Volume 3, Number 15
This Week's Reviews: Faithless, Josie and the Pussycats, The Caveman's Valentine.
This Week's Omissions: Bridget Jones's Diary, Joe Dirt, Kingdom Come.
(Dir: Liv Ullmann, Starring Lena Endre, Krister Henriksson, Erland Josephson, Thomas Hanzon, Michelle Gylemo, Juni Dahr, Philip Zandén, Thérèse Brunnander, Marie Richardson, Stina Ekblad, Johan Rabaeus, Jan-Olef Strandberg, Björn Granath, and Gertrud Stenung)
BY: DAVID PERRY
With Faithless (Trolösa) Ingmar Bergman writes his 15th screenplay for someone other than himself (all things considered, Bergman has written and/or directed 71 films), and this time he returns to deliver a script for former muse, former lover Liv Ullmann. The two worked previously on the 1996 masterpiece Private Confessions, which still has not received the American release that it deserves (though, might I add, that America has still not seen the final directorial effort from Bergman, 1997's In the Presence of a Clown).
But, what really marks Faithless is that is so much more than could ever be expected. It falls under the heading of late masterpieces from elder masters. I only wish that Bergman could have directed Faithless, it definitely has a feel like his later works, so either he has taught Ullmann well or he deserves a little extra credit.
Private Confessions was a return to Bergman's semi-autobiographical film The Best Intentions, now Faithless is a reworking of his own Scenes from a Marriage with the addition of some of his own life. Twenty-one years her elder, Bergman and Ullmann had a love affair between his fourth and fifth marriage, and you can certainly feel their once alive affair and the cordiality that they still have for each other. To consider this type of project in the future for Billy Bob Thornton and Laura Dern would be futile.
The film begins with our aged writer (Josephson; who is credited as 'Bergman' in the credits) looking back on his past. When he begins to talk to a woman, seemingly a figment of his imagination, he are taken to consider that this is merely a meeting between a writer and the character of his next novel. But this relationship is much more than that: he is a part of her story, or at least a younger version of him. Ingmar Bergman and Liv Ullmann chooses to leave this up in the air, we do not really know whether the film's Bergman is in reality part of her past or has projected himself into her story to make his own incarnation of a novel or, more likely, a film that he will one day direct.
This woman is Marianne (Endre) and she has quite a tale to tell her auteur. She was happily married to productive symphony composer Markus (Hanzon) and seemed content with the life he has given her and their child Isabelle (Gylemo). But something happens one evening when Markus is away. His old friend David (Henriksson) visits and makes a request to Marianne to sleep with her. At first she laughs, thinking it is a joke, but then she sees that he is serious. They do sleep together, but in the most virtuous of ways, lying side-by-side in their pajamas. They do not commit adultery that evening, but on a trip abroad some time later, they do and become regular lovers.
They do not have a plan for their affair; they just have the regular tryst whenever they think that Markus will not be able to catch on. He does, and they must then deal with her burgeoning love for David, the possessive elements of Markus, and the young daughter caught in between. All this is divulged to the old man in his little beachfront home. He has a desperate interest in this story -- occasionally he cannot sleep because his mind is bent on Marianne's story -- and you too feel that he has more in this little tale than as a messenger to take it from Marianne's mouth to a written form.
One of the best parts of Faithless is the lead performance from Lena Endre, who gives a performance comparable to those that Bergmans ladies often gave. This is the type of character and performance that Bibi Andersson, Ingrid Thulin, Pernilla August, Harriet Andersson, and even Liv Ullmann. When actresses complain that there are not enough great characters for them, they should only learn Swedish, cross the Atlantic and fight to get in an Ingmar Bergman film. It can only help them in the long run.
By far, Faithless is one of the finest films made in the
past couple years from the highly prolific Scandinavians. Anyone that feel that the von
Trier/Dogme films show the only form of Scandinavian filmmaking need only look at Marleen
Gorris' Antonia's Line or these late films from Ingmar Bergman with Liv Ullmann
as his substitute behind the camera. These films are soft and slow, and yet deliver as
substantial a dramatic punch as any Dancer in the Dark or Mifune or Breaking
the Waves. With every nuance, Faithless delves into a human psyche and
recreates it in a fashion that any attentive person can comprehend. In this world of pushy
films thrusting their tones and morales onto unknowing viewers, it is a treat to have
something that lets the audience take everything in without running out of breath.
