Catch Me If You Can(5)
torn between whether the death penalty is worse than life imprisonment
should see Catch Me If You Can. Sitting through this thing should resolve
that dilemma conclusively. Death
is merciful compared with monotony.
Spielberg lost it? He apparently directed this; at least that’s what the
credits say. It’s hard to believe that the guy who directed fast-moving
films like Jaws and the Indiana Jones series and Duel also directed this
ponderous paceless piece. Catch Me If You Can might have been a good
80-minute movie. However this
story, loosely based on ‘60s era teenage poseur Frank Abagnale, Jr.
(Leonardo DiCaprio), runs an interminable 2 hours and 20 minutes.
One thinks one is in for life.
It’s not just slow, it’s sloooooooooooow.
And, talk about
wasted talent! If Tom Hanks is truly one of the great actors of our time, a
dubious premise at best, then this is a deplorable dissipation of that
talent. Hanks’ role in this
film, as an FBI agent (Carl Hanratty) chasing Abagnale, is one
dimensional, and could have been adequately handled by a fairly competent
character actor (although, in truth, one doesn’t come swimmingly to
mind). In fact, while I’m
on it, if Hanks’ role really is star quality, Clark Gable or Spencer
Tracy or Russell Crowe would have added something to it.
Hanks disappears in this turgid script by Jeff Nathanson.
looking for a cure for insomnia, avoid this if you can.
January 3, 2003
About Schmidt (8/10)
Talk To Her (8)
Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (1)
The Recruit (8)
Till Human Voices Wake Us (9)
How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days (6)
Blind Spot: Hitler’s Secretary (9)
Dark Blue (1)
The Hours (1)
The Hunted (8/10)
Bringing Down the House (4)
Tears of the Sun (5)
This is a
Hollywood War Movie in the style of Michael Mann, which means it’s too
long and contains a plethora of reaction shots.
Too bad, too, because Director Antonio Fuqua’s heart seems to be in
the right place.
The setup for the
film is that Lt. A.K. Waters (Bruce
Willis) takes his Navy Seal squad into Nigeria to rescue Dr. Lena Kendricks
(Monica Bellucci) and two nuns from marauding rebels who were raping and
pillaging. After landing the doc wants to stay if Waters won’t take
all the people in her charge. Waters
tricks her into the ‘copter and they fly away.
Waters then changes his mind and they return to the people who were
in her care. A few fly away in
the ‘copters, leaving Waters with the doctor and the rest of the people.
How long would it
take you to film that? Ten
Certainly not longer than that, right?
It takes Fuqua over 40 minutes to get this across.
We get shot after shot of people contemplating their navels,
rainforests, waterfalls, more contemplation, lizards that look like Gila
monsters, rain, more contemplation. It’s
The rest of the
movie is Waters and his squad trying to get everyone to safety, fighting off
the marauding hordes, and there appear to be thousands.
Waters’ Superior Officer, Captain Bill Rhodes (Tom Skerritt),
refuses support and orders Waters to abandon the people he’s trying to
save and return to the ship. Waters
ignores him. All the while
Waters’ squad never runs out of ammo, despite firing thousands of rounds
at the pursuers and not being resupplied by Rhodes, but, then, this is a
Hollywood War. And only in a
Hollywood War could a 7-man squad elude thousands of pursuers who know
exactly where they are.
This film does
contain one of the worst actresses I’ve ever seen (well, let’s not talk
about Julianna Moore [oh, come on, all she ever plays apparently is a ‘50s
housewife…and badly] and Sandra Bullock).
She’s one of the natives and it seems as if she’s always crying,
although she’s unable to shed real tears.
One can’t tell from the expression on her face whether she’s
laughing or crying, but the assumption is that she’s crying because people
are being maimed and killed. Who
would laugh? Her performance
(?) is almost worth the price of admission.
I only gave this a
5 because, even though I liked the idea Fuqua’s trying to get across (that
bad things happen when good men don’t act), Tears of the Sun is too long
and factually ludicrous.
March 8, 2003
The ad for Basic
quotes a reviewer (Earl Bittman, Wireless Magazine, Houston) as saying,
“Samuel L. Jackson turns in a phenomenally ruthless and devilishly
delightful performance.” When
you consider that Jackson has, at best, 15 lines in the entire movie, and
that’s the best thing a reviewer can say about the entire film, you should
get the idea. Jackson is in the opening sequence and he’s in the end with
a few scenes in the middle. He’s
forgettable, at best, and, to give Bittman credit, a forgettable performance
exceeds the quality of this movie.
apparently about a squad of trainees dropped into a jungle in the middle of
a hurricane. Bad things happen
and when they are picked up, several are dead, killed by their comrades.
John Travolta, a civilian, is called in to investigate.
The story is then told in a Rashomon-like fashion with two of the
survivors telling their story in flashback, both of which are predictably
inconsistent. The problem is
that the film doesn’t establish the identities of the characters before
the investigation begins so the audience has no idea who they’re talking
about when they refer to Styles or Dunbar or Pike or Kendall or Meuller.
As a result the telling of the story is total confusion.
I have little
doubt that if you make the misguided decision to go to this you will not
have any idea what’s going on because the script is so convoluted it’s
beyond comprehension. The
ending is the worst, non-sequitor ending of a movie since The Spanish
Prisoner. It renders what came
before nonsensical. You exit
the theater saying to yourself, “I sat through this for THAT?”
In fact, I’ll
end this review with another quote from the ad, this one from Mairianna
Bachynsky, ATV/CTV Entertainment, “… a twist you won’t believe.”
That’s for sure.
April 1, 2003
Bend it Like Beckham (9)
teenager, Jess (Parminder Nagra), growing up in London, wants to play soccer
against the wishes of her traditional parents.
She befriends another player, Keira (Jules Paxton), whose mother also
opposes her daughter playing. Jess develops a crush on her coach, Joe
(Jonathan Rhys Meyers), jeopardizes the traditional marriage of her sister,
and her life becomes very complicated. The two mothers (Shaheen Khan and
Juliet Stevenson) are the two funniest moms to appear on the screen in
years. Anything more I say could jeopardize your enjoyment of this movie.
Suffice it to say this is a delightful, uplifting treat, whether you
like soccer or not (and I don’t).
Nowhere in Africa (9)
story of a young, non-religious Jewish couple and their 5-year old daughter
who flee Nazi Germany in 1938 to try to survive in the wilds of Kenya.
This is a tender, intuitive, captivating 138-minute journey of change
and maturation with exceptional acting by all.
The gorgeous cinematography captures the essence of life in Africa.
This film contains an original, brilliant depiction of African
natives as normal people who just choose to live their lives differently
than those who choose to live in cities, instead of showing them as
ignorant, subhuman savages, which is the way they are generally depicted on
the screen. This is a wonderful
film. I was emotionally exhausted when it ended. In German with subtitles.
Head of State (1)
I went to
this expecting to see what would happen if a black comedian was elected
President and expecting to like it. That
shows how gullible I am. First,
it’s not about what would happen if a black man gets elected.
It’s about a black man’s campaign to be elected.
And I didn’t like it.
Chris Rock is a
Washington DC Alderman who’s drafted to be the party’s candidate for
President when the real candidate dies in an airplane accident.
Rock’s picked because the party leader wants to run in the next
election so he wants someone who doesn’t stand a chance. This is, I
imagine, supposed to be satire. But
if dying is easy and comedy is hard, satire is much more difficult.
It requires intelligence, a sense of irony, and caustic wit.
Head of State might have qualified if it weren’t so dumb, lacking
in irony, and cluelessly witless. To
call it “stupid” doesn’t do it justice.
egalitarianly racist. There’s not an admirable white person in the entire film.
But what’s really remarkable is that there’s only one admirable
black person in the film, and it’s not Rock, but the girl he’s pursuing
(sorry, I can’t figure out what her name is or
was in the film and can’t get it from production notes, either, but
it’s not Robin Givens). If this exact film had been produced and directed by a white
man, Rock would be leading Jessie Jackson and Al Sharpton and all the other
rabble-rousers to boycott it because of its racial stereotypes.
Rock pictures a
world that couldn’t possibly exist because everybody is so doltish and
venal they’d have a hard time figuring out how to eat to stay alive.
Compounding the ills of this film, Rock can’t help but telegraph his
political beliefs, which are numbingly superficial, juvenile, and
ill-informed (but, then, he’s “Hollywood,” so what else is new?).
wrote, directed and stars in this thing.
That’s four strikes, one more than needed for an ignominious
April 9, 2003
Anger Management (8)
into this I was an angry camper. All
the funniest moments up ‘til then had been shown in the trailer, so they had
little impact. The people responsible for the trailer should never have
lunch in this town again because they had no faith in their film.
There’s no excuse for showing the punch lines in a trailer to try
to get people to come to your film.
There, I got that
off my chest. I feel so much better. Next, I think sometime in the near
future I’ll write a review that consists of just two words that will say
it all. Those two words are
“Jack Nicholson.” I’m not
one who thinks actors are worth nearly anything like what they get.
$20 million for Sandra Bullock?
Give me a break! But if
anybody is worth it, Jack is. This
guy just seems to get better with each movie.
I can’t remember walking out of a Nicholson movie without thinking
that he just can’t get any better than that.
Anger Management is no different.
Nicholson is magnificent. If
the film’s P.R. people had the confidence in Jack that he has earned, they
wouldn’t have made a trailer so destructive to the enjoyment of the film.
But Nicholson isn’t alone here.
His co-star, Adam Sandler, is right up there with him. Together they make this film a big winner.
is a comedy fantasy. By
fantasy, I don’t mean people flying and all that.
I mean that the things that happen just couldn’t happen in real
life. But, really, neither
could any of the screwball comedies. Can
you imagine a woman living with a leopard as in Bringing Up Baby? The talent
is in making it seem like it would play in real life, and that’s what
Director Peter Segal and writer David Dorfman have accomplished.
I left my
incredulity at the door and entered this fantasy world with no pre-conceived
notions of how things really are. Dave
Buznik (Adam Sandler) is a seemingly mild mannered Caspar Milquetoast with a
gorgeous, sexy girl friend, Linda (Marisa Tomei), and a job that appears to
be some sort of executive assistant for an abusive boss.
He boards a plane to visit his boss when he’s manipulated into a
confrontation with a flight attendant.
The judge in the resulting trial orders him into “Anger
Management” and a class given by therapist Dr. Buddy Rydell (Nicholson),
who decides to move in with him. From there Buznik’s life is turned upside down by Buddy.
His romance is threatened, as is his job. Adding to the pleasure is a
myriad of cameos. Every so
often a familiar face appears to join in the fun.
This film is
delightful, funny nonsense that had me laughing out loud.
April 12, 2003
Phone Booth (8)
was first proposed to Alfred Hitchcock thirty years ago and apparently he
was interested. Good thing he
didn’t make it because the last good movie he made was before Psycho in
1960. After Psycho everything
was second rate.
This film had a
lot of big actors who expressed interest, signed up, then bailed.
Then Colin Farrell signed up and made it but they had to keep it in
the can until Farrell became better known.
After he established himself in The Recruit and Daredevil, it was
ready to be released. Then Iraq
happened and it had to be shelved again.
Now it’s finally out.
Stu Shepherd (Farrell)
is an egotistical, smarmy PR guy a la Tony Curtis in Sweet Smell of Success,
who uses a phone booth to hit on a girl so his wife won’t see the calls on
his cell phone bill. After
hanging up after making his daily call to his girl friend, the phone rings
and he answers. The Caller (Kiefer Sutherland) tells Stu he’s got a gun
trained on him and if he hangs up, he’s dead.
The rest of the movie is Shepherd trying to survive in what appears
to be an impossible situation.
The Caller shoots
a passer by to establish his bona fides.
The cops come, headed by Forest Whitaker, and they think Stu has a
gun and that he shot the passerby. Stu
is in a pickle, trapped in the phone booth in front of the cops and a huge,
gathering crowd on a major New York City street.
The entire film
takes place in the phone booth. Not
an easy task, it is extremely well directed by Joel Schumacher, from a good
script by Larry Cohen. Farrell
is spectacular. Sutherland’s
voice is scary and threatening in its calmness. This is a believable,
entertaining, tense, well-made, well acted 80-minute movie that does not
telegraph its ending.
April 12, 2003
meager performances by Dustin Hoffman and Andy Garcia, this caper film sinks
like a rock in its convoluted, smarter-than-the-audience style.
