> Volume 2 > Number 30

Volume 2, Number 30

This Week's Reviews:  The 400 Blows, The Replacements, Nutty Professor II: The Klumps, Space Cowboys.

This Week's Omissions:  Groove, Sunshine, Thomas and the Magic Railroad.

The 400 Blows

(Dir: François Truffaut, Starring Jean-Pierre Léaud, Claire Maurier, Albert Rémy, Patrick Auffray, Guy Decomble, Georges Flamant, Calude Mansard, Jacques Monod, Robert Beauvais, and Pierre Repp)



And so began the French New Wave as we came to know it.  With The 400 Blows (Les Quatre Cents Coup), François Truffaut jumpstarted the newly formed French New Wave, a filmmaking style of intense personal films that remained stylistically different.  Though the New Wave had been around for two years after Roger Vadim made And God Created Women, the future of the film movement was in The 400 Blows.

Like fellow New Wavers Eric Rohmer, Claude Chabrol, Jacques Rivette, and Jean-Luc Godard, Truffaut was a film critic before he ever picked up a camera, writing for the highly influential French film magazine Cahiers du Cinéma (the film is dedicated to Andre Bazin, the man that secured Truffaut a position at the magazine).  Having the insight into the critical side of film viewing, Truffaut set out to make a feature film.  After short films Une Visite and The Mischief Makers, he brought out The 400 Blows, a story of a boy whose life came close to Truffaut's.

Antoine Doinel (Léaud) is a young Parisian just trying to survive in a world that seems against him.  Whenever he is part of some foolery in school with other children, he is the one that is caught --  then, upon punishment, he spirals into more and more trouble.  His home life is not one to sing the praises of.  His father abandoned him, leaving him to be adopted by his mother's next beau (Rémy), only to catch his mother (Maurier) in the arms of another man.  She does not really love Antoine, as he learns from his grandmother, who stopped his mother from getting an abortion.

He constantly finds himself in trouble, finally getting him so low that he cannot be saved by his conniving.  His juvenile delinquency places him in trouble with the law, finding himself locked up in a jail cell with thieves and prostitutes.  Antoine is sent to another world in a juvenile detention center, where he finds a whole different place for him to become free from.

The film features countless moments that have become the icons for the French New Wave.  The troubled youth that is seen in every image of Antoine followed into everything from the Godard Pierrot le Fou to Truffaut's Jules and Jim.  The shot of Antoine sitting in a two-by-two jail cell with his turtleneck over half of his face and the final image of the film were the moments in cinema history that the New Wave was created for.  Film is not here only to entertain, but to provoke.  These two moments say it all.

There are so many underlying meanings to this film.  Not only does Truffaut attempt to see youth and misunderstanding, but also the confines of life and loss of innocence.  Truffaut made this of his own youth.  He too was a delinquent and a poor student, the child of a less-than-perfect mother and an adoptive father.  The only thing that stopped him from continuing in this life was the world of cinema.  He was so taken in by films that sitting in a theatre took him away from the world he was living, if only for a few hours.

There are a handful of moments in which Truffaut lets the audience see exactly what the cinema does for his characters.  In one of the most beautifully photographed moments in cinema history, he shows a group of small children watching a puppet show, their fear and joy is so moving that it takes not only Antoine and friend Rene away, but also the audience of The 400 Blows.

Also, one of the few truly happy moments in the Doinel household happens when they go to the cinema.  Sure, the trip is the aftermath of Antoine nearly setting fire to the apartment by making a candle-lit shrine to Balzac.  The only reason they go is because Antoine's mother knows that Antoine saw her with another man and hopes that her peace offering might help him to keep her secret.

Every scene of this film is through the eyes of Antoine, with the exception of a sequence in the classroom after Antoine is sent to get some cleaning materials for a letter he wrote on the wall.  For that reason, the audience knows only what Antoine knows.  We are voyeurs in his family quarrels, not watching the parents fight, but seeing the pain of the listening Antoine.

