Volume 2, Number 27
This Week's Reviews: Scary Movie, Onegin, Croupier, Hamlet.
This Week's Omissions: The Kid.
(Dir: Keenan Ivory Wayans, Starring Anna Faris, Jon Abrahams, Shannon Elizabeth, Lochlyn Munro, Shawn Wayans, Marlon Wayans, Regina Hall, Cheri Oteri, Kurt Fuller, Carmen Electra, and David L. Lander)
BY: DAVID PERRY
If there is anything that can truly set me apart from most other film critics it is my fanaticism over the films in the Scream series. Right from the beginning, I was singing the praises of the first Scream film, only to go onto giving recommendations to the latter two, even called the third installment better than the original.
So it is no surprise that I was unsure about Scary Movie. Yes, I knew that I would be in the target audience, those that have seen and loved the Scream films, as well as the countless wannabes that have come out since 1996. But there was also the fact that they were messing with what might be considered a sacred cow for me. I love these films, do I really want to see them spoofed?
The answer, having now seen Scary Movie, is a definate yes. Not only is Scary Movie funny enough to keep me going, but it remains so true to the original Scream films et al. that I cannot help but notice the little things. It's weird to like a film that is simply a spoof of a film that was merely an homage in the first place, but I certainly did like it.
Cindy Campbell is a student at B.A. Corpse High School, a place that was recently brought down by the gruesome murders of Drew Becker and Not-Drew's-Boyfriend (hey, I know who it is, but this is what the press materials call him). Cindy is worried because she has received notes saying "I know what you did lat Halloween," bringing to mind the night that she and a group of friends accidently killed a guy and threw him off the pier.
Each of her friends are more interested in other things than what these murders mean. Bobby just wants Cindy to finally have sex with him; Greg (Munro, keeping those Brady Bunch names going) is scared that his big, or should I say small, secret will come out; Ray (Marlon Wayans) seems to be more interested in finding the right man for him; Buffy is merely yearning for the crown in the Miss Teen Beauty Pageant; and Brenda just wants to watch Shakespeare in Love in peace.
Every facet of this films is based around films like Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer, there are rare moments (like when Ray has Brenda dress like a hockey player before he can become truly aroused) in which the story is completely new. There are moments from The Sixth Sense and The Matrix, as well as some surprises (the finale, a spoof of one of my favorite films of all time, left me dumb-founded at the fact that they really used it).
I have no earthly idea how this film got away with a R rating. There are moments here that put NC-17 reworks like American Pie and South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut to shame. Sitting in the theatre, I saw everything from a penis to scrotums, from a removed silicon breast implant to lawn bush sized pubic hair. And that does not even cover the drug use, violence, and language. My guess is that the MPAA was laughing too hard to remember to note some of the offenses.
The screenplay is credited to some six writers (including costars Marlon and Shawn Wayans), and it shows that many minds went into this work. To connect various moments from films would be a task, but keeping it funny throughout is an acheivement.
There are moments of the film that fall falt, but that is not too bad in the long run. There are so few moments in the film that are not jokes, that the bad ones only make up a small percentage of the guffaws in the grand scheme. Sure, most of the pot-head jokes with Shawn Wayans are not that funny (though, I've never found pot jokes that funny, with films like Homegrown and Half Baked failing to make me laugh), but they are well made up with by the ten times more often and more funny sex jokes.
A few weeks ago I noted that Me, Myself & Irene could be seen as a failure since it lost so much of the sweetness that There's Something About Mary had. That sweetness is present here, believe it or not. The young actress that plays Cindy, relative unknown Anna Faris, has such a cute grin and Katie Homles-lie girl next door feeling that every vulgarity and gross-out occurence that happens is nearly countered by her presence. She is really one to watch in future works.
I'm sure that there are some that will immediately say
that they sat in the theatre bored stiff at an unfunny spoof. I must counter, how
can you not have fun at a film that replaces Happy Days' Henry "The
Fonz" Winkler as the principal from Scream with Laverne and Shirley's
David L. "Squiggy" Lander?
