Volume 4, Number 44
This Week's Reviews: Auto Focus, Igby Goes Down, I Spy, The Santa Clause 2.
This Week's Omissions: NONE.
Capsule Reviews: Brown Sugar, Knockaround Guys.
Bringing Out the Dead
The Piano Teacher
The Rules of Attraction
BY: DAVID PERRY
Quite possibly the most depressing website out there is BobCrane.com, a thoroughly wretched hole-in-the-wall site that professes to be the Mecca for information on Bob Crane, the star of the television comedy Hogan's Heroes. At first glance, this site is not so disparaging (other than the opening disclaimer which acts like visitors are entering a porn site) until a little perusal finds the real tawdry insides of Bob Crane and what the site uses as its main draw.
BobCrane.com, you see, is run by Bob Crane's second son Scotty. One would expect that such a owner and operator would pain to ensure that his father would be seen in a light fitting for a pater familias. Not so: Bob Crane's much-gossiped obsession with filming his own promiscuous sexual liaisons is the real show, not the life of some forgotten 1960s television star. The first link is to a section simply titled "XXX," an area littered with pictures of Bob Crane mid-coitus (just clicks away from a page showing pictures of Bob Crane and family happily posing with Mickey Mouse). None of the sleazy images are shown in this part of the site -- access to that area costs $3.95 for three days.
After seeing Auto Focus, Paul Schrader's attempt to bring Bob Crane's sex addiction to the screen, the reasoning behind Crane's fetishistic filming of his own sex life seems less illusory. Bob Crane was a man who saw his ability to get laid every night as proof of his worth. If not for the women he slept with every night, he was not the Bob Crane, dashing and debonair ladies man, he thought he was.
The film follows Crane (Kinnear) from his early, lowly career work as a disc jockey trying his best to bring his casual style to the masses. His chance to do such came in the form of Hogan's Heroes, the show best known for its attempt to make comedy out of Nazi POW camps. It was a role that subsequently made him a household name as the show went to the top of the ratings -- it's the type of sudden celebrity story that must have a downfall coming.
His first wife (Wilson) leaves him over his predilection for porn in their ultra- conservative Catholic home. Even then, Crane had already found a love for the smutty moving image, preferring, of course, that he be the star of said smut. Video taping himself having sex with strangers became his own drug, an addiction that literally destroyed his life and his career: after a popular show came a series of failed movies, a failed dinner theater show, and two failed marriages.
Things would not have been so bad for Bob Crane had Richard Dawson (Rodgers), his famously lothario costar on Hogan's Heroes, not introduced Crane to John Carpenter (Dafoe), a cut-rate Sony dealer who gave products to stars in hopes of increasing consumer interest in them. It was Carpenter who first presented Crane with the means to fulfill his obsessive sexual lifestyle. They would prepare orgies in Carpenter's bachelor pad and then spend the next day masturbating to their taped work.
There are, of course, homosexual undertones to any relationship like this -- an impression that Crane is more than unwilling to accept. The film attempts to come up with some reasoning behind Crane's murder in 1978 by pontificating on the grandiose sexuality and possibly homicidal interests of a scorned lover, even if that means that the film ends rather slanderously.
At the heart of the movie is Greg Kinnear's incredible performance. He takes an intensely complex man and attempts to uncover him, layer by layer, to the audience. There is, of course, a double meaning to Kinnear's unraveling, which takes place quite purposefully as his own inner demons come out of their church-affected drawing rooms. Crane, to the very end, attempted to convince people that his affliction was normal, a posit that Kinnear relishes imparting: with a crumpled man sitting at a bar circa. 1975 and watching women approach him simply because he had the barkeep turn on Hogan's Heroes, the audience can only feel some sympathy for the smarmy schlep.
Taking the story of Bob Crane is not a terrible surprise from Paul Schrader, whose films of male insecurity and ineffectiveness in society are always interesting (even if other flaws ultimately destroy the film, as was the case with American Gigolo). Though best known for penning some of Martin Scorsese's masterpieces (Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, The Last Temptation of Christ, and Bringing Out the Dead), Schrader has proven to be as equally formidable director as writer. His 1997 masterpiece Affliction is still one of the best realizations of the male self-destructiveness that can destroy families across generations.
