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Volume 4, Number 08

This Week's Reviews:  Queen of the Damned, 40 Days and 40 Nights, John Q.

This Week's Omissions:  Dragonfly.

Capsule Reviews:  Slackers, Super Troopers.


Director:
Michael Rymer

Starring:
Stuart Townsend
Marguerite Moreau
Vincent Perez
Aaliyah
Paul McGann
Lena Olin

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OTHER REVIEWS:
The Bone Collector
Noyce, 1999

Dracula 2000
Lussier, 2000

Hedwig and the Angry Inch
Mitchell, 2001

Romeo Must Die
Bartkowiak, 2000

The Wisdom of Crocodiles
Leong, 2000

Queen of the Damned

BY: DAVID PERRY

When Neil Jordan hired Tom Cruise to play Lestat in Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles, author Anne Rice went on a public tirade opposing the casting decision. With the release of Queen of the Damned, the second Rice vampire novel adapted for the screen, and its horrid visualization of the continued Vampire Chronicles, one can only imagine the outcry coming from Rice's Louisiana home.

The Michael Rymer motion picture is loud and off-putting -- where Neil Jordan's Interview with the Vampire was an expert experiment with slow pace and historical setting, the modern-day effort of the new film feels like the MTV version of Anne Rice's story, full of sound and fury but, ultimately, signifying nothing.

In the beginning, Lestat (now portrayed by the thinner, paler, and more foppish Townsend) rises from his crypt domicile after five decades of rest. He has become so discouraged with the life of a vampire that he decides to capitalize it and, perhaps, finally cause his own death. Upon the discovery of a punk rock band practicing in his old home, Lestat decides that he should become a rock star la David Bowie and Iggy Pop (of course, he's been asleep during their careers and, therefore, has no idea who he is impersonating). The catch is that he's not simply recording albums, but, in the guise of a megalomaniac rock star, admits to the world that he is really a vampire. No one really believes his rantings but nevertheless the vampires of the world are incensed that he is effectively letting the cat out of the bag.

Meanwhile, the Talamascans, a group built around studying the darkest entities of the world, try to make sense of Lestat's decision to come out of the closet. One renegade member, Jesse (Moreau), scoffs at the warnings of her mentor David Talbot (McGann) and pursues Lestat to not only understand what makes him tick but also, perhaps, join him as a bloodsucker herself.

Throw in the seven other major vampire characters and you have a collection of trivial connections and more people to glance at whenever the film needs some reaction shots. Thanks to flashbacks, Marius (Perez) and Akasha (Aaliyah) take up the most screen time of the supporting players as the tutor to the newly undead Lestat and the queen of the vampires, respectively. Meanwhile, characters like Maharet, Mael, Pandora, Khayman, and Armand (Antonio Bandaras' character from Interview with the Vampire, now replaced by a blonde-haired cherub) are thrown in to appease fans of the novels while leaving the rest of the audience wondering why we should even care about these characters (for more information on these characters, the Queen of the Damned website has a fine section devoted to the Vampire Chronicles family tree).

Trying to juggle both of the major stories and the ten main players, David Rymer and editor Dany Cooper go crazy with the editing, creating often unwatchable transfers from placidity to vulgarity -- this is not a film detestable for its extensive sexuality or violence (truthfully, its R rating could have easily been a PG-13), but instead for its willingness to highlight those features whenever possible.

Most of the cast seem like clutter amongst Graham Walker's unimpressive sets, especially Townsend who seethes with a chutzpah that could only be relegated to Osric in Hamlet. John Cameron Mitchell played a similar role (though, without the angst vampire side) in Hedwig and the Angry Inch and turned it into one of the most memoral portrayals of last year; Townsend instead can only infuse his scenes with a few excuses to walkabout without a shirt and with an ooh-I'm-a-sad-vampire expression.

The late actress Aaliyah is given little to do by the Scott Abbott and Michael Petroni script, but still delivers something notable. While most of her scenes are merely meant to have her slink around and act seductively dangerous, Aaliyah uses a similar repose to the one she played in some of her later music videos. Though this is not on the same level as her work in Romeo Must Die, Queen of the Damned, with its end title card dedicated the film to her, only reminds us of what a fine actress the world lost last year.

Anne Rice offered to write the screenplay for this film for free. When Warner Bros. declined the offer and instead turned to the two writers they considered to be more viable to younger audiences, they effectively dulled much of Queen of the Damned's impact. I'm not going to say that Rice is the best person to tackle the screenplay -- she's not the greatest author in the world, but definitely a person known for her attention to explicit detail -- but at least she understands the material and knows that the story of Lestat becoming David Bowie could only be played two ways: as a terse drama or a surreal satire. The middle ground Abbott and Petroni choose to take may seem more acceptable for the youths of America, but the story of Lestat, so perfectly told eight years ago, deserves much better.



