Volume 2, Number 24
This Week's Reviews: Shaft, Me, Myself & Irene, Committed, Titan A.E., The Terrorist.
This Week's Omissions: Boys and Girls, Fantasia 2000, Human Traffic, Kadosh, Price of Glory.
(Dir: John Singleton, Starring Samuel L. Jackson, Venessa L. Williams, Jeffrey Wright, Christian Bale, Busta Rhymes, Toni Collette, Richard Roundtree, Philip Bosco, Dan Hedaya, and Josef Sommer)
BY: DAVID PERRY
I said this Shaft is a sex deprived, action anemic, cliché riddled mutha... Shut you're mouth.
John Shaft is back, at least in some way. The John Shaft that made the cult icon of the blaxploitation films happens to have a nephew named John as well (not too hard to believe), who is also a New York cop, overwrought by the continuing influence of the white man.
The original John Shaft (the impeccable Richard Roundtree) does happen to appear in the escapades of his nephew John (Jackson, who shall hereon be called simply Shaft), as a type of mentor. Shaft is on a mission, one of vengeance, black vs. white, upper-class vs. middle class. When a young black man is brutally murdered in front of a bar, all figures point at Walter Williams (Bale), a spoiled rich kid with known racist feelings. But to take this person down for the crime is a hard task.
When he is given bail, Williams runs off to Switzerland, leaving Shaft in a state of fault (Williams' bail grant was mainly due to the fact that Shaft punched him twice at the arresting). But Williams comes back to America two years later, is captured by Shaft, and finds himself in the trial. His acquittal is nearly promised thanks to daddy's connections, with the exception of one loose screw. A young barkeep (Collette) witnessed the crime and is on the lam from everyone, Shaft and Williams, in fear of her life.
So enters Peoples Hernandez (Wright), a Hispanic drug overlord. Williams hired Peoples for the tracking and killing of this young lady, whose testimony would surely mean his imprisonment. People, too, has a problem with Shaft, ever since he started closing in on his surrounding business.
I happen to think that John Singleton is a very fine director. Besides the new Shaft, the only Singleton film that was a clunker was 1993's Poetic Justice, otherwise he has some great films. Boyz N the Hood is a mesmerizing piece pf cinematic history, and Rosewood and Higher Learning are nothing to frown about.
Still I felt that he had no real grasp as to what he was going for with this film. At one point it seems like he is attempting to merely update the original character and his actions, but other points seem like he is distanced with an entirely new character.
John Shaft was a sex machine, as the Isaac Hayes song stated. That fact is not present in this film. The peep show that backgrounds the opening credits is the closest thing the film comes to a sex scene, a Shaft film staple.
I would like to think that Singleton was hoping that a new, revised Shaft would mean sequel potential, as opposed to the otherwise fault of poor filmmaking decisions. I know that Singleton has been very vocal about problems that stem from the Richard Price screenplay, but I'd say that it's as much his fault as Price's -- there's nothing to keep him from making changes while directing the film.
One thing that one would expect to be of note in the film is the music, since the original featured that great Isaac Hayes work, but not true. The new film only uses Isaac Hayes' one song from the film at the beginning and ending, having the rest done by David Arnold. During one of the pivotal scenes in the film, I remarked that it sounded way too much like a James Bond theme, later learning that Arnold is the man behind the scores for Tomorrow Never Dies and The World is Not Enough.
Jackson fits the role, one of the few things in the film that actually do fit. He struts around in his Gucci, letting everyone know that he is not the fellow to mess with. I must admit that Jackson is better in the part in Roundtree was in 1971, though Roundtree is delightful as the aged Shaft (the scene where he walks off with two women on his side is bittersweet -- reminding viewers of why the original John Shaft was so cool and the revised is, well, not).
Bale and Wright make interesting bad guys, though they are really too bad for their own good. There are no real dynamics to these characters, all we know is that we are supposed to despise them. Coming off of great, star making performances in American Psycho (please, Academy, take note) and Ride with the Devil, respectively, I would have expected them to do more than simply ham it up as two-dimensional villains.
There are many moments when the true demeanor of the original and other blaxploitation films come in -- that is when the film works. It is when it tries to go on its own that it stumbles.