(Dir: Martha Fiennes, Starring Ralph Fiennes, Liv Tyler, Toby Stephens, Lena Headey, Martin Donovan, Alun Armstrong, Harriet Walter, Irene Worth, Jason Watkins, Francesca Annis, Simon McBurney, Geoffrey McGivern, Gwenllian Davies, and Margery Withers)
BY: DAVID PERRY
Lavish sets and costumes, a historical continental setting, a director with enough familial connections in the film to make the Arquette family ashamed, one star of costume dramas, one star of big-budget flicks, with all that one might think that I'm hitting on Up at the Villa again, but that is not true. This time around the story of love lost in the midst of a murder is from a poem by Alexander Pushkin called Eugene Onegin.
I'll be tactless, I was ready to pass on this film until I received a little extra information on it. Yes, I like Ralph Fiennes quite a bit, but the fact that it premiered on the American Starz! network really hurt it. I have nothing against straight to cable films (i.e. And the Band Played On, Trial of the Century, 12 Angry Men), but a theatrical showing of one seems weird.
Then it was brought to my attention that the story of Onegin is in one of my favorite films of last year. This is the opera that Tom Ripley is "dragged" to by Meredith Logue halfway through The Talented Mr. Ripley. (Is it just me, or does the Italian singing telling of the man's death sound like "obese"?) With that fact, I was set to go. I know that it is a poor reason to see a film, but at least it was enough to get me in.
Onegin is told in two parts, one in the Russian country, one in St. Petersburg. Eugene Onegin (Fiennes) and Tatiana Larina (Tyler) meet, with Tatiana falling in love with Onegin. He does not return the love, but instead replies that he could not marry, not really being the type. Some six years later, the tables have turned, and now they are each haunted by their past. Tatiana no longer loves Onegin, having found a husband, but Onegin has fallen for her beauty.
Onegin is not really a good film, nor really a bad film. It tries so hard to work with Pushkin's poem while keeping a lavish look that it loses the real feel of the Pushkin work. The sets, cinematography, and direction all look good. Martha Fiennes (yes, Ralph's sister) shows great promise with her first work helming a film. She and cinematographer Remi Adefarasin (Elizabeth) create some stunning looking scenes, even if the actions that fill them are much less intriguing.
There is one moment in which Onegin almost pays off for its heavy-handedness and frill. That scene, the one that was featured in The Talented Mr. Ripley, made me jump for joy. I have not seen a better duel in films since Barry Lyndon.
I have always found Ralph Fiennes to be one of the finest actors of modern cinema, but I'm getting really tied of him playing depressed and detached lovers. Let's see, there was Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights, Lenny in Strange Days, Count Almásy in The English Patient, Oscar in Oscar and Lucinda, and Maurice in The End of the Affair. Even when he's not in love, he's certainly depressed and detached (Schindler's List? Quiz Show? The Avengers?). He's good at playing them, but I really want to see him do something new.
Then there's Liv Tyler, who's acting ability could fill the crevice of an English muffin. Yes, I remarked that her presence helped the film in Bertolucci's Stealing Beauty, but now I see that it was merely her look, not her acting that made her perfect in the role opposite Jeremy Irons. There are some really hard hitting dramatic moments in this film that needed a fine actress and Tyler merely stumbles through them. For heaven's sake, Neve Campbell could have done a better job.
The finale of the film is haunting and the score by
Magnus Fiennes still rings in my ears, but that does not excuse the excruciating
overlength of the film. At a mere hour and forty-six minutes, the film seems like
three. It was far more interesting as a one minute segment of Ripley.
(Dir: Mike Hodges, Starring Clive Owen, Gina McKee, Alex Kingston, Kate Hardie, Nicholas Ball, Kate Fenwick, and Nick Reding)
BY: DAVID PERRY
A croupier is a casino dealer -- a position that can make or break a man as quickly as he can make or break a player. Like any other self destructive job, the croupier life is addictive. Once you deal in, your hooked.
That is what Jack Manfred learned from his tenure as a croupier in a South African casino. Leaving that life behind, as well as his gambler father, Jack sets out to make a living as a writer. But, of course, novelists always have bad luck getting there stuff published and Jack is no exception.
