> Volume 5 > Number 01

Volume 5, Number 01

This Week's Reviews:  Chicago, About Schmidt, Drumline.

This Week's Omissions:  NONE.

Capsule Reviews:  Extreme Ops, Two Weeks Notice, The Wild Thornberrys Movie.

Rob Marshall

Renée Zellweger
Richard Gere
Catherine Zeta-Jones
John C. Reilly
Queen Latifah
Christine Baranski
Taye Diggs
Colm Feore
Dominic West

Release: 27 Dec. 02



Last year saw what could be considered the reintroduction of the movie musical in Baz Luhrmann's kitsch-galore Moulin Rouge. As one of the bigger proponents of that film -- despite scattershot editing and some overburdened numbers, it really was one of 2001's greatest visual treats -- it comes with an odd pang in my throat to declare a bit of one-upmanship on the part of Miramax and Rob Marshall. Their production of Chicago, the Broadway musical that has proven to be incredibly popular in its recent revival, has all the awe-inspiring attributes that could be found in Moulin Rouge (as well as many of that film's problems) and, most surprisingly, proves to be more productive for the genre than the Luhrmann film.

What Chicago achieves is a return to the movie musical that could be found in theatres in the 1970s, as the genre went through its last hurrah. Most closely, it mimics Bob Fosse's Cabaret, the ultimate in cinematically toying with a stage production to the point of making the two media one. The gaudy flash and flourish that could be found in that film (as well as the stage work that Fosse spent most of his time on, including the original staging of Chicago) are splendidly recreated by Mitchell.

The stages are still lit with enough electricity (both metaphorical and literal) to run a small town for a month and the numbers still have the enduring absurdity of vanguard art pieces. When the camera leaves a press conference to show the marionette qualities of the press, from the makeup that rouge their faces to the strings that move their pens, the effect is pure magic. When the film takes six women's tales of their murderous dallying in a number called the "Cell Block Tango" the work comes to a form that defies the imagination. The entire film (even in some of the more vocally pained numbers performed by Richard Gere) comes across with the chutzpah of a true entertainer. Every scene seems formed and fitted for the best cinematic impact, making it surprising that this is Mitchell's first foray into cinema.

The director, who proved himself as the choreographer on many Broadway productions before co-directing the recent Cabaret revival with Sam Mendes, has attempted to find the Fosse in Walter Bobbie's 1996 revival of Chicago -- he delights in finding the razzle-dazzle of a film camera and an editing machine as much as he does getting the sexiness in his stage vixens. Though the sultriness is toned down for this widescreen realization of the play, the puerile joy in seeing a naked thigh and luscious lips seems to be part of the joy Mitchell's having in bringing this production to Middle America.

But why does this merit the landmark title of "The Great Reviver of the Broadway Film Tradition?" All comes down to the fact that Chicago, more than Moulin Rouge, serves as an introduction of Broadway into the very Middle America that never sees it. Whether Chicago is accepted by viewers in Iowa and North Carolina is unknown, but the fact that this movie will be a chance for the masses to go to see Chicago is notable. While traveling groups have long been the chance for people in Knoxville to see Mendes and Mitchell's Cabaret, these troupes never have the appeal that comes with the real Broadway casts (this is not to say they are any less talented -- I would happily make the case that the touring Allison Spratt was a better Sally Bowles than Broadway's Brooke Shields).

Like the 'real deal,' the film Chicago comes with the recognizable performers who can headline a Broadway production but who would never venture from Boise to Augusta in their roles. Stories of Catherine Zeta-Jones being a prima donna make it doubtful that the actress, who plays prima donna Velma Kelly in this production, would ever worry with taking the show outside of New York, if she'd even take the time to play the role there.

The film version of Chicago, complete with Zeta-Jones, Renée Zellweger, Richard Gere, John C. Reilly, Queen Latifah, and Taye Diggs in the cast, has the marquee value of the Broadway musical with the transportability of a tour. Even if the live show isn't there, the showmanship is, and the very draw that brings those not interested in the culture of Broadway musicals -- namely the celebrities -- is now part of the package. Chicago may do horribly in Middle America, but one can see the merits of the production at least being accessible to the 'Red State' masses.

©2003, David Perry,, 3 January 2003

Alexander Payne

Jack Nicholson
Kathy Bates
Hope Davis
Dermot Mulroney
June Squibb
Howard Hesseman
Len Cariou

Release: 13 Dec. 02

About Schmidt


"Retired is being tired twice, I've thought. First tired of working, then tired of not."
           --Richard Armour, Going Like Sixty

There is so much melancholy in Alexander Payne's About Schmidt that it becomes impossible to consider it to be of the same type of achievement of his previous films, Citizen Ruth and Election. The latter, a high school microcosm of the nature of political ambitions and the development of the authority figure, was among the finest comedies of the 1990s with its pitch-perfect dialogue and metaphorical story.

