Volume 3, Number 10
This Week's Reviews: 15 Minutes.
Video Reviews: Black Narcissus.
This Week's Omissions: Get Over It, The Million Dollar Hotel.
(Dir: John Herzfeld, Starring Ed Burns, Karel Roden, Oleg Taktarov, Robert De Niro, Kelsey Grammer, Vera Farmiga, Melina Kanakaredes, Sophia Alexis, Avery Brooks, Kim Cattrall, John DiResta, and Tygh Runyan)
BY: DAVID PERRY
When Andy Warhol promised everyone 15 minutes of fame, little did he know that he would open the door for a film as bad as 15 Minutes. Warhol was not a perpetuator of taste (without a doubt, the film's he produced are some of the worst ever made), but I think even he would feel bad that something like 15 Minutes came about thanks to him. Sure, it is not as bad as Flesh for Frankenstein or Batman Fights Dracula, but it is certainly in the same ballpark.
15 Minutes is yet another big budget film attempting to serve as some social commentary in the midst of a story that could not be more protracted. The idea for the film is not horrible, but the end product is. Where other films like The China Syndrome, Network, and Silkwood had something to say and knew how to say it, 15 Minutes has something to say but hasn't any knowledge of what to do with it. The characters are flat, the scenerios are uninteresting, and the direction is flimsy. It is one of those films that could have been a fine wine and instead turns out to be orange Tang. It lacks all the nuances normally found in serious dramas while hopping up the adrenaline moments -- only to miss out on the fact that those adrenaline moments are not that thrilling.
The film follows two Eastern Europeans -- we know, if they have an accent, they're evil -- as they make their rounds killing people and filming the murders in New York. After killing a former confidant, Czech Emil (Roden) becomes enticed by the American crime pedestal. Where else could a name like Jeffrey Dahmer become legend with shows like Jerry Springer en route to a book and film deal of their stories? As a news rack patron says, "it pays to be a killer in America." This is perfect for Emil's Russian friend Oleg (Taktarov), who dreams of living in the shoes of Frank Capra -- the director that created stories of the little man.
So they go around with an arsenal of guns, knives, and explosives (though the situations that lead to their acquiring of the gun and knife lead me to wonder how they got so many explosives) -- all the while, Oleg holding a digital camera he stole within moments of arriving in the city. This makes for a perfect cooperation of murderers and media -- a tabloid show called Top Story (which could very well be the same tabloid show Gail Weathers worked for in Scream) has an anchor (Grammer) that would pay them top dollar for the tape of their actions.
Enter Eddie Flemming (De Niro), a cocky media-whore New York cop. He has made a second occupation out of getting the most out of his connection -- which includes Top Story anchor Hawkins and on-location reporter Nicolette (Kanakaredes).
But he is not the cop that the fame would make you think. For that reason, he needs upstart fire inspector Jordy Warsaw (Burns) to help him. They are merely after the murderers of a homicide made to look like an accidental death in a fire, having no earthly idea that they are really after sociopath bent on the fame and fortune that might come from their snuff film.
So much of this film fails. The social commentary fails; the overwrought dramatics fail; the poorly edited action sequences fail; the repugnant score (by Anthony Marinelli and J. Peter Robinson) fails; the uneven romantic subplots (Eddie with Nicolette and Jordy with a murder witness) fail. When the credits finally role, only one thing seems to have worked: De Niro. He may have little to add in the film's action sequences, but in two particular moments (one involving his impending marriage proposal to Nicolette, the other involving his view of the media) he shines. He has been on a downward trajectory in choosing dramatic films as of late, but his performances are not hurting too much.
But that is certainly not true for Ed Burns, who has yet to give a performance that did not feel like the work of a former Entertainment Tonight intern. He was just not born to act and I'd really appreciate it if he'd quit. People seem to like his screenplays (myself not included), so I think it would be better for everyone involved if he retired from acting and went to screenwriting for good. How is it that greats like Katherine Hepburn and Olivia de Havilland retire and worthless people like Edward Burns and Freddie Prinze, Jr., continue to work despite our grumbling?
Director John Herzfeld could have done much better -- in
fact he has done something better, the 1996 film 2 Days in the Valley (that
film's poster child, Charlize Theron, gives Herzfeld a cameo here). Now, that film is not
great, but it did work in dealing with its ensemble without falling flat within moments of
its departure. 15 Minutes is a frenetic and mind numbing mess. I sat for nearly
100 minutes before the film had one great moment -- a tongue-in-cheek addition to the
screen in an otherwise listless climax. That touch -- a wink to the film's movie obsessed
character -- made me think, though. It cleared the mind for a film that could have been
far superior, one made more in the style of Jim Jarmusch than Michael Bay. But, of course,
how much fame comes to the directors that make films in the vein of Jarmusch?