Bob Crane is not unlike the people that filled Schrader's
second work as a director on 1979's Hardcore. In that film, George C. Scott made
his way through the world of porn production to save his porn actress daughter. That is
the same task Paul Schrader has given to himself in working on Auto Focus. He
seems to be tempting, wishing he could do something to save his wayward subject before he
is destroyed. Schrader is reminding the audience of what Bob Crane did in the name of
sexual pleasure during his life, but he is also attempting to let us understand the
dynamics that could have led him to such a lifestyle. It's sad: Paul Schrader, who never
met Bob Crane, is doing him a service by explaining the Crane psyche, while Crane's own
son is hocking his dad's homemade porn on broadband.
The Royal Tenenbaums
The Good Girl
The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys
|Igby Goes Down
BY: DAVID PERRY
body meet a body, comin thro' the rye,
What is with J.D. Salinger being en vogue these days? To the best of my knowledge, the novel The Catcher in the Rye has been relatively untapped by films since its 1945 publishing. And now, with the rise of Salinger-esque Wes Anderson films, a new collection of Holden Caulfield facsimiles have become a regular entity in cinema. The first of these, Jason Schwartzbaum's Max Fisher in Rushmore, was the only one that was treated with the same care that Salinger gave his own creation -- every one since, however, has been more like the character and dealt with more like Hollywood.
Igby Goes Down, following the footsteps of The Good Girl and Chasing Holden, may not have the visual sprawl of a glossy Hollywood production, but it does feature the type of silly and contrived characters that stifle audiences. This is not necessarily a complete debit -- the most character-driven of the films, Tadpole, was the one that featured the least likable character.
Jason "Igby" Slocumb, Jr., like Holden Caulfield, has spent his life lost in the affluence of the materialistic Manhattan social elite. Having failed out of yet another prep school, the 17-year-old is simply moving about the city (as well as much of the East Coast) attempting to make sense of his bittersweet adolescence on its final days. Generally, he could just camp out at the family estates -- Manhattan, the Hamptons -- but he really hates his family.
The closest to him of the Slocumb clan, his father Jason (Pullman), checked himself into a mental institution after his pursuit of wealth sent him into a nervous breakdown. His medical bills are staggering, meaning that nearly all of the Slocumb inheritance has been used up as Jason stares at the walls and Igby's godfather D.H. (Goldblum) must pay for all his godson's failed school tours. Meanwhile, Igby's mother Mimi (Sarandon) spends her time taking her pills and making Igby's life a living hell -- her expectations are so high that the smallest misstep by her youngest son becomes reason enough to sit on the maid's head.
And who can blame Igby for feeling that anything he does will be unfairly compared: a glance at the résumé of his older brother Oliver (Phillippe) would make most people feel insecure. Oliver has been a model student at New England's best private schools, hobnobbed with the social elite, rebuilt D.H.'s high priced lofts for community service, and now attends Columbia University as an economics major. The world seems to exist for the whim of this proud, card-carrying Young Republican.
Thus, it is no surprise when the other women in Igby's life begin turning their attention to Oliver instead of staying with him. Other than his liaisons with his godfather's mistress, Igby finds his best bet in the form of Sookie Sapperstein (Danes), a Bennington College student taking some time off to work as a caterer's assistant. Issue No. 1: Sookie's Jewish family means that Mimi will certainly disapprove. Issue No. 2: Oliver has no problem intervening and showing off his superiority to take Sookie from Igby.
Igby Goes Down tries desperately to find a tonal balance between its anti-aristocracy and its love for the upper-class setting. Like the superior Cruel Intentions, the elitist atmosphere helps to establish the shallowness of the characters, but the film fails to ever find a way to represent it as anything more than an indictment of a handful of characters for much of the film's duration. By the end, some of the characters are actually given some depth, but by then it is too late: at its finest moments, these characters were involving if only for their callowness, not for the later scenes' exhibition of their hidden selves.
Kieran Culkin has received some acclaim for his performance as the smart-aleck Igby for some unknown reason. Playing an affected teenager, Culkin seems to be using the same stock characterizations that Jake Gyllenhaal unfortunately overuses. The film actually throws in Culkin's younger brother Rory to play Igby at age 10 -- a reminder that there is some talent roaming in the Culkin family. Give us a couple years and Rory, the one with the talent, can finally be the one headlining indie films instead of his brothers, the ones without (though, to his credit, Macaulay Culkin is getting some notices for his upcoming work in Party Monster).
This is the first feature from actor Burr Steers, an actor best known for playing the longhaired victim on the couch at the beginning of Pulp Fiction. Steers hasn't yet found his footing as a filmmaker, meaning that many of the scenes in Igby Goes Down look like they were shot without any form of direction whatsoever. There are some moments of slight talent, but they are possibly the handiwork of cinematographer Wedigo von Schultzendorff.
