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Cinema-Scene.com
Volume 4, Number 07

This Week's Reviews:  Charlotte Gray, Collateral Damage.

This Week's Omissions:  Crossroads, Hart's War, John Q, Return to Never Land, Super Troopers.

Capsule Reviews:  Big Fat Liar, Rollerball.


Director:
Gillian Armstrong

Starring:
Cate Blanchett
Billy Crudup
Michael Gambon
Rupert Penry-Jones
Anton Lesser
Ron Cook

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OTHER REVIEWS:
Holy Smoke!
Campion, 1999

Pearl Harbor
Bay, 2001

The Talented Mr. Ripley
Minghella, 1999

This Is My Father
Quinn, 1999

Titanic
Cameron, 1997

Charlotte Gray

BY: DAVID PERRY

For international intrigue, the thought of spending a couple hours with Cate Blanchett and Gillian Armstrong sounds quite commanding. But two artisans hard at work cannot save what is essentially a bad script. The World War II love triangle found in Charlotte Gray may not be as egregiously repugnant as the similar one found in Michael Bay's Pearl Harbor, but that's not really saying much. Charlotte Gray is not really a bad movie, just far from the grand achievement that you might expect from Armstrong and Blanchett.

The film begins with a flaxen haired Charlotte Gray (Blanchett) sitting in her train coach en route from her Scottish hometown to her London job. Also in the coach is a representative from the foreign ministry, a type of organizer for the secret agents sent from Britain into the Vichy Regime's holdings of Southern France. Though not terribly interested in the comments made by this man, she attends a book party, where he intends to get to know her better and whether her fluency in the French language and culture could help him.

Charlotte is not completely turned on to the notion of fighting the covert war waged by her government, but she falls in love before she can turn down the offer. Peter Gregory (Penry-Jones), a young RAF flyboy, comes into her closed world and convinces her that there is something more than the sanctity of her country to fight for. When Gregory is reportedly shot down over France and being housed by a kind French family from the German and Vichy forces, Charlotte decides she should join the ranks of the secret agents.

Given a new identity (Dominique, a wife fleeing the north after the imprisonment of her husband by Germany), given a dark-haired dye job, and dropped into the French countryside, Charlotte begins working both to do her job helping England and to find out where Peter is. Her contact is Julien Lavade (Crudup), a Resistance fighter who not only wants to free France from the German reign but also to push people to a communist society after the war is over. With a small troupe of fellow freedom fighters, Julien continues his work in the area as the leader of all Resistance operations.

As must be the case, Charlotte begins to find herself in love with Julien after hearing some unreassuring news about Peter's situation. To keep their cooperation together from raising the scrutiny of local Vichy supporters, Julien has Charlotte pose as the housemaid for the large but overgrown estate of his somewhat estranged father (Gambon), where he is housing a couple homeless Jewish children.

The politics and, for that matter, the sense of history of Charlotte Gray seem lost on the screenplay by Jeremy Brock. There is a small overview of the history predating the events in the film, but they are so slight that anyone seeing the film without prior knowledge of the dichotomy of 1943 France would be lost as to why the Frenchmen of the film are so fearful of the Vichy Regime. Admittedly, this film was made in Europe where most schoolchildren learn of Vichy, Free French, Henri Petain, and Charles de Gaulle, but in America this information is about as unknown outside of college graduates as the story of John Hancock signing the Declaration of Independence first would play to a kid in Switzerland.

However many holes there may be in the screenplay (not to mention some really horrid dialogue), Charlotte Gray does stand as a satisfactory film visually. Armstrong and cinematographer Dion Beebe turn the picturesque French countryside and the curvy face of Mrs. Blanchett into frames of film worthy of putting up on your wall. Along with a moody score from Stephen Warbeck and a fine supporting turn from Michael Gambon, it's tough to consider Charlotte Gray a complete disappointment.

But the real reason why the move deserves a recommendation, if only for second tier viewing (and, considering the film's platform release schedule, it may be the best thing in some theatres as opposed to Spring film stock), is Mrs. Blanchett. Anyone who reads my ranting and raving remarks on Mrs. Blanchett with every performance should know that I consider her to be the best actress of this generation, if not any before her. The common camparison is to Cate Blanchett and Meryl Streep, but in a much more prolific package. Even though there have been some rocky releases from Cate Blanchett as of late, she once again proves with her performance in Charlotte Gray that she is the most deserving person to not yet have an Academy Award on her mantle. If, perchance, Heaven or The Lord of the Rings trilogy finally put this to rest before her impending short-term retirement, I might finally come to terms with the group long unaware of the constant quality work unleashed by Mrs. Blanchett.