Truffaut chose unknown Jean-Pierre Léaud after an extensive search and would work with the young actor many more times.  The most productive of their work together was on the story of Antoine Doinel, which would be seen in a short film (Antoine et Colette as part of the Love at Twenty anthology) and three more features (Stolen Kisses, Bed and Board, and Love on the Run).

The performance from Léaud is one of the greatest from any young actor.  He was only 15 when he made The 400 Blows, but seemed to have captured the needed feeling for the character.  Léaud, the son of a then well-known French actress, was, himself, another delinquent in the vein of Antoine -- he skipped school to get to the audition.


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The Replacements

(Dir: Howard Deutch, Starring Keanu Reeves, Gene Hackman, Brooke Langton, Jack Warden, Jon Favreau, Rhys Ifans, Orlando Jones, Brett Cullen, David Denman, Michael Jace, Faizon Love, Michael Taliferro, Ace Yonamine, Troy Winbush, Gailard Sartain, Art LeFleur, John Madden, and Pat Summerall)



Pop quiz, hotshot: you've just reinvented your career with another big budget action film, what's next?  What'll ya do, what'll ya do?

As if Dennis Hopper's word's couldn't reverberate more in the mind of Keanu Reeves.  Reeves has been lucky enough to have a second try at this question after ruining his first time out.  When Speed make him bankable, he went to another action film, Johnny Mnemonic, and watched his career fall to the wayside.  He quickly tried to save face with a romantic drama (A Walk in the Clouds), an indie flick (Feeling Minnesota), and another big budget action film, this time from an accomplished director (Andrew Davis' Chain Reaction), but the damage was already done.

Now, thanks to The Matrix, Reeves must do the follow-up jive again -- and this time he chooses a straight out comedy.  While there are some romantic tendancies to the film, The Replacements is almost a full blown comedy.  I cannot think of a wiser decision.

By taking The Replacements, Reeves is free from so many of the things that would have plagued him if he had done another ill-advised action film (and he must do something to keep food on the table until The Matrix II and III begin production next year).  From the looks of it, Reeves has four films sandwiched in-between the first two Matrix films, so this is merely the beginning.

The Replacements starts out in the midst of a baseball strike, leaving many exhibitors to figure out how to have their planned games without the players.  For Washington Sentinels owner Edward O'Neil (Warden), the prospects of empty stadiums is too much to bear, so he recruits retired coach Jimmy McGinty (Hackman) to find a group of replacement players to keep the games going with the other teams that are doing the same.

McGinty has had an eye on various people over the years, both former players and non-players, and begins work to fill in the shoes of the picketing players.  Right away he sees his best prospect for quarterback to be Shane Falco (Reeves), a player that has never gotten over a huge failure he had in college ball.  Of course, Falco is finally coerced and becomes one of the new Washington Sentinels.

And what a team it is.  There's the runner that cannot catch (Jones), the overzealous battering cop (Favreau), the gangly Welsh soccer kicker (Ifans), and the recently jailed NFL player (Jace).  And while we're working on some stereotypes that really have no place on the team beside being interesting additions -- the deaf kid (Denman), the bodyguards (Taliferro and Love), and the sumo wrestler (Yonamine).

This madcap team takes to the field and is surprisingly good.  Well, maybe they are a little iffy in some departments, but they are enough to start bringing in the audience -- enough to keep O'Neil happy.  But that is not enough for Falco.  Enjoying the success of the team does not necessarily help him get the one thing he really wants, the affection of the non-player dating head cheerleader Annabelle (Langton).

The Replacements is no great achievement, but for simple fun at the multiplex, it works.  There is enough comic energy here that it makes up for the many mistakes, and actually advances as it progresses.  I've seen this setup a million times (in fact, I'd swear this was once called Major League, and then Little Giants), but screenwriter Vince McKewin (cowriter of Fly Away Home with Saving Private Ryan's Robert Rodat) does not let the scenarios hamper the laughs.

