Volume 4, Number 26
This Week's Reviews: Lilo & Stitch, Time Out, Nine Queens, The Salton Sea.
This Week's Omissions: Hey Arnold! The Movie.
Emperor's New Groove
Wars: Episode I -- The Phantom Menace
|Lilo & Stitch
BY: DAVID PERRY
Lilo & Stitch comes to life on the screen unlike anything people would have expected from a stagnant Disney animation division. Barring their work with Pixar and Fantasia resurrection, Disney has not had anything near a masterpiece since Beauty and the Beast, also their last work with completely classical animation and storytelling. Lilo & Stitch is inarticulate, immature, and troubled -- at first glance, it might be considered a departure, but what about Dopey, Tramp, and Dumbo?
Stitch, despite what the Disney ad department would have you think, could fit in with a clique of incorrigible deviants seen in the many years of Disney animation; likewise, the filmmakers Dean Deblois and Chris Sanders have more importantly embraced the styles of Hamilton Luske and Ben Sharpsteen, choosing to give Lilo & Stitch the look and feel of Dumbo, not Dinosaur.
In retrospect, Lilo & Stitch is not set in any real time, it is given a temporal freedom that fit so well in almost all of the classic Disney masterpieces. Outside of a recognition of the Hawaiis place as a tourist destination and the hinting towards men in black, most of the film is set in a world that is timeless (perhaps a comment on the fact that Hawaii, despite a continually growing tourist industry, has remained essentially timeless). More so, the filmmakers use this lack of a time factor to enhance the story with an impression of its unquestionable universality -- at first glance, a Hawaiian story would seem unconnected to the lives of contiguous state Americans, but Deblois and Sanders perfectly inject it with values that impact anyone.
The film follows the travails of the two title characters as they forge some form of relationship despite the hindrances that are inherent in their forms. Lilo (voiced by Chase) is an orphaned, rebellious child, trying to make a family out of just herself and her adult sister Nani (Carrere). Stitch, on the other hand, is a space alien, genetically created to destroy everything that it touches. Some might say their meeting is kismet.
After the Space Confederation deems Stitch an abomination, banishes his creator Jumba (Stiers), and prepares to destroy him, Stitchs inventiveness (an asset Jumba built into him) gets him into an escape module and heads to the planet Earth, placed under strict protection as the breeding ground for mosquitoes. The leader of the confederation sees Stitchs existence on the planet unlikely since it is mostly water, but soon panics when the module lands on Kauai and sends Jumba with lackey Pleakley (McDonald) to capture Stitch before he can cause any damage.
Stitch is resourceful, though, convincing the islanders that he is a dog and making it into Lilos life when Nani finally agrees to get her a pet. This is a last resort attempt to give the young girl something to love since none of the girls around the island want to have anything to do with her and an exceedingly creepy social worker named Cobra Bubbles (Rhames) is keeping a close eye on the household for any dissatisfaction from Lilo.
The destructiveness of Stitch becomes a major problem for Nani and Lilo, as they find his shenanigans destroy nearly everything he can touch. Even the pretenses of his relationship are questionable: the only reason he lightens up to Lilo in the animal shelter is to keep from being shot by Jumba. Stitch is an antihero to the core, allowing his most unlikable actions to well inside an entity that cannot turn its back on what it learns to be ohana or family.
And that is doubly true for the producers bringing Lilo & Stitch to theatres. Disney has been incorrigible for a decade now, producing marginal fare that it tried to portray as some sort of achievement comparable to the work of Walt Disney. As they turned their back on classical animation to enrich their CGI studio with A Bugs Life, Toy Story, and Toy Story 2, they effectively began eating away their own history. Im of a generation that grew up with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Dumbo, and Cinderella through re-releases -- even into a 1980s Disney revival, the magic was still there for children who knew E.T. better than Peter Pan. Lilo & Stitch may be the first step at a renewal of this Disney ethos -- if they continue to make this level of quality animated films, they might have a new collection of films to raise future generations on. Even if they do fail to do so, the youths of 2025 can still have their copy of Lilo & Stitch suitably close to their copies of Bambi and Beauty and the Beast.
