Volume 4, Number 27
This Week's Reviews: CQ, Cherish, Men in Black II.
This Week's Omissions: The Powerpuff Girls Movie, Rain.
Capsule Reviews: Hey Arnold! The Movie, Like Mike.
BY: DAVID PERRY
Sofia Coppola's The Virgin Suicides, which made its international bow two years ago and still has not been forgotten by those of us who consider it to be among the finest debuts in recent years, came as the first film from the Francis Ford and Eleanor Coppola progeny. Her brother, Roman, has spent many years working on music videos (most notably The Presidents of the United States' "Lump" and recently The Strokes' "Last Night") but waited until now to make his move into his father's shoes. Though not quite the achievement of his sister (or for that matter, his father; though I doubt he had any aspiration of approaching that territory), his debut film CQ has the dizzying satisfaction of a Hollywood wunderkind, intimately showing a love for the movies that have most influenced him.
Many have already noted that CQ is like an early project for a film school student, jealously striking against Coppola for never going to such a school and instead relying on his father's laurels (admittedly, much of the talented cast and crew come from Francis Ford's earlier works, a connection that would be lost on a young NYU graduate). But in the process of making these tinged efforts to lessen Roman Coppola's achievement, they miss what is unquestionably a movie that relates the love for filmmaking that these critics hold. In some ways, it feels like the ruminations of people angry that someone has done what they have long desired to do.
More interestingly, though, Coppola is able to imbue the film with paternal subtexts not seen in most films. In some ways, the director is playing a Jesus' son, and, rightly, uses this for a theme within his own work. At one point, he has his protagonist Paul Ballard (Davies) speak with his seemingly successful father (Stockwell) at a short exchange in an airport lobby. Father Ballard speaks dizzily, throwing out musings that only further beguile a son intent on understanding something -- anything! -- in his life. The fact that he is a Coppola may have helped the director get a good cast and crew as well as financial backing, but it leaves him with pressures that cannot be easily fixed by a solemn tête-à-tête with father Francis.
In fact, the movie has an endearing quality akin to Wonder Boys. Through a slight reversal, both are about characters seeing themselves through the achievements (or lack thereof) of their younger/older equivalents. At one point in the film, two struggling auteurs try to relate their own intentions: the older realist crony Andrzej (Depardieu) trying to make a statement and the younger Nouvelle Vague Turk Paul trying to make a film that tells about him personally. It's like watching an exchange between Roger Vadim and Jean Eustache in the closing moments of the French New Wave as the initial precursors (Renoir, Tati) were retiring and the early leaders (Truffaut, Godard) were closing down the 1968 Cannes Film Festival in protest.
The movie that causes this disagreement between two equally talented directors is a 1960s pop-kitsch spy film called Dragonfly (have no fear, it has nothing to do with the recent Kevin Costner clunker of the same name). Set in 2001, it follows a posh super-spy/femme fatale (played in the film by model-turned-actress Lindvall's activist-turned-actress Valentine) as she runs across the dark side of the moon trying to stop a revolutionary leader called Mr. E (Zane), who is part Castro, part Guevara, and part pin-up beefcake. Woody Allen previously made fun of this character in Sleeper, but Coppola and a perfectly stilted Zane turn it into one of the most recognizable meta-filmic characters in recent years.
Dragonfly was originally directed by Andrzej, but he was thrown off when his pro- revolutionary message for a finale is deemed anticlimactic by the Dino De Laurentiis-like producer Enzo di Martini (Giannini). In hopes of getting someone that might find an exciting way to end the film without costing much more money, di Martini and his associate Fabrizio (Ghini) call on the talent of the loud directorial flavor of the moment, Felix de Marco (Schwartzman), a Blow-up size artist with an ego larger than his paycheck. But when his love for fast cars and faster women lead to a collision and a broken leg, de Marco drops out, leaving the film's editor, Paul, as the only person left who really knows the material.
