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Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring

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LThis is a difficult review to write. It’s no secret that everyone I know who has seen this movie has loved it with a fever beyond normalcy. It’s well known too that J.R.R. Tolkein’s Middle Earth books were the zygotes of fantasy literature as we know it. I have to tell you, Gentle Readers, that reading the Fellowship of the Ring was comparable to having your front teeth pulled (which I had done as a child – it’s quicker). Before the firebombs get mailed to my house, let me finish: The film is much, much better than the book, and for that I must credit director Peter Jackson, not the revered Mr. Tolkein.

I am one of the fortunate but relatively few who have known Peter Jackson’s work for a while, back to Dead Alive and Meet The Feebles. Those are markedly different films from this movie, which owes more in filmmaking slickness to The Frighteners and Beautiful Creatures. In the OFCS awards, I nominated Jackson for Best Director, but not LOTR for Best Picture. LOTR is filled with what are now (but weren’t in the 1950’s) the ultimate in fantasy stereotypes – mystical talismans (rings, swords), halflings, elves, dwarves, orcs, every D&D staple from the beginning of it all. I was an enormous, addicted fantasy maven in my day, so those who do not know me please do not think that I roll my eyes at that stuff; but also keep in mind I have seen plenty of it.

Like truly classic films (Casablanca, Gone With The Wind) the idea, the sense of such a world, had to start somewhere, and it started in these books. What I found frustrating about the book was all the extraneous mystical mumbo jumbo that was irrelevant to the plot; long elven songs about warriors and whatnot that are not germane to the story being told, and such. Like the “begat” section of the Bible. Jackson mercifully dispensed with that and gave us the actual story, with all the walking and meeting singing beer-dispensers deleted and all the actual drama and excitement left in. Great score, too. Do not see it in a non-THX theatre if you can help it – the sound is mixed badly for crappy theatres.

Jackson also has the visual gift of (I presuppose) presenting on screen exactly what it was that he wants us to see – any film of LOTR has some huge shoes to fill. Die hard fans are having to wear double layers of diapers to survive their enthusiasm while watching this one. That speaks volumes about how he has touched the heartstring of the work. His gift of presentation can be as varied as hilarious undead, heroin-addicted puppets, or murderous virgins, and what you see you rarely forget. The visuals are largely computer and New Zealand nature- generated, and, like (I shudder to compare) Phantom Menace, fill the screen with beauty and minute detail. The difference between Lucas’ drivel and this is of course better source material and a better sense of what works. I especially enjoyed how the human-sized actors were seamlessly resized to be onscreen togther (with faces, not always children from behind) in their correct species proportions. Small detail but huge impact. I also hope the New Zealand Ministry of Tourism is prepared for the onslaught of travelers hoping to glimpse that small but beautiful country.

Only strong actors and a solid screen play could make Tolkein’s weepy romantic mysticism mystical again like it was for us when we were children. This interpretation comes very post-Dragonslayer, when we were all throwing money at anyone in a leather doublet with a sword, but it brings back the simple pleasures of the conventions of dwarvish pride and human arrogance. I hazard to add that in this film, I actually understood better the power of the ring, watching how it affected Frodo’s companions and of course “Ring-Wearer-Vision” where evil is white and good is black. The craft of the film is superior to the source material, in my opinion, and all of Jackson’s movies are paragons of craft. He clearly takes very close care of what he does, and his attention to visual style and meaning serve him well in such a dense tale.

I will admit that it was not my very favorite film of the year, for which I will surely be hung out to dry, but it is to be applauded, appreciated, and viewed again. I do not think anyone will be dissatisfied; I certainly was not.

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 12/21/01
Time in minutes 178
Director Peter Jackson
Studio New Line

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Not Another Teen Movie

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In my excessively biased opinion, there are two generations for which the teen movie genre means something: Gen X and Gen Y. I myself am classic Gen X, and went with a friend 4 years my junior who, culturally, had a similar experience, but hasn’t seen many of the recent (read: starring Freddie Prinz Jr.) teen flicks. The audience was packed with all sorts of folks, people I couldn’t imagine liking this film. The cast is large, rivaling an Altman film, yet the archetypes are so deeply ingrained, you don’t need a playbill to follow along.