The idea is that you never know what’s going on but that Jake Vig
(Ed Burns) does, even though the film starts out with him on his knees with
a gun pointed at the back of his head.
This seems to be
the year for filmmakers who want to keep their audience befuddled and in the
dark. From the trailer that
leads you to believe that Hoffman and Garcia are the stars of the film when
in reality each has only a small part, this is a dishonest film throughout.
Ed Burns and his crew unsuspectingly steal money from crime boss Hoffman,
who has one of them killed in retaliation.
Burns then offers to make it up to him by running a grift for
Hoffman’s benefit. Astonishingly
told in flashback, Confidence is unsubtly trying to fool its audience.
To its discredit it’s so pseudo-byzantine and hard to follow that it
succeeds in spades. Telling a
caper film in flashback just doesn’t work.
How many times can you see someone shot with a plastic bag of red dye
inside to look like blood and be surprised that he isn’t really, really
dead? Eventually, you get the
that Hoffman and Garcia would opt in to this deficient film.
Garcia is a hot leading man and Hoffman (who was a contemporary of
mine at John Burroughs Junior High School, about my most enjoyable year
in school, but, then, that’s another story) has a distinguished career to
think of. What were they
Maybe they were
thinking of The Sting. Alas,
The Sting, this is not. For one
thing, it lacks the talent of Director George Roy Hill.
For another, it lacks the talents of Redford and Newman.
For another, it lacks a coherent script. For another, it lacks humor.
For yet another, it lacks intelligence.
But I ramble.
April 25, 2003
Malibu’s Most Wanted (1)
Gluckman (Jaime Kennedy) is a rich, white rapper wannabe, son of California
gubernatorial candidate Bill Gluckman (Ryan O’Neal). Bill’s campaign
manager, Tom Gibbons (Blair Underwood) hires two well-spoken black actors
(“trained at Juilliard and The Pasadena Playhouse”) to impersonate
gang-bangers, kidnap B-Rad, take him to the hood, and scare him back into
I always thought
Ryan O’Neal was an underrated comedic actor.
But with Malibu’s Most Wanted his career has surely hit rock
bottom. This film is
infuriating it’s so bad. There
is one scene, for example, where B-Rad stands on top of a car as rival gang
members fire at him with automatic rifles from about 20 feet away.
Nobody gets hit!
rapping throughout is enough to drive one out of the theater. Trivializing
kidnapping and gang violence, both major societal problems, this is unfunny,
mindless, infantile idiocy.
April 25, 2003
The Good Thief (3)
I have come
to respect Nick Nolte’s abilities as an actor.
The Nick Nolte that appears in The Good Thief, however, is not the
same Nick Nolte I admired. Here
he mumbles his way about as if he were doing a pale imitation of Marlon
Brando, circa 1951. I
kept expecting him to rip his shirt and yell, “STELLA!”
The first hour of
this remake of the 1955 French Noir Bob le Flambeur is so slow and dark it’s
soporific. After about 20
minutes I bought a cup of coffee to induce wakefulness.
When that didn’t work I resorted to a chocolate bar.
The first hour is where the film should develop characters and
explain who they are and why they’re there.
Alas, Director Neil Jordan apparently didn’t feel that was
important enough because, although characters are introduced, it’s hell
trying to figure out who’s who and why. And the cinematography is what I call pretentious
avant-garde. You’ve gotta
see it to believe it.
Montagnet (Nolte) is a drugged-up gambler who puts together a crew to rob a
casino. There’s a young
Russian girl, Anne (Nutsa Kukhianidze) he saves from a pimp, a cop who’s
chasing him for some reason, and a bunch of other guys who are either good
guys or bad guys (who knows? Who
cares?). Nothing’s ever explained.
Why it takes an hour to set this up is mystifying.
OK, they’re going to rob the casino.
How long did it take to say that?
A lot less than one hour, I can tell you.
That’s why you better take some sort of stimulant if you want to
survive the first hour…because NOTHING HAPPENS!
wait, one thing does happen. One
of the most derivatively drivel scenes Hollywood puts in virtually every
film about a drug addict. Bob’s
a drug addict, right? So he has
to clean up to rob the casino, right? So
guess what he does. I’m sure
you’re way ahead of me. He
takes his Russian girl friend to his apartment, handcuffs himself to the
bed, throws the key on the floor, and tells her not to give him the key when
he asks for it! Gee, that’s
originality for you. Naturally,
a few scenes later he’s sweating and thrashing and asks for the key and
she won’t give it to him. Cut
to three and a half days later and he’s clean (and never again tempted,
nor are drugs ever again mentioned). Hollywood
can always cure an addict with a pair of handcuffs, a bed, a compatriot to
deny him the key, and three and a half days.
My only question is how did he go to the bathroom?
ends with one of those absurd poker games Hollywood loves. You know, the ones where every hand has a full house beating
a flush. And this isn’t
really poker, it’s just five card showdown with no betting after the
initial bet and no drawing, so the odds against getting even one good hand
in an evening are huge. In a
game like this, a Queen high hand will probably win most of the time. But we
never see a hand worse than two of a kind!
the while Nolte’s mumbling stuff you really have to strain to hear. My advice? Don’t
strain. When you walk out of the theater, you’re going to be saying
to your companion, “how did that happen?”
But you really won’t care.
A Mighty Wind (1)
understand this movie. I was a big fan of folk music, still am.
Starting with The Kingston Trio in the ‘50s and throughout the
‘60s, I listened to, and liked them all.
The music was captivating, the performers talented.
Melodic, great lyrics, wonderful rhythms, what’s not to like?
That’s why this
movie is so mystifying. It’s
a “mockumentary,” a self-styled parody about a group of fictional ‘60s
folk singers who are getting together for a retrospective concert.
But the classic of this youthful genre, This is Spinal Tap, made fun
of things that were there to be made fun of.
This makes fun of things that never were.
It tries to picture the writers and performers of folk music as naïve,
untalented squares. Woody
Guthrie a square? Bob Dylan a square? The
Smothers Brothers squares? I
don’t think so. Just think for a minute of the great folk artists of the
‘50s-‘70s; The Byrds, The Highwaymen, New Christy Minstrels, Bud and
Travis, The Weavers, Pete Seeger, Peter Paul & Mary, The Mommas and the
Poppas, Joni Mitchell, The Brothers Four; I could go on and on.
And the great music! Turn!
Turn! Turn!, Lemon Tree, Kisses Sweeter Than Wine, Greenfields, Both Sides
Now, the list is almost never-ending.
Christopher Guest just doesn’t know what he’s talking about here.
The music, which seems to have been originally written for the movie,
contains lyrics that are, to give them the best of it, inane.
To the contrary, writers of folk music have always had their message.
Their lyrics have a point. Generally
they contain sharp political commentary or tell a story.
Why does Guest want to diminish such message songs as Blowin’ In
The Wind and There’s Something Happening Here, or songs that tell a
history like Creeque Alley, or patriotic songs like This Land is Your Land,
and many, many others by trying to paint all folk music with the wide swath
of the vacuous lyrics he foists upon us in this movie? Is he just nescient? Is
he irresponsible and going for a cheap laugh? Or is he intentionally trying
to belittle, even slander, folk music and its artists? Whatever his motives, this movie is the cheapest of shots,
made without any discernable reason other than greed.
Who’s he basing
these characters on? Nobody in
the picture correlates to anyone in real life of whom I am aware.
I didn’t recognize a parody of anybody I knew in the heyday of
folk. One character, a guy
whose brain had apparently been melted down by excessive drug usage and who
could barely talk coherently, could have been based on Brian Wilson of The
Beach Boys. The only problem is
that Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys did not write or sing folk music
(well, they did have a hit with Sloop John B, but Wilson didn’t write it,
and he recorded it as an homage to The Kingston Trio, who also had a version
of it with a different arrangement). Director
Guest tries to create a picture of all the great folk artists as naïve
airheads. Nothing could be
further from the truth.
I just don’t
understand this movie or the reason it was made (well, greed,
irresponsibility, and ignorance come to mind).
It’s not that you can’t laugh or find something amusing about
folk music. That, after all,
was what The Smothers Brothers were about. This has some mildly amusing
lines but they don’t make sense because the entire film is so off target.
If Guest wanted to attack Folk Music, he could have made fun of the
political points of view. But
to try to paint the artists as dopes and the music as lame is just dead
wrong. If you don’t know
anything about folk music, or don’t like it, you’ll probably find this
amusing. If you are a fan, as I
am, The Mighty Wind is misleading, inaccurate, and reprehensible.
I loathe the lack of integrity that went into making it and the
dearth of respect and consideration for the many talented artists it libels.
May 3, 2003
Only The Strong Survive
© 2003 by Tony Medley
If you like
soul music, this documentary about some remaining legends of soul is
probably a 10, because it’s chock full of singing by Isaac Hayes, Mary
Wilson, Wilson Pickett, Sam Moore and eight other legends of soul.
When I hear soul music, however, it makes me think of the wailing
sound you make when you smack your thumb with a hammer. So this was
excruciating for me to sit through. What’s wrong with singing the songs
with the notes that were written for them instead of adding all that
warbling? But that’s soul and
you either like it or you don’t. I
I did enjoy about this movie was watching
cinéma-vérité by D.A.
Pennebaker, who is widely regarded as one of the pioneers of the genre. This is shot entirely in real time during 1999-2000 with hand
held cameras. It captures a lot
of concert footage and interviews all 12. Roger Friedman, the producer, and
a foxnews.com columnist, took for himself the job of asking the questions
and he was sycophantically amateurish.
What an opportunity for someone with knowledge to probe these people
in detail! What a waste! If you’re going to the trouble of recording this valuable
historical record, why give such an important responsibility to such a
obsequious, insubstantial questions pretty much destroyed the only part of
the film that will be of interest to people who aren’t fans of soul, like
me. Surely they could have
found an expert who would have known how to draw these people out more. Fortunately, his appearances are limited and the singers are
generally on screen alone, giving responses to questions we can’t hear
I thought I was
dying of a heart attack as I sat through the seemingly interminable last
half hour, which is almost entirely concert footage.
People who love soul must have been in seventh heaven.
In summary, for me there was too much soul music and too little
quality interview. Since I am
no devotee of soul, I left this unrated.
April 22, 2003
Copyright © 2003
by Tony Medley
Holes is the story
of a boy, Stanley (Shia LaBeouf), who’s sent to a work camp after being
accused of stealing a pair of sneakers (shades of Jean Valjean!).
Everyone at the camp is put to work digging holes in a dry lakebed.
There are flashbacks and a bad warden (Sigourney Weaver) with two bad
underlings (Jon Voight and Tim Blake Nelson), and Stanley’s friend, Zero (Khleo
Thomas). The story is why in
the world are they digging all these holes, raising memories of John Lennon
wondering how many holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall?
But should it take 111 minutes to tell this story?
Not in this lifetime, it shouldn’t.
I could tell it in ten minutes and, using literary license, could
even fill a normal 90-minute movie so it wasn’t too tedious.
But 111 minutes? Not
But these people
must be living in some nether world, certainly not in America. Stanley is a
good boy with no record who’s hit on the head by a pair of sneakers and
then arrested, tried, convicted, and sent to prison.
Worse, he’s sent to what appears to be a chain gang type camp
populated entirely by children at hard labor.
I’d like the filmmakers to tell me where this happens in America.
China and Cuba, maybe, not America.
Talk about a sick, surrealistic fantasy world!
family, seemingly nice people (the father is The Fonz, Henry Winkler,
who’s a nerd more interested in his inventions than in Stanley’s
plight), doesn’t care a lick about him .until the end. This is a real
never-never land. On one level I guess children will like it because it is about
children. But what
kind of filmmakers make a children’s movie that wants children to believe
that a good, well-mannered, young boy can be railroaded into prison because
he was inadvertently hit on the head by a pair of sneakers, and then that
he’d be sentenced to hard labor in a hell-hole of a desert?
This is no story I’d want an impressionable child to witness.
This is more a horror story than a children’s story. But, then, Bambi’s pretty frightening, too, so Disney’s in
familiar territory here.
The only thing
worthwhile in this movie for me was Jon Voight’s performance, which was
off the board. This is a Voight
never seen before.
OK, some people
won’t take this as seriously as I did, and will enjoy it.
Children might enjoy it. As far as I’m concerned, in addition to
being far too long, it’s reprehensible to make a movie like this, give it
a ridiculous Hollywood happy ending, and then target it to children.
