Volume 3, Number 20
This Week's Reviews: Angel Eyes, Shrek.
This Week's Omissions: NONE.
(Dir: Luis Mandoki, Starring Jennifer Lopez, Jim Caviezel, Sonia Braga, Terrence Howard, Jeremy Sisto, Victor Argo, Shirley Knight, Alfonso Arau, J.J. Evans, Monet Mazur, and Danny Magder)
BY: DAVID PERRY
In what must be one of the most manipulative tearjerkers to come around since When a Man Loves a Woman, Luis Mandoki's Angel Eyes spends nearly 100 minutes trying to convince the audience that the film is not another predictable mess and fails in its attempt.
Surely there was some sort of surprise that I missed -- Angel Eyes is receiving reviews that seems incredibly kind for such a clichéd film. There is a final soliloquy that seems to have come from the same people of disrepute that made Pay It Forward. Yeah, the film does take a couple turns that seem against the grain, but the way these decisions are resolved stand incredulously close to the preordained story arcs that plague melodramas. Director Mandoki spends the duration of the film making it into five different genres, only to let it settle into the genre-o-crap by the last resounding misstep.
Jennifer Lopez makes this her latest attempt at pop culture domination -- not since Madonna circa 1990 has someone seemed to be everywhere. She does another quaint job in Angel Eyes -- it is definitely hard to believe that there would even be a film had she not signed on. And this is not necessarily a bad thing; Lopez is a fine actress in her own right.
The big problem, though, is that everything seems form-fitted around her character. A late in the film confrontation looks and feels like that of a writer attempting to meet the criteria of a major star's dramatic moment. In this money-hungry time of the year, I'm looking for some understated performances -- the ones that William H. Macy and Philip Seymour Hoffman give -- only to have to settle with a star role and a dewy-eyed loner.
Lopez is Sharon Pogue, a tough Chicago cop that has come to the point in her life where nothing seems worthwhile. After calling her father in on domestic abuse 10 years earlier, she has no family to turn to and her co-workers are far from confidantes. She's even tired of the way people ask if she ever killed anyone instead of asking if she's ever saved anyone.
But Sharon has saved people, and she would love to share that feeling with people. As fate would have it, one of the people she saved has returned back into her life even though neither of them know of their past. This man is Catch (Caviezel), who has few memories of the life he lived before a wreck that had Sharon saving his life. Now a year later, he stands looking through the window of a coffee shop, staring at Sharon, sure he has seen her from somewhere. Moments later, Sharon has a gun to her face and it is Catch that saves her.
They are brought together from there: he, whose life has become merely a day-to-day walk through the city, has found a kindred soul; she has someone that she can confide in. But everything, of course, cannot remain rosy; several contrivances later, they are off-and-on lovers, though she still has learned nothing of his past.
I did not hate Angel Eyes, just continued to become more and more infuriated by it. Mandoki has made a career out of these melodramas -- his Message in a Bottle and When a Man Loved a Woman are far about as melodramatic as films come -- and it is easy to tell by this film that he is rather good at it. The direction, though flawed at times, shows a great deal of promise even if the actual drama unfolding is ho-hum. Mandoki hasn't really taken the time to create any tension or believability in his film, though he does shoot it well.
There is one moment in the film that especially stands out for me. About halfway through the film, as their romance is budding, the film delves into a sex scene that could make a list of the most out-of-place sex scenes of film history. Please, I know that Mandoki felt that he had to show some of Lopez's skin to meet the demands of men forced to sit through the film with their dates, but couldn't he have done it in a fashion that was not so garish?
Lopez does a nice job, even if her adoration is a little overextended in this film. The real flaw is the casting of Jim Caviezel, who seemed to have a chance to become a major actor three years ago and has finally come to this moment in his career. When I saw Caviezel and Adrian Brody in 1998's The Thin Red Line, I was sure that I was looking at two men that would have huge careers. Now, instead, I'm watching Caviezel playing the umpteenth bothered soul (wearing, what looks to be, the same clothes he wore in Pay It Forward) and preparing for Brody in, of all things, a Ken Loach film. Who would have thought that Vin Diesal would be the only unknown from 1998's two World War II films (The Thin Red Line and Saving Private Ryan) to became a rather recognizable actor?
