Volume 3, Number 36
This Week's Reviews: The Musketeer.
This Week's Omissions: An American Rhapsody, Megiddo: The Omega Code 2, Rock Star, Two Can Play That Game.
Video Reviews: Pootie Tang, The Princess Diaries, Recess: School's Out.
(Dir: Peter Hyams, Starring Justin Chambers, Tim Roth, Mena Suvari, Stephen Rea, Catherine Deneuve, Steven Spiers, Nick Moran, Jan Gregor Kremp, Jean-Pierre Castaldi, Marco Lorenzini, David Schofield, Bill Treacher, Jeremy Clyde, and Patrick Dean)
BY: DAVID PERRY
There is a scene in The Shawshank Redemption where one inmate -- reading the binding of a book he's never read, or possibly heard of -- phonetically says the name of Alexandre Dumas. After watching The Musketeers and its complete misappropriation of Dumas' The Three Musketeers, I would not be surprised if this same incorrect pronunciation of the author's name would fall from the mouths of the film's producers -- five'll get you ten, they've never even read the novel they're adapting.
That's not to say that Gene Quintano's screenplay is a guessing game -- the countless number of previous Three Musketeers adaptations probably serve as a nice Cliff Notes synopsis for any adapting screenwriter with such evidently low aspirations. However, beyond the underlying and centuries-old story is a screenplay filled with plot-holes and horrid dialogue. Quintano, whose previous credits include two Police Academy films, Operation Dumbo Drop, and Sudden Death, has tapped out what could possibly be the worst non-comedy screenplay this year. If not for Joe Dirt, Freddy Got Fingered, and the headache-inducing stylings of Pootie Tang, his work on The Musketeer might have been the worst of any genre.
Doe-eyed former Calvin Klein model Justin Chambers takes on the D'Artagnan role, disgracing a role perfected by Michael York, Gabriel Byrne, and Gene Kelly. Of course, in previous films, D'Artagnan serves as one of four major roles, but for The Musketeer, a singular interest goes to the exploits of Chamber's role, leaving little to watch from Porthos (Spiers), Athos (Kremp), and Aramis (Moran), the title trio of Dumas' actual novel. But, hey, these three middle-aged, overweight musketeers are not cute enough to sell to the teen audience this film yearns desperately to please.
In fact, they are so desperate that they tap director Peter Hyams to direct and photograph the film. Out of 19 films, he's created only two good films, 2010: The Year We Make Contact and Capricorn One. This rate of success -- barely 10% -- seems even worse when you consider that both of the successes were over 15 years ago. His most recent films read off like a list of the most critically reviled moments of the 1990's (to refresh your memories: Narrow Margin, Stay Tuned, Timecop, Sudden Death, The Relic, and End of Days). The Musketeer just serves as another mistake in the collection.
However, amidst all the hubbub and lackluster creations are some fine action effects. The mistakes take forever to list (for example, the sound design, which could possibly be the worst of the year -- I have never heard such loud tree branches in my life), but the credit in production is pretty easy to catch from the beginning. The fight choreography by Hong Kong action maven Xin Xin Xiong, whose work was recently shown to great effect in Tsui Hark's Time and Tide earlier this year, stands as a testament to what could have been created with such grace in this film. But editor Terry Rawlings seems completely uninterested in allowing the action to seem at least understandable. He makes such quick and unexplainable cuts that almost all of Xiong's hard work is lost in the mess. Rawlings once tried to show a graceful style -- just think of that beautiful slow-motion work at the beginning of Chariots of Fire, which brought him an Oscar nomination -- but he seems determined to edit the film for a younger, ADD-stricken society.
Xiong is not the only person that delivers something worthwhile in The Musketeer. The always great Tim Roth brings his dour villain character to thrilling life, taking Febre out of the film's collection of forgettable characters (including painfully forgettable roles turned in by Catherine Deneuve as the queen and Mena Suvari as the girl in D'Artagnan's eyes). This is not the first time Roth has played this character -- the similarities in personality to Archibald Cunningham in Rob Roy seem eerily close -- and this is not the first bad film he's made this year -- only a couple weeks ago he donned a monkey suit and lost some of his normal restraint (if you can call it that) as Thade in Planet of the Apes -- but that does not make this any less notable.
