Volume 3, Number 6
This Week's Reviews: Hiroshima, Mon Amour, Valentine, Hannibal, The English Patient.
This Week's Omissions: Saving Silverman.
|Hiroshima, Mon Amour
(Dir: Alain Resnais, Starring Emmanuelle Riva, Eiji Okada, Bernard Fresson, Stella Dassas, and Pierre Barbaud)
BY: DAVID PERRY
It is nothing new for cinema to look at the male-female relationship -- they have been printed on film since the Golden Age of Tracy and Hepburn. But few movies take on coupling like Hiroshima, Mon Amour, which looks not only at the relationships that mar one French woman and the Japanese tryst she finds in Hiroshima, but also takes a staunch political stance on the bombing of the city by America during World War II. It is distinctly foreign -- few countries, especially the United States, allow for a film to be so sexually frank and so political.
While America stood witness to the melodrama of Picnic and Sayonara, France began working into the French New Wave, making stories far more detailed and involving than those made across the Atlantic. These are adult tales told by adults in a normal fashion. There are no grand, Oscar-bait monologues, no escapes into self-sufficient martyrdom. Movies like Alain Resnais' Hiroshima, Mon Amour and Frédéric Fonteyne's An Affair of Love are not meant to be sanguine cinema for the masses. American audiences want something more like Terms of Endearment and Steal Magnolias -- the thought of having to truly think while in a dark movie theatre is too tough to deal with.
And I'm not trying to make this review some extreme, highbrow diatribe on the dumbing down of the American movie audience -- I even liked Terms of Endearment. But too often, it seems to me, North Americans flock to films that run the middle-road, never pushing the envelope, never intellectualizing. We have Sweet November on the way, which could very well be a quaint little movie, but it is almost assured to be little more than a reworking of Terms of Endearment and the melodrama that transpired there. Worse yet, this film will do ten times the business of the surely superior The End of the Affair and The English Patient.
Ok, now I digress.
Resnais' films is about so much more than simply the how's and why's of modern relationships -- it is really about the consequences that relationships can form and what they can do for future relationships. He opens the film on a sexual embrace and holds it for nearly a minute, occasionally changing positions and coverings on the body -- there is no nudity, but the erotic cling is most certainly apparent. While these visuals take formation, a voice over speaks to her lover, who can only listen to what she has to say. She is Elle (Riva), a French actress in Hiroshima to shoot a public ad. That day she visited the war memorial and reminisced the bombing of the city.
He is Lui (Okada), a Japanese architect, who was in the Japanese army at the time of the bombing, but has grown to know all about what transpired over the period after bombing. He listens intently to her memories of the day walking through the museum, while he can only remember what it was like when it really happened -- you had to see it first hand to truly know Hiroshima.
Over the next day, they meet at various locations, slowly growing apart from each other. As each one agrees, they are both 'happily' married. But, by the end of the day, he has become closer and she has become more distant. When he asks why the mood change, we soon learn of the terrible past she had when she became the lover of a Nazi soldier (Fresson) during the war.
Resnais never settles anything for this film, only leaving the audience in wonder. This is not a film where people go from point A to point B and wrap everything up at point C. Hiroshima, Mon Amour is too realistic in life, knowing that life goes on well after point C -- leaving everything before to either disintegrate in an abyss of memories, or haunt those involved forever.
There is a touch in Elle's character that strikes the
audience stronger than most characters do. Like Sanya in Pavel Chukhrai's The Thief,
Elle feels that she has defiled her one-time love by telling his story. This leads into a
haunting sequence showing the demons eating inside, a tour de force moment in film --
mostly so thanks to the perfectly tuned direction and editing by Jasmine, Henri Colpi, and
Anne Sarraute, and a remarkable performance from Emmanuelle Riva. There are some really
haunting shots in these moments of the film that make it far superior to the histrionic
emotions of, say, Autumn in New York.
(Dir: Jamie Blanks, Starring Marley Shelton, Denise Richards, Jessica Capshaw, Jessica Cauffiel, David Boreanaz, Daniel Cosgrove, Fulvio Cecere, Johnny Whitworth, Katherine Heigl, Wyatt Page, Benita Ha, Hedy Burress, and Jo-Ann Fernandes)
BY: DAVID PERRY
Valentine was a Catholic bishop in the third century, a man that would forever be noted with chocolate and flowers. His death as a martyr in 270BC on the 14th of February would later become immortalized when Geoffrey Chaucer wrote that this was the same day that birds choose their mates for life. Before long, the Catholic calendar, which has days for each martyred saint, was noted on that day, making it Valentine's Day -- more for Chaucer's theory than the life of the bishop.
