Volume 3, Number 2
This Week's Reviews: Double Take, Thirteen Days, Antitrust.
This Week's Omissions: Aimée & Jaguar, One in the Life, Save the Last Dance.
Video Reviews: Battlefield Earth.
(Dir: George Gallo, Starring Orlando Jones, Eddie Griffin, Gary Grubbs, Daniel Roebuck, Sterling Macer, Jr., Benny Nieves, Garcelle Beauvais, Andrea Navedo, Vivica A. Fox, Donna Eskra, and Brent Briscoe)
BY: DAVID PERRY
Every year seems to have one film that just appalls me, absolutely shocks me. After nearly three months of predominately high quality films, it is that first film of the new year, that hands-down stinker, that makes me yearn to go back in time to a mere two weeks earlier when everything was so much nicer. Looking back at some review records, I found that the first film of 1999 for me was At First Sight, the first of 2000 was Supernova -- both of which stood were remembered as horrible films for the rest of the year.
For 2001, the entry is the dismally bad Double Take, a comic vehicle that goes sour in the first ten minutes and never stops to notice how contrived it has become. Pairing two comic actors, one talented, one not, the film is meant to be a funny buddy action film like Money Talks. The only problem is that it is not funny -- actually it is never funny save for a few (emphasis: few) slight laughs interspersed in a random collection of silly, laughless moments.
Orlando Jones is Daryl Chase, a New York investment banker who has become a little pompous in respect to his old days in the hood. When a murder and robbery pits him as the suspected killer of two cops, Daryl is instructed by FBI agent T.J. McCready (Grubbs) to cross the border into Mexico without being caught. But the NYPD is after him and his face with that suit is recognizable. So, in the most logical scheme of the year, he switches attire with a hoodlum named Freddy Tiffany (Griffin). Cause, you know, no one can recognize a rich man in a poor mans suit.
Before long we are treated to a variety of bad moments involving a small dog, a haughty train waiter, and double crossings galore. This is no simple wronged man chase film like Hitchcock loved, but yet another one of those plot twisters that goes through so many twists that the story pretzel turns out to be less surprising and more annoying. When the film hits its seventy-third plot twist, I did not care. Hell, I was just happy that it looked like the film might be near an end (which it, unfortunately, was not -- hey, what would a bad film be without a credits-roll mistaken-comical moment.
I know that some would disagree, but I really think that Orlando Jones is a very funny man; it just pains me to see him stuck in such a film. With the many supporting performances that I have seen from him in less-than-entrancing comedies (including Bedazzled and The Replacements), he has always been one of the finer things of each piece. I have actually watched Jones with a close eye since he co-hosted a music show in the first year of the FX network. He was as funny then as he is now -- unfortunately he could not have been given a star vehicle that successfully showed his comic prowess.
On the other side of the comic spectrum is Eddie Griffin, who is about as funny as a train wreck. Griffins last try at a star making role was in Foolish, where he pretty much played himself to a screenplay by rapper Master P. He was bad in that film, just as bad as he is in this one. I have heard comparisons to Jerry Lewis for Griffin. That is horrible -- Lewis, who did take his comedy too far at times, was a genius of timing and tone, not merely a whack-job chewing the scenery for a laugh. Griffin is the antithesis of Lewis, and Im a little ashamed that I had to discredit that remark.
Double Take is like those buddy action films that have come from Brett Ratner over the early years of his career. It should be no surprise that the Rush Hour helmer co-produced Double Take, though it is beyond me what kept him from directing this film. I happen to consider him to be a hack, as was proven in his recent mucking up of the possibly worthwhile The Family Man. I believe that his next film is Rush Hour 2 -- shoot me now.
Writer/director George Gallo should have known better. From this film, youd never guess that he also wrote the fine buddy comedy Midnight Run, where the laughs were often and the contrivances were non-existent. Of course, back then he was working off of the recent success from the similar The Last Detail, a great film, now he is working off of the success of Rush Hour, a bad film. One day he may be able to save his career from being remembered for this. At least I certainly hope he does.
Supposedly the film is based on a Graham Greene story
that had since been made into the film 1957 film Across the Bridge. I have not
seen that film, but I am versed in the style and type of writing for Greene and I can
safely say that Gallo has strayed from the source material. At least, I seriously doubt
that Greene thought that a battle in front of a Texas emu ranch/strip club would make for
a great story arc.