May 1, 2003
The Dancer Upstairs (8)
Copyright © 2003
by Tony Medley
Malkovich’s directorial debut, police captain Rejas (Javier Bardem) is
after a secretive revolutionary, known as Ezequiel (Malkovich), who is
causing random acts of violence and murder throughout an unnamed Latin
American country. Rejas is a
seemingly phlegmatic head of a police squad assigned the task of finding
Ezequiel. Despite a wife and a
daughter, he gets the hots for his daughter’s mysterious ballet teacher,
Yolanda (Laura Morante), which leads to complications for Rejas.
Rejas and his boss, who gives him a free rein to look for Ezequiel,
are under pressure from the Presidente’s aide to find Ezequiel and turn
him in quietly so he can be quickly eliminated.
When Rejas doesn’t produce quick results, conflict arises between
him and his boss, and the Presidente’s people.
One of the ladies
accompanying me to the film leaned over when Bardem, who reminded me of Raul
Julia, first appeared on the screen and whispered, “That’s a cute guy.”
Another said, "Javier Bardem is much more
than just 'a
cute guy' or mere visual candy ... he oozes sensuality, controlled
intensity, intelligence and purpose --- a mighty powerful combo!"
So I guess women will like this a lot because he’s onscreen almost
the entire film.
Although the film
starts deliberately and proceeds at a leisurely speed, the tension slowly
builds throughout its two hour eight minute running time.
It held my interest because I was never quite sure where it was
heading. I rate it an 8, but it would have been a 9 but for an unnecessary
final few minutes of Directorial Conceit that left me walking out of the
theater less enthralled than I would have been had the movie ended a few
May 10, 2003
Down With Love (3)
Copyright © 2003
by Tony Medley
In 1962 Barbara
Novak (Renée Zellweger) writes a bestselling work of non-fiction.
Catcher Block (Ewan McGregor) stiffs her when she tries to get him to
write a pre publication article on it for the magazine owned by Peter
McMannus (David Hyde Pierce). When
she becomes a celebrity due to the success of the book, Block masquerades as
a naïve foreigner (who knows what that accent is that he sports?) and sets
out to woo, win, expose, and destroy her.
This movie proves
the truth of the hackneyed adage, “they don’t make them like they used
to.” While Down With Love is
clearly a clumsy homage to Pillow Talk, the Rock Hudson-Doris Day classic
from 1959, it pales in comparison. Pillow
Talk contained scintillating double entendres.
The double entendres in Down With Love are coarse and vulgar.
Pillow Talk contained clever split screen shots of Day and Hudson
talking on the telephone. The
split screen shots of Zellweger and McGregor in Down With Love simulate them
engaging in every type of sex act known to man and woman.
They are, in a word, repulsive.
validated by this film is “Clothes don’t make the woman.”
I’m a big Renée Zellweger fan.
But here, even though she dresses like Doris Day and reads lines that
might have been written for Doris, Renée is no Doris.
And Ewan McGregor is no Rock Hudson.
McGregor is so miscast in the role of a roué that he destroys what
little chance this had to be an entertaining movie, which, to be truthful,
given the vacuous script, credited to Dennis Drake and Eve Ahlert, and inept
directing by Peyton Reed, wasn’t much.
There’s more chemistry between McGregor and David Hyde Pierce than
there is between McGregor and Zellweger.
In fact, McGregor reminded me of the 150-pound weakling who was
always having sand kicked in his face in the Charles Atlas ads of
There are only two
good things I can say about this film.
First is that the recreation of the late ‘50s fashion is well done,
and the second is the presence, however fleeting, of Tony Randall, who was
in the real movie. I just wonder if he read the script before he agreed to
contribute to this debacle.
To be fair, I saw
it in an audience dominated by seniors, and they laughed.
Lucky them; I saw nothing that caused me to even crack a smile.
The running time for this is 110 minutes; too long, but it seemed
much, much longer. Unfortunately
the best part of the movie is a dance performed by McGregor and Zellweger
over the closing credits. If
you want to see this film, if it starts at, let’s say 7:00 p.m., I suggest
that you arrive at 8:45 p.m.. That
way you can see the dance number and not miss anything.
May 17, 2003
Man on the Train (8)
Copyright © 2003
by Tony Medley
Hallyday) gets off a train in a small town in France and meets Monsieur
Manesquier (Jean Rochefort), a retired poetry professor, who offers to put
him up in his gothic mansion he inherited from his mother, and where he has
lived as a bachelor since his mother died.
Milan is actually in town to rob the local bank. The two men bond in
a strange way, exchanging stories of their lives and each grows to envy the
other. This is a poignant,
sometimes humorous story without sex, violence, or profanity.
craggy face is a reason in and of itself to see this film.
Character actor Jack Elam had one of the great cinematic faces, but
Hallyday rivals him.
One negative of this
film, and one that plagues many foreign films, is post production blues.
I’ve never understood, in this age of amazing special effects, why
films with subtitles can’t have white subtitles when there’s a dark
background and black subtitles when there’s a light background.
Yet when the left side of the screen is light, for example and the
right side is dark, you can’t see the subtitles on the left side because
the white subtitle blends with the light background, or vice-versa.
When filmmakers can make people fly, and John Wayne advertise
products that didn’t exist when he did, are you telling me that they
can’t make subtitles that blend properly with the background so you can
Worse is the
translation. I saw Man on the
Train with a woman who teaches high school French and was born and raised in
France (is that enough qualification?).
She told me the translation was pitiful.
As an example, there’s a line that’s translated as “he has no
tits,” which didn’t make much sense when I read it.
She told me the actual dialogue was “he has no balls.”
Now if the translator doesn’t know the difference between
“tits” and “balls” someone’s being pennywise and pound-foolish.
It’s a shame that a wonderful film like this, one that depends on
an intelligent script, is so bedeviled by poor post production work
involving the subtitles.
This film has a
point. The film critic for the
Los Angeles Times missed it completely, but then her reviews generally
indicate that she either doesn’t actually watch the movies she reviews or
she can’t comprehend what she’s seeing.
Regardless, this is a slow movie.
But if you like good writing and good acting and good directing and a
good script and are patient and willing to think, this can be rewarding. In
French with subtitles.
The Italian Job (7)
Copyright © 2003
by Tony Medley
Caper films got a
poke in the eye with the deplorable Confidence and The Good Thief earlier
this year. The Italian Job brings the genre back into respectability.
Unfortunately, this is another film that’s shot in the foot by the
people who created the trailer for it, which shows the audience the most
shocking moment of the film. Why
can’t those promoting films have more confidence in the film they’re
promoting and more respect for their audience and refrain from showing the
biggest moments in a trailer? I’m
not going to reveal this moment to protect those who want to see it without
having seen the trailer.
(Mark Wahlberg) is after Steve (Edward Norton) because Steve double-crossed
Charlie and his gang. The way
Charlie devises to get Steve is sheer fantasy that could only happen in the
movies. But, hey, this IS a movie!
So it’s OK. The fun is
in watching Charlie reassemble his gang and get Stella Bridger (Charlize
Theron), the daughter of Charlie’s mentor, John Bridger (Donald
Sutherland), to join them, find Steve, and bring him to his just reward.
Wahlberg is as understated as Norton is hateful.
I liked both performances.
Coming in at a workable
100 minutes, this is a film with no gratuitous violence, no profanity and no
sex, unless you’re like me for whom just looking at Charlize Theron
constitutes a sexual experience, and you get a lot of time to look at her.
of Venice, Italy, and Los Angeles is beautiful.
The car chase scenes, though exciting, are preposterous, as is the
ingenious plan finally devised by Charlie. But this is escapist fare that doesn’t pretend to be
Shakespeare. For what it
purports to be, I found it entertaining. It passed the watch test with
flying colors, because I didn't look once.
June 1, 2003
Copyright © 2003
by Tony Medley
This is not a
movie for everyone. It’s a story of two people trapped in a marriage in a small
Sicilian fishing village on Lampedusa, a small island closer to Tunisia than
it is to Sicily. Grazie
(Valeria Golino) is a beautiful mother of two boys and a Sophia Lorenesque
teenage daughter, Marinella (Veronica D’Agostino), married to fisherman
Pietro (Vincenzo Amato), who is struggling to hold his family together.
Why? Because Grazie
displays periodic mental instability, like going swimming topless with her
sons in public, blowing her top when Pietro disciplines their son, and
generally acting goofy on occasions. Because
her actions impact everyone in the small village, they want her to go to
Milan for treatment. She reacts
violently. Older son Pasquale
(Francesco Casisa) tries to help her but his childish solution just makes
beautiful cinematography, Respiro captures the claustrophobic life in a
small Sicilian fishing village with nothing to do. Marinella deals with her
awakening sexuality by coming on to a local policeman.
Younger brother Fillipo (Fillipo Pucillo) causes trouble wherever he
goes, especially tormenting Marinella and her boy friend.
Even though this
is a lusty, brawling group of people, this movie takes its time getting to
wherever it’s going. Some might find it terminally slow. The two women, Golino and D’Agostino, are gorgeous and
Amato has rugged good looks that should attract women.
One of the unique things
about this movie is that it not only examines the relationship between
Grazie and Pietro, it also develops the relationships between the children
and each of their parents. Unfortunately,
the inscrutable ending makes one wonder if it was worthwhile sitting
through. In Italian with subtitles.
May 18, 2003
Bruce Almighty (7)
Copyright © 2003 by Tony Medley
I’ve never been a big fan of Jim
Carrey, who seemed to me to be constantly overacting as an over-the-top, neo
Jerry Lewis nincompoop, so I entered this with trepidation. Bruce Nolan (Carrey) is a TV reporter assigned to frivolous
stories who feels he’s maltreated. When
he’s passed over for the anchor job he so fervently desires, he blames and
maligns God. God hears him and
gives Bruce His power for three weeks.
This changes his life and messes up his relationship with his
long-suffering girl friend, Grace Connelly (Jennifer Anniston).
Almighty sounded silly and looked silly in the trailer, but turns out to be
much better than anticipated. Despite
a few lapses into his old slap-shtick character, Carrey gives a good
performance. The person who
really impressed me, however, was Anniston.
A full-fledged star as a result of her being a part of the ensemble
cast of a number 1-ranked sitcom, instead of resting on her laurels and
demanding above-the-title star status, she contributes another professional
outing in what’s little more than a supporting role, indicating she’s a
serious actress and not just one of those jerks on Friends.
This woman is legit. Morgan Freeman is a worthy successor to George
Burns as God. Coming in at a
workable 94 minutes, this held my interest as I only looked at my watch
June 13, 2003
The Whale Rider (7)
Copyright © 2003
by Tony Medley
Castle-Hughes), whose mother and twin brother died at birth, would be the
heir apparent to become chief of the tribe if she were male.
Her father wants no part of it and moves away, leaving Pai to be
brought up by her grandparents. Her
uncle has accepted the fact that he’s not going to be chief, but comes to
Pai’s aid when her tribal chieftain grandfather, Koro (Rawiri Paratene),
gruffly tradition-bound, refuses to consider his 11-year-old granddaughter,
despite her obvious predilection to become chief.
She is driven but he’s blind to her.
She persists; he rejects…time and again. This is a mythological
story that tugs at the heartstrings. Despite
the constant rejections, Pai continues to honor and love her grandfather.
Castle-Hughes, in her first role, is simply spectacular. Some may
find The Whale Rider slow. I
was captivated and had intermittent tears in my eyes throughout this
touching tale, although I would have ended it differently.
June 8, 2003
Hollywood Homicide (2)
Copyright © 2003
by Tony Medley
This is one of
Writer-Director-Producer Ron Shelton’s best efforts.
The opening credits of all the signs in Los Angeles that say
Hollywood, and the first two minutes hold your interest.
Then the movie tanks, despite a valiant effort by Harrison Ford.
Shelton never fails to disappoint.
He gets A List talent and makes Z List movies.
The story is
incomprehensible. Joe Gavilan (Ford) and K.C. Calden (Josh Hartnett) are
detectives, partners in the LAPD trying to solve a murder of a rap group.
There’s a subplot about an Internal Affairs guy trying to set
Gavilan up. Gavilan’s also a
real estate agent and Calden a wannabe actor, two B plots that are supposed
to provide joke lines. Instead
they’re just ludicrous.
I guess this is
supposed to be a buddy film with Gavilan and Calden always bickering but
beneath the surface we are supposed to know they’re going to bond.