As the rest of the world celebrates the new decade (the film covers late 1969 and early 1970), Paul is left struggling to find an ending for the film. More problems arise: his work on this big, garish film is meant as something to tide him over as he works on a David Holzman's Diary-style film on "pieces of my life, my life in pieces." As his mind moves towards these two films and the attraction that he has for Valentine, Paul's French girlfriend Marlene (Bouchez; the sprite miracle from Erick Zonka's The Dreamlife of Angels) begins to feel unappreciated and threatens to leave unless he sets his priorities straight.
Nearly every character in Coppola's screenplay is an exaggerated caricature of some late 1960s role, leaving most of the actors showing of a great deal of enjoyment in their performances. Including the ever-solemn Davies, most of the cast comes from decades of watching roles perfected by others, ranging from Davies' Jules to Schwartman's Jim to Lindvall's Catherine. The movie may be set in Paris, but every facet of its style and substance comes from a land of celluloid.
Regular Francis Ford Coppola's production designer Dean Tavoularis helps to give the movie its self-reflexive pleasures, turning every set into something lost from a late '60s kitsch film like Barbarella, Modesty Blaise, or Danger: Diabolik. Costume designer Judy Shrewsbury also does wonders, creating clothing for Valentine/Dragonfly that would have been just as suitable on Brigitte Bardot or Jane Fonda in a Vadim or Antonioni production.
And all of this settles down on an excellent showing of
love that Coppola employs for the film. CQ is never as pretentious as it could
have been, mainly because Coppola himself never lets high aspirations rise above his love
for the material. He does struggle with the juggling of the film's multi-themed,
multi-storied structure, but that somehow gives CQ a certain feeling of
amiability. It is not a movie built around the static information given in a few film
school classes, but comes from the heart of someone just trying to get out all the
cinematic emotional baggage Coppola has. He's not directing a movie to make his dad proud,
but instead to fulfill his own need to relate all the love for the old movies his father
probably happily played for young Roman as a child. Like the protagonists of Ted
Kotcheff's The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz and Francis Ford Coppola's own You're
a Big Boy Now, it's safe to say that Roman Coppola is well on his way to succeeding in this journey.
and 40 Nights
BY: DAVID PERRY
Finn Taylor's last film, Dream with the Fishes, falls under that indie film subheading that covers all the Sundance movies that were coveted by the philosophy students in Park City but turned out to be too pretentious for everyone else. For his latest trick, Cherish, Taylor chooses to retire the pretensions and replace it with a winsome, angelic edge. In the end, the film proves to be a marginal little movie, but still entertaining enough to keep the audience from feeling like they've wasted 90 minutes of their lives.
And the secret to Cherish's success is not anything in the filming or story, but nearly entirely in the plucky performance given by the film's star Robin Tunney. Headlining a cast that includes impressive work from Tim Blake Nelson and Nora Dunn as well, Ms. Tunney gives the knockout work in a film that could make her a star if not for the fact that no one will see it outside of a few markets.
Unfortunately, it has taken thirteen forgettable performances to get to this point. Anyone who knows Robin Tunney's work from Vertical Limit, Supernova, or The Craft will probably wonder how this joyous appraisal could be coming for someone who has consistently given lackluster work; however, none of those previous films (with the exception of her early work in Empire Records) are anything like Cherish. Despite a little dance in the genre towards the end, Cherish is a romantic comedy, not an action thriller. If anyone had known how perfect she is in the genre, I doubt that producers would have wasted her so much in films like End of Days.
Here she plays Zoe Adler, a frumpish employee at some Macromedia-type internet animation studio in San Francisco. She is the bane of her snooty boss Brynn (Phair), who takes more pride in making Zoe's life a little harder than in making a good product. Meanwhile, Zoe nurtures a crush for the office's smug lecher Andrew (Priestley) and spends her evenings dating with many different men simply because none of them ever call back.
After an evening with Andrew at a Brynn party she crashes, Zoe, extremely inebriated, goes to her car to get her cell phone before letting Andrew drive her home. While searching through her car, a stranger forces her into the car and makes her drive off. This stalker becomes excited when a cop tries to stop them and presses down on the accelerator, running over the cop and crashing the car before fleeing the scene. Zoe, of course, is arrested for manslaughter and no one believes her story of a hijacking due to her .14 BAC and her previous arrest in high school. Things do not look good: even her fast-talking lawyer Bell (Dunn) doesn't have any interest in pursuing this hackneyed story Zoe's telling.