First of all, the music is rockin’! Crazy “current” acts covering 80’s songs, frequently surpassing the original while still keeping the excellent songwriting intact. My companion and I literally flew next door to Tower and picked up our own copies of the soundtrack, and wriggled the wrapper off to have maximum play time on the drive back to my house to listen to it. So, if nothing else, it’s worth that. We need a follow up for all the other songs!

I feel I am stepping alone into a spotlight to say that what Scream did for horror movies, this movie has done for 80’s through 2001 teen movies. It is a decent movie in and of its own right, while still parodying the holy hell out of the very movies it’s emulating. It’s not as slick and crafted as the first Scream movie (how many critics would say that sentence with a straight face?) but the delicious glee of recognition is almost constant. “Long Duk Dong!” “Harry Dean Stadium!” The screen is littered with great visual throwaway jokes, many of which will sail over the heads of those to whom the song “Don’t You Forget About Me” has no specific meaning. The plot line is a clever combination of Pretty in Pink and She’s All That; a poor “ugly” girl (she wears glasses) and a rich popular jock, get together with surprising motivations, obstacles, and a pretty post-modern ending. In one viewing I noted references also to Breakfast Club (of course), Risky Business (scoring), Ferris Bueller, and other smaller references.

At the same time, I was also catching references huge and small to more modern movies, including American Beauty and Cruel Intentions, as well as Can’t Hardly Wait, Jawbreaker, 10 Things I Hate About You, Bring It On, and more. Some movies didn’t seem like the genre, like Varsity Blues or Almost Famous, but they weren’t obtrusively weird. What was truly astounding (and perhaps a little humbling) is that they were throwing references at you and still managed to keep a coherent story line, and one that had multiple plot lines, not just the boy-girl one.

The archetypes are all there, and it is because they are the modern versions of Pantalone (head cheerleader), Pulcinella (the jock), Scapino (the geek), Pedrolino (the fat kid or the ugly girl), Innamorato, etc. from Commedia Dell’Arte. Classic forms always survive, and I have been dragging companions to teen movies for years, unable to explain it until this film. One of the most basic (and therefore universally successful) comedic relationships is servant/master. This of course can be extrapolated into any other kind of relationship, henpecked husband and shrew, devoted nerd and oblivious girl, jock and fat kid, hot exchange student and horny virgin, with almost guaranteed results. In Commedia Dell’Arte, the stock characters are used again and again because we understand them; today, the melodrama of prime time TV is no different – we know them and so we can identify with them quickly without having to develop their characters. While this could make a screenwriter lazy, it also makes for a fantastic palette on which to paint your own original story. Yes, She’s All That is Pygmalion to the core, but the former movie had a great dance number, despite sucking otherwise. That’s OK. Because the screenwriters had this dense cast of familiar puppets to play with in this film, they could spend all their time weaving the various major stories together, and add in tons of jokes, so it didn’t suck.

Of course, since it also is homage to the later teen movies, there are a number of girls doing incredibly undignified things with regards to their natural body functions. It also owes a debt to Porky’s gratuitous nudity and American Pie’s frankness about masturbation. I give it such a high rating because the few people who I know are out there who love these movies with a guilt and a fever will totally love this movie. The film itself, as a document of our time, is simply OK. But the ride is actually better than the movie. It is also full of 80’s movie locations – see if you can spot those familiar exteriors and dance halls. If you don’t like the poopy caca that the kids are digging these days, it’s not prevalent but it’s there.

For the record, if you are going hoping to see a cute boy holding a jam box aloft, or anything relating to Heathers, Grease, or much from Sixteen Candles beyond a car and a house, be prepared to be disappointed. I guess they couldn’t get everything in. But you’d think, in these gross-out times, that the shower scene from Carrie would have been in there! But except for not having the jam box, my companion and I were throroughly satisfied and we hope you will be too!

MPAA Rating R-crude language/humor, nudity, drugs
Release date 12/14/01
Time in minutes 89
Director Joel Gallen
Studio Columbia Pictures

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Vanilla Sky

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The only reason I would even say that someone should see this movie is because Cameron Diaz does not (as usual) get the acting credit that she deserves. A woman trapped by the same quandary that Johnny Depp is only recently beginning to be successful in thwarting, Diaz is a gifted actress ruined by her incredible good looks. Diaz is great and there is way too little of her. Some have suggested that she and Penelope should have been cast in each other’s roles, but I argue that this is the more challenging role, and it really needs someone who can act; clearly Penelope’s little hoopty role does not.

