> Volume 2 > Number 51

Volume 2, Number 51

This Week's Reviews:  A Hard Day's Night, Cast Away, The Family Man, Dracula 2000.

Monday Openings:  All the Pretty Horses, Finding Forrester, Quills.

This Week's Omissions:  Chocolat, Miss Congeniality, You Can Count on Me.

A Hard Day's Night

(Dir: Richard Lester, Starring John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, George Harrison, Wilfrid Brambell, Norman Rossington, John Junkin, Victor Spinetti, Anna Quayle, Deryck Guyler, Richard Vernon, and David Jaxon)



When A Hard Day’s Night came out in 1964, The Beatles were big. They had already been on their American tour that brought about the landmark appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show and their first album sales were through the roof. After barely a year of national existence, they had become a phenomenon. A Hard Day’s Night looks at this phenomenon in a quasi-documentary style that attempts to show how they dealt with this over the course of one day. It begins with girls chasing them, ends with girls chasing them, and has many moments of, well, girls chasing them.

But the film is not completely about how The Beatles were treated in their time of fame. What comes across most, even more than their recognition, is just how much fun they had. This was before the band had been brought down by drug use, burdening egos, and extreme distrust. Back in 1964, the band was still there for the music and the fun. By the later years, as the fun had died down, the music may have been better (no one can question the comparative genius of something like "Can’t Buy Me Love" to "Hey Jude") but they had become less pleasurable to watch.

I can certainly remember reading about John Lennon and Yoko Ono having a ‘sit in’ for protest, the long stories of band discourse, and the tepid realization of Yellow Submarine's inability to grasp the point in which The Beatles were (the animated film, in fact, is quite a fine film but fails to have the ability to stand as a photographic moment in The Beatles existence -- none of them even cooperated in the making of it). By 1970, there was little to respect about them besides their music -- the genuine people that we met in 1964 were gone.

And that’s where A Hard Day’s Night becomes the important piece of celluloid it is. By the time the decade was over, very little of it still rang true, even the characterizations that they played in the film were gone, hidden behind a great deal of facial hair with smiles that had withered away. The 1964 film, along with its near sequel 1965’s Help!, serves as a reminder of what was lost when the fun ended. Years later, they would still be musical geniuses, but their attraction ended there -- they were not the fun-loving mop tops we had come to know and love.

But writing about A Hard Day’s Night like it is a eulogy almost seems like a moot point -- the essence of the film is so happy that it hurts that it can be remembered mainly as an early moment in a band’s sad lifetime. None of the future comes to mind as you watch and enjoy what happens during the film -- it is more afterward the you begin to consider what would later happen. I like this film for being a cinematic testament to a time gone by -- I love it because it is, on its own, entertaining.

John, Paul, George, and Ringo all take on the film like children in a playground. Screenwriter Alun Owen added some witty remarks for the band to use, but most of it was dropped when it was found that the band had their own wit and witticism to tell. They are not necessarily playing themselves but the characterizations that had been produced by the publicists. John was the intellectual one, Paul the adorable one, George the soothing one, and Ringo the kookie one.

Were they having as much fun at the time as we are shown? Possibly not, but we are certainly taken in on it. The four seem definitely like good friends that are just having a good time. I thank all that on Ringo Starr, who is by far the most entertaining person in the band -- at least from what we are shown. Ringo has been my favorite Beatle for years, mainly thanks to having seen him in A Hard Day’s Night.

The flash-bang look that Richard Lester brings to this film helps this film in more ways than just a visual sense. It is kind of a cathartic film, with every scene having the indelible ability to bring a smile to a person’s face. There are glorious moments in which nothing really happens besides having the group run around having a great time (usually to some 60’s work of joyous energy).

Cinematographer Gilbert Taylor was fresh off of the antics in Dr. Strangelove when he came to this film and the previous work certainly shows off in this explosion of zaniness. He would later make a turn with serious films like Roman Polanski’s Repulsion and Macbeth and Alfred Hitchcock’s Frenzy, as well as George Lucas’ Star Wars. Only once since A Hard Day’s Night has he worked on a comedy, a less than entrancing early Tom Cruise work called Losin' It. He should have stopped the genre while on top of his form.

The style that Taylor and Lester go for is one of pure excitement, a joy that fervently pushes the unmistakable identities that had been created for the Fab Four at that moment in time. Like a singe snapshot, A Hard Day’s Night serves as a memory of that excitement, both of the time and the band.


