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Volume 2, Number 45

This Week's Reviews:  Little Nicky, Red Planet.

This Week's Omissions:  Billy Elliot, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Men of Honor.

Video Reviews:  Dark City.



Little Nicky

(Dir: Steven Brill, Starring Adam Sandler, Patricia Arquette, Rhys Ifans, Harvey Keitel, Tom 'Tiny' Lister, Jr., Allen Covert, Robert Smigel, Reese Witherspoon, Kevin Nealon, Rodney Dangerfield, Blake Clark, Salvatore Cavaliere, and Quentin Tarantino)

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BY: DAVID PERRY

For Adam Sander, it seems, pandering to the audience has become second nature.  Through characters that are either repugnant or ridiculous, Sandler has attempted to insult every person that ever laughed at a Saturday Night Live skit.  David Niven came off of every character with dignity and grace, Sandler seems content to come off films garish and offensive.

There seems to be a division around the world right now on Sandler, either you love him or you hate him.  The litmus test would be a comparison of The Waterboy and The Wedding Singer.  If you consider the latter to be an afternoon delight while the former seems depressingly bad, then you fall into the non-fan category.  Now, if you think that The Wedding Singer lacks something -- perhaps a neat-o speech impediment or some disgusting water bucket jokes -- then you can call yourself a fan.  Was that pretty clear?

And Little Nicky is something that could never be enjoyed by a non-fan.  We're not devoid of a sense of humor, its just that we often revile being talked up to by a film.  Give me a What's New Pussycat any day.  The humor that Sandler usually imposes on the audience, which tries for a mixture of both gross-out and insult comedy, never works because it never allows itself to be free from the confines of hatred.  While I did not truly hate Big Daddy, his character was not someone that I would ever care to know, much less spend an hour and a half of my life with.

The sweet persona that he gave in The Wedding Singer may have simply been a reflection of the fetching performance from Drew Barrymore in that film, but I can only wonder why he constantly goes for smartass slackers and slightly retarded losers.  Little Nicky is the second time he has tried to give a "funny" voice to a character, and it is, believe it or not, more annoying than the one he threw out in The Waterboy.

Playing Nicky, the good-natured by physically deformed son of Satan (think of a heavy metal listening spawn of Richard III and King Lear's Cordelia), Sandler takes on said speech impediment and a deformed face, supposedly the product of being hit with a shovel by one of his brothers.  It's like he knows how unfunny this characters is and does not know how to create any laughter through depravity.   If Sandler had played the character straight, the film might have been at least less unnerving.

As the film teeters between evangelical Hell and Dante's Hell, it yearns for some form of laughter but never finds its way.  The demons have gate-side trysts (made easier by breasts on one's head), everyday Adolf Hitler comes in for a rectal insertion of a pineapple, and football players visit in hopes of winning the Super Bowl.  Remember those old cartoons in which the whole storyline would divert for a moment in hopes of a few chuckles from a pointless punchline?  Yeah, we may have laughed when we were five years old, but the problem is that we are no longer five years old.

In one of the most ingenious bits of casting this year, Harvey Keitel has been chosen to play the Satan, but never does Keitel take this to its furthest heights.  The devilish persona that Keitel has always given off is never seen here, instead hoping to take small guffaws from being the straight man to everyone else.  I hate to say this, but Keitel is a far worse devil than Gabriel Byrne in End of Days and Elizabeth Hurley in Bedazzled.  I haven't been this disappointed by Keitel since the straight-to-television worthy Head Above Water.   I sincerely hope that Martin Scorsese or Jane Campion or Quentin Tarantino or Abel Ferrara have something great for him to rebound with, because he really needs something to help people forget this.

The film has countless notables in a bit parts and none of them come off of the film noteworthy.  The cameos from Henry Winkler, Ozzy Ozborne, and Michael McKean show the reason that none of these men get the respect they had twenty years ago.  And the performance from Quentin Tarantino only serves to remind people that he has been away from the camera for far too long.  How can it be forgivable that he has acted in this but not directed a film since 1997?

The only moment in the film where I actually had some joy was the heaven sequence, in which Nicky meets his mother, angel Reese Witherspoon.  Witherspoon takes her role and knocks it out of the ballfield, getting everything she can get out of it.  With all the angels acting like ditsy valley girls and the appearance of Carl Weathers as their tennis coach, this ten minute sketch is the only fine form moment in the film.  It reminded me of Saturday Night Live in its heyday, back when Bill Murray and Jane Curtain would do a bit exactly like this one and make it hilarious.

Nicky's trip to New York to save his dying father tries to be so many things that it never really settles into anything weighty.  The heroic comedy that is attempted in his exploits to stop his expatriate brothers (Ifans and Lister, Jr.) seems to be the only one that amounts to anything, but it's really not funny and seems content being so.  The buddy comedy that is attempted by Sandler and his talking dog (voice provided by Saturday Night Live cartoonist Smigel) is never taken to anything that might be considered laughable.  The dog isn't funny and Sandler certainly isn't there to save the show.