You will notice I say no such thing about the humongously overrated Penelope Cruz. What truly infuriates me is that I was perfectly willing to live my entire life without ever seeing a Penelope Cruz movie, with her perpetual look of surprise and duck like perplexity, not to mention her weird rabbit voice. But a normally trusted source says, “Ooh, go, it’s a mind-f&%k movie,” so off I am to the cineplex. Need I mention that I have been rendered incapable of writing ever since. It is actually only my sheer fury over Mulholland Drive which brought me to the computer chair…but I digress.

Vanilla Sky takes the most hokey of framing premises in the world and tries to somehow pass it off as an erotic thriller. How many TV shows have you seen where at the end of the show they utter that famous resolution (which my conscience forbids I actually reveal) which is the lamest of cop-outs since Seneca invented the deus ex machina?* The greatest sin is despite this fantastically 4th-grade (I can’t even say sophomoric) wimp-out, our “hero” Tom Cruise doesn’t even get to portray someone smart enough to figure it out.

Fortunately for my friendship with the aforementioned recommender of this film, he also pointed out this deeper flaw, so I forgive him. I also will admit there is some cool editing here and there. As my first film for 2002, the year can only get better. Kudos to locations (or SFX) for shutting down Times Square.

OK, as an analogy, let’s say the butler did it. It’s bad enough to produce a film where the butler actually did it, but imagine a film where you have one hallucinatory picture of a man in a tuxedo you have not seen the whole film about midway through. Then, at the end have the butler walk up to the stumped inspector, wipe the victim’s blood on the inspector’s face, and take 10 minutes to explain it to him. ARGH! Rosebud indeed.

Even in the 2nd-time-viewing dud The Game, you had enough doubt and enough clues or red herrings that you remained interested in the outcome, and indeed a single possible outcome was inevitable. With the Sixth Sense, after seeing it and being given the answer, it makes the second viewing (or at least the recounting in the parking lot) all the more meaningful. Writer/director Cameron Crowe (yes, Almost Famous, Jerry Maguire, and Say Anything Cameron Crowe) apparently heard the treatment for Waking Life and thought that would make a good framing story for an unbelievable romance between Cruise and Cruz. Part of me hopes that Nicole Kidman fell in love with Ewan McGregor and Tom fell for Penelope during their respective movies so I can respect her more and be even more disgusted with Tom. Tom Cruise! Who was making such progress in being a Serious Actor, has now demeaned himself into a kind of puppet for a lunatic director who has lost his way. I really disliked this film.

*Kids, I don’t know if it was Seneca who did it or Aristophanes, but really no one knows for certain, so let’s not nit-pick when I am trying to make a point.

MPAA Rating R sexuality & strong language.
Release date 12/14/01
Time in minutes 145
Director Cameron Crowe
Studio Paramount

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Ocean's 11 (2001)

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With such a winsome cast, how could a remake of a dreary Rat Pack hoke-fest be anything less extraordinary than decent? Well, apparently by letting Ted Griffin (Ravenous) adapt the 1960 screenplay, and letting Steven Soderbergh direct it. Yes, THAT Steven Soderbergh, formerly of the forgettable Gray’s Anatomy and The Underneath and recently Oscar bait from Traffic and Erin Brockovich. Can you imagine? I even liked Ravenous, except for the horrible music. I know Ocean’s 11 didn’t make an impression on me when I had to struggle to remember that I saw it a week before I started writing. I will admit, this is the first time I have ever found Brad Pitt sexy, which may surprise some of you. Unfortunately, I’ve noticed that Brad is usually either playing “sexy” or “a good actor,” with occasional and welcome forays into “funny guy next door,” and, like Bruce Willis (hair=bad, bald=good), one can predict his performance just by watching the preview. But I squibble. Brad was perfectly fine, as were Julia, George, Don…

Here’s a clue – I had to check the IMDB just to recall who else was in the movie. Oh yeah, huge star Matt Damon, cultish star Casey Affleck, and old warhorse Carl Reiner. It was frustrating not to be impressed, it was annoying to only occasionally be engaged, and it was not refreshing to see another movie shot in Vegas about Vegas and about stealing. Obviously, it was far better than 3000 Miles To Graceland, but only because it was never really insulting. And Kurt Russell and Kevin Costner were nowhere in sight.

