> Volume 3 > Number 18

Volume 3, Number 18

This Week's Reviews:  The Mummy Returns, A Knight's Tale, Amores Perros.

This Week's Omissions:  Hit and Runaway, The Tailor of Panama.

The Mummy Returns

(Dir: Stephen Sommers, Starring Brendan Fraser, Rachel Weisz, Freddie Boath, John Hannah, Arnold Vosloo, Patricia Velazquez, Oded Fehr, Dwayne Johnson, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, and Donna Air)



The Mummy Returns is nothing more than another by the book, cliché-riddled action film that clefts from every action film from the last twenty-years in hopes that, maybe, a creation that is not awful would come about. Unfortunately, like its predecessor, The Mummy Returns is nothing but a flimsy amalgamation of dumb sequences to create the façade of something of value.

For some unknown reason, there is an audience for The Mummy Returns, undoubtedly the same people who thought the first was great fun. But I must disagree with the masses, The Mummy Returns seems old and stale, yet another concoction of fine films to make a single lousy one. I like most of the films that The Mummy Returns clefts from -- Apocalypse Now, E.T., Dr. Strangelove -- but none of the homages work; instead I was merely left thinking of the far superior films that I could be watching instead.

The film is set nine years after the first Mummy film, this way the producers can add a little kid to the story (kind of like the addition of Short Round to Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom). Rick (Fraser) and Evie (Weisz) are making a nice career out of finding treasures from the Egyptian temples and taking them home to their huge house of ancient oddities. Their 8-year-old boy Alex (Boath) is now with them to make even more trouble in the event that the spirits and the malicious attempts of others do not make Rick and Evie’s lives hard enough.

At the beginning of the film, we learn of an ancient warrior named the Scorpion King (Johnson) who won many battles only to see his entire army die in the hot deserts in search of someone to conquer after a failed raid days earlier. As the Scorpion King stands alone, the only remaining member of his army, he makes a deal with the evil spirits: in return for his rescue he will give them his soul. Unfortunately for him, after he lived his own life with a pack of panther warriors from the evil spirits, the Scorpion King is left dormant in his mirage home in the middle of the Gobi Desert.

The only way for the Scorpion King to return from his seclusion in the desert is if someone happens to put on his old bracelet -- an object that Rick and Evie happen to find in their latest excavation. Of course, as one might expect, their son puts on the bracelet and starts the chain of events that will lead to his resurrection. But he is not the only one brought into the attempt to bring back the Scorpion King -- an overzealous museum curator (and if that does not epitomize evil...) has found the reincarnation of Anck-Su-Namun (Velazquez) and brings back Im-Ho-Tep (Vosloo), the two badguys of the first film.

When the antagonists kidnap Alex to get his ability to find the Scorpion King with the bracelet, it becomes a race to get there first. Rick and Evie must enlist some companions from the first film, most notably the distinguishably ominous Ardeth Bay (Fehr) and Evie’s pompous brother Jonathan (Hannah) and hope that perhaps they may be the key to getting their son back.

Stephen Sommers is far from the best director in the world. Often it seems like he merely has shot some background and let his visual effects team do the rest. At one point in the film, two forces fight -- one real, one CGI -- and Sommers has the cast run around and wave swords without having a single casualty for the humans, the only wounds are of the pixilated kind -- evidently it would be too much trouble to actually setup people to get hurt during production.

But, in all actuality, The Mummy Returns is a much better film than the absolutely repugnant original in 1999. This sequel is a little more tongue-in-cheek and is a little more fun in the few moments in which it is not unnerving. This movie never really takes itself seriously and does not hide behind some sickening wide-eyed innocence that worked on some people two years ago. This is definitely not to say that The Mummy Returns is good, just better than the last. The former was trash; this one reminds me of a line used incredibly liberally in the original film that is never found in The Mummy Returns: hokum and flim-flammery.