(Dir: Roger Donaldson, Starring Kevin Costner, Bruce Greenwood, Steven Culp, Dylan Baker, Michael Fairman, Henry Strozier, Frank Wood, Len Cariou, Janet Coleman, Stephanie Romanov, Bill Smitrovich, Ed Lauter, Dakin Matthews, Walter Adrian, Peter White, Tim Kelleher, James Karen, Daniel Ziskie, Kevin Conway, Kelly Connell, Olek Krupa, Elya Baskin, and Bruce Thomas)
BY: DAVID PERRY
In the cool month of October 1962, the world sat on the edge of its seat - the cold war had begun and the first battle looked to be on the horizon. United States President John F. Kennedy went eyeball to eyeball with Russian Premier Nikita Khrushchev, and, as Secretary of State Dean Rusk then stated, the Russians blinked.
The new film Thirteen Days looks to dramatize those days of threat from Cuba as Russia began placing nuclear missiles there, a mere 90 miles from the coast of Florida. For a generation that had not been alive during those fateful thirteen days and perhaps, if the verbal fight had gone the other way, may have never have been born in the years since, this is a story that must be told. A world where everything is learned in mass media, whether it be movies or television, must sometimes stray from entertainment like Dude, Where's My Car? (that is, if you consider such to be entertainment) and bring in something for the sake of education. People must know about how close we came.
Over the course of those 13 days, 16 October to 28 October, Americans sat in fear of a third world war in a single century -- the third consecutive generation to be shipped out to a war raging across the world from North America to Asia. Of course, within a few years, the entrance into Vietnam became more deniably irreversible and the face of democracy in America would be forever tarnished, but at this moment, the US government was in top form. Great thinkers and paramount decisions came out of the Oval Office and the Capital Building, building America into the strongest nation militarily and diplomatically.
Thirteen Days looks at those days when 5 men worked to save a country from going to a war. There is the Kennedy brothers, President John (Greenwood) and Attorney General Robert (Culp), UN Ambassador Adlai Stevenson (Fairman), Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara (Baker), and Assistant to the President Kenny O'Donnell (Costner). Perhaps you've never heard of O'Donnell -- understandable, his place in history has not been highly spoken of, but he was there. O'Donnell, a school friend of Robert and campaign manager for John, had a nice, cushy desk at the door to the White House, mediated between the press and the executive office, and saw everything that happened during the administration.
O'Donnell is the Oliver Stone-character of the film, a blown-up for the screen person, whose place in history is not near as large as the film would make you think. O'Donnell did many things, and probably did make some comments to the president about the crisis, but it is highly doubtful that he was the driving force of the office that this film (co-produced by O'Donnell's son) would like for you to believe.
Thanks to a bad New England accent, it's not too hard to pass on Kevin Costner's O'Donnell as the lead despite an unearthly attempt to put him center stage. For this film, it is all the story of John F. Kennedy, the way it really should be. The great character actor Bruce Greenwood (best known for his work in Atom Egoyan's The Sweet Hereafter and Exotica) does not overplay the late president like a monument of Americana. His Kennedy is unlike any other previously brought to the screen, charming, domineering, thoughtful, and eloquent. He was a real man, with real demons and that is exactly the way that Greenwood plays him. I'm not a huge supporter of Kennedy as a president (I would have, unquestionably, voted for Richard Nixon), but this film does make him more likeable than I had ever seen him outside of real tapings of Kennedy.
The film may be a star vehicle for Costner (who, by the way, has not been in a good film since Clint Eastwood's A Perfect World in 1993) and a star making moment for Bruce Greenwood, but I'll admit that a great deal of my attention was pointed at one of the 'little people.' The absolutely terrific Dylan Baker finally gives another performance that can be held next to his humane pedophile in Todd Solondz's Happiness. Baker not only looks like Robert McNamara, one of the finest people to serve in the Kennedy administration, but also plays him as the voice of reason that he really was. An altercation between him and a Navy admiral is just as thrilling as any action scene from this year.
Director Roger Donaldson tells this story like an intrigue thriller, much like his previous work with Kevin Costner, No Way Out, which seems to be the biggest misstep of the film. I happen to consider Donaldson to be a bit of a hack, placing the camera in set-ups that would only thrill Rod Lurie. This is the type of story that is thrilling without all the story manipulation -- to make this into a straightforward drama, somewhat in the form of Oliver Stone circa. 1990 would have been mesmerizing.