I like a heist movie, especially one with sexy people doing pretty complex and daring things in interesting locations, but I do want to think that they pulled it off with their brains and skills, not just an astounding Vegas-style run of super-luck. I don’t want to give it away, but it’s not unlike the infamous Powerbook interfacing with the Independence Day aliens kind of run of luck. So, there you have it. It’s merely OK, but it is completely watchable, and equally forgettable.

George Clooney is the titular Ocean, who assembles a crew of (guess how many) to rob some casinos. It’s a big deal, and the actors by and large seem to have a great sense of fun together on screen. The fun only filters off the screen and into the audience a little bit – we are too involved in checking to see who has the best hair to really get into the characters, and the plot certainly doesn’t give us many opportunities to sweat nervously. This is disappointing. It has also been excruciating to attempt to say much about what should have been the star power explosion of the year. I mean, my god, look at all these sexy people, conventional and unconventional. Look at Elliot Gould, for goodness sakes, and a severely Britishized Don Cheadle. This is an odd choice but I have to say, it made the film infinitely more interesting. As the weeks pass I find that his lines and Julia Roberts’ outfits are about all I have taken away as memories of that movie.

Why they chose to remake the cheesy genesis of the Rat Pack, a slightly dated notion of Vegas as a city of hope and wonder, I will never know. It is nice that no one sang this time, however. That would have been too much for too little.

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 12/7/01
Time in minutes 117
Director Steven Soderbergh
Studio Warner Brothers

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In The Bedroom

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Writer/director/producer Todd Field debuts with this surprisingly mature film. The subject matter looked too indescribable and heavy when I saw previews, and I am wary of first time writer/director/producer-type labors of love if I am not attracted by the story. After the nominees were announced, however, I realized I could no longer wait to see this film. I brought a small group with me, who appeared to have been as deeply affected by this intimate look into pain, acceptance, recovery, and forgiveness as I was. The title implies that the intimacy is sexual in nature; no sexuality could ever cut as close to one’s insides as the words spoken here.

All the acting nominations are richly deserved. There has been plenty of press on poor Marisa Tomei’s “freak” Oscar win for My Cousin Vinnie, but this is no freak nomination, whatever you may have thought back in the 1990s. Tomei guns the gamut in this film, and has to do some very hard things as a character, though it is not the showcase that it is for Sissy Spacek or Tom Wilkinson. Their on-screen marriage is as real as the seat cushion in your back, with all its familiarities and bitterness and unspoken cues. I can’t describe it without delving into some “In The Actor’s Studio” craft-type blather, but they inhabit their characters like Mikhail Baryshnikov dances. Wilkinson is always a joy to watch on screen. The first time I was aware of him was The Full Monty, and I loved him afterward in Wilde and Shakespeare in Love and The Patriot. I hope this film and this nomination catapult him into more roles. Spacek is dissected like a frog, emotionally, with not a whit of posturing or actor ego obscuring her performance, and it’s breathtaking. At one point I recalled Piper Laurie, playing Spacek’s insane horrible mother in Carrie, and wondered if Piper wishes she had played it more like this.

Field clearly did not learn anything from Kubrick while being in Eyes Wide Shut, for which we should all be grateful – the tension and the drama and the interest are all held in balance. He trains the camera on these artists and lets them find the rhythm, and you can see that very little of what they contributed was lost in the editing room. It’s painful to see into other people’s pain when you, as an empathetic audience member, are still processing your own – but then again, it makes you aware that you are an audience member – these people (though actors still) are really living what you are only vicariously experiencing. So many movies take weighty subjects and losses and present them in a sort of shorthand, so you either work to imagine how you yourself would react if such a thing befell you, or you are distracted by how you did actually react when it happened to you. Field’s film gives you the real experience as close as you can feel it when it’s still only projected light.

MPAA Rating R-violence, language
Release date 11/23/01 LA/NY
Time in minutes 130
Director Todd Field
Studio Miramax

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Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

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I blame Alan Rickman. I was never going to read these books, never involve my self in any way with Pottermania, and then I saw Rickman in the first preview for this months ago. “Mmmister Potter?” So I read J. K. Rowling’s book that reads like a crack pipe, and the next, and the next…Needless to say, by the time I actually saw the film, expectations were high, as were they for the audience of critics(and critics’ friends with the greatest bribing power). It is one thing to read about flocks of owls delivering the post, and a whole other thing to see it. Lovely.

I can safely say, with nary a qualm, that if you read this book, you will, at the very absolute worst, really like this movie. If you did not read this book, I want to hear from you! How does it play? I for one wondered how non-familiars would take to the story. For one thing, considering the title, one might think it gets to that point awfully slowly, not realizing what a delicious little trip (and important foreshadowing, er, I mean, exposition) it is on the way. My companion and I were constantly whispering, “That’s exactly as I pictured it!” and giggling with glee at how dead on director Chris Columbus nailed the feeling of the book. I think that feel is always harder than story, especially when this story is so artfully lean and well-paced. As my boyfriend put it, anyone who couldn’t make a good movie out of this book has got to be an idiot. Yes, he crammed for the release, reading the novel (which practically plays out in real time) in two days.

Back to the actual film. Daniel Radcliffe initially turned down this role, which would have been insane, but thankfully he saw the light. And I have to tell you, I am not the only adult woman who is waiting for him to grow up. ‘Nuff said there. He is perfect. I mean, freakily perfect – not just looking like Harry but he’s got the beaten down humbleness and the natural graciousness and – he’s great. I may have to break off my engagement with Haley Joel Osment. The whole cast is marvelous. Yes, keen-eyed fans, that’s Warwick “Willow” Davis at Gringott’s.

I was actually panicked, fearing that Richard Harris somehow would not survive to play Dumbledore in all 7 movies. Seven books there will be and Warner Brothers, who hasn’t had a profitable franchise since halfway through Batman, is ready to play ball I am sure. The actors completely inhabited their roles, though they were actually not given much screen time to do so. It is possible the filmmaker relied a little much on reader familiarity with the characters. I loved Maggie Smith and John Cleese and of course, Alan Rickman makes everything worthwhile. I have a huge crush on the lad, Sean Biggerstaff, who plays Oliver Wood. The painting which guards Gryffindor’s dormitory section is played by no one more perfect than Elizabeth Spriggs, who is not seen nearly enough in this film. Hopefully, Prisoner of Azhkaban will have more of these lovely secondary characters.

Here’s a potion Snape would be proud of: take Oscar-magnet composer John Williams, Industrial Light and Magic, production designer Stuart Craig, DP John Seale, Jim Henson’s Creature Shop, a highly trained and winsome cast of English smartypants, a can’t miss concept and a family-friendly director. Mix in a cauldron with (in the spirit of The Hitchhiker’s Guide’s No Tea) No Icky Pop Song, No Dated References, No Pandering, and especially No Americana, and you have a charming 152 minutes at the movies. And unlike the new Star Wars abominations, this super-hyped movie event is actually worth your time.

MPAA Rating PG
Release date 11/16/01
Time in minutes 152
Director Chris Columbus
Studio chris Columbus

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Monsters, Inc.

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Is it even possible for Pixar to make a film that is less than fantastic? I mean, seriously. From the deliciously retro Pink Panther-esque opening credits to the jaw-dropping door storage facility, what’s not to love? That crew is so freakin’ creative I don’t know how they sleep at night without their heads exploding. Maybe they are issued special helmets. It’s a terrific idea – monsters, in their world, are employed to jump out of kids’ closets and scare the beans out of them, which powers the monsters’ energy needs. Better yet, the monsters are scared of the human world. Brilliant! Some of the very young kids (only a few) at my screening were actually scared at parts in this film, but really, it’s not in any way scarier than Bug’s Life. It’s so good, I didn’t even notice Randy Newman’s music. Longtime readers will recognize that as a supreme compliment. There are no songs, just so you know.

