Volume 3, Number 34
This Week's Reviews: Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, The Princess and the Warrior, Brother, Ghosts of Mars.
This Week's Omissions: Bubble Boy, The Curse of the Jade Scorpion, Summer Catch.
|Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back
(Dir: Kevin Smith, Starring Jason Mewes, Kevin Smith, Shannon Elizabeth, Ali Larter, Will Ferrell, Jason Lee, Eliza Dushku, Jennifer Schwalbach, Ben Affleck, Chris Rock, Judd Nelson, Diedrich Bader, Jeff Anderson, Brian O'Halloran, and Seann William Scott)
BY: DAVID PERRY
In 1994, Kevin Smith began production on Clerks, what was to be the first in his so-called "New Jersey Trilogy." Based upon the surprise success of the genuinely inventive Clerks, Smith was able to create the other two films, Mallrats and Dogma, and even had a chance to throw in a fourth film (well, technically the third, Chasing Amy was made between Mallrats and Dogma) to show that he could also pull off some drama in his comedies. Now, with Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, Smith creates what he calls the final film in the trilogy -- it may have taken five films to do it, but he's finally at the point in his career when he's confident enough to move on as a filmmaker.
As any fan of the series can tell you, the only two characters to carry on throughout the trilogy is Jay and Silent Bob, two low-level drug dealers who (1) hang out in front of the convenience store in Clerks; (2) visit the local mall with their friends in Mallrats; (3) are the basis for comic book characters in Chasing Amy; and (4) help to save the world in Dogma. These two rely on the same joke throughout the films -- Jay is stoned-out dumb, Silent Bob is silently reserved.
For this film, Jay (Mewes) and Silent Bob (Smith) are forced to change their normal day-to-day New Jersey existence when Dante (O'Halloran) and Randal (Anderson) -- from Clerks -- put out a restraining order to keep them away from their convenience store hangout. Without anywhere to go, they visit the local comic book store owned by Brodie Bruce (Lee) -- from Mallrats -- and learn that their old comic personas, Bluntman and Chronic, are to be made into a film by Miramax Films (yes, those producing this film, though as one character puts it "After they made She's All That, everything went to hell"). Since they are entitled to likeness rights, they head over to the apartment of the comic's co-writer Holden McNeil (Affleck) -- from Chasing Amy -- where they learn of the internet and all the people libeling them, or at least their alter egos.
Jay cannot deal with the fact that people are calling them names, even if they aren't actually doing it directly to them. In Jay's mind, the only way to stop the defamation is to stop the production of this film -- if they go to Hollywood, they can stop this film from being made and perhaps give their two cents to the other co-writer and full owner of the comic Banky Edwards (Lee, again). Stopping the film might not be too hard, but its getting there that's the real task.
There is one huge problem with Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back: it's filled with too many in-jokes. This is terrific for those of us acquainted with the world of Kevin Smith; almost every cameo gives us the giddy joy of seeing Hooper X and Steve-Dave again. But for those who have only seen one or two, if any, of the "New Jersey Trilogy," these asides can only leave them wondering what the joke means. Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back is one of the few films to have a required viewing list that should go out to people before seeing the film (a list that would include Clerks, Mallrats, Chasing Amy, Dogma, The Empire Strikes Back, Good Will Hunting, and Planet of the Apes).
This is not to say that the film is laughless beyond the in-jokes and referential humor, I can safely say that the Good Will Hunting sequence, with two well-known actors and a director making jest of their current standings in film, is one of the funniest scenes in film this year. Sure, a great deal of this humor is listless -- a momentum killing diamond/animal heist automatically comes to mind -- but then the film returns to the audience's favor just moments later.
As much fun as I had with this film, though, I'm kind of
happy to see the saga of Jay and Silent Bob come to an end. The "New Jersey
Trilogy" only produced one bad film, Mallrats, but the central joke has
grown old. With each film, something new has been added to the proceedings usually helping
the film series. This is the only film that does nothing new -- I'd be hard pressed to
come up with something fresh for the pair to do in another film. Jay and Silent Bob
Strike Back is like the "New Jersey Trilogy" reunion tour -- even though
some of the music is old by now, the performers are still engaging enough to see one more
|The Princess and the Warrior
(Dir: Tom Tykwer, Starring Franka Potente, Benno Fürmann, Joachim Król, Lars Rudolph, Melchior Beslon, Ludger Pistor, Sybille Jacqueline Schedwill, Peter Ender, Sebastian Schipper, Jörg Reimers, Marita Breuer, Natja Brunckhorst, Jürgen Tarrach, Christa Fast, Susanne Bredehöft, Gottfried Breitfuss, Steffen Schult, Rolf Dennemann, and Ali Nejat-Nouei)
BY: DAVID PERRY
There is no question that Tom Tykwer is an incredibly talented individual. With his remarkable use of visuals to convey stories like Run Lola Run and Winter Sleepers, he has done justice to the idea of the auteur theory (though, it should be pointed out, he also writes his films). With his latest, The Princess and the Warrior, the visuals seem just as remarkable as before, but the storytelling chops have gotten even better.