Director Howard Deutch has been in the business for some time now, making films ranging from Pretty in Pink to Grumpier Old Men. Sure, there have been some real low points in his careers (The Odd Couple IIGetting Even with Dad?), but he does fine work here, never going overboard but always regulating the film to the right hilarity -- as in the scene in which Jones leads the cast in a dance to "I Will Survive" in a jail cell.

The oddball assortment of characters is well placed with the oddball characters that are brought in to play them.  And really, who else can meet the requirements of oddball as well "Seven-Up Yours" ad man Orlando Jones and Notting Hill's Ifans?  The two steal every scene that they are in, even from the likes of Gene Hackman!

And then there's Reeves, whose career is dependent on this film in a way.  Sure, he has the career up ahead with those two additional Matrix films, but what after that?  He can't rely only on sci-fi actions films -- Mark Hamill can attest to that.  Reeves does a fine job here, playing the lead while never stealing the stage from the supporting players.  He does the film well.  And the film does him well.  His Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure character would be proud.


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Nutty Professor II: The Klumps

(Dir: Peter Segal, Starring Eddie Murphy, Janet Jackson, Larry Miller, John Ales, Jamal Mixon, Gabriel Williams, Anna Maria Horsford, and Melinda McGraw)



One of the first rules of comedy is to end a running joke before it gets old.  Evidently Eddie Murphy and the folks at Universal have not grasped this yet.  The funniest thing about The Nutty Professor remake from 1996 was the scene in which the hero Sherman Klump (Murphy) has dinner with his family, all played by Murphy (with the exception of young Mixon, brother of the largest of Jim Carrey's kids in Me, Myself & Irene).  That was the funniest moment of what was otherwise a nice, but only-great-for-its-makeup comedy.

So they decide that this moment in the film, a grand achievement of acting, makeup, special effects, and editing, can hold up an entire film on its own.  Boy, were they mistaken.  Nutty Professor II: The Klumps is built on the premise "more is more" without considering that there's so much Klump family to go around that they're bound to get old.

The film follows Sherman Klump years after his first run in with Buddy Love, the alter ego that comes out when he tries his latest scientific discovery in the first Nutty Professor.  Even though he is rid of the shape-shifting, Sherman now faces the problem of Buddy's attitude appearing in his occasional speech.  In hopes of finally ridding himself of Buddy Love for good, Sherman uses an untested process of cell division, formatting the Buddy Loive id to be removed and placed in a vial.

This test has two major consequences.  First is the fact that it made Buddy accessable.  When in contact with any DNA source (i.e. dog hair) and an electrical spark, he can be recreated, which is exactly what happens.  Then there is the fact that one of the unknown side effects of the process was that it slowly kills off the brain cells that (leading to some, admittedly, hilarious Charly-esque moments).

Of course, I could go on forever about how great the makeup is, that is a given with this film.  What most needs to be mentioned, however, is the fact that the makeup alone does little make the film any better.  The last film that featured Murphy in more than one role was Bowfinger, in which the only additions to his face were a wig, glasses, and braces, otherwise it was all Murphy there.  That film worked far better then Nutty Professor II: The Klumps, in which the appeal has worn off.

Some of Murphy's characters are uninteresting now, especially Buddy Love.  Love's henious actions are neither funny nor interesting, but really stupid.  The audience that I saw it with seemed most impressed with Granny Klump, whose libido is so disarmingly spoken of that she could have been the long lost grandmother to the Farrelly Brothers.  But even she could not cause me to crack a smile.  The only Murphy characters that are even enjoyable in the least are Sherman, Mama, and Papa.

The gross-out techniques that were once funny but are now weary only make this film more horrid to sit through.  For all its fine moments with Mama Klump, the sweetest and most enjoyable of the family, there is another surprise gross moment to keep the audience on their feet.  With There's Something About Mary going from Ben Stiller to an ear, American Pie going from Jason Biggs to a warm apple pie, and Nutty Professor II: The Klumps going from a giant hamster to Larry Miller's derrière, the world can now officially call a cease-fire of semen in cinema.