Who's the black private dick, who's a sex machine to all
the chicks? Shaft! New question: who's the internet film critic who
expected to see a fine homage but got a two-bit rip-off? David Perry! Damn
|Me, Myself & Irene
(Dir: Peter & Bobby Farrelly, Starring Jim Carrey, Renée Zellweger, Chris Cooper, Richard Jenkins, Robert Forster, Michael Bowman, Anthony Anderson, Mongo Brownlee, Jerod Mixon, and Mark Patrick Costello)
BY: DAVID PERRY
When Peter and Bobby Farrelly finally found a big success critically and financially with There's Something About Mary it was not long before films came in to capitalize on the film's trademark gross-out humor. There were some good ones (South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut) and some bad ones (American Pie), and every time a new one came out, the humor got even grosser. In Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, a person drinks human excrement; in American Pie, a person has sex with a hot apple pie; in South Park we see Saddam Hussein's penis. Things have gone so far that, for the Farrelly Brothers to meet the requirements of their own creation, they have to ram a foot long dildo and a chicken's head where the sun doesn't shine.
The story seems like the perfect Farrelly Brothers -- another crazed comedy hiding in a romantic comedy's clothing. Charlie is nice Rhode Island Highway Patrol officer, but he never lets off any steam. Ever since his wife left him with their triplets, Charlie has been unable to retaliate whenever anyone makes him mad. So everyone in town uses him.
The one day it happens, all the anger that has built up comes tumbling out. Since there's so much, the anger is not simply Charlie enraged, but an entire new person, calling himself Hank. Hank is angry, mean, and destructive. So Charlie is sent to a mental facility, diagnosed as a schizophrenic, and given some pills to take.
Everything is going fine for Charlie until he has to escort a young motorist named Irene to upstate New York. When it is discovered that the only reason that she was sent up there was to have her killed since she knows too much about a golf course developer's criminal dealings. A corrupt cop (Cooper) is on their trail, so close that in a rush, Charlie forgets his medication (bet you didn't see that one coming). Charlie, Hank, and Irene make way to salvation with both the criminals and the cops (thinking that he has kidnapped her) after them.
Of all the cast, there are three that stand out. Anthony Anderson, Mongo Brownlee, and Jerod Mixon are incredibly funny as Carrey's triplets. Chastising each other on problems that would scratch the head of calculus and physics teachers, they throw out the dirtiest of dirty words. It's like Trey Parker and Matt Stone creating a story of Albert Einstein, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and Thomas Alva Edison in a Quentin Tarantino film.
And the three actors pull off these characters incredibly well. A film should be made simply surrounding them (and, guess what, there is -- Fox and the Farrelly Brothers have already grabbed the three actors for a sequel revolving around their characters).
Jim Carrey is perfect for the role, but so much of his work is simply built on being two different people. I felt that Carrey's slow change from friend to enemy in The Cable Guy was much better. Renée Zellweger is a great actress that has, unfortunately still not found respect (thanks to making small budget films like The Whole Wide World and A Price Above Rubies for a while there).
But Jim is no Ben and Renée is no Cameron. I know that it is unfair to compare the films automatically, but it cannot be helped. Mary worked thanks to the fact that it was a really sweet film behind the façade of gross-our humor. Yes, we cringe when Mary uses the "hair gel" but we are not completely turned off. Most of what people do in Irene is meant to straight-out repulse the audience.
One of the best things about There's Something About Mary is the fact that it allows timing to meet the needs of its comedy. Most of the jokes in Mary are set-up throughout the film, only paying off when the film is in need of that particular moment (everything from the zipper scene to the highway rest area scene).
Irene, instead uses set-ups to through out at the audience quickly. I sat there laughing when we are set-up to believe that Charlie's three sons are going to anally ram an egg into some police officer. This was funny. Two minutes later the three joke on how close the egg came from breaking. That's funny. Two minutes later, the police arrive to find a chicken's head going out of the tail of said officer. It's not that funny any more.
Still, there is no mistaking the fact that the film is really funny, at times. I enjoyed myself immensely when I was not repulsed at Farrelly digression. There are some jokes in the film that could compare to Dumb and Dumber, Kingpin, and Mary, but not enough consistency in the jokes.
Between the gross-out humor is the unfunny spans. Outside Providence (the last script from the Farrelly Brothers) was this way, the others were not.
