Volume 4, Number 22
This Week's Reviews: Wendigo, World Traveler, The Sum of All Fears, Son of the Bride.
This Week's Omissions: American Chai, Some Body, Undercover Brother.
Capsule Reviews: Enough, Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron.
Blair Witch Project
BY: DAVID PERRY
Larry Fessenden's minimalist horror film Wendigo attempts to turn The Evil Dead into a John Cassavetes film, creating a haphazard (but thankfully short) treatise on what's wrong with the contemporary horror genre. In 1991 he revamped Mary Shelley's Frankenstein with No Telling, in 1997 he glossed Bram Stoker's Dracula with Habit, and now he modifies Stephen King's The Shining with Wendigo. All of his films deal with the surrendering of a person's virtues when they move to and from the city, rarely capturing the intensity that Fessenden seems to think he's tapping.
The film begins well enough, with the director successfully setting the stage for some truly eerie moments as his city-dwellers find discomfort en route to their lent Catskills vacation home. In the middle of some empty, snowy road, their little Volvo station wagon hits a buck when it jumps into the road. Soon three hunters appear, eyeing the dying animal that they've been after for most of the day. Two of them see this as an accident, but Otis (Speredakos) seems to take as much pleasure badgering mild-mannered father George (Weber) as he did shooting the maimed deer with his pistol.
As George, a NY photographer, and his wife Kim (Clarkson), a psychoanalyst, try to fearfully keep Otis' rage aback, their child Miles (Per Sullivan) looks on the proceedings with a fear more intense than anything he might feel from the most terrifying nightmare. In fact, the harried couple must try to convince their son that these people are working from a code that is not violent to the country folk, however destructive it may seem to them. While looking down on Otis and his cohorts, they see killing deer for food as a condonable but slightly evil act, regardless of the way they got their leather boots and fur hats.
But once the film leaves this fine double standard and the frightening class warfare of the Catskills v. Manhattan, the movie looses its footing. Otis' moves from roadside disturber to vandal to peeping tom, and the family tries to deal with the unspoken threats emanating from his nearby abode. All this plays to the Native American mythology that gives the film its title -- ranging from a stoic and invisible Indian guide (Oxendine) to a bag of sugar with a Native mascot. A wendigo -- as the elusive Indian seer tells Miles (paging Scatman Crothers) -- is a half-stag, half-man beast that feeds on the weak without any chance for being satiated.
As the film so poorly shows the audience, though, the wendigo that, of course, comes to life in the movie looks far from threatening, just odd. Like the jackrabbit from America's Funniest People, this thing seems more suitable in a comedy than in a horror film (and, in fact, at the screening I was at, the entire audience went into hysterics at the first image of the wendigo). Fessenden seems to think that his wendigo will leave the audience shuddering, much like The Blair Witch Project, but missed out on the fact that the reason much of Eduardo Sanchez and Daniel Myrick's film worked so well is that its horrible imagery was left off of the screen. Instead, Fessenden just puts stuntman James Godwin into a suit that looks like a bundle of tree branches with deer antlers and expects the audience to fear the woods of upstate New York.
Perhaps as a shorter film (and the movie is already short
as is), Wendigo might have been more successful. Many of the scenes seem
pointless with little prescience to the actual story Fessenden seems to be working with.
Characters are mentioned in passing and actions are tasked but untouched -- sure, it is
like life, but not something that can interestingly fill half of a 90-minute feature. This
film is all about atmosphere, but none of it ever pays off, leaving the audience wondering
what is happening. Normally, a movie like this -- a monotonous sojourn through Tobe Hooper
theatrics -- would be hard to sit through, but the hilarity throughout proves that old
dictum true: time flies when you're having fun. Too bad it's never intentional.
Where Art Thou?
Y Tu Mamá
Count on Me
BY: DAVID PERRY
Billy Crudup, with his wide-eyes and self-pitying smile, has become one of the most recognizable faces of modern independent film. The beginnings were rough with roles in Pat O'Connor's tedious Inventing the Abbots and Stephen Frears' troubled The Hi-Lo Country, but with a collection of performances in Without Limits, Waking the Dead, and Jesus' Son, Crudup caught the eye of Cameron Crowe, who gave him the much sought after role of Russell Hammond in Almost Famous.