Problem is that there’s zero chemistry between Ford and Hartnett.
Laurel and Hardy they ain’t.
And the love
scenes between Ford and whoever those women in the film are, are
embarrassing. While I’m at
it, who are those women in the movie and why are they there?
One of them’s a madam. Another’s
a clairvoyant. What’s their
connection with Gavilan? Shelton
apparently wants to keep this a secret.
As to Calden, why he’s even in the movie is anybody’s guess,
although there is another subplot about his father’s murder, which
doesn’t seem to bother him much until the final denouement.
The last half of
the movie is the obligatory ploy for the vacuous screenwriter and director
with nothing to say, the car chase. Shelton
validates his lack of original thought by showing the longest, most absurd
car chase ever filmed. It goes
all over Hollywood. When it’s
over Gavilan and Calden are still chasing the bad guys.
And about those bad guys. They
became bad guys without any plot line whatever.
We, the viewers, know they’re bad guys because we see them doing
bad things. But there’s
nothing ever explained in the film why the LAPD would know they are the bad
guys. First they look like good guys.
Then with no evidence other than a tip from an undercover cop and
with nothing else that could even qualify as a clue, they’re bad guys
being chased all over.
thing…one minute Gavilan’s being investigated and charged as being a bad
cop. The next minute every cop
in the LAPD is on his side chasing the bad guys. Huh?
I can’t sign off
without commenting on the most inane interrogation this side of Fearless
Fosdick. Gavilan and Calden are
put in separate, but side-by-side, interrogation rooms.
Gavilan’s cell phone keeps ringing.
Every time it rings it’s sitting on the table between Gavilan and
his interrogator. The
interrogator is frustrated because it keeps ringing and when he tries to
grab it Gavilan always beats him to it.
The interrogator never thinks to just take it away from him.
This happens at least four times.
Calden, on the other hand, takes off his shoes and assumes a yoga
position on the table in his room. Neither
interrogator knows what to do. Even
a movie doesn’t have the right to be this stupid.
June 20, 2003
Charlie’s Angels: Full
Copyright © 2003
by Tony Medley
This version of
Charlie’s Angels comes closer to being among the worst movies I’ve ever
seen than I had ever expected, even though I had seen the dismal trailer.
This thing is pure
garbage. It is replete with
mindless violence without consequence.
There is no plot. The acting is non-existent.
I’ve never bought into the Cameron Diaz myth (that she could act).
This thing validates it. She’s
a smile without substance. The jury was out, as far as I was concerned, on
Drew Barrymore. If she can act,
she hides it here. I have no
idea who Lucy Liu is (yes, I saw Chicago, and I missed her) but if this is
an example, I needn’t worry about putting her in my mind’s Rolodex.
But, to be fair, these three actresses are victimized by the writing
Directing? Well, nothing need
be said about the script because it must have been the result of sitting
5,000 kindergarteners at computers. Like
the proverbial monkey who could end up writing Hamlet, one of them wrote
this. There is no plot. Never
will you hear more junior high-schoolish double entendres (they aren’t
good enough to rise to the level of sophomoric).
For example, Drew Barrymore’s real name is something like Helen
Zass (I don’t remember the first name, but the last was Zass).
What followed was a bunch of “jokes” about rear ends.
Thus, you will understand if I don’t worry about commenting further
on the script. This is nothing
but 105 minutes of mind-numbing violence.
This was directed?
Hollywood has a
lot to answer for in terms of showing violence without consequence.
There are motorcycle crashes where people get wiped out and walk
away. People are shot and walk
away. People fall hundreds of
feet with no injuries. People
are hit with devastating karate kicks and chops and pop up, unscathed.
They walk through fire, unburned.
This is nothing more than a video game with breasts (none of which we
see, although Liu wears a gown cut down to her naval in the closing scene;
alas, we still don’t see anything). The
opening sequence is copied from the spectacular, special effects-driven,
James Bond openings (James had a good start with Dr. No, From Russia With
Love, and Goldfinger, then started the descent into special effects-driven
drivel). The opening of
Charlie’s Angel’s is utterly absurd.
watching this on a different level. Maybe
this is a satire. Maybe the
movie has a point, that violence is…what?
This movie has no point.
Let’s go further.
This movie is racist. Bernie
Mac is as foolish as Stepnfechit, his teeth so white you need sunglasses to
look at him. His character is a bumbling caricature.
Critics complain about Amos ‘n Andy (criticism without merit, I
claim), where the characters were middle class business people.
Why not this?
Believe it or not,
John Cleese has a role in this. Cleese
is one of the great comedic talents of the age.
What’s he doing here? His
appearance in this rubbish desecrates his genius.
I’ve gone on too
long about this piece of dreck. You’re
warned. See this at your peril.
June 27, 2003
Legally Blonde 2: Red, White, and Blonde
Copyright © 2003
by Tony Medley
The verdict is in
on Reese Witherspoon. The jury
has been out for quite awhile. Two years ago Legally Blonde was one of the
best movies of the year. What
made it so unique was that it was on the cusp of being ridiculous, but
cleverly never crossed the line. The
result was a runaway, surprise hit. I
thought it was terrific.
It was such a
spontaneously huge hit that it was a complete surprise, so, to strike while
the iron was hot, Witherspoon rushed out Sweet Home Alabama, which was
Now she returns to
where she made her success and reprises her role as Elle Woods, a
quintessential “dumb Blonde” who, in the original, was dumb like a fox.
What’s the verdict? Legally
Blonde 2 is worse than Sweet Home Alabama and Witherspoon is in danger of
being nothing more than a one-hit wonder, a mere blip on the radar screen.
Instead of being dumb like a fox, here she’s just dumb.
The plot is that Woods is trying to save her dog’s mother from a
medical research lab, which takes her to Washington and involves her with
Congresswoman Rudd (Sally Field) and Doorman Sid Post (Bob Newhart).
Shakespeare didn’t have this in mind when he penned Much Ado About
Nothing, but that title aptly describes this trifle.
The story’s inane; the script’s inane; the acting’s deplorable.
Just as an example
of how ludicrous this is, Woods addresses a joint session of Congress.
How many times does the President of the United States address a
joint session of Congress, you might ask?
Good question. There’s
a one-time-a-year regularly scheduled address called the State of the Union
Address. Other than that, he
doesn’t do it unless he’s asking Congress to declare war or something
relatively serious like that. I’m not aware of anyone else who can address
a joint session of Congress. In Legally Blonde 2, however, we are supposed
to sit in the audience and blithely accept the notion that this person who
isn’t even a Member of Congress (much less President of the United States)
is addressing a joint session of Congress to get them to pass a bill to save
her dog’s mother. Yeah, I’m going to rush out and pay good money to see that!
Why is this so bad
when Legally Blonde was so good? Well,
maybe it’s because Legally Blonde was directed by Robert Luketic and
written by Kirsten Smith and Legally Blonde II is directed by Charles
Herman-Wurmfield and written by three people whom I will charitably refrain
from mentioning. Herman-Wurmfield
can’t blame the cast because he’s got two-time Oscar winner Field and
Emmy winner Newhart along with heartthrob Luke Wilson in supporting roles.
Alas, they’re working with a script by three different people, none
of whom could come up with even one scene that wasn’t vacuous.
Witherspoon’s dumb-like-a-fox blond shtick has worn out its
welcome. It was cute the first
time. Now it’s tiresome.
it’s because Witherspoon is the Executive Producer of Legally Blonde 2,
whereas Legally Blonde was produced by professionals.
But there might be a logical explanation for this, too.
A professional wouldn’t touch this with a ten-foot pole.
July 5, 2003
League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (1)
Copyright © 2003
by Tony Medley
I first saw Sean
Connery in a forgettable thing called Darby O’Gill and the Little
People, circa 1959. He
didn’t show much promise (it was a musical).
A few years later he was cast as James Bond in Doctor No,
which was, for him, akin to dying and going to heaven.
Almost immediately after Doctor
No became a hit he started complaining that he didn’t want to be
typecast and wanted out of the Bond thing.
Well, he got out,
finally, and did make some good movies (The Man Who Would Be King
comes to mind). But he’s come
full circle with League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, which defines
trash. I’m getting tired of
watching films full of scenes devoid of rationality, but I don’t write
‘em, I just see ‘em. There
must be one standard, generic script in Hollywood that everyone uses.
There are all these bad guys, see, and they have automatic weapons,
see, and the good guys are all unarmed and surrounded by the bad guys and
the bad guys open up with their automatic weapons and start spraying the
good guys with nine million rounds a second.
Everything is shot; the walls, the chairs, the tables, the books, the
glasses, everything…everything, that is, but the good guys, who never get
hit with anything. Nine million
rounds a second are sprayed all around and not one single, solitary bullet
hits a good guy. How many times
hence, in nations yet unborn and accents yet unknown are we going to have to
To make it even
more ridiculous, you must compare it to the scene of Connery shooting
targets from a ship. The
ship’s rocking (well, it should be rocking, being at sea and all, but
it’s actually not rocking; with all the money they spent on special
effects, they couldn’t come up with one that simulates what it’s like to
be on a ship in the middle of the ocean), the target’s floating hundreds
of yards away in the ocean. Connery
has a bolt-action long rifle. He
waits while the ship sails farther in one direction as the target, a small
balloon type thing, floats off in the other direction.
He waits. It floats.
He waits some more. It
floats some more. Finally he
slowly squeezes the trigger and demolishes the target.
The way I see it is we are supposed to believe that the bad guys can
have automatic weapons and can spray the good guys who are only ten feet
away from them with nine million rounds a second and can’t hit anybody,
but Connery can hit a floating balloon four inches in diameter, about a mile
away from him from a floating ship with a single shot.
This is the level of the intelligence of League of Extraordinary
Executive Producer of this, so who was he to complain about the quality of
the James Bond series when he’s responsible for something like this?
Where does he get off trading on his name to entice people, mostly
loyal fans trusting him, to come to see this garbage? This must be the quintessential film that spent all its money
on silly special effects. They
certainly didn’t spend anything on the script, or the director, or the
tension because even though this is overburdened with violence, we know that
none of the good guys is going to get so much as a scratch.
Talk about a film without a story!
There is no logic or reason to this whatever.
It’s just one violent special effect after another. A Plot?
We don’t need no stinking Plot!
I’ve now seen
three Hollywood movies in a row, Charley’s Angels II, Legally Blonde II,
and now this. They are all equally repugnant.
July 12, 2003
Copyright © 2003
by Tony Medley
Bridge was born as a result of a game on October 31, 1925 on board a ship
called the Finland. While
waiting to pass through the Panama Canal the next day, Harold S. Vanderbilt,
the grandson of Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt, and the author of a revision
of Yachting right-of-way rules, which are still known as the Vanderbilt
Rules, and two friends needed a 4th to play a bridge-like game called
Plafond. They allowed a lady
who was a fellow passenger to join their game.
She, however, attempted to suggest one exotic change after another
based on a game she said she had learned in China.
This aggravated Vanderbilt so much that the next day, during the
Canal crossing, he worked out the scoring table for Contract Bridge, which
remains remarkably the same today, three quarters of a century later.
On that night, November 1, 1925, the first game of Contract Bridge
was played, scored under Vanderbilt's new rules.
We enjoyed playing my new game on board the Finland so much that, on
my return to New York, I gave typed copies of my scoring table to several of
my Auction Bridge playing friends. I
made no other effort to popularize or publicize Contract Bridge.
Thanks apparently to its excellence, it popularized itself and spread
As a result of the
popularity of Vanderbilt’s new game, Warner Brothers in 1933, made Grand
Slam, and gave it a terrific cast. Paul
Lucas was the leading man, opposite a rising star, Loretta Young.
Also in the cast were Frank McHugh and Glenda Farrell,
well-established character actors. I
must confess that I had a terrible crush on Judy Lewis, Loretta Young’s
daughter (by Clark Gable, although nobody knew that for years), when she was
a freshman high school classmate of my sister and I was a fifth grader. She was 14 and I was nine and she was just about the first
real “woman” I had ever gotten that close to (I didn’t get that close,
actually, but it was close enough for a nine year old).
Despite this, I never thought her mother was that beautiful.
Until I saw this movie, that is.
As a young, developing star, in Grand Slam Young was drop dead
this is a pretty silly movie. There
is nothing in the movie about playing the game, but there are some pretty
good lines, which indicate that nothing much has changed in the last seventy
years. Here are two examples.
One man tells his wife, “The system doesn’t exist that would give
me any pleasure from playing bridge with you.”
