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Volume 2, Number 35

This Week's Reviews:  Whipped, Saving Grace, Kikujiro, The Eyes of Tammy Faye, Highlander: Endgame.

This Week's Omissions:  NONE.



Whipped

(Dir: Peter M. Cohen, Starring Brian Van Holt, Jonathan Abrahams, Zorie Barber, Amanda Peet, Juduh Domke, and Callie Thorne)

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BY: DAVID PERRY

Peter M. Cohen's Whipped is based on the now regular infrastructure of sex driven comedies:  be that indie perv delight and hopefully you might find a market.  I am one of the few critics to oppose this genre in the world of independent films -- I respect some of the stuff that people like Noah Baumbach and Edward Burns have churned out, but rarely do I feel that they really succeed at anything near what they want to be.

In recent years, the only film of this type that really hit me as being great was Chasing Amy, which took the normal sex conversations and spiced them up with reality instead of perversity.  Do people like Eric Scheffer really think that people want to hear him and Elle MacPherson ham it up over positions and the like?

Whipped comes from that Scheffer mold, where the director/screenwriter automatically thinks that people will chuckle over a large penis joke or a fat man shirtless shot -- that's the level of hilarity here.  And sometimes there can be some redemption by having some interesting, witty dialogue, but there is nothing here that might be considered elementary -- if not for the theme, I'd say that this film might have been written by a six year-old.

Whipped follows four old college buddies, who still meet every Sunday at a Manhattan restaurant and talk of their recent sexual conquests.  They each have their own working in the stereotypical creativity (or lack thereof).  There's the arty, smug soother Zeke (Barber), the sex-less, self-pleasuring loner Jonathan (Abrahams; not the same Jon Abrahams from Scary Movie), the stuck-up, fast talking rich pretty boy Brad (Van Holt), and the continually experimenting, pudgy married stiff Eric (Domke).

The four spend the first act of the film relating stories that might make toes curl -- Zeke's latest catches steal his television, Jonathan has a love affair with whatever cream he can find in the medicine cabinet, Brad finds out the taste of his own excrement, and Eric finds that his wife loves using kitchen utensils as sex toys.  Is this funny in the Cohen's mind?  Did anyone stop to think that none of this could ever convey well to any audience with a mental capacity above the second grade?

The film's single fleeting asset is Amanda Peet, who comes into the film after thirty minutes as Mia, the woman that all four fall in love with.  While none of the scenarios that ensue come near interesting, and none of the so-called witticisms work, Peet has a comic talent that makes her appearance shine.  I loved her in The Whole Nine Yards, in which she had some great dialogue, and even here I could not hold the horrid spoken lines against her.  And, believe it or not, I'm not simply saying this because I think she is attractive.

Besides Peet, the rest of the cast left me fleeing for the door.  Domke seems to be the film's favored character -- never have I been less interested in such a character.  He plays Eric like a listless soul with a slight retardation.  He's like Warren in There's Something About Mary without anything hilarious to throw out.  Of all the performances here, I was most retracted by his and it really hurt the film that he was the central character for comedy.

This is one film that really made me sad.  There is not a moment in the film that I could really care for.  The four men were people that I'd never want to meet in my entire life, and these are the protagonists!  For a film that proclaims itself to be an expose on the pleasures of life, I found it really pleasureless.


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Saving Grace

(Dir: Nigel Cole, Starring Brenda Blethyn, Craig Ferguson, Valerie Edmond, Martin Clunes, Tchky Karyo, Bill Bailey, Tristan Sturrock, Clive Merrison, Leslie Phillips, Diana Quick, Phydilla Law, Linda Kerr Scott, Denise Coffey, Paul Brooke, Ken Campbell, John Fortune, Philip Wright, Darren Southworth, Magnus Lindgren, and Dean Lennox Kelly)

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BY: DAVID PERRY

Of all the genre mixtures I could have ever imagined, I'm not sure how long it would have taken me to ever think of the toying that goes on in Saving Grace.  I've seen many marijuana comedies, but I doubt I would have ever thought that I'd see those films meet up with films like The Full Monty and Waking Ned Devine, the small British township films with quirky characters.

Saving Grace is that combination, in all its glory.  The film relies simply on the laugh that comes from that mixture, the first nail in its coffin.  And let's not jump to conclusions here, I did not hate this film having laughed at some of the jokes, but there is nothing in my mind that sets it in a room worthy of being a genre combo in fine form.  In fact, I hate films surrounding ganja -- there's only so many jokes you can make about someone being high, hence the reason that the only Cheech and Chong film that works is the first one, Up in Smoke, when most of the gags were relatively fresh.

