Monthly Archives: September 2000

Whipped (2000)

The ailing problems with Whipped aren’t with its inept acting, writing, and direction, though those do add up. The true problem is that Whipped isn’t just a bad movie as say Battlefield Earth; no my friends, Whipped is a viciously ugly movie, the type of which that force you to take an hour long shower afterwards.

The story of Whipped unspools over a familiar diner with four friends bantering over female conquests, misogynistic games and chest pounding, and general nastiness. Our core of characters the usual stereotypes with the supposedly sensitive one, the yuppie Wall Street kid, the playa’ etc. Writer/director Peter M. Cohen tries his darnedest to raise eyebrows with vulgarity and raunch, but minus any wit, just making it seem shallow and inane, which is a perfect description of Whipped in any kind of masochistic nutshell.

The three guys eventually fall head over heels for the same woman in Amanda Peet. Eventually these crass individuals all learn some kind of lesson when Peet plays each of them for the same kicks the men derive. Is this supposed to be a feminist statement in the end of a movie so full of hatred for women that it could have been In the Company of Men minus the quality? Whipped is billed to expose the politics of dating but what it perceives as breaking new ground and insights in dating we all learned many years ago, some of it on the schoolyard playground.

Whipped has such ugly contempt for basically anything living as we carry along with the four pathetic human examples. The humor is dead-on-arrival and horribly bad. The acting is so amateurish. Yet Cohen gets the worst for his flat and lifeless direction.

Whipped may prove not to be the worst movie of this year already full of its fair share of bad, but I defy anyone to discover a film that is more ugly, spiteful, and horribly uncomfortable to sit through.

Nate’s Grade: F

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Dancer in the Dark (2000)

Lars von Trier’s latest shaky video opus is likely the most unique movie going experience you’ll have all year. Dancer in the Dark is a clever, heartfelt, and achingly beautiful tale of sorrow and redemption. Dancer stars Iceland’s version of Madonna in the elfin Bjork. She plays Selma, quite possibly the nicest but also most stubborn person in the world. She’s an immigrant in 1960s America working long and odd hours to ensure that she can raise enough money for her son. You see Selma is slowly going blind but continuing to work so she can make sure her son will not have to suffer the same inherited illness. So she works late on heavy industrial machinery causing accidents as her condition worsens all to stop her son’s genetic curse she will give to him. Selma’s escape has always been musicals. In life she hears music in unusual places and visualizes life stopping to burst out into a vibrant fully choreographed musical number. Selma’s life continues to degenerate along with her vision as events pile on worse and worse until they all come crashing together.

Dancer in the Dark is no picnic in the park. The movie is haunting but incredibly depressing. Lars von Trier’s previous film (Breaking the Waves) was another wrenching drama with good people going through rough times with no fraction of light at any end of a tunnel. His jerky handheld video work is back capturing the life of Selma and seemingly framing it in a more realistic sense. The video images are edited to look like a documentary and the whole feel is one of raw power. You aren’t merely watching a film, it’s like you are in it witnessing the actions from the sidelines. The escapist musical numbers are shot in glorious still film to contrast the drab realism of video. The colors are bright, the faces are happy, and the cinematography is a wonder to envision.

Bjork soars and delivers what should be an Oscar-caliber performance. I never knew the queen of alt-rock had such emotive powers. Selma’s innocence is keenly expressed in Bjork and her glassy eyes. Her love for her son is no more evident then all the suffering and tragedy she goes through. All of the suffering and tragedy could be avoided – except her son would not be helped.

The ensemble around Bjork work fantastic magic as well. Peter Stormare is a sad figure trying to just get a glimpse of Selma’s attention. David Morse is a down-and-out policeman who is Selma’s landlord and in need of some cash. He’s afraid to tell his bourgeois wife they’ve run empty with money. Catherine Deneuve turns in the brightest supporting performance as Selma’s co-worker and friend Kathy. She’s torn between trying to stop Selma from continuing on her acts that could cause her harm and helping her along her determination. A great scene as example of her care for Selma is when the two of them are in a theater watching an old Hollywood musical. At this point Selma is completely blind and can’t see what’s going on, so Kathy takes Selma’s palm and dances her fingers in correlation with the actions on screen to Selma’s delight. A simple scene yet so elegant and beautiful.

Dancer in the Dark is a wonderful piece of original film making that gives us the escape of hope and the crush of despair. Selma’s love of musicals and their role in life is perfect symbolism for discussion. Dancer will leave you with a distinct feeling by the end credits. Whether it’s sorrow or bewilderment Dancer in the Dark is a film not to miss.