The Turk director has been in the spotlight lately in anticipation for his next film. Like the lead up to Quentin Tarantino's Jackie Brown and Kevin Smith's Mallrats, Tykwer had a great deal of pressure to deliver something great to follow-up his career achievement with Run Lola Run. That film, an art house favorite in 1999, was the definitive experimental film of the year. Now he gets to show that other side, the one Winter Sleepers hinted at, the director inside that yearns to be just as visceral as visual.
But to do this, he drops the central conceit of Run Lola Run -- instead of a film built around how fate is not involved in a person's future, The Princess and the Warrior relies on destiny. People's entire lives are changed by the slightest actions in Run Lola Run -- The Princess and the Warrior, however, shows that people are sometimes meant to follow a predetermined route. Considering that this is in part a love story, it might have been a little downbeat to say that the only reason these two come together is that they happened to be in the right place at the right time.
Tom Tykwer's muse and Run Lola Run's Lola, Franka Potente, loses the bright red hair for some long blonde locks. She is Sissy, a nurse at a Wuppertal psychiatric ward, where she also lives. Sissy's mother was also a nurse there and gave birth to Sissy before her death in the room that would later serve as Sissy's bedroom. Sissy also states that her father is one of the inmates roaming the halls, though she does not tell which one.
One day when taking a blind patient out for a walk, she is accidentally hit by a truck. At that moment, she begins to feel the life inside her slipping away -- the collision caused something to impede her breathing and she begins suffocating under the stopped truck. Before she knows it, a man is laying under the truck as well, putting together a quick tubing and hole to allow air to get out from her lungs. He goes with her on the ambulance, takes the walk through the hospital hallway, and then disappears. All she has from her hero is a button from his jacket and the memory of his face. In her mind, as often happens with accident survivors, he is the man she is meant to be with. She is drawn to her vanished hero.
He is actually Bodo (Fürmann), former army soldier, current small-time crook. Where she believes that he was a divine savior, he was actually under the truck for personal reasons. For heaven's sake, it is his fault that the truck even hits her. He's on the run from the workers at a gas station he just robbed and now, to get away from them, he hides under this truck and then boards the ambulance to get away from the police. When Sissy begins searching around to find him, he turns away from her -- he wants nothing to do with this person whom he saved just because he thought it was the best thing to do, not because he felt obligated by human integrity.
It's amazing to compare this film with Run Lola Run because Tykwer perfectly suffuses the film with his trademark style but does it in a fashion different from Run Lola Run. Taking in various precedents created by other directors in Europe, Tykwer shows great promise as a director that will not simply pull the same magic from the same bag. Watching various parts of the film, it's hard not to have memories of Jean-Luc Godard and Ingmar Bergman while watching him showoff his own style and his film memory.
Joining some other long films this year -- including A.I.:
Artificial Intelligence and Amores Perros -- The Princess and the
Warriors stands as a terrific way to spend 130 minutes with a thoughtful story that
thrills the eyes. It won't do much business, though, I've come to accept that. Unlike the
much longer Pearl Harbor, The Princess and the Warrior lacks the easy on
the eyes star power and the storyline that does all the thinking for the audience. If you
go into The Princess and the Warrior checking your brain in at the door, then
you'll be lost for the entire duration. It's definitely refreshing to have a film that
does not serve the story out to the audience on a platter.
(Dir: Takeshi Kitano, Starring 'Beat' Takeshi, Omar Epps, Kuroudo Maki, Masaya Kato, Susumu Terajima, Royale Watkins, Lombardo Boyar, Ren Osugi, Ryo Ishibashi, James Shigeta, Tatyana Ali, Makolo Ohtake, and Naomasa Musaka)
BY: DAVID PERRY
"What does not kill me makes me stronger."
Before tackling Takeshi Kitano's latest elegiac actioner, I decided to read some Friedrich Nietzsche. In The Twilight of the Idols, he made the above statement -- Takeshi Kitano has surely read that piece and made a career out of similar aphorisms. Perhaps the same could be said for Nietzsche in The Wanderer and the Shadow: "If anyone dared to say now, 'Whoever is not for me, is against me,' he would immediately have all men against him."
