Volume 3, Number 29
This Week's Reviews: Jurassic Park III, America's Sweethearts, The Taste of Others.
This Week's Omissions: Divided We Fall.
|Jurassic Park III
(Dir: Joe Johnston, Starring Sam Neill, William H. Macy, Téa Leoni, Alessandro Nivola, Trevor Morgan, Michael Jeter, John Diehl, Bruce A. Young, Laura Dern, Taylor Nichols, Mark Harelik, Julio Oscar Mechoso, and Sarah Danielle Madison)
BY: DAVID PERRY
"Nature is what we are put into this world to rise above."
Katherine Hepburn said such in The African Queen, John Huston's exciting adventure/romance from 1951. Fifty years later, people are still going head-to-head with Mother Nature and, at least in the movies, the battle's getting a little easier for Big Mama. Why, might you ask? Well, thanks to the help of John Hammond in the Michael Crichton novel and the later film Jurassic Park, dinosaurs are now back to take their place as the fittest in the survival of the fittest.
After the atrocity called Lost World: Jurassic Park, Steven Spielberg made the decision to not direct the third film in what may (hopefully) be nothing more than a Jurassic Park Trilogy. His credit is as a producer, and that credit means little unless he's willing to steal John Landis' and Tobe Hooper's credits for Goonies and Poltergeist, respectively. Carted in as a replacement is Spielberg wannabe Joe Johnston, who has had a chance to make schlock variations on Spielberg's previous works with Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, Jumanji, and October Sky. Thank heavens that Spielberg decided to direct A.I. instead of the stale Jurassic Park III.
Yet, it should be said, the third Jurassic Park film is not near as bad as it could have been. Lacking the human interests and rip-roaring adventure of Jurassic Park, Johnston's film can instead only worry about latching onto clichés that worked in the first film. Luckily, where the second movie delved into an over-the-top mess, the third one remains engaging if dumb.
In the film, Alan Grant (Neill) is coerced into returning to Hammond's theme park gone awry by a little cash. Actually, most of the truths he's set-up with early on prove to be incorrect. Instead of going to Isla Norsa, the island from Jurassic Park, the wealthy couple paying him takes them to Isla Sorna, the island from Lost World: Jurassic Park and a place that Grant has never set foot on. Plus there is the question of why they are there. At first the Kirby's, Paul (Macy) and Amanda (Leoni), convince Grant that they are just going on an air tour above the island where they can look at the dinosaurs, but in fact they are landing there to search for their son, who was lost there eight weeks earlier.
Grant and the Kirby's are not the only people trying to survive on Isla Sorna up against the velociraptors, tyrannosauruses, pteranodons, and the new spinosaurus. A group of hired mercenaries have joined in for a nice payday from the Kirby's. The biggest laugh in the film: the mercenaries' leader is played by Michael Jeter. Grant even has a tag-along with Billy Brennan (Nivola), a paleontology student that serves as someone for the girls to gush over (of course, why Macy, Neill, and Jeter do not grace the dreams of young women, I'll never understand).
In a short 90-minute length, Jurassic Park III harkens back to the cheesy B-movie films that served as precursors to the original Jurassic Park. Had Johnston merely thrown in a cameo from Raquel Welch (guess she was busy on Legally Blonde), he might have made the film one of the most outlandish salutes to B-movies in the past couple of years. Where The Fast and the Furious served one facet of the B-movie genre, Jurassic Park III serves the other. Russ Meyer and Roger Corman must love the summer.
Johnston has collected a fine array of actors, but unfortunately most of them deliver passable performances. For William H. Macy, a bad performance is rare, but even his bad works are not as comparably bad as fine performances from other actors. He has a little fun playing with his voice in the various remarks he gets to make, but the performance still stands as forgettable -- this is definitely no turn on Jerry Lundegaard in Fargo or Donny Smith in Magnolia.
Sam Neill seems to have been added to the cast to give it a sheen of respectability, almost as if Johnston became so disappointed with not being able to completely remake the first Jurassic Park that he could only imagine putting the film's lead character through the exact same paces with a few variation (they even give him a kid to work with at one point). Neill is a good actor, just one that rarely gets a chance to show his prowess. Though he was good in both Bicentennial Man and The Dish, I have not seen a quiet, thoughtful work comparable to his supporting turn in The Horse Whisperer since that 1998 film. I would have liked to have seen some of the same from him here, or even the awe and fear that he successfully put forth in Jurassic Park, but instead what was delivered is him making faces to Stan Winston's terrific robots (though the CGI work is far less than the work in the other films).
The screenplay has two credits that are especially disturbing. While the movie succeeds in being cheesy enough for its subgenere, the screenplay has some of the worst dialogue of the year. This is not what I'd expect from Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor after their masterful comedic screenplay for 1999's Election. What happened? Surely, it's not the complete fault of first-timer Peter Buchman who shares the writing credit with the other two. I can only guess that even they knew that the writing on Jurassic Park III was not going to matter and that the action would be the only priority -- here's hoping that all their talent passed on for this is instead put into their next film.
