Screeners '01 #1
Twentieth Century Fox: Michael Jordan to the Max.
USA Films: Alice et Martin, Boricua's Bond, Mad About Mambo.
WinStar: Madadayo, Yi Yi (A One and a Two...).
|Alice et Martin
(Dir: André Téchiné, Starring Alexis Loret, Juliette Binoche, Mathieu Amalric, Carmen Maura, Jean-Pierre Lorit, Marthe Villalonga, Roschdy Zem, Pierre Maguelon, Eric Kreikenmayer, Jeremy Kreikenmayer, Kevin Goffette, and Christiane Ludot)
BY: DAVID PERRY
Juliette Binoche continues her vexing of the world with Alice et Martin, a slight recreation of her Lovers on the Bridge character with a far happier demeanor though a far sadder follow through. Not too long ago, I received a letter asking that I lay off on the infatuation I seem to have with Catherine Deneuve, Juliette Binoche, and Cate Blanchett -- hey, I cannot help it, all three of these ladies have continually created characters that hold my attention in films that are sometimes dependent on the ladies to make them worth my time. When someone complains about Binoches nomination for Chocolat at the Academy Awards, they should try and think what, say, Julia Roberts would have done with the role (Im sure some would attest otherwise, but Id say that old Roberts would not have had a prayer at an Oscar nomination -- falling flat on her face).
Playing Alice, a Parisian musician in love with Martin (Loret), a secretive model-by-chance, Binoche returns to a state that she shows for her European audiences semi-regularly: strong women that must use both their passionate and maternal instincts to help those she loves. Martin hasnt a clue where he is in this world -- his story begins with his mother sending him to his long estranged father so that he may have more chances in life than the one that might come from an illegitimate rearing from his single mother. His father, the rich industrialist Victor Sauvagnac (Maguelon), is ready to take in ten-year-old Martin to raise with his three sons from wife Jeanine (Maura).
There Martin is, part of a family of three brothers, where he is pretty much the mutt of the bunch. But he grows into something more: a handsome young man with a very mysterious façade which moves from peculiar to mystifying. When he abruptly runs from his family home in southern France and begins living on his own -- at first stealing chicken eggs from a local farmer -- he takes on a second layer to his already thick skin: a vague resistance to anything normal. His arrival in Paris means he can move in with half-brother Benjamin (Amalric). Sharing an apartment with the gay half-brother is Alice, the woman that at first is puzzled by the quirkiness of Martin and then obsessed with breaking into his self-drawn barriers.
Alice et Martin unfolds in a structure that will surely leave most audiences aggravated. It moves from past to present and fast to slow in such a sudden collectiveness that it often startles the audience. Time periods flow like a single week when they signify months, and subjectivity turns from Alice to Martin on a regular basis. Director André Téchiné works this story into a William Faulkner novel -- where people are locked into their stereotypes and removal from long destined societal structures are near impossible. This, like Téchinés masterpieces Les Voleurs, Ma Saison Préferée, and The Wild Reeds, does not rest until it feels that everything has been told, sometimes to a fault.
The films resistance to anything subdued makes some moments seem nonsensical, even after the entire work has come to a finish. Even the usually breathtaking visuals found in Téchinés work is lost on some less remarkable late moments in the film. Téchiné seems well equipped to show off the beauty of his two leads (there is no doubt in the audiences mind that Martin could make it as a model, but it is that inner soul that makes him so beautiful to everyone involved) but hasnt a clue after a while what to do with them.
I love the way he structures the scenes, the jolt that comes with a time change is often upsetting at first before the upsets importance is imparted onto the screen. One fellow online film critic, Spliced Onlines Rob Blackwelder, found the films removal of any chronology to be completely off-putting and more or less panned the film based on this. I can only disagree -- the bipolar editing is, in a way, much like the psyche of Martin, moving from the matter at hand from one moment to the next. Not knowing every detail until late in the film is part of the films creative importance; it exposes itself only after we, like Alice, have struggled to figure out what has happened. For this film to go from A to B to C, without deviation, would have been damning. The whole point of the film is for it to use its ambiguousness before blowing its cover -- its like telling the ending of The Usual Suspects at the beginning.
