Volume 2, Number 42
This Week's Reviews: Bedazzled, Best in Show, Nashville, The Legend of Bagger Vance.
This Week's Omissions: Beautiful, Girlfight, Psycho Beach Party, The Legend of Drunken Master, The Tic Code.
(Dir: Harold Ramis, Starring Brendan Fraser, Elizabeth Hurley, Frances O'Connor, Orlando Jones, Paul Adelstein, Toby Huss, Miriam Shor, and Gabriel Casseus)
BY: DAVID PERRY
The legend of Faust has been done a million times, whether it be an adaptation of Christopher Marlowe's Dr. Faustus or Johann Wolfgang Goethe's Faust or Stephen Vincent Benet's The Devil and Daniel Webster. Probably the most well known of these is the 1967 Stanley Donan film Bedazzled. Though not the greatest of films, especially considering the director, the film has remained prominent thanks to a small cult following, people that seem to get a kick out of seeing a suicidal Dudley Moore salivate over Raquel Welch.
Now comes the remake. Harold Ramis' version is twice the story of the original with half the appeal. Admittedly, the wishes are better here, but the feeling is far superior when Stanley Donan was at helm. This Bedazzled yearns to be more contemporary and collapses into mediocrity in the attempt.
Dudley Moore is aced by a far superior Brendan palatability, who plays the film's protagonist, a telemarketer in love with the girl a few cubicles down (Moore was a short order cook at a Whimpey's Burger in love with a waitress -- feel the modern touch yet?). Elliott is a bit of a nerd and has never been able to catch the attention of Allison (O'Connor), but still imagines that one day she'll be his wife.
When a vampish brunette (Hurley) converses with him after a failed attempt to get a date with Allison, Elliott has the poor chance of being her pawn. Quickly the woman is taking him around San Francisco with promises of getting him what he wants. It seems she is none other than the Devil.
In return for his soul, she will give him seven wishes -- seven that he must use to learn what he wants for the rest of his life. And, as one might expect, his wishes do not really become what he wants thanks to a little tinkering of his words by the Devil. His attempt at intelligence, athleticism, emotion, riches, and more all blow up in his face (in one case, literally) and only cause him more anger at the Devil and more knowledge of what to ask for.
There are some genuinely funny moments in the film, but not enough. By the film's finale, I was weary of what it was trying for and even more depressed by its lackluster moral to the story. I felt like every bit of its hilarity had been withered away in trying to keep the justification from breaking.
Still, Brendan Fraser is terrific in the film, and carries it far beyond its impediments. His ability to go from one character to another while remaining true to each one is laudable. He always plays sweet characters that are enjoyable in their accountability. You cannot help but feel good with a Fraser character, who are always trustworthy and fun. Well everything except Dudley Do-Right.
And Elizabeth Hurley is a slight delight as Satan. She cavorts around in tiny outfits that show-off every crevice of her body. Though the dapper Peter Cook was more fun as Satan, Hurley creates a fiendishly attractive the Devil. Admittedly, if things did not work out with the first six wishes for Allison, I'd be fine heading for Hurley on the seventh wish.
But her presence's creation of sexual attraction is not enough to make her Satan is more enjoyable than it could have been. She is way too passive and nice. It's like placing Katherine Hepburn in the character -- she may have the tongue for it, but you still know that there is a lovable side that is sure to come out.
One of the film's worst mistakes is in the character of Allison. She is so shallow and deceptive that I could see no reason no reason for someone as likable as Elliott to be linked with her. I will not divulge the ending, but there is no way that I'd allow Elliott to give up his soul for her. Frances O'Connor is a good actress, her performance in the Australian film Kiss or Kill was one of the better of 1997, but there is little to make me think that she has a promising career from this and her last film, Mansfield Park.
The only thing besides Fraser that really remains
constantly enjoyable is Orlando Jones. I received some flack for recommending The
Replacements a few weeks ago, but I cannot recount it. Jones kept that film
flowing at a lively and enjoyable pace. Just as Fraser changes characters with each
wish, so does Jones and each time he trumps his last character. The one during the
athletics wish is a laugh riot. To bad that cannot be said for the rest of the film.
|Best in Show
(Dir: Christopher Guest, Starring Eugene Levy, Catherine O'Hara, Christopher Guest, John Michael Higgins, Michael McKean, Parker Posey, Michael Hitchcock, Jennifer Coolidge, Jane Lynch, Fred Willard, Jim Piddock, Bob Balaban, Don Lake, Patrick Cranshaw, Ed Begley, Jr., and Larry Miller)
BY: DAVID PERRY
Christopher Guest has made quite a nice career with mockumentaries. What with his claim to fame being none other than This is Spinal Tap, it should make sense that he understands that art of fictional documentaries. His waiting for Guffman in 1996 stood as one of the funniest films of the year, thanks to its hilarious odd-ball characters doing the dumbest of things. Now comes Best in Show, another look at hilarious odd-ball characters doing dumb things. But unlike the pageant of Waiting for Guffman, this film's stupid human trick happens to be a dog show with all the pet primping.