And when all the dust clears, the man that possibly ruined Jurassic
Park III also serves as the only person who could have made lemonade out of this
lemon. Considering Lost World: Jurassic Park, I'm not going to go as far to say
that Spielberg would have produced a better third film, but I can say that Johnston has
taken what was already a tired franchise and made the work better than the hokum from Jaws
3-D and The Mummy Returns. When the film ends, almost anticlimactically, the
audience is not aghast at the visionary world created in Jurassic Park, but at
least entertained enough not to miss that feeling.
(DIr: Joe Roth, Starring John Cusack, Julia Roberts, Billy Crystal, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Hank Azaria, Stanley Tucci, Christopher Walken, Seth Green, Alan Arkin, Keri Lynn Pratt, Larry King, Rainn Wilson, and Sam Rubin)
BY: DAVID PERRY
In the last year it's been pretty hard not to know every little detail about the relationships that Julia Roberts and Catherine Zeta-Jones have been in. It's almost common knowledge that the Zeta-Jones/Michael Douglas wedding was a press event more than a ceremony and that Roberts and Benjamin Bratt have called it quits (my last stroll past the tabloids showed me that they are still obsessed with the latter one, so much that they've brought Lyle Lovett back into the mix). And why are we constantly barraged with more information than is actually needed about these people's personal lives? Well, it's, simply put, because they are movie stars -- every move they make is documented, then either heralded or scrutinized. They are America's sweethearts in the way that they become as much a part of the socio-cinematic mindset that pushes people to rent a movie.
So their involvement in a film that hits on this life pattern seems almost self-deriding. When Zeta-Jones' movie star character Gwen Harrison prances around the hotel suites and restaurants with overbearing hyperbole, it is not hard to imagine the actress actually doing so in real life. She is a fine actress -- especially in last year's Traffic -- but it is definitely easy to believe that she is as much a prima donna off-screen as on. I guess, that's how Julia Roberts lucks out -- her character Kiki Harrison, Gwen's sister and duteous assistant, is the one that audiences can sympathize with and even root for over Gwen. By the last frame, the connection between America's true sweetheart and the vanity of the film's fictional actress is forgotten.
The film follows Gwen and her former costar and husband Eddie Thomas (Cusack) as they attempt to show that they are still cordial at a press junket to showcase their final film together. During production of this film, the sci-fi romance Time Over Time, Eddie learned that Gwen was having an affair with a suave Spanish supporting player named Hector (Azaria) and ran his motorcycle into their dinner table one evening. Eddie goes through a period in holistic rehab and Gwen flounders in her post-breakup roles -- each of them have something to gain from a success with Time Over Time, Eddie might get some of his senses back and Gwen might actually be popular at the box office again.
But getting the two actors back together for a press junket is the easiest part of the job for studio publicist Lee Philips (Crystal). He has an over-zealous studio chief in his side (Tucci), a novice assistant to work with (Green), and a print of the film that is still in the hands of its eccentric director Hal Weidmann (Walken) -- not to mention the fact that he wants desperately to get the two back together in the belief that it will mean a better domestic gross for the film.
America's Sweethearts could have been another sanguine, often overconfident romantic comedy as is often the case with Robert's films (i.e. Runaway Bride, The Mexican), but the film actually makes a little headway for the genre. While the teeth are certainly not too sharp, the cynical way the film looks at Hollywood is refreshing. I can see this type of anti-type in independent films occasionally, like in Even Oppenheimer's The Auteur Theory, but Hollywood doesn't often bite the hand that feeds them. This is definitely no Bowfinger or Wag the Dog or The Player, but America's Sweethearts delivers much more than what you'd expect considering its creators (including director Joe Roth, who is best known for heading Disney and Fox in his long career).
One of the main reasons that the film does not allow itself to turn into another by-the-book genre piece too much (it should be said that the third act is the only one where you can see the numbers from the paint-by-numbers grid) is that it uses so many fine actors who are willing to throw out some of their face-value for a few laughs. It's no surprise to see Cusack willing to do this - he, like Matthew Broderick, is one of the few young actors willing to consistently play kicking-boys in their films to great effect -- and indie film grad Tucci feels at home gnawing on film producers. But catching Roberts wearing a 60-pound fat suit does seem like a surprise. While I do not think that she gives a credible performance, I do think that it is a nice touch that Roberts was willing to do the film -- though, I do get the impression that it was the third act that really reeled her into the movie.
