Volume 2, Number 31
This Week's Reviews: Hollow Man, Sunshine, Coyote Ugly, The In Crowd.
This Week's Omissions: 42 Up, The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg, Trixie.
(Dir: Paul Verhoeven, Starring Kevin Bacon, Elisabeth Shue, Josh Brolin, Kim Dickens, Greg Grunberg, Joey Slotnick, William Devane, Mary Jo Randle, and Rhona Mitra)
BY: DAVID PERRY
An early remark on Hollow Man read "this is not your grandfather's invisible man." Damn right, my "grandfather's invisible man" (i.e. the James Whale classic The Invisible Man with Claude Rains) is actually good -- something that Hollow Man could never claim.
From the beginning of the film (following titles that looks too much like ABC soup to meet the wanted spooky effect), this is a poor romp on the invisible genre wanting to say too much with its two-bit characters and confused scenarios. Hollow Man is bad, its really, really bad.
Paul Verhoeven should have taken some notes after John Carpenter could not revive the invisible characters with Memoirs of an Invisible Man. Verhoeven, the director of such films ranging from Total Recall to Showgirls, strives to make a serious genre film, but gets so indulgent that it becomes just plain repulsive. At least Ghost Dad isn't utterly distasteful (ok, I retract that statement).
This time the texturally challenged man (hey, I'm trying not to overuse the words "invisible man") is a Dr. Sebastian Caine, who has been chosen to lead a Pentagon-funded search for the serum for invisibility. After a few tests of this serum on a dog and a gorilla, Sebastian must find the fluid that brings back visibility. Complicated science problem, no -- while sitting awake at his home computer eating a twinkie, Sebastian merely makes a few clicks on his software and bingo, instant visibility (Molecule Mover now available in Windows 2000 with Minesweeper and Solitaire).
Instead of taking his grand findings to the Pentagon, Sebastian decides to take the next step without their watching eye: human experimentation. As that faithful man of science that he strives to be, Sebastian injects himself and then finds that the visibility formula, which worked on the gorilla, does not work on him.
For some this would be enough to go crazy; and guess what, Sebastian is one of those people. The fact that his former girlfriend Dr. Linda McKay (Shue) is currently in bed with the scientific bane of Sebastian's existence, Matthew Kensington (Brolin), only further incenses him in his sleepless nights (in one of the film's few intriguing ideas, the invisibility of his eye lids means he cannot close his eyes). So what else is an irate self-imposed invisible man to do? Well, there's always voyeuristic urges, horror style rape, and the killing off of friends.
By the halfway point, Hollow Man takes on the world of a straight out thriller and is muddled by every moment of it. While the lab scenes were far from great, they were much better than the stalk-and-kill tactics that fill the second half. Once he takes in his first victim (though the survival of rape victim is never told), he never stops and neither does the film. For thirty straight minutes, Verhoeven jabs violent stabbings and burnings into the audiences faces without anything to make them remotely integral to what the film is really about.
Kevin Bacon takes on the role like it is an important study in badguy dynamics when Sebastian is simply a one-dimensional toy for the filmmakers to have a uncaring killer. The poorman's Gary Sinise has never been on my short list of remarkable character actors, and there is nothing here to make me want to add him. Bacon seemed on the edge of becoming slightly respectable following Stir of Echoes, but this is way too much of a backtrack.
Paul Verhoeven worked with this type of story once before, in the nihilist classic Robocop. The violent aggression of a man stuck in a new body (or, in this case, lack thereof) seemed fresh and interesting in the setting of a hardened police force, but not in a confined underground lab.
Verhoeven's last film was the less-than-great Starship Troopers. That film was not my cup of tea, but I did certainly respect it for the fact that it never took itself seriously, nearly every step is tongue-in-cheek. Hollow Man is not that way. The ultra-dramatic directing, acting, and music (from Jerry Goldsmith) merely make it seem mistaken. If taken in the same style as Starship Troopers, this film could have very well have worked in a small way.
The most talked of aspect of the film is its use of special effects. I must admit that some things are impressive, but they never really lead to anything. The best sequence is when gorilla is brought back to visibility as we see various parts become visible working from the heart outward. Then, fifteen minutes later, we get to see it all again, just backwards. It was a fete at first, now it's tired.
