Volume 4, Number 34
This Week's Reviews: My Wife is an Actress, Gangster No. 1, One Hour Photo.
This Week's Omissions: Simone, Serving Sara.
Capsule Reviews: Blue Crush, Undisputed.
|My Wife is an Actress
BY: DAVID PERRY
"Their private lives are examined only in so far as they form part of their 'persona.' In other words, I'm not trying to discover the 'true' person behind the star, but am interested in how the perceived authentic individual informs the star's image."
Ginette Vincendeau delved into the meaning behind French celebrity in her book Stars and Stardom in French Cinema, a detailed look at various names in French cinematic history from Max Linder to Catherine Deneuve. She wonders aloud what it takes to become a star of their level (Linder was, we should remember, a larger name to French audiences than Charlie Chaplin was for Americans) through a study that looks at everything from sexual appeal to box office reliability. At the heart of the thesis, though, is the idea that, pretensions aside, a French star is the exact same as a Hollywood star.
French actor Yvan Attal seems to be going for the same parallelism in his first attempt at feature film direction. My Wife is an Actress wants to understand the meaning of French celebrity and what it ultimately means to the star's real life. How can a person who spends everyday courting others (and having simulated sex, no less) carry any semblance of a monogamous relationship? How can a star's lover compete with a country that feels just as close to the celebrity as the spouse?
Attal comes into this with some authority: his wife is Charlotte Gainesbourg, the French-British actress who has become a semi-celebrity in Europe. The easiest comparison to Hollywood would be to say that she is along the level of Bridget Fonda, an actress who has been in films since childhood thanks to a celebrity father (Peter for Bridget, Serge for Charlotte). And, fittingly, Attal deals with an actress of that level -- there are people who recognize her even if they don't put her in the same level of a Julia Roberts or a Juliette Binoche.
Using their real names, the characters played by Attal and Gainsbourg seem to be living the same life that has beguiled Attal since their marriage. This is not the case of a director's proxy on the screen, but the director explicitly relating his problems to the audience in his own form. There's a large amount of Woody Allen in what Attal seems to be doing, which may or may not be intentional considering Allen's (often unsuccessful) relationships with costars.
This does not mean that Attal is seamless in his portrayal of his own problems: his somewhat annoying persona makes for a rather tenuous series of scenes that make neuroses seem shrill. He properly keeps the film from seeming like the relating of his own dirty laundry, but in the process, he turns himself into a wholly unappealing character.
However, this is not the case for Charlotte Gainsbourg, who seems more alive and likable than she has been in any film before. Her sad-sacked, pouting side has become rather tiresome, but the energy she shows in this film helps to create a greater love for her than the audience would have had if Gainsbourg was a comedienne. In many ways, its like a Gallic Greta Garbo showing that "Gainsbourg Laughs!" Her defined chin and forward brow makes her an odd beauty, but Attal shows her features in such a loving way that it is impossible to not be charmed by her.
Terence Stamp serves as the interesting British foil, showing off an aged masculinity that has unfortunately been relegated to the work of Sean Connery. In recent films, Stamp has proven to be a larger presence and a better actor than he had been in his so-called heyday. Here he is devilishly delightful, showing a cunning charm that could cut through any devoted wife. With Yvan's neurotic interrogations and Stamp's charisma, the possibility of Charlotte's affair seems more and more understandable.
There is nothing in the movie that should really show a
realistic truth for most people watching. The question of fidelity in showbiz families can
make for an interesting movie, even if it is as much a form of escapism as a Michael Bay
film. By the movie's end, men in the audience will be wishing they were like Terence
Stamp, charming the socks off of a beauty like Charlotte Gainsbourg. In the end, though,
we all know we're most like the non-celebrity schlep Yvan.
Stock & Two Smoking Barrels
|Gangster No. 1
BY: DAVID PERRY
The director may think otherwise, but the fiercest part of the gangland London film Gangster No. 1 is in a couple performances. Even as the writer and the director pain to make every part of the film seem more cutting edge than anything that has come around (and littered video store shelves) since the rise of Quentin Tarantino, the movie plods along with a surprising amount of lethargy.
Director Paul McGuigan tries to fill the frame with constantly violent imagery that can jolt the audience out of their seats, but the deepest areas of the story are not built around the torture of a subject by an axe but in the torture of a subject by his own self-regret. The real treats of the film come from the source material, Louis Mellis and David Scinto's stage drama, where the depressing metaphors run the show, not the intents of a director trying to spill as much blood as possible. Johnny Ferguson's adaptation of the play is all too willing to setup McGuigan with such scenes.
