Monthly Archives: December 2002

Gangs of New York (2002)

Watching Martin Scorsese’’s long-in-the-making ‘Gangs of New York’ is like watching a 12-round bout between two weary and staggering prize fighters. You witness the onslaught of blows, see the momentum change several times, and in the end can’t really tell which fighter is victorious. This is the experience of watching ‘Gangs of New York’, and the two fighters are called “Ambitions” and “Flaws.”

The film begins in the Five Points district of 1840s New York among a vivid gang war over turf. Amsterdam (Leonardo DiCaprio) witnesses the slaying of his father, Priest Vallon (Liam Neeson), at the blade of William “Bill the Butcher” Cutting (Daniel Day-Lewis) and his “Native” Americans gang. So what does this son of a dead preacher-man do? Well he grows up, plots revenge by making a name under the wing of the Butcher becoming like a surrogate son. But will vengeance consume him?

Watch Leo DiCaprio assemble toughs, rake heels, and ne’’er do wells to his Irish gang of rapscallions with facial hair that looks to be tweezed! Witness a one-dimensional Leo suck the life out of the film like a black hole! See Leo become the least frightening gangster since Fredo. Watch the horribly miscast Cameron Diaz play pin-the-tail-on-an-accent! Witness as she tries to play a pickpocket with a heart of gold that falls hopelessly and illogically in love with Leo! Marvel how someone looking like Diaz would exist in a mangy slum! See the brilliant Daniel Day-Lewis upstage our stupid hero and steal every scene he inhabits! Witness one of the greatest villains in the last decade of movies! Watch Day-Lewis almost single-handedly compensate for the film’s flaws with his virtuoso performance! Admire his stove-top hat and handlebar mustache!

Witness a wonderful supporting cast including John C. Reilly, Jim Broadbent and Brendan Gleeson! Wish that they had more screen time to work with! Wonder to yourself why in all good graces this film took nearly two years of delays to get out! Speculate away!

‘Gangs’ has the sharp aroma of a film heavily interfered with by its producers. The whole exercise feels like Scorsese being compromised. ‘Gangs’ is a meticulous recreation of 1860s New York that often evokes an epic sense of awe. The story has more resonance when it flashes to small yet tasty historical asides, like the dueling fire houses and the Draft Riots. But all of these interesting tidbits get pushed aside for our pedantic revenge storyline with Leo front and center. You know the producers wanted a more commercial storyline, which probably explains why Diaz has anything to do with this.

The script is credited to longtime Scorsese collaborator Jay Cocks, Steven Zallian (Academy Award winner for ‘Schindler’’s List’) and Kenneth Lonergan (Academy award nominee for ‘You Can Count on Me’). So with all these writing credentials, don’t you think one of them would realize all of the dumb things going on with the story? The ending is also very anticlimactic and ham-fisted. Just watch as we segue from a graveyard to present day New York, all thanks to the Irish rockers of U2!

I know this much, Day-Lewis needs to stop cobbling shoes and act more often. ‘Gangs’ is his first visit to the big screen since 1997’’s ‘The Boxer’. He spent part of this hiatus in Italy actually making shoes. I don’’t know about everyone else but this man has too much talent to only be acting once every five years. Somebody buy his shoes and get him a script, post haste!

Scorsese’’s ‘Gangs of New York’ is at times sprawling with entertainment in its historic vision and at other times is infuriating, always dragging behind it a ball and chain called “stupid revenge story/love story.” I’’m sure the film will get plenty of awards and Oscar nods in prominent categories, and this seems like the Academy’’s familiar plan: ignore a brilliant artist for the majority of their career and then finally reward them late for one of their lesser films. So here’’s hoping Scorsese wins the Oscar he deserved for ‘Raging Bull’ and ‘Goodfellas’.

Nate’s Grade: C+

Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)

My countrymen and fellow Americans, I come here not to praise ‘Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers’ but to bury it. I don’’t know if it’’s a result of being the bridge between the beginning and end of this saga (taking the role of neglected middle child), or a result of unmet sky-high expectations, but I may be alone here in saying that ‘Two Towers’ was a letdown. I’’ll try and frame my reasoning as to not be attacked by hairy hobbits and men with pointy hats and long flowing beards.

1) Story structure. Unlike Fellowship of the Ring, where we’re introduced to a rich world and have suitable character set-up, the second LOTR film puts almost all our characters on the backburner and gives us an insufferably long subplot involving a king and his brood. The movie peters out an ending and seems to throw its hands in the air saying, ““See ya’ a year from now.””

