Volume 3, Number 50
This Week's Reviews: Not Another Teen Movie, Kate & Leopold, Behind Enemy Lines, The Majestic, Vanilla Sky.
Repertory Reviews: Open Your Eyes.
This Week's Omissions: Aberdeen.
|Not Another Teen Movie
(Dir: Joel Gallen, Starring Chyler Leigh, Chris Evans, Jaime Pressly, Mia Kirshner, Eric Christian Olsen, Deon Richmond, Eric Jungmann, Ron Lester, Cody McMains, Samm Levine, Sam Huntington, Joanna Garcia, Lacey Chabert, Cerina Vincent, Beverly Polcyn, Riley Smith, Randy Quaid, and Joy Bisco)
BY: DAVID PERRY
Character names straight from Not Another Teen Movies website: The Popular Jock, The Pretty Ugly Girl, The Nasty Cheerleader, The Cocky Blonde Guy, The Obsessed Best Friend, The Stupid Fat Guy, The Desperate Virgins, The Cruelest Girl in School, The Slow Clapper, The Undercover Reporter, The Perfect Girl, The Tourettes Girl, The Beautiful Weirdo, The Unemployed Father, The Foreign Exchange Student, and The Token Black Guy.
This one idea is a smart one for the makers of Not Another Teen Movie, but the attempts to trivialize the clichés that make modern teen comedies so bad comes to a definite halt after these characters have been introduced. The writers (all four of them) fail miserably to capture the humor that can come from ridiculing the genre. Two of them previously worked on the script for Scary Movie, but they must have lost something in the move to this genre because none of the ingenious spoofing occurs here.
Yes, Not Another Teen Movie does attempt to spoof the likes of Shes All That, Varsity Blues, Cruel Intentions, Never Been Kissed, and a collection of other films, but in the end, the potty humor and absolute degradation of the jokes makes for a less than pleasurable time at the movies. Airplane! and even The Naked Gun knew what they were shooting for and succeeded, the only thing near that coming to mind after seeing this film is that the filmmakers only had a list of films they had to spoof with little interest in what way to do so.
The story plays like Shes All That, with characters coming from most of the others films I named. The Popular Jock, Jake (Evans) makes a bet with The Cocky Blonde Guy, Austin (Olsen), and the Token Black Guy, Malik (Richmond), that he cannot turn The Pretty Ugly Girl, Janey (Leigh), into the prom queen. All along, there are deviations to stories that follow everything from Drew Barrymore in Never Been Kissed to Sarah Michelle Gellar in Cruel Intentions to Wes Bentley in American Beauty.
I was one of the critics who defended the gross-out vulgarity and lowbrow humor found in Scary Movie, but I cannot come to the same feeling here. Where Scary Movie often made light of some of the more idiotic devices in horror films, Not Another Teen Movie just glosses over the similar devices in teen comedies. The uncompromising admission that the film is knowledgeable of its artifice does not seem fresh in any way, even though it seems to think that it is crossing some great boundary.
Sure, films like American Pie and the like deserve to be ridiculed, but this style seems almost in awe of the movies its trying to jest about. If the director and screenwriters had taken any time to devote to the wrath that some of these films deserve, the vitriol could have been like a catharsis to all those who have had to sit through the bad movies of the genre. I might have cheered for a little anger at the Freddy Prinze, Jr., oeuvre getting its just desserts, but the films willingness to pander (almost to the point that you think they yearned for Mr. Prinze to make a cameo, like some other teen film mavens to do) takes away any bite that could have been there. For heavens sake, there was more dismissal actions aimed towards Freddy Prinze, Jr., in Summer Catch than there is in here.
Director Joel Gallen is best known for his work as the
vice president of MTV, where he directed a couple of those nifty MTV Movie Awards spoofs.