Nate’s Grade: A

Nurse Betty (2000)

Can a fairy tale have a dark undertone below all the bubbly whimsy? Hell, the Grimm tales were barbaric before they became homogenized, sanitized, and finally Disneytized. Nurse Betty presents a modern day fairy tale with the strike of reality always below it — the strike of darkness and disappointment. Fairy tales are an escape from this, but what if one creates her own fairy tale and chooses to believe in it over the drab reality she presides in?

Neil LaBute, the director of the incessantly dark In the Company of Men and Your Friends and Neighbors, collects together a whimsical modern day fable with a top-notch cast. Yes, to those fans of earlier LaBute offeriengs his name doesn’t seem synonymous with whimsical comedy – but in this flick LaBute cuts his teeth in the mainstream and earns his stripes if ever.

Baby-voiced and rosy-cheeked Renee Zellweger plays our heroine in diner worker and soap opera fanatic Betty. Betty finds solace from her life featuring a sleazy spouse, played with marvelous flair by Aaron Eckhart, in her favorite soap opera. When her louche of a hubby isn’t wiping his hands on the kitchen curtains or banging his secretary he tries proposing drug deals for shady characters. A recent drug peddling snafu sets him up to an ominous encounter with hitmen team Morgan Freeman and Chris Rock. Through a jarring scene of violence Betty’s husband is left brutally murdered and the only witness is Betty herself. The event causes Betty to slip into a fractured psychological state where she believes the world of her soap opera is alive and real with herself a vital character. She hops in one of her dead hubby’s used cars and drives off toward California to meet the doctor/soap star of her dreams in Greg Kinnear.

Morgan Freeman and Chris Rock mistake Betty for a criminal mastermind and believe her to have taken the drugs and run. They embark on their own mad dash to capture her and finish the job they were paid to complete. Along the way Betty encounters many people that are at first confused but ultimately charmed by this delusional dame. Through a series of events she meets up with the eternally smarmy Kinnear and begins to learn what happens when a fantasy is corrupted by the disappointment of reality. Allison Janey has a small part as a network executive that shines strong, and Crispin “McFly” Glovin is just nice to see in a film again. He doesn’t seem to age though. Maybe he has that Dick Clark disease.

The flow of Betty is well paced and a smart mix between drama, whimsy, and dark humor. Overlooking some sudden bursts of violence bookend the film it comes across as a sweet yet intelligent satire and fable. Betty is looking for her Prince Charming but will later learn that she doesn’t need one, that she is the fairy tale happy ending inside her.

The acting of Nurse Betty is never in danger of flat-lining. Zelwegger is a lovable and good-natured heroine. Freeman is a strong and deceptively hilarious actor along side a caustic yet down-to-earth Rock. And I make an outgoing question if there is an actor alive out there that can do smarm better than Kinnear — I think not.

Nurse Betty is a wonderful surprise. Check into your local theater, take one showing, and call me in the morning. You’ll be glad you did.

Nate’s Grade: A-

Way of the Gun (2000)

Way of the Gun is screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie’s follow-up to the twisty smash who-dunnit The Usual Suspects. This time he takes the reigns of directing himself and establishes that he is a born man behind the camera and in the chair.

Gun unfolds its tale through the center of two antisocial hoodlums “Parker” (Ryan Phillippe) and “Longbaugh” (Benicio Del Toro), two men brought to the point of selling plasma and sperm to pay the bills. One afternoon they overhear a conversation in the doctor’s office about a wealthy couple paying a woman (Juliet Lewis) to act as the surrogate mother for their child. It seems the real mother just doesn’t want to be burdened with a child hanging on her for nine months. The two men use this information to plot what should be their big break and their big score. After a scheduled doctor’s visit they get into a heated shoot out with the bodyguards (Nicky Katt and Taye Diggs) protecting her for their wealthy employer. Parker and Longbaugh kidnap their impregnated prize and hold her to squeeze a fat ransom.

The story-telling Way of the Gun plays is a mix of older mature films where they would have room to breathe as well as Quentin Tarantino flicks. This is a story of characters and their devious multiple back stabbings, crosses, secret affiliations, and ultimate intentions. ‘Gun’ moves methodically with an armada of gaunt twists and turns keeping the audience alive and awake.

James Caan comes in mid-way to play a conniving intermediary in the exchange. His character is the wisest of the bunch and knows more then he’s always telling. It’s also quite a perplexing site to see Caan’s nipples through his shirt in an interrogation scene. Up to this point I never thought about James Caan having nipples.

The action in the flick is pulse-pounding. The shootouts are probably the best on film in a long while. You see and hear every effect a bullet has. The final climax which involves a drawn out gun battle in an empty Mexican brothel is a scene of sheer excitement and relentless entertainment that it may well be my favorite 10-15 minutes of film all year.