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A Knight's Tale

(Dir: Brian Helgeland, Starring Heath Ledger, Mark Addy, Shannyn Sossamon, Rufus Sewell, Paul Bettany, Alan Tudyk, Laura Fraser, Christopher Cazenove, Bérénice Bejo, Leagh Conwell, Nick Brimble, and Roger Ashton-Griffiths)



A Knight's Tale opens with a medieval stadium hitting the beat to Queen's "We Will Rock You" as the song plays in the background. And, as Lester Bernham said, "it all goes downhill from here." This mundane little film has as much to offer as an empty margarita shaker. By the time the film finally ends, the audience has been through 132 minutes of listless smirks and repetitive jousting matches.

Heath Ledger has been chosen to lead this film for reasons that are completely beyond me. With only two major American releases to his name, a supporting performance in one (The Patriot), an ensemble member in the other (10 Things I Hate About You), I can only wonder what possessed Columbia to build an entire movie as well as ad campaign on a completely untested actor that really has little to offer. I'm sure that he'll bring in Tiger Beat subscribers (the PG-13 rating certainly helps), but there is nothing else to really create interest in the film both before and during the duration.

Ledger could very well turn out to be a major commodity in years to come -- he certainly seems to be on the right road at this moment in his career -- but he does not have the chops to pull off an entire film on his own shoulders. It should be no surprise that the few refreshing scenes in A Knight's Tale center supporting players and not Ledger.

Ledger is William Thatcher, a poor squire to an over-the-hill knight. When his employer dies in between fights at a jousting tournament, William decides to don his armor and take the next match for himself. He convinces his two old coworkers, the jolly Roland (Addy) and the quarrelsome Wat (Tudyk), to continue working as squires under him and they would divide the winnings evenly. Since William is a pauper and only nobility can joust, he finds a young writer by the name of Geoffrey Chaucer (Bettany) -- yes, you read that right -- to make a bill of nobility, a document that proves his lineage is of the finest breed. Now, William Thatcher the squire has become Ulrich von Liechtenstein of Guilderland the knight.

With his two squires, Chaucer as his announcer, and a young female blacksmith in his corner, William begins his run of winnings at the various tournaments in Europe -- excelling in both jousting and fighting with swords. Along the way, he finds an enemy to defeat and a love to woo; he is Count Adhemar (Sewell), she is Jocelyn (Sossamon), and neither of them is worth our time.

You can actually write a synopsis of the entire film without having seen it -- every nook and cranny is predestined from years of assembled clichés. Even the musical cues are easy to predict: their return to home in London is accompanied to Thin Lizzy's "The Boys are Back in Town," a sequence to prepare for a fight comes with War's Low Rider (if I'm not mistaken, the same use the song had in Gone in Sixty Seconds).

Despite the disdain for the music, there is something of note in the background: another fine score from Carter Burwell. Whenever director Brian Helgeland makes a mistake by turning to David Bowie's "Golden Years" and Bachman-Turner's "Takin' Care of Bussiness," the pain is only compounded when we hear the Burwell score that soon follows. It's like pointing out all the terrific scoring that we missed because Helgeland has some yearning to play some Sly & the Family Stone. Though, it should be pointed out that Burwell reuses a little of his own work -- much of the score is really similar to his recent work on commercials for New York Life. Of course, I can certainly understand saving some fine original work for a better film.

The anachronisms in this film are too many to mention and some of it's intentional, so I'm not going to really dwell on it -- I don't really condone it, but it seems to be part of the film's niche. Though, if I may say so myself, Monty Python and the Holy Grail was a closer telling of medieval life.

The real problem with A Knight's Tale is that there is nothing there to care about. The love affair is flat, the competition between William and Adhemar is by the book, the comedy is not funny (though, the only person that has anything to add is the occasionally funny Bettany playing Chaucer like a fop), and the action is boring. This film passes the 2-hour mark without containing a single interesting moment. It's not really painful to watch, just boring. A Knight's Tale is much more like a long sit in the waiting room than in the actual dentist's chair.

When the film ended I was reminded of the critical juncture for Brian Helgeland back in early 1998. He had just won a Best Screenplay Academy Award for co-writing L.A. Confidential and a Worst Screenplay Golden Raspberry for writing The Postman. Everyone wondered which of the two directions his career would go. I think we now know.