|Josie and the Pussycats
(Dir: Harry Elfont and Deborah Kaplan, Starring Rachael Leigh Cook, Rosario Dawson, Tara Reid, Alan Cumming, Parker Posey, Gabriel Mann, Paulo Costanzo, Missi Pyle, Tom Butler, Alexander Martin, Seth Green, Breckin Meyer, Donald Faison, Dion Johnstone, Harry Elfont, and Russ Leatherman)
BY: DAVID PERRY
You know something is wrong when all the fun of a film has disappeared within the first 15 minutes. Josie and the Pussycats has a terrific opening, taking aim on the pop boy bands with their own called DuJour. For about a quarter of an hour, we get to watch the reactions of those devoted to DuJour and their unquestionably bad song "Backdoor Lover" and the love-hate relationship that they have outside of the public eye. Breckin Meyer and Seth Green headline the little fights that ensue, throwing out lines at each other that scream improvisation, with Meyer showing that he is still the king of improv on the silver screen.
But then, in one fleeting, and admittedly funny moment, their manager Wyatt Frame (Cumming) joins the pilot of their jet in evacuating and leave the boy band to crash in a now parachute-less airplane (the next occurrence, which is explained in the finale, was one of the few post-DuJour laughs in the film). It seems that these four dumb crooners (as a side note, one of them is played by Dean Martin's grandson Alexander) figured out that Wyatt placed some sort of messages in the background of their songs -- in fact, as we soon learn, they are subliminal messages meant to convince malleable teenagers to buy their albums and follow whatever trends he and his boss Fiona (Posey) decide are important to endorse.
But, with their boy wonders MIA, Wyatt and Fiona must go on the search for a new band to use for their crass commercialism in the form of music. As fate would have it, they find just what they are looking for in the sublime city of Riverdale. Playing in two-bit gigs like a bowling ally, The Pussycats, as they call themselves, are more or less the butt of jokes for those girls going around Riverdale singing to "Backdoor Lover." But all that changes when Josie (Cook), Melody (Reid), and Val (Dawson) are chosen by Wyatt to be his new moneymakers.
But, of course, there has to be some problems to stem from this -- especially considering that both Melody and Val have some doubts about Wyatt's good intentions -- and Fiona and Wyatt set out to create a divide in the band, beginning with the new name: Josie and the Pussycats.
This is one of those films in which by the end of the film you are merely thankful for the good parts, disregarding those many bad ones. I liked Cumming, who oozed with a satisfactory haughtiness, and felt that, until the sad attempt at humor at the expense of his character's persona, he was one of the film's brightest parts. After his small, but memorable role in Spy Kids a couple weeks ago, it stands to believe that he may come out with a breakthrough role -- not this redeux of Richard E. Grant's role in Spice World. I liked him here but I'd rather see him as a smarmy Willy Wonka in the Robert Rodriguez film.
As for Parker Posey, the independent film princess is again showing that she can make the most out of characters, especially in this film where she has been given a character flimsier than the acting of Freddie Prinze, Jr. I love Posey, and continually support her in the various efforts she brings out, but this is a step down for her. Not necessarily pejorative -- I have no doubt that she does better than anyone else could have -- but a career choice that may haunt her for the years to come. I mean, when in the script did a bulimic music executive sound like a nice role to take?
Nevertheless, the real threat is from the three ladies in the lead roles. Cook and Dawson have never been much for acting -- the single moment of note for Dawson was in Spike Lee's He Got Game and Cook has certainly stayed in line with all the bad films she has made so far (including, but not isolated to She's All That, Get Carter, and Antitrust) -- but this only serves as furthur proof that you cannot count on Tara Reid after she gives you something worthwhile in a film. Though I had never really thought about it, a recent conversation with film critic Alex Fung brought to mind the nice moments in Reid's career. Beyond the pleasant little performances in American Pie and The Big Lebowski, it is tough to consider the real mistakes she has made based on the terrific work she gave in last year's Dr. T & the Women. Here, she is merely an aimless, blurry-eyed idealist -- quite the opposite of her Connie in Dr. T, both in type of character and in worth of performance.
Josie and the Pussycats is the second feature for
Elfont and Kaplan, and their greenhorn grasp of the camera shows throughout. They may have
brought back four of their actors from Can't Hardly Wait (all of whom play the
members of DuJour -- which makes me wonder why Ethan Embry did not appear as a fifth
DuJour member) but they fail to have taken anything that might have stood as notable
direction. Carried by the efforts of cinematographer Matthew Libatique, who gives the film
some camera shots that it does not deserve, the film becomes an amalgamation of bad camera
moments and great camera moments. It's like having Ed Wood work the camera on a Sam
Peckinpah film. Pejorative indeed.