The film plays like a Guy Ritchie movie without all the tongue-in-cheek inside jokes. This is a gangster film that seems to aspire for epic proportions but does not understand how absurd such a film is. Scorsese and Coppola were both able to create exceptional works along these lines with GoodFellas and The Godfather but the secret to their success came in the fact that they saw a chance to also remark on both a time period and the familial relationships that marked the Italian American gangland.
The story is of one London hood and his rise to power in one of the most powerful and most violent gangs in England. We are introduced to him at age 55 (McDowell) as he sits in a crowded arena while boxers duke it out behind him. The gangster (his name is never told in the film) is reminded that Freddie Mays (Thewlis) is about to get out of jail -- and then all the memories come flooding back. He narrates his story, that of a snot-nosed thug who proved himself a perfect heavy to add to the Mays gang in 1968.
The 24-year-old gangster (Bettany) soon finds an odd camaraderie in his relationship with his employer: when they go into a club looking like a gay couple, the gangster's vocalization of worry over any mistaken presumptions by onlookers seems to have a spark of hope behind it. This makes it even worse when Mays looses sight of the gang war that he's supposed to be leading, much less the attention that the gangster so wants to get from Mays. The reason for this change of heart is a lounge singer named Karen (Burrows), and the gangster makes it quite clear what he thinks of her.
Jealousy soon becomes the name of the game and the gangster helps to turn a series of events into a chance for his rise into Mays' seat of power. There are evident elements of Macbeth throughout the film's middle act, playing everything from living ghosts to suicidal tendencies. There's even the addition of Richard III's much needed horse. By the time the gangster hits 1999, it looks like he has everything material that Mays had but still lacks the most desirous of Mays possessions (one he holds long after loosing his reign to the gangster): satisfaction.
All this makes a great little production to watch on stage, but under the control of a pyromaniac it becomes so frenzied that the movie becomes incomprehensible. If Rob Cohen wants to leave the XXX franchise and the producers want some European flare, this little independent filmmaker might actually be more perfect for the job than many studio names.
Saffron Burrows pulls out the same performance that she has built a quizzical career on, but her costars are all above the film they are left to work in. David Thewlis gives the film a calm that is much needed as the rest of the film goes crazy: his form of coolness and confidence is a rare sight today. Meanwhile, Malcolm McDowell delivers the first performance from him that seems to be an older version of Alex from A Clockwork Orange.
The real surprise from the film, though, is a magnificent performance from Paul Bettany, who has been a nondescript character actor in films like A Knight's Tale and A Beautiful Mind. The fury that he unleashes in the movie is a perfect blend between loud and mute. The way he abruptly kicks down a door and shoots a man seems perfectly elemental in a crime that is followed with his quiet and methodical removal of all his clothing (so as to not get any blood on them).
Paul Bettany seems to be bringing back to life Kubrick's
Alex and Malcolm McDowell seems to be letting us see him in middle age. It really is an
amazing sight to see such a justifiable course for a character that was a little cockney
gangster, but in an entirely different setting. Through their performances, the violence
seems understandable simply because they see the process and pain that seem married to
their vicious lives. It's just too bad the rest of the film is as unfulfilling as Anthony
Burgess' final chapter of A Clockwork Orange.
Talented Mr. Ripley
|One Hour Photo
BY: DAVID PERRY
The walk on the dark side that Robin Williams has been attempting in recent films began with One Hour Photo, a Sundance film that received a relatively good reception in Park City. Despite preceding the larger budgeted Insomnia and Death to Smoochy, One Hour Photo has been given the last release date, making Williams' biggest departure of the three seem like the sum of his previous Walter Finch and Randolph Smiley.
Where the other two were driven to kill by their insanity, One Hour Photo's Seymore Parrish, affectionately called 'Sy the Photo Guy,' is a little more insidious since his insanity draws him instead to feel accepted at any cost. Sy Parrish is like any other guy, not some antic kid show host or a reclusive writer; the patrons of the local SavMart (a crossbreed between Wal-Mart and a fluorescent light warehouse), see him regularly as they drop off their rolls of film. He painstakingly looks over the process of developing and perfecting the prints he will give to them an hour later, even if most of them never notice his hard work.