Then comes the love story which is just plain bad.   I hated it for its Clint Howard cameo.  I hated trying to make Patricia Arquette ugly by giving her glasses.  I hated it for its lack of creativity.  I hated it for its Todd Solondz inspired mockishness.  I hated it for seemingly removing the audience from the action, albeit worthless action, of the story proper.   I hated it for its ridiculous sheepishness.  I hated it for its form and fashion.

I did not see this at a press screening, but instead with a paying audience.  One would expect that everyone there would be a Sandler fan, the only type of person that might imaginably like this film.  But when the credits began to scroll, there had yet to be any substantial laughing, neither from me nor from them.


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Red Planet

(Dir: Antony Hoffman, Starring Val Kilmer, Tom Sizemore, Carrie-Anne Moss, Benjamin Bratt, Simon Baker, and Terence Stamp)

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BY: DAVID PERRY

As I considered Red Planet since seeing it, I have thought of two other films, one better, one worse.  Red Planet is the second Mars landing film this year, following Brian De Palma's Mission to Mars.   The films could not be any more alike if they had been made by the same director.   Both are beautiful looking films lost in horrible plot devices and forced fed endings.

The third film is Pitch Black, which was this year's tongue-in-cheek thriller with people stranded in an environment not of their own.   Here's the difference:  Pitch Black was beautiful looking, mixed in with those horrible plot devices and a forced fed ending -- and it never took itself completely serious.

Red Planet could have taken some pointers from Pitch Black.  Not only would it be more fun, but it might have even had characters that could be considered half as interesting as Vin Diesel in Pitch BlackRed Planet seems lost in a black hole of creative pause.  The storyboards on this film might be comparable to a Salvador Dali print, but the script could only sit beside some Danielle Steele dreck.

Mission to Mars, Pitch Black, and Red Planet are all films that I thought were flawed, but the fact of the matter is that I only had a hint of pleasure in one.  No matter how beautiful the canvas is for the two Mars films, Pitch Black is the only one that gives anything of weight.

This film, with its cardboard characters and repulsive moral to the story, careens between confusion and disinterest.  I saw this film and paid pretty close attention, but did not really understand some of the facts until I read the press materials the next day.  It's almost like the filmmakers had hoped that people would be so enthralled with the story and whatnot that they wouldn't feel lost by the fact that half of the little touches are there without enough detail for them to make sense.

As the characters in the film walk along the vast plain that is Mars (by the way, the title Red Planet may coincide with the nickname for Mars, but it does not fit the planet portrayed here, which is a mixture of sepia and gray) searching for the many contrivances that make up their mission, the audience can only sit and wonder why a film so well lit (the cinematographer is Cronenberg mainstay Peter Suschitzky) can be so dismally dull.

The film centers on a mission sent to Mars in 2025 to find the remnants of algae.  It seems that Earth has become so polluted that the planet must find a new home.  When Mars was decided as the best choice, algae was cultivated in hopes of creating a livable surface on the planet.  But soon after the algae is planted, it disappears -- not dying, but vanishing.

A six person crew is sent to find the reason that the algae died, including a tough female captain Bowman (Moss), a conceited co-pilot Santen (Bratt), a soft talking "janitor" Gallagher (Kilmer), a geneticist Burchenal (Sizemore), a philosophical old man Chantillas (Stamp), and nondescript complaining guy Pettengill (Baker).  After a "burst of gamma radiation" knocks most of the ship incapacitated, the five men load onto their Mars lander early and leave Bowman alone to fix the problems on the ship.

After 10 minutes on the planet, two crew members are dead (one of whom could have made the film more interesting, the other of whom had already overstayed his invitation), and they find that all their supplies have been inexplicably destroyed.  Throw in the fact that there's an angry military robot intent on killing them and you might just say that these people cannot get a break.  The only thing that seems to work for them is that the atmosphere on Mars is now breathable.

Of course, I seriously doubt that screenwriters Chuck Pfarrer and Jonathan Lemkin (whose combined talents have brought us Lethal Weapon 4, Virus, The Jackal, and Barb Wire) wrote that in as a outspirt of what is happening on the planet, but instead as a contrivance to keep them from having to explain the characters being able to breath without their supplies.

The underlying fact is that this film is better than Mission to Mars, though neither could ever be considered noteworthy.  This film's final statement is far from as horrible as the ending of Mission to Mars (which still haunts me to this day).  I did not like this film at all, but I do respect it slightly more than Mission to Mars, even though the De Palma film looks better.

The saving grace of the film is its look, which is very reminiscent of Alien's terrain shots.  Peter Suschitzky has been one of my favorite cinematographers since seeing Dead Ringers, and it is very disturbing to see his talents wasted on such a film.  To consider that the talents of fine film craftsmen like Suschitzky have been squandered on films like Mission to Mars and this is devastating.