About Schmidt comes from a different mold, but just as notable in its execution. Now the bite of the Midwestern accent that could be found in both Election and Citizen Ruth isn't meant to be naturally appealing and absurd, but has also taken on the baggage of disappointment, of loneliness, and of despondency. The laughs are regular throughout About Schmidt, but the bleakness is impossible to miss. The joie de vivre I heralded in Election's first half isn't around anymore (either in the characters, the audience, or the director) and has been replaced with destitution.

This is not to say that About Schmidt fails to find levity within its story -- exactly the opposite. The most memorable moments in the film are the funny moments, as the film's protagonist, subjugated retiree Warren Schmidt (Nicholson), tries to make sense of all the absurdities and failures in his life. Payne is careful to establish these moments, though, with the underlying sadness that they bring to Schmidt. It's an amazing achievement of humorous pathos.

The film opens with the retirement of Schmidt, as he finds just how useless he was to the Omaha insurance company he had spent his entire life working for. In the first of many speeches, his best friend Ray Nichols (Cariou) gives the same clichéd farewell speech for his longtime coworker that provokes Schmidt to do exactly what most of the audience would like to do while stuck in this environment: wander off to the bar next-door and forget about the false adulation being momentarily (and belatedly) bandied out.

The world of retired living is instantly disruptive for Schmidt, who begins spending his days wandering about his home and becoming increasingly aggravated with the quirks of his wife Helen (Squibb). In the stupor of late night television watching, Schmidt sees a Save the Children commercial that gives him some purpose to his sexagenarian life: he will begin sending that all-important $22 check to a kid in Africa. When the charity requests that Schmidt write something to his foster child named Ndugu, he begins to rant and rave of all the pains he has found in these post-work weeks. Even if the kid is only 8 and starving, he becomes the first real confidante for Schmidt.

When the uselessness of his life seems to be at its worst, something happens to escalate the listlessness within him. Suddenly, when even the image of Helen seems forever tarnished, he takes to the road and drives to the wedding of his daughter Jeannie (Davis) and Denver waterbed salesman Randall Hertzel (Mulroney). She is not yet willing to accept him into her life in the early moments before the wedding (there's a cold and callous nature to her remarks to her father as she rebukes his attempts to see her but continues to ask for his money to help in the ceremony -- this is most definitely not Spencer Tracy or Steve Martin's Father of the Bride); he just wants companionship.

About Schmidt could be considered a road movie in its attempt to carry on the impressions of a person as he goes on the open road. However, the terrain that Payne sends Schmidt on is not of beautiful locales and interesting places. Instead, Schmidt is stuck in the Midwest, where the attractions seem bizarre, pointless, but nevertheless incredible for the locals, a world where Warren Schmidt can live out his life without ever feeling that he has fulfilled anything. When his jaunty into his old alma mater, fraternity house, and family home show nothing near the hopeful reenactment of his glory years (which are evidently not his Golden Years, but more closely his Wonder Years), the revelation is that a life of sixty years has amounted to nothing.

Nicholson never chews the scenery in his creation of this miserable man. This is closer to the genuinely unshowy, less actorly performances he's given in The Pledge and Blood and Wine, imbuing the role with a sadness that is the very antithesis of the grinning devil that he's best known for. Schmidt looks like Jack Nicholson (plus a few pounds) but is nothing like the actor we've grown accustomed to. He plays Schmidt as a man who might have once been as happy as the Jack Nicholson of lore but has been drained of any pleasure.

The similarities between About Schmidt and It's a Wonderful Life are surprising: the story of Midwestern men believing that nothing good has come from their existences. At the end of It's a Wonderful Life, Jimmy Stewart has been contented to learn that he has created good -- even if the business fails, he has brought happiness to others. For Warren Schmidt, though, he cannot see the happiness he created. Instead, he simply wanders desperately, searching for the acceptance and the Donna Reed waiting for him somewhere in Kansas.

©2003, David Perry,, 3 January 2003

Charles Stone III

Nick Cannon
Zoe Saldana
Orlando Jones
Leonard Roberts
Jason Weaver

Release: 13 Dec. 02



Peyton Reed's Bring It On two years ago was about a group of athletes often looked over by the masses at football games and the camaraderie that must be forged to somehow get success and recognition. I liked that film for its joyousness with its own B-movie qualities and the way that it so assuredly toyed with the clichés that it portrayed.

