Monday, July 23, 2001

Movie Review: Made

It's impossible to write about Made without mentioning Swingers. Both are written by Jon Favreau. (He also directs the former, while Doug Liman (Go) directed the latter). Both star Favreau and Vince Vaughn. Swingers is about love and dating in the world of L.A. nightlife, while Made is about... well, it's not about much, but it's the story of two guys who become low-level thugs for Max the Mafia boss (Peter Falk) and are given a task to prove their worth.

Swingers is one of those movies that you either get and love, or you don't get and hate. I know both kinds of people. Made is a little more accessible. Mafia movies, given their history, are a little more easy to swallow than movies about the young, fast-talking, swing-dancing L.A. set. Bobby (Favreau) is an aspiring boxer who works construction jobs by day and acts as driver/bodyguard for his stripper girlfriend (Famke Janssen) by night, both in the employ of Max the mafia boss. Max decides to give Bobby a shot at a better position within his business, sending him to New York to perform a "drop." Bobby convinces the reluctant Max to let his lifelong friend Ricky (Vaughn) come along. Max gets Bobby to "vouch" for him. For those that don't know what that means: if Ricky fucks up, Bobby will be held responsible. The issue is, Ricky is, well, a fuck-up. Hilarity ensues. Really. I wasn't being sarcastic: hilarity does ensue. For all-out laughs, Made has Swingers beat.

My problem with the movie is its lack of about. Moreso than Swingers, there is a plot, a story-line, a Point A-to-Point B. But with the addition of plot, there seems to be a sacrifice of deeper characterization and overall theme. Is it about friendship? I guess. Is it about finding one's path? A little bit. Is it about taking responsibility? Maybe. I'm just not definite on any of these things.

Nevertheless, I was entertained. The dialogue is smart and fast. Vaughn is a riot. Music is cool. The movie is hilarious. Here's some algebra:

(Swingers + mafia + more laughs) - depth = Made

Go. Enjoy. Despite its shortcomings, it's better than most of the crap out there!

Movie Review: Ghost World

Have you ever seen a movie that you really loved that you can't describe to someone, other than to say you really loved it? That's the dilemma I have with Ghost World. It's one of those slices-of-life movies: no clear objectives, no action sequences, no villains, no problems to solve. Well, there are problems to solve, I guess, but nothing like obtaining mystical triangles or escaping dinosaur-infested islands.

Enid (Thora Birch) and Rebecca (Scarlett Johansson) have just graduated high school. They were the ones in school that were on the fringe: not losers, but not popular, just the cynical outsiders who liked to be on the outside, just so they can look at everyone else and mock their normalcy, banality and conformity. So they graduate. No college in their plans, they decide to get jobs and get an apartment together. The problem: Enid is far less motivated to do so than Rebecca. The more Rebecca embraces growing up and earning a living and joining society, the more Enid rebels and clings to those outsider values.

Along the way, in a bit of a cruel prank, they meet Seymour (Steve Buscemi), a lonely, socially awkward self-proclaimed dork who collects old records. Enid immediately identifies with and befriends him, and they start spending a lot of time together. When Seymour begins dating a "normal" woman, Enid again feels threatened and is confronted by the fear of losing yet another friend to that world. And that's it, really. It's about growing up, finding yourself, relationships, and friendships. And it's also really, really funny.

If you're after "THE THRILL RIDE OF THE SUMMER!!!" this ain't it. But I can't recommend this enough to people who appreciate this sort of thing.

Friday, July 20, 2001

Movie Review: Jurassic Park III

Hmmm. I just saw this last night, so bear with me while I collect my thoughts. I think I liked it alright. But that's the thing, really. It's just one of those movies that you say, "Yeah, it was alright." Is that enough? Sure, if it's only 92 minutes of your time, which this one was.

The plot (maybe some spoilers, but this isn't "who shot JFK"): A couple of distraught parents, the Kirbys (William H. Macy, Tea Leoni), enlist--or rather, dupe--Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill) and his young paleontology ward, Billy (Alessandro Nivola), in helping them find their son, Eric (Trevor Morgan, who I recognized instantly as Tommy Tammisimo from The Sixth Sense), who disappeared on the island 8 weeks ago, due to a freak parasailing crash (I know).

Anyway, that's the excuse this time for stunts, special effects, and some new dinosaurs we've never seen before. Why is the primary goal of most sequels to offer "something we've never seen before"? I always thought that a sequel's job was to advance the story and characters from the first movie (a la Godfather Part 2 or T2 or The Empire Strikes Back). If they happen to offer "something you've never seen before," well, that's just a bonus. But whatever. I'm digressing, as usual.

Stunts: good. Special effects: dinosaurs looked ok, not as good as first two, and some of the matte work is blech (particularly the parasailing sequences (yes, there's more than one)). Story: whatever. Characters: don't care. But, like I said, it's only 92 minutes. Another half hour of it, and I would've been annoyed. But given its length, a couple of neat action sequences, and one very inspired use of a ringing satellite phone, it's... alright. But I'm too forgiving. Not a very good reviewer, I suppose, movie whore that I am. You go see it and decide... but I'm sure your reaction will be: eh.

Monday, July 16, 2001

Movie Review: The Score

More and more, I am learning to appreciate movies that take their time. Maybe because nowadays they are so rare. The few recent examples I can think of are Unbreakable, The Sixth Sense, and, surprisingly, The X-Men. Most other movies are always in such a rush to impress. It's like they've decided that because kids (everyone's favorite demographic) watch MTV, they have a short attention span, and they cater to it with reckless abandon, ignoring things like character development and pacing. They have only one pace: fast. I remember learning in screenwriting class that an action sequence is more exciting if it follows a slower-paced segment. Maybe I'm turning into a fogey, but most movies today are non-stop. It's cool, and they are fun, but it leaves you (or me, at least) feeling empty.

What am I getting at? What am I talking about? I don't remember.

Oh, wait. The Score. That's my point. The Score is a movie that takes its time. It establishes its characters: Robert De Niro as a professional thief who is just about to retire; Marlon Brando as the guy offering him one final, yes, score. And Edward Norton as an up-and-coming thief who is smart and kicks ass. It establishes place: Montreal. It establishes tone: serious, but slightly comedic. And it slowly builds, and builds, and builds.

Without giving anything away, Norton and De Niro are different generations of thief united for a job set up by Brando. De Niro is, of course, the consummate professional: patient, thoughtful, strong moral compass. Norton, although very clever, is the brash upstart: untrusting, more cutthroat, less scrupulous. So what's going to happen? Will they pull it off? I'm not telling. It's way too much fun trying to figure it out.

Well-shot and directed. An extremely tight, well-written script (some people said it was too slow. I didn't think so. Regardless, it never fails to engage your attention. All in all, my second favorite movie so far this summer. (My first being Moulin Rouge, of which I didn't write a review. Apologies. Trust me, it's good.)

Thursday, July 12, 2001

Movie Review: A.I.

So much potential. So many great ideas. Amazing performances, especially by Osment, who manages to carry this 2 1/2 hour beast on his tiny little shoulders. Such a great look. All of it wasted.

I found A.I. slow, cold and clinical. In a word, it was very Kubrick. I know I'm suppose to love and revere the great Stanley Kubrick, and while I appreciate his talents as an artist, his contributions to the world of film, and his ability to make people think, frankly his movies bore the ever-lovin' shit outta me. I'm glad they exist, I understand why people like them, but I absolutely can't stand most of them.

People are complaining that A.I. is too much Spielberg, not enough Kubrick. My personal opinion is the opposite. As much as I wanted to, I could not emotionally connect to anything in this film, much like 2001, or Clockwork Orange, or (especially) Barry "Snoozefest" Lyndon.

David is a robot who loves, and wants nothing more than to have his love returned by his mother. The theme is love. Emotion. So why didn't I care? It wasn't for lack of good performances. It was the detached style in which it was filmed. I was forced into the role of objective observer. I hate that. When I see a movie, and again this is my personal opinion, I want to be manipulated. Art is manipulation. Whether it is an altered perspective or unique use of color in a painting, or lines in a drawing directing your sightline to a particular subject, or a specific chord progression in a piece of music, or a precisely worded, stirring monologue in a play--art needs to reach in and grab you and fuck with your insides. Why didn't A.I. do this? Yeah, it was a thing that made me go "hmmm". Yeah, it was visually and aurally amazing. Yeah, I had to sleep on it and think about the ideas. But where was the heart? This kid wants to be loved by his mother. How pure and simple and wonderful a theme. Why isn't this touching? Easy: Kubrick. Or rather Spielberg's emulation of Kubrick.

To this day, E.T. makes me weep like a baby. Every time. When that little rubber spacegoblin tells Elliott, "I'll be right here," and his finger lights up, and the score swells, I fucking lose it. That film is the primary reason I am still paying off a $100,000 education based on watching and making movies. And it's as shamelessly manipulative as they come. A lot of people resent that, and feel that filmmakers are cheating in some way by deliberately tugging on heartstrings. I understand that, but I disagree. All art needs to be manipulative in one way or another.

I am not saying A.I. is an exception. The story manipulates like nobody's business. I mean, come on, they resurrect the mother at the end for just one day so that David can finally hear her say, "I love you" and thus complete his journey. The End. But it's filmed in such a cold and detached way that I couldn't care, no matter how much I wanted to -- and that is so not Spielberg's style (I could sense him fighting it now and then--particularly with Teddy and Gigolo Joe). You can get away with movies that don't make you care as long as they are fast-paced, action-packed or funny (that's why I kinda like Strangelove and Spartacus), but with a long, slow, sprawling drama, if the audience doesn't care, it is death. It ultimately amounts to a colossal waste of time. And I didn't care.

(And don't get me started on the ending with the bizarro Robots O' the Future. The first ending, trapped under the ferris wheel for all eternity, would have been best.)