That is the story that I'd rather write about, one that has both a historical importance and an interesting story to tell. But, alas, the film Valentine is merely an excuse to kill off a few more pampered little girls on their attempts to party and procreate. Five'll get you ten, none of them have a clue that St. Valentine died for their roses.
When people remember this film, and I dearly hope that most are lucky enough to miss out and never give it a second thought, Valentine will look only like an amassment of clichés thrown together with characters that are about as notable as the disposable box the flowers come in. If this film were not the creation of a four monkeys and a typewriter, then I'd be incredibly surprised (with all due respect to 'screenwriters' Donna and Wayne Powers, Gretchen J. Berg, and Aaron Harberts if all happen to not be simians).
In the 6th grade, a young boy is traumatized at a little dance when no girl will dance with him. Boo-hoo -- I miscalculated my body's declension and fell out of my seat in front of my date at my 6th grade dance. So now, 13 years later, he wants revenge. At the end of the dance, a group of boys brawl with him and pour a red punch over his head (hmm, I wonder what that's a reference to) -- none of these boys are in danger of his wrath, just the girls that would not dance with him.
There are five of them, and guess what, each one falls into a prewritten personality. There's the fat one, who accused him of attacking her. There's the sexy one that made a mockery of his request. There's the nondescript ditzy one and big-breasted one -- no real importance to the story, just that they happen to fill those voids. And then there's the sweet one, who is the only one that gives him a nice dismissal ("Sorry, Jeremy, not right now -- maybe later").
That last one, Kate Davies (Shelton), serves as the only slightly redeemable character in the entire film. Characters like those besides Kate nearly deserve to die -- they are too stilted and one-dimensional to be unbelievable and too unremarkable to live. Thora Birch thought her father didn't deserve to live in American Beauty -- I'd love to hear her feelings on this group's existence.
It seems to me that even the people (or anthropoids) behind this film agree. One of the girls walks into the film for five minutes before being hacked off by our Cupid-masked killer. She literally is caught doing something stupid and pays dearly for it -- she is nothing but a disposable character. What's worse is that this film then begins introducing characters for five-minute interludes so they can increase the body count before hitting on the major starlets (egad, what world are we in when a C-list actress like Denise Richards can be called a 'starlet').
But I will come to the defense of Marley Shelton, who is at least worth surviving. Shelton has a certain effect on the audience that should be noted. I don't really think that she's much of an actress, but she does play well on the camera and could have a nice career as a face-for-hire. Hey, when you can't afford Katie Holmes, just turn to Shelton.
This film was originally a novel. Now, usually that gives a
sense of importance, but something tells me that the film is from one of those novels like
I Know What You Did Last Summer, where hormones and aggression are the only parts
of characters that talk like buffoons (I still cringe when I hear the Ryan Philippe
dialogue in that film). The original novel by Tom Savage could very well be a great piece
of mystery writing, but something (read: this movie) tells me otherwise.
(Dir: Ridley Scott, Starring Anthony Hopkins, Julianne Moore, Giancarlo Giannini, Ray Liotta, Gary Oldman, Ennio Coltorti, Robert Rieti, Francesca Neri, Bruno Lazzaretti, Danielle De Niesse, Marco Greco, Frankie Faison, David Andrews, Spike Jonze, Boyd Kestner, Ivano Marescotti, Zeljko Ivanek, and Hazelle Goodman)
BY: DAVID PERRY
Force 10 from Navarone, 2010: The Year We Make Contact, Halloween 3: The Season of the Witch, The Two Jakes, Exorcist II: The Heretic, The Sting II, Oliver's Story, Texasville, Look What's Happened to Rosemary's Baby -- film history is plagued with bad sequels to great films. For every The Godfather, Part II, A Shot in the Dark, and Mon Oncle, there are 10 bad sequels. Hannibal, the sequel to The Silence of the Lambs, happens to be of the lesser branch.