And it is Best in Show that ridicules every facet of the dog show world, from the over zealous competitive atmosphere to the dementia of the owners. In fact, this film is much more interested in how ridiculous the dog owners are, not the animals. For Guest, these are people that need help immediately, though the ones that are getting help are the craziest.
This film is about five dogs and their owners, each dog taking up a spot in the five tiers of the Mayflower Kennel Club Dog Show. Every owner loves their dogs beyond comprehension and spends every bit of their energy on getting these dogs up to par for the show.
The hound group has bloodhound Hubert, owned by Harlan Pepper (Guest). Harlan is an amateur ventriloquist who sees his dog as a type of telepathist. Like owner, like pet -- if Harlan can convey thoughts to an audience without moving his lips, surely Hubert can convey thoughts to a judge.
The terrier group has Norwich terrier Winky, owned by Gerry and Cookie Fleck (Levy and O'Hara). The Flecks are incredibly well known in their town thanks to the fact that Cookie was very outgoing as a younger girl. They continually have fights over the fact that men are remembering having flings with Cookie.
The non-sporting group has poodle Rhapsody in White, owned by Sherri Ann Cabot (Coolidge) and handled by Christy Cummings (Lynch). Middle-aged Sherri Ann is married to an elderly Leslie Ward Cabot (Cranshaw), who does not really care about the fact that she is married to him for his money. She is having a lesbian affair with the dog's handler, who takes great pride in the fact that Rhapsody in White has won two Mayflower championships in a row.
The sporting group has weimaraner Beatrice, owned by Hamilton and Meg Swan (Hitchcock and Posey). The Swans are in a great deal of pain over the fact that their prized dog is suffering from seeing them having sex doggie style. Now she will not have anything to do with them.
The toy group has shih tzu Miss Agnes, owned by Scott Donlan (Higgins) and Stefan Vanderhoof (McKean). Scott and Stefan are a very open gay couple that take pride in their two shih tzus, who they raise in their posh New York apartment. They may not be prior champions, but they are considered to be major contenders in taking the title from Rhapsody in White.
Each and every human subject adds something to the film, which never really fails to lovingly make jest of them. The Swans are especially enjoyable, with the always over-the-top Parker Posey taking the audience by the heels and stealing every scene. Her search for a "busy bee" is almost Oscar worthy.
Christopher Guest says that there was no real script, per se, that he and Eugene Levy wrote -- they merely came up with ideas for scenes and left the actors to improvisation. If that is the case, then this cast truly deserves recognition. They keep the film going with non-stop hilarity. And Fred Willard, as an inept commentator at the dog show, proves that his improv skills are incredible with some of the funniest quips of the film.
Best in Show is not necessarily the best mockumentary
ever (and I even criticize This is Spinal Tap for being a bit overrated), but it
sure does make for a moment's pleasure. Waiting for Guffman was Guest's
masterpiece, this is merely the afterglow of genius.
(Dir: Robert Altman, Starring Henry Gibson, Lily Tomlin, Ned Beatty, Michael Murphy, Gwen Welles, Geraldine Chaplin, Barbara Baxley, Ronee Blakley, Keith Carradine, Allen Garfield, Barbara Harris, Scott Glenn, Shelley Duvall, Keenan Wynn, David Peel, Jeff Goldblum, Timothy Brown, Karen Black, Allan Nicholls, Cristina Raines, David Arkin, David Hayward, Bert Ramsen, and Robert Doqui)
BY: DAVID PERRY
Nashville is not simply the story of a town, it is the story of an age -- a snapshot of a history of time that few would like to admit to. The characters of Nashville are neither poetic or likable, they are not the characters of bankable cinema, they are real people. That is why the Robert Altman film is so potent today -- it never steered away from being honest in its portrayal of a civilization gone sour.
