Monthly Archives: December 2001
Never, under any circumstances, do you want to piss off Gandhi. Sexy Beast is a British crime story where the ferocious mad dog Don Logan (Ben Kingsley) is trying to recruit a retired hand (Ray Winstone) into one last job back in London. Winstone is enjoying the sun of California with his middle-aged ex-porn star wife who he loves dearly. But Don does not take “no” for an answer. Kingsley is the true focal point of the film and is astounding and brutally terrifying as the wound up gangster. He gives an electrifying performance that is the polar opposite of India’s non-violent leader. When Kingsley vanishes from the screen Sexy Beast suffers and becomes a variation of the old crime film, except a very short one at that being under 90 minutes of running time. Video director Jonathon Glazer has done a fine job for his debut but there isn’t much to this tale without Kingsley’s memorable efforts.
Nate’s Grade: B
Talk about a film’s back story. Tom Cruise signed on to do a remake of the 1997 Spanish film Abre Los Ojos (Open Your Eyes) which was directed by Alejandro Amenabar. During the filming the romance between Cruise and Penelope Cruz (no relation) got a little hotter than expected onscreen and broke up his long-standing marriage to Nicole Kidman. At the time she was finishing filming The Others which is the second film by Amenabar. This, by the way, is much more interesting than Vanilla Sky unfortunately.
Cameron Crowe’s remake starts off promising enough with Tom Cruise running around an empty Times Square like a Twilight Zone episode. Afterwards the film begins to create a story that collapses under its own weight. David (Cruise) is a rich boy in control of a publishing empire inherited through his dear old deceased dad. He has the time to throw huge parties where even Spielberg hugs him, and even have crazy sex with crazy Cameron Diaz, whom he tells his best friend (Jason Lee) is his “f*** buddy.” David begins to see a softer side of life with the entrance of bouncy and lively Sophia (Cruz) and contemplates that he might be really falling in love for the first time. But this happiness doesn’t last long as jealous Diaz picks up David in her car then speeds it off a bridge killing her. Then things get sticky including David’s disfiguration, his attempts to regain that one night of budding love and a supposed murder that he committed.
Crowe is in over his head with this territory. His knack for wonderful exchanges of dialogue and the perfect song to place over a scene are intact, but cannot help him with this mess. Vanilla Sky is an awkward mish-mash of science fiction. The film’s protagonist is standoffish for an audience and many of the story’s so-called resolutions toward the end are more perfunctory than functional. The ending as a whole is dissatisfying and unimaginative. By the time the wonderful Tilda Swinton shows up you’ll likely either be asleep or ready to press the eject button yelling “cop out!”
Seeing Vanilla Sky has made me want to hunt for Amenabar’s Abre Los Ojos and see what all the hype was about, because if it is anything like its glossy American counterpart then I have no idea why world audiences went wild for it.
Nate’s Grade: C
Spoofing is often believed the cheapest and lamest form of comedy. One runs jab after jab, and gag after gag relentlessly hoping that some hit but content that if they don’t more will follow with the potential to. But many of the jokes in a spoof aren’t textured; there’s nothing below their surface. Spoofs can be done well or they can be embarrassing and wretched to sit through. Count Not Another Teen Movie in the latter category.
At John Hughes High School (can you feel the parody, can you?) it’s life as we know it for stereotypes and clichés. The Bitchy Cheerleader has just dumped the Popular Jock and the Cocky Blonde Guy has initiated a bet that PJ cannot turn anyone into prom material. The men size up their choices, including an albino girl singing about her lost pigmentation (one of the few funny gags), and decide on the Pretty Ugly girl who is beyond all hope with her glasses and ponytail. Meanwhile, the Cruelest Girl is trying to find a way to seduce her brother, the Popular Jock, a trio of Virgins try and, what else, lose their virginity, and the Best Friend with Hopeless Crush tries to work his klutzy charm.
In a genre full of Freddie Prinze Jr.’s greatest hits (or misses, however you want to look at it) a parody wouldn’t be too difficult to prescribe. All too often the film has no edge and falls back on scatological humor as its savior once too often. An exploding toilet and a flying vibrator can only do so much. There has to be things behind it. Alas, there is nothing. For every one part funny (a character tries to find the right moment to start a slow and building applause) there are three parts inane, satirically flaccid, crudely useless, or bordering on exploitative (the foreign exchange student who drapes around completely nude the entire film). The jokes arrive many times cold and require a good deal of familiarity with the subject material it’s spoofing. NATM seems to not think too greatly of the audience for it. The film continually seems to explain jokes after they happen or reacquaint the audience with the source for spoofery. The worst example may be that the movie has to SHOW a character watching a scene from ‘Pretty in Pink’ mere seconds before it spoofs that very scene.
The movie, as a whole, has about six good gags and bits but the rest is watch-checking time. Some comedic threads don’t even get the proper treatment to become good jokes. The Token Black Guy’s introduction is rather funny, but then all he does in the film is repeat the words he said he could only say. Now, if the other characters had begun to question this law of teen movies, and asked him questions then this idea could have been ripely handled. As it stands it’s another joke in a line of jokes that go nowhere but we keep going back to repeatedly.
The flick was directed by Joel Gallen, marking his film debut after years as an MTV producer. Gallen shows no finesse when it comes to comedy as everything is rammed into the ground. His film is a spoof with nothing to do, much like the bad but better Scary Movie 2 earlier this year. Jokes come and go but they serve no purpose in moving things along or setting up greater jokes. This is comedy lost in the woods.
NATM is an attempt to satirize the teen genre, which should have been a rather easy job to do but instead just becomes another sad addition to it. And a rather poor and limp addition at that. NATM doesn’t know that the audience isn’t laughing with it but at it.
Nate’s Grade: C-
In the Bedroom hits all the right notes of agonizing pain, devastation and loss. The heart of the film is on the grief encompassing Matt and Ruth Fowler (Tom Wilkinson and Sissy Spacek) over the loss of their son. The Fowlers are well regarded in their cozy New England town. Matt is a flourishing local doctor and Ruth teaches a chorus of local high school girls.
In the Bedroom opens with Frank Fowler (Nick Stahl) chasing his older girlfriend Natalie (Marisa Tomei) across an open grassy field. Frank is a budding architecture student home for the summer and thinking of prolonging his time so he can stay together with Natalie. Frank and Natalie have a distinct age divide but also seem to have been given different lots in life. She has a pair of boys from her abusive husband Richard (William Mapother) that she is finalizing a divorce from. Richard is hopeful he can reconcile with Natalie if he just gets another chance, but Natalie is stern in her refusal.
Ruth sees the relationship as a detriment to her son’s future. She’s even more upset that Matt is so casual with their son dating an older, working-class mother. Frank rushes over to calm Natalie after another of Richard’s outbursts of violence has left her house in shambles. She rushes her children upstairs just as Richard returns back. He manages to sneak in through a back door and confronts Frank in their kitchen, shooting and killing him. What should seem like a clear-cut case begins to unspool. Natalie admits she didn’t actually see the gun fire and the charges are dropped from murder to manslaughter. Richard is released on bail and free to stroll around occasionally bumping into the grieving and outraged Fowlers.
The majority of the film is the aftermath of the murder and the strain it puts upon Matt and Ruth and their marriage. Beforehand jealousy, anger, and bitterness would simply sit but slowly the tension begins to bubble to the surface. Ruth holds resentment and blames the leniency of Matt for the death of their son. Matt tries to get out of the house as much as possible, even if it means sitting in his car in their driveway at night.
One of the most harrowing scenes of In the Bedroom is also its emotional and acting centerpiece. After the mounting frustration with justice, Ruth and Matt explode into an argument that had slowly been building long before their son’s death. This is the first time they have truly talked about the whole situation and accusations fly like bullets in their first emotional confrontation. In the Bedroom could have easily fallen into the area of sticky made-for-TV land, but the exceptional performances all around by the cast and the deft and studied direction never allow it to falter.
Spacek (Carrie, Coal Miner’s Daughter) can begin writing her Oscar acceptance speech right now. Her portrayal of Ruth displays the pride and seething anger, but keeps her human throughout. She exhibits pure, raw emotion that strikes directly inside you leaving a knot in your stomach and in your throat. Her performance is truly breathtaking and so emotionally visceral to watch. Wilkinson (The Full Monty) plays Matt with passive-aggressive doubt and repression. He dominates in any scene he is in and takes the audience on a wide range of emotions. He has a commanding presence and compliments Spacek’s Ruth nicely. Perhaps the greatest thing Tomei (My Cousin Vinny, Slums of Beverly Hills) was known for was miraculously winning an Oscar and dumbfounding a nation. With ‘In the Bedroom’ she is given the ubiquitous “And” credit at the end of the opening cast list. She has less to work with and less screen time to work it, fully earning the “And”‘ credit she has.
Todd Field is an actor-turned-director and has appeared in such a wide array of films from Twister to Eyes Wide Shut. Field has layered his film with rich symbolism and an intelligent, patient pace. Most of the action in movies is centered on what is going on in a scene, but the most telling moments of In the Bedroom are what are not going on in the scenes. Field creates such an intimate portrait that the camera almost turns into another character, catching the lingering silences and the burgeoning inner turmoil. Field also adapted the screenplay from a short story by Andre Dubus, whom he dedicates the film to.
In the Bedroom is not going to be for everyone. Some will find it slow and some might even find it boring. As it stands, it is a powerful film on the study of loss that grips you and refuses to let go. You will feel all the blame, jealousy, anger, and pain of this family and for such emotions to resonate from the screen to the audience is a great achievement.
Nate’s Grade: A