> Volume 5 > Number 13

Volume 5, Number 13

This Week's Reviews:  Morvern Callar, Love Liza, The Core.

This Week's Omissions:  Open Hearts.

Lynne Ramsay

Samantha Morton
Kathleen McDermott
Raife Patrick Burchell
Dan Cadan

Release: 20 Dec. 02

Morvern Callar


Morvern Callar (Morton) lives in a comfortable Glasgow apartment with her academic boyfriend. Their relationship seems to be more out of their ability to give things to each other: he gives her respectability, she gives him sex. Neither are terribly dependent on the other, but their presence still seems to have some comforting effect on the both of them.

All this can be seen in the opening to Lynne Ramsay's Morvern Callar even though the boyfriend never really appears, nor does Morvern narrate any passage about their life together. Instead, Ramsay tells volumes about the listless existence of her protagonist through images that lure the viewer into the same catatonic lifestyle that Morvern has long accepted for herself.

The opening images -- bringing to mind Alain Resnais' opening to Hiroshima, Mon Amour -- show Morvern and her boyfriend sprawled across the floor, the lights of their Christmas tree occasionally illuminating their bodies. She lightly strokes his face as his wrists lay in a pool of blood. It is not clear if she is barring herself from accepting his suicide, but Morvern's form of grief never becomes realistic but always remains oddly in character.

The guy is selfish enough to kill himself in the days before Christmas, ask Morvern in a suicide letter to take care of his errands (which include sending his finished manuscript to some London publishers), and cleanup the mess he's left in the floor. Morvern's place in his mind seems to be that of the submissive woman. Regardless of whether she has accepted this in the past -- his remaining with her makes it seem that this is highly likely -- Morvern ceases to allow any form of reservation by withdrawing the money in his bank account, leaving his body on the floor for days (before unceremoniously ridding herself of the walking impediment in the kitchen doorway that was his legs), and changing the name on the manuscript to her own.

She seems to be announcing (even if she's the only one hearing this proclamation) that she is not going to let herself fall into the clichés of grief and subordination. Her actions first seem to be too much -- her immature view of freedom has allowed her to weave into anarchy (à la Charles Johnson's "Menagerie: A Child's Fable") but the undercurrent to all her actions comes more from the give-take relationship she in her past. If he is going to leave her with all this physical and emotional baggage, she is going to get something out of it. One begins to imagine that, outside of the place to stay and some nice presents left under the Christmas tree, he had failed to ever return her love and devotion.

Morvern Callar is about the moods within this single woman. There's little discernable story other than a glance at the way Morvern acts during her unshackling from the Scottish milieu (this film makes a fantastic companion piece to Trainspotting, both the novel and the film) because this is a story about character dynamics, not contrivance. While there are occasions when story appears -- like Morvern's attempt to share the hedonistic holiday lifestyle of her friend Lanna (McDermott) while in Spain (a trip paid for, of course, by the money meant to go towards the boyfriend's funeral) -- they seem to be background filler for the emotions flowing through Morvern in reaction or, in some cases, passively oblivious to these events.

To bring the weight of a silent star (Lillian Gish immediately comes to mind) needed to portray Morvern's deep, sad stare, Ramsay has hired Samantha Morton, a fierce actress who can be terrifying within her seemingly fragile frame. There's much distance between Morvern and the world she seems to be staring at (not unlike the idyllic world that Ramsay's previous protagonist, the lower-class kid of Ratcatcher, kept staring through the window trying to find), and Morton is the reason that this is so perfectly conveyed to the audience.

Ramsay and cinematographer Alwin H. Kuchler make these long moments seem like projected art through their use of light and framing, as well as in the use of music (the film's final sequence, set to the Mamas and the Papas' "Dedicated to the One I Love" finds an eerie side to the song that seems unthinkable in relationship to its otherwise folk pop sound). If Morvern Callar, both the character and the film, remains an enigma too far out of reach to become worth watching, Ramsay and Morton's have achieved their intended reaction. Morvern isn't meant to be soft and cuddly, but instead complex, foolish, engaging, repulsive, and confused at the same time. She is grieving, the only way she knows how.

©2003, David Perry,, 28 March 2003

Todd Louiso

Philip Seymour Hoffman
Jack Kehler
Kathy Bates
Sarah Koskoff
Stephen Tobolowsky
Wayne Duvall

Release: 30 Dec. 02

Love Liza


It is rare for me to write about a film in relation to another film I saw directly before or after it, but the comparison between Love Liza and Morvern Callar is so striking that it seems to be calling for comment.

Both are about the grief process, though each takes a different view of the way people can or should find catharsis in the lost of a loved one. Though the relationships are certainly different between the two, it becomes important to note the way Morvern Callar finds the right note for its form while Love Liza moves listlessly from different sides trying to find some semblance of a point.

This is not to say that Todd Louiso's first feature (he previously directed the fantastic short The Fifteen Minute Hamlet in 1995) is a waste, but it is a textbook example (especially when shown beside Lynne Ramsay's exquisite work) of the problems that can hamper a strong production. He may try to find a tone -- and he seems to be looking everywhere -- but his work is much more solid when taken from a distance. The real problem, at any proximity, is the screenplay, which never recognizes any form of substantial significance to the evidently paramount story it tries to tell.

I do hate making a direct accusations like this, but it seems impossible to overlook: the fact that Love Liza was written by Philip Seymour Hoffman's brother Gordy causes this to look like little more than a nepotistic vanity project created by a the brother of a true talent. Indeed, most of what can be found in Love Liza seems to be patently created as "Philip Seymour Hoffman's Independent Spirit Award nomination scene." This may be a fraternal love that brought one brother to leave whatever he was doing (Gordy Hoffman's biography is rather hard to find) and into the world of independent film. If Love Liza is any indication of the forthcoming work (he has already been signed to direct another one of his screenplays), then I am certainly worried.

