Monthly Archives: August 2001
Kevin Smith returns back to his comedy roots. No more movies with a message (Chasing Amy and Dogma) it’s back to good ole’ snowballing and stink palming. His latest, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, is like a giant thank-you card to all his fans that have made the man who he is today. It ties up the entire View Askew universe so Kevin can drift off into uncharted ventures of film making and not have to keep referencing the same damn characters. Plus there’s plenty of good-natured vulgarity to go around.
The plot of Jay and Silent Bob is nothing too heavy but seems to keep the film on a continuous pace, unlike the sometimes stagnant feel Mallrats had (what, they’re in one location for 90 minutes). It seems that after getting a restraining order at the Quick Stop on them, Jay and Silent Bob learn that Miramax is making a movie from a comic book that is in fact based off of them. Learned of the riches they could make they seek out the comic’s author Holden McNeil (Ben Affleck’s first appearance in the film) and demand a piece of the pie. Holden tells them that he long ago sold his right to his partner Banky Edwards (Jason Lee, in his second appearance in the film) and that there’s nothing they can do to stop the film. Jay suddenly gets the idea that if they stop the movie from ever getting made then they don’t have to worry. So off go our stoner duo on a mission to sabotage and satirize Hollywood.
Along the way are a hitch-hiker (George Carlin) advising the best way to get a ride is to go down in your morals, a confused nun (Carrie Fisher), the cast of Scooby Doo offering a ride (which will be 100x funnier than the feature film coming out this summer), a beautiful band of international diamond thieves (Eliza Dusku, Ali Larter, Jennifer Swalbach-Smith, Shannon Elizabeth), a rescued chimpanzee, a dogged Wildlife agent (Will Ferrell), and a full barrage of hilarity once Hollywood is finally hit.
The best barbs are laid out by Ben Affleck and Matt Damon bickering about the other’s film choices on the set of Good Will Hunting 2: Hunting Season. This moment is truly inspired and full of great humor from Gus van Sant too busy counting his money to yell action to Damon turning into a vigilante hero. I almost fell on the floor laughing during this sequence.
When Jay and Silent Bob hit Hollywood is when the comedy starts hitting its stride as this Jersey Greek chorus interacts with the Hollywood life and encounters many a celebrity. The jokes are usually right on target except for Chris Rock’s performance of a racism obsessed film director. Rock’s portrayal becomes grating to the moviegoer far before it’s over, though he does get a few choice lines.
Smith as a director has finally elevated his visual art into something that can sustain itself instead of his earlier just-hold-the-camera-and-shoot movies. There are pans, zooms, quick cuts, cranes, action sequences, and even CGI. Smith is evolving as an artist but still staying his “dick and fart joke” self, and Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back is evidence. And that’s fine by me.
Nate’s Grade: B
Victor Salva’s last picture was the overwrought Powder and now he follows it up with something the complete opposite of intellectual meditation –teen horror. With the Screams of the world drenching scares in irony and hipness it’s good to see an old fashioned horror flick that might actually generate real scares.
Jeepers Creepers starts off slow but methodical, with a slight nod to the old horror of the 70s where the mood was slowly and maturely built layer by layer. See brother and sister are traveling back home from their colleges together and have taken the long route across the nation’s empty plains and small towns. Their relationship is entertaining and, to a point, refreshing in how accurate they seem as siblings with their playful bickering. Upon their journey they almost get run off the road by a mad trucker driving what must have been the second car for the Munsters. After a moment to catch their breaths they begin once more driving. Further down the road they see the same truck parked at an abandoned church with a dark figure tossing something down a pipe – something awfully close to resembling a body. Some curious investigation reveals an entire church basement full of hundreds of mutilated corpses.
The two panic and run off to seek the authorities but now this figure, whatever it is, is on their trail. Of course the police just roll their eyes to their incoherent ramblings. Of course they gets hacked for their lack of faith. And of course there will be a babbling woman with some kind of psychic powers that tries to help the kids stop the monster. It pretty much gets textbook form here on out.
Jeepers Creepers is one-third a very interesting and genuinely scary movie, and then two thirds crap. It’s such a shame too because of the incredible promise the first 20 minutes showed. After that point the movie descends into the standard Boogeyman-chasing-teenagers flick. The “monster” of Creepers would have best been not shown than actually revealed. The film is spooky when all you see is a dark figure, but when the creature finally gets its close-up it’s nothing more than a patchwork Freddy Krueger with Spalding Grey’s hair.
Francis Ford Coppala produced this film so he must have saw something in it. But he likely only saw the first twenty minutes. Jeepers Creepers is for the most part a fun movie but it can’t help being a large disappointment. This is because the film could have been something so much greater than what it is, and even shows it in flashes but then takes the easy well-tread road instead.
Nate’s Grade: C+
Nicole Kidman has saved the summer of 2001 – it is now official. In what would have been deemed a pit of mediocrity and nightmares consisting of Angelina Jolie as some raider of tombs or Marky Mark making dough-eyes at attractive apes, has now been bookended by two terrific Kidman films. First Moulin Rouge ushered us in and now The Others is leading us the way out.
The Others is the tale of Grace (Kidman) trying to take care of her two ailing young children shortly after the end of World War II. Kidman is waiting for the return of her husband from the war and is all alone in a giant Gothic mansion. Her two children suffer from a rare allergy to sunlight that is so severe that if exposed long enough their bodies will develop markings and they will asphyxiate to death. To accommodate this illness the entire Kidman household is in the dark and grounded in stern rules. No door is to be unlocked without locking the last, like trapping water in compartments of a sinking ship.
Grace discovers that she does need help and accepts three mysterious strangers that have said they were caretakers to this house once before. Before long the children start reporting odd events occurring that resemble ghosts; a door is opened when it shouldn’t be, someone is making noise where there is no one, and the children report having interaction with otherworldly spirits. Grace scoffs at any notion of the paranormal and goes back to instructing her children with the Bible and its accounts of penance and hell. The incidences begin to build further and further until The Others becomes a full-fledged ghost spectacle.
Spanish writer/director Alejandro Amenábar’s first English feature film is one of carefully textured craft and effective mood. The Others follows the points of ghost stories closely from dark hallways to the creepy and slightly dilapidated house closely. Every move, though, is so well in tune that they are highly effective in creating actual suspense and spookiness. One may have seen the same items numerous times before, however The Others utilizes them so gracefully that it achieves the full desired impact each can bring. Amenábar has created a ghost story that is genuinely creepy and at times scary.
Kidman shines as the dutiful and determined mother. Her performance is one of great dedication and she just consumes whole-heartedly the distress, confusion, and fear of this lonely mother. She is a true anchor for a film. Watching every moment of her on screen is amazing as well as invigorating. This role may lead to possible Oscar buzz come the end of the year but that is just speculation for now.
The rest of the acting is very thorough and well handled by the few other cast members. James Bentley and Alakina Mann portray Kidman’s afflicted children and have much of the movie hinging on their performances. Not to worry, these two excel and give credence to being two of the more gifted child actors in a while. Their efforts greatly induce sympathy as well as great scares at key moments.
The story of The Others by Amenábar may seem simplistic, or even predictable, but the more I thought of the structure and the order of events the more well oiled and calculated it became. This is a delicate story told with great precision with a fantastic knockout ending that had me reworking everything. The Others is an example of why screenwriting is not yet dead in Hollywood.
The Others is a wonderfully brooding film with real scares and great performances, as well as terrific turns in writing and directing by Amenábar. Nicole Kidman has thankfully done it again, and if anyone dares doubt the power and newfound importance of her then see the rest of the summer of 2001’s offerings.
Nate’s Grade: A
The story behind O has become more infamous than the film itself. The film has had twelve different release dates and was actually finished in 1999. It had the dubious nature of having the themes of jealousy and violence set in high school around the time Columbine had polarized the nation. Miramax subsequently kept pushing the film back until it finally jettisoned it over to Lions Gate films, the same people who rescued ‘Dogma’ when Miramax felt it was too hot to handle for corporate parent Disney. Finally now O is getting the release it has waited for.
O is the modern update of Othello but is by no means in the same brethren of the bubbly Shakespeare ripped teen comedies proliferating the screen big and small. O is a serious tale told with earnestness in its portrayal, and with its conviction and refusal for exploitation, executes the best modern day transition of Shakespeare to date. What better setting for lust, jealousy, love, betrayal, murder and tragedy than a high school? It is almost chilling how well the tale translates to the high school setting, particularly with the notices of race and jealousy.
Odin James (Mekhi Phifer) is the only black student at an all white prep school in Charleston, South Carolina. Odin is the senior leader of the school’s basketball team and an all-star in the making. Odin, or “O” as the crowd chants at games, is dating Desi (Julia Stiles), the daughter of the dean. She’s a spitfire but they love one another with great intensity. Everything seems to be going well for Odin with school, his relationship, and his team entering into the state playoffs. His coach (Martin Sheen) proclaims his love for Odin like a son at a pep rally with the denizens in the stands cheering along. Everyone appears to be cheering for their popular hero, except for Hugo (Josh Hartnett).
Hugo is the coach’s son and perennially looked over on the basketball team. He looks at Odin and is fueled with jealousy for the admiration and love his father would rather bestow on him than his own son. Dinner at home is a more a cold silence than a family activity. Hugo is jealous of all the things Odin has that he cannot have and some that he will never have. So he sets forth in motion a plan to bring the downfall of the popular kids he despises. Hugo enlists the aid of gullible Roger (Elden Henson) who’s picked on heavily from the same people Hugo wishes to topple. Hugo coaxes Mike (Andrew Keegan), ousted form the basketball team after a staged fight with Roger, that the best way to regain the good will of Odin and his father is to cozy up to Desi and convince her. He then plants the seeds of doubt in Odin with Desi. He draws Desi’s roommate Emily (Rain Phoenix) into the scheme by seducing her into stealing a rare handkerchief that Odin had given Desi as a show of love and commitment.
With every pawn somehow moving in the directions Hugo wishes the jealousy boils, love turns to heartbreak, and the game ultimately ends violently. It isn’t called “tragedy” for nothing folks.
Othello is, at its heart, the tale of a villain and his masterminding. The center figure is not on our hapless Moor or his lovely Desdemona, but on the treacherous Iago as he plots the tragedy of those around him with woeful precision. Shakespeare’s Othello has quite possibly the greatest villain in all of literature with Iago. He is a man who positions an elaborate staging of jealousy, insecurity, mistrust, and ultimately murder – and all this time he is given center stage to propel his masterwork. And it’s exciting, giving genuine evil a face, a name, and more importantly than anything else, a vicious intelligence to play out. This is why Othello transcends its problems in story staging and character turning points, because it is a tale told from the hands of its most essential leg: the villain.
Hartnett takes the reigns of the picture and gallops with them with great care. Though shot and filmed years before many of his latest pictures, O shows Hartnett in his most methodical and enticing acting turn. He portrays Hugo smoothly giving equal shades of bitterness and envy with his sullen performance. Harnett is so invigorating as the villain that one almost sides with him, but that is the attraction of evil. O decides to pump more motivation for its villain than Shakespeare had included, and it works in a startlingly believable way. A student plotting the demise of a more popular and athletic student and seeking the love of an inattentive father – maybe this is why Miramax shelved it for two years. The motivation in this setting is totally believable to a chilling point.
Phifer is a charming presence and reflects the descent of Odin with good emotion. One can feel the rage just resonating from him during a slam dunk contest which he brings down the backboard and sternly glares at Desi in the stands. His final declaration with all the chaos that has swarmed around him is almost heart breaking. Stiles, on the other hand, is not given too much to work with but seems to make decent use out of her part. Sheen blusters about like the spawn of Bobby Knight, but shows a more frightening side in his ambivalent relationship to his son.
O is deftly directed by Tim Blake Nelson who might be more well known as the “other” chain gang member in O Brother where Art Thou? Nelson periodically adds little touches of great artistic exchanges that elevate O into something more than another teen film. It even achieves a certain level of poignancy and power as Hartnett is led away and speaking reflective about his deeds to the audience. The script from debut screenwriter Brad Kaaya drops Shakespeare’s prose but for the best. The film has a greater sense of realism and authenticity when the main characters aren’t talking in iambic pentameter.
The film isn’t perfect by certain means. Hugo’s plot seems a tad too elaborate and easily achieved, and Odin seems to fall for some questionable pieces of doubt. I mean, what else will an old hanky be used for in a modern film? But these faults can be blamed on Shakespeare as much as the principals involved behind the film. Despite these minor stumbles O is indeed a great film that deserves to be seen and thought over afterwards.
