Volume 2, Number 38
This Week's Reviews: Urban Legends: Final Cut, Almost Famous, Raiders of the Lost Ark.
This Week's Omissions: Gimme Shelter, The Woman Chaser, Woman on Top.
|Urban Legends: Final Cut
(Dir: John Ottman, Starring Jennifer Morrison, Matthew Davis, Joey Lawrence, Anson Mount, Eva Mendez, Jessica Cauffiel, Hart Bochner, Anthony Anderson, Michael Bacall, Marco Hofschneider, Loretta Devine, and Peter Millard)
BY: DAVID PERRY
I would have laughed in your face if you had told me back in 1998 that two years later I would go see a sequel to Urban Legend -- and actually look forward to it. No, I did not think that the original was anything to speak of, but once I found out who had taken to directing the sequel (which makes the original title plural, a la Aliens, I guess).
John Ottman is one of my favorite artists in film and could only await his directorial debut. With only 12 film scores behind him, Ottman had already placed himself up there with Carter Burwell and John Williams, thanks mainly to his incredible The Usual Suspects score, with help from his ultimate homage scores for The Cable Guy, Halloween: H20, and Goodbye Lover (which took chords from Star Trek, Psycho, and The Sound of Music, respectively). Throw onto all that with the fact that he is an accomplished film editor and Ottman begins to look like quite the cinematic Renaissance man.
But that cannot keep me from flat-out panning his first time as a director. Urban Legends should have never been made and only serves as a sad waste of Ottman's fine ability. He does some great things in his three fields here, but cannot save what was a bad film from the beginning.
The film is yet another self-referential horror film for teenagers -- built around the idea that teenagers are not already tired of the monster created by Scream. Hell, I like this film quite a bit more when it was titled Scream 3. And there does not look to be an end to this run of horror films. While they are not doing knock-out business, they are making the all-important profit. With scripts so cheaply done, the product usually comes out in the black.
The characters are pea-brained film students at the Orson Welles Film Center of Alpine University, where the greatest prize is the Hitchcock Award (at least Final Destination was a little more subtle about their cinematic asides, using references to lesser-known horror auteurs like Tod Browning). Each student is hard at work on their senior feature, which range from the David Lean epic to the John Carpenter horror film.
The little-student-that-could happens to be Amy Mayfield (Morrison), the daughter of an Oscar-winning documentarian, who has spent three years at this college without deciding on her senior thesis film. Then a run-in with the campus security guard (the incomparable Devine, the only acting hold-over from the first film) gives her the idea for her movie: a horror film about people dying to urban legends.
Slowly, but surely, students get hacked off by a killer in a fencing mask. Of course, by the end some connection is made between all the murders -- a connection that seems eerily like the motive behind the killings in the 1999 independent film The Auteur Theory. The finale is twenty minutes long because that time is needed so that the killer can explain his/her/their motives. Do screenwriters take pride in coming up with contrivances as motives, stuff that's nearly impossible for any viewer to predict.
When the film unreeled, there were two things that left me happy: John Ottman and the credit scroll. If this film were without its ingeniously fun final images, then this would be nearer to placement as one of the worst films so far this year. The killings are boring and by-the-book, but the finale almost makes it worth for merely a moment.
John Ottman could have a fine future as a director.
Of course, his score is terrific but keeps from eclipsing all the other positions
he has on the film. His direction and editing are fine to watch, showing that he has
some potential. A few weeks ago Roger Ebert remarked of Christopher McQuarrie on his
directorial debut The Way of the Gun: "he is a born director, and now what
he needs to meet is a born editor." For John Ottman, born director and born
editor, the search is on for a born screenwriter.
(Dir: Cameron Crowe, Starring Patrick Fugit, Kate Hudson, Billy Crudup, Frances McDormand, Jason Lee, Noah Taylor, John Fedevich, Mark Kozelek, Zooey Deschanel, Michael Angarano, Fairuza Balk, Anna Paquin, Jimmy Fallon, Philip Seymore Hoffman, Liz Stauber, Bijou Phillips, Terry Chen, Rainn Wilson, and Erin Foley)
BY: DAVID PERRY
At the simple age of fifteen, Cameron Crowe was out there being wined and dined by rock stars as a writer for Rolling Stone magazine. His time spent with David Bowie and Foghat could have been simply something to note his life, but thanks to the fact that he went into screenwriting (with Fast Times at Ridgemont High) and then to film direction (with Say Anything...), that pleasure has been shared with the mass of film goers that will see Almost Famous.
Through the film, Crowe has recreated the egotism and compulsion that marked the rock stars of the seventies for all to see. Through his protagonist, a near recreating of his own life, we are allowed to life the life that he led during that fateful decade.
The film is about William Miller (Fugit at 15, Angarano at 9), whose writings for local San Diego underground music papers cause him to come to the attention of both Cream editor Lester Bangs (Hoffman) and Rolling Stone editor Ben Fong-Torres (Chen). Through the guidance of Bangs and money of Fong-Torres, Miller finds himself on the road with up-and-coming band Stillwater.
After taking leave from his doting mother (McDormand), whose actions had previously caused his sister to run away from home, William hits the Stillwater tour trying his best to get the needed interview for his Rolling Stone piece.
There he meets two different people: the performers and the groupies. While the performers mark him in life, especially the war between lead guitarist Russell (Crudup), William's closest friend in the band, and lead singer Jeff (Lee), William's biggest denouncer, over Russell's quick stealing of the spotlight.