|The Caveman's Valentine
(Dir: Kasi Lemmons, Starring Samuel L. Jackson, Aunjanue Ellis, Colm Feore, Jay Rodan, Ann Magnuson, Damir Andrei, Tamara Tunie, Pater MacNeill, Rodney Eastman, Anthony Michael Hall, Kate McNeil, Leonard Thomas, Pierre Alcide, Richard Fitzpatrick, Sean MacMahon, and Vija Brigita Grosgalvis)
BY: DAVID PERRY
In The Caveman's Valentine, director Kasi Lemmons takes her moody filmmaking tactics to create a genre picture. Of course, as anyone would guess from her film debut, 1997's Eve's Bayou, you could expect that her view of the genre would be somewhat fractured. And it is, this time the Colombo of the mystery story (he even has a ragged overcoat on) is a homeless man that looks like Elvis Mitchell of The New York Times and Forrest Whitaker in Battlefield Earth. Not only does he have this leonine look, but he also rants on everything he can think of, most of which is the fault of imaginary villain Cornelius Gould Stuyvesant (probably named after past New York socialites Cornelius Vanderbilt, Jay Gould, and Peter Stuyvesant) who lives up in the Chrysler Building.
When the film opens, the homeless man, perfectly named Romulus (Jackson), deals with everything thrown out at him on one little walk -- whether it be the requests of a civil servant (who, he believes, must work for Stuyvesant) or the graffiti "Help Me" on the wall of a building (which leaves him wondering who would really think he was the best person to help them). By the end of the evening, he has been through yet another day of tirades and goes to sleep in his little opening in a cave he has found in Bryant Park, perfectly in the view of the Chrysler Building.
But he has a vision that evening, on his television (which is not connected to anything), he sees two men with no faces placing a body onto a tree limb outside his home. The next morning, he stands under the tree, looks up, and finds the dead body of his one-time acquaintance Scotty (MacMahon) sitting there in a frozen peace. The police come and take Romulus' statement, where his daughter, a young NYPD policewoman, confronts him on the ravings and how they are still hurting even into adulthood. He desperately loves Lulu (Ellis) and sees her as the only connection he still has with his long estranged wife.
Romulus happens on one of Scotty's old friends and makes a promise to find whoever killed Scotty. The police have decided that his death was merely the normal end to the homeless: dying of hypothermia in the rugged New York winter. But Romulus does not believe this, he saw Stuyvesant's lackeys placing Scotty's body up there and knows he is destined to discover the real reason for Scotty's demise and finally bring down the power of Stuyvesant.
His detective work leads Romulus to the home David Leppenraub (the always dependable Feore), an avant-garde photographer that used Scotty as his main subject. Leppenraub has something to hide and Romulus is passionate about figuring out this secret of Leppenraub's. When at Leppenraub's country home under the pretense of a piano player (in his youth, Romulus attended Julliard to hone his piano writing and made a friend who is now one of Leppenraub's dearest associates), Romulus finds two connections into the Leppenraub world: Moira (Magnuson), his seductress sister, and Joey, his surrogate muse after the death of Scotty.
The Caveman's Valentine plays like a film noir along the lines of Mike Hammer but with its own niche. I respect Kasi Lemmons for taking on the genre in such a way even though at times the marriage of styles does not work. There are moments that really come alive, like the occasional views of the world inside Romulus' head, but there are times when the audience is only left to wonder the importance of certain events. I do not think that any of the problems stem from Lemmons' direction or Amelia Vincent's cinematography, but in the cliché-ridden screenplay by George Dawes Green (based on his own novel). The actual mystery seems about as intriguing as Along Came a Spider or The Juror (which Green also wrote). To tell the truth, had his character not been such an Olympian and had Lemmons not infused it with a perfect style, the scenarios would be as predictable as a teen sex comedy.
But, regardless of the flawed script or the perfect
direction, what really marks this film is the commanding performance from Samuel L.
Jackson. Over the last couple years, people have come to notice Jackson far beyond what
would have been expected back when his entire following was from nameless but memorable
turns in Jurassic Park, Jungle Fever, and Do the Right Thing.
Now, he is deservedly a marquee name and it is hard to catch him doing roles that really
push him as performer like he used to take. As cool as he may have been in Shaft,
that was nothing compared to the acting that he threw out in Pulp Fiction, A
Time to Kill, and Losing Isaiah. The Caveman's Valentine is the
first film in a great while that really pushes him and I can only embrace him for it.
While I do have some respect for his recent supporting turn in Unbreakable, it is
this lead character that shows his artist inside again. But, of course, no one will see
his masterful job in this film, so I suppose that they'll just have to remark on his
'range' shown in Rules of Engagement last year. Oh well, maybe someday they'll
catch what they have missed.