Me, Myself & Irene is an amalgamation of all
the Farrelly Brothers' films -- it is as dumb as Dumb and Dumber, as caustic as Kingpin,
and as, well, gross as There's Something About Mary. So why is it nowhere
near as much fun as the other three? It tries too hard. The Farrelly's seemed
to have tried so hard to make a film to follow all the Mary rip-offs that it,
in-turn, became one.
(Dir: Lisa Krueger, Starring Heather Graham, Luke Wilson, Casey Affleck, Patricia Velazquez, Goran Visnjic, Mark Ruffalo, Alfanso Arau, Clea DuVall, Kim Dickens, Dylan Baker, Mary Kay Place, and Art Alexakis)
BY: DAVID PERRY
Heather Graham has appearing in quite a few films over the years, appearing in everything from License to Drive to Boogie Nights to Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, becoming a facsimile of Julianne Moore. Like Moore, Graham has stuck to ensemble pieces. But it is now that she finally gets a starring role in Lisa Krueger's Committed. And it is about time, but it might have been a better idea is had waited for something else.
Committed is not a bad film, but a mediocre film. It has so many plot holes that I thought I was watching Mission: Impossible 2 with a heart. The problem with the film lays simply in the story. The direction and cinematography are not too bad and the actors are great, with the exception of Casey Affleck.
The one thing that put this film above many others is the fact that when I came out I felt rather good. Even though I sat there thinking how stupid many parts were, I did feel that it had something, that it could have worked in its own certain way. Heather Graham is certainly likable, which may be the reason that the film is so likable since she is nearly every cell of the film.
Heather Graham plays Joline, a young music bar owner who marries Carl (Wilson), a photographer. Carl has aspirations of being a big deal news photographer, getting the front page, but, alas, he is merely given the food section of the newspaper. Saddened, Carl one day just picks up and leaves. Of course Joline is heartbroken, not really knowing why he left (his letter is rather ambiguous: "I just needed some time"). So she sets up shop, rents a car, collects coupons, and heads out to find Carl, only knowing that he is in a desert area based upon a postcard he sent her
Finally she ends up in El Paso, after running in with a rather interesting, if not wholly idiotic, run-in with some thieves, and finds that he is now the photographer for the El Paso Times, where he, of course, takes pictures of food. There he is living a new life, with a new love interest and a new house. She sets her car up at his next-door neighbor's, a man who does not know him but is certainly interested in her, and watches him day and night.
As one might guess, things do not work out for her after a while. As Magnolia taught us, "when it rains, it pours," and it certainly does so for Joline. The film gets a little muddled up with efforts of spiritual guidance, which is what starts the film and leads the entire second half. This is brought on when she becomes friends with Grampy, a type of witch doctor, who she is referred to by Wilson's latest love interest. The two mix potions to save the soul of Wilson, breaking into his house so Joline can scatter it across his domain.
I was a little disappointed with the ending, there are millions of other endings that would have worked in my opinion. I saw Holy Smoke! and Tumbleweeds, for heaven's sake (though there is a little Girl, Interrupted interspersed).
Heather Graham is a great actress, who truly deserved the chance to show herself in a starring role, even when it is not her best choice. Why can't she be in the next, well, Jane Campion film, where she could be the no-holds-barred star. I adore Luke Wilson, and I think that I have said that millions of times. Why does this man not get the respect he truly deserves. Luke and Owen Wilson should, in one way or another, appear in every film. Think of how great Gladiator would have been with Owen Wilson in the Djimon Hounsou friend character, or Mission: Impossible 2 with Luke Wilson in the Dougrey Scott bad guy character.
Casey Affleck, as always, hated him. He can't act. The only reason he has a career is that he is Ben Affleck's little brother. Quit hiring him. Please.
Lisa Krueger (Manny & Lo) gives an able direction, one that reminded me of Boys Don't Cry, just in a lighter tone. I think Krueger could be a very worthwhile director in the future. She might want to look into the latest edition of Final Draft. Hell, William Goldman might even give her some tips.