One of those spoofs was the terrific Being Tom Cruise where Ben Stiller plays Tom
Cruises main stunt man on the set of Mission: Impossible 2. That short film
had more laughs than the entire duration of Not Another Teen Movie, in part
because a comedian like Ben Stiller was writing the jokes. With this film, none of jokes
really solidify into something uproariously funny -- there are a couple chuckles -- and
the movie just walks away wimpering into the distance. For a film so devoted to John
Hughes films (the high school, cafeteria, and football stadium all include references to
Hughes and his collection of Pretty in Pink actors), it becomes terribly annoying when
even a nice reference to The Breakfast Club becomes nothing more than a
pedestrian attempt at sloven humor. Not Another Teen Movie makes Scary Movie look
like a work of Moliére.
|Kate & Leopold
(Dir: James Mangold, Starring Meg Ryan, Hugh Jackman, Liev Schreiber, Breckin Meyer, Natasha Lyonne, Bradley Whitford, Philip Bosco, and Josh Stamberg)
BY: DAVID PERRY
[The cut of Kate & Leopold finally released to the public on 25 December 2001 lacks some key scenes mentioned in this review, which was written based upon the preview showings of the film. As the film is now, there is no opening scene or unusual sexual connection in the film. In other words, Miramax has effectively made my review obsolete.]
To consider Kate & Leopold to be anything more than a date movie would be a condemnation of the films intent. Rarely has a film more succinctly adventured to show the way people should court each other in the mind of a Danielle Steele novel reading adventuress.
The Miramax release feels like something that was scrapped by the company when they were actually trying to release only respectable foreign and independent films. The time since Shes All That have proved Miramax is not interested in that business any more (that is, unless its something that might be highly lucrative like the audience-pleasers Amélie and Life is Beautiful). And yet, I still feel like Kate & Leopold circa 1995 was still a Meg Ryan vehicle.
Ryan has worked for the last decade to secure her place as the she-woman of the romantic comedy. She knows her place in the business -- theres nothing really wrong with that -- and is willing to generate any movie that might cement her standings as the Julia-in-waiting. Perhaps that is why I still feel her best works were in The Doors, Courage Under Fire, and Hurlyburly: those are the only films where I did not think she was recycling her When Harry Met Sally... performance.
The vexing Ms. Ryan plays Kate McKay, a New York public relations executive who makes a business out of reworking movies to appease the masses (oh, the indignation this opening scene will bring in movie reviews). She seems satisfied with her life of destroying artistic freedom and lying to people -- hey, as long as she gets that promotion from smarmy sexual harasser J.J. (Whitford, at his smarmy best).
All that changes when she meets Leopold (Jackman), the 1876 duke of Albany and great-great-grandfather of her ex-boyfriend Stuart (Schreiber). It seems that Stuart has found a time portal by jumping off the Brooklyn Bridge allowing him to contact and, inadvertently, kidnap his ancestor. Yet, there is a problem, if Stuart does not get Leopold back to the past, he will cease to exist like the breakdown of all elevators in the world (Leopold, Duke of Albany, invented the contraption).
But his fate is unimportant, because there are young lovers to watch and gush at. Not only does Leopold quickly knock Kate off her feet with his chivalrous ways, but he also takes the time to tutor her errant brother Charlie (Meyer) the fine art of social etiquette. This would be quite taxing for your normal 19th Century time traveling heir to do in a week.
Director James Mangold is best known for his independent sensibilities behind socially important stories. Yeah, Girl, Interrupted is nothing more that a Lifetime movie and Cop Land felt like a top-heavy straight-to-video drama towards the end, but he always stayed true to an indie style he honed in Heavy. Kate & Leopold, though, is nowhere near that -- it feels so light and fuzzy that youd swear Penny or Garry Marshall were behind the camera.