Does that sound familiar? Another
one I liked was, “Being a bridge expert is a step down from being a fake
Bridge was a hot
activity in the ‘30s. If this
movie is to be believed, people got dressed up in White Tie and Tails to
play Rubber Bridge at parties. Of
course, this is a Hollywood world where everyone had a butler in the depth
of the Depression. The script must have been written well before 1933 because
McHugh tells a cabbie to take him to a “speakeasy,” even though
Prohibition ended shortly after Roosevelt took office in March of 1933. According to this film, major newspapers reported the goings
on in the bridge world. There
is even a radio play-by-play of a match.
I imagine there’s a lot of literary license here. If you’re going to watch the film to see some bridge
playing, you’re due for a disappointment.
You see people playing, but you don’t see any of the play.
however, the running time is just a little over an hour, so the weak plot
doesn’t cause you to lose interest. How disinterested can you get in an
hour? I think this is worth
seeing just as an historical artifact, to see the way Hollywood portrayed
the world of 1933, to see the beautiful Lorreta Young, and to recognize how
popular bridge must have been to present the game without any explanation.
The makers of the film just assumed that the audience would
understand how bridge was played and scored, as if someone made a film today
about baseball or basketball without having to explain.
The fun of watching this movie for a bridge player is to watch how
the players interact with each other, and to realize that the more things
change, the more they remain the same.
June 30, 2003
Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of
the Black Pearl (4)
Copyright © 2003
by Tony Medley
If you think the
title is long, wait until you see the movie.
At two hours, 23 minutes running time, a good guy captured by pirates
should pray for a plank to walk that’s this long.
Gone with the Wind, which covered the Civil War and its aftermath,
was only 55 minutes longer. Although you might find it hard to believe as
you’re sitting through it, it does end eventually, and the proof is that I
am actually sitting here writing this review.
Johnny Depp plays a
constantly inebriated pirate captain (Jack Sparrow) in this tongue-in-cheek
sendup of pirate movies. Did we
really need a sendup of pirate movies?
When’s the last time you saw one?
Who was in it? Burt
Lancaster? Gene Kelly? Errol
Flynn? What, Hollywood has
nothing better to do than spoof a genre that’s been dead for fifty years?
And, please, if
you’re going to do a spoof, make it intelligent.
People it with good actors. Give
it a good script. Give it a
story, for heaven’s sake. Alas,
Disney/Jerry Bruckheimer did none of these.
Oh, there are a couple of guys, Geoffrey Rush, who plays the
dastardly Captain Barbossa, and another guy, who do pale imitations of
Robert Newton as Long John Silver in Treasure Island, circa 1950, the
quintessential cinematic pirate. But,
like this movie, they fall way, way short of Newton’s genius.
In the unlikely
event that you still want to see this, I won’t ruin it for you by telling
the story (that’s a joke, son). There’s
Hitchcock’s mainstay, the McGuffin that the pirates need, and it’s all
pretty silly, but that’s OK because this is a farce (and I don’t use
that as a term of opprobrium; it’s meant to be a farce). But I will warn
you that, except for Depp and Rush, the acting’s mediocre at best.
Keira Knightly, who did a workmanlike job in Bend it Like Beckham is
mightily miscast here as the gorgeous damsel in distress, Elizabeth Swann. She’s not gorgeous enough (she’s not gorgeous, period).
And the lines she’s given would put any actress to the test.
Depp’s besotted Captain Sparrow starts out humorous, but finally
becomes tiresome. I’m also
offended by vacuous filmmakers who think it’s funny to show the harmless
drunk. Alcoholism is no joke,
folks, and movies like this (and the worst of the loveable drunk genre,
Arthur) trivialize a serious problem. Hollywood,
however, loves drugs; you’re not gonna breathe much if you hold your
breath until Hollywood takes a stand against drug use.
Even though we don’t see him taking a drink until near the
longed-for end, Sparrow’s constantly drunk, even when he’s locked away
This has a lot of
mindless violence. But that’s
what you would expect in a pirate movie, unless it’s The Pirates of
Penzance. Here people keep fighting dead people who can’t be killed.
They knew they were dead going in.
What’s the point? And
the fights take up about the last seven hours (OK, it just seemed like seven
hours) of the movie. One fight
after another between a man and a skeleton.
Then there’s a fight between two skeletons.
There apparently aren’t any Basil Rathbones left in Hollywood
because all the sword fighting is shot with Chicago-like quick cuts so you
can’t see if any of these hunks can actually handle a sword.
This is apparently
a big hit if you judge by numbers. The
only way I can explain this is to postulate that watching this after sitting
through Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle, Legally Blonde 2, and League of
Extraordinary Gentlemen is akin to the relief you feel when someone stops
hitting you over the head with a hammer and starts pinching you.
It’s good only in comparison with what came before.
July 14, 2003
Dirty Pretty Things (7)
Copyright © 2003
by Tony Medley
immigrants, Okwe (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Senay (Audrey Tautou) working in a
London hotel, try to survive after becoming involved in a nefarious scheme
in this involving 97-minute thriller from England.
The less you know the more you’ll enjoy it, so I will say no more,
except that the ending needed more of a setup in the plot to be plausible.
July 20, 2003
Swimming Pool (10)
Copyright © 2003
by Tony Medley
I saw Titanic
and All About Eve on successive nights on cable.
I saw Titanic first. Then,
later that night, I awoke around 4 a.m. and turned on the TV and caught one
line of an old black and white movie that I instantly recognized as All
About Eve, although I hadn’t seen it.
I heard that one line and I was caught.
Wide-awake now, I had turned on in the first ten minutes and was
As soon as it was
over, I was struck by the dichotomy between the two.
Titanic cost over $100 million to make and won the Academy
Award as best picture (one of 11 it received, none of which was for
writing). All About Eve
cost around $600,000 to make, was shot almost entirely on a sound stage in
Hollywood, and won the Academy Award as best picture (as well as five
others, including best screenplay). The
two couldn’t be more different. Titanic
had no script worth talking about. The
story was sophomoric, the acting mediocre.
All it had was a huge ship built at exorbitant cost, and spectacular
special effects. For this it
received the Oscar as the best picture of the year.
All About Eve,
on the other hand, had no special effects, a moderately large budget for the
times (1950), but it had a brilliant script and direction by Herman L.
Mankiewicz, and spectacular acting. That’s
what you needed in 1950 to win an Academy Award.
You needed a good story. You
needed a brilliant script. You
needed the script intelligently translated to the screen by a competent
director and a good cast. By
1997, all you needed was special effects.
My thesis here is
that Titanic ruined Hollywood. Nobody
cares about the script or the story or the acting anymore.
It’s all special effects. Look
at the movies Hollywood has released this year, Charley’s Angels,
League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, The Matrix, Terminator etc., etc. All driven by special effects.
I admit to having not seen the last two, but doubt that anyone will
challenge that they are special effects-driven.
Can you name one Hollywood movie you’ve seen this year that had a
good script? How about one with
a good story? How about one
with good acting?
I remember how I
felt after I saw All About Eve and Sweet Smell of Success the
first time. I felt that I had
seen something remarkable. I felt that everyone involved with each was a consummate
professional. I felt that each
came close to perfection. The
writing of each blew me away.
That’s how I
feel today after seeing Swimming Pool, a film not made by Hollywood,
thank you. Sarah Morton
(Charlotte Rampling) is a dispirited, disagreeable successful writer of
mysteries. She is turned off by
people who recognize her and fawn all over her, telling her how much they
like her books and all. I’ll
stop here because the movie almost fell apart for me right there, at the
outset. I don’t know any
writer, and I know a few (remember, I’m a writer!) who doesn’t like to
be recognized and, yes, fawned over. Don’t
believe me? I’m in the
process of reading William Goldman’s (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance
Kid, All the President’s Men, etc.) second volume of his
autobiography, More Adventures in the Screen Trade. One
constant theme is the under-appreciation of writers.
Writers generally welcome the plaudits of the crowd, because, for one
thing, they are so rare. If you see me and want to fawn over something
I’ve written, feel free.
But, despite this
flaw, I recognized it as a plot device so hung in there.
If you’re not a writer, it won’t bother you.
Sarah has the hots for her publisher, Charles Dance (John Bosford),
so she unloads on him and he suggests she visit his country house in France
as a locale from which to write her next mystery.
She accepts, on the proviso that he visit her there, which he agrees
She arrives and
starts writing. Shortly thereafter, Dance’s sexy, mysterious daughter,
Julie (Ludivine Sangier) arrives unexpectedly.
Sarah rejects Julie’s attempts at being friendly.
Julie cavorts half naked throughout most of the movie and brings in
odd men for one-night stands, all of which upset Sarah’s equanimity.
Sarah can’t make contact with Charles to tell him in person of her
complaints. From that point,
things go from strange to stranger. Julie’s
weird. Sarah changes.
is a magnificent script by Emmanuele Bernheim and Francois Ozon, who also
directed. Ozon wrote and
directed 8 Women last year, which was one of the better movies I saw
in 2002. He’s topped himself
here. This is a recondite story that’s extremely well acted by everyone,
but especially Rampling and Sangier. The
story is enthralling and keeps you involved up to the ending, as you try to
figure out what’s going on. So
far, this is the best movie I’ve seen this year.
July 22, 2003
Copyright © 2003
by Tony Medley
If there’s one
dictum in movie making that is proven time and again in its absence it’s
Woody Allen’s that movies should not exceed 90 minutes.
Seabiscuit is just the latest of a long list of
well-intentioned films that just take themselves so seriously that they
can’t leave a lot of the stuff they shoot on the cutting room floor.
isn’t just the story of a horse. It’s
the story of three men, the horse’s owner, car dealer Charles Howard (Jeff
Bridges), its trainer, Tom Smith (Chris Cooper), and jockey, Red Pollard (Tobey
Maguire). As suggested in Alice in Wonderland, the film starts
at the very beginning and continues on until the end. It actually starts with Howard working on Henry Ford’s
assembly line! I mean, that’s
about as far back as you can go. We’re
introduced to Red Pollard as a child. Only
Smith is introduced as a contemporary, and he’s probably the most
interesting character. He’s
the guy who, through some profound intuition, recognized that Seabiscuit had
something special even after he had raced without much success for several
years, bought him for Howard for $7,500, and trained him into the champion
he became. But the movie treats
Smith almost as an afterthought, behind Howard and Pollard.
Even though his character gets short shrift, at this point Cooper
should be a contender for Best Supporting Actor.
But even though
it’s the life story of three men, as well as the horse, there’s really
no logical reason why this story should take more than 90 minutes to tell.
The movie seems almost as long as Seabiscuit’s entire career,
finally clocking in at 2 hours nine minutes, way, way over the track record.
by John Schwartzman is exceptional, indeed a reason by itself to see the
film. The acting’s pretty
good, although Howard’s second wife, Marcela (Elizabeth Banks), beautiful
as she is, isn’t up to the quality of the rest of the cast.
But the worst part of the entire movie is “Tick Tock” McGlaughlin
(William H. Macy), a fictional sportscaster so over the top he seriously
damages the movie. It’s a
shame that Writer-Director Gary Ross (who also appears as the Pimlico Track
Announcer) had so little faith in just telling the story that he had to add
such a ridiculous character. McGlaughlin
is so irritating that he detracts from, and diminishes, Seabiscuit’s
amazing story. To be factual,
former UCLA basketball player, and Olympic Gold Medal Winner (1936), Sam
Balter had the first ever (and only one at the time, at least of which I am
aware) coast-to-coast radio commentary show which commenced on the Mutual
Network in 1938, the year of the Seabiscuit-War Admiral match race and the
year Seabiscuit was Horse of the Year, and he was the exact opposite of
“Tick Tock,” a low-key guy who hardly ever raised his voice.
“Tick-Tock” is just a figment of Ross’s imagination, and is a
huge mistake. Rather than being
funny, which I guess was what Ross was aiming for, Tick Tock is simply
Another problem I
have with this film is one that troubles all sports films.
I’ve played most of the sports all my life.
Whenever I see a sports movie, the sounds are so over emphasized that
they become cartoons. In boxing
movies the noise accompanying a slight left jab is akin to the explosion of
a hand grenade. Nobody could
survive one punch that sounds like this, much less 15 rounds of them.
Basketball movies sound far more violent than games really are.