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Video Reviews: With only one release, it has become common for me to take a look at something from the past -- films that I have long wanted to take on or have finally had a chance to see. The latter is the case with Black Narcissus, a Powell/Pressburger film that has long been on my must-see list with the likes of Cabaret and The Tokyo Story. When Chuck Dowling of the Jacksonville Film Journal sent me the Criterion DVD of Black Narcissus, I was head over heels -- not only was I about to finally embark on this film, but also had a pristine DVD transfer and a Michael Powell/Martin Scorsese interview. As Louis Armstrong said, "what a wonderful world."
(Dir: Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, Starring Deborah Kerr, David Farrar, Kathleen Byron, Flora Robson, Jenny Laird, Judith Furse, Sabu, Jean Simmons, Esmond Knight, May Hallatt, Eddie Whaley, Jr., Shaun Noble, Nancy Roberts, and Ley On)
BY: DAVID PERRY
While pious, nuns on film seem to have one real priority, to let out that inner showboat. That's right, nuns couldn't care less about remaining in their wimple -- they want to sing, they want to dance, they want be Whoopi Goldberg in Sister Act. This is the façade that movies have created. Makes for some good comedies and musicals (The Sound of Music) and even the occasional television interlude (The Flying Nun), but the use of the convent does kind of demean the whole idea of a nunnery. Hamlet told Ophelia to go to a nunnery when the madness was occurring in Elsinore -- I doubt he meant for her to become a sassy lady dressed in black, singing of the hills and dreaming of flying. For heaven's sake, where in the world did Nunsense come from?
But this hokum is not what Emeric Pressburger and Michael Powell would stand for -- they made a career out of creating realistic portrayals of people, often in irregular scenarios. One of their finest moments was A Matter of Life and Death (now called Stairway to Heaven), a tale that worked with a genuine love story in the midst of a heavenly mix-up. Could the elasticity of death really happen -- regretfully no, but it does make for an intriguing way to look at human behavior.
The same pragmatism is found in their Black Narcissus, a story of five nuns and their thoughts, fears, and, in some cases, declines while working in a Himalayan mission. They are very prim, very English, a complete opposite to the very colorful, very archaic locals. They clash, as would be expected, but they are there as servants of God and accept this as their place. At least, that is their intent -- some of them begin to look back at themselves and even consider a different route with their lives.
At the center is Sister Clodagh (Kerr), who was placed in charge of the mission despite her youth and inexperience. The mother superior does not like the thought of Sister Clodagh taking over such a heavy task -- this same mission had been abandoned by monks earlier -- and fears of her impending failure, but hasn't the clout to go above the order. As an act of faith, the mother superior chooses the nuns that will go with Sister Clodugh, including a loving, gentle Sister Honey (Laird), an elderly, wise Sister Briony (Furse), and a sickly, frightened Sister Ruth (Byron). Sister Clodagh requests a retraction of Sister Ruth's order, but cannot get it.
So they take over this place, much to the chagrin of Angu Ayah (Hallatt), the overlord of the majestic building they will use. The general in charge of the Himalayan town is very supportive of this mission, giving them the domicile and even paying the children of the town to seek schooling there. He yearns for the Catholic faith to bring intellect and medicine to his town. His liaison to the mission is a Mr. Dean (Farrar), who seems to be the only other Western occupant in the entire area. Dean seems to have a certain attraction to Sister Clodagh and it seems to be returned somewhat, though her vows of chastity and the repulsion that comes from his drunken brutishness keep her from acting on this appeal.
She is morally strong -- her vows, an out spurt of her lost love in Ireland, relegate any immoral act that could ever come to her life. For that reason, she is the best person to run this mission; her faith can lead her on the divine way. The only problem is that she cannot quell the loss of morality that is going on around her.
One of the reasons that Powell and Pressburger were such an incredible pairing is that they each had their own interest in the filmmaking process. The more media art minded Powell strove to create images that would jump off the screen and forever etch themselves into the audience's mind. He was then grounded by the more literary minded Pressburger, who would keep the stories closer to real life than Powell would do for the sake of imagery. Case in point, Powell's lone effort on Peeping Tom, which serves much more in its style than in its realism.
Black Narcissus remains as genuine as possible for its entire length while creating visuals that have become the precedence for some notable films since. The close-ups on lipstick splattered lips and a pale face would later be seen in William Friedkin's The Exorcist; the finale is definitely a precursor to Alfred Hitchcock's similar ending in Vertigo. Black Narcissus, under the two geniuses, kept its story straight while becoming a spark for many filmmakers since. It should be no surprise that Martin Scorsese used this film as a jumping point when making The Last Temptation of Christ, another film that takes a pious individual and sets them in the most human persuasions. A dream of running off with Mary Magdalene in the Scorsese film is very much in key with Kerr's own memories of her one true love (thinking back on it, that scene's camerawork -- turning from a joyous young lady to her disappearance into an abyss of black -- is one of the most stunning of all film shots).
I remember Scorsese being quoted some time ago that when he
first saw Black Narcissus, he was not sure that he had seen the best film ever
made, but had seen something revolutionary. His feelings are the same as nearly anyone
that has ever seen this film.
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