> Volume 5 > Number 14

Volume 5, Number 14

This Week's Reviews:  Phone Booth, Lost in La Mancha.

This Week's Omissions:  DysFunktional Family, What a Girl Wants.

Capsule Reviews:  The Jungle Book 2, A Man Apart, View from the Top.

Joel Schumacher

Colin Farrell
Forest Whitaker
Kiefer Sutherland
Katie Holmes
Radha Mitchell

Release: 4 Apr. 03

Phone Booth


The first good deed by the title character of Jean-Pierre Jeunet's Amélie is when she calls a sad, lonely middle-aged man on a Paris payphone so that he'll wander upon a box of odds and ends he had hidden when he was a child. This is a great gift to him, a reminder of all the happiness of the man's childhood summed up in a rusty box. Immediately, he remembers the finer parts of his own life, the things that he had failed to fulfill in his adulthood.

The payphone gift is not quite the same in Joel Schumacher's Phone Booth, though the morality game is still there. Here, the character is meant to gain some understanding about his own existence, though his epiphany comes in 60 minutes when Amélie's benefactor comes in a tight 5 minutes (and is much more acceptable at that).

The man in the phone booth this time around is Stu Shepard (Farrell), a slick and slimy publicity agent with crappy clients and an even crappier attitude. He moves about the sidewalks of New York, shouting into his cell phone in hopes of getting some deal that will help him move further up the business food chain (his supposed Bronx background -- evidently by way of Dublin -- is meant to show that his current deceitfulness has been part of his movement towards success in his field). Every day he stops for a moment to make a phone call in the last phone booth in the city. Since his wife (Mitchell) checks his cell phone bill -- evidently she recognizes his untrustworthiness -- he must use this payphone to call his young, pretty client Pamela (Holmes), who he desperately wants to have an affair with.

That there is nothing tawdry involved in Stu's relationship with Pamela, the moral vindication unleashed on him by the metro sniper (Sutherland) seems rather insufficient. This is, after all, a killer who professes to having killed many of the most immoral of this earth; and yet he's done the research and the preparations to get the confession of a two-bit agent who pines but doesn't commit. That this was written by the pulp credentials of Larry Cohen makes Phone Booth's moral high ground seem undeserved. This is the type of filmmaker who relishes the camp potential of the human endeavor and digression, hushed by the whims of a director more content with the flashy design it accommodates.

This is not to say that Schumacher hasn't the slightest idea how to work with the script (his real-time conceit, brought together in split screen courtesy of Darren Aronofsky's brilliant cinematographer Matthew Libatique, does wonders for the pacing of a taut 80-minute thriller), but that his ideals seem counter to what Cohen would have probably preferred. Without Schumacher, the film would certainly lack the backing of a major studio and would have never afforded the presence of male flavor of the moment Farrell but it would also have a certain pride in its own sleaziness. The film feels neutered, and, taking into account the demeanor of my cat, this doesn't feel too good.

The premise is so strong and the acting is so well done that it almost becomes acceptable in its own downward trajectory. When poor Forest Whitaker comes into the story to play the compassionate but devoted police officer, the movie is already reaching for the chance encounter with a guilt-induced declaration of remorse that it wants desperately to ram down the audience's throats. Phone Booth could have been a biting look at our own misgivings. Instead, it's just another pushy sermon for the masses.

©2003, David Perry,, 4 April 2003

Keith Fulton
Louis Pepe

Terry Gilliam
Johnny Depp
Phil Patterson
Tony Grisoni
Jean Rochefort
Bernard Bouix
René Cleitman
Vanessa Paradis
Nicola Pecorini

Release: 31 Jan. 03

Lost in La Mancha


Orson Welles famously spent much of his life trying to get his Don Quixote film off the ground. Despite getting the occasional shot in the can, The Man of La Mancha project Welles obsessed over never accumulated enough support to go into complete production. In the end, Welles died with his Don Quixote still constantly projecting in his head.

Unfortunately, this may also be the case for Terry Gilliam, the Monty Python alumnus who has made his mark as a filmmaker on such modern classics as Brazil and 12 Monkeys (and, for those of different tastes, The Fisher King and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas). His own project, titled The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, was meant to be a $32 million production filmed in Spain with Johnny Depp and Jean Rochefort. Instead, the closest thing we have to it is a documentary called Lost in La Mancha about the film's failure to ever really get off the ground.