2) Length. This wasn’’t a problem with the previous film but man did ‘Two Towers’ become unbearable as it went. Some described the first film as three hours of walking; well the second could be described as two plus hours of folks hyping a battle and then — a battle. Seriously, there’s a lot of talk about a significant battle …and that’’s it. An hour could have easily been cut from this. It got to the point where my then-girlfriend was sprawled across my lap pleading for me to somehow make the movie end.

3) Characterization. So much time is spent doing nothing you think the film would further round the characters? Oh how stupid you would be. Nothing new seems to be drawn from any character, with the exception of the treacherous yet likable Gollum. Several people from ‘Fellowship’ (Liv Tyler, Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving, Ian McKellen) have screen time that amounts to no more than a cameo, so why in the world aren’’t we getting anything more from our already established heroes? Everyone just looks friggin’ bored. As was I.

4) Excessive dwarf jokes.

I re-watched ‘Fellowship’ and all of the reasons ‘Two Towers’ suffered were not evident. So what does this tell me? Nothing particularly, except not to see the movie in the theater again. ‘Two Towers’ is by no means a bad film. The cinematography, production and special effects are all breath-taking and sweeping. I’’ll still look forward to seeing the next, and last, installment in Peter Jackson’’s ‘Rings’ epic, but ‘Two Towers’ has left a bitter taste of disappointment to linger upon.

Nate’s Grade: B-

Talk to Her (2002)

Before one can assess Talk to Her, the new Spanish import from famed writer/director Pedro Almodovar, one must come to grips with what they have seen. It’’s not every film you see that has a giant vagina. Yes, you read correctly dear reader, a gigantic yet scalable recreation of the most sensitive part of the female anatomy. Was there also a giant penis you might reasonably ask? No, but there was an incredible shrinking man that burrowed into the enormous vagina and lived the rest of his days with the labia and clitoris as his next-door neighbors. And what may be even more surreal is that all of this, thematically and metaphorically upon retrospect, makes absolute sense.

So maybe this opening salacious salvo was a bit hyperbolic, but describing Almodovar’’s unusual meditation on life, love and death can prove quite ponderous. To explain the story of Talk to Her is to miss its complexity and richness. This is a film destined to spark conversation afterwards.

Almodovar’’s colorful melodrama centers on two sets of relationships. Benigno (Javier Camara) is the most attentive boyfriend a woman could have. He talks to former ballerina Alicia (Leonor Watling), washes her hair and makes sure she gets plenty of exercise and attention. Oh yeah, Alicia has also been in a coma for four years. Benigno carries on like he was involved in a normal relationship, except the woman of his heart cannot return a single glance.

Marco (Dario Grandinetti) is recovering from a former relationship when he falls completely in love with Lydia (Rosario Flores), a female bullfighter. She is having trouble competing in a very male dominated “sport” (I don’’t really consider stabbing animals a sport per se). At the start of a bullfight Lydia is horribly gored and dragged around the arena like a rag doll. The results leave Lydia lying in a coma with no hope of ever waking up. It is at the hospital where Marco meets Benigno, who is one of the most helpful nurses. He helps Marco overcome his grief over his fallen love. Benigno shows that unresponsiveness and death cannot deter a man’’s love. The two men bond and become very close; however, dark clouds are on the horizon, as Benigno’’s fantasy cannot last much longer.

Almodovar has routinely enjoyed tweaking the establishment, especially gender roles and religion (there’’s a few tacky priest molestation jokes), but with Talk to Her he attempts to forge serious drama through odd circumstances (ballerinas, bullfighters, giant vaginas, oh my!) and all without the use of irony. The result is a quietly affecting film that burrows its way inside you, much like the shrinking man burrows into … well, you remember.

The movie is darkly comic in its portrayal of Benigno’’s delusional relationship, and yet Talk to Her is also a celebration of love and friendship. The affection that is shown is perplexing but also transfixing with the ability to love someone who is mentally not even there. The film questions the compensations we make for love. Some people pretend that their mate is a different person and glaze over character flaws. Could it not be possible then that someone would compensate for an entire person?

Almodovar has created a very female-centric film despite our female leads spending the majority of their screen time lying perfectly still. Talk to Her is an engrossing and intriguing character-driven story. It may start out like a sick joke but the layers of humanity Almodovar effortlessly injects into his story create the most bizarrely touching movie of 2002.

Nate’s Grade: A

%d bloggers like this: