Monthly Archives: January 2003

Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (2002)

The premise is undeniably amusing: game show host and creator Chuck Barris (Sam Rockwell) in between escorting Dating Game couples and introducing Gong Show losers, was a hired killer for the CIA. The directorial debut by George Clooney is impressive on a technical level. Clooney is inventive with scene changes, camera angles, lighting, editing, color palettes … I don’’t know whether to champion him or credit his excellent cinematographer, but hat’s off to whomever designed the look of this movie. Rockwell is great and carries the film well, though I think he lacks the proper ability for self-loathing that the character needs. The brilliant weirdness of the story is tempered by famed scribe Charlie Kaufman’’s astute sense of the intricately bizarre. Kaufman is a master of the offbeat, but he does more with his story structures and the ability to keep surprising than any other screenwriter. Confessions of a Dangerous Mind is a cheeky diversion into the “unauthorized autobiography” written by Barris himself. The movie itself is one big joke and Clooney tells it like a pro.

Nate’s Grade: B+

Better Luck Tomorrow (2002)

This film shows a fascinating side to the underbelly to suburban malaise. The story centers on a group of Asian-American friends that are social delinquents and petty criminals that can get away with it because they’re star students. It’s an interesting dichotomy in Justin Lin’’s directorial debut. The cast is strong and the pacing is brisk. The opening five minutes yanks you into this world and places you in the hands of a confidant voice. Familiar elements abound like unrequited love, jealousy, crashing lows, but Better Luck Tomorrow gives them a mildly fresh spin. The film’s familiar territory gets the better of it in a languid final act, but the ride is still an enjoyable and entertaining one at that.

Nate’s Grade: B

Catch Me If You Can (2002)

January at the theaters is a tale of two kinds of films. One type are the studio bombs (take Just Married and Darkness Falls, please take them far away). The other type are the prestige pictures expanding their releases in hopes of garnering some of that Oscar magic. A lot of prestige films were released around the holidays and though not every one could be a winner, they were all better than Kangaroo Jack. Well, except for The Hours.

Catch Me If You Can (2002)

Premise: Successful true-life con artist Frank Abagnale Jr. (Leo DiCaprio) zips across the world posing as a pilot, doctor and lawyer – all before the age of 18. A mousy Tom Hanks provides the chasing.

Results: Breezy and light-hearted, Catch is an entertaining and fun romp that works with a charming Leo (unlike in Gangs), a jazzy score and a skillful recreation of the 1960s life and mood. Spielberg hasn’’t made a film under two hours since 1989, so Catch is a tad long.

Nate’s Grade: B

Chicago (2002)

January at the theaters is a tale of two kinds of films. One type are the studio bombs (take Just Married and Darkness Falls, please take them far away). The other type are the prestige pictures expanding their releases in hopes of garnering some of that Oscar magic. A lot of prestige films were released around the holidays and though not every one could be a winner, they were all better than Kangaroo Jack. Well, except for The Hours.

Chicago (2002)

Premise: Roxie Hart (Renee Zellweger), hungry for fame, finally grasps it when she kills her lover and is put on trial. Silver-tongue lawyer Billy Flynn (Richard Gere) stirs up the media in her defense, as well as for another starlet killer, Velma Kelly (Catherine Zeta-Jones).

Results: A song-and-dance picture that’s quite toe-tappin’ with imaginative numbers, even if I can only remember like two songs. A surprisingly steady Zeta-Jones really shines and Gere can cut a rug. Chicago is just lively fun. Blink and you’ll miss Lucy Liu in it.

Nate’s Grade: B

About Schmidt (2002)

January at the theaters is a tale of two kinds of films. One type are the studio bombs (take Just Married and Darkness Falls, please take them far away). The other type are the prestige pictures expanding their releases in hopes of garnering some of that Oscar magic. A lot of prestige films were released around the holidays and though not every one could be a winner, they were all better than Kangaroo Jack. Well, except for The Hours.

About Schmidt (2002)

Premise: Retired and recently widowed, Warren Schmidt (Jack Nicholson) must learn to live his own life for the first time. Warren travels across the country to rediscover himself and stop his resentful daughter from marrying a man-child with a mullet.

Results: Nicholson downplays his usual shark grin to deliver one of his best performances in a funny, tragic, savage yet warm-hearted film. About Schmidt, from the creators of Election and Citizen Ruth, is one of the best films of 2002.

Nate’s Grade: A

The Hours (2002)

Okay, after watching the Golden Globes award show and seeing ‘The Hours’ crowned with the highest prize, and hearing incessantly about Nicole Kidman’’s fake prosthetic nose in the movie, it was time to venture into that darkened theater and see how good the awards-friendly ‘The Hours’ was. Little did I fully realize what I was getting myself into.

