> Volume 5 > Number 03

Volume 5, Number 03

This Week's Reviews:  The Hours, 25th Hour.

This Week's Omissions:  A Guy Thing.

Capsule Reviews:  Just Married, Kangaroo Jack, National Security.

Stephen Daldry

Nicole Kidman
Meryl Streep
Julianne Moore
John C. Reilly
Ed Harris
Jack Rovello
Stephen Dillane
Toni Collette
Miranda Richardson
Claire Danes
Jeff Daniels
Allison Janney

Release: 27 Dec. 02

The Hours


"Each had his past shut in him like the leaves of a book known to him by heart; and his friends could only read the title."

Virginia Woolf wrote in Jacob's Room of the secrecy within the male form. Her next novel, Mrs. Dalloway would continue this idea, but with a clearer grasp of the inefficiency of life, love, and death, and move even closer to herself by making the protagonist a woman. Michael Cunningham's novel The Hours and its film incarnation directed by Stephen Daldry cut close to the beliefs that Woolf made clear in her novels, so much that the main character in both the novel and the movie is Virginia Woolf.

Having never read Cunningham's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, I can only relish the way Daldry works with the Woolf text and the form in which he brings it to cinematic life. The Hours is, most certainly, a distressing work that revolves around death more than life -- which can be said about Woolf's novels and her own life -- but also one of the most assuredly filmed, literarily textured films of the year. Even as he unjustifiably throws in the occasional directorial flourish, the strength of his actresses, screenplay, and production continue to command the audience's attention around these mistakes.

The film begins with the 1941 suicide of Woolf (Kidman), centering on the impotence she felt in the face of her own unpredictable psyche. Most film suicides are coupled with a moment of mental anguish or deficiency; Woolf's suicide, on the other hand, seems to be part of a rare (at least at this late point in her life) epiphany. When Woolf chooses to walk into a river with stones in her pockets, her reasoning is not based on some illogical belief but in a fear that her mind was about to go again. Woolf died so that she could save herself and her loving husband Leonard (Dillane) of the pain of a fifth mental breakdown.

The rest of the film's Woolf scenes deal with the way she struggled with her own demons in the period between Jacob's Room and Mrs. Dalloway. Her feeble attempts to understand the route in which her life is going seems evocative of the inner turmoil felt by her next protagonist, Clarissa Dalloway.

The Hours places Woolf's story in direct comparison with two other women's lives: the 1951 suburban depression of Laura Brown (Moore) and the 2001 urban resilience of Clarissa Vaughan (Streep). Cunningham (via Daldry and screenwriter David Hare) tries to bring to light the way all four women -- Woolf, Brown, Vaughan, amd Dalloway -- are all trying to make their own decision with the similar tribulations facing them.

Laura Brown brings the film a sense of weakness similar to Woolf's. The two women struggle with the question of suicide and their own relationships to their husbands, both of whom try their best to help their wives but are only seen as impediments.

Clarissa Vaughan is introduced completely different from her other two co-protagonists. While Laura and Virginia attempt to find some form of solace in their lives, Vaughan is simply trying to convince herself that she's already found it. Whether she has or not -- a good case could be made either way -- isn't important: Clarissa is, like Mrs. Dalloway, merely trying to prepare herself for the future ahead. If Laura seethes with the self-hate of Virginia Woolf, then Clarissa is a cockeyed optimist with her namesake Dalloway.

The novel Mrs. Dalloway is as important to the narrative structure of The Hours as The Orchid Thief is to Adapation. While neither film is an exact recreation of the original texts, they both attempt to understand the themes of their sources through peripheral characters, whether they are the screenwriters adapting the text or the booklovers reading it. By commenting on a fictional heroine in light of three realistic (albeit still fictional in two of the three stories) women, The Hours achieves a synergy of emotional weight and feminine resolve.

Some have accused the film as being a feminist treatise, questioning the film's decisions to pose all three women as lesbians (Virginia Woolf was bisexual, Laura Brown shares a kiss with one of her fellow suburbanites, and Clarissa Vaughan has found her life partner in a younger woman). But The Hours never really places itself in the direct opportunism of a politically or socially minded film. Instead, every scene of The Hours serves as more of a view of the female condition under similar circumstances. Watching these three women react in different ways to the sour grapes given to them is as intoxicating as reading what Woolf wrote about just one similar woman.

©2003, David Perry,, 17 January 2003

Spike Lee

Edward Norton
Barry Pepper
Philip Seymour Hoffman
Rosario Dawson
Anna Paquin
Brian Cox

Release: 19 Dec. 02

25th Hour


There have been films that have touched on the Twin Towers since 11 September 2001: Ed Burns left it in the background of Sidewalks of New York and Martin Scorsese saw it important as a bookend for Gangs of New York. Even as films began digitally deleting the towers from the background (Serendipity, Zoolander) or re-shooting entire sequences (Spider-Man, Men in Black 2), the shadow of 11 September somehow hung over the cinematic Manhattan setting until recently.

