Monthly Archives: February 2001

15 Minutes (2001)

Let me say this now and clear so everyone knows – DO NOT PUT EDWARD BURNS IN THE LEAD OF ANYTHING! Burns falls under that league of actors that can contribute and possibly do fine as supporting players but cannot carry a film. Now, moving on…

Robert DeNiro plays the head of a police force, but he’s also a local celebrity with his face everywhere from newspapers, to People magazine, to his own coffee franchise (I made up one, guess it). The woman from the NBC show ‘Providence’ with the gigantic Jersey hair plays the reporter that fawns over him and the girlfriend that reports him. She’s meaningless. Kelsey Grammar plays a heavy-handed out for blood journalist of a tabloid TV show that panders to our primal desires of violence. The show is seen as exploitative and possibly subversive – not to mention in poor taste. You may be asking how does Edward Burns get caught up in this? Well he’s an ace arson investigator that crosses paths with mega-star DeNiro. But see, Burns’ character HATES the media. Quite a contrast, eh?

Burns and DeNiro form an unlikely team and go through the rigid “Buddy Cop Movie” drill that’s been played numerous times before. They dislike each other, they tease and try to show up one another, they come to respect and appreciate the other and work as a team. Yawn.

DeNiro phones in a performance in like none he has ever done before, even Rocky and Bullwinkle. Grammar hams up his over-killed role. Burns is his typical atrociousness. If you look closely you’ll find the actor who played the older brother in Family Matters a.k.a. The Urkle Show in this flick. Man, his career time with Jaleel White must be paying off.

The real spirit of the film is in its two debut actors who also serve as the villains. These two are from Eastern Europe and search for old friends that seem not so friendly anymore. Some altercations happen and a killing spree begets them trying to rub out the lone red-headed witness of their murders. Along the way they discover they can sell the videotapes of their crimes to the top bidder and make a fortune. The two baddies are fun to watch and a joy to see whenever they return back to the screen. They seem to punch up 15 Minutes particularly during the tedious dead spots. These two actors seem to be the only life of the film, and it’s a terrible shame when we must veer off back to our lame storyline with Burns. credit this as another case of the villains being far more interesting than the heroes — the Austin Powers syndrome.

The major disappointment of 15 Minutes is what it looked like it would be. With the early teaser trailer it looked like it would be a scathing satire on media and our glorification of criminals as heroes. When the full length trailer came out it dropped to looking like another crazy serial killer flick. Sadly, it never rises above this. There are a few moments with some bite but 15 Minutes gums it along as far as satire is concerned. It’s more concerned with a standard by the book plot. The whole notion of using the videotapes and selling them to Grammar’s TV tabloid doesn’t even show up until twenty minutes before the film is over!

15 Minutes is a thriller that tries to be smart and savvy but tries to be by staying under standard conventions. The very ending to this film could have gone in a million different ways, some very satisfying, but it goes the predictable action-thriller way. Yawn. That’s what you’ll be doing a lot with 15 Minutes – regaining lost sleep.

Nate’s Grade: C

Panic (2000)

The story behind Panic goes something like this. The film was dropped by Artisan because they got test screening results back and apparently it wasn’t what they wanted. After this set-back it was going to be dumped to the wasteland of direct-to-cable like so many other troublesome pictures studios feel would not earn a buck if they were bleeding on the side of the road. After some fighting, particularly from critic Roger Ebert, a production house decided to distribute Panic in a very limited release. So what does this cinematic game of musical chairs mean? It means if you have a chance see this film.

Panic is a story about characters first and foremost. William H. Macy plays the son end of a father-son team of hitmen, with Donald Sutherland as the oppressive patriarch. Macy is a man who is never truly happy, almost like it is an impossibility for him at this point in his life. His wife (Tracey Ullman) is flaky and gives into her paranoia of her hubby having an affair with a younger chickadee. Macy meets an attractive and mysterious ingenue (Neve Campbell) while waiting for therapy. He begins on an obsession he can’t explain and fantasizes about her as the escape and ticket to happiness that is outside his reach.