Jack's girlfriend Marion (McKee) is a former police officer, now working as a department store security guard. She was good at what she did, but was forced to leave; Jack was good at his job, but was in need to leave. Their opposing lifestyles counter, and they find loving each other hard, especially for Jack who never really loved her in the first place.
With the writing going downhill and Marion making barely enough to live as a guard, Jack begrudgingly returns to the casino with a job secured for him by his father. He is good at it, knows every trick in the book -- hey, he's learned each side of the blackjack table from his childhood to previous career.
There are many people that fall into Jack's life thanks to the casino job. The first one is Matt (Reynolds), a swinger that exudes the meaning of crooked. It is Matt who brings Jack to see where he need not be as a croupier and where he need be as a writer.
The other two are lovers, or at least in the one-sided sense. The first is a coworker named Bella (Hardie), who is exactly what he needs but does not know. The other is a player named Jani (Kingston), who is what he thinks he needs, but does not. Each woman enters his life at various points in his film, and each structure how he relates to the other two people in his life, Marion and Matt.
Like the viewers of the dance marathon in They Shoot Horses, Don't They or those hoping to see the next person thrown off of Survivor, Jack gets a rush from seeing the pain of people trying to win, but nevertheless losing in the end. That's the addiction.
Mike Hodges is a fine director, but he has not really ever stayed in top form. The last truly great film from him was Get Carter in 1971. In that film Michael Caine played a spy who has trouble keeping with the code, here Jack is a croupier with the same problem. As Jack puts it, "hold on tightly, let go lightly."
Clive Owen is perfect in the role. He has the demeanor of a fine James Bond. In fact, when Pierce Brosnan turns in his license to kill, Owen will probably be my personal choice for the replacement (and MGM pays strict attention to who I recommend -- hence David Duchovny getting that nice romantic comedy). Owen is a smooth chap in that tuxedo with shoe shine black hair, he has something that only actors like Jude Law have, a presence that goes into acting as much as looks.
Hodges screenwriter Paul Mayersberg (The Man Who Fell to Earth) produce a story of high interest. Yes, I know that I have touted it as a guilty pleasure for the Summer, but this is exactly what Gone in Sixty Seconds should have been like. A little more well meaning and slickness might have made it better. Both telling stories of men returning to his hated deeds to save his home life, each one is different. Ok, they are very different, but who's to say that if Mike Hodges had directed Gone in Sixty Seconds that it would not have been better?
The film did not cost too much to make, and it shows. But that is not really a debit. The look and feel of the film is perfect, thanks specially to cinematographer Michael Garfath and editor Les Healey. The casino sets, built in Germany by Jon Bunker and Alexander Scherer, give the place a nice chop-shop casino feel. This is not a big swanky ritzy casino in America, this is a small places in the dark side of London, where the tuxedos only serve to keep people from noticing how depreciated the place is compared to the others.
Croupier is not one of those films that will be
seen by people like some other arthouse hits, but it does have a nice word of mouth
going. Shooting Gallery Pictures has had the film moving around the country so that
people can finally see it (Croupier was released in the UK two years ago).
This is one film to seek out.
(Dir: Michael Almereyda, Starring Ethan Hawke, Kyle MacLachlan, Diane Venora, Julia Stiles, Bill Murray, Liev Schreiber, Sam Shepard, Karl Geary, Paula Malcomson, Steve Zahn, Dechen Thurman, Rome Neal, Paul Bartel, and Casey Affleck)
BY: DAVID PERRY
The president of the Denmark Corporation is dead. His wife has hastily remarried her former brother-in-law, a man who could of killed his brother. Something is rotten in the Hotel Elsinore, and only Hamlet can make things better.
This telling of Hamlet can be easily compared to Baz Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet, Ben Stiller's Reality Bites, and even Michelangelo Antonioni's Blowup. Simply put, Michael Almereyda has taken the Bard's tragedy of Hamlet and stylistically updated it, a la Romeo + Juliet, adding some Reality Bites character arcs with a Blowup style filming.