In football movies (and the videos brought to us by NFL Films and the
like) the sounds accompanying each play would require 22,000 men to complete
a game because anyone hit as hard as the sounds indicate wouldn’t last
more than one play. Don’t get
me wrong, these guys hit hard, but not as hard as the sounds make you
believe. The microphone expands
the noise so that it transcends from what’s ordinarily background to where
it becomes the most compelling part of the sport, and that’s just basic
Even though the
racing scenes, choreographed by jockey Chris McCarron, are compelling and very well done, I wondered if the sounds in
Seabiscuit exaggerate the ferocity of the race.
I know that there’s more that goes on in a horse race between the
jockeys than we can see. So I asked Jorge Estrada, who was a world-class
jockey at Santa Anita and the other major tracks. Estrada’s take on the
movie is instructive, coming as it does from the inside.
As far as the noises are concerned, he confirms my suspicion.
“I won two races one day at Santa Anita before 85,000 people; the
grandstand was packed, the infield was packed.
I didn’t hear any noise at all during the races, even from the
public address announcer calling the race.
As far as the noise of the race itself, you don’t hear much of
anything. You don’t hear the
horses hooves hit the ground. You
don’t hear the cavalry stampede, unless you’re in front and
fading. Then you might hear the pack coming up on you.
The horses’ hooves are throwing dirt up in your face that’s
hitting you at around 50 miles an hour.
Believe me, you don’t hear much of anything.”
Estrada said jockeys
never take instruction from owners or trainers.
He said Willie Shoemaker told him “good jockeys don’t need it and
bad jockeys won’t follow it.” He said, “I won over 1,000 races.
Somebody who’s never even ridden in one race is going to tell me
how to ride a race? I would
find that offensive.” So much
for trainer Smith telling jockey George Woolf (played by real life jockey
Gary Stevens, looking like he’d been acting all his life), the greatest
jockey of his era, how to ride Seabiscuit in the legendary match race
against War Admiral (in real life it was Pollard who gave Woolf the tip on
how to ride the race). In
addition, Estrada said that trainers not only would never talk to a jockey in
the jock room, they are not allowed in the jock room.
The only way you can get in is if you’re a jockey.
“That’s our inner sanctum, the place where we can get away from
There’s a scene
where Red on Seabiscuit passes Woolf on the backstretch in the 1940 Santa Anita
Handicap. Woolf says to
Red, “OK, Johnny, have a good ride,” as Seabiscuit passes Woolf's
in a million years would one jockey in a race tell another jockey to go beat
him, especially in one of the biggest races in the world,” says Estrada,
“and especially not Woolf, who had a reputation for being arrogant, and in
that race it’s even less likely since Woolf had been replaced as jockey of
the horse Red was riding.”
that the fight between jockeys during the race that we see in the first part
of the film was commonplace before film.
Now they film you from so many angles that it’s not possible to
take swings at other jockeys without being caught.
But in the days of Seabiscuit there was no film and it happened a
lot. Estrada also said that
jockeys don’t talk to their horses like Red and Woolf talked to Seabiscuit.
He said it’s so unprofessional that if they did they’d get
unmerciful razzing from the other jockeys.
complaints aside, this is, after all, a movie and is entitled to literary
license. Most people will probably enjoy it.
And the films that have been released so far this year make this an
Oscar contender. But I thought
it was too long and that the McGlaughlin character and Banks’ acting
devitalized the final result. On
the plus side, it’s a good story well told, most of the actors are good,
and the cinematography should win awards.
July 29, 2003
Lucia, Lucia (1)
Copyright © 2003 by
This is a pseudo
art film that thinks it’s oh, so clever, but, in reality, is oh, so
pretentious, sort of what a prepubescent director might produce in an
attempt to recreate Last Year at Marienbad for a kindergarten film
class. Lucia’s husband
disappears and is apparently kidnapped.
Two men, one old and one young, appear at her door to help her.
Her story is either true or lies.
Her husband has either been kidnapped or he hasn’t.
The story is boring, disjointed, boring, incoherent, boring, and
nonsensical. Oh, did I mention
that it’s boring? Lucia (Ceclia
Roth) is beautiful (and topless in one scene), but, try as she may, she
can’t cry tears. I wasted
enough time sitting through this. I
don’t want to waste any more writing about it.
If, after reading my review, you find yourself tempted to see this,
take a cold shower and fight it off. In
Spanish, unfortunately with subtitles
Freaky Friday (10)
Copyright © 2003
by Tony Medley
There is a reason
for everything. If you withstand and accept the bad and relax, good will
come. That’s what happened to
me today. I now understand why
I’ve had to sit through all the truly awful movies I’ve seen this
summer. The Almighty was
preparing me for Freaky Friday.
(Jamie Lee Curtis) and her high school daughter, Anna (Lindsay Lohan),
don’t get along and don’t appreciate the other’s situation.
Anna doesn’t get along with her younger brother, Harry (Ryan
Malgarini). Tess is engaged to
marry Ryan (Mark Harmon) soon. Anna,
who is a guitarist in a garage rock bank, has a crush on Jake (Chad Michael
Murray) and has problems at school. It’s
with each other in a Chinese restaurant, the hostess gives them each a
fortune cookie with the same fortune in it.
Almost simultaneously everything shakes like an earthquake and when
it’s all over Tess and Anna have swapped bodies and the fun begins.
I laughed until, literally, tears came to my eyes.
Curtis and Lohan are spectacular.
Their expert acting makes this implausible movie work.
Both should be Oscar nominees, but, despite Sir Donald Wolfit’s
deathbed utterance, “Dying is easy…comedy is hard,” it’ll never
happen because comedy is rarely rewarded.
Regardless, make no mistake, you will rarely see better acting.
The amazing thing
about this movie for me is that it holds up all the way through.
Other films I’ve seen that had really funny parts, like The
Producers with Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder and Touch of Class
with George Segal and Glenda Jackson, could make me roll in the aisles
laughing for a period of time, but the humor didn’t hold up after about
the first 30 minutes or so. Freaky Friday had me laughing throughout.
August 8, 2003
And Now Ladies & Gentlemen (3)
© 2003 by Tony Medley
on in this Claude Lelouch film, there are shots of a guy who is supposed to
be playing the trumpet (backing up a woman who’s acting like she’s
singing). I’ve been watching
movies all my life. I’ve seen
unathletic guys like William Bendix try to be Babe Ruth, Woody Harrelson try
to look like a basketball player, Alan Alda try to look like a football
player (to be fair, Alda was trying to look like George Plimpton looking
like a football player, but Plimpton was athletic, at least).
But I’ve never seen a more inept job of acting than this guy trying
to look like he’s playing the trumpet.
He’s even worse than Stu Sutcliffe when he was an original member
of The Beatles without any musical talent, so he tried to hide on stage
pretending to plunk the guitar he was holding but didn’t have a clue how
to play. I played the trumpet a little when I was a teenager, so I know a
little bit about it. There’s
not much to it, but what there is is all in the lips.
This guy barely presses the trumpet to his lips.
Sometimes, when it shows him playing the trumpet in a band backing up
the singer near the end of the movie, you can hear the trumpet, but you can
see that the trumpet isn’t anywhere near his mouth!
It’s ludicrous, but it epitomizes the sloppiness with which this
movie was made.
you will never see another movie with more platitudes.
They were so stomach-churningly simplistic I can’t even remember
one to quote. But if you think
that something like, “the end is just the beginning and the beginning is
just the end and the middle is just something in between,” sounds inane (I
made that up), what you hear in the movie makes what I just wrote sound
incredibly profound. And you
read one (a lot of this is subtitled) every couple of minutes.
Tony, how did you like the movie?
the legendary Los Angeles sportscaster Jim Healy used to say about former
Philadelphia Eagles owner, Leonard Tose, Writer-Director-Producer Lelouch
(known mainly for his creation of 1966’s A Man and a Woman), has,
uh, lost it (if, indeed, he ever had it).
The first hour is interminable. Valentin Valentin
(Jeremy Irons) is a jewel thief who has a problem with blackouts.
Jane Lester (Patricia Kaas) is a saloon singer who has the same
problem. But the problem with
this film is that Valentin and Jane don’t meet until an hour into the
film. Lelouch should have
blacked out the first hour.
has used a bunch of hackneyed tricks to try to assemble this into what might
appear to be a thoughtful film, like time warps and the like.
Alas, they don’t work. Nobody
cares whether what we’re seeing is a flashback or a dream or reality.
During the first hour I kept feeling like Elaine in the Seinfeld
episode when she was watching The English Patient, and finally got so
fed up she yelled out, “Get on with it and die so we can get out of
gives his standardized sensitive man performance.
Kaas is so one-dimensional she sometimes appears catatonic.
The credits say that it’s her voice we hear when she’s singing,
but she lip syncs to her own voice so poorly that I thought maybe it was old
Marni Nixon’s voice. One thing that might hold your interest is trying to
spot ‘60s femme fatale Claudia Cardinale.
She sure doesn’t look like she did in the ‘60s, but then who
does? Actually, Claudia is one
person who gives a good performance. Other than that, while the first hour
of this seems interminable, it picks up in the second hour, but you’re
still wishing that they’d “get on with it."
further from this film is Michel Legrand’s dirge-like music.
I had admired some of Legrand’s music until I heard Kaas’s
renditions. Unfortunately, Kaas warbles them endlessly.
Instead of being evocative, they’re mostly forgettable with pompous
lyrics that contribute to the banality of the script.
© 2003 by Tony Medley
is, in the literature of the job interview (which I must modestly admit I
created with my second book, Sweaty Palms: The Neglected Art of Being
Interviewed, in 1978) something called the “halo effect.”
The “halo effect” is the undue influence of an irrelevant trait
on your overall judgment. This
came into effect at the screening of American Splendor. There
was a woman sitting behind me who laughed at every line in the movie.
But it wasn’t the kind of guffaw you make when listening to Billy
Crystal or Richard Pryor or Robin Williams or someone who is actually funny.
It was the annoying kind of laugh of an ignoramus who is trying to
let everyone around him/her think that the laugher was in on something
inside. It was the kind of
laugh that takes the place of a statement like, “oh, isn’t that just
like him!” as if she had an intimate relationship with the person, causing
her to “laugh.” Try sitting
in a movie and have a character say, “pass the mustard, please” and have
someone laugh. Then the
character says, “What time is it?’ and the same person laughs.
Annoying? It’s much
worse than that.
I’m not only in the process of becoming an adult, but I know about the
“halo effect,” so it shouldn’t cloud my judgment of this movie.
When I’d hear her laugh every minute, I’d say to myself,
“don’t let this influence your judgment of this movie.”
it didn’t. American
Splendor is a grainy depiction of Harvey Pekar (Paul Giamatti), who
penned a comic book based on his life in the ‘70s.
It’s cleverly done in that actual interviews with the real Pekar
are interspersed throughout the film, so it’s part biography, part
this would be more enjoyable if you’ve ever heard of American Splendor
or Harvey Pekar. I hadn’t, so
I found myself wondering why Pekar was important enough to be the subject of
a feature film. Pekar is
pictured as a disgruntled, unhappy guy with an intellectual bent who worked
his entire life as a clerk at a Veteran’s Administration Hospital in
Cleveland. Despite this, the
reputation he built through American Splendor got him several appearances on
the David Letterman Show, and some other radio appearances, so he was a sort
of minor celebrity.
can’t say that the film is terrible.
It has its amusing moments. But
at 100 minutes it’s far too long. Giamatti
bears a remarkable resemblance to the real Pekar and he does a very good job
in the role. Despite this, I found it pretty uninvolving.
But the lady behind me laughed at every line.
Maybe she should have written this review because she obviously saw
something in the film that I didn’t.
Open Range (7)
Copyright © 2003
by Tony Medley
Kevin Costner has
a reputation for long, boring movies. I
didn’t see Waterworld, but I still become almost comatose
remembering sitting through the trailer for The Postman.
But you got to give it to the guy.
He’s got Chutzpah. He makes another long, talky movie, and he casts himself to
co-star with Robert Duvall (Boss). The
story, which is sort of a neo-High Noon, pits “open range” cattle
drivers, who would let their cattle graze anywhere, which was the Common Law
of England and was adopted in most of the United States, against ranchers
who owned their graze land and fenced it off.