Since Bell is delaying the trial as long as possible and there's proof that the other inmates are abusing the petite Zoe, she is given house arrest in a empty loft that Bell gives her in return for the high price Zoe's paying. To make sure that she does not leave the premises, the county puts an electronic ankle brace on her that can tell if Zoe ever leaves the parameter. Deputy Bill Daly (Nelson) is put in charge of making the weekly visits to take care of the brace and make sure that Zoe has not tried to remove or damage it (which, he tells her, is impossible).
All the while, Zoe tries to retrace the clues that might help her point the police to her stalker and save her from serving the 25 years to life sentence that looks probable. Since she has no way of getting out of the place, she must rely on her downstairs neighbor Max (Gil) to give her the resources to perhaps piece everything together. As time progresses, Daly too begins to believe Zoe, perhaps more blinded by an infatuation with her than in a true trust in her story. At least in the meantime, she can listen to as much radio as possible, requesting every schlock '70s and '80s romance ballad imaginable.
There are some bumpy moments with the entire film decomposing in an unnecessary attempt at a thriller towards the end. Using a little Run Lola Run, the movie tries to infuse some action into the film that never really gels into anything remotely thrilling. When the movie is just interested in the growing relationship between Zoe and Daly, the movie is well written and interesting, but all this is nearly forgotten as the movie throws these intimate moments to the side for some odd Play Misty for Me-level antics.
Had this movie just stuck with Tunney and Nelson, none of
this would have seemed unneeded, instead making the movie an intriguing look at the
blossoming relationship between the guard and the prisoner without the normal cellmate
sadist leanings. At the heart of the movie is the thin line between a lover and a stalker,
but, unfortunately, writer-director Taylor felt the need to gloss over this with his
overblown, ever burdensome skirmish.
Fantasy: The Spirits Within
|Men in Black II
BY: DAVID PERRY
Two weeks ago, the series South Park, cable television's co-bastion of satire (along with The Daily Show), dealt with an issue that is pressing for nearly all of today's products. Through a hundred years of movies, sixty years of television, and hundreds of years for other media, nearly every good idea has been done. The trick, as South Park so often proves, is to do everything in a new fashion.
That episode made regular use of its title statement: "The Simpsons already did it." Throughout the episode, one character was intent on doing something horrible, only to learn that all of his plans had previously been used by The Simpsons, network television's bastion of satire. This same problems plagues most of Men in Black II, which feels older than it should (this is a series, might we remember, that only began five years ago). So often have we seen these men in black characters -- through an original movie, an animated series, and various spoofs (including one in Lilo & Stitch only a couple weeks ago) -- that their purpose has been dulled.
Spoofing the G-man movies of the 1950s with a tinge of The X-Files, the original was an enjoyable trifle, eye candy that was at least entertaining. This is not true with Men in Black II, which comes to the screen with aspirations of filling Columbia's coffers instead of giving the audience something to enjoy while in an air-conditioned theatre. With all the bad movies out right now, it is especially distressing to consider that the only thing worse than Men in Black II is the stifling heat outside. Plus, if people want to spend $10 for 90 minutes of air conditioning, there are 3,557 theatres happy to oblige.
And that been-there-done-that resolve is what makes Men in Black II so tedious that viewers might feel that their $10 could have been better spent on other duds like Scooby-Doo, Mr. Deeds, or The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood (which has the extra perk of being longer and, therefore, more time to spent in the frigid theatre). Nearly every facet of the movie was set forth in the previous film, setting this film with an undesirable effect of three dozen jokes that were funny five years ago when they were fresh.
The film begins with MiB Agent J (Smith) deneuralizing -- erasing the recent memories of -- his new overzealous partner Agent T (Warburton). It seems that in the five years since he had to deneuralize his mentor, Agent K (Jones), J has been hard pressed to find any agent that can suit his fancy and seems worthy of the work the Men in Black do -- gathering and policing the intergalactic aliens on Earth -- including deneuralizing the last film's new partner, Agent L (played then by Linda Fiorentino).