My criticism is more in what Téchiné does with the story, not in how he does it. The films final act seems to slip into contrivance, with a third half-brother appearing if only so that the story of Alices final journey for Martin may have an arch to it. Even the Spanish retreat that precedes this act seems a little too easy -- Téchiné has pushed himself for two-thirds of the film only to let it move into pretense for the last collection of scenes. Had the actual ending not been so perfect, the latter moments might have tarnished what was otherwise a fine film.
Both of the films stars shine in roles that seem
like they were written for them. Binoche (who last worked with Téchiné in Rendez-vous
in 1985) shines in probably her best work since winning the Academy Award for The
English Patient. Forming a bond with Alexis Lorent, in his feature debut, they create
two embittered souls that have inner magnetism as attractive as their outer beauties. As
much as Téchiné and cinematographer Caroline Champetier may perfect a framed exterior
shot, this is definitely a film most notable for its actors. The audience can only feel
the second-hand enticement -- a perfection of tone and performance that has been seen
lately in French romantic dramas. Had Alice et Martin fixed a few of its kinks
and had a more aggressive release in America it could have grown into something more than
an intriguing commodity on the foreign film rack at a video store.
(Dir: Val Lik, Starring Frankie Negron, Val Lik, Ramses Ignacio, Jorge Gautier, Jesglar Cabral, Robyn Karp, Geovanny Pineda, Erica Torres, Marco Sorisio, Kaleena Justiniano, Jeff Asencio, Michael Demitro, and Pietro González)
BY: DAVID PERRY
For Val Lik, making a movie is less the art and more the experience. I have no doubt that his debut with Boricuas Bond was a chance to learn -- and I dearly hope that he will learn from this mistake.
Boricuas Bond is certainly the creation of someone that cares for the subjects, but his overwrought hand in the making of this story creates a façade that could only work on a straight-to-video mess. It is no surprise that the film could not receive a huge release -- its intent is important, but its product is not. Boricuas Bond may perhaps be worst high intention film made in 2000.
This tip-o-the-hat to Do the Right Thing misunderstands that the Spike Lee film was weighted by life experiences that transcend race and age -- Wayne Wang understood this when he made 1995s Smoke and the Hughes brothers understood for 1992s Menace II Society. To create a thug life without grasping the humanity of these thugs is like making Showgirls without the nudity: cinematically damning. When William Hurt took in the hoodlum-in-the-making played by Harold Perrineau, Jr., in the former or the fall of Larenz Tate and Tyrin Turner in the latter, we are set to empathize with these people, not to paint them as saints or villains, but as real people dealing with the real problems of the street.
For this films madcap group of low-rent hoods, Lik has created a cast of rappers -- thats right, when you thought that the acting prowess of LL Cool J and Master P were too much to handle, we get a whole troupe that would rather spread the wealth of their rhymes than emote some dialogue. Nevertheless we get the stunning fortune cookie epigram of fuck school -- you want to be an artist, then be one from the recently slain Big Pun. The lead happens to be two-bit Latino sensation de chant Frankie Negrón, headlining everyone from Method Man to Treach, from Redman to Stickyfingaz. Finally, my dream of a film pairing Method Man with model Tyson Beckford has been realized.
Negrón is Tommy, a painter that hopes to one day get out of the commotion found in his broken South Bronx home. When a Russian family moves into the neighborhood, Tommy feels that he is destined to teach the ropes to the son that happens to be his age, Allen (Lik, who also happens to be a Russian immigrant). But everything is not rosy for Allen when it comes for the other boys in the area -- most of whom see the newbie as a whipping boy. One of the films worst moment transpires as Tommy and his gang eat in the restaurant Allen works at before one oft nude friend strips and simulates sex on top of one of the tables, with everyone outside the shop able to see from the window.
Yet Tommys gifts to Allen are not returned -- the young émigré is good enough to give Tommy his optimistic look at future. For Tommy, the future is always dark, with a brother in prison and a cop on their case; he is nearly destined to a sad, perhaps short, life. With the help of Allen, Tommy sees that he might be able to do something with his life -- a hope that perhaps his paintings might one day catapult him into something more than another statistic of the streets.
