> Volume 2 > Number 44

Volume 2, Number 44

This Week's Reviews:  Girlfight, Love's Labour's Lost, Charlie's Angels.

This Week's Omissions:  An Affair of Love, Smiling Fish and Goat on Fire.


(Dir: Karyn Kusama, Starring Michelle Rodriguez, Santiago Douglas, Jaime Tirelli, Ray Santiago, Paul Calderon, Elisa Bocanegra, Alicia Ashley, Thomas Barbour, Louis Guss, J.P. Linton, and Iris Little Thomas)



Diana is that troubled teen that would make a great after school special -- make her actions the product of both a drug problem and the efforts of her boyfriend to trying to impregnate her.  You see, in today's climate a kid like Diana would be considered to be an entirely different problem child than the way she would be seen forty years ago.  Back then, she'd be smooth, suave, rebellious -- the type of person that James Dean might be attracted to in Rebel without a Cause or Marlon Brando in The Wild One.

For those of us living in the now, there's an entirely different view to Diana.  The burgeoning morality questions of today's society make every kid the product of some mistake, ranging from (but not restricted to) drug addiction, a broken home, depression, unprotected sex, peer pressure.  How else do you explain the fact that every child under 10 years old gets a testing for attention deficit disorder.  They're children, they're meant to be whirling dervishes of energy!

And that was what I thought of as I watched Diana in the principal's office for fighting within the first ten minutes of the film -- what will this film create for an atmosphere to blame?  Let's face it, the fact that Diana goes beyond what the world would expect out of her -- dare I say, allow of her -- is testament to how strong she is.  This is one of the finest female characters ever created.   Not only is she strong willed, emotionally intact, and defiant in every way, she also gets to beat the hell out of men.

That's the light spread for this film -- gender-bending boxing.  Diana is able to fight her anguish out in the ring, and make a pretty competitive fighter at the same time.  She does sense a little sexism in the ring -- as would is certainly the case for all women that have gone to battle in the boxing ring -- but that is not the essence of Girlfight.  To make this a simple creation of a woman overcoming sexism is about as unbelievable as saying that she is only edged on by living in a single father home.  Does the madness ever stop?

Michelle Rodriguez is quite the find.  I truly adored her in this film, with a character that is both abrasive and incredibly likable.   The secret?  I consider it to be in the fact that it is a great character played to its furthest extent of believability.  She could beat the schmaltzy leads of Pay It Forward to a pulp, both literally and metaphorically.  Ever bit of her came from the heart and it shows.  She and the other actors in the film create characters that have the viewers emotionally invested throughout.

The buzz around as of late had been that Rodriguez could be considered to be the next Marlon Brando.  True?  Perhaps, as long as she never dons pale white sheets and makeup and a flower pot on her head, I would consider her to be well on her way to taking that title (really, did anyone watching Brando in On the Waterfront ever think that thirty years later he'd have a flower pot on his head in The Island of Dr. Moreau?).

This was a first film for director Karyn Kusama, as well.   She does much to keep the world created as subtly believable as possible.   Very often, we give accolades to directors creating flashy films like the Wachowski's The Matrix or Julie Taymor's Titus.  Meanwhile, we are forgetting about the subtle filmmakers, whose films are often superior to the more stylized creations.  Even into November, one of the best directorial attempts for the year in my opinion has been Curtis Hanson on Wonder Boys, where every nuance is perfectly timed and framed, without a single bit of creative gushes.  Like Rodriguez going for Brando, a case could also be made that Kusama could go for the title of the new Curtis Hanson, Michael Curtiz, or Atom Egoyan (ok, maybe I just overstepped a little).

This is one film that asks a whole lot out of its audience, and make them feel better for it in the end.  These are great characters that leave the audience rooting for them, believing in them.  I have become sick and tired of films lately that have had completely unlikable lead characters.  Just last week, I sat through the moans and groans of the characters in Lucky Numbers and Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 and left both films hating them for making me spend a collective three and a half hours with those characters.  When Girlfight ended, I was relishing in every minute I had spent with its characters.


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Love's Labour's Lost

(Dir: Kenneth Branagh, Starring Alessandro Nivola, Kenneth Branagh, Alicia Silverstone, Natascha McElhone, Adrian Lester, Matthew Lillard, Emily Mortimer, Carmen Ejogo, Stefania Rocca, Geraldine McEwan, Richard Briers, Timothy Spall, Nathan Lane, Richard Clifford, and Tony O'Donnell)



For Kenneth Branagh, to love Shakespeare is easy -- he's done it for years.  But his mission, to take the works of the Bard and make them anew, has lost something.  Maybe we've been spoiled by too many great ones (his Hamlet and Henry V are masterpieces and Much Ado About Nothing is, well, nothing to scoff at), maybe he's run out of great plays that had not been brought to the screen in recent years, or maybe he's gone way too quirky with Love's Labour's Lost.

