Volume 4, Number 43
This Week's Reviews: Punch-Drunk Love, The Truth About Charlie, The Phantom of the Opera.
This Week's Omissions: Jackass the Movie, Igby Goes Down, The Last Kiss.
Capsule Reviews: Abandon, Ghost Ship.
Dr. T & the Women
Sweet and Lowdown
BY: DAVID PERRY
Having been a bit of a Paul Thomas Anderson cheerleader since first seeing Hard Eight in 1997, the downward spiral seen in his latest effort, Punch-Drunk Love, becomes all the more devastating. At his best -- the first 15 minutes of Magnolia, the entire film Boogie Nights -- Anderson finds an amusing edge to his fateful characters and their absurd lives. At his worst -- most all of Punch-Drunk Love -- the amusement becomes dreadfully tiresome in a parade of quirky moments that amount to little more than one director's whim.
This is not to say that Punch-Drunk Love is a complete waste -- in fact, it is one of the finer looking films this year (thanks in part to Robert Elswit's always incredible cinematography) -- but that it is one of the least satisfying works I've seen this year. Anderson says that he intended the film to be the art house version of an Adam Sandler film. I cannot say that he has failed in this: the art house look is certainly there, but so is the idiotic tedium of a Sandler film.
And I was more than willing to give Sandler a chance on this attempt to shed his pop movie skin. After seeing him successfully pull off sweet and semi-sensitive in The Wedding Singer, I wanted to believe that there was something he had withheld from his core audience. I liked believing that there was a lovable lug under the time bomb of puerile aggression that he has used in films like Billy Madison and Happy Gilmore. The most disappointing discovery in Punch-Drunk Love is that the film shows there was not a sensitive passivity waiting to be exploited, but merely a more thoroughly veiled aggression that Anderson could use.
For example, Anderson's script makes desperate use of detraction within Sandler's Barry Egan but always reverts to outbursts to rectify it. People are constantly using him for entertainment and personal gain -- he seems to live in a world only inhabited by sadists. When his sisters remind him of a nickname they had for him ("gay boy") he mulls along until he finally begins breaking one sister's patio doors. Or there's his first date with wallflower Lena (Watson), where some mistakes lead him into the posh men's bathroom, destroying all the facilities around him. The film does find some humor in these events -- especially in Barry's attempt to convince the restaurant manager that he was not at fault, despite the bloody cuts on his hands -- but never establishes them as anything more than Barry's emotional outbursts.
As a bipolar individual, this character could have been less hampered by a script that tries desperately to find an understanding. There's no diagnosis for the passive- aggressiveness of Barry Egan, probably because doing so would only remind us that his character is little more than an exploitation of an actor's comic rage.
I liked the colorful, festive atmosphere that Anderson creates, a ditty of a film that is oddly reminiscent of old Hollywood musicals. Its new wave touch into an old genre brings a plaintive satisfaction similar to The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. However, Anderson et al. never allow the film to grow outside of its thin characterizations and incommoding scenarios. This is the type of movie that should be refreshing for its uncommon treatment of common material and Paul Thomas Anderson seems like the perfect person to excel at such a project. Unfortunately, he never finds the levity in his own comedy -- a damning attempt to enliven a story that is without any real foundation, just quirks.
And within all my complaints, the most invigorating
moment of the film is, in fact, one of Barry Egan's outbursts. But, unlike any of the
other moments, this time around -- as he looks at Lena during a possibly disastrous car
crash and reacts to it -- there is some merit to what he is doing. This scene occurs just
moments before Barry heads off for an altercation with the film's only intriguing
character, the porn-shark Dean Trumbell (Hoffman), and represents the film's only genuine
section of veracity. The next scenes, alas, are just as disappointing as the rest of the
film -- a token of the film's inability to find a purpose beyond odd casting and mellowed
North by Northwest
Shoot the Piano Player
Swimming to Cambodia
|The Truth About Charlie
BY: DAVID PERRY
Jonathan Demme films the face of Thandie Newton in The Truth About Charlie as if he is Jean-Luc Godard and has just found the beautiful features of Jean Seberg walking the sidewalks of Paris. The film serves as a love letter to Ms. Newton through the same Nouvelle Vague pretenses that Godard used for Breathless -- the real recipient of this letter is the French New Wave.