What the Kennedy's, McNamara, et al. did is a huge story that could keep anyone on the edge of their seat even if we know what happens in the end. It is a story of threat leading to compassion and boys becoming men. The executive branch, led by a great politician, went into a fight that could have no winner and yet still won. America was satisfied because we survived to speak of how close we came -- and so were the Soviets. Khrushchev said it best in his letter to Kennedy on the thirteenth day:
"Mr. President, I have studied with great satisfaction
[your decisions] concerning measures that should be taken to avoid contact between our
vessels and thereby avoid irreparable and fatal consequences. This reasonable step on your
part strengthens my belief that you are showing concern for the preservation of peace,
which I note with satisfaction."
(Dir: Peter Howitt, Starring Ryan Phillippe, Tim Robbins, Claire Forlani, Rachael Leigh Cook, Yee Jee Tso, Tygh Runyan, Ned Bellamy, Douglas McFerran, Nate Dushku, Zahf Hajee, Scott Bellis, and Tyler Labine)
BY: DAVID PERRY
Anyone that remarks that political thrillers like Thirteen Days are hampered by watching men in white suits sweating it out should watch Antitrust. To tell the truth, I'd much rather watch beads on the brows of a couple politicos over umpteen scenes of people thrillingly typing on a computer. Technology is the future, as they say, and one might think that the techies will serve an important purpose in movies that will come along in this future.
But I, like those complaining about those political thrillers, cannot really understand anything thrilling about watching someone quickly type up some Unix code in hopes of discovering some great secret before they are caught by some deviant entity. Antitrust is filled with these scenes and not a one of them are near compelling. Those teenage girls that swoon over star Ryan Phillippe might get a kick out of seeing their boy wonder looking transfixed as the light of a computer screen glares on his face, but for the rest of us, it is just an all out bore.
Phillippe plays Milo Hoffman, hotshot computer programmer. He and his friend Teddy are considered the top of their form among their Silicon Valley contemporaries and fellow Stanford grads. They are so well received that a megalomaniac computer company owner named Gary Winston (Robbins), who is currently prepping a technological development that will connect all kinds of electrical devices through his Synergy label, invites them to his compound with the chance of a job.
Milo goes and is wooed into taking the job -- Teddy stays. In the mind of Teddy and most of their friends, Winston is being capitalistically stingy and keeping the code to the business under wraps instead of sharing it with the world to use. But Milo goes on, defying the friendship that he has so long cherished. Then things go awry, as he begins to find questionable code appear where it never before existed. Ever so often, Winston will give him a diskette containing highly advanced code as the news, unaware to Milo, reports on the recent death of some underground computer programmer.
This film is meant to create a world of geek-counterculture. Milo is a geek, Teddy is a geek, Winston is a geek -- and they all are happy to admit it. But who in this world actually buys half the stuff that the film attempts to make you believe about 'computer geeks?' For one thing, Ryan Phillippe, who attempts to smooth his way into another performance, does not look like someone that has spent half his life in a garage writing code and being as antisocial as possible. So what if they muss up his hair some and dress him up a little shabbier than usual -- he still looks like someone that's going to spend more time working on his hair and his pecs than on a keyboard.
And he has two women lusting after him! Someone in the film comments that most of the computer geeks over at Synergy have never had a living, breathing girlfriend and this guy happens to have the voluptuous Claire Forlani! Not to mention the fact that we are supposed to believe that Rachael Leigh Cook is a computer developer. What with cute, albeit impish, face and frizzy hair, Cook looks about as in place as Gloria Steinham at the Playboy Mansion.
One of the few parts that really work is Tim Robbins as the Bill Gates rip-off Winston. Robbins seems to be genuinely having fun hamming it up in the role and it is nice to see him playing a fun role that is not so downtrodden (i.e. Nothing to Lose). I loved him in his relatively small role in High Fidelity early last year but still yearn for another great dramatic performance from him (which has not happened since 1994's The Shawshank Redemption). Nevertheless it is still fun seeing him these quirky roles even if the fun is bittersweet.
This is the second film for Peter Howitt, who last created the quirky but respectable Sliding Doors from 1998. It seemed to me that Howitt was quite talented from that first time around, but this time he seems to be a completely different director. There are moments meant for pure excitement that look far closer to an amalgamation of muffled voices and sketchy edits.
Thinking about it, this film is full of really talented film technicians that should have done better like Howitt. Film editor Zach Staenberg is partly to blame for the lackluster look of this film -- a far cry from the great work he did for The Matrix last year, which brought him an Academy Award and a Golden Brando Award. Staenberg should have had more know-how than to simply splice patches of 50 frames together for three minutes, creating a nearly incomprehensible collection of headache inducing material.