Hating Kate & Leopold is nearly impossible
because it never really asks much. It is innocuous fare -- bad innocuous fare, but
innocuous nonetheless. I liked some of the characters, but nothing really happens with
them, nor are they grounded enough to merit any thought outside of the moments they are on
the screen. Kate & Leopold is a mediocre film through and through, even if its final
twist poses one of the most disturbing sexual connections to come to film since The
|Behind Enemy Lines
(Dir: John Moore, Starring Owen Wilson, Gene Hackman, Vladimir Mashkov, Olek Krupa, Joaquim de Almeida, Gabriel Macht, David Keith, Charles Malik Whitfield, Marko Igonda, and Eyal Podell)
BY: DAVID PERRY
Owen Wilson is one of the best comedians in modern cinema. His stoic style and unusual line delivery makes for a constant barrage of laughs. This has been seen in Bottle Rocket, Shanghai Noon, Zoolander, and many more films. Any, yet, he never gets the attention he deserves. Look at his more dramatic performance in The Minus Man; that was a role that deserved at least an Independent Spirit Award nomination, and, yet, he received nothing -- not even a respectable audience to see the film.
Now Owen Wilson takes a turn for action with the pompous and circumstantial Behind Enemy Lines, a film so devoted to its glorious attention to flag-waving that it forgets any semblance fine dramatic storytelling. It is a film full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. And, with a commercial director hitting features for the first time, it is also nearly incomprehensible.
Most everyone remembers the hero status begat on Scott OGrady in 1995 after he was shot down in Bosnia and had to run his way back into safe territory. I can only guess that he would be appalled at the fictionalization of his story, which turns his cinematic counterpart into a hotshot idiot willing to put his life on the line just so that the guys behind the camera can get a good shot.
Wilson is that OGrady character, now called Lt. Chris Burnett, a navy pilot who has opened a can of worms with a decision to turn a regular Christmas Day reconnaissance fight into something of importance. With his co-pilot Stackhouse (Macht), Burnett flies over a group of Serbian soldiers as they are disposing of some bodies. This assembly is not allowed as part of the treaty currently at work, and, even worse, the Serbians are willing to do almost anything to stop this information from getting out. So Serbian Army leader Lokar (Krupa) sends his men out to shoot down the errant plane. After a long attempt to get away from the heat-seeking missiles, the two Americans parachute from the plane. Stackhouse is unable to walk, but Burnett seems completely clear of any harm.
The rest of the film follows Burnetts attempt to get out of the Serbian Armys grasp, especially out of the lens of a sharpshooter called Tracker (Mashkov). Meanwhile, on the USS Carl Vinson, Burnetts commander Admiral Reigart (Hackman) is trying to save Burnett despite the apathy towards his plight felt by NATO leaders, especially French Admiral Piquet.
Director John Moore hasnt any will to show anything that might be called restraint. The man has turned what might have been an effective story into 106 minutes of patriotic hokum. Theres nothing wrong with using nationalism in a movie, but when it is the central thesis to merely have some pretty shots of soldiers, there needs to be a line. At least someone like Rainer Werner Fassbinder knew to make his political statements deep and veiled outside of the parade of pictures at the end of The Marriage of Maria Braun.
There is a similar film in theatres right now that makes Behind Enemy Lines look like childs play. Tony Scotts Spy Game also deals with a young upstart and the elder commanders attempt to save him from politically minded bureaucrats. However, Spy Game succeeds in that it blends some history (admittedly some shaky history) with nice visuals. Behind Enemy Lines instead relies only on the visuals, most of which arent even worth the torturous screenplay. For the first time, someone has made Tony Scott look like the bastion of good cinematic storytelling.
There are so many little fictional changes made to this
film, almost as if the filmmakers thought it would give them some freedom to do whatever
they want. At first glance, there are modifications like changing the Dayton Accords to
the Cincinnati Accords and placing French soldiers in a NATO army. However, there are so
many other problems being thrown out: the idea that this sharpshooter cannot hit an easy
sitting target, the idea that Serbians cannot recognize an American uniform in a pile of
Bosnian bodies, the idea that the best time to run from a hunting army is to run in the
day in open areas, and the idea that anyone gives a damn about this film by time it gets
to the big-yip ending. Yes, Scott OGrady will probably want to sue.