Director:
Michael Lehmann

Starring:
Josh Hartnett
Shannyn Sossamon
Paulo Costanzo
Vinessa Shaw
Michael Maronna

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OTHER REVIEWS:
American Pie
Weitz, 1999

Body Shots
Cristofer, 1999

Bridget Jones's Diary
Maguire, 2001

Notting Hill
Michell, 1999

Road Trip
Phillipps, 2000

40 Days and 40 Nights

BY: DAVID PERRY

I grew up in a household that stood in the direct middle of the line when it came to religion and politics. For that reason, I was often pushed to take part in religious events even if not in the same manner as religious doctrine called for. So, since my youth I have given up the oddest loves for Lent -- highly caffeinated beverages, peanut butter, fish -- and never touched them again (this is true for the former two, I have had fish once since 1995).

Lent began 20 February this year and I began what may be the most taxing Lenten abstention yet: I have dropped caffeine altogether. However, my personal vices cannot compare to the abstaining attempted by Matt Sullivan (Hartnett) in 40 Days and 40 Nights. While my attempts have been simply to stop eating things that can be replaced by some other food or beverage, Matt is going to try and deny his libido for those forty days by swearing off all sexual conduct.

That's right -- "no touching, no kissing, no foreplay, no phone sex, no fooling around, no self-gratification, nothing" -- Matt is going to turn from his bed-hopping titan ways into a chaste individual of the most virtuous mindset. Hell, I thought it was tough to go without high-caffeinated drinks until Easter!

He makes the decision of abstinence after being dumped by his universally sought girlfriend Nicole (Shaw) and finding that the tour of women he tries to replace her with cannot stop him from thinking about her. After talking to his brother, a seminary student, Matt comes to the decision that the only way to purge all the thoughts of Nicole is to swear off all sexual relations over the course of Lent. What he does not take into account, however, is that Jesus' supposed walk through the desert to keep from Satan's temptations is evidently nothing compared to a walk through a San Francisco where all women are attractive and the only homosexuality is between buxom lesbians who want to collect the international pool generated by Matt's task.

Of course, thus enters a woman to make Matt rethink his decision. In an oh-so-cute and pat way, his betrothed is found in the form of Erica (Sossamon) at the laundromat where he tries to get away from the temptations running around his apartment. Since Matt is not allowed to go very far with her, he seems rather old-fashioned and gentlemanly, but soon Erica becomes intent on finding out why her new lover is unwilling to show any form of affection outside of a high-five.

There are about seven scenes of plot devices made to keep the film from going beyond its one joke premise, none of which really create anything terribly inventive. And the film's resolve to duplicate the same scenarios every fifteen minutes (the film could easily be dictated into three base scenes put on repeat) make for some less-than-stellar moments. However, 40 Days and 40 Nights is not a complete loss considering the film's pitch-perfect tone for the story and director Michael Lehmann's decision to never really attempt gross-out humor.

While the actors involved never create any chemistry or rapport, the screenplay saves most of the scenes through silly characterizations and occasionally well-tuned dialogue. One scene, involving what one character calls the "immaculate orgasm" could be one of the most intensely funny scenes in a comedy since Shallow Hal. And like that Farrelly brothers gem, 40 Days and 40 Nights knows that it is not necessarily funny to counteract all sweetness of a story with the most slovenly produced actions. These are characters that the audience can care about regardless of the idiocy screenwriter Rob Perez has used to bring them together -- while his originality in pitting people in certain relations is rather lacking, he does have a fine ability to make their scenes together seem worthwhile.

40 Days and 40 Nights comes from the same team of Eric Fellner and Tim Bevan -- the producer team known for Brit-coms Four Weddings and Funeral, Notting Hill, and Bridget Jones's Diary, and Coen brothers works The Hudsucker Proxy, Fargo, The Big Lebowski, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, and The Man Who Wasn't There -- and, while not of the same degree as some of their other films, the latest movie marginally succeeds for what it is aiming at. Through all the gaping holes (especially in dealing with the plight of Matt's brother) and thematic mistakes, this is a nice and quaint movie that never completely fumbles the ball.



Director:
Nick Cassavetes

Starring:
Denzel Washington
James Woods
Robert Duvall
Kimberly Elise
Anne Heche
Ray Liotta
Eddie Griffin
Shawn Hatosy
Ethan Suplee
Kevin Connolly

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OTHER REVIEWS:
Blow
Demme,2001

Double Jeopardy
Beresford, 1999

Human Resources
Cantet, 2000

Swordfish
Sena, 2001

Training Day
Fuqua, 2001

John Q

BY: DAVID PERRY

I like Denzel Washington as an actor; he is one of the few performers who can consistently deliver an award-caliber performance with every film he makes. However, I am also one to become exceedingly aggravated when looking at each film. Stating that his last film, Training Day, was a change of pace for the actor fails to note the fact that the portrayal, like almost every other portrayal of characters ranging from Malcolm X to Rubin 'Hurricane' Carter to Herman Boone, is riddled with a self-aggrandizing, self-righteous side.

