Volume 3, Number 38
This Week's Reviews: Hearts in Atlantis.
This Week's Omissions: All Over the Guy, Glitter, Megiddo: The Omega Code 2.
Video Reviews: Freddy Got Fingered, One Night at McCool's.
|Hearts in Atlantis
(Dir: Scott Hicks, Starring Anton Yelchin, Anthony Hopkins, Hope Davis, Mika Boorem, Will Rothhaar, Dierdre O'Connell, Timothy Reifsnyder, David Morse, and Alan Tudyk)
BY: DAVID PERRY
When I think of coming-of-age dramas with sentimentality seething from the sepia-toned flashbacks and untarnished young minds, I cringe. Hokum and flim-flammery -- those immortal words from The Mummy and The Daily Show's Mattress King -- come to mind immediately. I hold no grudges -- I'll still happily walk into one, knowing that the overwrought soundtrack and words of wisdom will have me crawling for the exit within moments -- it's happened countless times with films like The Sandlot and Simon Birch. And, yet, I still liked Scott Hick's Hearts in Atlantis, which treads on all those ill-gotten grounds I just wrote of. The film's existence is based upon the idea that audience's are not tired of these films -- and they might not be, I could very well be the only person complaining -- and then runs off with all the mistakes and yet comes off successful in a way.
One of the few films to work following said formula was Stand By Me, which allowed its characters to truly 'come of age' in front of the audience. That film, of course, was based on a Stephen King novella -- Hearts in Atlantis follows that idea by taking its story from a King novel. I'm not a King fan -- I've liked some of the films from his novels, but his actually writing style doesn't excite me. The Dead Zone, Carrie, Apt Pupil, Shawshank Redemption, The Shining, Misery, and Stand By Me are all incredible works from incredibly inept novels and short stories (I'll never forget the disappointment I had after reading his supposed best novel, The Shining, which is one of the worst novels I have ever read). King can come up with a good story, just cannot portray it well in his artistic creation -- only when given over to people like David Cronenberg, Brian De Palma, Bryan Singer, Frank Darabont, Stanley Kubrick, and even Rob Reiner does the real artistry come out.
Add Scott Hicks to the list -- with his fine direction to go with the cinematography of the late Piotr Sobocinski (Red), Hicks sufficiently creates a visual Babylon of remarkable browns and ambers. Sepia-toned? Yeah but it's the best kind.
Give him credit just for the fact that he is able to convey a story that is overwrought with Stephen King garishness and a surprisingly underdeveloped William Goldman screenplay. By the end of the film, with all his visual paraphernalia, Hicks has absolved the film of many of its detractors. Snow Falling on Cedars, Hick's last film, was another film where story mistakes were fixed by Hicks and his photographer's (then Robert Richardson) visual flare.
Hearts in Atlantis is about a 1950's 11-year-old learning about love and life from the lodger living above his home. The kid is Bobby Garfield (Yelchin), the lodger is Ted Brautigan (Hopkins), and their relationship is alarmingly adult, with Ted touring Bobby through all the growing pains. Bobby's mother, widowed workingwoman Liz (Davis), is especially alarmed that any elder man would want to spend so much time with a kid.
Ted, though, does have something to gain from the relationship. Bobby wants a bike that his mother cannot afford and Ted is willing to give him the money for it. The only catch is that Bobby must come in and read the newspaper to him every morning and keep an eye out of "Low Men," well dressed men who follow Ted for undetermined reasons.
Oh, and if that little aside does not bring the King adaptation angels to light, Ted also has a gift of being able to read people. Plus, his ability can be given off onto others, as it does to Bobby just before he heads to a carnival where a pick the card vendor tries to take the money of his friends. Not only does this encounter bring Ted up in Bobby's eyes, but also lights up the relationship between Bobby and neighbor Carol Gerber (Boorem) as they share a kiss on the ferris wheel, the kiss Ted tells Bobby "by which all others in your life will be judged and found wanting."
The film's finest moments are in the framing story at the beginning and end. David Morse plays an adult Bobby, brought home for the funeral of an old friend. This period in the film -- about 15 minutes of the entire screen time -- captures depressed bliss at its best. Morse, long standing as one of the world's finest character actors, has the face and features of a youth still yearning for that childhood as an adult. There is one small mistake in these parts -- a little inopportune casting of a daughter -- but the framing as a whole leaves the audience wondering what magoc could have occurred had Hicks just gone with this side of the story and not the dominant flashback.