(Dir: Frank Darabont, Starring Jim Carrey, Laurie Holden, Martin Landau, Alle Garfield, David Ogden Stiers, Jeffrey DeMunn, Daniel von Bargen, Shawn Doyle, Bob Balaban, Scotty Leavenworth, Brian Howe, Ron Rifkin, Mario Roccuzzo, Chelcie Ross, and James Whitmore)
BY: DAVID PERRY
The long notation (and often condemnation) of Stanley Kubrick preferring the cold, murky side of cinema seems completely turned around for a filmmaker like Frank Darabont. This is one director so intent on the sanctity of the past that his period dramas almost feel like they are the light side of the story that Stanley Kubrick would have discarded.
I know that some readers may automatically think to discard my last statement in relation to Darabonts biggest film, The Shawshank Redemption. But that film is exactly what Im pointing at -- Darabont is not necessarily intent on making films that are joyous and happy-go-lucky, but his films have a defined and natural touch of affirmation. Even in the title, it is easy to see that the more convivial -- the redemptive -- aspect to The Shawshank Redemption is what touches Darabont to make these films. Perhaps, that is why Darabont has only made two of Stephen Kings most humanistic dramas.
And The Majestic, with its upward look and happy atmosphere, is probably the closest Darabont has come to such a casual, optimistic style. There is nothing wrong with this style -- it is, of course, the whole reason Frank Capra had a career that still seems as passionate today as it did in the 1930s and 1940s -- it is just such an unusual way to make movies these days.
I have often wondered what it was that made Darabont worthy of an Oscar nomination for the admittedly passable The Green Mile, but then it hit me: he is the director who has caught on that people are looking for such an impassioned, humanistic, and optimistic worldview. His stories are almost always trivialized by some note that takes it off of the completely non-fiction world it sometimes (almost) aspires for, but they always remain true to what people are hoping for. No matter how cynical the nation has become through decades of protests and upheaval, there is always a want for something good to happen. It is an inherited part of the human spirit.
The Majestic yearns to capture this and, in many ways, succeeds. It is like a joyous look at life, at freedom, and at love. Frank Darabont has worked to tap into Frank Capra and has molded a story by Michael Sloane into something that might seem like the sanguine, imagined world that Darabont and Capra -- like most people -- yearn to believe is real. I appreciated the similar approach Robert Redford used on The Legend of Bagger Vance, even if others did not. I fear that will again hold true with the critical perception of this film.
Jim Carrey takes two more steps out of the Ace Ventura past and comes a little closer to a Jimmy Stewart world playing Peter Appleton, a B-movie screenwriter (his first credit: Sand Pirates of the Sahara) hoping to one day work on A-movies. His future seems bright until he is accused of being a communist and, almost immediately, blacklisted by his studio.
Without a job and a foreseeable future, Peter finds solace in a bottle of scotch and hits the roads en route to northern California. After a wreck into a river, he is knocked unconscious and awakes in the town of Lawson without any memory of who he is. This is 1951 and the town is still gripping with the loss of its youth in World War II -- one casualty was Luke Trimble, the son of the local movie house owner. As it turns out, Peter looks awfully like Luke and is immediately taken in by the townspeople as their lost son. Sure, some have their doubts, but the ultimate satisfaction with finding what was lost -- a prodigal son, no less -- is too much to scoff at. Peter, with no memory of his own life, can only accept this as the truth.
There is one person with reservations: Lukes fiancé Adele (Holden). She wants to believe that her old flame has returned to her life, but, at the same time, does not want to go through the loss of Luke again if Peter turns out to not be who everyone thinks he is.
The heart of this town is not only felt in the way it must cheer for Lukes return, but also in the entity of the towns movie theatre named The Majestic. After losing Luke, the owner, Harry Trimble (Landau) let the theatre close and fall to disrepair. With the return of Luke, though, he sees it as a way to not only revitalize his own life, but also the town by repairing the place and reopening it.
Carrey does a fine job with playing the misplaced emotions of a person trying to figure out his identity. This is part of an interesting upward progression for the actor, though still not quite on the same level as his similar work in The Truman Show. Considering that he could not receive the deserved Oscar nominations for that film and Man on the Moon, I have my doubts that they will award him this year either. Too bad; though I feel that he has quite a few more gems to throw out at us and, hopefully, the Academy.
