Volume 4, Number 28
This Week's Reviews: The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys, 13 Conversations About One Thing, Road to Perdition, Halloween: Resurrection.
This Week's Omissions: Reign of Fire.
Capsule Reviews: The Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course, The Powerpuff Girls Movie.
Y Tu Mamá
|The Dangerous Lives of Altar
BY: DAVID PERRY
With a title that feels oddly prescient today considering the film was made a year ago, The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys has no contemporary meaning. If it had, of course, CNN would have already ran the film's early perception of a upcoming scandal into the ground.
Instead of keeping with contemporary concerns in the Catholic Church, the film is more interested in the 1970s milieu of all kids. Coming from a novel by Chris Fuhrmann, Altar Boys plays much like an excised suburban vignette from the miserable miniseries The 70s, trying aimlessly to piece together a realization of the fears that go through all adolescents especially in a time when adults are having the same fears. But, ultimately, The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys cannot meet the same achievements of The Ice Storm, which not only shares the theme but also the interest in comic books.
For Peter Care's film, though, the comic books serve as more than a small detail to go with Tobey Maguire's ride on a New York-Connecticut train -- Altar Boys has less to say and, therefore, must rely on the comic books to fill the duration of the feature lest it be a short (and still unfulfilling) short film. The mistake was not in the choice of Todd McFarlane to animate the comic book sections of the film (McFarlane, especially in his intense "Do the Evolution" video, is one of the most talented modern graphic artists); the mistake was that Care did not get screenwriter Jeff Stockwell to strengthen the live-action scenes without having to use a stale series of Heavy Metal inspired animations.
The kids at the center of this tale are Tim Sullivan (Culkin), a whirling dervish of a problem child, and Francis Doyle (Hirsch), his more thoughtful but equally mischievous best friend. Attending a Catholic high school in an unnamed small suburban town (probably in the south -- the film was made in the Carolinas and the original story comes from Georgia), where they attempt to decry everything their religious leaders praise, ranging from their schoolmarm disciplinarian Sister Assumpta (Foster) to their chain-smoking head priest Father Casey (D'Onofrio) to the statue of St. Agatha that adorns the clock tower of the school.
Usually, their indignation simply comes with grabbing their crotches towards St. Agatha's statue and drawing comics of Sister Assumpta and Father Casey in S & M situations. While Tim draws up plans to torture Sister Assumpta, including one plan that involves the theft of a cougar, Francis works on a series of comic book stories that parallel their ongoing battle with Sister Assumpta, given the villainess name of Nunzilla. Soon, their bonds slowly deteriorate as Francis finds love in the form of Margie Flynn (Malone), a slightly dark young lady with a family secret.
The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys strains to find some form of an emotional reception within its occasionally lifeless story. Unfortunately, Peter Care cannot find the right footing to allow anything as heavy as, say, Margie's deep secret to come without completely throwing off the core of the movie. This is not a movie that really understands tonal foreshadowing, making some histrionics feel forced in the same way Sophia Coppola ensured that The Virgin Suicides never felt like it was taking an ill-chosen detour with its more intimate look at awakening and obsession within the setting.
Both of the young leads do a good job, giving dimensions to their roles that go well with their characters' youths. Meanwhile, Stockwell tries desperately to infuse some intelligent recourse into their actions by constantly repeating lines from William Blake's "The Tyger." Choosing to use Blake would not have seemed as out of place had the filmmakers known how to use the poem without making it seem like they were reading something that could be equated to nearly anything (the way Stockwell and Fuhrman attempt to find a parallel between one character and Blake's tyger is like doing the same with Owen Wilson in The Minus Man to The Grapes of Wrath's Jim Casy because they are both simply ponderous vagabonds).
This is not to say that The Dangerous Lives of Altar
Boys is a complete waste both visually and artistically. This is a film that at least
attempts some lofty goals and, like its characters, has the poor luck to pay heavily for
not understanding the consequences of trying something elevated and falling.
of New York
|13 Conversations About One
BY: DAVID PERRY
"Show me a happy man and I'll show you a disaster waiting to happen. I knew a happy man once -- it was a curse."
Gene (Arkin) states that little colloquialism in the first scene, or conversation, of Jill Sprecher's 13 Conversations About One Thing. The 'one thing' is the never-ending search for happiness, and Gene knows a great deal about this hopeless hunt.
