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Volume 2, Number 37

This Week's Reviews:  Bait, Cecil B. Demented.

This Week's Omissions:  Wonderland.


(Dir: Antoine Fuqua, Starring Jamie Foxx, David Morse, Doug Hutchison, Robert Pastorelli, Kimberly Elise, David Paymer, Mike Epps, Jamie Kennedy, Nestor Serrano, Megan Dodds, Kirk Acevedo, and Heffrey Donovan)



Stylistically speaking, Antoine Fuqua's Bait is a fine cinematic treat, but, as is often the case with the graduates of Propaganda Films, it lacks the storytelling techniques to keep substance in the same ball field as style.  Look at some of those men from Propaganda.  Dominic Sena has rousing moments throughout Gone in Sixty Seconds, but the film is pained by countless debits in story; or what about Simon West, whose Con Air and The General's Daughter were mockeries of cinema; and then there's Michael Bay, who could not tell a feasible story if his life depended on it (heaven help us, his next film is about Pearl Harbor).

Now, I'm not going to say that Propaganda Films only produce poor filmmakers, need we forget that David Fincher was one of the founding fathers?  But, the fact of the matter is that it emphasizes style over substance, understandable considering the fact that the company only prepares directors for commercials and music videos, in which a story is not a necessity.

Antoine Fuqua has learned well from his cohorts at Propaganda -- he really does know how to create a stunning visual, but that creation of a screenplay to keep up the action is not a priority.  This is like a Quentin Tarantino film sans the witty screenplay.  And Bait is not a bad film, to say the least, but it sure isn't the type of film to pass on through the ages.  When Turner Classic Movies creates its next 150 years in Movies reel, I have no doubt that a shot from Bait will be absent.

The film is about a gold heist gone awry.  When blood is shed, thug-thief John Jaster (Pastorelli) drives off with a truck filled with the gold he and a high-tech robber named Bristol (Hutchison; playing the lost love child of John Malkovich in In the Line of Fire and Kevin Spacey in The Usual Suspects) have stolen from the Federal Reserve in New York.  When all is counted, there's some $42 million in gold missing, and it is imperative to the well-being of the country for it to be found.

Enter U.S. Treasury agent Edgar Clenteen (Morse), on the task to find this gold.  When the lesser thief with knowledge of the gold is picked up on a DWI charge, he takes to badgering the chap until he finally dies.  Thankfully, he made some mention of the hiding place of the gold to his cellmate before dying.

Since the riddle-like hint pulls nothing up, it is the decision for Clenteen that this cell-mate, a small-time crook named Alvin Sanders (Foxx) in jail for stealing shrimp, err, prawns, should become a guinea pig for the government.  Placing a small device in Sander's chin, Clenteen and his small techie army can hear everything around him as well as keep up with his exact location.

The idea is that if the mastermind Bristol thinks that Alvin knows the hiding place of the gold, Bristol will go after him, giving Clenteen a chance to catch him.  Now, of course, Bristol bites onto the bait, but what's to say that he is not smart enough to fall for their trickery?

Bait is like Blue Streak meets Enemy of the State, lacking the comedic values of the latter and the ingenuity of the former.  It should be no surprise that all these films have an African American actor in the lead.  Between weepy characters like Denzel Washington's in The Hurricane, most black actors must resign to laugh inducers or action heroes.

And Jamie Foxx is no Martin Lawrence or Will Smith.  I really cannot stand the guy.  His joke delivery is saddeningly poor; his facial contortions are one and the same; and he cannot even create a demeanor that works for his character.  It pains me to think that he and loose-cannon of late Oliver Stone have hit off a nice career stretch with each other (the two are currently in the works to remake A Star is Born).

Now, next to Foxx is one of the finest character actors around.  Come on, people, it's about time that you give David Morse the respect that he deserves.  I'd see him in anything, and I'll take the time to catch him in all the films that he has coming out this Fall (including Lars von Trier's Dancer in the Dark and Taylor Hackford's Proof of Life).  Morse can play everything from the badguy (the man was robbed of an Oscar for The Crossing Guard) to the gentle giant (who can forget him in The Green Mile?), here he gives us a different role, one of the hardened heavyweight.  This man could viably be the next Tommy Lee Jones.

The screenplay by Andrew and Adam Scheinman and Tony Gilroy mixes comedy with action, but, alas, it is dumb comedy (the Scheimans were behind Mickey Blue Eyes) and dumber-down action (Gilroy was one of the many writers behind Armageddon).  The film would be a muddled mess if not for a fine director and editor team -- these men should get an award for making this at least respectable in its own way.