The supporting players are all interesting, especially David Ogden Stiers as Adeles doting father. Most attention has been given to Martin Landau, who does give a solid performance, but it is the balancing act given by Stiers as he works in both his love for the return of Luke and the fears for his daughters emotions that really captures the effect of the films background characters.
Frank Darabont keeps things clean with his direction and never really pushes any envelope. Thats not necessarily a bad thing -- one can only imagine what Steven Soderbergh might have done with the same sets and cameras -- it actually works for the story that Darabont is telling. Especially in the films last act, which deals with some of the McCarthyism for the times, does Darabont show some chutzpah behind the camera, restraining it for the betterment of the first two acts.
However, there is one big problem with The Majestic: it
lasts way too long. Frank Capras films hold essentially the same ideas and thoughts
as The Majestic in less than 2 hours, but Darabont drags it on for an extra 30
minutes. Some clipping of the films most unimportant stories -- like the relationship
between a weary veteran and Luke/Peter -- might have allowed the movie a little less
tiresome a length. Sure, with that it would lose some breathing room, but for a film so
refreshingly airy, the breathing room is already built into the material.
|Open Your Eyes
(Dir: Alejandro Amenábar, Starring Eduardo
Noriega, Penélope Cruz, Chete Lera, Fele Martínez, Najwa Nimri, Gérard Barray, Jorge de
Jaun, Miguel Palenzuela, and Pedro Miguel Martínez)
BY: DAVID PERRY
Dreaming permits each and every one of us to be quietly and safely insane every night of our lives.
When Charles Fisher wrote that in Newsweek, he was relatively unsure of the future that would occur. Today, the world is wrought with vanity and materialism -- the insanity of the night is, perhaps, the one time when everything is not structured by our portfolios and houses. Then again, theres the perception of Freuds, that our dreams are the creations of our subconsciouses, an amalgam of personal desires and fears.
All this is questioned explicitly in the story created by Alejandro Amenábar and Mateo Gil for their 1997 film Open Your Eyes (Abre los Ojos). And, in honor, I suppose, of The Vanishing, Diabolique, and Nightwatch, the Spanish psychological thriller has been Americanized with a remake, Cameron Crowes Vanilla Sky. Of course, keeping with those other fine foreign films, the American version lacks the appeal of the original.
Right off the bat, I should say that I am not giving Vanilla Sky a straight-forward pan, just a commentary on the fact that the film fails to realize much of the finer aspects of Open Your Eyes. I know that there are some people who would love a completely objective view of the remake, but when the original is of such stature in the opinion-givers mind, its rather hard not to make comparisons.
The central story of the two films is that of a narcissist, rich and beautiful and willing to strut his way through life taking any opportunity for his aggrandizement (whether it be in the mind of an outsider or of his own). All this breaks away when an accident leaves him scarred and distanced from everyone in his life. Meanwhile, his mental stability begins to crumble and he must try to decipher what is life and what is merely in his mind.
Cameron Crowes film is predominately a smoother English language version of the Amenábars film, though there are differences. The Madrid restaurateur César (Noriega) has become the Manhattan magazine owner David (Cruise); the decadence has been upped; the emotional anguish has been lightened; and the romanticism has been heightened.
Where Alejandro Amenábar remained fixated on his protagonists mental breakdown and the reasoning behind it, Cameron Crowe seems resolute to peer closely into the mating rituals of the pretty-come-ugly. Yes, there was an amount of romance between César and Sofia (Cruz, who plays the role in both film versions), but it seems like just another weight on the mind of César, not his central vision. Contrarily, Crowes David is a vain individual who found someone other than himself to love and then lost it all in a fleeting moment.