This review is dedicated to all the time and talent lost forever in these two films: Steven H. Burum (cinematographer, MtM), Peter Suschitzky (cinematographer, RP), Gary Sinise, Tim Robbins, Don Cheadle, Connie Nielsen, Armin Mueller-Stahl (actors, MtM), Terrence Stamp, Carrie Anne-Moss, Tom Sizemore (actors, RP), Ennio Morricone (composer, MtM), Graeme Revell (composer, RP), Paul Hirsch (editor, MtM), Robert K. Lambert (editor, RP), Ed Verreaux (production designer, MtM), Owen Paterson (production designer, RP), and Brian De Palma (director, MtM).


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Video Reviews:  Since this week is short a review, I thought that it would be best that I append a video review.   This is my old review of Dark City from early 1998. The reason that I thought that it would be fine for this time is that it has been on my mind since seeing Charlie's Angels last weekend.  Everyone compares the film to The Matrix, but there are some little things from Dark City throughout.



Dark City

(Dir: Alex Proyas, Starring Rufus Sewell, Jennifer Connelly, Keifer Sutherland, William Hurt, Richard O'Brien, Ian Richardson, Colin Friels, Mitchell Butel, Frank Gallacher, Bruce Spence, Melissa George, John Bluthal,   Ritchie Singer, Nicholas Bell, Satya Gumbert, and Frederick Miragliotta)

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BY: DAVID PERRY

Any film fan that wants to see some of the greatest films ever should venture back to the 1920's in Germany, when World War I had crumbled the country's finances but the filmmaking went into a new art form. That art form has since been titled the German Expressionist Era, in which directors like F.W. Murnau and Robert Wiene were showing the most cost reducing ways of making some of the most impressive films to date (Wiene was the one that would paint the shadows on the sets as to save money on high electrical bills for lights).

The art form suddenly disappeared in 1930 after Fritz Lang made the last great German Expressionist film M (the one that made a star of then only German speaking Peter Lorre). But with the release of Australian Alex Proyas' Dark City, the forgotten art form has come back to thrill new audiences that probably never even heard of Die Nibelungen. Dark City has the shadowy cinematography of Wiene's The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, the characters of Murnau's Nosferatu, and, most of all, the sets and story of Lang's Metropolis (which was probably the best of all the German films made this century). The deep shadowed towering buildings in this 1930's New York setting take gothic, torturous looks over the pawns living in their city, the underground is a place of dwelling for the people that are being kept away from the rest of the populous, those underground people have a great mechanical invention with the face of a woman. No, I'm not talking about Metropolis.

Perhaps it would be easy to pass over Dark City as another homage film, much the same way people treated Brian DePalma's Hitchcock films of the 1970's and 1980's.  Dark City may look and feel like Metropolis, but there is so much other new stuff there to make it a notable film on its own.  I may be wrong, but I'm not sure if the film's premise, or even a near facsimile have ever been done before.

Dark City follows the story of a man (Sewell) that wakes up in the bath tub one night to find that there is a dead prostitute in the floor of his hotel room but he doesn't remember anything about himself. Is he the prostitute serial killer that the police are looking for? The only people that seem to have the answer to this are a group of pale Nosferatu the Vampire wannabes that kind of look and talk like Truman Capote in the 1970's. At the same time a woman (Connelly) is trying to find her missing husband based on what she has been told by his analyst (Sutherland). Is this man the missing husband? William Hurt rounds out the cast as he sets out to capture the serial killer based on the description of Sewell given by the hotel manager.

It doesn't flaunt on it's special effects like so many of today's films tend to do. The special effects seem to be only a jumping board for the director to convince the audience of his feelings on the place at the time. Where the film looks at the city changing is a masterful moment in modern filmmaking.   The fight sequences are such that one is brought fondly back to the days of Blade Runner and Mad Max, two films that are here if only in spirit.

The cast is magnificent with kudos to Sewell for taking a big turn from his normal costume dramas. One aspect that grabbed my attention was Jennifer Connelly, who could steal every scene with her beauty but balances her performance just enough so that her presence is more of a Lana Turner femme fatale than a Lauren Bacall lead.  Since there is a fine chance that supporting players William Hurt and Keifer Sutherland, the latter of whom I've never been a big fan of, it is only right to note that they too make the film stand better.  I was reminded of film noir every time Hurt stood in a frame and reminded of Karloff mad scientist films with Sutherland.

Proyas' previous film, The Crow, is nothing compared to the magnitude of this film. The ending is the only small problem, in some way I wasn't completely convinced with the end, it seemed just too simple for such a complex film. I'm not necessarily disappointed since it is rather hard to figure an ending to the film.  I guess Dark City could fall into the countless listing of films that have a hard time ending since there is too much buildup.

For a film enthusiast, Dark City is a graceful moment in film history, for everyone else, it can serve as a smarter sci-fi popcorn film.

  

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

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