Despite the accolades that came to him for Almost Famous, my personal favorite is still Jesus' Son, where Crudup played a drugged-out drifter, trying to piece-together some life as everyone around him struggles to survive their own existences. For his latest, World Traveler, Crudup tries to recreate that Jesus' Son character replacing heroin with alcohol and giving an unneeded purpose to all the mobility.
Now he's playing Cal, a NYC architect, who unexpectedly walks out on his family on his son's third birthday. Taking the family Volvo, he heads west in search of something that has been missing in his life. Drifting from one place to another, he finds a road filled with similarly desolate souls who are searching for something. All along, he is haunted with dreams of a benign figure (Keith) coming in and out of his life.
The road west brings him into many new relationships, most involving people who would be better off without having ever met Cal. There's Carl (Derricks), a construction worker who is so enamored with Cal's free-floating attitude, that he begins drinking again after years on the wagon; there's Meg (Balaban), an underage hitchhiker who tempts Cal with a Lolita-like sexuality as he takes her to Minneapolis; there's Jack (LeGros), a nerd from Cal's high school who is surprised to find that Cal is just as self-involved as he has always been; and there's Dulcie (Moore), who becomes Cal's one good deed as he runs her from the police in an attempt to reunite her with her son.
This culminates in a climax that is unsuitable, with characters finding some unstable epiphany through new contacts that feel forced. Much of the movie seems to be without a real destination and, when the film finally does hit a destination, the feeling is that nothing has been achieved other than the normal indie pater familias malaise. Trying to create a parallel between characters certainly feels strained, especially considering that it is completely out of character for everyone involved.
Amidst all this is a fine performance from Crudup, who becomes the backbone of the film. However, the movie lacks any real point for much of its duration, leaving it flaccid for nearly an hour. Most of the characters director and screenwriter Bart Freundlich brings into the story are interesting, but none of their tenures with Cal bear anything remarkable. It's a movie that pointlessly moves from one vignette to another without bringing anything to the characters or the audience.
The film comes in a year that has been heavy on road pictures, ranging from teen serio-dramas (Crossroads) to gross-out comedies (The Sweetest Thing) to foreign socio-economical treatises with moments of erotic expressionism from directors currently beginning a new national film movement (Y Tu Mamá También). Like the former two films, World Traveler struggles to find its way within the genre, which has been tirelessly used over the past few decades. Freundlich does try haphazardly to find a niche for this film, even if it comes as an insipid run through themes that have saturated American independent films.
The Myth of Fingerprints, Freundlich's 1997 indie
darling, dealt with similar issues in a smaller cast and more intimate surroundings. World
Traveler is not a disappointment because it strays from the virtues of The Myth
of Fingerprints, but because it is an unpleasant and meandering journey without rhyme
or reason. More than The Myth of Fingerprints, the comparison that most pales World
Traveler is to Jesus' Son, where the allegory was spread well and the
journey was at least rewarding.
World Is Not
|The Sum of All Fears
BY: DAVID PERRY
Tom Clancy's fifth Jack Ryan novel, The Sum of All Fears, becomes the forth to come to the screen following The Hunt for Red October, Patriot Games, and Clear and Present Danger. With a gaggle more Jack Ryan thrillers already penning by the novelist -- The Cardinal of the Kremlin, Debt of Honor, Executive Orders, The Bear and the Dragon, and the upcoming Red Rabbit -- not to mention a couple spin-offs with John Clark -- Without Remorse and Rainbow Six (just print this paragraph for a handy-dandy booklist for your next visit to the library) -- the future looks bright for this franchise. Tom Clancy is only 55 now, which means he has many more years to churn out the rest of the Jack Ryan saga; and Paramount (at a ripe age of 70, as they so humbly want to remind everyone) still has some years to produce adaptations of these books. Ladies and gentleman, we may finally have the American answer to James Bond.
But before I veer off into a diatribe on the open door for such a franchise created by 10 years of lackluster Bond films, I'll stop myself and bask in what is truly a high point in this year's thriller genre, which has seen releases of every bad action script they could get their hands on (with the exceptions of Enigma and Panic Room, of course). The Sum of All Fears may have its share of problems, but it is certainly one of the most refreshingly well made films to come out of the studios this year. For every glaring mishap, there are two or three grand fortunes; Phil Alden Robinson, though not of the same caliber as Philip Noyce, does a spectacular job turning the Jack Ryan novel into a taut thriller that is as cinematically pleasing as it is cerebrally.