Say what you want about it being so great that this invisible entity is brought to slight vision thanks to various covers. In my opinion, that is so three years ago -- The Relic, anyone?
But where this film really falters is in just how torturous it is to watch. I'm not trying to be a prude here, but is there really any reason for some of this violence besides to get the chance to show people die (and Kevin Bacon's penis in the process)? Jason Voorhees had better motivation to kill.
Sebastian goes on the hunt because the life of
invisibility drives him to it. There is not a moment in which he simply takes the
time to live the life of an invisible man. There are so many things that he could
enjoy with invisibility: free food, free vacations, free movies. Just not this one.
(Dir: István Szabó, Starring Ralph Fiennes, Rosemary Harris, Jennifer Ehle, James Frain, William Hurt, Molly Parker, Rachel Weisz, Deborah Kara Unger, John Neville, David De Keyser, Miriam Margolyes, Mark Strong, Kathleen Gati, János Némes, Mari Töröcsik, Katja Studt, Balazs Hantos, Jácint Juhász, and Flóra Kádár)
BY: DAVID PERRY
István Szabó created Sunshine with the idea of documenting a world that collided with evils defeating evils, only to be usurped by more evils -- in this case, the wartorn history of Hungary in the twentieth century. Each evil is told through the eyes of whomever the current surviving generation of the Sonnenschein is at that time. With every new wave of government comes a new alliance for that member.
But the three generations that find followings for the emperor, the Nazis, and the Communists are not necessarily the heart of Sunshine. Instead it is all for the woman we watch age as her family dies off. Played in youth by Jennifer Ehle, in old age by Rosemary Harris (Ehle's real life mother), Valerie Sonnenschein is the heart of this story. While each new youth follows the latest regime in power, she can only watch as they again take the road of the misguided man.
The Sonnenschein's are Jewish, migrating to Hungary as a safe haven from their small village. That is all the actions of Emmanuel Sonnenschein (De Keyser), a generation before the film ever starts. Toting the recipe for a tonic that helps him support his family with a factory creating the tonic called "Sunshine" (the meaning of Sonnenschein), Emmanuel makes it into Hungary, not knowing of the political turmoil that would plague his descendants.
Ignatz Sonnenschein (Fiennes) is the son of Emmanuel, a well meaning boy with dreams of growing into the best man for the emperor. His brother Gustav (Frain) is a revolutionary with hopes of overthrowing the emperor soon. For Ignatz, a local justice and wannabe Parliament member, fighting against his emperor is inexcusable. But he cannot completely turn on his brother -- Valerie could never allow him to do such a thing.
Valerie is not allowed to be Ignatz' wife, even though they both love each other. As first cousins and adoptive siblings, their joining is hard to come by but not impossible.
Before World War I, in which Ignatz and Gustav are most evenly in disagreement, the three young Sonnenscheins change their names to a more Hungarian, and therefore less Jewish, Sors. The three Sors embark on the war, where the communist regime succeeds in defeating the emperor, bringing Gustav to higher power than his monarchist brother, only to have to flee the country after the communists are overthrown.
As the country makes way for the fascist rule that comes leading into World War II, Ignatz and Valerie's children are dealing with the growing anti-Semitism in Hungary. The most promising is Adam Sors (Fiennes again) who is such a fine fencer that he is invited to join the Officer's Club. The only problem is that the club does not allow Jews, leading to Adam converting to Catholicism. Meanwhile his steadfast Jewish but understanding brother Istvan (Strong) stands in the background of his famous brother, not knowing that his Adam is being courted by his wife Greta (Weisz).
During this, the rule of the Horthy regime, it is understood that they all must assimilate or face the consequences. It is not until the regime makes way into Nazism at the breakout of World War II that they find that assimilation does not mean a thing in the Holocaust.
As the third part begins, Ivan Sors (guess who, Fiennes) takes on the mission of the recently empowered Communists following the fascist loss of World War II. Ivan joins in with another Holocaust survivor Andor Knorr (Hurt) in hopes of getting justice for the anti-Semitic crimes to his family. Keeping in the fate of his family, Ivan too has a prohibited lover in the form of Major Carole Kovacs (Unger), wife to a major official.