Ridley Scott's vision of Hannibal "The Cannibal" Lector on the lam is about as unremarkable as the thought of a sequel to The Usual Suspects. If it were not for the fact that he wrote both previous Lector novels, I would have guessed that Thomas Harris, whose novel is adapted for the screen here, had never even seen The Silence of the Lambs. The new story lacks the nuances and the control that made the Jonathan Demme film so incredible. Hell, I placed that film above JFK for best film of 1991 only to see it be forever tarnished by this.
In the film, Lector (the indelible Hopkins) has made way to Florence, Italy, where he has become a sort of intellectual hit amongst the scholars, leading him to a position in charge of one of the nearby museums. Evidently these people of Florence have never heard of Lector, who's now on the FBI's 10 Most Wanted List, because he walks around nonchalantly without the lightest of worry. The occasional napkin to keep his fingerprints off a wine glass should keep him anonymous. Please.
From there the film stems into two separate sides of the story -- each one meeting after at the film's midpoint. In Florence, local detective Rinaldo Pazzi (Giannini) discovers the true identity of Lector and makes a deal with one of Lector's old victims for his capture. This victim, Mason Verger (Oldman), doesn't want Lector to end up in the hands of the police, but instead hopes to torture the doctor in his own way. Verger is now a decrepit looking person, an amalgamation of Ralph Fiennes in The English Patient, R.G. Armstrong in Dick Tracy, and the poltergeist at the beginning of Ghostbusters.
Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., FBI agent Clarice Starling (Moore filling in for absent Jodie Foster) is under fire for actions unfitting of her badge. After shooting a woman armed with both an automatic and a small child, Starling looks at having her job taken from her, especially considering how sexist her current boss is, the cocky office seeking Paul Krendler (Liotta). But all is made well when she receives a letter from Hannibal, which places her right in the middle of the search for him.
This is one of those films that literally leaves you with a bad taste by the time it is over. It is remarkably bad. So many fine people have come together to make this film, only for it to be such unredeemable trash. Composer Hans Zimmer, editor Pietro Scalia, and cinematographer John Mathieson are all very talented workers that give less than stellar jobs on this film. All three of them worked before with director Ridley Scott on Gladiator to great effect - what in the world went wrong to make this film so bad (especially for the extremely talented Scalia, doing a job that really puts to shame the incredible work he did on JFK in 1991).
Ridley Scott has spent most of his career attempting to regain the respect he had the early 1980's after Alien and Blade Runner. Now, when Gladiator has made him respectable again, he has to come out and so something as dismally bad as this. Admittedly, there are some really good looking scenes in the film's Italy period, but that is not enough to save something that becomes as appalling as Hannibal becomes.
There is not a bad actor in the film, just bad characters marked by lackluster performances. Anthony Hopkins is still fun as Lector, but I could not feel like I had already been through this performance before - not in Silence of the Lambs, where his intellect is in the fore, not his gruesomeness, but in Titus two year's ago. Hopkins is one of the best actors around, and I can see how bringing back his biggest character could be so tempting. I only wish that he had been as picky about the script as Jodie Foster was.
Speaking of Foster, she's one person that is decidedly missed in this film. I like Julianne Moore a great deal, but she seems far below par in the Clarice character. Moore could have done well, playing less the malleable agent and more the tortured souls that have made her career so notable (to think that this is the same actress from Magnolia, Short Cuts, Boogie Nights, and Safe). I know that some will blame the failure of Hannibal (artistically, not economically, the film is sure to do gangbusters) on her, but there is little that she could have done. I feel that she had more weight on her shoulders thanks to the fine Academy Award winning performance that Jodie Foster gave ten years ago. Something tells me that she relied a great deal on the way Foster acted, not letting her own acting style form the character.
Gary Oldman is fun, though I thought the massive use of latex on his face was more noticeable. I love Oldman as an actor -- I would watch anything that he did ad nauseum. The only thing is that this is the first Oldman film that caused me to be nauseous on the first viewing.
And that brings me to the problem with this film's gore factor. I am not a person that is turned off of a film by outlandish gruesomeness; I just don't care for it when it's done in a carefree way. Films like Reservoir Dogs use violence as a part of the story - consider that film without the gun quinfecta - but it pains me to watch film in which gore and brutality is done in an exploitational way. The final act of this film is filled with scenes of extreme gruesomeness for the sake of gruesomeness. Hannibal might be a ten-year old's dream -- egad, a Hollywood film that glorifies violence -- but anyone looking for some fiendish fun with a spice of violent interplay might as well just rent The Silence of the Lambs instead of seeing Hannibal. I certainly wish I had.