Director:
Andrew Davis

Starring:
Arnold Schwarzenegger
Francesca Neri
Cliff Curtis
Elias Koteas
John  Leguizamo
John Turturro
Tyler Posey

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OTHER REVIEWS:
Double Jeopardy
Beresford, 1999

End of Days
Hyams, 1999

The General
Boorman, 1998

Proof of Life
Hackford, 2000

The 6th Day
Spottiswoode, 2000

Collateral Damage

BY: DAVID PERRY

Collateral Damage finished production in March of last year and was situated with an October 5th release, but the attacks on September 11th made it seem out of place. Now, as the jingoism is winding down, Warner Bros. is finally ready to release the film for mass consumption.

The story of a firefighter's desperate attempt to catch the terrorist who killed his wife and son in a bombing on US soil seems like something that might work in an upcoming out-of-taste made-for-TV movie, but, alas, this is Hollywood and Collateral Damage gets to serve itself on a platter hoping that people are still willing to sit back and rally for the death to all terrorists, regardless of what they are fighting for.

And Arnold Schwarzenegger could really use a hit these days. It's been two years since his last film, four years since his big heart surgery, and six years since his last enjoyable film. The years since Eraser have been filled with some really bad films: Jingle All the Way, Batman & Robin, End of Days, and The 6th Day. Collateral Damage may be better than all those flops, but that really isn't saying much.

Schwarzenegger's LA firefighter Gordy plays mourner for the first act and then turns into full commando gear for the second and third. His target is Claudio, known as the "The Wolf" (Curtis), a Columbian drug-lord/arms dealer/terrorist who comments "When an American sees an peasant on television with a gun, he changes the channel. He never asks, 'what is a peasant doing with a gun?'" Claudio begins the film by trying to blowup the Columbian consulate, killing nine people in the process. Most of the dead are political and military personnel, but two are civilians caught in the fire -- Gordy's wife and child -- while Gordy just stands and watches.

At first he is willing to sit back and mourn, allowing the US government to take care of retaliation, but when a Columbian sympathizer remarks on television that the two civilians were little more than "collateral damage" Gordy decides to take the law into his own hands. His vigilante mission to Columbia may disturb the CIA agent on the case (Koteas), but it makes Claudio happy: if he can kidnap Gordy, the American public will feel so bad for his story that they'll pay a ransom for his head (another plot point that plays oddly now, with the abduction of Wall Street Journal writer Daniel Pearl in mind).

Ultimately, Collateral Damage serves as little more than a mindless action film with some form of a message, though its resilience to the ridiculousness running rampant is rather moot. Given that the director is Andrew Davis, it is not surprising that the action scenes are well formulated and run at a brisk and interesting pace, though the screenplay by David and Peter Griffiths certainly lacks much information to fill in the blanks between the action scenes.  The trailers have made sure to point out that this film is from the director of The Fugitive failing to mention the fact that Davis was also behind a similarly disappointing film like Chain Reacion.

In the end, the hardest thing to endure, though, is that Arnold officially feels out of place in action films. Most eighties action stars have moved away from the genre and into drama and/or obscurity. Arnold is now 54 and about two-thirds the muscular power he was a decade ago. Watching him cavort around the Columbia beating gunmen half his age and taking falls that normal 45 year-olds would not be able to take (hell, I doubt a 25 year-old could take one waterfall Arnold scoffs at), it becomes harder to suspend disbelief as easily as the past.

Today, Arnold has been courting politics more than movie audiences, perhaps following in the shoes of fellow actor-come-politician Ronald Reagan with a possible run for the California governorship. Some people have already decried this scenario but, hey, at least he won't be making movies for a while. And some time off might do some good -- in fifteen years, after spending some time in the political spotlight, some better scripts might fall on the desk of Senator Schwarzenegger.



Capsule Reviews: Since things are backlogged and there happens to be two spots in this week's lineup, I have decided to use capsule reviews for Big Fat Liar and Rollerball (plus, they were not viewed in a theatre).  Though, as I said in the last capsule review column, these would be better suited if they were called "Flippant Remarks."


Big Fat Liar

(Dir: Shawn Levy, Starring Frankie Muniz, Paul Giamatti, Amanda Bynes, Amanda Detmer, Donald A. Faison, Russell Hornsby, Michael Bryan French, and Christine Tucci)

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BY: DAVID PERRY

Frankie Muniz tries to ruin the life of a Hollywood producer (Giamatti) after he steals the boys paper and makes a movie out of it. Big Fat Liar is little more than Home Alone raised to a new, self-deprecating level with occasional laughs but ultimately nothing more than a silly concoction made to take pot-shots at the always smarmy Giamatti.


Rollerball

(Dir: John McTiernan, Starring Chris Klein, LL Cool J, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, Jean Reno, Oleg Tarktarov, and Naveen Andrews)

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BY: DAVID PERRY

Remake of the 1975 Norman Jewison film drops most of the intriguing social commentary in the original for as many loud and annoying action sequences as possible. Jean Reno is not horrible as the zealous owner of the violent sport while Chris Klein and Rebecca Romijn-Stamos show new lows in acting. A frenzy of constant (and uninteresting) commotion, Rollerball proves that Hollywood cannot even make good remakes of mediocre films.


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Reviews by:
David Perry
2002, Cinema-Scene.com

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