Throughout the various assimilations, affairs, and coups is Valerie, watching with a weary eye. No matter what the downright low the family is at, she is there as support. The performance by Rosemary Harris is one of the best of the year. She takes the rains of the character from Ehle and adds wise age to the character already created.
Playing three roles, Ralph Fiennes once again proves why he is one of the most regarded actors of the last decade. Though he really needs to quit playing the unhappy lover (see Onegin review). Taking each character in a completely different direction from the one played just moments earlier makes this one of his finest performances. It's no Amon Goeth or Charles van Doren, but his three characters could hold up beside most every character Fiennes has ever played.
The art direction and costume design is sumptuous. Like The Red Violin from last year, it is always a treat to see the contrasting looks of various periods in history all in one theatrical sitting. The scene of Adam Sors fencing, though reminiscent of the superlative art direction of Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet, is a strong high point in sets and interiors.
Sunshine is paced well, a fine treat considering its three hour length. Taking in half a century of Hungarian history, as well as a family's history, cannot be thrown out in a simple length, and each moment of this film feels needed.
István Szabó and longtime cinematographer Lajos Koltai
have created an epic in the grand David Lean tradition. Like the still beautiful Doctor
Zhivago, Szabó and Koltai make a war story of love and enchantment. A
rich and beautiful tale of the terror that came with the isms of history (Monarchism,
Fascism, Communism), Sunshine is a large scale and enthralling picture that David Lean
would be proud of.
(Dir: David McNally, Starring Piper Perabo, Adam Garcia, Maria Bello, Izabella Miko, Bridget Moynahan, John Goodman, Melanie Lynskey, Adam Alexi-Malle, and Greg Pitts)
BY: DAVID PERRY
Jerry Bruckheimer strikes again, trading the midair collisions for middrift contortions. Coyote Ugly is not necessarily new for the überproducer -- let us not forget the highly overrated Flashdance -- but it has been so long that the feminine side of the adrenaline obsessed producer that we can only forget that there is that shining feminine mystique somewhere there.
Following Gone in Sixty Seconds, this film can only be considered a disappointment. Yes, Gone in Sixty Seconds is a guilty pleasure, tried and true, and this is not anything near the fun of Gone in Sixty Seconds, where the flatlining story is salvaged by flights of fancy. Coyote Ugly has the same poor writing, but lacks many moments that leave the audience cheering.
Coyote Ugly is a bar in New York. Simple, yes -- ordinary, no. With its barmaids doing body thrusts that Hugh Hefner probably has copyrighted and its masculine layout, Coyote Ugly thrives on the men that come to see these little shows. It's like a strip tease with alcohol being served -- the dreamworld for its many customers.
Enter Violet (Perabo), a struggling songstress who has just hits the streets of New York from her idyllic New Jersey home. Violet wants desperately to become a songwriter, but her extreme stagefright makes it impossible for her to play her songs to anyone.
After countless mishaps, Violet finds herself in need of a job and overhears that there will be an opening at Coyote Ugly with one barmaid (Banks) leaving for law school. She swallows her fears and goes in to meet Lil (Bello), the owner of Coyote Ugly, knowing nothing of the world she is about to enter. Why does Lil take in this drowning rat? She "looks like an elementary school teacher, guys'll love it."
Soon she is up there belting out tunes from the jukebox and dancing away sans inhibitions, much to the chagrin of her doting father (Goodman) and compromising boyfriend (Garcia). And, of course, this has to lead somewhere to make her overcome her stagefright -- she can sing with a jukebox to drunken brawlers, why not with a live band in front of countless sober onlookers and possible record producers.
There is something to Coyote Ugly that is appealing, even if most of the film cannot make due with its premise. That thing is Piper Perabo, who really cannot act but has a certain appeal that makes her work in the role. The cute, homespun, fish-out-of-water character would have been perfect for Katie Holmes, but Perabo is a fine Violet (and it is a miracle that Jennifer Love Hewitt did not fight for this part).
Perabo is up on the flammable bar with two relative newcomers, Izabelle Miko and Bridget Moynahan. The two each carry different stereotypes of women that one can only wonder how this is considered a woman's film. The promiscuous ditz Cammie (Miko) and aggressive butch (Moynahan) repetitiously show-off their overused personas that they bore the hell out of the audience.