This film did not have a chance unless it did something new, and, trust me, the nonstop pot induced laugh has been done.  Ok, so maybe they thought that having an older lady smoking a joint would be new, but evidently they did not think of the fact that quirky characters are already, well, quirky, and therefore do not have anything new to shed from a few puffs of weed.

Saving Grace follows Grace (Blethyn), a recently widowed plant expert whom finds herself in deep debt from her late husbands shady business practices.  She has no real mode of income and must lose much of her furnishings as she tries to think of ways to save her home.  Then, she agrees to take in a sick plant for her gardener Matthew (Ferguson).  It seems that he has been growing reefer in the shadows of the churchyard and fears that his investment will die under the current conditions.  Being the real plant lover that she is, Grace agrees to take in the sickly growths.

Then she has an epiphany: Hash = Money.  Well, this tidy little lady convinces Matthew that selling a super-drug, produced with a liberal douse of gardening know-how, would get the both of them out of any financial problems they may have.  Of course, this can only lead to mishaps, which include run-ins with an addicted doctor, a rough drug lord, and two tea-loving old ladies.

The characters sure meet the level of peculiarity brought in by Waking Ned Devine, including a scene in which a contact high leads some geriatrics to run around sans clothing.  I like to see these people sometimes, but even I'll admit that they get a little daunting after a while.

Brenda Blethyn is the real reason to see this film.  Her performance takes on heights that this film does not deserve.  With each utterance and nuance, she takes the character to another dimension that was not present a few moments earlier.

Most of the film's problems come from the screenplay by Ferguson and Mark Crowdy, which never really goes beyond what it is set-up with.  So much of the film seems thrown together, almost as if the two took some punchlines and just took them out of a hat.  For example, one character is hauled off to jail midway through -- never do we see them arrested or even told why they ended up in the local prison.  The only reason for this moments presence is so that the audience will chuckle when the character is escorted out of the police station.

By the end of the film, all the steam is gone.  Its social satire finale is about as impressive as watching Gregory Peck clip his fingernails -- or better yet, as uninteresting and painfully saddening as my refrain from using the same word twice within this review for that particular leaf.


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Kikujiro

(Dir: Takeshi Kitano, Starring 'Beat' Takeshi, Yusuke Sekiguchi, Nezumi Mamura, Great Gidayu, Rakkyo Ide, Kayoko Kishimoto, Fumie Hosokawa, Kazuko Yoshiyuki, Yko Daike, Beat Kiyoshi, Akaji Maro, and Daigaku Sekine)

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BY: DAVID PERRY

Takeshi Kitano has become one of the most beloved Japanese filmmakers since Akira Kurosawa, but he has yet to find a home in American audiences.  Unlike his Hong Kong equal John Woo, Kitano has never made anything that hit off in America leading way into making an English language introduction.  In some ways, that is for the best (let's keep in mind that the Americanized John Woo brought us Broken Arrow and Mission: Impossible 2) -- though I think I read somewhere that he is signed on to make an American film with Mira Sorvino (a la Chow Yun-Fat).

It is a true shame that Kitano has not been embraced in the West yet besides some adamant seekers like me.  His Sonatine was a treat, and Fireworks was flawless -- the man has a better grasp on action than most Oriental directors that have more fame.  Using the Ingmar Bergman approach to silence, Kitano grabs the audience by leaving them in the drifting sounds of a sea or of a thoughtful moment, only to break everything with sudden and hard-hitting action.

That's the Kitano I've grown to know and love -- a man of meditited violence, the creator of some of the greatest images in modern cinema.  That's exactly why I was downright shocked when I saw the trailer for his latest film, Kikujiro.  Looking like yet another foreign film about a grumpy man finding solace in a small child forced upon him, I was beginning to wonder exactly where Kitano was going with his career.

Since then I have paid closer attention to the trailer each time I would see it, noticing the small flourishes of violence, the tiny hints of his visual imagery.  By the time Kikujiro finally came out, I was accepting it as Kitano's riff on the genre, perhaps the product of a bet he made with some friends.

The film is about a crodgety man, and there is a child involved, but the sorrowing saccharine of Kolya is not here.  There is only one scene in the film that is played for sentimentality, and it is quickly abolished from the memory with thirty minutes of straight fun.