The issues dealt with in the movie are not quite as heavy
as what Warner Bros. surprisingly pulled off with The Iron Giant, but that does
not mean that Lilo & Stitch comes as a mere trifle to see in the
summers saturated family film market (Lilo & Stitch, Scooby-Doo,
Hey Arnold! The Movie, and The Powerpuff Girls all come out over the
course of a month). Deblois and Sanders deal with more sentimental questions that may not
bring any real change in how people -- regardless of age -- look at society, but they do
bring some welling in the heart that cannot be ignored. The six-year-old I saw the film
with said he almost cried a couple times; I cannot say that he was the only person in the
theatre touched by the movie.
Talented Mr. Ripley
BY: DAVID PERRY
Enron, ImClone, Tyco, WorldCom, Xerox -- this is certainly not a good time to be in the business world. While Neil Cavuto and Lou Dobbs do gangbusters reporting on these collapsing and corrupted corporations, the workers -- most of whom had nothing to do with the wrongdoings going on at the higher levels -- pay with their jobs. A domino effect soon follows, as corporations close, corollary industries lose business and more jobs are lost, finally ending with the occupations most expected to gain from these events falter too (like Reuters recently cutting 14% of its workforce).
The character of Vincent (Recoing) at the center of Laurent Cantets Time Out (LEmploi du Temps) is just one of these casualties. However, instead of using his lost job to move into another job (like Anderson employees moving to another accounting firm or Enron workers stripping for Playboy), Vincent just decides that a fictitious job would be more suitable. So afraid of telling his weak wife Muriel (Viard) of his unemployment, Vincent just tells his family that hes left his old job as a consultant for a new one with the United Nations.
To keep the façade of a job, Vincent commutes to Switzerland every week to seem like he is spending all his time at a Geneva UNCI office. He goes through the actual office one day, listening in on a meeting and reading through UN-African employment initiatives -- hey, hes got to have some work information to tell his family about.
But he soon learns that spending his days driving around and loitering around various locales cannot continue the mode of life his family has become accustomed to. To make the needed income to support his wife and kids in their upper-middle-class existence, Vincent gets embroiled in a scam to embezzle money from friends and relatives that will bring in the money to pacify his wife from questioning his secretive job. Before long, he has a dozen people handing him money (some of whom contacted him through word-of-mouth) in a shady bank transaction that is supposed to give them a some net earning but really just gives him the cash to buy childrens clothes and a new SUV. He even convinces his father to give him 200,000 francs for a fictional apartment.
In all this searching for a place to kill time between weekend visits home, Vincent finds the famed friendship among crooks. Fake-designer item peddler Jean-Michel (Livrozet) sees Vincent at work on a couple old school chums and offers him a small place in his business. Even if the white-collar jobs may be out of his reach, theres always room for a few more thieves.
Laurent Cantets last film was Human Resources, an indictment of the way factories essentially use its workers lives for work horses before dropping them whenever that vitality is gone. The director has already been dubbed as Frances ultimate director of the modern working class, but that almost marginalizes what the director has proven to be so good at: working conditions are mere subplots to his stories that are more intent on the human condition.
Time Out exceeds anything that one might have expected for his follow-up to Human Resources. It is smarter and, thankfully, more subtle in its tale of existential employment milieu. As his workmanship has become more slowly paced (his first feature clocked in at 67 minutes, Human Resources was 107, Time Out finished just over 132), Cantet has come to terms with his own storytelling attributes. Using his glacial pace to help understand his characters, the movie is allowed more breathing room and, much to the satisfaction of the audience, thus becomes more intimate in its portrayal of a man drowning in his own lies.
Aurélien Recoing gives the striking performance to make all those moments worthwhile. With a pudgy face and a quizzical look, the actor brings to mind Larry Miller, though using a much different discourse than youd ever get from Millers films and his The Weekly Standard columns. Since Recoing is in nearly every scene, the move must rely on his ability to turn the audience to his plight -- even though the lack of a job is not his fault, it would be awfully hard to empathize with anyone as he swindles his friends and deceived his family.