But The Truth About Charlie is, after all, a remake of a film that was the antithesis of Godard's film ethics in 1963. While Godard was out there making his most accessible (and, in my opinion, best) work, Contempt, Stanley Donen was running around Paris filming Audrey Hepburn in the arms of Cary Grant. Charade was a stylish, well-made romantic thriller in the Hitchcock vein. By the end, it's easy to imagine François Truffaut loving it, but not Jean-Luc Godard.
Demme's favorite of the New Wavers is Truffaut (as can be clearly seen in the final, bittersweet image of the film's closing credits), and his sensibilities while making The Truth About Charlie are in line with Truffaut's 1960 comic thriller Shoot the Piano Player. In that film, a character makes a promise on his mother's life before Truffaut suddenly cuts to the mother dropping dead; in The Truth About Charlie, a character tries to seduce another by playing a Charles Aznavour (the star of Shoot the Piano Player) CD before the camera pans to the real Aznavour crooning on the balcony. You can't call these films scenes logical -- more properly, they're magical.
But the Charlie in question (for those who haven't seen Charade) is not Charles Aznavour or his Shoot the Piano Player character Charlie Kohler; the truth about Charlie is that, well, he's dead. The film opens with Charlie Lambert (Dillane) joining the 100 mph club (what else is a train tryst called?) and walking into his death. The next thing we know, his unhappy wife Regina (Newton) returns from her seaside vacation to find their Paris apartment emptied and a detective (Boisson) waiting to take her to the morgue.
It seems that the dead body they have isn't really Charlie Kohler -- oh, yeah, this is the guy Regina married, it's just that he had a half dozen aliases including the one on their marriage license. This is enough to make any recent widow distress a little more unbearable (even if she was going to ask for a divorce) -- and she hasn't even met the three thugs (Levine, Park, and Hamilton) who believe Charlie owes them $6 million and think Regina can get it for them.
Meanwhile, she blinds herself to the fact that a guy she met while on vacation, American Joshua Peters (Wahlberg), is evidently stalking her and that an ominous American claiming to be a secret agent (Bartholomew) may be using her for some devious end.
All this follows the formula created by the Grant (as the name-switched Peter Joshua) and Hepburn team in Charade. But watching The Truth About Charlie reveals a completely different animal. While Charade was a slick, tightly plodded little caper, The Truth About Charlie is all over the place. The complaint most people are sure to make is that the film cannot hold any tone for any string of moments, and yet its jagged style turns it into a treat far superior to anything intentionally cutesy this year. Though not of the same natural ease, the film is beautiful in its own uneven way.
While Thandie Newton seems perfect to recreate the New Wave atmosphere surrounding her (including cameos by Agnès Varda, Magali Noël, and Anna Karina), Mark Wahlberg gets to be the film's biggest misstep in all its intentional confusion. Wahlberg is no Cary Grant or Jean-Paul Belmondo or Charles Aznavour -- the most memorable thing about him is that he looks like a chump in a beret.
Luckily, Jonathan Demme infuses the film with enough joyous cinematic grace (or lack thereof) to cover Wahlberg's misgivings. His is a film built around the love of cinema, especially the French films that helped him create his own style during his early years. It's been 14 years since Demme worked on indie comedies, finding more financial success in mainstream works like Philadelphia and The Silence of the Lambs. So long has he been in this serious mode that it became easy to forget films like Handle with Care, Melvin and Howard, and Married to the Mob.
Those early films were writhe with the energy that was
lost on his later films. The Truth About Charlie could be seen as a grand return
of that young Demme ethos. More importantly, though, it should be welcomed as the most New
Wave film a modern Hollywood production has gotten. It's not as equally snide and
unforgettable as Truffaut's films, but something tells me the great director would
nonetheless appreciate Demme's imitation.
The Kid Stays in the Picture
Shadow of the Vampire
The Talented Mr. Ripley
|The Phantom of the Opera
BY: DAVID PERRY
The Phantom of the Opera could easily have a high spot on a list of films that have been little seen today even though almost everyone has seen a particular scene. It would be tough to find a person that has not seen that unmasking of Lon Cheney's the Phantom because cineastes have long heralded the shot for its masterful creation of horror in a single shot.