The year is 1882. The
locale is unknown, identified as the “Old West,” but I’d guess
Wyoming. Denton Baxter (Michael
Gambon) is the rancher who runs the town and tries to drive Duvall and his
herd away, killing one of Boss’s men, prompting Boss and Charley Waite
(Costner) to seek revenge. Normally
I would be philosophically aligned with the rancher, who bought his land and
didn’t like “open range grazers” to use his land to graze their
cattle. Doesn’t that make sense? Why
should someone else be able to bring his cattle onto someone else’s land
to graze? Alas, here he’s a
In addition to
defending what appear to be the wrong people, Open Range has some
basic flaws. For one,
Costner’s character, Waite, is impossible.
Nobody with his background, having done what he’s done in a Union
Civil War outfit that sounds a lot like Quantrill’s Raiders (a Confederate
band of killers in Kansas who marauded and killed in cold blood anyone they
could find who might be a Union soldier or sympathizer; Jesse James and the
Younger Brothers were members), could be the person portrayed in the movie.
Nor could anyone with a character like Waite’s win the love of a
woman of high character like Sue Barlow (Annette Benning)…and so
fast…and with so little exposure!
Costner himself. I’ve seen him in many movies and he’s always Kevin
Costner. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with Kevin Costner.
He seems like a nice guy. But
whether he’s Eliot Ness, or looking for a message in a bottle, or a
cold-blooded killer, he’s always, well, Kevin Costner. As Dorothy Parker
said of Katherine Hepburn, he runs the gamut of emotions from A to B.
Then there’s the
“love interest” between Waite and Barlow.
They have one conversation that lasts for about two minutes and fall
madly in love; maybe because they’re the only two people in the town who
look like movie stars. The sad
part of this is that, apart from the love interest, the movie looks pretty
authentic. The clothes, the town, the storm…all look like they could
have been that way in 1882. You
can almost smell Costner’s filth as he lopes around.
However, there sure seemed to be a lot of people living in this
small, one-street town.
one scene involving Sue Barlow that’s so laughable it reminded me of a
scene from The Great Race, where Tony Curtis walks through a pie
throwing fight in an immaculate white suit.
Pies are flying all over the place. They go over and around and under
Curtis. But when the fight’s
over, his white suit is as clean as when the fight started.
The problem is that in The Great Race the scene is meant to be
funny. In Open Range
it’s meant to be deadly serious.
Too bad, because
this is an involving film. Although
it’s Costner-long, at 2 hours 15 minutes plus (published running times
vary from this to ten minutes longer), for me it didn’t drag.
There is a lot of talk, but I felt that the tension built throughout
into the climax. Although
we’re told that there are only 8 gunmen against Waite and Boss, it seems
as if they’re shooting at everyone West of the Pecos except Wyatt Earp.
There were other
things I liked about the film. For
one thing they didn’t seem to be using partial loads to keep down the
noise of gunfire. When someone fires in the climax, it sounds like a real gun.
I really enjoyed Duvall. Playing
against the glacial Costner, Duvall gives a powerful performance as a tough,
rough-edged cattle herder.
Despite all my
criticism (hey, that’s my job!), and notwithstanding its mushy ending, the
last ten minutes of which are so out of sync with the rest of the movie they
look like they were added later in response to women’s comments in
previews, I enjoyed Open Range.
August 16, 2003
My Boss’s Daughter (2)
Copyright © 2003
by Tony Medley
In the 1930s there
appeared in Hollywood a new genre called the Screwball Comedy, created by
people like writers Charles McArthur, Ben Hecht, Charles Lederer, Directors
Frank Capra, Preston Sturges, Leo McCarey, Howard Hawks, actors Carole
Lombard, Cary Grant, Katherine Hepburn, Irene Dunne, William Powell, and
others of their ilk. These people all were, or became, Hollywood legends, as did
their movies, which were cleverly written, brilliantly directed and acted.
They were subtle and funny. There
were lots of them and audiences adored them.
They are still brilliantly funny.
And they had taste.
Fast forward to
the present. Now instead of clever scripts we get the toilet humor of
stuff like There’s Something About With Mary (1998) and, now, My
Boss’s Daughter. Although there are some funny lines that had me
laughing out loud, most of the humor is based on the groin.
There are lots of urine shots. The
film itself has absolutely no coherence. The concept is that Tom Stansfield (Ashton Kutcher) works for
a dictator-like boss, Jack Taylor (Terrence Stamp) and has a crush on his
daughter, Lisa (Tara Reid). Tom
gets finagled into housesitting while Jack and Lisa go out.
Jack gives him specific instructions that nobody is to set foot in
the house. Naturally, as soon
as Jack leaves, the house is inundated with weird people, who cause nothing
but trouble. What follows is
imbecilic. The ending is
The film starts
out with ten very funny minutes. Then
the scatological humor starts and the movie tanks, as far as I’m
concerned. The film is obsessed
with the male groin. Not only does urine fall like rain, when someone pulls a gun,
his victim pulls his male member. Call me crazy; I don’t find this funny.
I don’t rate
this at the bottom of the barrel because the film does have a few funny
moments. But I wouldn’t
recommend it to anyone with the slightest inclination to good taste.
August 23, 2003
Uptown Girls (1)
Copyright © 2003
by Tony Medley
Girls, MGM seeks to answer the age-old question, “How bad can a
movie be?” Molly Gunn
(Brittany Murphy) is the spoiled, vacuous daughter of a deceased rock star
whose trust fund has been stolen by a Trustee.
Ray (Dakota Fanning) is an unbelievably precocious 8-year-old
daughter of Roma Schleine (Heather Locklear) who acts like she’s sixty
years old. Molly’s hired as
Ray’s nanny, and the idea is that each is supposed to influence the other,
Molly bringing Ray back to being a little girl and Ray bringing maturity to
simplistic script is marred (it’s hard to believe anything could make this
script worse) by Michael Ballhaus’s derivative cinematography.
Ballhaus is hung up on circular camera shots.
If there’s one, there’s a half dozen.
Whenever there’s nothing else to do, Ballhaus spins his camera
around in a 360-degree circle. He’s
even got a Busby Berkeley-type overhead shot of Molly and Ray in spinning
teacups at Coney Island!
Yakin throws in a scene of Ray talking to her dying father who’s in a
coma. It’s a shameless
attempt to try to con some tears out of the audience, but it’s so
obviously manipulative, showing the heretofore-impassive Ray rubbing her
comatose father’s hand as she tells him what she’s been doing, it loses
I would sit
through almost anything just to get a look at Heather Locklear.
As far as I’m concerned there hasn’t been a more beautiful
actress since Gene Tierney. But
her appearance as Ray’s selfish, inconsiderate mother in a few scenes is
nothing more than a cameo, not enough to be worth having to survive 94
minutes of this banality.
between Molly and Neal (Jesse Spencer, in his first film), a rock singer,
might be deep enough to appeal to a 12 year old girl, but it’s so shallow
it gives superficiality a bad name.
The only good
thing I can say about Uptown Girls is that some of the music by Joel
McNeely and sung by Jesse Spencer (Neal) is pretty good.
Unfortunately, there’s not enough of it.
Other than looking at Locklear, Spencer’s the only actor in the
film worth mentioning, but, to be fair, the script is so weak, even Laurence
Olivier would have trouble looking good.
At the end, a
ballet recital is turned into a modern dance (by Ray, an eight year old
ballerina) done to rock music. This
movie is so bad it had me groaning out loud.
Maybe my groans bothered the few teenage girls who must be the target
audience, but I doubt if even they could have found anything to like here.
Nothing in this
movie makes any sense. There’s
not any reason given for Molly and Ray to connect in the end, but they do.
There’s not any reason for Molly and Neal to connect in the end,
but they do. There’s not any reason for Roma to become a caring mother to
Ray in the end, but she does. There’s not any reason for this movie to be
August 27, 2003
Copyright © 2003
by Tony Medley
many modern actors I’d pay to see. Russell
Crowe is at the top of the list. But
Colin Farrell is right below him. Farrell
made Phone Booth a captivating film.
He even made the execrable Daredevil tolerable. So that’s why I went to see S.W.A.T.
This is a pretty
standard police thriller, but it deviates from the modern norm in that it
pictures the LAPD in a fairly favorable light.
Jim Street (Farrell) is a S.W.A.T. team member who gets into the
doghouse of his hateful, self-centered boss, Capt. Thomas Fuller (Larry
Poindexter), who banishes him to routine work in the “cage.”
Hondo Harrelson (Samuel L. Jackson), also unliked by Fuller, rescues
him and puts him on his team. Alex
Montel (Olivier Martinez) is a drug lord who’s captured, and offers a $100
million reward to anyone who can spring him.
Hondo’s team is assigned to protect him.
This is an
unexceptional, flawed, police shoot-em-up that kept me awake for the entire
109 minutes. Unfortunately, the
uninspired script barely scratches the surface of Farrell’s talents.
Anyone could have handled his part, even Ben Affleck.
Farrell’s a budding star and needs more challenging roles than
One problem with
this film is the music. I
watched the original The Thin Man (1934) again recently and one thing
struck me--no music! One of the
classic mystery/comedies of all-time and there was no music.
S.W.A.T. would have been better had it copied The Thin Man,
because S.W.A.T.’s music (Elliot Goldenthal) is inconsistent with
the emotions it should be emphasizing. It’s loud and, rather than adding
to the tension they’re ineptly trying to develop, detracts from what’s
going on on the screen. How
would you like to watch Humphrey Bogart tell Ingrid Bergman, “We still
have Paris,” to the background music of The Real Slim Shady?
Another problem is
that there’s a token woman, Chris Sanchez (Michele Rodriguez), on the
team. One thinks she’s being
included for some reason, maybe to do something special or to provide a love
or sex interest. She’s
shapely and beautiful and the film has scenes that establish her ability to
cause significant mayhem. But, no, she’s just there.
And she’s still just there at the end, having done nothing
remarkable. Really, just a
token; nothing more.
The big climax is
so contrived it lessens the drama of the film.
I would have thought that after setting this thing up the filmmakers
would have had a challenging ending that would have required a S.W.A.T. team
to perform exceptional services. Alas,
there’s nothing special about how they prevail.
It could have just as easily been the guys and gals from Law and
This is an
enjoyable entertainment, but I can’t really call it any more than average.
August 25, 2003
Step Into Liquid (7)
Copyright © 2003
by Tony Medley
Liquid is a highly entertaining, but ultimately disappointing,
documentary about surfing. Writer-Director Dana Brown, son of Bruce (who wrote,
produced, and directed 1966’s The Endless Summer), introduces us to
Robert August, the star of The Endless Summer, now living in Costa
Rica and still an avid surfer. He
introduces us to his dad, Bruce, also still a surfer.
We meet lots of people, all of them in love with surfing.
We even meet a young surfer who is paralyzed from a surfing accident,
but still surfs with the help of his buddies.
We meet surfer girls. We
meet surfers of all ages from all over the world.
All have the same story; a life devoted to surfing is the highest
calling because it’s pure enjoyment.
Nobody in this
movie worries about living a productive life.
Apparently all they do is surf, because none is ever identified as
having a profession. We see
them surfing in Malibu, on Maui’s North Shore in Hawaii (where else?), in
Vietnam, on the Cortes bank (100 miles off the coast of San Diego). They
live their lives according to The Beach Boys’ mantra, “Surfin’ is the
only way, the only way for me, so surf!” OK, maybe all these people are
happy hedonists and maybe that’s fine.
It just bothered me that their lives seem so vacuous, just waiting
for the next big wave. Isn’t
there more to life than that?
I have the same
criticism of this film that I had about last year’s Blue Crush. The
filmmakers missed another golden opportunity to explain the sport of
surfing. People are introduced
as world champions. One guy is
identified as the best surfer in the world who has never won a world’s
championship. What is the sport
all about? How does one win a
world championship? How is
competition judged? It
wouldn’t take long to explain what the sport is.
But this film doesn’t do it. It
also doesn’t explain what makes a good surfer.
Is it standing up throughout the wave?
Is it doing acrobatics while riding the wave?
Is it “hanging 5 or 10?” Is
it surfing in the curl? Why is someone the best surfer in the world? Nobody explains anything.
Despite all that,
I thoroughly enjoyed this movie. The
cinematography (John-Paul Beeghly) is breathtakingly beautiful, spectacular
shots of the ocean and huge waves, incredible camera angles, buttressed by
mind-boggling sunsets. The people are all, ALL, attractive.
The music (George Acogny and Joe Fischer) is captivating and melds
perfectly with what we’re seeing on the screen.
Simple-minded though it is, it’s wonderful entertainment.