Certainly the drift in tones gives Philip Seymour Hoffman more room to play with his acting abilities, making his performance at least worth some acclaim. However, he seems to be constricted by the webbing of his brother's script, which connects all these tones only tangentially. In the attempt to enact all the various faces to his character, Wilson Joel, Hoffman is never allowed the freedom to be himself. Part of the reason that his work as a character actor has been so strong is that even when playing polar opposites (like a comparison of his characters in Boogie Nights and Punch-Drunk Love), there seems to be a knowing touch of Hoffman's own personality within. We feel content with him because we've seen him so much (15 major features in the last 5 years) -- to see a mere fragment of him lost in the muddle of a script is wholly discouraging.

This is a film that could use Hoffman's range if only it had been grounded on some level. Telling the story of one man's grieving period following the suicide of his beloved wife -- a form of anguish that leads him to sniffing gasoline -- Hoffman should be secure in relating the devastation this occurrence has caused in his character. But that is not on the agenda for his brother's screenplay, which is more about moments, many of which (especially in the motif of having Hoffman try to get the gasoline to sniff) become repetitive to the point of boredom.

Morvern Callar had an understanding of what made its protagonist tick. There's no such feeling within Love Liza, which is either too direct at moments or too vague at others. Its premise is strong -- just ask anyone coming out of Morvern Callar -- but its execution is abysmal.

©2003, David Perry,, 28 March 2003

Jon Amiel

Aaron Eckhart
Hilary Swank
Stanley Tucci
Delroy Lindo
Tchéky Karyo
Richard Jenkins
D.J. Qualls
Bruce Greenwood
Alfre Woodard

Release: 28 Mar. 03

The Core


If a B-movie mentality made a good movie, The Core would be the best film of the year. Bristling over with enough cheesy dialogue/action/romance to make Roger Corman proud, this amalgam of every cliché under the sun is still a bad film. Its finest attribute, though, is that it uses its campiness to the point of giddy pride (or am I just stretching to read the unintentional as intentional?), turning into the homely but still comparably prettier sister of Michael Bay's unendingly ugly Armageddon.

The Bay film raises some disappointing memories within me. This is not because I had high hopes for that film (I didn't -- I had already been forced through Bad Boys and The Rock), but because it was part of a dueling pair of space-born catastrophe films in 1998. Armageddon was the more successful of the two thanks to its sanctimonious delight in recreating every bad thing about Titanic without recreating that film's finer points. The other meteor/asteroid film, Mimi Leder's Deep Impact, was closer to The Core in its camp value. Leder did certainly have lofty aspirations with that film, but she at least had actors who were more than ready to push the script's histrionics for their campiest value.

Looking at the cast of The Core makes it seem that this little film should be on the right track, regardless of anything inspiring director Jon Amiel and screenwriters Cooper Layne and John Rogers to achieve some level of respectability with their film (evidently this is true for Rogers, who has gone to much trouble defending the science of his screenplay to various media outlets). That, despite the likes of Stanley Tucci, Delroy Lindo, Alfre Woodard, Aaron Eckhart, Richard Jenkins, Bruce Greenwood, Tchéky Karyo, and Hilary Swank (doing her best to follow in the Oscar-winning footsteps of Marisa Tomei, Mira Sorvino, and Cuba Gooding, Jr.), this never fully comes to fruition remains an exceedingly aggravating distraction during the film's rather dull two hour and fifteen minute length.

When the earth's core ceases to move and begins the domino effect that will be the destruction of civilization, Amiel goes into full Irwin Allen gear with a series of disaster sequences that seem lost somewhere between reverence and exploitation. These incidents -- a city block dropping dead in Boston, the Golden Gate Bridge collapsing in San Francisco, Trafalgar Square pigeons attacking onlookers in London, the Coliseum exploding in Rome -- account for more than 30 minutes of screen time but nary an ounce of audience interest. Each one is so overblown and ridiculous that they are more likely to merit laughs than terror while never having the wink-wink-nudge-nudge camp value it needs to succeed in this form of filmmaking.

The plan concocted by the scientists involved in the project to save the planet from destruction under the sun's rays (they predict the devastation will finish the rest of us within a year) is to drill down to the center of the earth in a shuttle built out of a special metal called 'unobtainium,' detonate a couple nuclear missiles to jumpstart the heart of the world (oh, if only Guy Maddin were in charge of this film), race back to the surface, mourn the deaths of those lost in the endeavor, and settle down to create more little physicists, astronauts, engineers, etc. If they can succeed is a given, but whether Amiel can make this worn-out premise seem momentarily new or at least enjoyable is not quite clear throughout the ordeal.

To the filmmakers' credit, there are intentional laughs in the film, which do help to ease the overall bore of the rest of the work. Like a good Corman work, there are moments of such joyous preposterousness that they can only incite a smile. Even if these scenes were meant to be solemn instead of silly, the rapport between Eckhart's scruffy physicist and Karyo's goofy Frenchman (he does have a monopoly on this character) is filled with the type of exchanges that should earn them another film together (hopefully one more akin to Eckhart's superior early Neil LaBute films).

As a B-movie, The Core is a moderately successful little work. Its characters and scenarios seem perfected for a double feature with It Came from Outer Space or The Fast and the Furious. But there is a worry that still plagues the movie from its beginning to its end: is the awfulness of this movie part of the joke or merely part of the problem.

©2003, David Perry,, 28 March 2003

Reviews by:
David Perry