When a destructive alien queen Serleena comes to earth in her tiny shuttle, she decides to take the form of Lara Flynn Boyle stretched out in lingerie for a Victoria's Secret advertisement. Cavorting in Ms. Boyle's skivvies, Serleena calls for the help of a two-headed slob named Scard (Knoxville) to find a prize called the Light of Zartha. In their search, they visit a Manhattan pizzeria and kill a nationalized alien in front of his employee/surrogate daughter Rita (Dawson). J, now partnered with the wisecracking talking pug Mannix (voiced by Abrell), investigates the scene and, in a moment of lonesome weakness, decides to not deneuralize Rita out of a want to continue some form of a relationship with her.
But the discovery of Serleena's arrival causes worries for the Men in Black: she had searched for this Light of Zartha twenty-five years earlier and left when Agent K sent it back into space. If she's sure that the Light is still on Earth, what is K hiding? And, how can the Men in Black find this information out from him since he is now a mild-mannered postmaster general for the small town of Truro, Massachusetts?
Barry Sonnenfeld has proven previously that he is no hack when it comes to light films, but based on his last three films (Wild Wild West, Big Trouble, and this), he seems to be forgetting everything that he knew when he made The Addams Family, Addams Family Values, and Get Shorty. More so, though, Men in Black II is an abomination to look at compared to his most respectable work as a cinematographer on films like Blood Simple, Miller's Crossing, and Misery. Everything is stilted within the frame, almost as if Sonnenfeld felt like any attempts by him to push the envelope might take the audiences' eyes off of the more pricey sets and special effects.
With such a ho-hum, one-note story, the movie seems like an episode of the animated series with extraneous material to give it a feature length. The director and screenwriters were evidently so pressed for filler that they needed to play a spoof sci-fi Unsolved Mysteries program twice, extend the credits sequences, and tack on a short animated film to play before the movie. The actual running time of the narrative lasts only about 70 minutes, which would not be so bad had the film's episodic feel been stretched to such extremes that the movie lags like it is thirty minutes longer.
Nevertheless, Men in Black II could have been a
good film had the screenwriters caught onto what Ed Solomon, placing the energy of Lowell
Cunningham's characters in the humorous exchanges. Everything feels old this time around,
even the once perfect rapport between the leads. Not for a moment does Men in Black II
feel like a sequel -- this is much more of a trite remake. However, this is not to say
everything recycled in the film came from the original Men in Black. A small
civilization that treats humans as gods, tentacled aliens trying to take over the
universe: The Simpsons already did it.
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 Hey Arnold! The Movie and Like Mike (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."
|Hey Arnold! The Movie
(Dir: Tuck Tucker, Voices include Spencer Klein, Jamil Walker Smith, Francesca Smith, Dan Castellaneta, Tress MacNeille, Paul Sorvino, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Vincent Schiavelli, and Christopher Lloyd)
BY: DAVID PERRY
Hey Arnold!, The Nickelodeon series about a
burrows youth with a football-size head, comes to the screen with less artistic
contributions than The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland. Merely an hour long
episode of the show, the movie lives by its contrivances and its high-road moralizing
becoming little more than an urban version of Recess: School's Out.
(Dir: John Schultz, Starring Lil' Bow Wow, Morris Chestnut, Jonathan Lipnicki, Brenda Song, Jesse Plemons, Julius Charles Ritter, Cripin Glover, Robert Forster, Eugene Levy, and Anne Meara)
BY: DAVID PERRY
A basketball version of Rookie of the Year, Like
Mike gets to showoff the non-existent acting prowess of young rapper Lil' Bow Wow.
The movie follows Bow Wow as he finds incredible basketball abilities while wearing
Michael Jordan's shoes; in the end, though, he seems to be wearing the shoes of other
recent singers-come-actors Britney Spears and Mandy Moore.
|BUY THIS FILM'S
|BUY THIS FILM'S