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Cast Away

(Dir: Robert Zemeckis, Starring Tom Hanks, Helen Hunt, Nick Searcy, Chris Noth, Lari White, Valerie Wildman, Viveka Davis, and Lauren Birkell)



Robert Zemeckis has made a name for himself wowing the public at large with films that can enthuse both the normal audience and the film elitists that would normally scoff at any film making more than $30 million. His films, which have grown from early works like Back to the Future to Forrest Gump, have a knack for being personal without becoming one sided. If he had made The Contender, there is no doubt that it would have conveyed some of his politics, but not as extreme and unquestionable as Rod Lurie did.

His new film, Cast Away, would have been an atrocity in the hands of some other people. It could have had overbearing speeches (normally called “Oscar speeches”) with Spielberg at the helm; it could have been overly action packed with Michael Bay doing the work. The way Zemeckis does it, Cast Away is slow, poignant, and entrancing. It does not push into overlength (I could not believe that it had been nearly two and half hours when the credits began to roll) and it does not attempt to be too catchy. How many directors can hold the audience’s attention for such a length of time without attempting to have heavy-handed direction?

Cast Away is about the pain and anguish from dissociation from the world. In this film, like Ellie Arroway in Zemeckis’ Contact, the film’s central character, Chuck Noland, is left to live life with one person in mind, in this case the fiancé he walked away from on the airport paddock before leaving for a fateful flight to Malaysia. Contact was more about her thoughts and dreams that lead to a type of isolation, Cast Away instead deals much more with the isolation and how the dreamt person is the only thing left to survive.

Chuck is a FedEx efficiency manager, home for the Christmas holiday after pushing a Russian FedEx establishment to make their deliveries within the times that are meant to take. For his life, time is of the essence, which makes it all the more poignant that his fiancé Kelly’s present to him is her grandfather’s pocket watch. He gave her a pager.

That was the last moment the two had together. He promises that he will return before New Year’s Day -- his last words to her are “I’ll be right back.” But the plane crashes after going off course because of a storm over the Pacific. He is the sole survivor, stranded on a desert isle far off the route of the rescue ship.

At this point you should know no more, but that does not seem to be the feeling for those over in the marketing department of DreamWorks, who did their absolute best to give away more about this film than should have ever been known by audiences looking to see this film. Since most of the country already knows the film’s last act, I’m not going to remain silent for the duration of this review. If you have not seen the trailer or the film, do not read further.


Telling the audience that Chuck makes it home from the island nearly rids the film of any suspense that could have come from the film’s middle 75 minutes. In the three-act structure, the third should have remained secretive, especially in this film. But that is not the case; the ad campaign not only gives away the third act but also the film’s final shot.

Nevertheless, Cast Away is respectable even having known what was going to happen. Robert Zemeckis is on top of his game, giving us his fourth great film in six years. Admittedly, I was a little worried after Death Becomes Her, but the two fine films that he had made before hand (Back to the Future and Who Framed Roger Rabbit) have become mere jumping boards for the profitable genius that he has become.

This film was made in two parts, a first section set in 1995 and early 1996 with Tom Hanks with a few pounds added and a second section set in 1999 and early 2000 with a thinned down and grisly bearded Chuck. To achieve this, Zemeckis shut down production and let Hanks work off weight and grow his hair out. Meanwhile, Zemeckis used the crew of this film to make the Hitchcockian thriller What Lies Beneath from earlier this year. I certainly enjoyed that film back when I saw it, but now knowing its relevance to Zemeckis, it comes out in an entirely new light. Surely that film must have seemed like a cathartic rest from the deep dramatics of Cast Away. To consider that he sill created a great film when it merely served as a time killer is quite impressive.

One person that served on the crew of both films was composer Alan Silvestri, who has struggled since Forrest Gump to regain the recognition and respectability he received from his score for the 1994 film. But the score here goes far beyond what he created for Gump. There is no score while Chuck is stranded on the island but what is added in the film’s latter act is incredible. The lone horn interlude to every piece is entrancing, very reminiscent of the opening to Nino Rota’s "The Godfather Waltz." I personally think that the score for Cast Away is better any of the other scores Silvestri has created.

This is most certainly one of Hank’s finest performances. Not only does he pull a Marlon Brando and put his all into morphing into a character, he also makes one that is so compassionate, likable, and interesting to keep the audience interested for 75 minutes in which he is the only person on screen. Hanks has had a long career playing the everyday man and this is one of his furthest stretches. But he gives his all to the character and melds Chuck into a far better character in his filmography than Forrest Gump, which brought him his last Academy Award. The only Hanks performance that can compare to this is the one he gave in Philadelphia (which brought him his first Academy Award), and that is another story of a man fighting his natural existence and the life that has been fated to be his own.