Looking back on the film, and seeing what horrid results
can come from a Three Musketeers adaptation centering completely on D'Artagnan,
my mind imagines what a better film could occur if the interest were only on Febre. That
is, of course, just as long as Tim Roth gets to play him and Peter Hyams is kept far away
from the set.
Video Review: Various connections have made it a little easier for me to get my hands on various films that I skipped earlier in the year. For that reason, beginning this week, I'll review some of the movies that I did not see in the weeks that have passed. This week: Pootie Tang, The Princess Diaries, and Recess: School's Out.
(Dir: Louis C.K., Starring Lance Crouther, Chris Rock, Robert Vaughn, Wanda Sykes, Jennifer Coolidge, J.B. Smoove, Reg E. Cathey, Bob Costas, Dave Attell, Cathy Trien, David Cross, Chuck Jeffreys, and Jim Earl)
BY: DAVID PERRY
After finishing watching Pootie Tang, the main problem is as clear as day: the movie makes no sense whatsoever. Roger Ebert said the film was "not in a releasable condition" and "disorganized, senseless, and chaotic" -- Pootie Tang is a creation with absolutely no discernable point or purpose. I think it's a comedy, but the lack of laughs in the film's 79 minute makes that seem hard to believe.
The film is a motion picture realization of what was initially just a skit from The Chris Rock Show. Did they not learn a lesson from the last dozen or so film adaptations of Saturday Night Live skits? I've never seen the old Pootie Tang skits, but nothing in this film makes me yearn to catch the originals -- as I sat in disbelief with this film, I could not imagine ever going through it again, even in the form of a 5 or 6 minute short.
The title character is a fast-talking ladies man who seems so out-of-touch that everyone considers him to be trendy. Oh, and when I say fast-talking, I don't necessarily mean that he's a Billy Wilder-type character; no, Pootie Tang's speech is an amalgam of vowels and consonants that create a language somehow intelligible to those around him (the audience, in one of the film's few good graces, occasionally get subtitles to decipher his words). How's this for example: "I'm a pone-tony, got my dillies on the peppa-tang." His urban slang makes Ebonics seem as easy to understand for the layman's ear as Pig Latin.
Pootie is a cultural icon according to this film -- his name and face grace everything from movies (the first film is titled Sine Your Piddy on the Runny Kine) to fast food. He is a superhero of the most unusual sort -- a secret form of martial arts involving his belt, given to him by his dying father (Rock), allows him to take care of his problems whether they be for merely himself, his friends, or the society at large. The main villain is Dick Lecter (Vaughn), whose corporate conglomerate produces and sells everything from fast food to cigarettes to drugs. He is taking advantage of the lower classes, people that he can use to increase his already large power and financial position.
Pootie is ready to save the city from Lector's control, but his equivalent of Wonder Woman's bracelets -- his belt -- is stolen and all his powers are lost. He must recuperate in rural Mississippi, of all places -- a location choice that was surely just seen as a chance to show the character reacting to such a "backwards" society.
Amidst all this are a couple subplots, most of which reek of skit writing instead of mere parts in a feature film. Pootie has a relationship with a prostitute named Biggie Shorty (Sykes); there is a plot about the Mississippi sheriff pushing Pootie into a shotgun marriage with his daughter; and all this is told as Pootie deals with Bob Costas on some interview show.
When Pootie Tang finally comes to an end, there's
a definite blah feeling. The audience has been through barely over an hour of laughless
comedy and forgettable action -- they have been through what could be the first film since
Battlefield Earth that can be referred to as completely incomprehensible. Pootie
Tang is my choice for the headache of the year and, quite possibly, the worst film
|The Princess Diaries
(Dir: Garry Marshall, Starring Anne Hathaway, Julie Andrews, Hector Elizondo, Heather Matarazzo, Mandy Moore, Caroline Goodall, Robert Schwartman, Erik von Detten, Larry Miller, Terry Wayne, Patrick Flueger, Sean O'Bryan, and Sandra Oh)
BY: DAVID PERRY
Mia Thermopolis is a normal 15-year-old girl living a rather boring life in San Francisco. She lives with her mother Helen (Goodall) in a redecorated firehouse, attends school as a type of outsider, and has not seen anyone on her father's side of the family for most of her life. And then one day, everything changes: her mother lets out the secret to Mia's lineage and she finally meets her paternal grandmother.