The unwilling father figure this time is a gangster in Japan, called by the boy as Mister (Takeshi; Kitano uses the name 'Beat' Takeshi for his acting credit in all his films), who treats life like an event created simply for his well being.  When young Masao (Sekiguchi) decides that he wants to leave his lonely Summer life in his grandmother's home while she works, Mister is forced by his wife to take the child on the journey to find his long lost mother.

Normally the story would jump right into these two characters getting to know each other, but here, Mister takes all the boys money to bet on the racetrack.  When in a losing streak, he asks the boy for numbers to bet on -- and the child's random picks win them a night out with alcohol and women.  The next day, Mister takes the boy out to the tracks again, leaving the child's "ability" to be exploited, only to find that it takes all their money in the end.

With no money, the two must work out ways to find transportation to the beach that Masao's mother is last known to have lived.  As they use various devices to get rides, the two also grow to make a friends.  By the final reel, the talk from Mister is still harsh, but there is a sense of amiability there.

The film is set up in tiny vignettes, some of which portray the darker side of this travelogue, other that simply compound what has already been established.  By the time they find the most passive-aggressive bikers on the planet (allowing Mister to steal a trinket from them and call them "Fatso" and "Baldy" only to go along in his attempts to keep the child happy), the film has been around the block twice.

I remember this film really well from two years ago -- back when it was called Central Station.  But I thought this film did expound something that I missed in Central Station, a sense of kitsch, something to make the journey more enjoyable than depressing.  Central Station, which I still think is a family variety Men with Guns, teetered along in its story without any emotional release -- Kikujiro builds up in its Central Station story, only to let everything out in a third act that lets everything come out.  By then, the story proper is over, but the emotions are not -- Kitano is not here to toy with the audience, leaving them haunted by some child without a home, he instead lets everyone know that he is not here for that, this is not that type of down-and-out story.

Kikujiro is admittedly one of its genre, one of the worst genres in the world of foreign films, but it extends the genre to new heights -- something only someone like Takeshi Kitano would attempt.  And he did it well.


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The Eyes of Tammy Faye

(Dir: Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato, Appearances by Tammy Faye Bakker, Roe Messner, Mel White, Jim Bakker, Jamie Bakker, Tammy Sue Chapman, Charles Sheperd, James Alpert, Jim J. Bullock, Steven Chao, Greg Gorman, and Pat Boone, Narrated by RuPaul)

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BY: DAVID PERRY

"She's a survivor.  After the holocaust, there will be roaches, Tammy Faye, and Cher."

So sayeth John J. Bullock on how this woman has continued in her life after all the events that have ruined one-time televangelist team Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker.

John J. is here because he was the co-host of a talk show that he and Tammy Faye Bakker had some time ago, and he can only say kind words about Tammy Faye, who took him in as co-host on the show even though she was known as a devout Christian and he was openly gay.

Much of the new documentary The Eyes of Tammy Faye lives on the presentation of Tammy Faye as martyr of the destruction of the Bakker clan.  She's lived more humiliation and self destruction than most people, and had it all televised courtesy of various demons of the televangelists.

One can only laugh at how the film starts off showing the way newlyweds Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker were thrown out of networks they created by The Trinity Network's Paul and Jan Crouch (who cofounded the network with the Bakker's, only to dismiss them in a board meeting coup) and by The Christian Broadcasting Network's Pat Robertson (who would take the reigns of Jim's The 700 Club and make it his own).  And we have not even gotten to what happens to them thanks to Jerry Falwell.

Directors Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato turn out with more of a tribute than a documentary.  While there are some people interviewed who would not be on Tammy Faye's list of favorite people (including ex-husband Jim Bakker and reporter Charles Sheperd, the man that released the information that lead to her career demise), but most people have only nice things to say.  Of course, that is not Bailey and Barbato's fault, names like Jerry Falwell and Paul Crouch would not return their requests for interviews -- words to the wise, if you demonize someone and do not come to your defense, they'll demonize you years later in a documentary.

The film is, like the title would hint at, more interested in Tammy Faye than in the whole Bakker fiasco.  When the Jessica Hahn one-night-stand comes into the story, it only shows Tammy Faye's reaction for a moment, never really letting people look too much on what this meant to Jim Bakker's career.  (Plus it is quite a treat seeing excerpts from the TV movie Fall from Grace, starring Kevin Spacey as Jim Bakker.)

