hour and a half, but with the ending of the film I really noticed that it succeeded.  Though flawed, it had really kept alive the spirit of two men.


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The Virgin Suicides

(Dir: Sofia Coppola, Starring Kirsten Dunst, Katheleen Turner, James Woods, Chelse Swain, A.J. Cook, Leslie Hayman, Josh Hartnett, Giovanni Ribisi, Jonathan Tucker, Anthony DeSimone, Michael Paré, Noah Shebib, Robert Schwartzmann, Lee Kagan, Chris Hale, Joe Dinicol, Scott Glenn, and Danny DeVito)



"Everyone dated the demise of our neighborhood from the suicides of the Lisbon girls.  People saw their clairvoyance in the wiped out elms and harsh sunlight.  Some thought the tortures tearing the Lisbon girls pointed to a simple refusal to accept the world as it was handed down to them -- so full of flaws.  But the only thing we are certain of after all these years is the insufficiency of explanation."

This is the stage set immediately in Sofia Coppola's directorial debut The Virgin Suicides.  In those moody words lies the tone of the entire film, one of anguished awe.  The film's four central males looking towards the film's four central females, the Lisbon girls, that painful moment when lust ends and obsession begins.  All things converge in this film, one of the best I've seen this year.

The five sisters that comprise the Lisbon girls becomes four right at the beginning of the film, as a struggling 13 year old Cecilia (Hall) takes her life.  This was the second attempt by Cecilia, who finally crumbles after disassociation seeps into her life.

Yet the family stays together.  We are not told why Cecilia was so eager to die ("Obviously, doctor, you've never been a thirteen year-old girl"), but we learn as the film progresses.  The demanding mother Lisbon is a figure that cannot be stopped, even after the death of her youngest child.  It is not necessarily that she asks too much, but that she asks too zealously.  After a small strife, she takes extreme actions on the remaining Lisbon girls, never really budging.

The surviving Lisbons, 17 year-old Therese (Hayman), 16 year-old Mary (Cook), 15 year-old Bonnie (Swain), and 14 year-old Lux (Dunst), are attractive, to say the least, but that is all they really are to the film's narrator (voiced by Ribisi), one of the four boys of the neighborhood that yearn for these girls.  There is one moment in the film in which it seems the boy's dreams may come true, only for them to come tumbling down.  And that is how it should be.  For this film's narrative, the Lisbons must be more icons than people.

There is one sister that does open up to the camera, however.  Lux is the defiant one, in fact the only one that opens herself to a life away from her mother.  While the others passively take the actions she places on them, Lux works on defeating her in her own way.  Lux has been tarnished, most definitely the only one to have lost her virginity.  She is the one everyone wants, and, perhaps, can have.  To call her a slut would be much, but she is the one that takes lovers to the roof while the neighbor boys watch from across the street.

I was taken in by The Virgin Suicides and never really let go.  Even to this moment, I think of the luster in Lux's eyes, the way she graced the screen.  Perhaps that is the whole meaning to this film, if this flawed beauty is still present in mind, she too has become an icon for the viewer.

Kirsten Dunst is a fine actress, as was proven in Interview with the Vampire, but it is here that she really shines.  I've racked my brain and cannot think of another young actress that could fill the role so well, not even Katie Holmes or Sarah Polley.  Dunst is attractive, and Sofia Coppola and cinematographer Edward Lachman make that well known.  I was struck at the resemblance between her and Anna Lambert as Miranda in Peter Weir's Picnic at Hanging Rock.  Every shot she's in is one of awe.  It is no wonder that these boys cannot take her or her sisters off of their minds.

While Dunst graces the screen with her presence, James Woods captures it.  I often hate making remarks like such, but this is the best performance from the always great Wood.  He makes his range perfectly mix with the eccentricities of the film.  I would be hard-pressed to think of a better supporting performance this year.

Coppola does a fine job for her first work, one of the best debuts in recent years along with Gattaca, Hard Eight, and American Beauty.  The directorial prowess of Francis Ford Coppola has evidently rubbed-off on his daughter, who, by the way, proved that acting was not her finest position with her performance in The Godfather, Part III.  The visual style that she and Ed Lachman (the man behind The Limey and Erin Brockovich) create is stunning (the aural style is great too, with a fine score from Air).  I'm dearly awaiting her next film helming.