The 24 major characters are many types of those living in late 60's/early 70's Nashville, where the most important part of life is country music. They are politicos, lawyers, singers, groupies, vagrants, deviants. These are people that cannot get out of the life that has been handed to them or cannot see the despicable people that they are. With every knowing glance, they either miss their chance at bliss or tarnish another person's chances at it. 24 people, all searching for an exit that is not there.
This was a period where nearly everyone was disappointed, everyone shared their feelings in the lack of a strong governing body and horrid economy. And these are characters that take on these feelings every day and struggle to survive in this world. They are the survivors of America's unstated depression, and they do not know how to react.
And the film never forgets what it is: a musical look at the disillusioned age. Its songs create a world all to its own and follow in with ideals of its time. As the film's closing anthem says: "It don't worry me; it don't worry me. You may say that I ain't free, but it don't worry me."
The secret to Altman's film is that it is always unwavering in its portrayal of this. Whether it be the sickening treatment of an aspiring actress in a bar or the film's surprising finale, every bit of the story is meant to grasp the viewers in the emotional roller coaster turns that are part of each character's lives. It would have been easy to make this a happy-go-lucky musical of A Star is Born nature, but even that story is too peppy for Altman.
And that is exactly what this film should be considered: a musical. With nearly an hour of songs, the film attempts to create an entire world of visuals telling the story while music is in the forefront. Look at the film's most renowned scene, the scene in which Lily Tomlin's character finds a young star played by Carradine singing in a nightclub. The song (Oscar winner "I'm Easy") is introduced with the words "I'm going to dedicate this to someone kinda special who might be here tonight." Immediately, each of three women in the room who have recently slept with Carradine imagine that the words are for her, but it is Lily Tomlin, who only dreams of having an affair with Carradine, who stands out in the room. By the end of the song, there is no question who will be going home with Carradine that evening.
Robert Altman always remains true to his characters, as he has always shown in every film he has ever made. Even thought there have been a few that I considered to be rather lackluster (namely Popeye, Kansas City and Prêt-à-Porter out of the 31 films he has made sine 1970's MASH), I always felt that he did his best in keeping the characters as true to life as possible (plus, having an actress like Jennifer Jason Lee playing a moll did not hurt too much either).
Altman covers every character like a craftsman looking over his structural art. Every facet of the story is met with temptation and trepidation, and never does Altman let the characters go a path that does not seem like the type that we might make in their shoes. The screenplay by two-time Altman writer Joan Tewkesbury (who also penned Thieves Like Us, and currently directs episodes of the television series Felicity) has an emotional spin on the Easy Rider story of desolation leading to madness and creates the timeless tale of 24 people in the process.
Some people have criticized the film over the past few years as people dislocated and pushy thanks to its attempt to create a viable story for all of its 24 characters. But that is exactly what it means to be, a little dislocated and even a little pushy. Like the Italian Neorealist films of the 1930's, Nashville survives by the fact that it is telling a story of a time just as much as it tells the stories of its characters. To depict the nonfictional world of post-Watergate Nashville embroiled in a political convention without looking at how everyone was touched would have been sacrilege to the subject.
Over the last few years, people have made it very well
known that Paul Thomas Anderson's career is completely dependent on Altman's Short
Cuts and Nashville, and I cannot really say that they are wrong.
Anderson makes his films with a deep love for the ensembles that he encounters in films
like Boogie Nights and Magnolia. While Anderson continually says
that his style comes from Jonathan Demme, it is his substance that comes from Robert
|The Legend of Bagger Vance
(Dir: Robert Redford, Starring Matt Damon, Charlize Theron, Will Smith, J. Michael Moncrief, Joel Gretsch, Bruce McGill, Andrea Powell, Lane Smith, Jack Lemon, Thomas Ray Ryan, Danny Nelson, Peter Gerety, Dermot Crowley, and Trip Hamilton)
BY: DAVID PERRY
Last year saw the release of two films about the love of one sport. Sam Raimi's baseball opus For Love of the Game and Oliver Stone's football film Any Given Sunday were expressions of director's loving a sport so much that they became lost in their own works. There is no doubt in my mind that Raimi and Stone were very much sincere in saluting their respective games, but were not open enough to make credible films on them.
Such is the world that The Legend of Bagger Vance opens itself to. From good-actor-turned-great-director Robert Redford, the film tackles golf in a way that holds the sport on high while creating a great film. This is not simply an excursion in flag waving for golf, it is a honest portrayal of a world and a life in a type of void. That world being the Depression Era south and a has been golfer Rannulph Junah.
