Volume 4, Number 14
This Week's Reviews: Last Orders, Festival in Cannes, Kissing Jessica Stein.
This Week's Omissions: Big Trouble, High Crimes, Monsoon Wedding.
Capsule Reviews: All About the Benjamins, Sorority Boys.
BY: DAVID PERRY
Every old English pub has a collection of regulars who make it their home. In America the closest thing is the Cheers gang, but for Englishmen the sight of a pack of friends at every visit to the local tavern is commonplace. But, as is the case with everything involving humans, the party cannot last forever -- they can enjoy their time living, but there's always the albatross of death hanging over their revelry.
Nevertheless, Fred Schipisi's Last Orders understands that when that time comes -- the death of one of those ale-guzzling locals -- these are friends who have shared too much to simply sit around and mourn. Like the four lovable main protagonists in the film, their collective friendship and history has brought too much to one another for a death to end the happiness each has given to the rest.
The film opens as three of the friends assemble in the Coach and Horses Pub, their home away from home. Ray (Hoskins), a self-employed horse gambler, has brought the ashes of Jack (Caine), a family-employed butcher; waiting for the arrival of Ray and the remains of Jack are Vic (Courtenay), a funeral director, and Lenny (Hemmings), a fruit and vegetable stand owner. Moments after their arrival, Jack's son Vince (Winstone) arrives in a Mercedes out of the showroom from the car dealership he owns.
They have come together to take care of a final wish from their departed friend: Jack wanted his ashes thrown into the gulf off of Margate, the place he had long intended on retiring to. His reasoning for choosing the area, as well as the relationships that brought everyone together in the first place become clear as Schipisi's screenplay from the Graham Swift novel continues to unravel throughout Last Orders.
Tackling Last Orders, novel or movie, is like jumping constantly crossing lives of six people -- Jack, Vic, Ray, Lenny, Vince, and Amy (Mirren), Jack's wife. There's melodrama, but Schipisi has such regard for his characters that even in a mere 109 minutes he won't unveil his information is histrionic surprise packages. Calling Last Orders a male weepie isn't a misnomer, but equating it to anything like a soap opera would not do it justice.
Most of the backstory is told through flashbacks, where the audience is accosted with an odd collection of actors meant to represent our modern characters (it is a tough problem for a filmmaker working with flashbacks of actors like these considering that most of the audience knows exactly what Tom Courtenay, Michael Caine, and David Hemmings looked like thirty years ago). The lion's share of the flashbacks involve younger versions of Jack (Feild), Amy (Reilly), and Vince (McCole) as their family went through various tragedies ranging from a mentally retarded daughter to the dispatch of Jack to the British fighting in Egypt over the Suez Canal, where he happens to meet Ray.
Much has been made of the WWII generation in America, the last time when the country was really aligned in a cause to fight. The Falklands notwithstanding, the British generation represented here is similar to "the greatest generation" considering that they fought in what was England's final dash at military glory (whether or not you can consider the Suez Canal failure the British equivalent of America's Vietnam is definitely up for debate). Much of what these men have been through -- from war to their day-to-day lives -- are clear in the actors' odd gaits, deep wrinkles, and loaded eyes. Beyond merely the outstanding talent brought to the screen, Shaheen Baig and Patsy Pollock's casting for the film bring some of the best choices to come to the screen in recent years.
And what a cast it is: a double feature of Last Orders and Gosford Park could be considered the British actor's all-star game with Albert Finney out for an injury or something. That metaphor holding true, deciding upon a MVP for simply this film would be taxing. All six of the performers give commanding work that serves as testament as to why they have withstood the tests of filmmaking time. Only Ms. Mirren's work on Gosford Park bears a resemblance to what grand acting is on the screen here. If hard pressed, I'd call Mr. Courtenay the best hitter, if only because he has the virtues of a grand theatre actor underplaying his role for the betterment of his castmates.
