> Volume 2 > Number 23

Volume 2, Number 23

This Week's Reviews:  Up at the Villa, Gone in Sixty Seconds, Private Confessions.

This Week's Omissions:  NONE.

Up at the Villa

(Dir: Philip Haas, Starring Kristen Scott Thomas, Sean Penn, Anne Bancroft, James Fox, Massimo Ghini, Jeremy Davies, and Derek Jacobi)



Sometimes there are those films that are so frumpy and dislocated from interest at the very beginning that it is hard to forgive it for the rest of the film.  So often costume dramas use the façade of the genre to make them seem important.  While Merchant-Ivory (Room with a View, Howards End) and Anthony Minghella (The English Patient, The Talented Mr. Ripley) have grasped the genre, others can only work with the look and structure of it, but not the feelings.

Jane Campion's The Piano and An Angel at My Table are costume dramas that excel due to the fact that they have a perfect narrative base and beautiful look.  Compare them to Campion's last costume drama, A Portrait of the Lady and you have two distinct differences.  With the earlier two films Campion made the story work with what she was showing, with Portrait the story was merely an excuse for big costumes and vast sets.

Up at the Villa is that way too, at least in its first thirty minutes.  When we are introduced to the characters, the film seems flat an uninteresting since all we see is yet another film about the struggles of the upper-class in England.  For heaven's sake, Jane Austen films are not hot property right now.

As I watched the film, I was taken to how close the film was to Franco Zeffirelli's Tea with Mussolini from last year, both in story and mistakes.  Each one is a bit different, but there is little to contrast Up at the Villa's Anne Bancroft and Tea with Mussolini's Vanessa Redgrave.

The film, based on a W. Somerset Maugham novella, does come into its own storywise as it progresses, but the meat that it gains there is lost in a muddle of scenes that are about as contrived as an episode of Twin Peaks (and at least Twin Peaks knew how to deal with contrivances).  Every little hokey plot device that follows the film's one grand sequence (I will not divulge for those who do see the film, but I will say that the rest of the film is highly dependent on what happens in this sequence of events) seems like a pause from the film's meaty moments, those moments that never do reappear.

The film centers around Mary Panton, a British woman living in Florence.  She is in the midst of being courted by Sir Edgar Swift (Fox), a diplomat that should soon become governor of Bengal. Mary does not really love Edgar, but she dearly needs the money.  After her husbands death, Mary has been struggling with his debts, causing her to live on the kindness of the other British expatriots.  One of these is Principessa San Ferdinando (Bancroft), who spends time with Mary speaking of her own past relationships and their lack of love.

When Edgar pops the question, Mary does not have an answer, so she makes him wait until he returns from a small trip that he has planned.  Afterwards, she confides in Principessa of this and that she does not really love him.  In return, she tells Mary of the only time that she ever really felt that she helped a person through love.  She has a night of sex with a poor man, giving him one night that he could cherish in his horrid life.

When she has a run-in with Rowley Flint (Penn), an American that drives her home in the crime riddled streets of Florence, she finds such a depressed man, a young Austrian fleeing from Hitler's Nazi armies.  She does as Principessa does, spiraling her into political intrigue, an obsession like Fatal Attraction, and a closer relationship with Rowley.

Like any other costume drama, the film looks good -- so good that it is almost excusable.  Philip Haas, who made the exquisite looking but just as flawed Angels and Insects, knows how to capture the pathos of the characters, even if there isn't an inch of caring left in the audience.  He sure knows how to film a villa sitting there.  And the interiors of the villa, created by Paul Brown, are incredible to look at, arguably the high point of the film.

I was startled with how poor Kristen Scott Thomas was in the film.  I happen to like her usually, but her performance here was incredibly flat.  She and Anne Bancroft really bring the film down with their performances.  Meanwhile, the four men of the film all do pretty good jobs.  Jeremy Davies has the tension, James Fox has the perfection, Massimo Ghini has the threat, and Sean Penn has the finesse.

There was one character in the film that I did find absolutely intriguing, however.  Derek Jacobi plays a man named Lucky Leadbetter, a gay expat that has been revoked of his membership in the inner circles by Princespessa.  I found Leadbetter, with his charming asides and vulgar approaches, to be worthy of a film to himself, far more than Mary.

There are many things in the film that are commendable, but this dour film cannot ever really get itself out of the gutter.


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Gone in Sixty Seconds

(Dir: Dominic Sena, Starring Nicolas Cage, Angelina Jolie, Giovanni Ribisi, Delroy Lindo, Chi McBride, Will Patton, Robert Duvall, Tim Olyphant, Vinnie Jones, Chrisopher Eccleston, Trevor Godard, Scott Caan, James Duval, William Lee Scott, and Grace Zabriskie)



I hate to admit it, but I entered this film with every expectation to hate it.  Why?  Two words cover nearly every bias I could have about the film:  Jerry Bruckheimer.