Morse is not the only actor that shines. As should be no surprise, Anthony Hopkins works incredibly well in this understated character much unlike his current collection of roles like Hannibal's Hannibal Lecter, Mission: Impossible 2's Swanbeck, Titus' Titus Andronicus, and Instinct's Ethan Powell. This slow, leisurely portrayal has been held in by the actor since 1998's Meet Joe Black and it is remarkable to see it out again.
However, Morse and Hopkins are only two fine performers in what is essentially a lackluster cast. Hope Davis' shrill work as the mother is possibly the worst performance from the normally fine actress; and child actors Anton Yelchin and Mika Boorem, re-teaming after Along Came a Spider, show that there may only be one Haley Joel Osment and Thora Birch out there. The kids are the film's main downfall in the cast -- their work is almost painful to watch, especially considering that both Hicks and Goldman take the wrong approach in showing them in 'cutesy' situations for the betterment of those wanting to see two cute kids doing cute things. I'd say even Stephen King was raving over this misstep.
Hearts in Atlantis, though, comes out of all its
problems with a nice appeal. Perhaps it's the fact that the film smartly continues on with
the Morse frame story, or perhaps that the visuals are so stunning, but in the end the
audience can take solace in the fact that fine artists have come together and made some
enchantment and initiative instead of the hokum and flim-flammery.
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: Freddy Got Fingered and One Night at McCool's.
|Freddy Got Fingered
(Dir: Tom Green, Starring Tom Green, Rip Torn, Marissa Coughlan, Julie Hagerty, Stephen Tobolowsky, Harland Williams, Anthony Michael Hall, Eddie Kaye Thomas, Jackson Davies, Connor Widdows, Stephen E. Miller, and Charles Buettner)
BY: DAVID PERRY
"Babylon in all its desolation is a sight not so awful
as the human mind in ruins."
Freddy Got Fingered is the next step in the evolution of the gross-out comedy. For the first time, all the horrible jokes meant for repulsion in Say It Isn't So, Me, Myself & Irene, Tomcats, Monkeybone, and Joe Dirt have been concentrated into one 90-minute movie and brought to a celluloid life in beautiful color. I only mention the celluloid and color because the families of the inventors who created those cinematic devices should sue Tom Green for misusing them in Freddy Got Fingered.
This film owes a great deal to Paul Morrissey, John Waters, Luis Buñuel, and Salvador Dali, all of whom have worked surrealism in film to an art. Their works can be held as comparable to their realism counterparts like Vittorio de Sica and Roberto Rossellini (with some exceptions in the Morrissey and Waters filmographies). Tom Green's work, on the other hand, cannot. It is lewd, crude, obnoxious, disturbing, disgusting, ghastly, sickening, unsettling, disquieting, distressing, and intolerable -- Freddy Got Fingered is the Battlefield Earth of comedies.
Green is Gord Brody, an Oregan twentysomething living life in his parent's basement like he's still a teenager. When he finally decides to move out and heads to L.A. aspiring to be an animator, his father (Torn) is joyous: Gord has finally grown up. But that does not last long -- nor do we really believe he's grown at all considering some of the actions he does within the first 15 minutes of the film -- and heads back home, much to the chagrin of his father.
There are some other little stories -- Gord falls for a paraplegic named Betty (Coughlan) who gets sexual stimulation from Gord caning her paralyzed legs and yearns for oral sex, and he also accuses his father of "fingering" his younger (24-year-old) brother Freddy (Thomas) -- but none of this really has any rhyme or reason to the story. Most everything in Freddy Got Fingered is meant as a jumping point for Green to do something unsavory for a laugh. Oh, and trust me, he does some unsavory things, though the laughs don't follow.
If you want to catch this film with a clean slate, don't read this paragraph, but if you still think you might see it but want to know what I mean by lewd, keep going. In this film Tom Green pulls his car over and masturbates a horse; this ability is later used as a weapon when wanting to shoot his father with elephant semen; he licks the open wound of a friend when he falls and breaks his leg; he skins the carcass of a recently killed deer on the highway and proceeds to wear the bloody pelt; and he delivers a baby, cuts the umbilical cord with his teeth, and then waves the bloody child over his head like a lasso. This film gives new meaning to the joke synonym 'gag.'