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Amores Perros

(Dir: Alejandro González Iñárritu, Starring Emilio Echevarría, Gael García Bernal, Goya Toledo, Álvaro Guerrero, Vanessa Bauche, Jorge Salinas, Marco Pérez, Rodrigo Murray, Humberto Busto, Gerardo Campbell, Rosa María Bianchi, Dunia Saldívar, Adriana Barraza, José Sefami, Lourdes Echevarría, and Laura Almela)



In preparing for the long awaited release of Amores Perros, I read constantly on it -- what was this film that has gained so much attention? In my search, I constantly heard references to one film: Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction. But that comparison is only skin deep; Amores Perros, the first film from Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu, has the style and structure of Tarantino's film, but replaced the criminally chic with the destitute.

For every Tarantino shot, Iñárritu turns to a just as reliable, but much more invigorating touch of Almodóvar and Buñuel. After the screening of the film, the first film mentioned was Steven Soderbergh's Traffic -- a very applicable comparison. But Iñárritu does as much with his own style as with the works of others. Scene for scene, he shows more talent than most veteran directors do. Amores Perros is not simply another movie; it is a benchmark in film history.

Ok, let me back up for a moment; with that last statement, I just opened myself up for some questioning that will, undoubtedly, come as a deserved mark of doubt. People heralded Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon last year as the movie that would forever change foreign films -- I agree, but that is merely in the world of mass appeal. Crouching Tiger is a very accessible foreign film and its ability to crossover is commendable, but I think that something should be said for Amores Perros, which will never receive the audience that came to Crouching Tiger, but will forever remain in the minds of art house goers that see it. It'll roll off the tongue of film snobs everywhere like Shoot the Piano Player and The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie -- you aren't one of the cool kids at the art house unless you've seen it.

At the beginning of Amores Perros, a car races through the streets of Mexico City and collides with another. For the next two and a half hours, Iñárritu shows three stories that are permanently hinged on this event.

The first is "Octavio and Susana," a story that is shown mostly before the crash. Octavio (Bernal) is the man behind the wheel of the speeding car, and the next series of events show how he got there. The Susana (Bauche) in question is his sister-in-law, a teenage mother married to Octavio's abusive brother Ramiro (Pérez). Octavio is smitten with Susana -- he dreams that one day he can take her away from all her worries, a bus ride that will free them of Ramiro and let them get away to raise Susana's son and the children that they can have together.

But Octavio is not of the social tier that can allow such actions. He is yet another youth living in Mexico City's impoverished sections. However, he has a way to make some money that might get him out of there: dog fighting. After a run-in with a local dog fighting champion, Octavio finds that his brother's dog Cofi is a very able fighter and begins fighting Cofi regularly and making a very nice amount of money do so. The only problem is that this is a sport that does not create true winners; it's a kill-or-be-killed sport that always leaves one dog -- and sometimes the owner -- sprawled on the floor bleeding to death.

The second story is "Daniel and Valeria," a story from a completely different socioeconomic view. Daniel (Guerrero) is a magazine editor, Valeria (Toledo) is a model -- their relationship is created by breaking Daniel apart from his wife and two daughters. This story is hinted to during the first, but only after the accident's reemergence do we really get to learn of their story. At first, everything seems great: Daniel has bought a posh apartment for the two to live in that has a great view of huge perfume ad Valeria graces. But the happiness crumbles the evening he unveils the apartment when Valeria is in the car crash from the beginning of the film.

Valeria has fractured and broken most of her right leg and must spend a considerable time with a metal device on and using a wheelchair and crutches to walk. She is now left to live in this apartment while Daniel goes away to his job -- the doctor bills are taking a huge chunk out of his finances to continue their standard of living. But, like an urban legend, while playing with her beloved Lhasa apso falls down a hole in their floor and does not come out. They can hear his whimpers from below occasionally, but cannot get him to come out. What happens, stemming from both the accident and the disappearance, marks their once rosy relationship with a deepening digression into love gone awry.