He is a claims adjustor working as middle management in an unnamed New York corporation. It seems that much of his life he has been depressed, worrying over whether he can collect all of the good things around him into some livable existence. He has been able to survive, moving his way into the head office of his claims department, but in the process lost a wife to someone else and a son to drugs. So, it becomes even more depressing that everyday Gene must hear the proud stories of claims investigator Wade (Wise), who has found happiness in marriage and parenthood, constantly showing an ability to find the silver lining in any situation. When management tells Gene to cut someone from the payroll, the sadist inside him jumps at the chance to perhaps see Wade's happiness end.
Gene's opening comments are to Troy (McConaughey), a hotshot deputy district attorney, brimming with happiness over just sending a criminal to prison. Troy seems to live off of the self-satisfaction of getting bad people off the streets, a happiness that has pushed him through the ranks and, seemingly, into a cozy position to become the next New York district attorney. But that night he leaves the bar intoxicated from an evening of partying and hits a pedestrian in an alleyway. Knowing what will surely follow, Troy drives off -- regardless of the victim's survival, his DUI arrest would ruin everything. Even as it looks like he's going to get away from it, though, Troy's inner demons cannot let him simply forget the crime he has committed -- the cut on his forehead from the collision is much like Lady Macbeth's blood spot.
If Gene represents the working class and Troy comes from the upper class, Jill Sprecher and her cowriter, sister Karen, include Beatrice (DuVall) for the lower class. She spends her days coming into the city to clean the houses of the rich with friend Dorrie (Texada). Despite what seems to be a forever established placed in the lowest rung of society, Bea always happens to be upbeat about life -- regardless of the fact that fate seems readily against her, she is unwilling to believe that there must be something good up ahead.
Meanwhile, at what looks to be Columbia University, the academics weigh in on the philosophical questions of personal happiness. But the head academic, physics professor Walker (Turturro), finds that his choice towards happiness could be more devastating than beneficial. Leaving his home and wife Patricia (Irving) for a small hotel room and the occasional conjugal visits of a fellow professor (Sukowa), he attempts to portray his life as being better but only begins projecting his unhappiness on others including a struggling student (McElhenney).
The Sprecher sisters cross these stories in such a fashion that never seems forced (like Paul Thomas Anderson's Magnolia), but instead more slice-of-life, an existential commentary on the way people intersect without really changing each other. Even though the filmmakers do try some cutesy intersections, 13 Conversations About One Thing gives each story enough breathing room to seem as important as the others.
This does not mean that no story rises above the others, though the reason that it happens is not from some unbalanced writing but from an intense performance that automatically brings the audience in above all others. Alan Arkin, in what is definitely his best role since his supporting performance in Glengarry Glen Ross, plays Gene exactly right, just brooding enough. While his misery is accentuated beyond any other (a characterization choice that feels like an older version of Sartre's Antoine Roquentin), his is more clearly realized through Arkin's fixed eyes and stuttered speech. Not only does his quote at the beginning of the film (and the beginning of this review) set the stage for Sprecher's tales, but his story also remains a constant meter to hold the other stories to throughout the film's duration.
In retrospect, 13 Conversations About One Thing
most notably feels like an American version of Michael Haneke's Code Unknown.
Both films have on odd pulse on the regular problems that arise for people barely
connected to others told through a collection of vignettes (though, Haneke tried for the
much more expansive 46 "conversations"). And yet, through their shared styles
and resistance to didacticism, each film is free from repetition. They are creations of
two people who have found society oddly destructive, see their sermons in similar forms,
but understand the resolution in completely differing ways. There's a little Gene, the
world-worn sadist, in Haneke and a little Bea, the lovelorn idealist, in Sprecher -- and
they are both talented enough filmmakers to create their personalities through a clear
Who Wasn't There
|Road to Perdition
BY: DAVID PERRY
Like an Edward Hopper painting -- more than anything, Nighthawks -- Sam Mendes' Road to Perdition seethes with the Depression-era malaise that turned a small diner into an icon of 1930s distress. A little Miller's Crossing with some of Mendes' American Beauty, Road to Perdition seems to be a lofty amalgam of the existential history lessons Mendes probably sat through in college. In fact, at one point Mendes places his movie in a diner taking the problems a step further: not only are the denizens of the diner feeling near dead, in some cases they are just about there.