I think that there is something to this story, one that
might have worked in another fashion. But Lik does not have the passion to bring it to
film in a worthwhile way. Instead we are left with a sad assortment of sequences as a
collection of rap cameos -- far from the deep drama of Do the Right Thing. Spike
Lee might have been able to do something creative, something beautiful with this film. Val
Lik just makes a mess.
|Mad About Mambo
(Dir: John Forte, Starring William Ash, Keri Russell, Theo Fraser Steele, Brian Cox, Julian Littman, Maclean Stewart, Tim Loane, Russell Smith, Daniel Caltagirone, Joe Rea, Alan McKee, Aingeal Grehan, Jim Norton, Gavin O'Connor, Rosaleen Linehan, and Kelan Lowry O'Reilly)
BY: DAVID PERRY
I think that there will one day be a FOX special called When Television Stars Attack: Caught on Film because I can safely say that there have been well enough films, especially the romantic kind, that use TV stars for their stature and have nothing else to offer. Take Party of Fives Scott Wolf in The Evening Star; take Wings Tim Daly in Dr. Jekyl and Ms. Hyde; take Dharma and Gregs Jenna Elfman in Krippendorfs Tribe; take Dawsons Creeks James Van Der Beek in Varsity Blues; take Buffy the Vampire Slayers Sarah Michelle Gellar in Simply Irresistable; take Friends Matt LaBlanc in Ed, David Schwimmer in The Pallbearer, and Matthew Perry in Fools Rush In. No, as Henny Youngman would say, take them.
Sure, not everyone falls right on their faces: Friends Courtney Cox and Lisa Kudrow can attest this. But then, we get something like Two to Tango, a grouping of Perry, The Practices Dylan McDermott, and Party of Fives Neve Campbell. For heavens sake, we have enough of a problem with the bad actors that only do movies like Freddie Prinze, Jr. and Casey Affleck!
So it is no surprise that the film Mad About Mambo fails -- it is the type of script that would only be accepted by a B-actress from a series on, of all networks, the WB. Felicitys Keri Russell is not what Id call a shining light of the acting profession; in fact, the only thing to her name seems to be that well-coifed hair. Mad About Mambo seems like one of the romantic films that simply went through a computer program -- a system that adds a quirky scenario, a hate-you/love-you moment, and a nice resolve to an overbearing climax. The only good things that seem to come from these films is the nice patriarch -- this time played by the indelible Brian Cox, who deserves much better.
Thankfully, Keri Russell is not the lead of this film -- though, the choice hero is not much better. I would be highly surprised if star William Ash was not chosen simply because he can play some soccer and can sort of dance. Thats how Stephen Daldry chose Jamie Bell for Billy Elliot, but in that case, at least the director made sure that the dancing was doubled with an ability to act.
Ash plays Danny Mitchell, a young working class Catholic in Belfast, who dreams of being of a future as a football player (ahem, soccer player to us) for the local Belfast United. But the team is all Protestant and he sees little chance breaking out of his social stature, let alone his faith. However, everything changes when United brings in a big-shot Brazilian, who also happens to be Catholic, to play for them. Danny sees this as his chance, if he can convince the owners of the team that he is just as good as the Brazilian, he will have a chance at getting beyond his devotion stigma. This player happens to thank his playing abilities to his Latin dancing days -- convincing Danny to enrole in the local dance class and learn the Samba (not, may I repeat, not the Mambo, which has nothing to do with this film).
In the class is Lucy and Charlie, a perfect couple. Charlie is a football player himself, playing for a very respectable private school -- he and Danny soon challenge each other to a game between their schools. On the field, Danny accidently trips Charlie, leaving him with a limp and taking him out for the rest of the season. This of course, is horrifying to Lucy, who dreams of winning a huge Samba competition and is now without a partner. Enter, of course, Danny, who may very well be her enemy but still will dance with her. These two are complete opposites, but Danny is given a bit of an edge getting into Lucys heart because, thankfully, her father went to the same school as Danny. Heh, if thats not enough proof of being meant for each other, then I dont know what is.