Since this is more of a character driven film anyway, its
Steers' script which is of the most importance. While he does throw in little nuggets
throughout, the overall feel of the film never congeals to anything more than smug people
doing smug things. If Igby is meant to be a vocal protestant to the film's snobbery, the
effect is lost in the filming. By the end, Igby feels just as fake as the rest of the
cavalcade of characters. Holden Caulfield would surely call him a phony.
Mission: Impossible 2
BY: DAVID PERRY
When television first came to the fore in the 1940s, there was a great fear that its domestic accessibility would spell the end to film's place as people's favorite form of entertainment. It did bring a lower turnout to films, but, as anyone can see, the film industry was not devastated by the invention of the television.
Instead, I would like to hypothesize an inverse relationship to happen. Like the difference between a senator and a representative in the United States Congress, there's an unspoken hierarchy between one chamber and another -- the same is true for films and television. For the purpose of this metaphor, Trent Lott would be a movie; Dick Gephardt would be a television show. Bear with me, there's a purpose to all this.
Thus, the aspiration of television show is to one day be immortalized by movies. The only problem is that movies have consistently proven to be the worst ground for episodic TV to attempt. Occasionally, there's a success like Mission: Impossible or The Fugitive; but more often there are failures like The Beverly Hillbillies, Lost in Space, and Dragnet. Considering the good-to-bad ratio of movies adapted from television (uh, 1-to-50, I'd say), these films are ruining our television heritage -- reworking TV classics and giving them forms that both undercut and ruin the originals. Unfortunately, a person today is more likely to recognize the horrible movie adaptation of Car 54, Where are You? then they are to recognize the terrific original 1950s television series.
This is the also the case with I Spy, a film that takes the near-perfect rapport of Robert Culp and Bill Cosby as two suave spies learning from each other (Culp, a professional tennis player, learning the spy game from Rhodes scholar Cosby, portraying his assistant) and turns it into a chance for Eddie Murphy to mug at the camera and for producers to once again waste Owen Wilson in a role untailored for him.
The races have been switched around this time, as Wilson plays the longtime spy who must work with the athlete Murphy to complete an important mission. Wilson's Alexander Scott is the whipping boy of the spy world, a "surfer boy" constantly trying to prove himself to his coworkers. When he gets a mission to retrieve a missing jet capable to disappearing eye's view (and therefore being incredibly important to countries intent on smuggling weapons into their borders), he sees this as his opportunity to rise above the big-man-in-the-bureau Carlos (Cole).
The only way that Alexander can get into the underworld of Gundars (McDowell), the man believed to have obtained the jet, is to get the help of champion boxer Kelly Robinson (Murphy) to help please Gundars' intense love for boxing. The only problem is that the immensely cocky Kelly Robinson, who refers to himself throughout in the third person, wants desperately to steal the show from his trained partner.
That is also the case with the two actors portraying the two characters, as Owen Wilson uses his normal deadpan delivery to remain evident throughout and Murphy uses as much shrill, loud exclamations to push himself to the front. These are two actors who have made a career out of playing memorable characters that jump off the screen, but unfortunately Wilson, the more talented of the two, has a delivery that cannot be heard because Murphy is screaming to get far more attention.
Though the character is a Kelly Robinson variation on his Kit character in Bowfinger, Murphy seems unwilling to lower the hysterics that hamper the character's pleasantness for the sake of both making his stuff watchable and letting Wilson at least have a little time to shine.
Such grandstanding would be far more damaging if not for the fact that what the characters do get to use is so uninteresting. Screenwriters Marianne and Cormac Wibberly, David Ronn, and Jay Scherick haven't the least amount of interest in establishing anything lightly amiable between the two supposed buddies in this buddy comedy, instead opting for a tug-of-war amounting to calamity.
Betty Thomas, who has the action direction prowess one would expect from the director of A Brady Bunch Movie, succeeds in creation some of the year's most boring action sequences, scenes in which the most thrilling part of an exploding car is not the car aflame but Owen Wilson's bright eyes as he exclaims, "That was a big explosion!"
And, in the end, none of this comes from the television
show outside of a small outline. The original series, acclaimed for its groundbreaking use
of race relations, had far more class and substance in 50 minutes than can be found in 96
minutes of the movie. Saddest of all, though, is the fact that future generations will
have no idea there was even an original series, just that movie with Eddie Murphy and that
funny looking guy from Armageddon.