The aloofness Recoing brings to the screen is perfectly
joined with a cautious Robin Campillo editing, a cold Pierre Milon photographing, and a
reserved Jocelyn Pook score (whose work on Eyes Wide Shut has still not been
forgotten three years later). Time Out is a cooperative that shows what many
great workers can do well. Perhaps the film industry is the only one not affected
negatively by the current multi-industrial collapse.
of the Assassins
BY: DAVID PERRY
Last year, director Barbet Schroeder took us on a journey to his homeland, the rarely documented violence-infested underworld of Columbia. First time filmmaker Fabián Bielinsky attempts to similarly use a fictional story to tell of his South American home. In this case it is Argentina, where the loaded guns have been replaced by stacked cards. Its a world of swindlers and grifters, a land that has been waiting for the watchful eye of David Mamet to uncover and relate around the world.
Surprisingly, Bielinskys film, Nine Queens, was regarded as the representative film for the Argentine entry for the Academy Awards in 2000 -- is the country regularly creating such intriguing, inventive little stories of Argentine shysters and the search for the all too important mark? If so, lets send some Sony Picture Classics reps down there pronto.
The film may seem old hat by now: American genres used last year as the dumping ground of as many good heist films as possible, including Steven Soderberghs Oceans 11, Frank Ozs The Score, and Mamets Heist. All of those films were perfectly formulated, intriguing to the core, and effectively absorbing. Nine Queens may have subtitles, but it would fit perfectly with those other films in any drive-in double feature. (Which, considering the xenophobia inherent in todays cinema, an English-language remake seems almost inevitable; though some of the thrill would be lost without the films pitch-perfect understanding of the Buenos Aires criminal underworld.)
The film opens as Juan (Pauls), a wet-eared swindler, pulls a slight of hand to confuse a convenience store employee out of some of the till. The trick works, but his neophyte mentality causes him to press his luck by trying the trick again when the checker changes shifts. In the middle of his second swindle, the previous checker returns and realizes her earlier mistake, bringing the manager into the altercation. Watching all along, Marcos (Darín) introduces himself as a cop, arrests Juan, takes the money as evidence, and swiftly leaves the store.
Anyone whos seen a heist film previously can tell right away that Marcos is just another conman, looking to make a couple bucks from the confusion of others. The slightly older, more talented, and less moral Marcos sees Juans possibilities as an asset that he can use: like the ineptness of a waiter in a restaurant, the tiniest amount of aptitude from an accomplice can make all the difference. In the end, using your far superior abilities at conning, the professional conman can then swindle the accomplice out of his share. Its underhanded Darwinism.
When onetime partner Sandler (Núñez) suffers a heart attack at the Buenos Aires Hilton while trying to make a deal that could mean hundreds of thousands, the same Hilton where Marcos sister Valeria (Brédice) works in between her catwalks across the hotel lounge, the deal falls into Marcos lap. Through some conniving, he gets all the information he needs to continue the deal -- which involves the sale of some priceless Weimar stamps called the Nine Queens to a shifty Spanish businessman (Abadal) -- and soon learns that the tricks of the trade Juan learned from convicted father has made their pairing the best grifter cooperative since Ryan and Tatum ONeal joined forces against Midwesterners in Paper Moon. Now, the only question is who will ultimately cheat whom out of his cut.
At the heart of the film is a snaky performance from Ricardo Darín, perfectly echoing a little Robert De Niro with some Kevin Spacey (possibly the finest instigator of a swindle in film history). Darín popped up a couple weeks ago in a completely different performance, though no less notable, in the midlife crisis comedy-drama Son of the Bride. His raw cunningness gives the film more bite than would have been brought by some of the more famed but less dark actors (as a glib and overly suave George Clooney proved in Oceans 11). Based upon these two films, I have little doubt that well be seeing some more important films come from Argentina with this talented actor.
The rest of the cast follows in suit, ranging from the naïveté of Pauls to the cattiness of Brédice. Speaking the double-talk that Bielinsky wrote, the actors have the smooth criminal satisfaction that has marked some of Mamets best films, especially House of Games. Though Lindsay Crouses equivalent character has been relegated to a bystander for the first half of Nine Queens, the competence that marks this movie -- like Mamets films -- convinces the audience that everyone will be important to the scam, and thus the movie, by the end.