Committed won Best Cinematography at Sundance this past year for Tom Krueger (Manny & Lo; hmm, wonder if they're related...). It does have some nice moments in which the cinematography looks good, but two year's ago the winner in that category was Three Seasons. This doesn't compare. Three Season was a breathtakingly, beautifully photographed film, Committed is simply a well photographed film.
There are many reasons to like this film, but all in all,
Committed really could not keep me as such.
(Dir: Don Bluth & Gary Goldman, Voices include Matt Damon, Drew Barrymore, Bill Pullman, Nathan Lane, Janeane Garofalo, John Leguizamo, Tone Loc, Jim Cummings, and Ron Perlman)
BY: DAVID PERRY
Well, it had to happen sooner or later. It looks like Don Bluth may have finally hit his stride. For others it would be something to scoff at, but the idea that Don Bluth made two good animated films side-by-side is quite an achievement for the chap. I mean, I did not hate The Secret of NIMH or An American Tail, but nearly everything else that has come from him (and his producer turned director buddy Gary Goldman) has been crap. Thumbelina? A Troll in Central Park? All Dogs Go to Heaven? Dear God, Rock-a-Doodle?
But Titan A.E. makes some of that pain worthwhile (well, maybe not Rock-a-Doodle, that's irredeemable). The animation in this one piece is steps beyond Bluth and Goldman's last success, the immensely under appreciated Anastasia. Instead of the normal animation, the pair that leads Fox Animation Studio chose to use CGI to make up a portion of Titan A.E., allowing it to fall even closer into the world of science fiction films while still remaining mostly animated.
The story starts with Earth after an apocalyptic attack by a race of aliens called the Drej, who are made up entirely of energy. In 3028, they put the final hits on Earth, destroying the entire planet and most of the escape pods. One escape vehicle that gets away is the Titan, a vessel that can mean a new world for Earth, where everything can be near what was had.
Sixteen years later, Cale (Damon), the son of one of the inventors of the Titan, now works on a dock and repair vessel in space. He is pretty much segregated by the aliens there since he is from Earth, a nearly forgotten race. Cale has rough feelings towards his father, who placed Cale on an escape vessel while he evacuated the Titan before the land was destroyed. Before he left him, he gave Cale a ring, not telling Cale that it was a special ring that would allow Cale to find the Titan and him, should anything happen.
Since Cale has this ring, the Drej desperately want him. With the ring, they can find the Titan and destroy it, making a new human civilization nearly impossible. Just as the Drej find Cale's whereabouts, Korso (Pullman), a companion of Cale's father saves him. Korso was sent to find Cale as a last wish by Cale's father and get the Titan up and running. With Cale's ring, they set out to find the Titan before the Drej can stop them.
On board Korso's ship is Akima, a young "drifter" human, who is the perfect foil for Cale. She is brash and sassy, everything that she should be. The only thing wrong with is the voice she is given -- this is where Parker Posey or, in the least, Janeane Garofalo (who does the voice of Stith, a kangaroo looking alien with legs that seem to be those of a steroid inflicted praying mantis) could have been best suited, not Drew Barrymore.
There were some problems with the screenplay, which was downplayed a bit too much. Yes, there are some people over the age of 10 that would like to see a mixture of Star Wars and Heavy Metal (instead of, as the Nashville Scene out it, a mixture of Battlefield Earth and All Dogs Go to Heaven). Plus there is the glaring fact that half of the film is negated when a certain twist is discovered.
This is an animated film, but not necessarily one for all tastes. The most critical of teenagers will probably scoff it off with the hammy dialogue and cheesy jokes, only allowing the visuals for any stimuli. And then there are the youngest tykes, who might be a little weary of the violence in the film. While there is no real gore, to say the least, there are some implied deaths, some of mass populi, which could bring some interesting reactions. More or less, if the kid can take the Wicked Witch of the West from The Wizard of Oz, this film will be fine, but if he or she is still only living with Barney's Great Adventure, then perhaps Fantasia 2000 would be a better choice.
The animation is not the greatest in the world, I've never really been a big fan of the way Bluth animated peoples faces, but when the CGI comes in, the film soars. I was enthralled with the way they filmed the opening of the film, a scene that can hold next to big-budget blockbusters like Armageddon and Deep Impact.