The existentialism that is found in Takeshi Kitano's film marks world cinema unlike any other cynical existentialist filmmaker has in recent years. With each of his nine films -- including the two unquestionable masterpieces, Sonatine and Fireworks -- Kitano has proven himself as the master of Nietzsche-inspired films. Like those of Sergio Leone and Sam Peckinpah, his films have a gracefulness to their existentialism; a moody, slow violent side that butts its heads with the subjects' common difference to good and bad. When I first saw a Kitano film, I was sure I had just encountered an homage to Straw Dogs -- now I see that the reference is not on Peckinpah but on the same venue that Peckinpah tapped from.
With his latest film, Brother, Kitano further questions the violability of the bad just as much as the good. Working under the pretense that there is probably enough bad in this world to smother the good, Kitano's films feel like poetry caught in motion -- their actions are just as balladic as the action in John Woo's films, just with even more inner meaning.
Here Kitano recreates his regular hard-edged yakuza character -- this time named Yamamoto -- and takes him out of his normal waters. Where these roles are usually shown reacting to their own worlds, the violent chic side of Tokyo, Brother instead places him in another world. Instead of his regular turf, Yamamoto has been forced out of Tokyo and into America -- his half-brother Ken (Maki) is able to give him a nice little place to stay in Los Angeles.
It's always weird referring to Kitano the actor in the same fashion as Kitano the director -- perhaps that is the reason that he has chosen to use a pseudonym for his acting credit. Instead of a film starring, directed, written, and edited by Takeshi Kitano, his surname picks up only the latter three credits -- every Takeshi Kitano film happens to star 'Beat' Takeshi. Before now, I've taken this extra name, 'Beat,' as a statement of his unrelenting pushiness, but in this work, I finally get it: Takeshi Kitano is physically beaten by his time. He drags on -- perhaps dragging everyone else behind him -- doing whatever he can do to stay alive, though sometimes it seems like he may have a self-sacrificial side too.
Brother makes this apparent almost constantly. Yamamoto is not the central aggressor in this film, good or bad, he's just yet another one out there. He kills when he sees fit, though this seems to be the philosophy for nearly everyone else on the streets here. At one point, he takes out an entire boardroom because his poor English happened to decipher "dirty Jap."
The world that this yakuza finds himself in is that of drug cartels and the gangs that fight daily for the rights of the street. When he arrives in L.A., his brother is nothing more than a petty dealer, but within two days of being an Angelino, Yamamoto has already moved his brother and friends up as the main drug lords in their section of the city. Things grow and problems get deeper. Before long, as the things always lead to, bodies begin to pile up faster than Yamamoto can discharge his gun.
There are many moments in Brother that harkens back to The Godfather trilogy -- one person even takes a Moe Green-inspired bullet to the eye, not to mention the fact that they actually hide a gun in a bathroom stall -- and others that feel like an old Hollywood western. It's easy to point out parallels to gangster films -- including an inspired Public Enemy homage -- but Brother still remains a note to its own creator.
This is not to say that Brother is a flawless creation in Kitano's oeuvre. He has made a few mistakes in the pacing, throwing in way too many Anglicized moments for humor. Its easy to see that some of his American costars have been left to improvise their scenes and most of them, including the normally fine Omar Epps as a hood who befriends Yamamoto, just feel short of the dramatic intrigue found in Kitano's Tokyo scenes and in his silent resolution found in most of the film.
The main problem, though, is found in the finale, which works into a perfect ending with enough Peckinpah to make any Wild Bunch fan stand up and cheer. Once the audience has seen the great ending, Kitano throws in another scene. By now the audience can pretty well guess what is told in this scene and it only causes the film to end on a sour note. What was once a remarkable finale to a fine work has turned into an unappealing final moment that leaves the audience wanting something more to help them forget the misstep that just occurred.
It's not hard to notice that Asian filmmakers have been easier to find in U.S. cinemas over the last few years, and a good number of big names have joined the film school idols list beside Kubrick, Scorsese, and Cassavetes. Today it is not rare to hear people speak fondly of Wong Kar-Wai, Tsui Hark, Zhang Yimou, John Woo, Ang Lee, and Hirokazu Kore-eda like their films have forever been accessible. Of those names, some absolutely remarkable films have come about and yet I've always had the personal affinity towards Takeshi Kitano as my favorite Asian filmmaker. In the West, I hail Scorsese; in the East, it's all Kitano for me.
Perhaps the reason is that I find some solace in his action films. They are some of the rare works that use long, sweeping shots to set mood before quickly doing the action. It brings out the existentialist in me -- the side that sees humanity working without a true destination. His works fondly remind me of my school days cramming in Ayn Rand and Friedrich Nietzsche, wondering aloud whether there really was a fate involved in the human experience. His films, like Run Lola Run in a way, feeds the audience with hope that the right route will find them and that they will not get the short stick in life. Kitano just chooses to tell his stories through brief but unrestrained action instead of through open philosophy.