I loved looking at this film sometimes, but listening to it was a pain.  Besides to great workers, one in front of the camera, one behind, this would be an all out waste of some talented film technicians.  I'd buy David Morse and Antoine Fuqua a cup of coffee and wrack the brains to figure out what they're thinking -- or better yet, what were they thinking?


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Cecil B. Demented

(Dir: John Waters, Starring Melanie Griffiths, Stephen Dorff, Alicia Witt, Adrian Grenier, Larry Gilliard, Jr., Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jack Noseworthy, Michael Shannon, Harriet Hodges, Zenzele Uzoma, Eric M. Barry, Erika Lynn Rupli, Mink Stole, Patricia Hearst, Ricki Lake, Kevin Nealon, and John Michaelson)



For John Waters going to a movie set and directing a film is not a period of work but merely playtime.  His films are never really taken seriously simply due to the fact that everyone sees them as a novelty act.  A Waters film means something that is not often brought to film and, as some might say, should never make it to the screen.

In the thirty-six years that he has been directing, John Waters has made a name as the master of absurdist comedy.  He literally invented the idea of the gross-out comedy.  No one would ever attempt to go further than he went in Pink Flamingos, having his muse Divine eat dog excrement.

Going to such extremities has done something else besides make him a cult favorite -- he has also become one of the biggest nightmares for a Hollywood studio.  Can anyone ever imagine Pink Flamingos or Polyester being made by Universal or Paramount?  Besides Cry Baby, a Universal feature and one of his more serene films, Waters has always worked with a distributor that will let him go wild.

For the last few years, he has been working with the independently minded New Line.  But the Time Warner ownership getting tighter over the years has made New Line become more of another Warner Bros. than a replacement October Films (can we say Miramax?).  And I have no doubt in my mind that the brass over in Ted Turner's homebase would have laughed in his face if he had proposed Cecil B. Demented to them.

Enter Artisan, a budding New Line wannabe, to release this nearly unimaginable film.  Cecil B. Demented is meant to degrade and incite both every studio in America and the MPAA -- it's vitriolic mish-mash of in-jokes and up-the-middle scrutinizing would have any studio head sweating putting this film into release.  Waters does not care if he does not work in Hollywood again, his following is louder when with the little companies.

Cecil B. Demented is, perhaps, a chance for him to shout out at everything that has happened to him over the course of his many years working in the film business.  The anger and hate is probably meant less as a social standpoint -- as is usually the case with spoofs -- but as a straight out message against those that have hit him over the years.  There is a scene in which his mad-cap troupe wreaks havoc in a theatre showing the director's cut of Patch Adams -- a film that just happened to be one of the many films that killed Water's Pecker in the 1998 Fall/Winter box office.

The film follows a group of cinema loving anarchists, driven on the idea that making a film would create the ultimate orgasm, as long as the film is completely free of the Hollywood establishment.  To get what they want, the group kidnaps an aging starlet, whose career has gone down the tube with continuingly grating sap films.  This actress, Honey Whitlock (Griffith), is forced to fight for their cause even though the establishment has always been good to her.  But the teachings of the group's Ed Wood-like director Cecil B. Demented (Dorff) helps her see the error of her ways.

The acting is horrendous in this film, with actors parading across the set like they are in a high school play.  There's more overacting here than in the entire filmographies of Marlon Brando and Charlton Heston.  I have never had any feelings for Stephen Dorff, and doubt that he'll ever prove himself worthy of any admiration.  His acting made Melanie Griffith look good, and that is hard to do.

And the look of the film is absolutely bad.  The direction is flimsy; the editing is cut-and-paste; and the sets look like old lairs from the 1960's Batman series.

Cecil B. Demented is an angry film that works only when it keeps the anger in the background.  When these people are going nuts over a big-budget remake of Forrest Gump (a film that did unmistakably better than fellow 1994 release Serial Mom, a film directed by John Waters), their violent outbursts are often times a bore.  It is when they really let their love of films show that it becomes a genuine film to watch, like the scene in which each character shows a tattoo touting a favorite director.

I am a strong advocate against the current status of Hollywood and the MPAA, which, I guess, means that I was the prime audience for this film.   But what John Waters needs to understand is that the message may be one of the greatest ever told, but it cannot hold up if the messenger cannot properly deliver it.   I loved what this film had to say, but really hated how it was said.