As a one-time Russian History major, I'm a sucker for any film that seriously deals with Soviet-American relations without dumbing it down for hypothetical audiences who only know of Stalin and "that guy with the red mark on his forehead." Admittedly, the film chooses to under-complicate matters within its story frame that would be much farther reaching than an isolationist story of two nations on the brink has the time to worry with; but such complaints are inconsequential when taking into account that watching this film, in which I already knew a large amount of plot points going in, was still a terrifically tense little film to watch.
The film takes place years before the other films (a part that does not come from the novel, a change made so that the producers could use the younger and more agile Ben Affleck to replace Harrison Ford), following Jack Ryan as a lowly CIA historian, parsing through Russian history books for some information to pass to his much better regarded superiors. Like the Bond films, the actual date is inconsequential to previous films, placing the events in present day, though Ryan has not yet become an agent and is still courting future wife Cathy (Moynahan, who is less believable as a younger Anne Archer than Affleck is as a young Ford).
Brought into the CIA inner circle by Director Bill Cabot (Freeman), Ryan is originally used for his knowledge of the ascending Russian President Alexander Nemerov (Hinds) , who is considered a hardliner by most pundits though Ryan knows better (even though its origin comes form 1991, there are odd relationships between this film and the recent rise of Vladimir Putin), in a simple trip to meet the new world leader. Next thing Jack Ryan knows, he is on the case with the edgy secret agent John Clark (Schreiber; well playing -- and thankfully not mimicking -- a young Willem Dafoe) and uncovering a nuclear plot that involves the Middle East, Austrian Neo-Nazis, and a Baltimore football game (to keep from bringing quick comparisons to Black Sunday, the screenplay by Paul Attanasio and Daniel Pyne changes the event from the Super Bowl to simple league play).
A who's who of great world character actors convene to give this film a strong supporting cast, including Colm Feore and Alan Bates (as the Neo-Nazis), James Cromwell (as the president of the United States), Bruce McGill (as the national security advisor), Ron Rifkin (as the secretary of state), and Philip Baker Hall (as the secretary of defense). The last four portrayals are especially engrossing as they give an interesting view of what it might be like if President Bush, Advisor Rice, and Secretaries Powell and Rumsfeld were put in this same situation.
Of course, watching the film now does bring to mind America's recent viewing of a similar situation on September 11 and the rise in fears of a terrorist attack of such larger magnitude on US soil (though I will not divulge it in this review, the extent of the disaster the Neo-Nazis are aiming for far outreaches the work of Osama Bin Laden). The novel predates the first attack on the World Trade Center in 1993, but gives a remarkably keen look into the way America reacts to such actions, whether its from Middle Eastern fundamentalists (which is the battle originators in the novel) or Eastern European Neo-Nazis. The movie does a great job of covering the same territory, though the Jack Ryan lollygagging, like his belated search for package slips and schlock reunion with his girlfriend, do dull the intriguing international fights going on. When a character jumps behind Ryan to strangle him, it's hard for the audience to not get a little bored knowing that he's going to pull through and waiting for the movie to get back to the far more interesting mêlée occurring on Air Force One.
Even if the Jack Ryan stuff is the least exciting parts of The
Sum of All Fears, the movie still comes out shining with a sheen that has been
missing from not only the James Bond series but also most international nail-biters (ahem,
The Saint, The Jackal). We can only take consolation in the fact that
there are at least five more novels that can be adapted into films. Just as long as thirty
years from now, Paramount understands that post-Clancy Ryan will be just as unappealing as
of the Assassins
|Son of the Bride
BY: DAVID PERRY
Oddly enough, the conservative voters in the Best Foreign Film voting committee for the Academy Awards chose some risky films this year. Look at just three of the films: Lagaan was classic Bollywood cinema in the form of a 4-hour imperialist musical, No Man's Land was a sardonic look at the war in Bosnia and the people in charge of keeping the factions in check, and Amélie was a cutesy romp through the mating rituals of odd-ball Parisians. And in the midst of all this were the shining examples of the more predictable nominees, Elling and Son of the Bride.
Son of the Bride, the Argentinean entry, has the stunning wit of its South American brethren, but lacks the social power of Four Days in November, The Official Story, Our Lady of the Assassins, and the US-produced Men with Guns. With interesting character and a penchant for effective melodrama, the movie has good reason to join the others in the Oscar shortlist, even if it proves to be far less memorable than all the others.