I was one of those who actually watched Tom Green's show at
first, when the humor was more observational -- a Candid Camera with a wicked
sense of humor -- than scatological. Now, I almost feel that he's trying to reproduce the
comic stylings of Andy Kaufman and failing in the process. The difference: when Kaufman
was acting boorish, you could still see the charming side of him in that baby face of his.
When you look closely in the eyes of Tom Green, you're just frightened.
|One Night at McCool's
(Dir: Harald Zwart, Starring Liv Tyler, Matt Dillon, Paul Reiser, John Goodman, Michael Douglas, Reba McEntire, Richard Jenkins, Andrew Dice Clay, Tim De Zarn, Leo Rossi, Andrea Bendewald, Ric Sarabia, Anthony Winsick, and Eric Schaeffer)
BY: DAVID PERRY
If the spring of 2001 teaches you anything, I suppose that it's "Don't trust women." I did my tirade against the misogyny of Saving Silverman and Tomcats and now, just when I feel like my argument is done, they have to do it again with One Night at McCool's. The film is not completely against women, so I suppose that it gets some leeway -- the men are just as despicable as its lead femme -- but that does not stop it from making me remember my previous grievances.
Told through three different narrations, the film tries to show how one woman, Jewel (Tyler), can ruin three men as an image of three different women. Each one sees her as the woman that he truly wants: Randy (Dillon), a bartender, sees Jewel as a happy homemaker, his cousin Carl (Reiser), a lawyer, sees her as a sex goddess, and Dehling (Goodman), a police detective, sees her as an angel. And, Jewel, well, she's sees all three as pawns in her little game.
All this begins one night at McCool's, the bar where Randy works, when Jewel and her boyfriend Utah (Clay) make a scene in front of the bar. Randy feels bad and takes her to his house, where she falls for him and relates the scam she and Utah were about to pull off -- in moments, Utah was to come in and steal all Randy's things. Complications ensue, Utah arrives, and there's a dead body in the bar the next morning.
Jewel stays with Randy, despite the fact that there are two other people pining for her at the same time -- Carl saw her that night before Randy took her home and Dehling interviewed her at the murder scene. Through the next weeks, Jewel pushes Randy to commit crimes he never thought he'd do, makes Carl think about leaving his wife and children, and helps Dehling begin to get over the recent death of his wife.
These stories are told in a Rashomon style -- Randy speaks to a hitman, Carl to his psychiatrist, and Dehling to his priest -- with each story taking a different light of each character, including the narrators. I liked this touch, even if most of the picture was near awful. Director Harald Zwart does a fine job playing with the filming of each story, but Stan Seidel's screenplay gives them absolutely nothing interesting to do. These characters are poorly written, poorly realized creeps and most of their actions are about as enjoyable to watch as, well, Saving Silverman.
Michael Douglas is the film's main asset beyond the direction. He seems to be genuinely having fun, which is refreshing since no else is (in the cast and in the audience). At one point, he even gets to recreate the slow-motion opening to Streets of San Francisco in what is the film's most ingenious set piece (far better than the film's often over-the-top death sequences that seem to wear a sign saying "Look, we're dark and twisted!"). Douglas is still in the fault though; despite delivering a fine performance, he did produce this little mess.
Yeah, the film is dark -- twisted too -- but none of it really comes to life like the granddaddy of black comedy, Dr. Strangelove. The darker imagery in this film fails to have anything at least embraceable for the audience -- it's just dark to be dark, not for any other purpose. Beyond the film's last joke -- which is genuinely funny -- most of the darker aspects are just gruesome in a boring way. One scene, especially, involving a DVD player as a weapon stands as macabre without any sense of style.
But creeping around the garbage is an underlying
satisfaction with itself -- it's almost as if One Night at McCool's is so proud
of its game that it forgets to at least make the game playful or entertaining. Sure, the Rashomon
toys give the film some token of interest, but that does not carry an entire film. They
should have revisited the Akira Kurosawa classic -- something tells me they probably had
only heard what Kurosawa did in Rashomon -- and note the way that each story
seems intriguing and seems dependent on each other and the audience's reaction. That was
fine filmmaking; this is not.