More than a year has passed and the eulogies, the tributes, and the specials have come to an end. Scorsese's use of the Twin Towers served as more than a reminder, but as an indication of our own fleeting place in history, not unlike his characters. Spike Lee, the only New York director better known than Scorsese, tries to find a symbolic value within the loss of the World Trade Center in his 25th Hour, though not to incite remembrance but to provoke acceptance.

The titles of 25th Hour opens on the New York skyline without the Twin Towers. At first -- having somehow become accustomed to the empty area within lower Manhattan -- the image has no resonance, the director make no direct attempt to show the gaping hole within. But then the machines turn on and the lights begin to fill the screen: the Tribute in Lights, those two high-power beams that were erected in place of the Twin Towers in late 2001, have come on. When the camera again returns to the skyline, with two towers built of luminance instead of steel, the replacement seems uncertain: would we rather ignore what's missing or have a constant reminder?

The film itself remains faithful to the quandaries Lee raises in this opening sequence by using a drug dealer on his final day before leaving for a 7-year jail sentence. The comparison is not as facile as saying 3,000 deaths is equal to one man's loss of freedom (as some detractors have accused it of), but instead that people must look to their own form of reaction: a question of acceptance or lifelong evocation.

The drug dealer is Monty Brogan (Norton), a personable and handsome young man of working class Irish descent. He doesn't look like the cliché drug dealer, making his comfortable apartment and its furnishings look more like inheritance than the spoils of crime. Monty has, thus, made life much easier for his Puerto Rican girlfriend Naturelle (Dawson) and father James (Cox; in one of the year's best performances). They know where the money comes from but have decided to turn the cheek, blame themselves or each other, for the path Monty has gone.

During the final 24 hours of Monty Brogan's free life, he begins to attempt to make amends with his friends and family. While Naturelle has become a dilemma for him (Monty fears that she tipped the feds to his secret stash) and James has become a font of illegal reasoning (he wants his son to make a run for it, even if it means never seeing him again), Monty becomes intent on forgetting his woes with his two best friends, prep school teacher Jakob (Hoffman) and Wall Street broker Frank (Pepper).

Screenwriter David Benioff (adapting his own novel) gives these two characters their own subplots to parallel Monty's story. Jakob has become obsessed with one of his students (Paquin, playing a new generational Lolita) and Frank is intent on continuing to accumulate all the benefits he can find in life including money, women, and a terrific apartment with a great view of the World Trade Center.

While both Jakob and Frank find answers to their problem, Monty -- the one who seemed most stable months ago -- is at a loss. The clarity of this predicament is fully established during one scene in Frank's apartment: as the two peripheral characters converse about Monty's problem, the window beside them shows the cleaning up of the World Trade Center. For a few moments, as the audience loses track of the conversation at hand and becomes intent on looking at the images outside the story frame, Monty's problem is forgotten. This problem is so miniscule in comparison that his fate becomes a sidelined eulogy for one sinner in a year of mourning for 3,000 innocents.

©2003, David Perry,, 17 January 2003


Just Married

The When Harry Met Sally... aspect of Just Married (the idea that below the odious exterior of the two lovers is a romantic) is the only charming thing that can be found in this obnoxious little film. There's absolutely nothing between the two actors that could be considered chemistry other than their shared poor performances (though I like Brittany Murphy, she still hasn't shown herself as a solid comedienne). I don't wish that the film be kind and gracious, but is it too much to ask for a comedy to be funny instead of overtly mean spirited?

Shawn Levy

Ashton Kutcher
Brittany Murphy
Christian Kane
Veronica Cartwright
David Rasche

Release: 10 Jan. 03

©2003, David Perry,, 17 January 2003
Kangaroo Jack

Chalk another title to the list of bad films Christopher Walken has somehow found himself in with Kangaroo Jack. Though innocuous, to say the least, the film becomes an exercise in tedium as it tries to pit potty humor, buddy comedy antics, a Nickelodeon skit, and a CGI kangaroo into one concise work. It's not pretty, nor is it funny, memorable, engaging, interesting, or watchable. Calling Kangaroo Jack a bad film seems like a stretch considering its youth audience aims, though anyone who sees the film will understand my derision.

David McNally

Jerry O'Connell
Anthony Anderson
Estella Warren
Michael Shannon
Christopher Walken

Release: 17 Jan. 03

©2003, David Perry,, 17 January 2003
National Security

Steve Zahn, a good actor, is paired with Martin Lawrence, a bad actor, for National Security, one of the most annoying and pointless buddy cop films made yet. The central conceit is that they are not cops, but instead security guards. However, this means nothing when all the jokes seem to have been lifted from the Police Academy films and Super Troopers. Even the normal King Midas effect of Colm Feore can't save this one.

Dennis Dugan

Martin Lawrence

Steve Zahn
Bill Duke
Colm Feore
Eric Roberts

Release: 17 Jan. 03

©2003, David Perry,, 17 January 2003

Reviews by:
David Perry