September 3, 2003
Dickie Roberts, Former Child Star (2)
Copyright © 2003
by Tony Medley
The pitch for this
probably sounded good. Take a
former child star from a TV sitcom, Dickie Roberts (David Spade), and give
him a selfish, Hollywood mom, Peggy (Doris Roberts), who abandons him.
When his series is cancelled, he’s a complete mess and can’t
become an adult, never having been a child.
By the time we meet him, at age 35, he’s a loser.
Then he’s rejected for a role in a new Rob Reiner film on the basis
that he has to have been a child to act this part.
So Dickie hires a family, headed by Grace Finney (Mary McCormack, the
best thing in the movie), to allow him to join her husband and two children
so they can treat him as their child. The
idea must have been that we’ll watch them affect one another.
what sounded good in a pitch has been translated by people who don’t speak
the language. Take the writers, for instance. Scriptwriters Fred Wolf and
Spade don’t exhibit a scintilla of understanding about how children talk
and act. Nothing ever occurs
that shows why Dickie should have a positive effect on the family or why the
family should have a positive effect on Dickie.
Just about everything Dickie suggests they do is dishonest or
malevolent, and it turns out OK, not the morality I want to see in a movie,
even if it is supposed to be a comedy.
One of the climactic moments in the film is when 35-year-old Dickie
takes on three 12-year-old bullies who are tormenting Dickie’s new
“brother,” and vanquishes them. This
gives you the same kind of rush you might get watching Goliath beat the
stuffing out of David. The
relationship between Grace and her husband is never developed, other than
showing him to be an insensitive clod while Grace is perfection personified.
Jon Lovitz plays Dickie’s agent, Sidney Wernick.
I’ve never seen Jon Lovitz before where he wasn’t funny.
The Wolf-Spade script conquered that barrier.
Or, take the
casting. The two children, Sam
(Scott Terra) and Sally (Jenna Boyd) resemble refugees from The Munsters.
That wouldn’t be so bad if that were the concept; hook Dickie up
with children even more screwed up than he!
Good comedic idea. But
it’s not what’s intended. These
are supposed to be normal children. Sam’s
hairdo looks like he must have been electrocuted before each scene. If the
idea was for Dickie to become a child and try to live through a childhood by
associating with children, Sam and Sally aren’t the ones.
They’re children who talk and act like 25 year-olds.
Even more laughable (not funny laughable, pathetic laughable) is the
casting of the “bullies” who torment Sam.
They’re fat and ugly and, in real life, they’d be the bully-ees,
not the bully-ers.
terminates with a silly Hollywood ending, followed by the closing credits
with legions of real life former child stars singing a coarse song that, I
guess, is meant to be funny. Instead it’s just scurrilous.
However, this segment does seem to validate the premise of the movie,
to wit, as a result of their lack of development in their formative years,
former child stars often grow up to be losers.
September 5, 2003
Once Upon A Time In Mexico (4)
Copyright © 2003
by Tony Medley
During the last
quarter of this year, Hollywood will present us with a plethora of horror
films, Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Cabin Fever, Cold Creek Manor, to
name only a few. I’m not an
aficionado of horror films. But
they do have their strange morality. They show violence and gore as scary things, things to be
avoided. They show death as
something to fear. They show
killers as bad, bad people. They
inspire a gut-wrenching, emotional response to violence, gore, and death.
Once Upon A
Time In Mexico, however, is a part of a genre that, to me, is Hollywood
at its most immoral. These films show death and gore without any emotional
involvement whatever. People
die and are tortured without fear or loathing.
Torture and death are just as commonplace as drinking a glass of
water. Bad people are just other people, not to be feared.
In fact, the only emotional involvement in any of the thousands of
deaths that we see throughout the 98 minutes of this film, is El
Mariachi’s (Antonio Banderas) grieving for the death of his wife, Carolina
(Selma Hayek), which occurred shortly after the last film, Desperado, ended
eight years ago!
If you look at the
cast, you think you’re in for a treat; in addition to Banderas and Hayek,
Cheech Marin, Mickey Rourke, Johnny Depp, Willem Dafoe, Pedro Armendariz,
accomplished actors all. How
could it miss? Let me count the ways.
First, Banderas, a
talented man, has a role that defines one-dimensional.
This part doesn’t require acting, only an impassive body.
Second, Hayek is little more than a cameo, appearing only in flashbacks.
Third, Dafoe and Rourke aren’t in it much more than Hayek.
Fourth, the main point of this film is to show as much gore and as
many violent deaths as possible. Do
you want to see a man’s eyes gorged out?
You’ll see it here. Do
you want to see a film that averages what seems like ten deaths per minute? You’ll see it here.
But do you want to
see a reasonable story? A good
script? A love interest? Suspense?
Something interesting? Forget
it, you won’t see them here. This
is just an exercise by
writer-producer-director-cinematographer-editor-composer, jack of all
trades, master of none, Robert Rodriguez in pop-film making, an over-the-top
action film with a lot of bullets, lots of people shot on top of tall
things, falling long ways, lots of people getting shot when you don’t
expect it. But, let’s face
it, how dumb can an audience be? After
the first several, maybe it’ll start to expect that maybe somebody’s
going to get shot within the next few seconds whether it looks like it or
contributes another strong performance in a weak film, following up on his
performance in Pirates of the Caribbean.
Marin gives a good performance, as does Rourke, who is hard to
recognize in his new, puffy, Marlon Brando-like body.
that I’m now in the seventh paragraph of this critique and I haven’t
mentioned the plot. Well,
there’s a reason. The raison
d’etre of this is the humorization and trivialization of violence.
You want a plot? Although it’s hard to determine, apparently a drug lord,
Barillo (Dafoe), wants to kill The President (Pedro Armendariz).
El Mariachi for some reason is trying to stop it, I guess, and to
gain revenge against General Marquez (Gerardo Virgil), who killed Carolina
in Desperado, and what Depp, who is apparently a rogue CIA agent,
Sands, is doing is anybody’s guess, but he’s in a lot of scenes, thank
God. To call it convoluted
would be to give it too much credit. This thing is so obtuse it’s an insult to language to use
words longer than one syllable to criticize it.
I think this is
intended to be a comedy (with thousands of graphic, bloody deaths; yeah,
that’s real funny). There are a few good lines.
The cinematography is pretty good.
The best part of the film is the post-production. The subtitles are
in bright yellow so you can always read them.
Hooray! Finally, in
2003, filmmakers have figured out how to put in readable subtitles!
Up until now they could conquer space, make people fly, rebuild and
sink the Titanic, have John Wayne advertise products that didn’t exist
when he was alive, but couldn’t figure out how to put in subtitles that
didn’t blend in with the backdrop. (Pardon this digression, but in a horrible new film called So
Close, a film far too dreadful for me to critique, the filmmakers
inserted a white strip on the bottom of some of the scenes and then inserted
subtitles in white! Remember
the movie The Invisible Man? So
Close should be called The Invisible Subtitles.
These people had to actually take post-production action to insert
this white strip and then take post-production action to insert white
subtitles. Can you spell
stupid?). But there’s another
issue with the subtitles, which seems to set an inexplicable double
standard. The vulgarity MotherF----
is spoken in English several times. But
when it’s spoken in Spanish, it’s not translated into a subtitle!
What? It’s OK to speak
it, but it’s not OK to write it? What
am I not understanding here?
Films like Once
Upon A Time In Mexico can tend to desensitize viewers to violence and
can result in a more violent society. There are some people who might like this.
I’m not among ‘em.
September 13, 2003
Anything Else (2)
Copyright © 2003
by Tony Medley
One thing Woody
Allen said that was right on was that no movie should be longer than 90
minutes. Even though this one
is advertised as coming in at 96 minutes, it seems like eternity. But, to be
fair to Woody, after only 30 minutes, this was too long.
Just so you know where I’m coming from, I’ve only seen three
Allen films I liked, Annie Hall, Deconstructing Harry, and Bullets
Over Broadway. Why he’s got the reputation he’s got is beyond me.
Why all the actors apparently stand in line to act for him for little
more than scale is beyond me. He’s
got a longer string of unentertaining, marginally profitable films than any
The last Allen
film I saw was The Curse of the Jade Scorpion.
That was so bad I swore off any more.
But for some reason I went to this, maybe because Allen wasn’t
starring. I thought he had a small part.
Unfortunately, his part isn’t small.
It’s the second leading man. His
acting has become as bad as his writing and directing.
It showed in Scorpion, and it’s gotten worse here.
This could as
easily have been entitled The Nebbish and The Shrew. Jerry Falk
(Jason Biggs) is a struggling writer who lives with aspiring actress Amanda
(Christina Ricci). In a
flashback we see that he falls in love with her because they have similar
tastes. But from that point on
there’s never anything that indicates a loving relationship.
He’s smitten, but we can never understand why because she’s such
an unappealing character. She’s not particularly beautiful. In fact, as far as I’m concerned, she was the least
attractive female in the movie. So
what’s keeping Jerry tied in with her when she’s such a manipulative,
uncooperative, unresponsive jerk, except to maintain a tenuous story line,
which is, basically, why does Jerry stay with Amanda and will he continue to
stay with her?
(Allen) is kind of a mentor to Jerry. But
Allen’s neurotic way of acting, where he never says his lines straight,
always appearing to be groping for words, is so annoying, the truths Dobel
is telling Jerry are pretty much lost.
Worse, Allen’s script is so hackneyed that it’s super
predictable. I could say lines
before they were spoken. I
could tell what was going to happen before it occurred.
This movie goes on
and on and on. There’s never a moment of silence. When there isn’t dialogue, Jerry’s talking to us, like
Allen used to before he grew too old. To
make matters worse, Biggs isn’t up to the weak script. Cary Grant or Ryan O’Neal might have been able to handle
this. Maybe Woody Allen could
have handled it 30 years ago. Biggs
clearly can’t. Weak script
plus weak actor equals disaster.
Nobody would put
up with what Amanda puts him through. The
movie completely lacks credibility. I
can’t imagine anyone who actually is a Woody Allen fan liking this movie.
If you don’t like Allen, there’s not a chance you’ll like it.
I felt like I had been sitting there three hours when it finally
September 20, 2003
Matchstick Men (8)
Copyright © 2003
by Tony Medley
As Monty Python
used to say, now for something completely different.
Director Ridley Scott, whose recent history has brought us wonderful
action films like Black Hawk Down and Gladiator, translates
Eric Garcia’s book about a neurotic con man into a compelling film.
Roy Waller (Nicholas Cage) is the obsessive-compulsive grifter.
He’s told he has a daughter, Angela (Alison Lohman), by the
pregnant wife he divorced 14 years ago, finds and meets her in front of
Venice High School, and the relationship changes his life.
A sometimes funny, sometimes touching caper film with plenty of
surprises. Deserving of Oscar
nominations to Scott, Cage, Lohman, and screenwriter Ted Griffin.
Lost In Translation (6)
Copyright © 2003
by Tony Medley
decades ago I attended a small dinner party.
One of the people in attendance said he was the brother of Francis
Ford Coppola. I believed him because it was a party of celebrities (author
Judith Krantz was there) and he had a beard like Francis.
He told of the new film he was preparing, all about a blind man told
from the blind man’s vantage point. In
other words, the screen was all dark all the time.
Now we get Lost
In Translation, written, produced, and directed by Francis’s only
daughter, Sofia, the niece of the guy who said he was the brother of
Francis. If watching a film with the screen black sounds kind of slow, it
would prepare you for this one, which defines the word “slow.”
Bob Harris (Bill
Murray) is an aging actor in Japan to do whiskey commercials.
Charlotte (Scarlett Johansen) is a young wife, fresh out of Yale, in
Japan with her photographer-husband, John (Giovanni Ribisi). Both feel they have been minimized by
their respective spouses. Murray does a good job of looking bored, but the
best job of acting in the movie is by Johansen, who captures the part of a
young wife who feels she’s being neglected and finds herself attracted to
an older man magnificently. Their
mutual ennui is exacerbated by an unflattering picture of life in Japan for
Americans. Interesting cinematography alternates between the noise and
bright lights of the streets to scenes in the hotel bars shot in what
appears to be available light.
If you’ve got
patience, you might enjoy it, but this is S-L-O-W.
For me, it flunked the watch test (I looked at mine more than ten
times) as nothing continued to happen on the screen, but I did find it
ultimately satisfying, even though it would have been much better if it had
come in 30 minutes shorter than the final 105 minutes running time.
Apparently interminable movies run in the Coppola blood.
September 19, 2003