And the screenplay, filled with touchy-feely dialogue and painfully horrible scenarios that would make Mimi Leder blush, is by Howard Franklin, one of the men behind The Name of the Rose. Of course, considering that his last foray into screenwriting was The Man Who Knew Too Little, it shouldn't have been as much a surprise that he failed miserably with Antitrust.
Franklin could have made this into a thrilling film,
nevertheless. With a little less goofiness, Antirust had the potential to be
respectable along the lines of Sydney Pollack's The Firm. Instead, it turns out
to be a techno-savvy remake of The Skulls. What a waste.
Video Review: I had to fight to get a screener of this, but I got it in time to release a review of the film before it came out on video. Boy, was it worth the work. Battlefield Earth is, umm, unforgettable.
(Dir: Roger Christian, Starring John Travolta, Barry Pepper, Forest Whitaker, Kim Coates, Rochard Tyson, Sabine Karsenti, Michael Byrne, Christian Tessier, Sylvain Landry, Christopher S. Aud, Shaun Austin-Olsen, Earl Pastko, Michel Perron, and Michael MacRae)
BY: DAVID PERRY
Anyone that questions Battlefield Earth's dubious distinction of being the worst film of 2000 is out of their mind. This film is off-putting, disparaging, hideous, and annoying. It's the type of film no one would ever consider to be enjoyable. Drunk or sober, this movie could make any sane person rethink ever watching a movie again.
Needless to say, I did not like Battlefield Earth. In fact I hated it. In my mind there has never been a film made worse than Stepmonster (in case that doesn't ring a bell, it was a straight-to-video Alan Thicke teen/suspense/comedy that features of an incomprehensible father-son violin climax) until now. Battlefield Earth could very possibly be the worst film I have seen in my many years. Ranking some 5 or 6 thousand films, Battlefield Earth might just be at the bottom.
This film could very well be considered Travolta's Folly over the next few years. It is interesting that anyone could ruin their career twice. Making films this bad is what killed his career in the eighties (remember Staying Alive?) -- I hate to see the revival of the last six years falling to waste. Choosing films like Battlefield Earth and Lucky Numbers has brought him back to where he once knew all too well: the reality of being a has-been.
And I'm not one of those big naysayers of Travolta like James Berardinelli of ReelViews. I happen to think he has the ability to be a good, as he proved in Pulp Fiction, Face/Off, and the underrated Mad City. I mean, he was a little poor in old Welcome Back, Kotter episodes, but now he has grown as an actor and can give a fine performance if so inclined. Last year he did a far better job choosing only one film to make his career look bad, the mediocre The General's Daughter. Here's to hoping that his next film, Dominic Sena's Swordfish, will bring him back to some form of respectability.
Travolta has turned this into his child -- even being proud of it after its critical lambasting this past summer. Most will say that it is because Travolta, a devout Scientologist, wanted to bring the novel to the screen since it was written by fellow Scientologist the late L. Ron Hubbard. I don't necessarily believe that this is any way a film driven by Christian Science, even though the reasoning behind it could have lead that way. I'm not well versed in the religion, but I have little doubt that any of its beliefs coincide with anything brought to the screen in Battlefield Earth.
The Hubbard novel is supposedly terrific, from what I have heard having never read it. Said to have a comic, sci-fi pulp feel, I can see where it would work in written form but never work on the screen. Considering that the smallest copies of it run along 600 pages, the effort to get it down two hours of screen time was nearly impossible. Having seen the film, I cannot say that I am terribly interested in going out and reading the novel now, but I will admit that the execution may be the problem, not the original material.
Nevertheless, there are problems in the story alone that make me wonder what Hubbard was on when he wrote the book in the early seventies. A race of Psychlos take over Earth? Humans are like elk running the land in herds? Everyone fears the threat of sending videos to the "home office"?
John Travolta and the normally respectable Forrest Whitaker (especially after Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai) pounce around the film looking like newly out-of-work performers from Cats; Barry Pepper seemingly thinks that he is a 1980's rocker. Who really thought this film would work in any way imaginable? How in the world did anyone convince Warner Bros. that this would be a marketable and profitable investment? Who? What? Why?
There are some films that are so bad that you can laugh at it for the entire duration but that is not even true with Battlefield Earth. For the first half an hour, I laughed at how stupid it was and how cheesy the special effects were. But, by the time it got to incomprehensible climax, I was ready to make it stop.
Director Roger Christian evidently has no idea what to do
with a camera; the score sounds like it was recorded on an old LP that's been battered for
the 50 years; the cinematographer seems to have been color blind; and please get the film
editor some Ritalin! If there has ever been a film made with less attention to detail and
less interest in actually being understandable then I would be highly surprised.