Where that film was about the cheerleaders, though, the new film Drumline is instead about the band members who keep the crowd from leaving during halftime. Like Bring It On, Drumline tackles the relationships within these ranks and the athleticism that is needed to compete. While the normal portrayal of band members is of a more bank geek form (even if they are shown to be sexual fiends in films like American Pie), Drumline attempts to make the case that these people deserve some respect.

Having never been able to play any instrument other than the piano (and even that ability is fleeting), the impression of a band of outsiders should seem to be accepted, though having a roommate in the band during my freshman year in college helped to turn any predispositions around. After seeing his inability to do anything other than band in hopes of keeping his place in the halftime show, it became apparent that there's more to a drumline, both mentally and athletically, than meets the eye. Oh, he failed out after a year.

The film follows Devon (Cannon), a Harlem youth who dazzles everyone with his musical skills, takes pride in the fact that the he has not become a criminal youth as one would expect considering his single-parent home. After high school graduation, he gets a full scholarship to Atlanta A&T, an all-black university known mainly for its prize-winning band.

Devon enters Atlanta A&T believing that nothing could be wrong with him. What he soon finds, though, is that there are many problems in him and, even if he thinks that they should be overlooked, they make it harder for those around him to meet their or his expectations. The most important opinion in this is Dr. James Lee (Jones), the man who has just taken over the band and must turn it into a marketable commodity for the university again (like the athletic division, alumni donations are dependent on the band's success at this school).

Soon Devon is butting heads with Lee and drumline leader Sean (Roberts) over the way that the line should go. While they like the idea of bringing the classics to the line, Devon is intent on doing his own, hip-hop style in the music. Even in his admissions recital, he adds his own flourish to the end of the set, leaving everyone floored by his abilities and worried over his arrogance. Before long, he's tackled everyone with his self-assurance and even caused a rift to grow between himself, his line, and his girlfriend Laila (Saldana).

Drumline works up to the huge drum competition that the films says takes place in Atlanta every year. Complete with the BET tie-in, this competition is more of a bore than a treat, with drumlines playing against each other into a mess of sound and fury. Though the music is a treat at moments, director Charles Stone III shows it as such a muddle that even the merits of Rimsky-Korsakov are lost in the confusion.

Though Orlando Jones does a surprisingly good job in a dramatic role, Nick Cannon is so annoying in his attempt to balance vanity with purpose that he kills nearly every scene he appears in. The decision to make the character shrill and uncompromising turns him into the least likable protagonist from a 2002 film.

Drumline does deserve some credit for bringing to light the worthiness of band as an athletic form, making it so much more disappointing that the film behind such a good intention fails on so many levels. It aspires to be a message film that brings the importance of a certain unappreciated sport but instead shows less virtue than the shallowness of Bring It On, of all films.

©2003, David Perry,, 3 January 2003

Extreme Ops

Extreme Ops could be simply an excuse to bring ESPN sports programming to the big screen, but even that gives Christian Duguay more credit than he deserves.  The Art of War director once again finds more in his lavish CGI sequences to the point that the stunts seem to be a moot point.  Like XXX, the film fails to ever find a point (the fact that it reuses the Yugoslav wars as an action element simlar to Behind Enemy Lines should say something) and the action, deadened by the CGI, cannot be considered worthy of the time the film wastes.

Christian Duguay

Rufus Sewell
Joe Absolom
Devon Sawa
Bridgette Wilson
Jana Pallaske

Release: 28 Nov. 02

©2003, David Perry,, 3 January 2003
Two Weeks Notice

Hugh Grant turns on the charm while costar Sandra Bullock forces the audience to go through the agony of her annoying inanity in Marc Lawrence's Two Weeks Notice.  Grant is always enjoyable playing this cad, but by doing so he make it impossible to not notice that the movie is the poor man's Bridget Jones's Diary with a liberal bend.  The handful of laughs come surprisingly considering the past of these filmmakers, but they also come a little too rarely.

Marc Lawrence

Sandra Bullock
Hugh Grant
Alicia Witt
David Haig
Dana Ivey

Release: 20 Dec. 02

©2003, David Perry,, 3 January 2003
The Wild Thornberrys Movie

In the realm of non-Disney animated films, especially of the non-Miyazaki kind, The Wild Thornberrys Movie is top-notch.   Considering that it is little more than the big screen realization of a popular television show, the pleasure that can be found within is surprising and refreshing (even for those who have never seen the show).  Much of the fun, it should be noted, comes from the multitudes of cameo vocals including Flea, Rupert Everett, Marisa Tomei, Obba Babatundé, Alfre Woodard, Lynn Redgrave, and Brenda Blethyn.

Cathy Malkasian
Jeff McGrath

Lacey Chabert
Tom Kane
Danielle Harris
Tim Curry

Release: 20 Dec. 02

©2003, David Perry,, 3 January 2003

Reviews by:
David Perry