That is definitely true with Washington as John Quincy Archibald in John Q, where every scene feels like another chance for Washington to sermonize his character's aspirations. For some actors, emotions can be felt without verbalization, but it seems like the only way Washington can shine is if he's given a sizeable monologue.

John Q is certainly hurt by the preaching Washington relies on, but ultimately the real reason that the movie stands as one of the most laughably bad dramas of 2002 is that the entire film seems intent on making every scene, with or without Washington, into some chance for moralizing.

This is a movie about the wreck today's HMO system is and the way that lower income families are often left to watch their loved ones die because they cannot afford medical attention while the insurance companies are uninterested in their plight. This raises a certain amount of potential -- regardless of how you feel about the subject -- but John Q is listlessly left to move through a series of contrivances so that screenwriter James Kearns and director Nick Cassavetes can take the moral high ground. Both filmmakers have commented that this subject hits close to home -- Cassavetes' daughter was once in need of a major surgery -- but their personal disdain comes across so clearly that it dulls any impact that might have come through their narrative drama.

The film follows John Archibald as he must struggle to make the money needed to get a $250,000 heart transplant for his son, only $20,000 of which is covered by his recently downgraded insurance policy because of his job's downgrading. With John and his wife Denise (Elise) pawning everything they can get their hands on to make the $75,000 down payment -- an amount that would only ensure that the icy hospital administrator Rebecca Payne (Heche; given a character whose name almost makes the entire audience cringe at its lack of subtlety) will put their son on a donor list.

After a failed attempt at rallying compassion out of the kind-hearted but incapable of going above superiors cardiologist Turner (Woods; delivering the film's single great performance), John decides to take the entire emergency ward of the hospital -- how's this for a bad name: Crisis of Hope Memorial Hospital -- hostage with Turner, a couple nurses, and a Chaucer-esque assortment of patients all held at gunpoint. The Chicago police fall upon the place and aging hostage negotiator Grimes (Duvall; five'll get you ten, he's a couple days away from retirement, when a gunman will take him down) must try and convince his bloodthirsty cohorts lead by Chief Monro (Liotta) that there's no reason to try and kill John Archibald. Because, you know, his heart is in the right place when he threatens to kill all the people in the ward.

With the recent death of hostage Daniel Pearl, this film seems even more sickening. This is a movie that wants the audience to have compassion for a man because he has a sick son regardless of the fact that he points a gun a half-dozen innocent people. There's a problem with hostage situations -- if the abductors get what they want, it only gives reason for either people to do the same -- and this film seems unable to understand the world is not ready for this affable, likable hostage-taker. Halfway through the film, I was supporting Monro in his yearning for the quick resolution of the event by killing John; I find it doubtful that I'm the only person that was struck in this fashion.

Cassavetes is not a horrible director with dialogue-heavy character dramas like She's So Lovely and Unhook the Stars, but this film, his first work with a major studio, shows what an incompetent filmmaker he really is. Plots are inordinately dealt with, characters are treated like tissue paper with the exception of its messiah, and attempts at suspense fall silently. This is a textbook example of sloppy issues-filmmaking in all its glory -- for an odd moment, Sonny's need for his lover's sex change operation in Dog Day Afternoon seems more fortuitous than healthcare reform.



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 Slackers and Super Troopers (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."


Slackers

(Dir: Dewey Nicks, Starring Devon Sawa, Jason Schwartzbaum, James King, Jason Segel, Michael C. Maronna, and Laura Prepon)

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BY: DAVID PERRY

Idiotic college film that produces as few laughs as the similarly produced upcoming Van Wilder, Slackers lacks anything that might be considered enjoyable outside of an occasional lapse into surrealism (and, for this film, the term 'occasional' is used rather liberally). Following Rushmore, Jason Schwartzman looked like a possible hot property for the art house crowd, but considering that he scrapped Donnie Darko for this makes that seem unlikely now.


Super Troopers

(Dir: Jay Chandrasekhar, Starring Jay Chandrasekhar, Paul Soter, Marisa Coughlan, Kevin Heffernan, Steve Lemme, Erik Stolhanske, Brian Cox, and Daniel von Bargen)

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BY: DAVID PERRY

Low-budget and low-class cop comedy Super Troopers tries diligently to generate enough laughs to fill any regular National Lampoon film, but ultimately only brings a couple light chuckles. But hey, at least it's a step up from any of the Police Academy films.


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

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