As political propaganda Cecil B. Demented comes off way too caustic to mean anything.  It tries to be funny by gliding film references into the fold, never really letting them settle into any hilarity (remember An Alan Smithee Film: Burn, Hollywood, Burn?).  These film references are often anti-MPAA and anti-Hollywood remarks that seem like a child spurting out obscenities simply because his parents said that does so was wrong.  Isn't that the whole basis of John Waters' career?


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Upcoming Outlooks:  Following what might be considered a notable Summer (some bad parts, but it did feature The Perfect Storm, Gladiator, and The Virgin Suicides), this Fall/Winter will have to work hard to compare like it normally does.  Like most years, the majority of the major films are from great renowned directors.  For that reason, this season's Upcoming Outlooks will be divided between the films that I look forward to because of the directors and those that I look forward to for other reasons.  Since I'm so apathetic, I'm just going to name the director and what films make them worthy of bringing in excitement for a film.  Since even Cameron Crowe is human, I even mention the biggest exception to their fine resumes.


Almost Famous: Cameron Crowe (Say Anything..., Jerry Maguire; Singles)

Nurse Betty: Neil LaBute (In the Company of Men, Your Friends & Neighbors)

Best in Show: Christopher Guest (Waiting for Guffman; Almost Heroes)

Dancer in the Dark: Lars von Trier (Breaking the Waves, The Kingdom)

The Exorcist -- The Version You've Never Seen:  William Friedkin (The French Connection, The Exorcist; Rules of Engagement)

Tigerland: Joel Schumacher (Falling Down; Batman & Robin)

Madadayo: Akira Kurosawa (Seven Samurai, Throne of Blood)

This is Spinal Tap: Rob Reiner (When Harry Met Sally..., American President; North)

Bait: Antoine Fuqua (The Replacement Killers)

Urban Legends: Final Cut: OK, so the first may have been pretty horrible, but if John Ottman can direct as well as he can compose, than this should be quite the horror film.

Girlfight:  One of the highest lauded films of the most recent Sundance film festival, Girlfight has accolades and renowncers to keep the buzz going.

Pola X:  Early word that this new film from Girl on the Bridge director Léos Carax has made this one of the most highly awaited import this year.

Solas:  Thanks to the 11 Goya nominations, this Spanish film has garnered a domestic American release.

Titanic Town:  I had a chance to see this at the Nashville Independent Film Festival and have been hitting myself since missing it.

Into the Arms of a Stranger:  This documentary is a big Oscar hopeful simply based on the fact that it is about children fleeing Hitler during the Halocaust.

The Way of the Gun:  The directorial debut of The Usual Suspects scribe Christopher McQuarrie is sure to have some great dialogue even if his novice directing is a distraction.

The Watcher:  Even if this looks to be a straight-out genre film, I have the built in draw of James Spader.


Pay It Forward: Mimi Leder (The Peacemaker, Deep Impact)

Meet the Parents: Jay Roach (Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery; Mystery, Alaska)

Book of Shawdows: Blair Witch 2: Joe Berlinger (Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills, Paradise Lost: Revelations)

Bamboozled: Spike Lee (Do the Right Thing, Malcolm X; Summer of Sam)

Bounce: Don Roos (The Opposite of Sex)

Dr. T & the Women:  Robert Altman (The Player, Short Cuts; Popeye)

Requiem for a Dream: Darren Aronofsky (Pi)

The Yards: James Gray (Little Odessa)

Lucky Numbers: Nora Ephron (Sleepless in Seattle, You've Got Mail; Mixed Nuts)

Bedazzled: Harold Ramis (Groundhog Day, Analyze This; Stuart Saves His Family)

Animal Factory: Steve Buscemi (Trees Lounge)

Me & Isaac Newton: Michael Apted (Coal Miner's Daughter, 42 Up; The World is Not Enough)

Men of Honor:  With one of the cheesiest trailers this year, this film is thankful to have Robert DeNiro to draw me in.

Too Tired to Die:  Mira Sorvino and a chinese action star (Chungking Express' Takeshi Kaneshiro) could mean another The Replacement Killers.

Get Carter:  With an ultra-cool blue hue, this Stallone film could be eye candy due more to cinematography than special effects.

Billy Elliot:  This year's Universal favorite come Oscar season tells the story of a Dublin youth that takes ballet lessons to prepare for boxing.  Can we say The Full Monty?

The Contender:  Without a doubt, one of the most highly anticipated films this year -- with the added attraction of Joan Allen and Gary Oldman.