Coppola wrote the film from the novel by Jeffrey Eugenides in such a way to make it seem as lyrical as the printed word.  The spoken words of the narrator makes the story come into a style on its own, almost like a work of fine prose. 

"So much has been said about the girls over the years but we have never found an answer.  Even then as teenagers we tired to put the pieces together -- we still can't."


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Mission: Impossible 2

(Dir: John Woo, Starring Tom Cruise, Thandie Newton, Dougray Scott, Richard Roxburgh, Ving Rhames, John Polson, Rade Serbedzija, Breden Gleeson, Dominic Purcell, and Anthony Hopkins)



John Woo has been held on high by countless action film enthusiasts, and this is an understandable feeling.  Woo really does have a fine grasp of the camera as proven with Hard Boiled and The Killer, but he has never been the best at keeping the stories straight.

Face/Off was a truly fine achievement, with stunning visuals and an interesting premise, while Broken Arrow was a plot-hole riddled mess.  The first two American films from Woo could not be more different.  While Face/Off delivered both visually and aesthetically, Broken Arrow failed in both fields.  As for Mission: Impossible 2, the third American effort from Woo, the two films are mixed.

At times, the film is incredible to the eyes, but most of the story left me nodding my head in reflection.  I'm not the biggest denouncer of a film being hard to believe, but I think have never seen more plot holes and implausibilities in my life.  At times it seemed like screenwriter Robert Towne (of Chinatown fame of all things) ran around certain things so that the story could run with everyone knowing what they need to know.

The film begins with the rip-off face maneuver (or as Maxwell Smart would have called it "The old rip your face off revealing the criminal mastermind behind a plot that could ruin the world hoping to find out information he shouldn't know trick").  After the third or fourth use of these masks I began to wonder when Thandie Newton would rip-off her face revealing John Woo mainstay Chow Yun-Fat, or perhaps John Travolta's face on the body of Nicholas Cage.

Ethan Hunt (Cruise) is back, still alive and well, working in the Impossible Missions Force as he did in the previous film, though not in the same capacity as the ending of that film shows -- he is now working under Swanbeck (Hopkins).  Swanbeck sends Ethan on a quest to convince a young thief (Newton) that she must join them and to stop a madman from releasing a deadly virus on the world.

Is that the famous Lalo Schifrin music I hear starting up?  Yes, but it might as well be the Monty Norman theme to the James Bond series, Mission: Impossible 2 is nothing more than a slick, but mediocre Bond film.

Woo does direct the film very well, sometimes releasing the mind from the poor story that is unfolding.  There are some mistakes (what the hell was that mountain climbing sequence with the reggae music for?), but Woo does still keep the heart going.  And that is where I draw the line.  Beyond the action and Thandie Newton succulent screen presence (I can't believe that's the same Thandie Newton from Besieged and Beloved), the film is a failure.

Tom Cruise just struts around smiling and smirking, with everything still going his way.  I have heard so much coverage about Cruise doing his own stunts, but the real scary thing is that he did his own acting.  Cruise has been really hit and miss with me over the years and this is real step backwards.  Cruise proved he could do demanding drama with Dr. Bill Harford in Eyes Wide Shut and demeaning chutzpah with Frank T.J. Mackey in Magnolia, but Ethan could not have been less interesting.  And I even thought he did a respectable job in the first Mission: Impossible.

Normally I'm the first to sing the praises of villains in films.  I've liked everyone from Anthony Hopkins in Silence of the Lambs to Michael York in The Omega Code, but I have little to say about Dougray Scott that could be taken as positive.  I thought that Roxburgh, as Scott's right-hand man, could have been a far better lead villain in the same appeal as Robert Shaw in From Russia with Love.  But instead we get the poor man's Auric Goldfinger.

The first Mission: Impossible film had an equally slick appeal, but much more held on suspense then action.  Brian DePalma made the first film like a smart thriller running in the television series' shoes, this film is made like a Summer blockbuster from Michael Bay ruining the television series' shoes.  I'm sure there are some that will like this film, that is a safe bet, but there sure were many that screamed in pleasure over Armageddon last year.

I've only read one review of the film so far, a glowing mention from the Nashville Scene in which Jim Ridley remarks that "if plausibility concerns you all that much, why are you seeing a film called Mission: Impossible 2?"  Even so, is some believability too much to ask?


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Reviews by:
David Perry