You see, Road to Perdition is not simply about the everyman's Depression, but instead at the prominent gangland that it created. Set in and around Chicago, the movie strains to show that it understands what people went through even if it lacks the heart of The Godfather or the pop lyricism of Bonnie and Clyde to make anything feel more than a sentimental version of Bugsy. For a movie that has a dozen moments of collateral damage, it's hard to imagine a movie more built around schlock father-son tugging at the heart. If the opening monologue were not enough to bring fears into the audience (in the light of John Walker Lindh's father equating his son to Nelson Mandella, this movie's Michael Sullivan, Jr., seems a couple tears from saying his father is a modern General John Pope), the ending packs the year's most sentimentally uncalled for pandering of the year (and there's been some stiff competition).
But within these shortcomings that frame it, the movie shows more panache than the normal Hollywood fare. Sure, Road to Perdition is not near as deep as the filmmakers seem to think it is, but it certainly contains some beautiful scenery. Watching the movie is like taking a leisurely drive through some splendid midwestern landscape as the sun sets: great to look at, but somewhat stodgy.
Cinematographer Conrad L. Hall is mainly to thank for this, upping the visual flare without really overshadowing the story. Using soft colors (Hall has called it "soft noir") to create the blandness of the characters' milieu, the movie reaps all the benefits of a black and white cinematographer loving the mixing of tincture -- every color of the rainbow has been mixed together to make reds, greens, and even grays that seem to live fluidly in this world.
Based on a graphic novel by Max Allen Collins (illustrated by Richard Piers Rayner), Road to Perdition is a fictionalization of the tiny rift in Chicago gang politics in 1931 when the Irish gang of John Looney, a Capone lackey, was slightly broken as his son Connor began pocketing some of the family money and killing off important connections. For the movie, the character of Michael Sullivan (Hanks) has been created to work as the renegade intent on retribution when Connor Rooney (Craig) kills his wife and one son when the other son happens to find out about the family business. Sullivan, known around Chicago as the "Angel of Death," becomes a damaging entity for the Rooney family as Connor yearns to get rid of all possible enemies and John (Newman) hopes to save his son from Michael's wrath.
And the father-son relationship does not end there; one of the Sullivan kids, Michael, Jr., survived the hit on the Sullivan home and is brought along with Michael as he meets with Chicago figures like Frank Nitti (Tucci) and dodges the pursuit of hired gun Harlen Maguire (Law). The ultimate destination happens to be the small Lake Michigan town of Perdition, where his sister-in-law has a beachfront home that will surely look good in a flash-bang finale.
Perdition, a 50-cent word for Hell, seems like the perfect title for the movie, even if the story makes the horrendous choice to turn Perdition into a real city instead of just a abstract objective of the film (for the record, there is no Illinois city of Perdition that I could find). Every moment of the film seems directed towards some impending calamity, built around some western ethos that has crept into a Bing Crosby-Bob Hope trip to Hell.
Most of the characters are thin realizations of various period figures, which is especially disturbing considering the quality of actors brought into play these one-dimensional characters. Dylan Baker, as a fop accountant, Stanley Tucci, and Paul Newman struggle to give some depth to their characters, but fail just as much as the inferior Daniel Craig. Tom Hanks and Jude Law, whose character isn't from the source material, are somewhat able to indulge their characters with some interesting moments through the veil of clichés that screenwriter David Self surrounds them with.
The dialogue is rather sparse (probably coming from the
original book), meaning that the characterizations are more visual than aural -- almost
every dynamic for each character comes from some action caught by Hall's camera, not from
Self's writing. The film's best moment -- a nighttime shootout in the middle of a Chicago
street -- is accompanied with absolutely no sound, just the smooth camera movement and the
pitch-perfect Jill Bilcock editing. There's dialogue immediately after that scene ends,
but a couple minutes later, its forgotten and only the operatic attack remains situated in
the memory, a statement that could be carried over for the entire film: the story may be
forgotten next week, but its pomp and circumstance visuals will be remembered for
sometime. I'm willing to bet that those images will still be remembered come the Oscars in
Legends: Final Cut
BY: DAVID PERRY
Monday night on CBS: 8:00 PM Fear Factor as "contestants must conquer challenging stunts for a chance to win the $50,000 prize" and 9:00 PM Dog Eat Dog as "reality stars Darva Conger, Richard Hatch, Susan Hawk, Kato Kaelin, Ytossie Patterson, and Kaya Wittenberg compete to be top dog." Oh, there's more: Tuesday has Spy TV and American Idol: The Search for a Superstar, Wednesday has 30 Seconds of Fame and American Idol again, Thursday has Big Brother 3 and The Jaime Kennedy Experiment, Friday has Invasion of the Hidden Cameras, Sunday has Big Brother 3 again and Cops, and Sunday has 30 Seconds of Fame again. Reality shows (even reality shows of reality show contestants) are everywhere.