Like Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse, possibly the greatest view into the aggravations of filmmaking, Lost in La Mancha begins with the aspirations of those involved. Gilliam seems to be having the time of his life preparing this work, something that has been in his mind for decades. His assistant director Philip Patterson speaks excitedly about the task he is prepared for, sure that it will be an easier set to work on than the disaster-plagued set of Gilliam's The Adventures of Baron von Munchausen. Rochefort proudly shows off the bits of English he's learned over the past seven months preparing for the part, his first strictly in English. Ah, the best laid plans of mice and men...

I would be mistreating my audience to spend any part of this review detailing the problems that ensued since that is was what makes the film so interesting. For long spells, the audience is left believing that the production could not get any worse. Thus, it is hilarious to watch Gilliam try to make everything seem a-okay when the investors come in for their visit.

Lost in La Mancha would have surely been destined to the DVD special features menu for The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, which makes some of its insights seem a tad standard at first. Like most of these 'making of' featurettes (short of, perhaps, Vivian Kubrick's The Making of The Shining), nothing in the earlier moments of this documentary truly captures the hopes and dreams of artists at work. The real strength of the film comes in the misfortunes that befall those who had those vague, predictable dreams at the outset. Their disappointments are aggravating for the audience because they seemed so sincere, even if we question whether we know everything about the pre-production that we probably should know to get the full effect of this.

The best thing that Lost in La Mancha achieves is its establishment of Gilliam as a modern-day Quixote, roaming about the world trying to overcome obstacles that only he can see. His vision of a Quixote epic is one that perfectly fits the illusions Gilliam is prone to create for his films, but more importantly, his belief that there is somehow, someway, a future for this film is probably the greatest mirage of them all. For much of the documentary, he continues to convince himself and those around him that The Man Who Killed Don Quixote will one day be in the can. Even if the final product, as we can see it, is a mere 15 minutes of screen time, Lost in La Mancha reminds us of the importance of Gilliam's -- and, for that matter, every filmmaker's -- protracted dream. Without a director's perseverance in the face of constant setbacks, there'd be no movies, just lots of truncated making-of featurettes.

©2003, David Perry,, 4 April 2003


The Jungle Book 2

I have complained before about the decision by Roy Disney to disobey his father and make theatrically released sequels to the company's animated classics. Toy Story 2 and Fantasia 2000 have both helped to show that there is some merit, but the vast majority of these sequels are the pits simply because they are still the lackluster direct-to-video films only pushed into theatres to make a little extra in box office receipts. Long story short, Walt's still rolling in his grave with the release of The Jungle Book 2.

Steve Trenbirth

Haley Joel Osment
John Goodman
Anders Byström
Jim Cummings
Tony Jay

Release: 14 Feb. 03

©2003, David Perry,, 4 April 2003
A Man Apart

The attempt to find some introspective NRA advocate within Vin Diesel's violent DEA agent in A Man Apart is about as interesting as listening to poor Larenz Tate trying not to laugh when F. Gary Gray's type of urban drama cannot touch the beautiful tragedy of the Hughes brothers' Menace II Society. As equally unctuous is Tim Olyphant, playing one of the worst heavies of the year. Vin Diesel may be a bad-ass, but he needs to be a bad-ass with good scripts before anyone takes him too seriously.

F. Gary Gray

Vin Diesel
Larenz Tate
Timothy Olyphant
Jacqueline Obradors
Geno Silva

Release: 4 Apr. 03

©2003, David Perry,, 4 April 2003
View from the Top

For most of View from the Top, director Bruno Barreto seems to be weighing between making a romantic comedy and a farce, but fails on both fronts. The Romy and Michele aspect of the film -- with an annoying Romy (Paltrow) and a bitchy Michele (Applegate) -- hasn't the comic genius (nor the actors) to succeed. One wishes there might have been some chemistry between Paltrow and Ruffalo, but the hodgepodge of forced scenes, idiotic drama, and unfunny comedy would make this film intolerable even if it starred Tracy and Hepburn.

Bruno Barreto

Gwyneth Paltrow
Christina Applegate
Mark Ruffalo
Candice Bergen
Mike Myers

Release: 21 Mar. 03

©2003, David Perry,, 4 April 2003

Reviews by:
David Perry