The only really interesting character (let's face it, appealing or not, Violet's dreams are too formulaic to bring in much interest) is Lil. Bello takes this character with the bitchy knocks that need to be there. Whether it be Payback or TV's ER, Bello has a smarmy charm that is needed more often in female characters -- the dumb bombshell, the angry hulk, and the lost ingénue have been done a thousand times with the same type of performance each time around.
Country musician LeAnn Rimes sings the songs that Violet performs off an on (mostly to herself on the roof of her apartment). The songs are mostly adult contemporary tunes that make Britany Spears seem depressed. With each song, I was further crushing my fingernails into the armrests -- my only concession is the show stopping "Can't Fight the Moonlight".
Rimes takes over the mike in the end, literally.
With her mug on the screen I was only reminded of What's Love Got to Do with It,
in which Angela Bassett's fine performance is stolen for an anticlimactic performance from
the real Tina Turner. Of course, without the Turner entrance, What's Love Got to
Do with It would have been a near-perfect film; without Rimes, Coyote Ugly would
have been just as mediocre.
|The In Crowd
(Dir: Mary Lambert, Starring Lori Heuring, Susan Ward, Ethan Erickson, Nathan Bexton, Laurie Fortier, Matthew Settle, Kim Murphy, Daniel Hugh Kelly, Erinn Bartlett, Jay R. Ferguson, Charlie Finn, Katherine Towne, A.J. Buckley, Peter Mackenzie, and Tess Harper)
BY: DAVID PERRY
Aaron Spelling should sue. I'd be highly surprised if this was not the brain child of Spelling, the producer of such high art fare as Melrose Place and Beverly Hills 90210. The In Crowd owes every catfight, every femme vixen, every blemishless face to Spelling.
And the film does not parallel the television travails of Spelling merely in premise and look, but also in quality. The In Crowd is a conventional teen thriller, with the production values of a soapy television drama and the pleasure of late night Cinemax exotica. There is rarely a moment that can be seen as either interesting or enticing. Sure, Susan Ward has the looks to kill a man, but her frothy acting makes for some unbelievably boring moments of arcane lip gloss embellishments (no, really, they do the lip gloss thing about thirty times).
Lori Heuring makes her screen debut in this little gem as a woman recently let out of a psychiatric hospital. Her psychologist (Kelly) gets Adrien (Heuring) a job at the local country club, the home of the most beautiful people in the county. Adrien is secluded from the world of the beautiful people -- something that cannot stay true for too long, she's J. Crew enough to make it on her own two, err, feet.
Her stepping stool into the in crowd is Brittany Foster, the most beloved of the kids. She sees Adrien as a type of mentoree, a prom queen in the waiting. Brittany was not always in her position, a place that she had to fight for, giving her more skeletons in the closet than Hannibal Lecter.
Of course, anger comes, back-stabbings occur, and catfights ensue. Isn't the world of this in crowd wonderful?
Each of the actors hit the stage in their risqué wear in hopes of titillating the audience without ever coming near what people can catch on Showtime after midnight. The film's various wet shirt and single bare breast seem to have been added to get as close to the edge of a PG-13 as possible. I'm not necessarily going for the crodgety pervert here, but if you want to grab the audience a la Wild Things, get riskier and accept an R!.
The film has two lovers to give the girls, two guys that look so close to each other that it just confuses the audience. Matthew Settle and Ethan Erickson take their roles as if they are playing slanderous characters even though they are merely pawns. Are we supposed to hate Erickson's Tom simply because of manipulation that he is unaware of?
Susan Ward has the look of a femme fatale, but her sultry attraction cannot make up for the lack of any acting ability from the Poison Ivy: New Seduction star. The femmes of yesteryear could seduce and destroy far better than Ward can. A match between Barbara Stanwyck and Ward would be way too easy a win for Stanwyck.
Mary Lambert, the woman behind both Pet Cemetery films, creates a film so obscenely tepid that one can only wish for a quick death (whether it be in the film or in the audience). The lighting from Tom Priestley, Jr., comes off so murky that many scenes are incredibly hard to see. This is not a mistake in the projection room, most of the film seemed at the right color for projection, just incorrectly filmed.
Mark Gibson and Philip Halprin created a story that has
been mapped out by every little touch. This is literally one of those films in which
every twist is seen from miles away. Guess I'll have to watch it next week's episode
to have any surprises.