Watching Last Orders is a mysterious treat. It is
a movie about death and the way people will forever miss those they loved. But, in the
end, the audience is reminded that through those fond memories -- and, occasionally, these
great movies -- we can have something to laugh at as we take the pilgrimage to our final
of New York
|Festival in Cannes
BY: DAVID PERRY
For a movie so gushingly saturated in a love for moviemaking, Henry Jaglom's Festival in Cannes has to be one of the most disarmingly lackluster movies released this year. It opens with glances at stars of yesteryear visiting the Cannes Film Festival and then precedes to follow three of the least interesting people in the entire city. Meanwhile, we get glimpses of real stars Jeff Goldblum, Holly Hunter, George Miller (all of whom served on the 1999 Cannes jury when this movie was filmed), William Shatner, and Faye Dunaway walking the red carpet. For moments at a time, the audience is allowed to think of the finer films that could be made if Mr. Jaglom would just follow those people instead of his forced characters.
Jaglom's style is to find a setting and a story, collect some actors, give them a little dialogue, and throw them together to improvise. But, as one would expect, throwing highly talented actors into the mix with some horrendous ones to play hackneyed characters bears little more than a tenuous little film that has the pretense of improvisation without the freshness that's supposed to come along.
For Festival in Cannes, the setting and story surround the French movie-dealing capital of Cannes during its most hectic two weeks; the actors are veterans Anouk Aimée and Maximilian Schell, Jaglom regular Zack Norman, indie favorites Greta Scacchi and Ron Silver, and unknowns Jenny Gabriel and Alex Craig Mann; and the dialogue is often repetitions of the same motif to get the actors to work in some bottleneck story.
The film begins with a happenstance lunch between actress Alice Palmer (Scacchi; think Christine Lahti) and smarmy wheeler-dealer Kaz Naiman (Norman; think Martin Ferrero). She's in town to find financing for the script she yearns to direct; he's in town to spend some money in hopes of making his name in the business. She wants Gena Rowlands to play the lead role in her film, but, thanks to some dealing by Kaz, finds that she might actually be able to woo the famed French actress Millie Marquand (Aimée; think Jeanne Moreau).
This creates a problem in the cabanas outside Cannes' illustrious hotels. If Millie Marquand takes the role in Alice Palmer's $3 million independent movie, she cannot appear in the $90 million blockbuster movie produced über-producer Rick Yorkin (Silver; think Jerry Bruckheimer). To make up her mind, she turns to her reclusive boyfriend/director Viktor Kovner (Schell; think Orson Welles), who tells her to go with the little picture until Rick Yorkin starts talking to him.
Meanwhile, a young ingénue named Blue (Gabrielle; think Emilie Dequenne) is going around the city seeing the sights and rubbing elbows with the stars. She's getting acclaim for her work in the independent hit at the festival, Fire. And, in the process, Blue captures the attention of Rick Yorkin's assistant Barry (Mann; think Andrew McCarthy), who not only fancies to possibly be her manager but also her boyfriend.
In all the scurrying, Festival in Cannes because a tedious look at how good actors can sometime feel the pain of not knowing what to do with their characters. Aimée, Schell, and Silver all seem quite well suited to play their roles, but Scacchi and Norman have a certain lost motion to their characters, which have fine nuances and the like, but never really solidify into anything near tangible to capture the audience's interest. Mann and Gabrielle, meanwhile, give a pair of the worst performances in art films this year. Even Peter Bogdanovich making a cameo as a haughty film director (think Jean-Luc Godard) cannot make an enjoyable nugget out of what Jaglom gives him.
The ultimate failure of Festival in Cannes sits on
the shoulders of its director. Like Mike Figgis, he's too intent on his pretension in
filmmaking that he forgets the virtues of good storytelling. Not since The Loss of
Sexual Innocence, a polar opposite in genre, has a film as pretentious without any
underlying interest in the pretext in work
(think, err, Prêt-à-Porter).
... It's Just Sex
|Kissing Jessica Stein
BY: DAVID PERRY
"If your daily life seems poor, don't blame it; blame yourself, tell yourself that you are not poet enough to call forth its riches."
Early twentieth century writer Rainer Maria Rilke made it quite clear in his many letters, prose collections, and poems that a good life is made of those moments when people stray from the beaten path. There was passion in his writing because he found passion in his own life decisions, whether it was merely searching through the works of Paul Cézanne or keeping a relationship with "Benvenuta" (Magda von Hattingberg).
Rilke is a perfect fit for a quote in the new film Kissing Jessica Stein, which explores the relationship of two people taking uncertain steps in their lives. Helen Cooper (Juergensen) is a wild and free young Manhattan art curator, who spends her days juggling her three lovers, each of whom fit a particular mood she has when calling upon them for services. Jessica Stein (Westfeldt) is a read and articulate perfectionist working for the New York Tribune as the copy editor, which causes her to be doubly critical of every man she dates.