Nutty Professor II: The Klumps relies on the age Hollywood old adage "if you remake it, they will come." Though not the most reliable saying, but from early box office look glances, this is probably going to ring true for The Klumps.  What a world we live in -- Nutty Professor II is a hit and Babe: Pig in the City falls flat.


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Space Cowboys

(Dir: Clint Eastwood, Starring Clint Eastwood, Tommy Lee Jones, James Garner, Donald Sutherland, James Cromwell, Marcia Gay Harden, Loren Dean, Courtney B. Vance, William Devane, Rade Serbedzija, Toby Stephens, Georgia Emelin, and Renee Olstead)



I respect Clint Eastwood, I really do, but when the grand old man falters, I have to regretfully admit it.  His latest directorial work (besides Wolfgang Petersen's In the Line of Fire, Eastwood has not starred in a feature film directed by someone else in over a decade), earns some credit points for being a little less dark and dreary than anything he has made since the mid-eighties, but that is about it.

This is not to say that all the blame is on Eastwood for the film, but that he just should have taken a better upbeat counter film.  Space Cowboys is hokey, unenthusiastic filmmaking, and it shows throughout.  Even during the film's fine first hour, there is nothing to point at Eastwood, the master director.  The film feels as old as its protagonists.

The film starts off with a black and white prologue documenting the film's characters in the fifties.  Frank Corvin (Eastwood), Hawk Hawkins (Jones), Tank Sullivan (Garner), and Jerry O'Nell (Sutherland) are hot shot air force pilots called Team Daedalus, chosen to go to space as part of the U.S. Air Force's outer atmospheric testing plans.  But when NASA replaces the Air Force for space exploration in 1958, Team Daedalus is replaced by a chimp.

To this day, Frank blames the loss of his trip to space on Bob Gerson (Cromwell), then in charge of the space project, now a major executive in NASA.  None of Team Daedalus ever made it to space and disbanded.  Now NASA dearly needs Frank to help them repair a Russian satellite called Ikon, whose systems are the same as the ones that Frank designed for an American space station. Frank sees this as a chance for Team Daedalus to go up to space finally and says that he will only help if he and the rest of the crew can go up.  Gerson agrees, but under one condition:  that Frank et al. meet the physical requirements of every other astronaut there.

The first half of the film is enjoyable, with many of the geriatric jokes working splendidly.  It's only when the second hour begins that everything falls apart.  On land, the characters are funny and charming, in space they are really cloying.  Most of the acts that they perform have been done countless times in space adventures -- the setups are about as old as the collective age of the film's stars.

Screenwriters Ken Kaufman and Howard Klausner attempt to bring in too many little things in the second act, so much that the third act is overburdened by subplots and loose ends.  The love affair between Hawk and a NASA engineer (Harden) could have been done without.  Of course, what do you expect from one writer on his first try and the other fresh off of cinema greats like Muppet in Space and the Paulie Shore vehicle In the Army Now?

It's too easy to excuse this film for bringing together such a cast.  While it is a splendid chance to see these four film vets working together, that can only go so far.  Say what you want about Grumpy Old Men, it would not have come near working if it were did not have a fine script to hold with its actors (for proof see The Odd Couple II).

Even with Eastwood and Jones there, the real treats of the film are Sutherland and Garner, who work with such comic panache that they are excused for the film's second half.  Since the later section is more magnified on Eastwood and Jones, their scrutiny is much more worthy, even if they are sacred cows of American film.

In his smoldering bad guy character, Cromwell pulls off another fine performance, especially enjoyable when paired with new found Russian phenomenon Rade Serbedzija as a Russian ambassador.  Still there are some grating supporting players, especially Harden and Dean as a show-off astronaut (and I thought Dean did a great job in last year's Mumford).

Still, Eastwood's style is not up to this sort of storytelling.  I'm happy that he chose a change of pace, but he's just not equipped for an Armageddon take on Grumpy Old Men.  I've liked everything he's made after the horrendous The Rookie in 1990 (including the critically frowned upon A Perfect World, Absolute Power, and Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil), but even I have to say that Eastwood did not strike a masterpiece this time around.


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Reviews by:
David Perry