Mad About Mambo means well, and that is the only
reason that I do not hold it in the same degrading family of films with Shes All
That -- at least this film is not completely about changing yourself for love
(looking back on that film, it looks worse than ever). First time director John Forte
lends a definite amateurish lensing to this film -- even the dance sequences seem
confined. Billy Elliot director Stephen Daldry did so much more with dancing in
his film that Mad About Mambo looks and feels like a straight-to-video rehash.
Had this film not come first, I would have probably accused it of that. I guess, instead I
can credit Strictly Ballroom and The Full Monty as superior successors.
(Dir: Akira Kurosawa, Starring Tatsua Matsumura, Kyôko Kagawa, Hisashi Igawa, Jôji Tokoro, Masayuki Yui, Akira Terao, Asei Kobayashi, and Takeshi Kusaka)
BY: DAVID PERRY
In September 1998, the world lost one of the great filmmakers, Japanese auteur Akira Kurosawa. Just nine months earlier, America had just received his final film to little fanfare. It was a saddeningly sedated salute to Kurosawa, who had brought America some of the finest imports -- Japanese or Chinese, European or Asian -- yet could not even create enough of a stir with a final flick of his artistic brush.
Madadayo was actually finished and released in Japan (and, for that matter, played at the Toronto Film Festival) in 1993, but like Ingmar Bergman's films, the art house patrons do not feel the need to acknowledge the continued efforts of past masters of the foreign domain. Instead, people are much happier to only catch the latest from Ang Lee and Lars von Trier -- the new Kurosawa and Bergman. This fact seems all the more fitting considering the way the central elder in Madadayo is actually continually respected and recognized by his young followers.
That character is Hyakken Uchida (Matsumura), a college professor that made such a fine impression on his students that even after his retirement they still go to see him regularly. But the love and admiration does not end there, they also help to get him a new home after a World War II air raid and take time off of work to make an all-out search party for his beloved lost cat Nora. However, the grandest way they show their esteem is in a birthday party they throw for him through the years.
When the film begins, Uchida is turning 60 and sees his future bright -- he is to spend the rest of his days writing books, his real love. At the birthday party, his assembled former students yell out "Maadh Kai," meaning, "Are you ready?" To which he replies "Madadayo," "Not yet!" This statement is Uchida's way of dismissing death for the time being -- he has time left to work in this life and he is not ready to shuffle off this mortal coil.
Kurosawa then proceeds to show the transgression of the student-teacher relationship through various vignettes working up to Uchida's 77th birthday party, where the birthday banquet is not merely the annual salute by the students, but also by their children. Uchida has been left to understand his presence on this earth as a starting point for all these individuals. They still follow him because they understand, unlike some North Americans these days, that one of the most important people in a person's formative years is in their favorite teacher.
This is definitely one of Kurosawa's most poignant and subtle films. The starkness of the storytelling and the definite personal aspects of the scenarios -- nearly no one would question that Kurosawa himself has been a teacher to hundreds of filmmakers since Rashomon in 1950 -- looked to be present in his last three films, Ran, Akira Kurosawa's Dreams, and Rhapsody in August. With each film he became more and more sedated in his directorial style, almost veering into the style of contemporary Yasujiro Ozu. Playing Madadayo beside, say, Yojimbo would almost give the idea of two different filmmakers. Yet each one has a deep inner-relationship, the difference is that there is a distance in Madadayo, almost as if we are watching the situations through a looking glass.
Nevertheless, as a skilled craftsman with the camera, Kurosawa shows impressive visuals through cinematographer Takao Saitô. The finale alone shows nearly as much directorial prowess as Dreams and Rhapsody in August -- every frame seems painstakingly worked with until toned and tweaked to the exact point that Kurosawa hoped for. You get the impression that Kurosawa had the idea that this was his final film. And, though his enactment of his statements do become way too repetitive in the film's 134-minute length, the film feels as happy to be alive as it is melancholy at the idea of aging. Kurosawa, with a single motion picture captures his story and imparts it on the viewing public -- a self-portrait and a swan song rolled into one flawed yet wondrous film.