Whenever I'm asked who I dislike in the film world, I usually answer with actor Val Kilmer, writer Akiva Goldman, director Griffen Dunne (admittedly, some of his work as an actor have been worthwhile), and producer Jerry Bruckheimer. I did not become so steadfast on Bruckheimer until Armageddon, one of the worst films I've ever seen.  This was a final straw after seeing and panning previous Bruckheimer mistakes Top Gun, Days of Thunder, Bad Boys, The Rock, Con Air, Dangerous Minds, Flashdance, Beverly Hills Cop, and Beverly Hills Cop II.  Yes, there have been exceptions, most notably Tony Scott's Crimson Tide and Enemy of the State and Michael Mann's Thief, but never enough to compare to the long list of mistakes.

So, here I was, sitting in a marginally crowded theatre for Bruckheimer latest production, from director Dominic Sena, awaiting my chance to take another scathing bite at Bruckhimer.  The trailer before the film, a new Bruckheimer work called Cowboy Ugly (more or less Cocktail meets Midnight Cowboy meets Showgirls) did not help matters.

The film started with the Bruckheimer logo, leaving fully ready to start the nit-picking.  I even checked my watch so that I could have some remotely witty remark on the idiotic first 60 seconds of the film (by the way, the first 60 seconds is some horrible CGI stopwatch).  And then halfway through the film, I noticed something, I was enjoying myself.

No, I'm not here as some Bruckheimer conversion, there was too many screwball mistakes plaguing the latter half of the film, but I am rather appalled at how swayed I was before even watching the film.

Right from the beginning, I knew I was not watching a Truffaut film but I was not as incredibly appalled at the horrendous work I was seeing as with Armageddon.  This is not a good film, but it is a step up, hopefully the beginning of a long period in which Bruckheimer can dumb down the action enough to keep from making it preposterous (or better yet, pretentious -- using those Time Code words).

Part of the reason that I think Gone in Sixty Seconds comes nearer to hitting the mark is that it understands what it is.  One of the main reasons that I hated Armageddon with such a strong taste was the fact that it took itself so seriously, nearly ever scene was there for dramatic effect, when that was not in the correct realm of the film.  The only dramatic scene in Sixty Seconds is five minutes long, and features dialogue so bad, that it cannot ever be taken seriously ("How deep is he?" "Deep." "Can you get him out?" "It means doing things I told you I'd never do" "Do 'em").

The film is about a man leaving retirement from stealing cars to save the life of his little brother.  Kip Raines (Ribisi) made a deal with British baddie "The Carpenter" (Eccleston; called so because of his adoration for wood making) to steal 50 particular cars, some easy to find, others that take a great deal of work.  Since he has only three more days to steal all 50, things look dismal.  Until brother Memphis Raines (Cage) comes in to help little brother.  Memphis quit stealing seven years ago when his mother asked him to, fearing that Kip would follow in his footsteps.  As fate would have it, Kip still followed.

With time against him, Memphis brings in some of his old cohorts to get these cars in the allotted time, without getting caught by Detective Roland Castlebeck (Lindo), a LA cop specializing in grand theft auto who has it out for Memphis.

The performances are laughably bad at times, with Cage hamming it up to the camera almost as much as he did with Con Air.  Some of the supporting players are fun, especially Vinnie Jones (Big Chris from Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels), Chi Martin, Robert Duvall, and the always lovable Delroy Lindo.  I was surprised to see some comedic energy in Tim Olyphant as the "buddy" cop to Lindo.  Previously he had merely emoted to the camera (the performance in Go, in particular), but here he actually shows some trident trying.

But those are the good ones.  The film raises a handful of questions dealing with the actors:  1) You proved yourself in Boiler Room, Giovanni Ribisi, so why did you decide to do a recap of your Mod Squad character?  2)  Who is the imbecile that continues to hire Scott Caan, James Duval, and William Lee Scott in films?  3) What the Hell possessed Christopher Eccleston to do this film?  4) Does Angelina Jolie's career hang on whether or not she licks her lips every five minutes?

Dominic Sena directed a nearly forgotten thriller from 1993 called Kalifornia (chances are, if the film is still in your memory, it is only due to the fact that it features early performances from Brad Pitt and David Duchovny).  Sena proved then that he was an able director, one that an eye should be kept on.  But, of course, he chose not to do any more films for a while, so that ability was lost.  And it does come out again with Gone in Sixty Seconds.

To say the least, I was enjoying some of the chases, almost as much as the stylish planning phases that Sena takes us through.  There were moments in which I was literally ready to get a 1967 Shelby GT 350 and race around for some time.

Some of the characters are cheesy, most of the dialogue is hampered with either sullen nobility or idiotic childishness, yet there was a part of me that enjoyed himself.  A part that was ready for that stupid action film.  Is that the fault of a classically trained film viewer or the credit of a good action film?