The photographs of other people's lives is all Sy really has in his own. He is a lonely milquetoast, getting his entire life's relationships out of the people he services and the downtrodden café waitress he orders a regular cup of coffee from. It seems that his parents have long been dead and he has never married (it is easy to imagine that he, in fact, has never dated) -- the only birthday parties and weddings he sees are in the pictures he develops.
In the process, he has become obsessed with the Yorkins, a seemingly happy upper-middle class family. For nine years, Nina Yorkin (Nielsen) has been dropping off her family photos with Sy, leaving him with a regular documentation of her relationship with Will Yorkin (Vartan) and the upbringing of their boy Jake (Smith). She always orders two copies of her photos; Sy always makes three: in his apartment is a wall dedicated to all those Yorkin memories, dozens of places and times where he can imagine the presence of 'Uncle Sy.'
As Sy notes, though, the pictures people take are only of the happy times. So, when going through the photos of another customer (Daniels) Sy discovers an unhappy back story to the lovely Yorkin family album, Sy decides that it is his responsibility to make sure that those breaking the family bond will pay for their sins. Before long, the SavMart manager (Cole) has called on the help of police detective Van De Zee (La Salle) with concerns that Sy might just be moving out of his place as a helpful worker of a common service and into the world of a threatening stalker.
Told through the narration of a disparaged Sy, noting everything from the etymology of the term 'snapshot' to the reason for red eyes in picture, the movie takes an odd Travis Bickle quality. But instead of bringing out a terse suburban equivalent to the urbane Taxi Driver, One Hour Photo turns out to be more along the lines of The Talented Mr. Ripley, pushing some of the more violent aspects to the side for the sake of pretty images. This is not necessarily a huge detractor for the film, though it takes away from the ironic quality writer-director Mark Romanek was going for.
The film is especially dulled by an wholly overdone ending. Though I will not relate what occurs, I can state that the film's way of treating the actual depths of the character is ultimately unsatisfying. The final moments lack any of the quiet edge that made the film's previous 90 minutes work so well. When Eriq La Salle's detective sits down and attempts to give the film some closure, the screenplay seems just moments from having a background character shout "he's a transvestite" in an ill-derived reference to Psycho.
Working with cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth, Romanek never lacks the visual flare to divert the audiences attentions from the screenplay's misgivings -- while the Sy character is well written, the rest of the cast has been given barely drawn one-dimensional archetypes -- by using an unusually minimalist style. This is Romanek's first feature, but he has been a rather busy music video director, making such videos as Fiona Apple's "Criminal," Beck's "Devil's Haircut," Nine Inch Nails' "Closer," and Michael and Janet Jackson's "Scream." In all those works, he made affable imagines out of palettes consisting of only one base tone.
The fluorescent light, white tile world of super-centers
gives Romanek an interesting setting to enjoy his color tinkering, turning some of the
film's more mundane moments into delightfully snazzy images consisting of merely the clash
between red on white. This does not really succeed in accentuating any of the depth
Romanek is attempting, but it does give something good to watch in between Williams'
moments to show-off his newfound edgy side.
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 Blue Crush and Undisputed (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: John Stockwell, Starring Kate Bosworth, Michelle Rodriguez, Sanoe Lake, Matthew Davis, Mika Boorem, Chris Taloa, Kala Alexander, Faizon Love, Shaun Robinson, and Tamayo Perry)
BY: DAVID PERRY
John Stockwell returns to the same story that he force-fed
in Crazy/Beautiful with the surfer romantic drama Blue Crush.
Unfortunately, none of the leads have the same virtues that made Kirsten Dunst and Jay
Hernandez so commanding in the earlier film. Stockwell does deserve some adulation for
giving some surf board POV scenes, but it would really help if the story going on around
these sequences did not feel like recycled 1980s sports movie fodder.
(Dir: Walter Hill, Starring Wesley Snipes, Ving Rhames, Peter Falk, Michael Rooker, Jon Seda, Wes Studi, Fisher Stevens, Dayton Callie, and Johnny Williams)
BY: DAVID PERRY
Fears that Supernova was more the mistake of
Walter Hill than Francis Ford Coppola or any of its other directors, becomes painfully
clear with the tragic self-righteousness of Undisputed. This Oz-meets-Rocky
amalgam lacks any of the command that marks those two works, instead leaving this film as
a factoid filled look at a bunch convicts whose plight never really becomes interesting.
Walter Hill has been on tough times for quite awhile, but this could be his worst film in
which he's the only director credited.
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|BUY THIS FILM'S