Thanks to some liberation and the help of a couple friends, Helen takes out a personals ad in the "Women Seeking Women" section. She's never really thought about moving to a same-sex relationship, but Helen believes that it's time for something new. In her ad she quotes Rilke and, when one of Jessica's coworkers reads the ad, steals the heart of Ms. Stein. She too has never thought about trying a lesbian relationship, but, testing Helen's patience in the process, is willing to take the plunge.
But thanks to Jessica's ultraconservative lifestyle, the relationship must remain a secret from her friends and family much to the chagrin of Helen, who is willing to proclaim their love for each other. Even when meeting Jessica's closest acquaintances -- former boyfriend/current boss Josh (Cohen), coworker Joan (Hoffman), and mother Judy (Feldshuh) -- Helen finds that she cannot admit that she and Jessica are really lovers. Having to play thier relationship differently around different company hits Helen hard -- as Rilke once wrote "Human relationships, which are an extract of life, are the most changeable of all, rising and falling, from minute to minute, and lovers are those whose relationships and contact no one moment resembles another."
The two actresses have played these characters before in the off-Broadway play Lipschtick, and their knowledge of every tick and mannerism in Helen and Jessica help to make these two characters into immensely believable people brought to film. Both Jennifer Westfeldt and Heather Juergensen are highly able actresses, turning their two parts into remarkably interesting and intriguing caricatures. Both roles could have been clichés -- lipstick mensch, butch artist -- but neither actress, both of whom co-wrote the screenplay, lets their respective roles become facsimiles of the characters found in Better than Chocolate and But I'm a Cheerleader or veer into wet dreams of lesbian-addicted males.
This also creates a problem when the story needs to flash forward at odd times. Since the movie covers nearly a year of time in long temporal intervals, there are occasions when a intertitle informs the audience that three months has passed. This creates a catch-22 out of the storytelling -- while the movie remains briskly paced, the audience feels like they are missing some truly interesting interplay between the two lead characters.
Director Charles Herman-Wurmfeld is a veteran of stage direction, though his only previous work for the screen is the little known indie Fanci's Persuasion. His style is rather undemanding, which makes for splendid sets for the actors to work, but also causes some of the frames to feel rather stagnant. While he may be a true genius for the stage, his personal stamp is never really recognizable or terribly notable throughout the film.
Nonetheless, Kissing Jessica Stein rises above
expectations for the tired romantic comedy genre. Some might say that it is breaking
boundaries because it is a highly accessible film on a gay romance, but that really
belittles what is so perfectly tuned in the film. Kissing Jessica Stein knows how
to chisel a fine story that closely looks over the ups and downs of a relationship between
two people, regardless of gender roles. Funny or bittersweet, the movie is a graciously
timed gem that comes from the heart and the soul of romantics willing to acknowledge the
cynicism inherent in this world. Rainer Maria Rilke would be proud.
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 All About the Benjamins and Sorority Boys (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."
|All About the Benjamins
(Dir: Kevin Bray, Starring Ice Cube, Mike Epps, Eva Mendes, Tommy Flanagan, Carman Chaplin, and Valarie Rae Miller)
BY: DAVID PERRY
Loud and audacious modern blaxploitational film All
About the Benjamins pits Ice Cube and Mike Epps in a shoot 'em up without any real
purpose. The comedy is too goofy and the action is too inexplicable -- all around, it is a
waste of time. Sans the comedy, similar films have come and gone, but Benjamins
is one of the worst to get a wide release.
(Dir: Wallace Wolodarsky, Starring Barry Watson, Michael Rosenbaum, Harland Williams, Melissa Sagemiller, Tony Denman, Brad Beyer, Heather Matarazzo, Yvonne Sciò, and Katherine Stockwood)
BY: DAVID PERRY
Not since National Lampoon's Van Wilder has a
college comedy been as equally uninspired and unfunny. Sorority Boys tries to
teach some equality and understanding between the genders, but, in the end, comes off just
as uncaring and misogynistic as one might expect from the film's frat boy villains. Sadly
enough, this spin-off of Just One of the Boys and Soul Man brings fewer
laughs than those two flops.
|BUY THIS FILM'S
|BUY THIS FILM'S