The film is checkered with information that I had forgotten, almost a blast back to the late 1980's.  Too much is relied on audiences remembering facts.  Like, when Jim Bakker is interviewed even though it is shown that he was given a 40+ year prison sentence.  Bailey and Barbato forget to let you know how he got out and is now interviewed with his new wife.

The Eyes of Tammy Faye starts off like a news story, but continues into straight interviewed documentary with cuts of Jim and Tammy Faye on their Praise the Lord Network.  Tammy Faye had a rough life -- struggling with prescription drug, a deteriorating marriage, and a well known debunkment.  And we see it all, even the time when Jim asks Tammy Faye to sing and the drugged up wife is walking around the back of the stage musing how great the fake boat looks.

Bailey and Barbato are above simply relying on the story to tell everything, they even throw in their own little tidbits of genius, like having each chapter in the story introduced by sock-puppets, much like the ones Tammy Faye used on her television show back in the 1960's.

The Eyes of Tammy Faye is not like most documentaries, as one would expect.  I mean, really, the world is sure to look different from eyes with that much mascara.


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Highlander: Endgame

(Dir: Douglas Aarniokoski, Starring Adrian Paul, Christopher Lambert, Bruce Payne, Ian Paul Cassidy, Adam Copeland, Donnie Yen, Lisa Barbuscia, Jim Byrnes, Peter Wingfield, and Beatie Edney)

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BY: DAVID PERRY

Just when you thought it was safe to go back to the multiplex, here comes another Highlander film.  That's right, you might have thought that the end of the saga had come with the finale of the television series, but, alas, its back.  Not only do we get to see Christopher Lambert's mug again, but also a chance to (painfully) watch Adrian Paul try to carry a film.

I've never been the most astute Highlander fan.  Actually, I couldn't have told any character names, or whether or not Sean Connery survived the first two films.  The only real thing I knew was the term "the quickening" which I only knew thanks to some ladies in Halloween: H20, who could not believe that the Jason film ripped off Highlander in its finale (whether or not this is true, I do not know, I was merely an observer).

I saw this film with a fan of the show, who could answer any question I might have during the run of the film.  But I did not ask, to receive any information would be a waste of some good brain cells.  And this chap even hated this film.

The film and television series takes pride in being pointless action in the midst of grandiose gobble-di-gook, the worst of the worst.  The span of the timeline that these films and episodes cover are about as interesting as those jowls hanging from the Rod Steiger's neck.

This film, supposedly the finale, comes with Connor MacLeod (Lambert) and Duncan MacLeod (Paul) seeing their worst enemy attempt to end their immortal lives.  Kell (Payne) has had over 600 quickenings, which means that he has decapitated so that many other immortals and taken their life forces and power.  This man is nearly unbeatable -- the combined quickenings of the MacLeods cannot compare.

Of course, there are many subplots.  Duncan is haunted by the woman that he made immortal without her consent (Barbuscia), Connor is haunted by the death of everyone that he has ever loved, especially his wife (Edney).

How can these men fight such a force like Kell?  How can each one come to terms with their hauntings?  How can this film get any dumber?

This film is simply built around the idea of violence.  That's all there is in this film -- big action scenes complimented by horrendous special effects.  I know that I have been a little more critical about action films with pointless gore, especially Hollow Man, but there is reason.   I can still take Reservoir Dogs, the Scream films, and just about any other film with flailing intestines and lost body parts, but I just cannot stand it when the violence is there simply to appall the viewers, not to have anything in the story.

There is one moment in which some motorcycles pull up to a cathedral, heading right into ten minutes of people shooting each other.  Why, simply because it was needed at that moment, this was one of the few slow parts of the film.  Any other reason?  Nope.

I guess that is the complete attraction to the series -- cuts some people up and you've got an audience.  To the best of my knowledge, the other films took some trouble into making special effects that might be respectable, here they could care less.  Yes, there are countless moments of CGI and the like, but none of it can be considered worthy of one kilobyte used in the making of Titan A.E.

Adrian Paul is one of the worst actors ever, without a doubt.  He deserves some form of recognition like a Golden Raspberry just so that it can be made abundantly clear that this man cannot act.  I thought that Lambert was bad in the other films -- this man makes Lambert look like Charlton Heston.

With the series getting progressively worse, Highlander: Endgame better be the last one.  Heaven only knows what it would take to make a film worse than a film worse than the Mario van Peebles one.


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Reviews by:
David Perry
2000, Cinema-Scene.com

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