There can be a word to describe Way of the Gun and that word could be “ugly.” This is not a film for everyone. The violence and its after-effects can be gruesome at times, as I heard just as much groans and shrieks in my theater than anything else. There’s scenes of picking shards of glass from one’s own arm, performing stitches on one’s eyebrow, and even an impromptu hand done C-section. This will not be something to take grandma to.

Way of the Gun pacing is also a problem. There are moments of drag as we wait and wait. The languid pacing works for the story and the characters but the double-edge sword creates dry spells of interest. The score uses tympani to full extent, sometimes beyond that which it reasonably should.

McQuarrie has sold me with his re-spinning of tired cliches and familiar elements into gold. Way of the Gun is a flick I’ll see with my friends time and again.

Nate’s Grade: A-

Cecil B. Demented (2000)

John Waters’ latest excuse to venture outside of the home is a full out assault on the commercialism and corporate sap proliferating the film industry today. Cecil B. Demented is as much a commentary, or a ferocious editorial, than a comedy. Waters’ opinion is easily known as a militant group of “film terrorists” attack cinema and any Patch Adams that dare get in their way. Stephen Dorff leads the pack as they kidnap a famous movie starlette (Melanie Griffith) and brainwash her Patty Hearst style. The end result is a band of misfits trying to seize the world from bad movies – a noble cause I’d say. The movie is short but feels long at times. Cecil B. Demented is at its caustic best when the film terrorists are in action battling the ills of society and cinema. What’s surprising is the amount of action in a John Waters’ film – consider this his Die Hard. Some of the jokes are off kilter but gut-bursting (“Porno fans, your queen needs your help!”), while just a few are tiresome (Forest Gump 2? *sigh*). John Waters’ social commentary/comedy is sadistic joy and who doesn’t enjoy seeing a bad movie tortured?

Nate’s Grade: B

The Watcher (2000)

The Watcher doesn’t do much, if realistically anything important, but it does prove that Keanu Reeves is more cardboard than cut-out. Reeves plays a serial killer with no distinct edge or angle, in fact he’d be more of a stalking man child if he just didn’t kill his victims in the end. Anyway, the plot is a rehash of other serial killer vehicles; James Spader has a limited time to rescue a victim, he’s haunted by the ones he’s failed, Keanu is a killer with too much free time to overly plan elaborate set-ups etc.

Keanu may be the goofiest serial killer in all of western civilization. Every twitch, dumbfounded stare of aloofness, or one-toned droning moronic voice only add to the feelings of Keanu as a lost student and not as someone dangerous. Maybe this was the desired effect but I doubt it.

A more interesting prospect arouses when you consider what the movie could’ve been had the male leads switched characters. As it stands, The Watcher is a lifeless and tired strain of an experience. One, I might add, that allows Keanu to light entire rooms with dainty candles with his added spare time.

Nate’s Grade: C-

Almost Famous (2000)

Cameron Crowe’s semi-autobiographical 70s rock opus is like a gigantic hug. It’s warm, engrossing, feel good, and leaves you with a smile wishing for more. Almost Famous may be the best movie going experience of the year. You likely won’t have a better time from a movie.

Fresh-faced newcomer Patrick Fugit plays the 15 year-old version of Crowe who is a budding writer for Rolling Stone. He’s tapped to tour and send in a story on the fictional band Stillwater fronted by singer Jason Lee and guitarist Billy Crudup. Stillwater is everything the typical early 70s rock band was and should be: long hair, tight pants, and continuous inner turmoil and squabbling. Little Fugit captures all of this with wide-eyed exploration as he stretches away from his overprotective mother played by the lovely Frances McDormand. Phillip Seymour Hoffman also pops in to do a brilliant portrayal of music critic Lester Bangs. Kate Hudson shines in a break-out performance as a “band-aid” to Stillwater; which is an uncertain mix of naive groupie and musical muse. She’s together with fellow “band-aids” Anna Paquin and Faruiza Balk.

The writing of Almost Famous is textured and fully satisfying. The turns it takes down the road are expert and you know you are in the hands of a true artist. Crowe’s direction again makes leaps and bounds in improvement with every new feature. He and his wife wrote all of the songs the fictional band performs and it sounds like, to my ears, he had a few more job offerings he could have easily been suited for.

The acting is phenomenal with every cast member contributing nicely to the fold. Crudup is the anchor, Hudson is the gleaming star, Fugit is the tender surprise, Lee is the emotional lightening rod, and Frances is the mother that we all would love to have deep down inside. She is at the level that is most difficult for a parent: she must begin to let go so they live their own life, yet she’s raised him from harm since he could spew mashed carrots. Surely, if the world had justice Frances will be winning her second Oscar.

Almost Famous is a breathing work that borderlines perfection. It’s a great time to be had just sitting and experiencing what the movie has to offer.

Nate’s Grade: A

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