Nietzsche in The Gay Science: "The Christian
resolve to find the world ugly and bad has made the world ugly and bad." Something
tells me that Takeshi Kitano would agree to that statement.
|Ghosts of Mars
(Dir: John Carpenter, Starring Natasha Henstridge, Ice Cube, Jason Statham, Clea DuVall, Joanna Cassidy, Duane Davis, Richard Cetrone, Lobo Sebastian, Rodney Grant, Liam Waite, Wanda De Jesus, and Pam Grier)
BY: DAVID PERRY
There was a time -- it may seem longer ago than it actually was -- when people still respected John Carpenter as a director. He's not the only director to have lost his touch over the years -- a strong argument can be made for Francis Ford Coppola, John Frankenheimer, Kon Ichikawa, Jean-Luc Godard, and George Lucas -- but few have deteriorated quite as much as Carpenter has.
Looking at some of his early films, including Assault on Precinct 13, Halloween, Elvis, Escape from New York, and Starman, it's hard to imagine that he would later create such atrocities as Prince of Darkness, They Live, Village of the Damned, In the Mouth of Madness, Vampires, and his most recent Ghosts of Mars. I knew something was fishy when I saw and hated Christine (quite possibly the worst Stephen King adaptation for theatrical release) and when his films began to look like relapses to his old styles in bad movies.
Ghosts of Mars is no exception to the grabbing from the old bag of tricks for Carpenter -- not only does it recreate much of what he did with Escape from New York and Assault on Precinct 13, but he also goes back just three years to his equally-as-bad work on Vampires. There's practically nothing new to find in the film, even the stuff that does not come from Carpenter is a retooling of action from another film (the main source: Pitch Black, which was a marriage of Alien and Screamers in the first place).
The film begins with a train pulling into the station at Chryse on Mars. Here, where a matriarchal leadership governs, people live and work on Mars' equivalent of New York City. The train comes in without a soul on it besides the handcuffed police officer Melanie Ballard (Henstridge) -- a problem considering that she left Chryse with two train conductors and four other officers. At the inquisition over their whereabouts, Melanie begins telling the governing body of the police squad's unusual discovery in the mining town they had been dispatched to.
The officers -- rookies Uno (Davis) and Bashira (DuVall), partner (Statham), and leader Helena (Grier) joining Melanie -- have been sent to the small mining town to get a prisoner, James "Desolation" Williams (Ice Cube), and take him back to Chryse to stand trial. But their arrival in the town is not like they had expected -- they cannot see a single person in the entire place at first. However, on later examination, they find many of the townspeople decapitated and hanging upside down. The other townspeople, well, they're another story.
At first, things aren't too bad with Ghosts of Mars -- the setup with Melanie on the train alone and the thought of her recounting this ordeal seems interesting at first. At least, this is true while the audience still gets to imagine what happened; once Carpenter gets to show the action, the film scoffs at all the potential it once had. The antagonists -- most of whom look like the secret lovechild of Marilyn Manson and one of Night of the Living Dead's zombies -- create absolutely no threat because they are so hideously conceived. There is an old dictum in horror films -- gory villains are only frightening if their images have been saved for most of the film. Wes Craven knew this when he made Nightmare on Elm Street, so did a young director behind the lens of Halloween.
There is one good thing, though. Carpenter returns to having a heroine lead the parade of potential victims like he did with Halloween back in 1978 and he makes a good choice by tapping Natasha Henstridge for the role. She's still best known for playing the killer alien in Species, so it's kind of fun in this film watching her play an alien killer. Few actresses can sufficiently move through a horrible film without hurting by association, but Henstridge does. This, of course, is a bit of a surprise: besides a couple straight-to-video clunkers and an early work on Maximum Risk, Henstridge has strayed away from her action roots -- this is a change of pace for the actress, whose last big credits were Dog Park, The Whole Nine Yards, and Bounce.
But she cannot make up for what is essentially a lost cause. All her costars, including the normally adequate Ice Cube, seem to have noticed just how horrid the material is; no one besides Henstridge seems interested in keeping their characters working for the duration of the film -- they seem just as hopeful to die soon as the audience hopes for the movie to come to an end.
People will defend Ghosts of Mars until they're
blue in the face -- Carpenter still has a nice ring of fans -- but I cannot imagine what
they see in this mess. Most neo-Carpenter fans state that his films are defiantly bad --
that they should get some leverage because they are made to be poor. How is this
commendable? Why do people defend his films for that reason? If a company made broken
products purposefully, would they consider their money to be well spent?