Take for example, the fact that we are introduced to César like it is the normal day of anyone -- nothing in his apartment (nor his VW car) tip us off that he is affluent. Conversely, David is literally introduced with material possessions being thrown at the camera: a recording CD player/alarm clock, a huge apartment, a Ferrari roadster, a hi-def TV that goes into the floor, and Cameron Diaz under the sheets. This is not an everyman to feel for -- this is a person that most people yearn to be.
That central mistake throws the entire film off balance. If we are meant to feel something for David in the later moments, we should not be accosted with images that only create a certain feeling of jealousy. Before he is even near the car wreck that scars him, we are reminded that he is a hotshot in the sack and as rich as Rupert Murdoch -- Césars apartment only seemed nice, not like an offshoot of the Playboy mansion.
And yet, I now seem fixated -- my emotions are toying with their own distaste for the souring of Open Your Eyes creativeness. I think that it is admirable that Cameron Crowe took the effort to make something against type, but in the end, his David Aames feels like nothing more than another Jerry Maguire or Russell Hammond, just with more horrific problems. Crowe is a creator of dreamers in reality -- an interesting person to tackle this story -- but that reality almost feels damning in retrospect. Alejandro Amenábar, who recently made his English-language debut with The Others, is closer to the visceral than the emotional. The Amenábar approach is that of starkness and a slight sense of coldness -- I could believe that Stanley Kubrick appreciated Tesis and Open Your Eyes. That coldness really suits Open Your Eyes and the lovelorn levity of Vanilla Sky, instead, feels like the incorrigible sibling.
This is not to say that Cameron Crowe completely fails, just that his version is far from the magnitude of the original -- lets face it, almost anyone could make a good film out of Open Your Eyes story. The reason that Vanilla Sky rises above the simple version others might have made is that there is a personality that Crowe infuses into the film. He and cinematographer John Toll give the imagery a colorful tint that allows the audience to imagine the same world David is living in. Crowes claim-to-fame, the song score, also delivers some delightful choices (especially in excerpts from Radiohead and The Chemical Brothers), though some other choices (like two REM songs and a Beach Boys interlude) feel misguided.
That is perhaps one of the strongest ways to criticize Vanilla Sky: it is misguided. Cameron Crowe had a fine, detailed map created by Alejandro Amenábar and his decision to stray from the beaten path is ultimately his biggest problem. But, then again, at least he was willing to try something new.
Earlier this year there was another film surrounding the idea of dreams. That film, of course, was Waking Life, the movie that literally teetered on the words, Dream is destiny. After seeing Open Your Eyes again directly before tackling Vanilla Sky, I was curious what semblance might come from the two (well, three) works.
They say that dreams are only real as long as they last. Couldnt you say the same thing about life? questions one person in Waking Life. David Aames, in his own (pre-crash) way, is willing to proclaim that he is living the dream. It is the fact that in both films, the protagonists are literally going through both quotes that really creates the paradoxical estimations found in the two stories. In that final scene of Open Your Eyes/Vanilla Sky, César/David could really take heed of the Waking Life statement: The worst mistake that you can make is to think youre alive when you are really asleep in lifes waiting room.
Say what you want about Amenábar creating a Spanish realization of themes found in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Vertigo -- the real hinge on Amenábars thesis come in the ideas of existentialists like Nietzsche and Kierkegaard. Richard Linklater did the same with Waking Life, he was just more than willing to shout that connection loud and clear.
Logan Pearsall Smith wrote in his book Afterthoughts: How many of our daydreams would darken into nightmares if there seemed any danger of their coming true! The divide between these two films comes out clearly in their unequal appreciation of that idea. Where Amenábar is willing to theorize the extreme nightmares of a person who seemingly has all he wants (a daydream is usually a search for something not yet acquired), Crowe instead looks only at the catharsis of that person trying to obtain a new daydream (in his case, the unacquired love that the protagonist never knew he was missing).
And that is, quite simply, the delight of philosophy in
the first place: that personal reading is just as important as the words said. The main
difference in this case, however, is that one reading knocks the audiences socks
off, while the other just leaves them as half-hearted bystanders.
Open Your Eyes: