Monthly Archives: January 2001

Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon (2000)

Ang Lee’s mythical tale of ancient… (Taiwan?) is full of visual marvels and plenty of moments of awe that make the audience believe in the power of cinema to transport once again. However, upon further viewings and more butt pain because of the large length, the film is not “one of the best ever made” as has been praised. When you get down to it and think the film really isn’t about anything but retrieving a sword and feminist roles. The visuals are striking poetry and the action is exciting and top-notch and that’s what really counts in the end.

Nate’s Grade: B

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Shadow of the Vampire (2000)

Darkly comical with great stabs of satire at the film industry (bloodsuckers in the movies anyone? Hmmmmmm). Willem Dafoe retains his title as Creepiest Actor Alive and goes for broke with a tour de force performance that should have you checking under the bed. Shadow of the Vampire is alive, to use the term sparingly, with wit and a slow but maturely steadied pace. Dafoe deserves an Oscar and your fear.

Nate’s Grade: A

Traffic (2000)

The war on drugs may be one worth fighting but it’s a battle that every day seems more and more impossible. Traffic is a mirror that communicates the fruition of our current procedures to stop the illegal flow of drugs.

Traffic is told through three distinct and different narratives. One involves an Ohio Supreme Court justice (Michael Douglas) newly appointed as the nation’s next Drug Czar. While he accepts his position and promises to fight for our nation’s children, back at home, unbeknownst to him, his daughter is free-basing with her bad influence boyfriend. Another story involves a wealthy bourgeois wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones) awakened to her husband’s arrest. Her shock continues when family lawyer Dennis Quaid informs her of her husband’s true source of income. He’s to be prosecuted by two DEA agents (Don Cheadle and Luis Guzman) unless she can do something. The final and most compelling narrative involves Benicio Del Toro as an honest cop in Tijuana battling frustration with the mass corruption surrounding the city. Each story weaves in and out at various points in the film.

Traffic was photographed and directed by the man with the hottest hand in Hollywood, Steven Soderbergh. He uses a documentary feel to his filming that adds to the realism. Different color tones are assigned toward the three narratives as reflections of the emotional background. Soderbergh expertly handles the many facets of the drug industry and pulls out his typical “career best” performances from his onslaught of actors.

Benicio Del Toro is the emotional center of Traffic. His solemn demeanor and hound dog exterior reflect a good man trying to fight the good fight in a corrupt environment. He effortlessly encompasses determination, courage, and compassion that you’ll easily forget the majority of his lines are in Espanol. Benicio is an incredibly talented actor and one with such vibrant energy whenever he flashes on screen. It’ll be wonderful watching him collect all his awards.

Catherine Zeta-Jones also shows strong signs there may well indeed be an actress under her features. Her role is one of almost terror as you watch her so easily slip into her imprisoned hubby’s shoes. The ease of transformation is startling, but in an “evil begets evil” kind of fashion. The fact that she’s pregnant through the entire movie only makes the shift from loving house wife to drug smuggler more chilling.

The entire cast does credible acting performances with particular attention paid toward the younger actors deservingly. Don Cheadle throws in another terrific performance showing he’s sublimely one of the best actors around today.

Traffic oversteps its ambitions and aims for a scope far too large. It is based on a 6 hour BBC mini-series, so trying to cram that material into a two hour plus format is taxing. As a result we get an assembly of characters, but too many with too little time in between to do any justice. Screenwriter Stephen Gaghan (Rules of Engagement) condenses the towering impact and influence drugs have well enough, but he intercuts the stories too sporadically that attachment never builds for either of the three narratives. He does balance the Douglas Drug Czar one carefully as not to fall into the cliched vigilante metamorphosis. But the mini-series had more characterization and depth to its tale.

Traffic is a good film but it has edges of greatness never fully visioned. Soderbergh shines bright yet again and all accolades will be deserved. Traffic is undeniably a good film, but it’s one you may not want to watch a second time.

Nate’s Grade: B

Thirteen Days (2000)

Another Kevin Costner film?! I’d rather suffer uncontrollable urination problems!” you could be saying to yourself. After Costner’s recent track record, hearing that he’ll have full Bostonian accent in hand seems a little nerve-racking. But despite Costner’s beantown speech 13 Days is a real surprise in just how much tension it actually wrings from the true story of the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Though 13 Days will suffer from the same problem Titanic did, people know their history and know how it ends. Though we all know we weren’t obliterated in nuclear war (At least I hope the majority of us know) 13 Days shows us the suspense through back-door politics as a fly on the wall in the White House. The audience sees all the political wrangling and power struggles in this cat-and-mouse game that made two nations hold their breathes in a high stakes stare-down. Bruce Greenwood, mainly known for beguiling Tommy Lee Jones in an assortment of flicks, plays our Commander in Chief John F. Kennedy. Costner seems to be a presidential advisor that could easily be mistaken for JFK’s imaginary friend the amount of time they spend together alone. Steven Culp plays Bobby Kennedy, and the fab threesome make up the core team that handled this bombastic situation. Of course there are dozens of other individuals involved within varying degrees, with the military leaders wanting procedures to lead them to inevitable war with Communist Soviets.

The warhawks recommend a Cuban invasion whereas the option of a quarantine hangs in sight as well. Through the next trying thirteen days stress will accumulate as options become more clear as deadlines become clearer. The political maneuvering makes for a gripping story, though a tad punched up at certain areas. It proves time and again that history makes the best stories.

Let’s get down to what’s on everyone’s mind: how much is the suck-ratio zooming on Kevin Costner in this picture? Well, his accent is very very jarring to begin with but you kind of get used to it after ten minutes of wear and tear. Costner does an alright acting job but the real spotlight is on the Kennedy brothers. Greenwood and Culp turn in star-making performances that gives human glimpses to the already prolific Kennedys. Culp is outstanding as Bobby, showing that the superiors discount him because of his young age but that he’s a shrewd and thoughtful politician. Greenwood doesn’t exactly sound like JFK but he adds particular dimension to the man behind the center of the crisis.

13 Days is a prime example of showing how intense and frightening fiction can be. Director Roger Donaldson uses black and white interludes for no real reason, but his final product is one of nail-biting suspense.

Nate’s Grade: B+

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