It seems that Mia is the heir to the throne in Genovia ("between France and Spain"), where her father has lived since she and her mother moved from Europe to America as a small child. Her grandmother, Queen Clarisse Renaldi (Andrews), has come home to make a request: Mia's father has died and the royal family of Genovia needs Mia to attend as the heir in the country. According to her, if there is no heir sitting on the throne, the crown will ultimately fall to another family.
At first glance, this seems like a problem that would be easy to solve -- just accept the throne and move away. But this is not so simple task for Mia; she doesn't necessarily want to leave her home and her best friend Lilly (Matarazzo), nor does she really want to go through the effort of changing from a slouching teenage girl to a graceful young lady. She at first accepts this assignment and becomes the experimental guinea pig, but once she has shed her ugly duckling hair and glasses, Mia gets to see just how little fun it is to have all the attention that comes with being royal -- this girl cannot even stand talking in front of her class, much less taking the scrutiny of millions of viewers.
There are, of course, impediments in the way -- she has a crush on the big man on campus, Josh (von Detten), who is currently the boyfriend of prissy lead cheerleader Lana (Moore). However, once this secret (i.e. pretty) side to Mia comes out, Josh's attentions quickly move away from his starling belle. All the while, Mia is confused over her inability to gauge the affection she's receiving from another boy, the less handsome but more charming Michael (Schwartzman), Lilly's brother.
Occasionally, The Princess Diaries shows some value -- not too bad considering that its target crowd is far from my own caste. The younger girls, perhaps the 5 to 15 crowd, should get a kick out of some of the film's struggles with understanding what they go through. Sure, most of the situations are far from the norm, but the idea of having a lead character that shows her fears and anxieties and proudly wears a sign proclaiming just how neurotic she is, makes for something refreshing.
At least this time around, when working with the ugly duckling to swan story, the lead character is not some Grecian beauty whose only debits are some glasses, which hampered the completely see-through efforts of She's All That among others. Actress Hathaway does not show great acting chops -- though she might segue into a nice little career -- but she is believable as an outsider. I liked the way that the film did not try continually to push the idea of alienation (like She's All That making its duckling into a new age artist -- ooh, that's so odd), even if most of what they did give the character to do was rather uninteresting half the time.
There's one piece of perfect casting involved (besides Julie Andrews, who played another ugly duckling to swan in the Broadway production of My Fair Lady): Robert Schwartzman is a part of film royalty himself. The name Schwartzman might automatically remind people of his brother Jason Schwartzman from Rushmore. Now, if you remember anything about Jason back when Rushmore came out, you might know that he is the son of Talia Shire, placing him in the very respectable Coppola clan, which includes Nicolas Cage, Spike Jonze, Sofia Coppola, Talia Shire, Roman Coppola, Carmine Coppola, Marc Coppola, Christopher Coppola, and Francis Ford Coppola. But, unfortunately the genius of the casting is not shared in the actual production.
Director Garry Marshall is an oddity in the film world. He
gets all this credit for being this masterful director of schlock fare by audiences, but
is possibly one of the most critically reviled directors out there. As an actor, he has
comic timing equaled by few, but his directorial resources are far from remarkable.
Besides some nice TV work, Marshall has never directed a good film. Beaches, Overboard,
Pretty Woman, Frankie and Johnny, Exit to Eden, Dear God,
The Other Sister, and Runaway Bride stand as a pretty sad collection of
films of one man's filmography. The Princess Diaries, though little more than an
overlong TV pilot, happens to be the best thing to come out of Marshall yet. Not that
that's saying much.
|Recess: School's Out
(Dir: Chuck Sheetz, Voices include Andrew Lawrence, Dabney Coleman, James Woods, April Winchell, Rickey D'Shon Collins, Jason Davis, Ashley Johnson, Courtland Mead, Pamela Segall, Melissa Joan Hart, Peter MacNichol, Allyce Beasley, and Robert Goulet)
BY: DAVID PERRY
One of the worst things about growing old is that you lose touch with what the younger generations are enamored by. In my time -- boy does that phrase make me cringe -- the fads were different, not necessarily for the better, just different. For that reason, I can watch in glee for something involving Inspector Gadget or Rocky and Bullwinkle -- both films of which were horrendous, by the way -- yet have absolutely no interest in something like Pokémon or Power Rangers (though, from what I understand, both franchises are dead).