Watching this film I was reminded of seeing Kurt Vonnegut
speak to an auditorium my freshman year in college. Vonnegut, who always seems slightly
cranky to be aging but excited to still be alive, went on with his stories to an
auditorium filled with some of his followers. At one point he paused and told of his uncle
who would often stop conversations to say "now, isn't this wonderful?" Vonnegut
then went on with his previous subject -- anyone that has read a Vonnegut novel knows his
love for moving on tangents in his line of thought. In closing to his speech, he asked the
audience to think of their one favorite teacher, past or present, and remember why they
were held so high in our memories. Then, he asked for us to turn to the person sitting
next to us and share our favorites and our happy recollections. When the lecture hall was
filled with people talking of all these great mentors, Vonnegut walked up to the
microphone and said: "Now, isn't this wonderful?"
|Michael Jordan to the Max
(Dir: Don Kempf and James D. Stern, Appearances by Michael Jordan, Phil Jackson, Doug Collins, Bob Greene, Bob Costas, Dean Smith, Deloris Jordan, Fred Lynch, Walter Iooss, Jr., Bill Murray, and Laurence Fishburne)
BY: DAVID PERRY
There are some people that will forever live in out collective memories - whether it be the president that we did or did not vote for or the corporate giant that seemed to own everything. One of those people that will remain a legend is Michael Jordan, who literally redefined basketball for the masses. He is, and probably forever will be, the Babe Ruth of the sport.
Yet you can only feel slighted by what is brought forth in the documentary Michael Jordan to the Max. Where some non-fiction films would have used its forum to teach the audience about its subject, this film is more in awe of him. It is closer to watching a pre-game aggrandizement for Jordan than any testament to his life and achievements.
As I sat watching this, wondering why they were on such a route, I began thinking of the two films that this could have, and should have been:
1. There's a meticulous look at Michael Jordan's journey from youth to adulthood, from novice player to one of the greatest in the sport. At one point, the film mentions the fact that Jordan did not make it onto the varsity basketball team his sophomore year of high school. He struggled with this and then used this anger on the court - making him a far better player than he had been before and easing him into the player that he is now. This story takes up about three minutes of Michael Jordan to the Max, yet it is an anecdote that holds the weight and importance of at least fifteen minutes of screen time. Instead directors Don Kampf and James D. Stern give us an additional ten minutes of on-court action to make up for the lost storytelling devices.
This would have been much more intriguing than watching him playing a multitude of times. Yeah, we get the idea that he is a great player, but we do not really have the chance to understand why he is and what caused him to get there. The few chronicles that are brought forth in this film are more about him as a player now than what he was before then.
2. The other idea is a bit of a branch from the film's current structure. As it is now, Michael Jordan to the Max is predominately about his last season and the fight to get to the NBA playoffs. Now, in a different form, this could have been a very interesting film. Giving the audience the road to the playoff games for a multitude of teams might have worked far more than this film does. It would be for more intriguing to watch an in-the-locker-room documentation into the hopes and dreams of many players as they attempt to make it into the finals and, perhaps, turn up as the national champions. Not only would Michael Jordan spread his feelings on the game, but we would also get some countering feelings from people like John Stockton or Karl Malone, both of whom would turn up in the finals along with Dennis Rodman, Scottie Pippin, and Jordan.
For Michael Jordan to the Max, it seems that
they already have enough to get people in the IMAX seats, and couldn't really care about
going that extra mile. Setup some cameras for an impressive first and last shot, record
some interviews, use some game footage, dig up a couple old pictures and you have this
film -- more could have been done. This could have easily been a very respectable
documentary treating him as a legend; instead it seems more like a commercial treating him
like a product.
|Yi Yi (A One and a Two...)
(Dir: Edward Yang, Starring Wu Nien-Jen, Elaine Jin, Kelly Lee, Jonathan Chang, Issey Ogata, Hsi-Sheng Chen, Ko Su-Yun, Michael Tao, Hsaio Shu-shen, Adrian Lin, Pang Chang Yu, Tang Ru-Yun, Hsu Shu-Yuan, and Tseng Hsin-Yi)
BY: DAVID PERRY
Yi Yi begins at a loud wedding and ends on a somber note. It is one of those films that leave the audience sitting in the dark, endeared to a celluloid representation of life. For the characters of Yi Yi, this film is their life, for us, it is a cathartic depiction.