Lost Souls:  This year's Nightwatch has had so many release dates that it has made me a little aggrivated.  Supposedly this Janusz Kaminski (cinematographer, Saving Private Ryan) directorial debut will be release Halloween weekend.

George Washington:  Early buzz has said that this film is long, but a worthwhile experience (and not a bio of the first president).

Wonder Boys:  After a dismal Spring release, the Curtis Hanson masterpiece is getting a rerelease.  See it this time!

Yi Yi:  Edward Yang took home the Best Director award at the recent Cannes Film Festival, which previously honored Joel Coen for Fargo, Wong Kar-Wai for Happy Together, John Boorman for The General, and Pedro Almodóvar for All About My Mother.


Quills: Philip Kaufman (The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Henry & June)

Enemy at the Gates: Jean-Jacques Annaud (The Name of the Rose, Seven Years in Tibet)

The Golden Bowl: James Ivory (Room with a View, Howards End)

The Legend of Bagger Vance: Robert Redford (Ordinary People, Quiz Show)

Malena: Giuseppe Tornatore (Cinema Paradiso, The Legend of 1900)

In the Mood for Love: Wong Kar-wai (Chungking Express, Fallen Angels)

Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas:  Not as excited as I once was, this live action telling of the Dr. Seuss tale could very well be worthwhile if only for Jim Carrey's performance.

Unbreakable:  Even if I was not the biggest fan of The Sixth Sense, there is a chance that this new film from M. Night Shyamalan could be good, especially considering the intriguing premise (Bruce Willis is a man who comes out of a huge train wreck unscathed) and the most unusual look for Samuel L. Jackson ever (yes, weirder than the Ordell Robbie look from Jackie Brown).

Charlie's Angels:  Yes, I'll be first to admit that this looks near horrible, but I'll be there cheering Bill Murray all the way.

Original Sin:  I don't care about the teaming of Antonia Banderas and Angelina Jolie, I'm more interested in the fact that it is an adaptation of a Cornell Woolrich (Rear Window) novel that was last made into a film by François Truffaut.


Cast Away: Robert Zemeckis (Forrest Gump, What Lies Beneath; I Wanna Hold Your Hand)

Traffic: Steven Soderbergh (sex, lies and videotape, Out of Sight)

Moulin Rouge: Baz Luhrmann (Strictly Ballroom; Romeo + Juliet)

Proof of Life: Taylor Hackford (Mary Reilly, The Devil's Advocate; An Officer and a Gentleman)

All the Pretty Horses: Billy Bob Thornton (Sling Blade)

Finding Forrester: Gus van Sant (Drugstore Cowboy, To Die For; Psycho)

O Brother, Where Art Thou?: Joel Coen (Blood Simple, Fargo)

Chocolat: Lasse Hallström (My Life as a Dog, The Cider House Rules; Something to Talk About)

The Pledge: Sean Penn (The Crossing Guard)

State and Main: David Mamet (The Spanish Prisoner, The Winslow Boy; Oleanna)

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Ang Lee (Sense and Sensibility, The Ice Storm; Ride with the Devil)

The Gift: Sam Raimi (A Simple Plan, Evil Dead; For Love of the Game)

An Everlasting Piece: Barry Levinson (Rain Man, Wag the Dog; Tin Men)

Vatel: Roland Joffé (The Mission, The Killing Fields; The Scarlet Letter)

The Tailor of Panama: John Boorman (Deliverance, The General; Exorcist II: The Heretic)

The Claim: Michael Winterbottom (Jude, Welcome to Sarajevo)

Family Man: Normally I would not be too interested in a Brett Ratner (Rush Hour) film, but the fact that Curtis Hanson was once signed on to the story makes me interested to see what there is to tell.

Shadow of the Vampire:  One of the most highly awaited films produced last year, this features should-be stand out performances from John Malkovich and Willem Dafoe, playing Nosferatu director F.W. Marnau and Nosferatu himself Max Schreck, respectively.

Thirteen Days:  The reteaming of Kevin Costner with No Way Out director Roger Donaldson (whose hall of horrible films includes Cocktail, Species, and Dante's Peak) may not get me in the theatre, but the idea of Bruce Greenwood as John F. Kennedy does.

Songcatcher: Sundance embraced this little film, making Janet McTeer an early name on some Oscar prediction lists.

A Hard Day's Night:  I love The Beatles.  I love this movie.  I love rereleases.

Reviews by:
David Perry