Following the story of Rafael (Darín), a middle-aged Argentinean restaurateur who has been effective in business even though his personal relationships have been risked in the process. As his family restaurant grew under his management, his ex-wife Sandra (Fontán) divorced him and took custody of their little girl Vicky (Nóbile). All the while, he has been unable to get the much sought after approval of his once-doting, now-stricken mother Norma (Aleandro), who was disappointed with Rafael's decision to not become a lawyer.
Now that Rafael has proven himself as successful in running the family's Italian restaurant that was once her pride and joy, she cannot understand it and appreciate it because of an already debilitating affliction of Alzheimer's disease. Rafael's father, Nono (Alterio) has not yet come to acknowledge that his wife is nearly beyond his grasp. While she does remember little memories between them and their brilliant past 44 years together, her memories of anything in recent years has already withered away: every time she sees her grandchild, she notes "what a pretty girl" and asks her name. Things are complicated with the presence of Rafael's May-December girlfriend Nati (Verbeke), the reemergence of old friend Juan Carlos (Blanco; channeling Roberto Benigni), and a pack of corporate businessmen who would love to buy the restaurant.
Watching Rafael juggling all these problems and jobs, as well as his smoking habit and choice to watch TV and snack instead of sleep at night makes it pretty easy to see what road this film is on. And, though it keeps from dancing too close into Life as a House territory, the midlife crisis that becomes apparent within minutes of the film serves as the main interest of a movie that's spread thin in its collection of interests.
Like so many other characters in this midlife crisis cinematic world -- ranging from American Beauty's Lester Burnham to How to Kill Your Neighbor's Dog's Peter McGowan -- Rafael's choices to do anything that might refresh his domestic life comes as little surprise, especially considering Campanella's love for foreshadowing. This is not a movie built around any surprises, though the high-depth style that Campanella uses makes the movie feel weightier than its story really allows.
Darín does a fine job with the central role, though unlike
those other aforementioned names, surprisingly does not overshadow his costars. In fact,
by the film's finale, the most memorable moments do not belond to the lead but to Alterio
and Aleandro. In their fourth pairing, these two actors, who are the Argentinean
equivalents of Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn, have a rapport that comes form years
of working together, including in the 1985 Best Foreign Language film winner The
Official Story. Alterio looks upon Aleandro with a love reserved for those who have
survived so many strong years of marriage, despite the brash statements that come out of
her mouth (the Alzheimer's seems to be bringing a little Tourette's too). This is their Guess
Who's Coming to Dinner and regardless of how powerful Darín or Dinner's Sidney
Poitier may be, this is all their show.
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 Enough and Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron (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."
(Dir: Michael Apted, Starring Jennifer Lopez, Billy Campbell, Tessa Allen, Juliette Lewis, Dan Futterman, Noah Wyle, Fred Ward, and Bill Cobbs)
BY: DAVID PERRY
Slim (Lopez) is abused and then pulls a Glenn Close on her
smug husband Mitch (Campbell). She goes J to the L-O! (my nominee for the worst
album title of this young century) and Enough falls into a rut of overbearing
violence and syrupy drama. Master documentary director Michael Apted tries some odd toys
with the film's early scenes (some of which bring back eerie memories of The Story of
Us), but all for naught. Tailor-made for women who have wanted to put their Billy
Blanks tapes (or, perhaps, Darrin's Dance Grooves) to work, the film smells of
little more than liberation fueled by audience members shouting "you go girl!"
In the theatre, these shouts take everyone else out of the film; however, once the movie
comes on Lifetime, people can watch the movie in peace.
|Spirit: Stallion of the
(Dir: Kelly Ashbury and Lorna Cook, Voices include Matt Damon, James Cromwell, Daniel Studi, Chopper Bernet, Jefff LeBeau, and Richard McGonagle)
BY: DAVID PERRY
Much to the excitement of everyone who wanted a pony for
their 7th birthday, Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron comes out with enough
egregious packaging to convince the audience that it is a Disney film even though its
production values are on par with Don Bluth. Through a bored narration by Matt Damon, we
learn how a horse found its destiny in the untainted (i.e. un-Europeanized) American wild.
Classically animated, the film has the chance to bring the drawer's art back into the
limelight, only failing with hackneyed characters, hideous dialogue, and painful songs.
Occasionally, directors Kelly Asbury and Lorna Cook remind the audience what we miss out
on when we watch computer generated animation; all the while, though, they strike us with
a surely computer generated story.
|BUY THIS FILM'S
|BUY THIS FILM'S