Unfortunately, the film's scares have lost their thrill through decades of audience desensitization. Hence, the reason there's been an opening for a slew of remakes, all attempting to up the ante on the predecessor. Even if the 1925 version seems tame compared to all the successors, its achievements with silent film design and mood are far more notable than anything that has followed.
Lon Chaney would be most popularized through the character of the Phantom, an achievement that came to eclipse his 999 other faces. To this day, he is the best known actor to don the Phantom mask even if actors like Claude Rains, Herbert Lom, William Finley, Maximilian Schell, Robert Englund, Charles Dance, and Julian Sands have played the character in various film versions. The only performance that could ever eclipse his (but doesn't) is Michael Crawford performance in the Andrew Lloyd Weber stage musical adaptation.
The film looks at the Paris Opera as it is terrorized by the Phantom and his obsession with one of the singers. With new ownership in charge of the place, the Phantom begins an attempt to bargain with the directors to ensure that Christine Daae (Philbin) can take the lead role in the opera instead of prima donna Carlotta (Fabian) or he'll terrorize the patrons. When they actually try to call his bluff, he drops the chandelier on them.
His love for Christine finally drives him to abducting her and hiding her away in his lair underneath the opera house. Her coercion of his emotions helps her to escape and conspire with her fiancé Raoul (Kerry) of a way to finally get away from the Phantom's terror. Of course, the Phantom will do everything in his power to stop this from happening.
Coming off of years of watching German Expressionist films, director Rupert Julian infuses the film with enough gothic imagery to emphasize the story and characters much the same way F.W. Murnau had made Nosferatu and Henrik Galeen had made The Golem. The Ben Carré art direction adds a grandiose milieu to accentuate the vast subterranean world of the Phantom and the beauty of the opera house.
The direction does show some seams, which is not surprising considering that two other directors (Edward Sedgwick and Chaney) would work behind the camera on some scenes. However, the film's most out-of-place shot is the one that remains most memorable for those who have actually seen the film throughout. As the Phantom enters a masked ball dressed as the Red Death, the two-color Technicolor used makes the shot unforgettable. It should be noted, though, that the rest of the film makes good use of print tinting.
I was lucky enough to see this film in one of the grand
movie houses with an organ playing a score. This is, unquestionably, the best way to see The
Phantom of the Opera. As the larger-than-life character created by Lon Cheney
gallivants across the screen, the eerie tones of an organ create just the right mood for
the occasion. Even if we cannot see the film with the same off-guard fear that it brought
to 1925 audiences, at least we can occasionally see it in presentations that do it
justice. It certainly deserves it.
(Dir: Stephen Gaghan, Starring Katie Holmes, Benjamin Bratt, Charlie Hunnam, Zooey Deschanel, Mark Feurstein, Fred Ward, Melaine Lynskey, Philip Bosco, Gabriel Mann, Will McCormack, and Gabrielle Union)
BY: DAVID PERRY
Abandon spends 90 minutes trying figure out
whether or not some cocky pseudo-intellectual kid has intentionally left college or was
killed. The only problem is that, by the end, no one in the audience or the film seems to
really care. The creepy May-December relationship between Benjamin Bratt and Katie Holmes
somehow makes Michael Douglas in Wonder Boys seem like a more suitable lover, and
director/writer Stephen Gaghan's (who wrote Traffic) decision to paint the film
like a corporate cutthroat film (i.e. Business of Strangers) only reminds
everyone that the story he's telling is as paper thin as the glass ceiling the Holmes'
character intends to break.
(Dir: Steve Beck, Starring Julianna Margulies, Gabriel Byrne, Ron Eldard, Desmond Harrington, Isaiah Washington, Alex Dimitriades, Karl Urban, and Emily Browning)
BY: DAVID PERRY
Director Steve Beck tries desperately to turn his
boringly gory little film into Alien, but fails miserably. His story of salvage
pirates going through a haunted luxury ship looks oddly like all the other
scare-the-strangers- in-the-haunted-house films that have inundated the horror film
market. Sadly enough, this film is even worse than precursors Thirteen Ghosts and
The House on Haunted Hill, and Julianna Margulies proves to be no Sigourney
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