But when the credits roll, the real memorable part is
Christopher Walken, who literally steals the show. Walken plays his auteur like Stanley
Kubrick meets Howard Hughes meets J. D. Salinger -- Hal Weidmann waxes on the
misunderstanding that audiences have to Kubrick films at one point in the movie. And his
character even gets the last laugh: as the names roll in the closing credits, they are the
normal white print on a black background. Early in the film he sends a print of Time
Over Time to Kingman that is nothing but the 20-second opening credits, white print
on a black background. In the film canister is a note: "We could also do these in
|The Taste of Others
(Dir: Agnès Jaoui, Starring Jean-Pierre Bacri, Anne Alvaro, Gérard Lanvin, Alain Chabat, Agnès Jaoui, Christiane Millet, Wladimir Yordanoff, Xavier De Guillebon, Anne Le Ny, Bridgitte Catillon, Raphaël Dufour, and Bob Zaremba)
BY: DAVID PERRY
The voters in the Academy's foreign film category have become notorious by their choices these days, which are usually easy-going, accessible fair. But last year was an anomaly from the system. Having introduced new rules in voting and eligibility -- much like their often tinkered with documentary categories -- five films were chosen from the eligible 46 showcasing different aspects of the foreign lingo cinematographic world. While the Czech Divided We Fall seemed eerily like 1998's winner Life is Beautiful, the comedy zany comedy Everybody Famous! from Belgium, the moody actioner Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon from Taiwan, the Tarantino/neo-realist drama Amores Perros from Mexico, and the social comedy of errors The Taste of Others from France all show their own place in the foreign oeuvre, the world where Academy-friendly sentimentality does not flow like a fountain.
That French entry is the latest to finally receive a limited release through the US and, while not in the same level as Amores Perros and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, proves to be one of the finer imports to jump over the Atlantic this year (interesting, though, that the finer imports, Perros and Tiger, did not have to make the move across the Atlantic). The movie, a blending of Rohmer and Molière, takes on the social stratum, the meaning of relationships, and the inner-core of hypocrisy with an ensemble drama that harkens back to the 1970's Altman and even, perhaps, Paul Thomas Anderson's recent work with interlocking stories of the human condition.
Agnès Jaoui's The Taste of Others centers around a successful businessman named Castella (Bacri), whose attempt to seem art-minded and well read is a turn on Molière's The Bourgeois Gentleman. He is quite rich but does not feel like he has all he needs. This is not really found until his wife Angélique (Millet) forces him to see a performance of Racine's Bérénice. He's highly reluctant, but an interest in expanding his horizons -- recently beginning with an attempt to learn English -- keeps him from making his wife go alone. But, as those who have seen Bérénice can attest to, he sees the magic in the play -- he falls desperately for the lead performer, Clara (Alvaro), playing the title role.
What he does not notice at first, though, is that the actress playing Bérénice is the same woman who had tried to teach him English earlier that day. When he asked for a fun way to learn the language and she could not deliver, he fired her immediately. But seeing her on the stage makes him forget the struggle they had that day and he soon begins an obsession with Clara. Not only does Castella resume the tutorial, but also begins to pine on her, even including a poem dedicated to his tutor in one of their lessons. She does not care for his company -- his inability to hold back his rough edges and philistine conversation pieces makes her tired of him. However, her friends see him as an easy buyer for their schemes. If Castella will do anything for Clara, they believe that he'll do anything for her friends.
Meanwhile, his wife proves herself to be one of their least genial characters to come out of the new French cinéma. She is an interior decorator that has created houses that literally make the eyes sick. At the same time, she decries human beings -- their inability to hold-up to animals make her distrust the people around her. When her rather disagreeable little dog bites unsuspecting bystanders, she quickly defends the dog and rebukes the victims. In one of the film's best scenes, she cannot comprehend why her husband cares whether or not he can hang up a painting of his -- she thinks it is horrible, but he loves it; the painting is an icon of the one thing that is truly his in the entire house and she cannot stand for that.
At the same time, Castella's hired hands are creating their own relationship. Because of an upcoming deal with some Iranians that might put Castella's life in danger, his business has hired a bodyguard to watch him. Quickly, because they are often left to the side as Castella works, bodyguard Franck Moreno (Lanvin) and Castella's chauffeur Bruno Deschamps (Chabat) become friends. But soon their relationship is changed as Franck starts an affair with a young barmaid and hash dealer named Manie (Jaoui), who completes the circle by befriending both Bruno and Clara.
It should be no surprise that screenwriting couple
Jean-Pierre Bacri and Agnès Jaoui also wrote Alain Resnais' Same Old Song. This
film harkens back to that film (minus the musical interludes) and even reminds us a little
of their work under Cédric Klapisch on Un Air de Famille. Yet the Molière
connections stand the most by the film's ending (a nice little finale -- striking just the
right note). When watching the film, my mind veered to The Bourgeois Gentleman,
while my first connecting statement following the film was to Paul Thomas Anderson's Magnolia
(which was in productions at the same time as The Taste of Others). Anderson
freely admits to some Molière in Magnolia, even referring to the playwright at
one point in the film -- but the heart and soul of Molière, with the société
and hypocrisy playing roles as important as the actual actors, comes to life even clearer
in Agnès Jaoui's little gem.