Most people agree, it's not one of Shakespeare greatest pieces.  For comedies, he can best be remembered for The Taming of the Shrew (though, for some odd reason, he gets more respect for the abhorring A Midsummer's Dream).  But that's not enough to make it a bad attempt, right?  Maybe, if that were the only problem.  Turning the play into a musical revue and dealing with out-of-place songs, actors that cannot dance or sing, fanciful moments that come off a little too flimsy for even the source material, everything makes an equation that points to failure.

The sets are wrong, the costumes are wrong, the songs are wrong.  This has to be one of the most problematic efforts of the year.  To have pulled off the play seamlessly would have been hard, but Branagh effectively broke every seam in the gown.  I still have much respect for Branagh, but I cannot but wonder what was going through his mind when he thought that Astaire would make a 400 year old play seem spruced up and enjoyable.

I suppose that he meant for the film to be fun and fancy free, but I just sat there wondering how things could get more miserable on the screen.   These are happy-go-lucky people, but their side-steps are flat, their singing is more like warbling, and their surroundings are hideous.

Having never read the play before hand, I was not completely sure that it would be as bad as some had reported.  Guess what, it really is one of Shakespeare's lesser efforts.  Today, the storyline of four men deciding to go without sleep, food, and women for three years in the name of their studies seems like the type of Busby Berkley sensibilities that might make for a bad 1930's flighty comedy.   When four women come visiting their castle of seclusion, one can only guess where the story is going -- just before they nod in despair with the path that they are being taken.

It doesn't help matter that most of the cast cannot speak the Shakespearean dialogue.  For heaven's sake, Leonardo DiCaprio did a better job speaking the dialect in Baz Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet five years ago.  The films lead, Alessandro Nivola, was one of the absolute worst choices for any role this year.  He comes off horrible, stumbling at every é in the dialogue (for note: the é is pronounced like the e in spoken -- play with the word playéd to get the idea).  To add insult to industry, he makes faces that are meant for laughs but instead incite everyone in the audience to want to get their money back.

I remember that everyone said that the reason this film would fail is Alicia Silverstone.  No, she is not the problem here.  In fact, she does far better than most of her cast, especially Nivola, Lillard, and Mortimer.   The only person in the lead eight that can act in a Shakespearean manner is Branagh; the only one that can dance and sing the songs that are placed in the film is Lester (who you might remember as the presidential aide in Primary Colors).

The supporting cast is decidedly hit and miss.  Most of the older guard actors (Briers, McEwan) work, and the always reliable Timothy Spall works in a goofy way, but the rest of the supporters leave the audience with a very bad aftertaste.  I happen to like Nathan Lane in films like the birdcage, but I really could not stand him in this film.  This is one of his worst performances.  A shame, considering he was one of the few formal singer/dancers in the cast.

By the end, I could only think of last year's great British musical, Mike Leigh's Topsy-Turvy.  That was fine filmmaking, with songs that worked in the Gilbert and Sullivan world that the film portrayed.  Leigh was the conductor of actors creating the story, and made it a far more enjoyable film.   Branagh really should have asked for some tips from Leigh as he made this film.

Some might have said that creating a workable Love's Labour's Lost for the screen would be impossible.  I don't think so -- there's other impossibilities here.  I seriously think that Kenneth Branagh deserves a hand.   He's effectively gone beyond to impossibilities: he has made both William Shakespeare and Irving Berlin cringeworthy.


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Charlie's Angels

(Dir: McG, Starring Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore, Lucy Liu, Bill Murray, Sam Rockwell, Kelly Lynch, Tim Curry, Crispin Glover, Luke Wilson, Tom Green, Matt LeBlanc, and John Forsyth)



Ok, this is one thing that I never thought I would do.   I'm about to recommend Charlie's Angels.  Yes, that's right -- as idiotic, intellectually devoid, increasingly stupid, redundant (heh, irony -- smug irony at that) as the film may be, it is also fun.  And that's what the doctor ordered on this film, and also the reason that it will do so well.  The amount of fun that it has in its running length is enough to bring a smile out of all the people currently feeling a tad cynical with all the politicking and moral groveling (with both counts firing at the film industry) that's occurring in the United States right now.

These are crazy times, and that's what Charlie's Angels is able to free America from.  Who said a little dumb fun can't go a long way?  By the end of the film, I had already enjoyed enough fun to do me for two presidential elections and the congressional election in between.  I certainly didn't feel any smarter by the credits scroll, but I was smiling.

Charlie's Angels should be commended for being what it is and never taking itself seriously.  That's exactly what I felt was wrong about the original show.  I know that some toes may be stepped on with this statement, but the whole feminine empowerment that was seen in the Charlie's Angels television series was laughably campy.  It was not only poorly made in that Hart to Hart and The Great American Hero way (and, yes, I did watch those shows too), but it was also demeaning to women even though women's liberationists saw it as notable and salivating men found it profound.