All this is true with Recess: School's Out, an animated film from a Saturday morning cartoon that I have never even heard of. That's a huge problem for anyone taking in the characters and stories in Recess with any prior knowledge from the show -- this is one film adaptation that takes no time whatsoever to get non-fans up to par. Thankfully, the characters, scenarios, and the like are so clichéd that it takes only moments to feel as if you've got the grasp for everything.
T.J. (voiced by Lawrence) is a mild-mannered grade school student, whose entire existence in the student body is to cause as much trouble for Principal Prickly (Coleman) and sour teacher Miss Finster (Winchell). When the film begins, he and his partners in crime -- best friend Vince (Collins), martial artist Spinelli (Segall), nerd Gretchen (Johnson), singing cherub Mikey (Davis), and new kid Gus (Mead) - sneak in a truck filled with ice cream, give all the goods to the students, and recreate the voice of the principal on the intercom system. And, just when Principal Prickly begins to give his verdict on a stern punishment for T.J., the bell rings: summer vacation has just begun and the student is now out of his jurisdiction for three months.
Everyone leaves for their various summer camps, leaving T.J. behind -- his closest companion is now his, oh my, teenage sister Becky (Hart). As he mopes around the place for sometime, T.J. happens upon some suspicious occurrences over at the closed school. When he informs a happily vacationing Prickly of the problem and forces him to investigate, Prickly disappears. T.J. starts work to roundup his friends and make a plot to figure out what's going on in the school and save Principal Prickly.
It turns out that inside the school is former principal, former Secretary of Education Benedict (Woods). Many years earlier, his tenure as principal of this vary school came to an end when people fought his decision to end recess to make more efficient learning machines out of the children. Now, he returns to the empty school to fulfill his new plan, to do away with summer vacation. Through a system of lasers, he will rework the solar-planetary alignment to put the place in a never-ending winter. If kids cannot go out and play, he thinks they'll stay inside and study.
Recess: School's Out is innocuous, nothing really more. The youngest viewers, those who enjoy the show already, will probably like the film, but adults won't get all the hubbub. Beyond a Pink Floyd remark, a psychedelic 60's flashback, and a couple asides, most parents will feel bored while going through the film.
Further proving himself to be an underestimated talent when voicing villainous characters in animated films, James Woods takes on his work with such chutzpah that his domineering voice stands as one of the film's highest credits. Peter MacNicol and Dabney Coleman also deliver enjoyable work, though their talents cannot compare to those coming from Woods. After Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, Hercules, and this, it's becomes hard to imagine anyone actually considering another actor to voice their villain in an animated film. Unless, of course, Jeremy Irons is available.
I'm sure that I'll sound like a spoiled-sport -- and don't think I wouldn't have had a different feeling back in my grade school days -- but Benedict's idea of getting kids to read a little more does not sound to bad to me. Sure, I'd never imagine doing anything as drastic as his plan, but something simple to get some kids away from the games and the TV and have them read some Twain or Dahl or Henry (O., not James) would be something to rejoice. I read my first full-length novel, Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express in a silent study hall in the 5th grade -- back then I did not feel that my achievement was much to speak of, but now it's rare to find anyone younger than 16 reading anything actively for pleasure instead of for an assignment.
But I know that there's no way that the world will ever
embrace anything like the idea that Benedict and I endorse -- kids will definitely see
their contemporaries as the heroes of virtue in the story, not the beacons of education.
And then they'll go home, play the tie-in videogame, watch the Saturday morning series,
watch the video when it comes out, and successfully fail to do the interests of either its
villain or the film: the kids will be so preoccupied by the other distractions that they
won't crack a book or take a step outside to play with friends.