Nicole Kidman plays Virginia Woolf, who is in the midst of writing her novel Mrs. Dalloway, where she proposes to display a woman’s entire life through the events of a single day. Julianne Moore plays Laura Brown, a housewife in 1951 having difficulty adjusting to a domestic life that she feels ill equipped for. Meryl Streep plays Clarissa Vaughan, a gay copy-editor in 2001 planning a party for a poet and former lover (an emaciated Ed Harris), who is suffering from the late stages of AIDS. These three storylines will be juggled as the film progresses, with each woman’s life deeply changing before the end of the day.

The Hours’ is a meandering mess where the jigsaw pieces can be easily identified. The attempt at a resolution for an ending, tying the three storylines together, is handled very clumsily. The film spins on and on that you start to believe the title may be more appropriate than intended. What this movie needed was a rappin’ kangaroo, post haste! The film is wrought with victimization and screams “”Give me an award already!”” Before you know it you’re being bludgeoned to death with what is profoundly the most over serious Lifetime network movie ever assembled. And there’’s nothing fundamentally wrong with Lifetime movies but ‘The Hours’ does not share the sensibilities of its TV” brethren.

Kidman, nose and all, gives a strong performance displaying the torture and frailty of a writer trapped within her own mind but too often relies on wistful staring or icy glares. Moore is effectively demoralized but cannot resonate with such a shallow character. Streep is the least effective of the three and fizzles among an over-stuffed assembly of characters.

The supporting cast is unjustly left for dead. The characters are seen as parody (Toni Collette as Moore’’s un-liberated homemaker neighbor), extraneous (Claire Danes as Streep’’s daughter, Allison Janney as Streep’’s lover, Jeff Daniels as Harris’ ex-lover, you know what, almost anyone in the Streep storyline), one-note (the workmanlike John C. Reilly who plays yet another doting and demystified husband) or merely obnoxious (Moore’’s brat child that refuses to separate from her). It appears ‘The Hours’ is the three lead actress’ game, and everyone else is not invited to play along.

Stephen Daldry’’s direction shows surprising stability and instinct after his art-house pandering ‘Billy Elliot’ showed little. The technical aspects of ‘The Hours’ are quite competent, especially the sharp editing and musical score, which just points out further how slickly hollow and manufactured the film is.

The Hours’ is an over-glossed, morose film that is too self-important for its own good. It sucks the life out of everything. And for all its doom and gloom and tsunami of tears, the only insightful thing ‘The Hours’ is trying to pass off onto the public is that women are more depressed than you think.

Nate’s Grade: C

Narc (2002)

Stop me if you’’ve heard this before. A hard-nosed and diligent cop (Jason Patrick) gets taken off the force after in accident while serving in the field. The bureau brings him back in the help of solving a case collecting cobwebs, the death of an officer undercover. This cop gets teamed up with a hothead (Ray Liotta) who doesn’’t “play by all the rules” who becomes increasingly more suspicious that said hothead breaks more rules than enforces. Oh, and diligent cop’s neglected wife and child incessantly worry over his well being as he becomes consumed by the work. What’s that, you want me to stop? Well okay then.

So what do we get with ‘Narc’? Well, Ray Liotta yells. A lot. He’’ll huff and puff until smoke blows out his ears and veins jump from his neck. Liotta eats scenery uncontrollably like Marlon Brando left alone at the Cheesecake Factory.

Narc’ attempts to tell a gritty police drama in the same manner of ‘The French Connection’ but, instead, turns into every other “gritty” cop movie. The twists (I use this word lightly because every turn is easily telegraphed) do nothing to liven up this rote rogue copper flick. Let’’s face it, every cop drama is plot driven, even the classics like ‘L.A. Confidential’ and ‘The French Connection’. So if you don’’t have a good story then there’s no gas in this car. And ‘Narc’ barely runs on fumes.

Writer/director Joe Carnahan tries to play window dressing with some superfluous camera tricks in an attempt to jazz up the proceedings. The opening handheld chase scene could give the makers of ‘The Blair Witch Project’ motion sickness. The editing can at times simulate an annoying fly buzzing around your ear. The result of these tricks is like covering a turd with chocolate and selling it to the masses.

Narc’ won’’t quicken any pulses or knock any socks out of their vicinity. So what will you get? Well Ray Liotta yelling at you, which, surprisingly, could lead to audience narc-olepsy. Even that horrible pun is better than watching the film. I think that says it all.

Nate’s Grade: C

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