Nate’s Grade: B+
John Madden you sly dog. I don’t know how you do it but somehow you manage to get an accredited actress to take off her clothes for you. In your film Shakespeare in Love it was Gwyneth Paltrow going topless (which she also won an Oscar for), and thank God you didn’t get Dame Judi Dench to try it out with the previous film Mrs. Brown. And now with the horrifically titled Captain Corelli’s Mandolin you have coaxed the beautiful Penelope Cruz into baring her breasts as well, no doubt in hopes of winning some of that coveted Oscar gold. And although I appreciate you giving me the opportunity to see the lovely Cruz minus a stitch above the waist, frankly, Corelli ain’t no Shakespeare.
We open on an island on the offshoot of Greece in the start of the 1940s. The waters are blue, the sand is white, the people are happily ethnic, and it’s basically a postcard. The island is overpopulated with idyllic beauties and friendly people and then evil evil war had to come and steal the innocence. Cruz plays a woman who has a first name that I have no clue of or remotely how to pronounce it, but I am certain it began with a P. Cruz is studying to be a doctor under the tutelage of her wise old customed father (John Hurt). She’s engaged to be wed to hunky fisherman Mandras (Christian Bale) until the war threatens their peaceful isolated world. Mandras feels the patriotic urge to go to war and thwart the advancing Italians and Cruz pines for his safe return writing letter after letter with no answer to only fear the worst.
As the war continues the Italians do advance further and take occupation of the Greek island. Captain Antonio Corelli (Nicolas Cage) is amongst the divisions assembled to this Mediterranean isle. He is agreed to stay in Cruz’s home and, as always, begins to develop feelings for Cruz. She feels some as well but is torn on what her actions should be. Corelli, it turns out, is far more a singer than a fighter. He has a battalion of men he dubs his “opera” and they break into frequent song and an overall zeal for life. They run around drinking and singing on the beaches complete with topless women making this Italian occupation seem like summer camp.
The good times don’t last of course and the war rages closer and closer. Soon the Italian army surrenders and then the Germans come in to retake occupation of the Greek island. Corelli must decide to go home or help fight amongst the guerrillas and native people to keep their beautiful land away from Nazi hands.
Penelope Cruz seems to be heavily pushed on me by Hollywood. They keep casting her in movies and telling me I like her, when in fact, I have seen nothing of hers to prove so. She is too mute at times and the emotions that we should see tearing her up are simply dampened by her staring downcast or biting her lip.
Cage is an Italian-American, and yet his Italian accent is atrociously comical. His performance is like the Joker doing an Italian accent. He also kisses like he is trying to swallow poor Penelope’s tiny head. Somehow beyond my reasoning the talented Christian Bale got in this movie. He’s about as convincing as a Greek as Laurence Olivier was as a Moor. The rest of the cast is filled with Greek people portraying Greek people.
The love story of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin is a mishmash of un-involving war violence and a cloying romance that never gets into the proper gear. There are elements of guilt and affection, but they aren’t transcendent of any reality. The first time Corelli tells Cruz he loves her they have sex in a field that very moment. There is not enough groundwork laid to produce a decent romance. So the supposed “smolder” between Cruz and Cage is thematically unbelievable, and kind of a bit creepy.
Corelli suffers from A.I. syndrome in that it desperately needed to end twenty minutes earlier than it did. The fact that Cage survives a machine gun execution because a SINGLE PERSON stood in front of him is bad, but it gets even worse for the inhabitants of the Greek island. Some get hung by their own people, some get shot in the face from Germans, and then everyone must suffer after the war by having an earthquake level half of their town. This stretch of film goes from pointless to comically absurd. It’s like Madden fell asleep in his director’s chair and someone thought, “Well, let’s model the last act of the film after a Universal tram ride. Hey, can we have Jaws pop out of the water at some point?” Corelli has failed as a romance and during its end stretch it completely fails as any kind of cogent drama.
The direction is adequate by Madden but the script just doesn’t cut the mustard. In the end they rely on the old Hollywood principal of Nazis being pure evil, so much so they might as well have mustaches to twirl. I thought at one moment they were going to tie Cruz to a railroad track and would have preferred it if they had. This is a film caught between romance and war, and it does a disservice to both. The war is a naive afterthought and the romance lacks any credibility. The scenery sure looks nice though. In the end, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin is a film desperately out of tune.