Throughout both stories, the film has occasionally glanced at a man that seems to be a hobo walking around the streets with a cart and a herd of stray dogs. In the third story "El Chivo and Maru," the only one that completely revolves around both before and after the car crash, that hobo's life is told -- he is actually a former revolutionary that has become a obsessed with following his daughter Maru (Lourdes Echevarría), who he left behind to fight 'the cause' and thinks he is dead. El Chivo (Emilio Echevarría; the character's name translates to 'The Goat') spends his days as an assassin for a longtime associate -- he is not in love with the job, but it allows him to survive. Dwelling on his story is the heart of remembering Amores Perros; it is far and away the one that retains the emotional core to an already incredible motion picture.

Iñárritu shows a strong dedication to his characters throughout the film. For a motion picture so high on style, it also allows each individual to exact their charge on the audience throughout the film. In a heightening of importance, each story explores their characters in a fashion that allows the audience to understand and empathize with their situations. Editors Luis Carballar, Fernando Pérez Unda, and Iñárritu keep the characters memorable and traceable despite occasional disappearances from the screen -- Octavio's story is nowhere to be seen for nearly 45 minutes yet remains in mind throughout.

Culling together a fine cast -- it is remarkable how often we forget to turn to the many great actors south of the border -- Iñárritu has made one of the year's best films; Amores Perros' addition to the Academy Award shortlist for Best Foreign Language Film is a much deserved notice for the film, which should be seen be everyone except the most extreme dog lover's (I'd be hard pressed to think of another film that more often and more believably displays dead dogs). Amores Perros is the first film to make me feel like I did when I finished Requiem for a Dream last year -- not only do I feel the depression of the story unfolding, but also the awe of seeing a fine film.


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Upcoming Outlooks:  This looks to be one the more lackluster summers ever.  It is not necessarily due to a lack of interesting films, but that all the interesting films are not big summer movies.   This season may surprise me, but I seriously doubt that there will be another Gladiator this summer.  I'll take a look at each of the four months that make up the Summer movie season and what films I can't wait for (keep in mind that the month is based on NY & LA release and may not even come near me).


Pearl Harbor:  Call me a traitor, but I'm going to take off my Jerry Bruckheimer/Michael Bay Denouncer Club pin as I enter Pearl Harbor.  I would not be surprised if the trailer is better than the actual film in this case, but I'm going to try it out anyway.  It's tough to take away the effect of Pearl Harbor, though if anyone could do it that man would be Michael Bay.

Moulin Rouge:  I know many people that scoff at this, but I seriously think that Moulin Rouge could very well be the best big-budget film this Summer.  I did not like Baz Luhrmann's reworking of Romeo + Juliet in 1996, but the masterful trailer for the film takes me back to Cabaret.

A Knight's Tale:  I really cannot stand the fact that Sony has attempted to build this film merely on its star, the untested Heath Ledger, which tells me that we are looking at nothing more than a film to raise Ledger as a major star.  Nevertheless, the presence of Brian Helgeland (co-writer, L.A. Confidential) gives me enough to get me in the door.

Bread and Roses:  Ken Loach's Cannes entry last year finally comes to the states this May.  I'll see it, surely, but I have this weird feeling about the English Loach making a film set in L.A.

Brother:  I will follow Takeshi Kitano anywhere, even in this American debut with Omar Epps.

The Man Who Cried:  Anyone that reads my rantings regularly should know by now my feelings on Cate Blanchett.  Add to this the fact that Sally Potter (Orlando) is behind the lens and you have a major art house commodity for me.

Eureka:  After a Spring filled with screeners from Shooting Gallery Films, they chose to ask that critics only see this one in theatres.  Considering the pre-release buzz and reviews from Cannes last year, I'm sure that I'll thanks them for saving the joy for the theatrical experience.


A.I.:  If this were still the child of Stanley Kubrick, I'd be on pins and needles right now, but not with Spielberg behind the camera now.  I'll be there, for sure, but I have this horrible fear of sentimentality.