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Private Confessions

(Dir: Liv Ullman, Starring Pernilla August, Max von Sydow, Samuel Fröler, Thomas Hanzon, Anita Björk, Gunnel Fred, Kristina Adolphson, Vibeke Falk, and Hans Alfredson)



In a world where Pauly Shore and Michael Bay take up space, one can always take note of the occasional remembrance of Ingmar Bergman.  He really is a cinematic genius.  Looking over a list of his films is like looking at a list of the best films ever made.  Persona, Wild Strawberries, The Seventh Seal, The Silence, Cries and Whispers, Fanny and Alexander, Autumn Sonata, and Scenes from a Marriage, who can choose one being the best? (Ok, yes, I have an opinion on The Seventh Seal being the best, but it is closely followed by Persona, Wild Strawberries, The Silence, Cries and Whispers, ...)

With Bergman in semi-retirement from filmmaking, the only new stuff that we ever get from him are the screenplays (he did direct a film in 1997 called In the Presence of a Clown, but the film has never received an American release).  And even though it is only in word, the Bergman touch is still there.

Private Confessions is an emotional film that seems so personal that one could almost see it as a part of trilogy for Bergman comparable to François Truffaut's Antoine Doinel films (The 400 Blows, Antoine and Colette [as part of the Love at Twenty anthology], Stolen Kisses, Bed and Board, and Love on the Run).  Along with Best Intentions and Sunday's Children, Private Confessions is the continuing cinematic telling of the life of Bergman's parents.  The only one that actual works with Bergman is Sunday's Children about his relationship with his Lutheran minister father.

In a way Private Confessions is the sequel to Best Intentions, where Intentions told the story of Bergman's parents courting each other, Confession tells of their breaking apart.  As I watched the film I was struck at the thought that Bergman had taken to writing a screenplay based upon his mothers infidelity.  Some things are normally taboo, but for Bergman, it is a cleansing.

Private Confessions is set up in five conversations, each one lasting about 25 minutes (approximately 40 minutes each in the Swedish television miniseries version), all revolving around Anna Bergman's (August) veering from her husband Henrik (Fröler) to have an affair with secular student Tomas (Hanzon).  Anna sees their marriage to be faulty, and cannot really love Henrik any longer.  All this is set-up in the first conversation, in which Anna confesses all this to Henrik's superior, Father Jacob (von Sydow). The rest of the conversations struggle through Henrik learning of Anna's affair, one of Anna's flings with Tomas, the bitter aftermath many years later, and the bothersome memories of the past.

The film's title comes from the Lutheran version of the Catholic confessional.  For Lutherans, confession is an inner thing, one that does not need the assistance and sanctity of a priest.  The film is about this for every moment in Anna's story.  Every time she is left to herself, she appears to be alone in the world, confessing her sins.

Best Intentions was directed by Bille August (Pelle the Conqueror) in a much different level than the way Liv Ullman takes on Bergman's script.  Ullman has spent a great deal of time with Bergman, appearing in nine of his films, and has learned much of his trade.  While the camera does have a slight effeminate side to it, somewhat like Jane Campion's style, there were many moments in which the film looked like an Ingmar Bergman film.  There was one moment in the second conversation, in which we see the strong emotions of both ecstasy and pain in the face of Anna as she has sex.  Bergman was the king of capturing a performance in the close-up of a face, now Ullman can be the queen.

The performances in the film are incredible.  Max von Sydow has long been one of my favorites, and here he shows why.  The frightful nature that we see him in during the fourth story brings to mind his performance in The Exorcist, another film dealing with religion though in a different light.

Pernilla August has no doubt sealed the fate of her career in America by appearing in Star Wars:  Episode I -- The Phantom Menace, but at least we can see why she was adored in Sweden.  In Private Confessions, August gives one of the most heart wrenching and emotional performances ever put on the screen, very reminiscent of Liv Ullman's work in Bergman's Persona.

Private Confessions is no easy sell.  I'm not too surprised that it took four years before I had a chance to see it.  The film deals with secrecy, death, and sex in a very personal and matter-of-fact way; the thought of ever seeing this grab the attention of the American mass audiences is a pipe dream.  So what if it will never be held to high praise in American cineplexes, at least for the cinephiles, it can held at un certain regard.


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Crix Predix:  Since I took the time to document the AFI's last film excursion, 100 Years... 100 Legends, I thought that it was only right that I do the same with their new list, 100 Years... 100 Laughs. Personally, I think the idea is laughably bad -- to compare the wicked wit of All About Eve to the farciful There's Something About Mary in terms of laughs is hard to handle. The American Film Institute released 500 nominees, ranging from the obscure (1917's A Girl's Folly) to the obvious (Some Like It Hot), from the famous (The Graduate) to the infamous (Police Academy).