Doing a simple search of the Internet Movie Database, I learned that there have been some 43 different film versions of the Shakespeare stage play Hamlet (29 of which were feature films, 14 were TV Movies -- and that's not necessarily all of the version, take The Fifteen Minute Hamlet for example). Having only seen 5 versions before now (boy, do I feel like an underachiever), I cannot call myself an expert on the various film versions (though I once wrote a thesis paper on the study of various character's foreshadowing in the play versus their use in the films), but I can make a good guess that none have been quite like the one that Michael Almereyda has made.
His is the stylish Hamlet, the modern take of a timeless story with a backdrop of high art. The visual sense of this films contrasts with the three most commonly known filmings of the story. The Laurence Olivier version was a story as merely the centerpiece in front of a roving camera. The Franco Zeffirelli version (or, as it is commonly known, the Mel Gibson version) takes the story into a landscape, where characters did their best to steer from another overhead shot. The Kenneth Branagh version tell the (whole) story with characters that are upstaged by lavish sets and costumes, consuming the eyes of the viewer, but hurting the flow of the four hour and two minute story.
As one might expect, there is a big difference that comes with a new place and time (though technically the Branagh version is also a changed setting, placing the story some 250 years later). Almereyda never lets a big set or garish costumes (unless you count that toboggan that Ethan Hawke wears occasionally) take the lead, he lets the characters do it instead.
Some auteurs would create huge cinematic movements to capture the story visually, but Almereyda does it more aesthetically with the camera. There are moments in which the characters voice over a montage of scenes, never really choosing one moment as the best. In fact, the "To be, or not to be" soliloquy is done about five times in two different sequences -- almost as if Almereyda filmed two different ways to capture the moment and could not chose a favorite of the two.
There was a line in Mike Figgis' recent Time Code stating, almost with an air of success, "technology has arrived, digital video has arrived." So much of this film is done on digital video that it makes one wonder what the film could be like if completely done by Almereyda on video. His film stock quality is seamless at times, much in the same way Wes Anderson captures a film, but I doubt that his style would be hurt with a little grainy film, if not helped in the long run.
Ethan Hawke's normal soul searching acting style works well with the film at hand. He plays Hamlet much more like Laurence Olivier's mugging than Mel Gibson's grunting. Sure, it is almost a throwback to the work he did in the Great Expectations rework from a few years back (or, as we still like to call it, Anne Bancoft Chewing on the Chandeliers), but it is nonetheless compelling.
Julia Stiles hits Shakespeare update #2 of 3. Last year she was the Katherina character for The Taming of the Shrew in high school, called 10 Things I Hate About You. Next she is the Desdemona character for Othello on the basketball courts, called O. Her stylings on the screen never really work for me, even when she's doing such hallowed works. Her Ophelia does not have the painfully reflux of Kate Winslett in the Branagh filming.
Most of the other cast works splendidly in supporting roles, especially Kyle MacLachlan as Claudius, murderer of Hamlet's father, Bill Murray as Polonius, advisor to Claudius, and Liev Schreiber as Laertes, son of Polonius. Each one of these men bring a different side to their roles, sides that weren't seen when Ian Holm and Derek Jacobi were there. This is not to say that MacLachlan is the definitive Claudius, but in this setting, no one could have been better.
Almereyda does update the story beyond the setting, which brings joy to anyone that has done massive studying on the play. The changes that are made often struck me as pure genius. Like the way "The Mousetrap" became a piece of experimental cinematic short filmmaking for Hamlet instead of the normal Player King parading around doing it on a stage. This is neo-filmmaking of classic writing, made from a devotee of both. How else can you hear "prompted to my revenge by heaven and hell" and watch the speaker rent movies?
One question really hit me at the end of the film, though. The setup of the finale is perfect for an ironic use of the play "go, bid the soldiers shoot" but does not use it. Admittedly it might have come off as a riff on Network or The China Syndrome, but it would have worked. I think.
I left the film hearing some disparaging remarks from
other viewers. Some said it was overlong, some said it was overstylistic. As
Shakespeare put it himself: "A knavish speech sleeps in a foolish ear."