SwordfishGone in Sixty Seconds was my big guilty pleasure last year -- perhaps director Dominic Sena will do it again with this internet-driven action film (though the memories of Hackers and the recent Antitrust do not help it).

Baby Boy:  After Shaft last year I was fearful of John Singleton's future, but this return to the themes in Boyz in the Hood could be his return to grace.

Sexy Beast:  Slick and stylistic, this Ben Kinsley and Ray Winstone film could be one of the great eye-popping films this year.   That is, if Fox Searchlight gives it the expected wide release.

Rat Race:  I have deep doubts about this film, but the fact that it is based on It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World will be enough to get me in -- though I cannot promise it'll be enough to keep me from leaving.

The Anniversary Party:  I know very little about this film, but the idea of a film written and directed by Alan Cummings and Jennifer Jason Leigh, two of the best actors under 40, is certainly enough to spark my interest.

Everybody Famous!:  I'm a sucker for Best Foreign Language Film nominees at the Academy Awards and this is no exception.  One Belgian reader has already made it clear that I cannot miss it.

Divided We Fall:  Same thing as Everybody Famous! -- Divided We Fall was the Czech Republic's nominee for Best Foreign Language Film last year.  Plus, it has an interesting World War II plot.

The Princess and the Warrior:  It's been nearly 2 years since Run Lola Run, but I still cannot help but imagine that there's something else of note to come from director Tom Tykwer.  Word has it this is not it, but I'll still give it a whirl.


Planet of the Apes:  Normally I'd have fears of a remake of Planet of the Apes, but with Tim Burton directing this is sure to be a whole new Planet of the Apes.

Jurassic Park III:  Besides the stigmas of director Joe Johnston and Lost World: Jurassic Park, this second sequel to the terrific 1993 Steven Spielberg adventure film looks to be a monstrocity.  But, hey, at least I can listen to the fine rewritten dialogue by John August (Go) and Alexander Payne (Election).

The Score:  Frank Oz directing a Lem Dobbs caper film, hmm, could be a masterpiece or a respectable mistake.  At least I can watch Robert DeNiro and Marlon Brando, the two actors behind Vito Corleone, together at last.

Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within:  I'm a huge denouncer of CGI, but this film, entirely made out of CGI, looks really impressive even if its video game roots makes me wonder what I'm getting into.

The Affair of the Necklace:  Jonathan Pryce, Brian Cox, and Christopher Walken all in a historical drama -- who cares if it's bad, at least I get to see these three together.

Baise-Moi (Rape Me):  Dividing critics around the world, this story of female rapists sounds interesting and definately French.


Captain Corelli's Mandolin:  The trailer looks horrible, but there is still a chance that John Madden's first film since Shakespeare in Love could be breathtaking.  Here's hoping that he can get a Pedro Almodóvar performance out of Penélope Cruz, not a Ted Demme or a Billy Bob Thornton.

Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back:  This does not look to be Smith's crowning moment, but it could deliver some laughs.

Osmosis Jones:  Oh, dear, the Farrelly's latest sounds, well, different.  Bill Murray eats contaminated monkey siliva and his body tries to stop it.  The latter story is told in the form of a cartoon.   Could be, uh, inetersting.

The Curse of the Jade Scorpion:  This year's Woody Allen film sounds like a return to the kooky period comedy of Manhattan Murder Mystery and Bullets Over Broadway, but, of course, it could be another Shadows and Fog.

The Deep End:  The post-Sundance buzz on this film is decidedly high -- plus the cinematography award means that this will certainly look good.

Original Sin:  At first glance, this looks passable at best, but I'm in simply for the Cornell Woolrich story it's based on.

Raw Deal: A Question of Consent:  The frat-house crime caught-on-tape sounds like it could very well be the year's most intersting documentary.

Heist:  Fresh off of State and Main, a return to crime for David Mamet sounds really intriguing.

Apocalypse Now Redux: 53 more minutes of Francis Ford Coppola's revolutionary Apocalypse Now -- oh, yes, I'm there.

Reviews by:
David Perry