Nate’s Grade: C-
First and foremost I disliked the first American Pie movie. It just rang very transparent for me and I didn’t laugh once – a capitol crime with a comedy in my book. So I wasn’t exactly looking forward to another addition with the American Pie family, but ventured out with friends and found myself enjoying this second helping of raunch. And this time I genuinely laughed at several points and found it overall less insipid.
To American Pie 2‘s benefit all the characters have been introduced prior and are familiar to the audience, therefore no time is wasted on pointless set-up. The movie jumps right out to the familiar faces and decides to further the AP2 universe. Jim (Jason Biggs) and friends are returning back home after their first year of college. Jim has not had a sexual experience since his prom night with Michelle the band geek (Alyson Hannigan) and he is completely in doubt of his abilities in the bedroom. Complicating matters is the news that the Czech student of his fantasies Nadia (Shannon Elizabeth) is on her way back and is eagerly anticipating another tryst with Jim. Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas) is still hung up on his ex Vicky (Tara Reid) and worrying that his friends will grow apart and college will change everything. Oz (Chris Klein) seems to be doing fine with his monogamous relationship to Heather (Mena Suvari), despite the taunting of Stifler (Sean William Scott) that he needs to spread out. Finally Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas) is still chasing after the only woman that ever caught his heart, Stifler’s mom.
After the boys return back to their roots the police bust a party at Stifler’s pad, and they are without a place to party for the summer. Kevin brings to their attention the idea of renting a cabin on the beach for the summer. The place serves as a spot for the boys to enjoy their sunshine-y days away from school and stay together as friends, as well as attempt to get an abundance of tail. Hi-jinks ensue.
AP2 almost seems to follow the formula of the first one to the letter. The opening scene has Jim’s dad (the always hilarious Eugene Levy) walking in on an embarrassing moment for Jim (you think he’d learn that doors have locks at this point). Jim encounters a horrific sexual accident that he must discuss with his father afterwards. Stifler gets a not-so-nice encounter with a bodily fluid in the beginning party. And it all ends with a big party to end all parties with everyone hooking up with a partner for some post-coital spooning. The script was written by the same writer of the first yet he seems to be playing connect the dots with his own formula.
What American Pie 2 does to separate itself as more enjoyable than the first is give the interesting characters the majority of the time and leave the least interesting sputtering for air. The interesting ones follow: Jim is a nice guy full of the same insecurities that plague a teenager and intimacy, and Biggs plays him as an everyman who somehow always seems to come into sadistic moments of embarrassment. With Jim’s wish to be more sexually adept he visits the infamous band camp and finds Michelle once again who agrees to coach him on techniques and pointers. Hanigan is given an incredible amount more of screen time and she’s glowing in every second of it.
Also the man-you-love-to-hate Stifler has a larger role leading his group of lakeside roommates into encounters with lesbians and other sexual calamities. Scott may be playing Stifler as a jerk but he’s entertaining and genuinely funny, and at one point you can’t help but root for the crass frat boy. Finch has learned that Stifler’s mom will be paying a visit to their cabin at the end of the summer and spends his time studying up on Tantra and Zen to fully explore his inner sexual prowess.
The entire cast from the first American Pie romp does return, though not everyone has equal time. Mena Suvari (still looking so young) leaves in the beginning of the film and then comes back at the very end. The insatiably annoying Reid (who has eyes that I can’t tell where her whites end and irises begin) thankfully is only in the film for two short scenes which leads me to question was she even necessary in the first place? Natasha Lyonne is only in scenes alongside Reid, so her stint in the sequel is equally as brief. Elizabeth’s role might be central to Jim’s quest for sexual fulfillment, but she only pops up in the last eight minutes of the film – and doesn’t show her breasts this time. Now that I think about it Klein and Nicholas really weren’t in the film too much either except for standing in the background while another character talked.
The soundtrack is a collection of every pop “punk” band that’s been playing on MTV since May of that year. It’s like the producers just watched the channel for a week and would point to the ones they wanted.
The film still is a mishmash of gross out sexual humor and sentimentality, but for some reason it’s a lot easier to swallow the second time around. For all its bodily fluids and crudeness, American Pie 2 has a stickily sweet secretly conservative old-fashioned heart. Though the makers would never tell you so. In a summer almost bankrupt on entertainment value I’ll leisurely take a slice of American Pie 2.
Nate’s Grade: B-