I was speaking to someone who said he didn’t like Disney movies so he was not going to go. Not that they will need his money, but I had no idea people were so misled as to the Pixar-Disney connection, at least insofar as quality in concerned. Artistically, they are day and night, and Pixar, at least as evidenced by their product, is not beholden to the Disney aesthetic. Pixar is batting a thousand and Disney, while the premiere hand-animators in the universe, still rely too much on the beta testing principle. Pixar, please hire me!

The diverse, yet perfect, voice talent is supplied by Billy Crystal, John Goodman, Jennifer Tilly, and James Coburn, and yes, the 8 legged vanishing purple lizard is Steve Buscemi. **Steve Buscemi.** Think Reservoir Dogs and Fargo and Living in Oblivion and The Imposters. Love it! The young lady, Mary Gibbs, who does the voice of Boo, is also perfect.

The concept is great, the dialogue is snappy, the plot moves at a perfect pace. We’ve got adventure, laughs, even some nice awwwww moments. An amusing homage to the pioneer of stop-motion animation, Ray Harryhausen, made me laugh for several minutes. My companion’s and my jaw dropped during the big chase scene. You’ll know it when you see it. It’s not often a gal like myself who sees easily 100+ movies a year gets totally wowed by a scene, but there it is. I may have loved it better than Shrek – it was definitely more uniform and with less potential to become dated than Shrek.

The animation? Oh my god. I mean, it is Pixar, after all, and the technology has been screaming forward with textures and fur and light and everything, but wow! That fur! It makes Dinosaur look like Jumanji! Shiny eyeballs and sleek reptilian and crustacean skin, depth and scale and plasticity and weight – yummy. You also get a cute bonus short at the beginning, apparently a Pixar tradition, which makes me love them even more. Every film they outdo themselves. The sound engineers, often underappreciated, make it all the more real. How else could we believe so implicitly (as in the outtakes at the end of Bug’s Life) that what we are watching has actual solidity? The most real fantasy movie ever. Go see it now!

MPAA Rating G
Release date 11/2/01
Time in minutes 92
Director David Silverman, Pete Docter
Studio Disney/Pixar

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The Man Who Wasn't There

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Departing from their recent trend of dark comedies (excluding O Brother Where Art Thou), Joel and Ethan Coen’s followup work is a dark, gorgeous film noir, which, in my opinion, only merited Matinee Price for its slow and occasionally frustrating content. However, it is definitely the most beautiful film I’ve seen since gosh, I don’t even know…The Sixth Sense? The Shawshank Redemption (same DP)? Citizen Kane? I don’t mean to raise the stakes that high but The Man Who Wasn’t There must be seen on the big screen. The shadows and light, the angles, the mood, the faces, the delicious sense of late 1940’s smoke and blank-faced corruption, it’s delicious. It is not atmopshere for its own sake, either – it is almost a character in the film, as much as the ship Titanic itself was a character in that film. This palette, monochromatic but still richly painted, is largely due to the High Priest of directors of photography, Roger Deakins. Every frame is literally an art piece suitable for framing.

The central character, Ed Crane, is inhabited by a near-unrecognizable Billy Bob Thornton. Can this be the same soulful eyed man from Bandits? Or the same creepy backwoods yokel in A Simple Plan? Rendering him further into hiding in Crane’s skin is Crane’s flat, reactive character, so different than the famously bizarre, shrewd, and passionate Thornton. It’s amazing to see him in this role – he plays it like Itzhak Perlman plays a csardas. Ed stumbles into an enormous, thrilling pickle, filled with the aforementioned atmosphere and the rich characterizations for which the Coens are famous

However, despite the rather severe turn of fate and fortunes that the movie banks, little feels as though it actually happened over the 116 minute run time, yet your interest is held throughout. I don’t want to say anything about the plot here (which I generally do not anyway) because it is pleasurable to discover it piece by piece. It’s a strong cast with a dramatic but thin story, and they should be the one to paint it for you.