[Postscript: Though it had no bearing on my
feelings about Hannibal, I knew something was wrong when Anthony Hopkins was
portrayed playing Bach's The Goldberg Variations. It's all fine and good if
he's playing it, but any Glenn Gould fan could recognize that it was a copy of his 1982
performance of The Goldberg Variations. At least give Hopkins a new version
or, in the least, have him actually play it!]
|The English Patient
(Dir: Anthony Minghella, Starring Ralph Fiennes, Kristen Scott Thomas, Juliette Binoche, Willem Dafoe, Naveen Andrews, Colin Firth, Julian Wadham, Jürgen Prochnow, Kevin Whatley, Clive Merrison, Nino Castelnuovo, Hichem Rostom, Peter Rühring, Geordie Johnson, Torri Higginson, Liisa Repo-Martell, Raymond Coulthard, Philip Whitchurch, and Lee Ross)
BY: DAVID PERRY
The English Patient opens on a biplane, making way over the North African desert as the image of a woman's back blends in with the curves of the sand. Two people are inside, one man, one woman -- within moments they crash. The woman is dead; the man is terribly scarred. For the rest of the film, memories are used to return to this moment of the timeline.
This man has very little memory of his life after this -- the only thing he brings with him into an Allied army hospital is a book of Herodotus, filled with writings and trinkets of the life he once lived. There are little things that still ring true -- the ability to speak German and English, the memory of a garden on the sea that either he or his wife once lived on -- but he cannot come up with much else. He is marked as English.
Luckily for him, there is a Canadian nurse named Hana (Binoche) on a mission, who takes him away from the front and cares for him in an abandoned monastery in Italy. Hana has been through some hard times in her life -- we are present to Hana learning of her lover's death on the field and see her as she watches her best friend blow up from a landmine. She sets up the place for the two of them, but soon finds the place has become a refuge for various occupants, including a Sikh bomb technician named Kip (Andrews), to whom she slowly falls in love with.
The disfigured man is Count Lazslo de Almásy (Fiennes), a Hungarian photographer for the British government, stationed in the desert to take photographs for the Royal Geographic Society. He is a man of few words, but has much to say -- one person on meeting him states "I wanted to meet the man who could write such a long paper with so few adjectives." This is his state after living a life that involved betrayal and infidelity. When he meets another photographer in the desert named Geoffrey Clifton (Firth), he quickly becomes friends before courting Clifton's wife Katherine (Scott Thomas).
Much of what makes The English Patient so remarkable is in the memories that take about half of the screen time. In that way, The English Patient is like Alain Resnais' Hiroshima, Mon Amour, Hirokazu Kore-eda's After Life, and Atom Egoyan's The Sweet Hereafter -- sometimes the most astounding feature of a film can be found in the back-stories. Notice that all of the directors I named are foreign born.
When critics complain that American films fail to establish characters, its films like these that make it so easy to feel slighted. These movies create strong, believable characters that an audience can follow and embrace. We are not being anti-Hollywood when we say that film like Red Planet or Pay It Forward lack the emotional depth of a fish tank, we are simply acknowledging the lack of characters of any redeemable bearing. Every person that settles on the screen in The English Patient is important and this truth is strengthened by the fact that the film's director/screenwriter Anthony Minghella is not afraid to allow every facet of them come to the fore.
This is literally a brilliant evocation of what movies can create on celluloid. When hundreds of abnormally talented people come together and create something like this, it should be noted without restraint. It's like having a Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Steinbeck, de Sade, and Conrad collaborate on a novel. Normally, I'd be upset that my choice for the best film of 1996, Fargo, did not win Best Picture at the Academy Awards, but I can certainly live with The English Patient as its alternate.
The English Patient is one of the finest films to
win Best Picture in the last decade. It is not as good as some of the other films of 1996
(where I support to no end Fargo, Secrets & Lies, and Breaking
the Waves over The English Patient), but it is still mesmerizing. It's a
finely detailed epic -- the type of film that David Lean would have made in his heyday.
And it has an adapted screenplay that is more involving than many of Lean's productions --
it is a flawless masterpiece of goodwill. When it ends, despite the generous helpings of
pain and anguish heaped on the audience, you are still left feeling good -- not
necessarily for everyone in the film, but that you have just been present to one of
cinema's greatest works.