I would have never enjoyed a Charlie's Angels on the big screen exactly like the one that ran on the small screen from 1976 to 1981.   That was much less tongue in cheek -- nearly like Helen Hunt gallivant on Swiss Family Robinson, but in that smutty way.  Those Angels (in the beginning Farrah Fawcett, Kate Jackson, Jaclyn Smith; later Cheryl Ladd, Shelley Hack, and Tanya Roberts, with Smith remaining through every cast change) were walking, talking sex symbols, hair product commercials in clothing that both failed to fit perfectly and came off as way too expensive.

These Angels are definitely the 1990's version (it's way too early to start calling people and things as being of the 2000's), what with kookiness (that does sell -- as adorable as they may be, Diaz and Barrymore have relied constantly on kookiness in their roles as of late), stronger wills, a decided snappiness (there's a thick essence of "you go, girl" in the air of screenings of this film).   But that's not to say that the hair and the clothes are gone -- they are definitely not.  And there's nothing wrong to these Angels coming to their own.  They are better for it.

For quite a while, this has been considered a remake of the series, which it is not.  I see it as much more of a sequel, continuing with the story set forth in 1976, twenty-four years later.  Charlie still runs a private eye agency that uses good looking girls for the "eyes" and the Angels, as he calls them, are still shown the way by a slightly bungling Bosley.  But this is twenty-four years later, and there have been great advancements in both tools and crimes.

These Angels are not after international drug lords while fighting the ever-present problems of a riding-up Donna Karen dress suit (could Susan Dey have ever been acceptable in one for L.A. Law had there been no Angels?), but criminals of the more hi tech type.  This time, the arch nemesis has the ability to tap into someone's cell phone and ID them by their voice.  Eeghad, where do those crazy kids come up with those gizmos?

For goofy genius Natalie, ball-busting bad girl Dylan, and wealthy vamp Alex, this is a case of simple undercover snooping into techno bigwig partygoing.  Or is it... (Cue thoughtful yet insidious music).  Intrigue and plot-twists ensue, and nothing (and I do mean nothing) will stop them from seeing that justice has its way.

The secret to this film is in its leads, all of who seem to be having a grand old time making the film and convey it on the screen.  The presence of Diaz is striking in its ability to keep every facet of the world around her interesting.  I was genuinely interested in her throughout, something that is quite surprising for what some might consider to be a guilty pleasure.  Plus, she shares scenes with Luke Wilson, one of the finest (and most under appreciated) actors of his time.

The other two Angels work surprisingly well.  As much as the film's opening would like to make it seem otherwise, there is no doubt the pussy cat that is inside Barrymore's bulldog character -- she oozes with the same likability that she had in Never Been Kissed.  It's been a long road since Boys on the Side, I think it's safe to say that Barrymore's going to have it tough reverting to the bad girl persona she once had.

The weakest link is Lui, who really never comes into her own. While she does work, per se, she is never near as interesting as the others and her subplot (involving her actor boyfriend [LeBlanc] learning her occupation) never kicks into high gear and seems more as a deviation from the action.  It's like an equal opportunity romantic storyline for each character that cannot work due to lack of personality.

The film's director is a first-timer. McG (né Joseph McGinty Mitchell) has spent his entire career working on commercials and music videos -- which seems to be en vogue right now.  His stylish approach to the film keeps it moving and the film's opening credits makes the whole effort worthwhile.  I like to think that he can go a course more like David Fincher than like Michael Bay, but that latter is more probable.

The action in this film is some of the most stunning work since The Matrix.  Using the same rope man from that film, Charlie's Angels has worked itself into the action niche that The Matrix has sat alone in for some time.  With Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon coming soon (which uses the same martial arts specialist as The Matrix), though, expect another resident to hit that bloc.  I'd dare say that the first encounter between the Angels and Crispin Glover (yes, the Crispin Glover from Back to the Future -- looking curiously like a reject from Dark City) could even be considered better than some of the fights in The Matrix (when was the last time a film became such a suitable de facto genre monument?).

The screenplay was churned out by 16 writers (Tapehead's Ryan Rowe, Men in Black's Ed Solomon, and Go's John August are the only ones receiving credit as was decided by the Writers Guild of America), many of whom worked on it at a table throwing ideas from one chair to another.  Does this feeble attempt at screenwriting come across?  Most certainly, but there's also a vast amount of small pieces that are there thanks to many minds working.  One can feel a series fan in there, a James Bond fan breaking out, a quirky comedian, a cheeky actioner, all throwing in their own two cents.

Is this film monumental?  Not in any way possible.   Is it thought-provoking?  Not a chance in hell.  But is it fun for the moment?  Without a fleeting (or slow-motion hair whisking) doubt.


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Reviews by:
David Perry