While not quite as satisfactory as its American
contemporaries (how rare is it that I say something like that?), Nine Queens succeeds
nonetheless. The breathtaking ease of the characters double-crossings feel less
forced compared to most of this genres films because the director-writer has the
sense to introduce the audience to the fact that almost everyone in Buenos Aires is
interested in swindling each other. By the end, as all the cards begin to fall into place,
the audience is among the few who do not feel cheated.
for a Dream
|The Salton Sea
BY: DAVID PERRY
Drug chic is what killed the once growing Calvin Klein market and, as time progresses and DEA administrators come and go, the idea of a drug subculture has moved more and more into an underground craze. No longer are there backups for cocaine lines club bathrooms, the billboards have moved from addiction to anorexia, and unproductive Thomas A. Constantine and Donnie Marshall have been replaced by Asa Hutchinson for the most thankless job in America.
The Salton Sea comes as an affront to all the fine movements that have been made in drug regulation and enforcement -- even as the DEA has endlessly (and, some might argue, futilely) struggled to get a grasp on the illegal trade, the film industry has at least turned it into something of an exposé subject. Traffic and Requiem for a Dream were heralded for their deep-rooted storytelling that showed the way the DEA and the addicts have become dependent on their own downfalls. Last year's Blow, a horrendous monstrosity from the late Ted Demme, tried to jazz this up with visual flourishes that yearned to be a marriage between Tarantino and Scorsese.
The new film even makes Demme's work seem subtle and commanding -- in its tedious 103 minutes, The Salton Sea reminds the audience why the line of Tarantino-inspired fluffed action pieces were ushered out of the indie film marketplace by audiences and exhibitors tired of the unoriginal senior theses of a few dozen NYU students. Crime chic may still be hot property in more its more inventive incarnations (like the popular films of Guy Ritchie), but without the preaching the drug movies feel more flaccid than still burgeoning gross-out comedy genre.
In an apparent nod to the end of Kiss Me Deadly (the noir elements are regular, though sadly misused), the film opens on Val Kilmer's Tom Van Allen sitting in a room aflame. He plays his trumpet while sleepy voiceover incites existentialist questions that infer not only his philosophical magnitude, but also Van Allen's self-righteousness. Screenwriter Tony Gayton struggles to convince the audience that his character is an antihero of the most nobly corrupt type but loses everything while juggling comparisons to the Angel of Death and Judas. If he weren't having such a fine time playing the trumpet, I have little doubt that Tom would have then sung: "I don't need your blood money!"
Andrew Lloyd Weber aside, the pining of a contrived and tiresome protagonist turns The Salton Sea into one of the year's most unnerving films. Not for a moment does the movie let up, at least until it offends its own core audience with a lackluster ending that would fit better in A Separate Peace than in dark drug film. If the self-righteousness of the first five minutes was not convincing enough, there's no question of Tom's man-come-deity place by the finale.
More than anything, the film feels to be forcing an epiphany on a story that needs none. David Lynch dealt with a similar underground society in Blue Velvet, creating the tension and wraith without losing the underlying suburban absurdist milieu the film was built around; The Salton Sea director D.J. Caruso (an entertaining Charles Taylor review at Salon.com hoped for Caruso's sake that he is really a disc jockey and can still bring in some income since a filmmaking career is probably not in his cards) instead reads so many beguiling chances for visual flare that he loses track of his story. There is an episodic quality to the movie that makes it feel like the work of the not-yet-ready-for-features crew. While cinematographer Amir M. Mokri toils to create some visual continence to the story, Caruso and Gayton are all over the map, playing everything from Lynchian-odd supporting characters next to violin-strung death scenes. And the continuity between similar scenes is broken by inexplicable touches like when a person is shot in the head, bleeds nary a drop, and survives long enough to unsuccessfully force tears out of the audience.
This is a movie that panders for every good grace it gets. Fine actors like Vincent D'Onofrio and Luis Guzmán are literally wasted in roles that are far below their level,
unfortunately making them seem just as irrelevant as the always deficient Kilmer (could
they have gotten a less interesting actor?). Even the occasionally enjoyable moments (like
a recreation of the Kennedy assassination using pigeons) are countered with reductive
scenes of unpleasantries among the unpleasant. The oft-intoned mantra for Tom Van Allen is
to simply ask the audience to answer his question: "Who am I?" From start to
finish, the unanimous answer is: who cares?