Titan A.E. will probably turn out being
forgotten in years to come -- it neither has the flashiness or the all-out reliability of,
say, Toy Story -- which is unfortunate. Like a good look at How the
West was Won or Blackmail, it is always nice to look at the way films have
progressed over the last few decades. Those in 2025 will just have to settle with
the Toy Story films.
(Dir: Santosh Sivan, Starring Ayesha Dharkar, Parmeshwaran, Vishnu Vardhan, Bhanu Prakash, Vishwas, K. Krishna, Anuradha, and Sonu Sisupal)
BY: DAVID PERRY
The Terrorist is a child of Indian cinema, a national cinema that is not known too well in America because it is much more goofy and colorful than American's seem to handle. Yes, it does have some occasional immorality, but it does not come near the needed sex, nudity, violence, and profanity that gives American audience their kicks. But The Terrorist is not one of these Indian films.
To me, The Terrorist is the antithesis of a normal Indian film. Where the others would have people singing and dancing, there is not really any speaking in The Terrorist, reserving most of its emotions to be told in the way the lead character is breathing at the moment. It's like an Abbas Kierostami film, for heaven's sake -- I'd swear it was made in Iran. It is even like an Ingmar Bergman with the liberal use of close-ups.
It is not in any way anything like an Indian film. It has violence, profanity, and a little implied sex. I was aghast when I left the film and remembered that it was made in India, thinking back to the multitude of American television commercials that make jest of Indian entertainment.
The film itself in premise is unlike anything from India, and is much more like a French film. The story of a young girl chosen to follow the revolution and be the bomb, so to speak, for an assassination, was rather reminiscent of Luc Besson's Le Femme Nikita. And each one is a great film.
The 19 year old girl in question is Malli (Dharkar), an orphaned sister of the first martyr of the revolution she is now embroiled in. When one woman from the revolutionary camp is to be chosen for a suicide mission to kill a VIP (a parallel of the 1991 assassination of Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi), Malli is the chosen one after vigorous interviewing. She sets out on her way to the city in which the VIP will appear. She makes friends and lives a normal life, learning about herself in the process.
And that's the secret to why The Terrorist works. It could have been a cold, almost mean-spirited film, much like La Femme Nikita. The Terrorist uses Malli's fears and emotions to go with everything, not the predetermined life that has been given to her by higher powers. Along the way, Malli learns about herself and others to rethink where she is going and what she is doing.
During the film, Malli has two guides -- one geographical, one spiritual -- who change her more than any other characters in the film. The first one is Lotus (Vishwas), a young boy who escorts revolutionaries beyond the lines of the encampment. Her journey with him, a very pacifist young child, continues to guide her even after they depart.
The other guide is Vasu (Parmeshwaran), the owner of the lodging she is given in the city. Vasu is an old wise man, very talkative, telling her all about his seven-year gone son and the secrets of her own self. At one he makes a sees something in her that plagues her for every moment in the rest of the film.
Director/cinematographer Santosh Sivan has produced one of the best looking films of the year. His visuals are often as aesthetically pleasing as they are visually. I was reminded of the contemporary classic The Thin Red Line, which also uses memories and deep emotions to convey the story. There is also the parallel of a multitude of shots of plant life. Admittedly Sivan's shots of plants get old after a while -- you can only look at drops of water on a fern for so long. But I can say that in my entire life, I have never seen a director use blank screen for two seconds occasionally for dramatic effect.
The ending was admittedly disappointing. My personal feeling was that Malli's other choice would have been better, maybe that's just me.
The performance from Dharkar is incredible, reminiscent of Lu Lu in Joan Chen's Xiu Xiu: The Sent Down Girl from last year. The performance Dharkar gives is even better than Anne Parillaud in La Femme Nikita. I know that there is not really of a chance, but it would be great to see Dharkar receive an Oscar nomination for what she does in the film.
The Terrorist has become a bit of a pet project
for Roger Ebert and John Malkovich over the past few months. Ever since reviewing it
on his show, Ebert has been speaking constantly about the film, both on the screen and in
print. John Malkovich has been even more vehement about the film, allowing it to
have an American release. Malkovich saw it at the Cairo Film Festival and fell in
love with it, talking Phaedra Cinema into releasing it. In fact, most press
materials and advertisements call the film John Malkovich Presents The Terrorist.
Having seen the film, I can see why these two became so smitten with it.