When I sat at the close of this film, I was at a different place from when I began. So often, motion pictures are about the actions of its subjects, not really about the subjects themselves. Yi Yi, like Kenneth Lonergan's You Can Count on Me, does not wait for its characters to do something noteworthy, instead letting them be themselves. This film is the superior -- in a span of three hours, it made me joyous for movies again.
The film opens on the wedding of A-Di (Xisheng) and Xiao (Shushen), a boisterous event that brings together the entire family. At the recital, an old family friend that everyone seems to recognize quietly enters and then begins to scream her guilt to A-Di's mother (Ruyun) for not marrying A-Di instead of the "pregnant bitch" now on her way to the alter with him. With everyone having a great time, it is easy to spot N.J. (Nienjen) and his 8-year-old son Yang-Yang (Chang) and their dour faces. Yang-Yang's problems are easy: the gang of bigger girls are constantly teasing him. But the dilemma plaguing N.J. is much deeper: about to hit middle age, it is easy to see for him that life is merely passing him by. For me, the most poignant moment in the entire film comes in the first thirty minutes as we watch N.J. and Yang-Yang take a break from the wedding to eat some food at the local McDonald's while still in their formal wear -- they sit silently, a gentle smile from Yang-Yang to his father is returned merely with a yawn.
N.J. has a rejuvenation of his older self: the inadvertent reemergence of his first love Sherry (Suyun). They meet for the first time in 20 years by chance on an elevator and she chastens him for leaving her behind so many years ago. We are left, like N.J., to wonder why he did so -- had he taken the other road in life, would he live this same listless, Burnham-esque life? Now, the question is whether or not he should now attempt to make amends for that so-called mistake and have an affair with Sherry despite the unquestionable repercussions that would surely follow.
At the same time, his teenage daughter Ting-Ting (Lee) is left to the same matter of faithfulness, though from another side. She has become close friends with Lili (Lin), who has moved into the apartment next door with her mother. Lili has a seemingly devoted boyfriend named Fatty (Chang), but things go awry when Ting-Ting finds that she too is interested in Fatty and that the feeling may very well be mutual.
Through the course of Yi Yi, there's death, suicide, murder, sickness, birth, infidelity, love, and philosophy, not necessarily in that order. But the underlying truth to Yi Yi is in its refusal to ignore the day-to-day life in a homogenous world. N.J. has only one real friend, yet they do not even share the same language -- N.J. must speak in English for the two to have a conversation whether it is business or personal. Director Edward Yang takes every chance he has to show the commonality of these people and their problems, employing the occasional interlude of music as the camera pans across countless windows, open and closed, where people deal with the same problems as N.J. and his family.
We are not the only observers in Yi Yi, in fact we are really meant to closely empathize with Yang-Yang, who is left to watch everything that transpires around him. The philosophical youth is the closest thing to a free spirit in the entire film. He is often beleaguered by those around him (especially his school teacher, who becomes obsessed in a way with making Yang-Yang's school life miserable), but still remains innocent throughout. He is the Puck of this tale.
It is understandable that Yang, who also wrote the screenplay, chose to name Yang-Yang after himself, the child is the litmus to everything that happens, and, at times, is left to be the only person that can really remark on what has occurred. In the final moment on the film, he sums it up and makes the film close on a note that would put a tear in anyone's eyes.
Yang-Yang uses a camera to record everything that those
around him cannot see, most notably the back of their heads. This follows one of the
themes to Yi Yi: that a motion picture can create something that we, the
audience, might otherwise miss. At one point Fatty says to Ting-Ting that the relevance of
movies is that they allow people to live more lives than they are allotted. Through a life
of watching movies, we are adding "two times as much life" in what we see on
film. By the end of Yi Yi, I was grateful for every minute of those lives that
this film had given to me.