Angel Eyes is not necessarily a horrible film --
it's just abnormally flawed. There's something in it that feels like it could have worked
under different circumstances. It's just too bad that Luis Mandoki never found those
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(Dir: Andrew Adamson and Vicky Jenson, Voices include Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz, John Lithgow, Chris Miller, Vincent Cassel, Jim Cummings, and Tommy Karlsen)
BY: DAVID PERRY
Growing up I remember watching a series of shorts that would come on amidst Rocky and Bullwinkle adventures called Fractured Fairytales. Each time, Edward Everett Horton would narrate some revisionist version of a famous fairytale and make it a little more satirical (well, satirical enough for the mind of a 7-year-old). I have little doubt that these same stories filled the young minds of Shrek's screenwriters and shaped lofty aspirations that would become this sometimes biting, often funny fairytale gone awry.
Shrek, like Airplane!, Scary Movie, and The Naked Gun, attempts to make jest of its own genre. For this film, Disney is the predecessor and The Mouse House serves as the primary butt of their jokes. A cuddly bluebird sings a different tune, a king's castle bears way too close a resemblance to Disney World, and we learn that even though Snow White lives with seven men, "she's not easy."
The protagonist of the story is Shrek, an ogre, who would in other stories serve as the villain. But Shrek is just as endearing as he is ghastly. Brought to life through the voice of Mike Myers; Shrek seems a loner with intrigue, a completely different antisocial character from the gloomy one Jim Caviezel doles out in Angel Eyes. His home has signs that say "Stay Out" and "Beware of Ogre" in hopes that he can continue living his solitary and filthy lifestyle. The only thing that he cares about is his solitude. So, when the landlord of the kingdom, a diminutive wannabe king named Farquaad (Lithgow; say the character's name aloud a couple times fast to get the joke), decides that Shrek's swamp is the perfect place to drop all the fairytale characters -- including the three bears (well, sans one), seven dwarfs, glowing fairies, and a lying wooden boy -- Shrek finally has reason to get up and do something. There's no way he can allow all these characters to invade his private domain.
Farquaad sees the massive strength and deep need for his home as a way to get something out of Shrek. He promises that he will remove all the fictitious vagrants if Shrek will go on a quest to get Fiona (Diaz), a princess whose marriage to Farquaad would make him a king instead of merely a landlord. With a talking donkey (Murphy) joining him on the journey, Shrek embarks on a castle settled on top of a volcano where Fiona is guarded by a dragon. Within moments, there's been a great chase, Scooby Doo type comedy, and romance from the most unusual of places. And that's merely in the first half of the film.
Directors Andrew Adamson and Vicky Jenson have created a magical concoction of clichés turned around and ridiculed. Even if the film actually becomes a little too close to its subjects near the end, Shrek remains consistently funny and imaginative. There may be a couple missteps here and there, but in the rough there's definitely a diamond. The two directors have taken digital animation another step beyond the Pixar work that brought us Toy Story and Toy Story 2. Though this film is far from the remarkable film that Toy Story 2 was, Shrek has a finer touch with the 3-D backgrounds. A great deal of effort has been spent on the lead characters -- it's easy to see when comparing the four major characters to the smaller ones -- to the point where their smallest minutiae on their body is created in the most lifelike of details.
There are few quiet moments in Shrek, and the few that are present turn out to be setups to gags. The many writers behind the film, adapting from a novel by William Steig, evidently have a good knack for light satire. Though the film is scathing at times, most of it is toned down for the younger viewers that will surely be brought to an animated film. There are some expletives here and there and some situations that might leave parents uncomfortable, but most of it is innocuous, treading so high over their heads that they'll probably not catch it. Luckily, there's enough highbrow and lowbrow comedy in Shrek to keep both the youths and the adults entertained.
When this film began pre-production to get the money to make it, Chris Farley was on voicing Shrek. After Farley's death, his friend Mike Myers came in. Now, I can safely say that Myers does a far better job than what I would have expected from Farley. Myers dons his third Scottish brogue (he says it is a recreation of his father's accent, which he also used in So I Married an Axe Murderer and Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me) and a lovable boorishness that gives a great deal to his surly character.
However fine a job he has done, most of the ink on the cast
been used on Eddie Murphy, who really reuses a great deal of his Mulan sass. He's
good, but I was much more pleased by the work of John Lithgow, who seems to be having a
great deal of fun hamming it as the villain. He reminded me of James Woods' work as Hades
in Hercules. I was especially entertained by Lithgow's Farquaad interrogating a
small witness for information. After breaking off his legs and dunking his head to drown
him, the victim yells out "Eat me!" The joke is that the witness is The
Gingerbread Man. Fractured indeed.
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