And the main supporting character is worthy of nearly as much acclaim. I cannot sing enough praise to do justice. I think that an Academy Award should be on the horizon. No, I’m not referring to Helen Hunt (who gives another ho-hum performance), but to Wilson, the volleyball that becomes Chuck’s only companion on the island (he even has eyes, a nose, and a half-smile mouth from Chuck’s blood). Wilson was actually given an award from the Broadcast Film Critics, who named him Best Performance from an Inanimate Object. I could not agree more (though, I’m certain that Worst Performance from an Inanimate Object would have gone to Meg Ryan for Proof of Life).

I have read one critic, who found fault with this film because he believed that the film’s final act is unneeded. I beg to differ, part of the heart of this film is in how it shows Chuck attempt to return to normal life. The film is not called Castaway, the noun, but Cast Away, the verbal phrase. Cast Away is not completely about Chuck being a castaway, but in the fact that when he is back to mainland, he is cast away. The way there is no real place for him is heartbreaking -- everyone else has gone on with a life sans Chuck.

As he stands at a literal and metaphorical crossroads, we too must understand that there is no real direction to go. His past is gone; only his future remains, and he must choose it wisely -- taking that leap.


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The Family Man

(Dir: Brett Ratner, Starring Nicholas Cage, Téa Leoni, Don Cheadle, Jeremy Piven, Josef Sommer, Saul Rubinek, Makenzie Vega, Francine York, Lisa Thornhill, Harve Presnell, and Troy Hall)



There are certain films that have become holiday traditions. A Miracle on 34th Street. A Christmas Story. It’s a Wonderful Life. Each film has stood the tests of time and they are all still being showing into their twentieth, thirtieth, fortieth, and fiftieth birthdays. In some of the cases, the films have become synonymous with Christmas. I can say that I don’t really feel like it is Christmas until I have seen It’s a Wonderful Life on network television.

And how have all these films done this? They were landmarks in the fact that they sing the praises of both the Christmas spirit and the human spirit. That is exactly what The Family Man lacks. It does not have that grandiose moment in which everything comes into play. It does not check to make sure that everyone is on the same page. It does not seem to understand that attempting to be like the other films only causes it to pale in comparison.

Nicholas Cage is Jack Campbell, multimillionaire extraordinaire. He wakes every morning, says goodbye to the previous evening’s sexual conquer, belts out opera like he is the fourth tenor, makes pseudo-sexual quips with the old heiress on the elevator, and goes into work as head of a major firm. He seems to have everything -- money, success, happiness. But there’s a backstory (as there must always be): the only reason that all this has happened is that he left his college sweetheart, Kate Reynolds (Leoni), crying on the platform in an airport.

As he sees it, he took the road less traveled, and it has paid off well. The two never saw each other again, just as she predicted in that airport some thirteen years ago. When Jack’s secretary tells him that she called, he thinks back on what he passed on and then throws away her phone number -- in his mind, she must be lonely and hoping in vain to rekindle their romance.

But a good deed in a grocery store changes everything as a mystical pedestrian (Cheadle -- yes, I said Don Cheadle) gives him a glimpse of what he is missing. When Jack awakes the next morning, Christmas morning to be exact, he finds himself in bed with Kate in suburban New Jersey. This is the alternate world where he does not leave her for good and they get married, have two kids, and live the humble suburban life. He even has the added fun of being a tire salesman in this life.

As he struggles to learn why he has been given this “glimpse,” Jack finds so much more than simply a life without money and success -- in this life, Jack is happy, dare I say happier. Here, he may not have a huge back account, but he does have someone that undeniably loves him.

Nicholas Cage gives his all to the role but falls a little short. The man can brood well, but he seems to miss the mark whenever he tries to be joyous. He has one of the most forced smiles in Hollywood, which is especially tiresome here, where he never seems to end up with any particular emotion for a long period of time.

The real noticeable actor here is Téa Leoni, who gives a performance that would have never been expected by anyone that has seen her in Deep Impact or Bad Boys. The only moment that might have served as a precursor was Flirting with Disaster, in which she plays an entirely different character. I literally melted watching her; she is so subtle, so alluring, and so impressive. It’s like catching Audrey Hepbrun in Roman Holiday or Grace Kelly in The Country Girl –- pure magic.

Dante Spinotti does the cinematography here, and it is easily his worst work to date. The early scenes in his apartment have some interesting moments for lighting and camera work, but the rest is so lackluster, almost like director Brett Ratner trucked in someone else, someone more conventional, to shoot the rest of the film. When Spinotti’s name came up in the opening credits I was ecstatic; when I finally noticed that he had yet to do anything remotely impressive, I was inconsolable.

For anyone that has seen the Australian comedy Me Myself I that was released earlier this year, The Family Man is like déjà vu. The Rachel Griffiths film came first and is far more interesting, placing some of its set pieces in the most interesting of places (the resteraunt scene late in the film is still one of my favorite scenes this year). The Family Man is most certainly like an unwelcome rip-off. Me Myself I reminded me of Sliding Doors and Next Stop Wonderland, but The Family Man literally is Me Myself I.