The acting is as rich as the characters. Macy plays low-key but suits the subservient ghost that his character has become. Sutherland is haunting as the controlling father figure and the flashbacks between him and young Macy are disturbing as he plants his seed of control. Even at age six Macy’s character is referring to his father with “sir” tagged to the end of every sentence.

Neve’s character is the most in depth she’s ever been dealt, though her runner-up is a girl constantly chased by men in black robes with knives. Ullman is a nice presence and the audience really can sympathize with her. The child who plays the son of Macy and Ullman is one of the most adorable child actors I have ever seen. He lights up the screen every time he is present.

The story is brisk at a mere hour and a half. It is written and directed by a former writer of ‘Northern Exposure’ and ‘Homicide’ and the attention to characters shows. The film moves not through plot occurrences but through characters acting. When Macy discovers that the final hit he has to do is on his own therapist (John Ritter) his journey is one involving everyone around him in his life. The strains and pulls on this man are encompassing to watch.

Panic is a glimpse at a quiet movie told about the life of a man caught in his father’s grasp. Macy is a man conditioned to saying “he’s sorry” even if it is not deserved. His character is rich and Panic is a strongly acted gem if you can locate it.

Nate’s Grade: B+

Hannibal (2001)

Trying to sequelize Silence of the Lambs is surely harder than trying to sequelize The Blair Witch Project. The novel Hannibal by Thomas Harris I don’t think will be confused as a necessary burst of creative ambition, and more of a chance to cash in on the love of Hannibal Lector. Though I’ve not read a line from the book from what I’m told the movie is faithful until the much hated ending. Starting a film off a so-so book isn’t a good way to begin, especially when you lose four of the components that made it shine Oscar gold.

The element that Silence of the Lambs carried with it was stealthily gripping psychological horror. It hung with you in every closed breath you would take, surrounding you and blanketing your mind. I mean, there aren’t many serial killer movies about transsexuals that win a slew of Oscars. Lambs excelled at psychological horror, but with Hannibal the horror turns into a slasher film more or less. What Lambs held back and left us terrified Hannibal joyfully bathes in excess and gore.

Julianne Moore, a competent actress, takes over from the ditching Jodie Foster to fill the shoes of FBI agent Clarice Starling. Throughout the picture you know she’s trying her damndest to get that Foster backwoods drawl she used on the original down. The problem for poor Moore though is that her character spends half of the film in the FBI basement being oogled by higher-up Ray Liotta. She doesn’t even meet Hannibal Lector until 3/4 through. Then again, the title of the film isn’t Starling.

Anthony Hopkins returns back to the devil in the flesh and seems to have a grand old time de-boweling everyone. Lector worked in Lambs because he was caged up, like a wild animal not meant for four glass walls, and you never knew what would happen. He’d get in your head and he would know what to do with your grey matter – not that he doesn’t have a culinary degree in that department in this film. Lector on the loose is no better than a man with a chainsaw and a hockey mask, though he has a better knowledge of Dante and Florentine romantic literature. Lector worked bottled up, staring at you with dead unblinking calm. He doesn’t work saying goofy “goody-goody” lines and popping out of the shadows.

Since the director, screenwriter, and female lead didn’t show up for the Lambs rehash, it feels a tad chilled with Ridley Scott’s fluid and smooth direction. The cinematography is lush and very warm.

Gary Oldman steals the show as the horribly disfigured former client of Lector’s seeking out revenge. His make-up is utterly magnificent and the best part of the film, he is made to look like a human peeled grape. Oldman instills a Texan drawl into the character yet making him the Meryl Streep of villainy.

Hannibal is no where near the landmark in excellence that Silence of the Lambs was but it’s not too bad. It might even be good if it wasn’t the sequel to a great film. As it is, it stands as it stands.

Nate’s Grade: B-

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