I was happy to see recognition on the nominee list of many films from Woody Allen, Preston Sturges, and Billy Wilder, though I believe that most of their entrees will be left in the dust.

There are many nominees that left me scratching my head (what the Hell is The Waterboy doing there with Dr. Strangelove?). There are many that left me with fond memories of viewing past (when was the last time I thought of 1939's Destry Rides Again?).

Perhaps the AFI really did achieve its supposed goal: to point out films to new film viewers and to remind old films for us film enthusiasts.

I have predicted the entire 100, a tough task. Last time I merely named off the 100 actors and actresses that I thought would make it without taking into account their positions, this time I even did the positions. Expect half of this to be wrong, I'm sure I overlooked some classics and put too much thought to some unworthy messes.

I really should make my own list, but I really do not think that it is needed this time. If you have not seen Woman of the Year, One, Two, Three, or The Lady Eve, take some time to check out my top ten lists, there are some fine comedies there that will probably be forgotten by the AFI.

So here, the most unlikely predictions of the AFI list:

1. Some Like It Hot (1959)
2. Dr. Strangelove Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb (1964)
3. Annie Hall (1977)
4. The Apartment (1960)
5. Singin’ In The Rain (1952)
6. The Graduate (1967)
7. A Shot In The Dark (1964)
8. It Happened One Night (1934)
9. Young Frankenstein (1974)
10. The Gold Rush (1925)
11. Duck Soup (1933)
12. Airplane! (1980)
13. Breakfast At Tiffany’s (1961)
14. The Sting (1973)
15. Tootsie (1982)
16. The General (1927)
17. It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World (1963)
18. Harvey (1950)
19. American Graffiti (1973)
20. Adam’s Rib (1949)
21. This Is Spinal Tap (1984)
22. National Lampoon’s Animal House (1978)
23. M*A*S*H (1970)
24. Moonstruck (1987)
25. The Great Dictator (1940)
26. My Fair Lady (1964)
27. Mary Poppins (1964)
28. There’s Something About Mary (1998)
29. Bringing Up Baby (1938)
30. Big (1988)
31. City Lights (1931)
32. The Philadelphia Story (1940)
33. A Christmas Story (1983)
34. Blazing Saddles (1974)
35. Modern Times (1936)
36. Dinner At Eight (1933)
37. The Odd Couple (1968)
38. Roman Holiday (1953)
39. Sherlock, Jr. (1924)
40. Forrest Gump (1994)
41. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)
42. A Night At The Opera (1935)
43. Arsenic And Old Lace (1944)
44. Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory (1971)
45. The Blues Brothers (1980)
46. The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)
47. Pulp Fiction (1994)
48. Funny Girl (1968)
49. Arthur (1981)
50. Father Of The Bride (1950)
51. Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1928)
52. The Parent Trap (1961)
53. The Nutty Professor (1996)
54. The Seven Year Itch (1955)
55. Sleepless In Seattle (1993)
56. Caddyshack (1980)
57. Paper Moon (1973)
58. The Bank Dick (1940)
59. The Navigator (1924)
60. Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988)
61. When Harry Met Sally... (1989)
62. The Producers (1968)
63. Sleeper (1973)
64. Austin Powers: International Man Of Mystery (1997)
65. Manhattan (1979)
66. Raising Arizona (1987)
67. Shakespeare In Love (1998)
68. The Kid (1921)
69. Harold And Maude (1972)
70. His Girl Friday (1940)
71. Being There (1979)
72. Mr. Deeds Goes To Town (1936)
73. Fast Times At Ridgemont High (1982)
74. Hannah And Her Sisters (1986)
75. Bananas (1971)
76. Terms Of Endearment (1983)
77. A Fish Called Wanda (1988)
78. The Nutty Professor (1963)
79. My Man Godfrey (1936)
80. As Good As It Gets (1997)
81. The Jerk (1979)
82. Grumpy Old Men (1993)
83. The Absent Minded Professor (1961)
84. Oh, God! (1977)
85. Groundhog Day (1993)
86. Get Shorty (1995)
87. Network (1976)
88. Sabrina (1954)
89. The Court Jester (1956)
90. Stalag 17 (1953)
91. Smokey And The Bandit (1977)
92. Ghostbusters (1984)
93. Fargo (1996)
94. City Slickers (1991)
95. The Shop Around The Corner (1940)
96. A Day At The Races (1937)
97. Bedtime For Bonzo (1951)
98. Diner (1982)
99. The Birdcage (1996)
100. The Freshman (1925)

In my personal opinion it is better to look at these as a list of 100 films that will probably be on the list at any position as opposed to a prediction of Arthur at #49 and Groundhog Day at #85. Of course, we shall see how all this pans out on 13 June.

Reviews by:
David Perry