Junah (Damon) was the delight of pre-World War I Savannah, a favorite son that seemed destined to an incredible career in golf. In one match, the entire play is put on hold for twenty-minutes so that record keepers can measure one of his astounding drives. But that bright future is turned around when Junah goes to war and returns as the only survivor from his regime. Disillusioned, Junah goes into seclusion and remains distanced from everyone that yearns to know and love him.
As his former flame Adele Invergorden (Theron) fights to make money to pay off the grand golf course her recently deceased father built, Junah sits in his wooded home drinking and gambling his life away. Adele decides that a way to create revenue to save her course is to hold a major golf tournament that will pit the two most prominent golfers in the United States against each other for a cash prize. But the townspeople are a little weary of doing this and decide that the only way they will allow it is if there is a Savannah player involved.
Adele cannot imagine Junah back in her life to save her, but that does not stop a young child named Hardy (Moncrief) from setting out to bring Junah to playing. With the town counsel behind him, Hardy sets foot into the Junah residents, finding a world unknown to him, and guides Junah to playing in the tournament.
With his world class competitors in top form, Junah sees that he must regain the swing that he once had. But continued practice is not enough to bring it back. Enter Bagger Vance (Smith), a drifter that seems to know what is wrong with Junah, and better yet, how to fix the problems with his swing.
The film is beautiful in a mystical way. Not only does it create an atmosphere that holds characters in a visual scheme that is both potent and stunning, but it also delves into a mysterious realm that does not fail despite some pushing moments. The Bagger Vance character seems to work as a type of guru of golf and does not threaten the film by becoming too karma enthused, even if his tips have a tendency of sounding like fortune cookies ("Im talking about a game -- a game that cant be won, only played").
The Depression is a tough period to film for the most part. Many films have attempted to show the down-right frailty of civilization at that point in time, but few do so in this way. The Legend of Bagger Vance takes on a world that has seen the best of times and, then certainly, the worst of times. The small delights that captured the hearts of Americans as they hoped for a job is taken on here, as people are taken away from the disheartening lives they are living to see men compete in the most formal of all sports. It's a great deal of hometown pride mixed in an illustrious pastime that helps them forget their financial woes.
Robert Redford goes back to the production values that worked so well with A River Runs Through It, and does so in such a graceful way that he almost eclipses the previous film. There are many remarkable connections between the Brad Pitt character in River and the Matt Damon character here, and each time they come off as remarkable facsimiles of the young Robert Redford as an actor.
After the literal theft of his Oscar nomination last year for The Talented Mr. Ripley, Matt Damon once again creates a character that is charming in his most despicable ways. His lack of a heart for his one-time lover at the beginning of the film would have turned off the audience to the character if portrayed at the wrong range. If Ryan Phillippe had played Rannulph Junah like he played his role in The Way of the Gun, most of the audience would hope for his demise, much less lose the tournament.
And then there's Charlize Theron, who proves here that she really is an incredible actress. The look in her eyes with each glance from Junah tells half a film. Those baby blues create an entire backstory that included both love and pain. I thought she did a fine job in last year's The Cider House Rules, but it is this film that she really shines in.
The majority of the coverage of this film revolves around having Will Smith in a dramatic role, and he does do a notable job. While there is nothing in his performance to compare to either Damon or Theron, he does hold his own. My only big problem with him is in the promotions for the film, which show him as the star when he is clearly a supporting role.
The Legend of Bagger Vance should not simply be set aside as a sporting film. It works much more as a period piece with enthusiasm over a sport. The cinematography by Michael Ballhaus, direction by Redford, and visual effects by Pacific Data Images creates a golf game that could convert the weariest of denouncers. I do love the sport and have no doubt that Redford shares this feeling. He shows the ideals of the game with grace and style, never letting it fall to the wayside or overshadow the rest of the film.
Robert Redford will probably face another lack of support
for this film, which seems to have been the problem with every film he has done since
Ordinary People, his Oscar winning directorial debut. A River Runs Through It,
The Horse Whisperer, The Milagro Beanfield War, Quiz Show, The
Legend of Bagger Vance, all look at a time gone by using a directorial approach much
like those of the 1950's. Pacing his films like John Ford and John Huston
masterpieces, his films create a past with love and compassion. But most of all,