Stuart Little 2
|The Santa Clause 2
BY: DAVID PERRY
Since November 1st now seems to be the first day for Christmas movies to open, The Santa Clause 2 comes completely prepackaged and promoted to ensure that it gets to be the first holiday film in theatres (somewhat like the odd July release of Halloween: Resurrection). This is the type of family film the studios make for the sake of their own bottom line, regardless of whether or not it is the slightest bit entertaining. That was definitely the case with the first The Santa Clause and is what brought Disney to making a sequel. Then, why, I must ask, is it that The Santa Clause 2 is somewhat enjoyable?
The most surprisingly inventive ideas of the first film are recycled in the new one, but that doesn't matter: the quality behind this production comes at a much higher level than any of the hokum imparted eight years ago. Oh, The Santa Clause 2 has its own level of hokum and flim-flammery, but all with a tongue-in-cheek style that shows the film's own incredulous feeling towards itself.
Scott Calvin (Allen) has become well suited to his job as Santa Clause since accidentally killing Old Saint Nick many Christmases ago. As the replacement Santa, he has become exponentially better at the job than his predecessors, ensuring that every girl and boy is happy on Christmas morning unless they are among the especially naughty ones. Of course, as he begins to think that life is perfect in his North Pole workshop (complete with hundreds of elves working in a sweatshop), two problems arise.
First, Scott learns that his son Charlie (Lloyd) has made a little move from the nice list to the naughty list after vandalizing his school with pro-Christmas propaganda. His anti-holiday principal, Carol Newman (Mitchell), sees this as a product of a misfit father since she never seems to see Charlie's dad whenever there are parent-teacher conferences. Thanks to having a highly genial relationship with his ex-wife (Crewson) and her new husband (Reinhold), Scott has been able to hide the reason behind his estrangement.
Second, Scott is informed of another clause written in small print on the card that made him Santa in the first place. According to über-elves Bernard (Krumholtz) and Curtis (Breslin) -- the North Pole equivalents of a Andrew Card and Karl Rove -- Scott must find a wife before Christmas Eve lest he null and void his contract for failing to fulfill the aptly titled "Missus Clause."
And so Scott makes his way back to North America so that he can (1) help get his son back onto the right track towards niceness instead of naughtiness and (2) find someone who will marry him in 26 days. Oh, and while he's gone, Curtis has made a toy Santa that will run the shop in his place -- a Santa that turns out to be an Augusto Pinochet in the making.
The Santa Clause 2 is finds just the right mark when it is not trying desperately for cuteness. Like when a barrage of evil toy soldiers fascistically converge on the elves or when a sugar-drunk reindeer attempts to pass the buck (no pun intended), the film has a freshness that was ultimately lost on the first film.
Nonetheless, The Santa Clause 2 fails to hit the
same equivocal level of family-friendly excitement that was surprisingly found in Stuart
Little 2 earlier this year. Instead, the film is hampered as various characters and
plots are thrown in for good measure but poor plotting. The film may do its best to shed
the shrill cuteness but remnants still remain and turn the film's brightest spots into
mere departures from the bunkum.
(Dir: Rick Famuyiwa, Starring Taye Diggs, Sanaa Lathan, Nicole Ari Parker, Boris Kodjoe, Mos Def, Queen Latifah, and Wendell Pierce)
BY: DAVID PERRY
The hip-hop recording industry should start pumping money
into getting Brown Sugar a wider release -- unlike the garish Glitter,
the film is both a love letter to the industry and emotionally affective. Taye Diggs and
Sanaa Lathan work great together as the romantic couple at the center of all the musical
pomp and circumstance. The only real problem is that the interesting relationship is
unfortunately sidelined at times by the less interesting music plot.
(Dir: Brian Koppelman and David Levien, Starring Barry Pepper, Vin Diesel, Andrew Davoli, Seth Green, John Malkovich, Arthur J. Nascarella, Tom Noonan, Dennis Hopper, and Nicholas Pasco)
BY: DAVID PERRY
In effect ripping off both The Godfather and Reservoir
Dogs in one felt swoop, Knockaround Guys tries desperately to convince the
audience that its sad-sacked wannabe mobsters are of deep personal angst, even if they are
little more than boring representations of Gen-X paternal relations. For a film with such
a great cast, its depressing to consider that no one every really shows anything of note.
|BUY THIS FILM'S
|BUY THIS FILM'S