What really holds William and the film are the groupies, who quickly open to William and take him in on their side of the tour. The lead groupie, or 'band-aid" as they prefer to be called, is called Penny Lane (Hudson), whose natural beauty and unmentioned poise causes Russell and William to fall in love with her.
Almost Famous is just a beautiful film. I came out of it feeling like a million bucks, the first film to make me feel this way since Spring's Wonder Boys. 2000 has been one of the more dreary and cynical years for films, with many depressing films taking light. This film is the anti-2000 film, joining Chicken Run, Wonder Boys, and Jesus' Son. These films allow you to see some less then enlightening with a passion that makes it climactic.
The screenplay by Crowe is one of high note, one of the finest American screenplays in years and a somewhat early contender to win the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. There is love and thoughtfulness here that most screenwriters would not have thrown in. It helps that this is really the life of young Crowe and he knows this material well.
The real mark of the film, though, are the actors, all of whom give some of their best performances. Frances McDormand, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Billy Crudup once again throw out great performances, with their younger cohorts comparatively giving great performances without being overshadowed. I would love to see Kate Hudson pick up an Oscar nomination for this film.
Cameron Crowe has always been great at getting terrific performances from people with his grand screenplay. Most people will compare this to Jerry Maguire, but I cannot see anything to place them beside each other save from the stand-out performance from Renee Zellweggar comparing to Kate Hudson.
And the film could also get lost in the plethora of late 1960's, early 1970's films that have come out over the years. As I sat in the theatre, I was hit by one thing: this films does not feel like a film set in the seventies by like a film made in the seventies. The presence of music that has not become cliché for 70's films along with costumes and textured nuances that look and feel exactly like the decade of Altman and Scorsese keep this from being yet another Girl, Interrupted or A Walk on the Moon.
Cameron Crowe has created a fine film that should stand
the tests of time. Where people called American Beauty the Ordinary
People of the 1990's, Almost Famous could be considered the Medium Cool
or Paper Moon of the 2000's.
|Raiders of the Lost Ark
(Dir: Steven Spielberg, Starring Harrison Ford, Karen Allen, Paul Freeman, Ronald Lacey, John Rhys-Davies, Denholm Elliott, Wolf Kahler, Anthony Higgins, Vic Tablian, Don Fellows, William Hootkins, Malcolm Weaver, and Alfred Molina)
BY: DAVID PERRY
François Truffaut once wrote, "A perfectly ordinary movie with energy can turn out to be better cinema that a film with 'intelligent' intentions listlessly executed." That statement seems especially true with the early blockbuster work of Steven Spielberg, who even gave Truffaut a small role in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. With the likes of Jaws, Close Encounters, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, and Raiders of the Lost Ark, Spielberg has proven that making reviving a sanguine story with a highly talented storytelling style can create magic.
Close Encounter and E.T. are pretty close to important movies in the sense that they deal with issues instead of simply entertainment -- they are, perhaps, the precursors to "Serious Steve," who would make The Color Purple, Empire of the Sun, Schindler's List, Amistad, and Saving Private Ryan. However, Jaws and Raiders of the Lost Ark could, understandably, go in a box of mindless joyrides. But, hey, the entertainment value in these two makes it easy to forget that they couldn't care less about "intelligent" intentions (whether critics will want to use this statement from Truffaut to haunt Spielberg over A.I.: Artificial Intelligence is anyone's guess).
Raiders of the Lost Ark, the first in the Indian Jones trilogy created by Spielberg, George Lucas, Philip Kaufman, and Lawrence Kasdan (talk about four people who went in different directions with their careers), plays like a completely unpretentious genre film without a single setback. The constant complaint that a film must be subtitled and/or depressing for critic's to take note is shattered with Raiders of the Lost Ark, it is the penultimate adventure film only paling beside the likes of Lawrence of Arabia.
The movies have become part of the Western tradition -- there is no use transcribing the synopsis in this review. However, a statement of my own guilt should be brought into play. For a critic who has spent a decade complaining about the sentimentality inherent in Spielberg's films (Hook, believe it or not, has the distinction of being one of only two films I've ever walked out of. The other, by the way, was How Stella Got Her Groove Back. I'm not kidding), I sat in a near empty theatre watching Raiders of the Lost Ark eating my own words. The youthful vision of Spielberg was written on every frame. As nearly every person on the set was sick, Spielberg, the only fit person (supposedly because he only ate canned Spaghetti-O's instead of local food), made sure that the movie contained the vigor and good humor of a 35-year-old director enjoying the chance to make the movies he wanted to make as a child.
In American iconography, Harrison Ford has proven to be the chameleon for the decades. Every ten years, he have a new, lasting image of the actor. Han Solo marked the 1970's, Indiana Jones the 1980's, and Jack Ryan the 1990's. While the Star Wars movies will probably survive longer than any of the other movies, I believe that it is the Indiana Jones character that will forever mark Ford's career.
I was born to late to have fond memories of matinee serials
at my local movie theatre. Raiders of the Lost Ark and the subsequent films (more
Last Crusade than Temple of Doom) have filled the void for me. And the
cliffhangers that brought my cinema-studying predecessors to the theatre every week to
follow of their favorite serial hero has ceased to be "To be continued..." and
morphed into "Directed by Steven Spielberg." As much as I sometimes complain, I
cannot wait to see what he'll do next.