Brett Ratner is far from the director most suitable for this work. His previous films, the buddy-comedies Rush Hour and Money Talks, lacked the timing to be noted as standout comedies. The stories in those two films were about as deep and engrossing as a wading pool, yet he still attempted to jump into a chance at making a real serious comedy. What happens is a miserable lack of control working on a piece that could be great. Hey, Pip Karmel proved that it could be done much more respectably with Me Myself I (and I’m not one of the biggest supporters of that film).

For every fine moment in the film, and don’t get me wrong, there are some great moments, there’s three more reasons to dislike it. Even when it was running towards an end, I was still not completely against it. But once it gets contrived in a final ten minutes that’s decidedly poor, I was rather saddened. Thanks to this ending, which is one of those where you want to rip the hairs out of your head, a near amiable film is dwindled down the drains. Worst yet, Téa Leoni's fine performance will be forgotten in the mess.

The Family Man is not clunky and overburdened like, say, The Santa Clause or Santa Claus (you know, that one with Dudley Moore). Meanwhile, it is not near as manipulative as the recent so-called up-lifter Pay It Forward. This film is winsome. Really, that seems to be the adjective that most fits this film. Winsome -– I like it.


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Dracula 2000

(Dir: Patrick Lussier, Starring Gerard Butler, Justine Waddell, Jonny Lee Miller, Christopher Plummer, Colleen Ann Fitzpatrick, Jennifer Esposito, Jeri Ryan, Omar Epps, Danny Masterson, Sean Patrick Thomas, Lochlyn Monro, and Shane West)



There are some films that should never have been made. Dracula 2000 is one of them. It has absolutely no idea how ridiculous it is and has no qualms about being so bad. Few films can leave distaste in the mouth of those watching it. Nevertheless, Dracula 2000 seems quite content doing so.

According to this film, Dracula was captured in the nineteenth century in London. The captors deemed one person, Abraham Van Helsing (Plummer), to stay alive forever and watch over the coffin that contains the vampire prince. Using leeches that have sucked the blood of Dracula, Van Helsing injects the immortality into his veins.

When a band of idiots (is there any other kind?) break into Van Helsing’s vault and steal the unopenable casket thinking it contains something of monetary value, unknowingly they release Dracula to the world, coincidently right smack in the middle of Mardi Gras to be exact. Not only is this a place where he can find many people to kill, but also the home of Van Helsing’s estranged daughter Mary (Waddell), who inadvertently has some of Dracula in her blood stream thanks to Van Helsing’s injections.

With Dracula after his daughter and killing people left and right, Van Helsing and his lowly assistant Simon (Miller) set out to find and catch him before he can cause any more damage.

This is certainly one of those films in which no logic can be taken into account. People make references to doing things that are actually done later; characters are as one-dimensional as can be; and everything seems serene in Mardi Gras New Orleans when it needs to be (anyone that has been to New Orleans knows that there is no serene time, especially during Mardi Gras).

The screenplay by Joel Soisson is one of the worst this year. Did the man do any research? Wooden stakes, Joel, wooden stakes! This is almost as bad as the script he churned out for Highlander: Endgame, my choice for the worst film this year.

I happen to have liked one of Wes Craven’s productions, the moderately enjoyable A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, which he also wrote. That film happens to be the only Craven production that he did not direct that I have ever liked. The other films, which include such horrible films as Wishmaster and Carnival of Souls, make Craven look like a hack, new to the business. I wish it were true, but the perfectionism that the director has been so noted for (what do you expect, he was an English teacher) is never found in this messes that he produces. It’s almost like he drove by the set, waved, and they added his name to the credits.

This is the second film for Patrick Lussier, who has made a name for himself as being an editor on everything from MacGuyver to the Scream films. He is somewhat well respected by horror film fans, but has little to no fan base outside of the Wes Craven set. Lussier is a horrible director and should never be allowed behind the camera again. Has this man ever been there at any time of a film’s birth besides post-production? It certainly looks to me like he didn’t even bother coming to production on this film. His previous film was The Prophecy III: The Ascent, which went straight to video. This one should have too.

This is one of those films in which you feel bad for those that have the bad chance to have signed onto it -- Omar Epps, Christopher Plummer. Even more so, you have to feel bad for those associated with this film without their consent -- Bram Stoker, Christopher Lee, Gary Oldman, Bela Lagosi. Or what about Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn -- there’s a tombstone that bears the name 'Spencer Hepburn.' Man, do I feel horrible for them.


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Reviews by:
David Perry