Trust me, there's a point to all this.
Generally, mediocre movies get a 6 user rating on the Internet Movie Database. Halloween (1978) currently has a 7.6, Halloween II (1981) has a 5.5, Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982) has a 3.4, Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988) has a 4.8, Halloween 5 (1989) has a 4.1, Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995) has a 4.3, and Halloween H20 (1998) has a 5.3. With the exception of the first film, the Halloween series has not only been hated by critics but evidently also the regular viewers.
Point: Could there be a less interesting idea than to bring together reality shows and the Halloween series. Jason X's movement of the Friday the 13th series to space may have seemed old after Leprechaun in Space (and a scansion of the Friday the 13th ratings would probably be even lower), but at least people did not have the ability to watch space-set slasher films every day of the week on network television.
Halloween: Resurrection, in fact, isn't even new to play this idea for film -- need we not forget Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2. Like that film, much of the action is played through the belief that all the movements of the killer and the victims are being recorded -- in one, to surveillance tapes, in the other, to web cams. How's that for freshening up a bad idea for a movie?
But the filmmakers could have had a tougher task that just writing this story: how can they bring back Michael Myers if he was decapitated in the last film? I mean, most of the resurrection plots have been used by now (though, if they had reused the flaming dog urine rebirth I would not have complained) in other every horror film series (common Dimension/New Line producer: "Final Friday/Nightmare be damned! We've got a franchise to continue!"). Nevertheless, the producers evidently did not feel obligated to really come up with an explanation for the Michael Myers' reincarnation: they can always just say that the last film's ending was mistaken identity. Yeah.
Jamie Lee Curtis is brought in for the opening to explain all this, an opening sequence that finally ends her obligation to appear in anymore of these (but, didn't Donald Pleasance supposedly die in Halloween II?). Curtis hasn't been too busy other than writing her children books -- her film son, Josh Hartnett, on the other hand, doesn't need to be nixed out of the franchise in the opening, his current asking price already does that.
The actors that you do get are an large variety from bad to worse: Tyra Banks, Busta Rhymes, Sean Patrick Thomas, Bianca Kajlich, Thomas Ian Nicholas, Katee Sackhoff, Daisy McCrackin, Luke Kirby, and Ryan Merriman. It is a rogue's gallery of predominately unknowns who are assembled to be little more than screaming coeds as stuntman Brad Loree hulks around them with a knife and a William Shatner mask. At no moment does anyone stray from the long beaten path made for his or her character a few dozen slasher victims ago.
Rick Rosenthal returns from an oblivion of television
dramas to direct his second Halloween film. It's been 21 years since he made Halloween
II and, despite pushing his directing abilities on quality fare like Russkies
and The Birds II: Land's End, has evidently not learned anything new that he can
do for this film. In fact, it's a big of a digression: at least Halloween II made
sense in a way; Halloween: Resurrection has entire sections that are completely
unintelligible. His directing seems to be merely a mimic of all the other horror films of
the past 20 years, never does it seem like he has a new idea for himself. Hey, there might
just be an opening for Rosenthal over at Big Brother 4.
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 The Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course and The Powerpuff Girls Movie (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."
|The Crocodile Hunter:
(Dir: Jason Stainton, Starring Steve Irwin, Terri Irwin, Magda Szubanski, David Wenham, Lachy Hulme, Adam Young, Kenneth Ransom, and Kate Beahan)
BY: DAVID PERRY
Steve Irwin's Jackie Chan-style ecologist research and the
fun that he often fused into it is lost on the Discovery Channel's film version of it, The
Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course. While he still goofs around the wild and deadly
animals, the director and screenwriter try to give it a storyline (involving the a ball
falling from space and the CIA), breaking the machine and turning the watchable 45-minutes
of Irwin programming into a boring 90-minute feature.
|The Powerpuff Girls Movie
(Dir: Craig McCracken, Voices include Catherine Cavadini, Tara Strong, E.G. Daily, Roger L. Jackson, Tom Kenny, Tom Kane, and Jennifer Hale)
BY: DAVID PERRY
Built almost completely around its astounding style, The
Cartoon Networks' The Powerpuff Girls Movie comes to theatres without much of a
story to speak of, but a visual design that cannot be deterred. Most of the story remains
completely inconsequential among the film's pomp and circumstance, but the more
adult-friendly animation style keeps it from being boring. Consequently, it's a failure in
filmmaking, but is probably an interesting little show.
|BUY THIS FILM'S
|BUY THIS FILM'S