Frances McDormand is perfect as Mrs. Doris Crane, and James Gandolfini is a surprise as her boss. Despite their prowess, Billy Bob rules the screen. He is absent from so few shots that, despite his narration, he almost disappears, just like the curtains in full view on either side of the movie screen. Is he The Man Who Wasn’t There? The Coens love their evocative titles. I found myself changing my mind as to The Man could be. I have decided by now, of course, but I’m not telling you. You’ll enjoy making up your own mind. This film is seamy, rimmed with cigarette smoke and shadows coursing with meaning. Go see it – it’s beautiful.

MPAA Rating R for a scene of violence.
Release date 10/31/01
Time in minutes 116
Director Joel & Ethan Coen
Studio USA films

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Life As A House

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I am very negligent – I saw this movie right before I took a long vacation and did not find time to write my review before I left. This is only a shame in that Kevin Kline’s latest acting triumph has probably left the theatres by now. Kline plays a man who has found the end of his rope in sight, and decides to build the house he had never built. He’s lovely, marvelous, layered, sexy, vulnerable, strong, and utterly convincing. Many of the events in this story, when they come together, seem almost too convenient, but the weight of them is too solid to question them too closely. Kline has a prime lot on the California coastline, a cloudy past of unresolved conflicts, and a determination to cure all with the movie’s central metaphor. It works, and it’s a delight.

While I accidentally read a review that said this is the whitest movie ever made, I must disagree. Certainly some of the suburban angst that is experienced by some of the secondary characters in the book is the kind of trouble that only the spoiled affluent would find terrible. At the same time, I think it is an upper middle class tragedy (for all but Kline’s character), not a white one.

Hayden Christensen, the future Mr. Darth Vader in Star Wars (Episode II: Why Even Bother When It Can Only Suck), plays Kline’s fiercely morose son. Hayden was cast in this film before Lucas ever darthened his door, which is fortunate for him; this film’s work will enable him to get good, real acting jobs in the future. You can believe, physically, that he is the son of Kline and ex-wife Kristen Scott Thomas. Christensen is smoldering and sexy and vulnerable, but also scary and full of rage and pathos, and his (inevitable) transformation is believable and not too difficult to support. He as an actor will surely go places. He had enough gravity that he was able to take the occasional wince line and make it work.

Kristen Scott Thomas has always been, to me, the chilliest of actresses; she makes Nicole Kidman look like Meg Ryan. However, she floored me in this film – I was sympathetic to her, found her warm and charming, and I am glad to revise my opinion of her. Perhaps the screenwriter smoothed out the character’s rough edges when pointy Thomas was cast – perhaps Thomas has a kitten inside her Siberian White Tiger exterior. Either way, I loved her in this film.

I don’t want to give anything away, but there is plenty happening in this film that is incredibly painful, shocking, surprising, even scary, and it’s balanced almost perfectly against equal amounts of positivity, beauty, strength, love, and justice. Let me just warn you – you will need a hanky. Who cares if it’s a little too neatly done? Even as I was blubbering in uncontrolled delight and dismay, I did feel a tad distanced from the ending, but not enough to complain about it. Overall, I found the emotional rollercoaster ride to be satisfying, and I credit the actors and the music for most of that.

MPAA Rating R-language, sexuality, drug use
Release date 10/26/01
Time in minutes 145
Director Irwin Winkler
Studio New Line Cinema

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Waking Life

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Right off the bat, I can’t say that I enjoyed being in the theatre for this film. If it was not for the animated aspect of it, I don’t know why anyone would go see this except if they were intrigued by the admittedly interesting idea of this experimental film medium. My companion did enjoy it, and my friend with a degree in philosophy will also probably enjoy it, but overall I found it pretentious, tiresome, pedantic, and one-note. The main character floats around, sitting and listening to various experts and laymen wax philosophical about the nature of the self. It’s not dialogue or debate, it’s just monologue after self-important monologue. Every character has something to say, which will not be argued with, and then they are gone.

There is little cohesion or discussion or linkage or even connection with the main character, who sits mutely in most scenes while the lecturer drones. Occasionally, we witness a dialogue or two (one with Linklater alums Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy) with no relation with the main character. While the pace of the movie picks up when expressed in the medium of discussion rather than didactics, and since these segments have no tie to the general “quest” of the main character, why should be begin to care at any point? I’m sure I would have enjoyed it more if any kind of sense of narrative structure could have tied the legion of poseurs to the main character. The occasional totally unrelated monologues (a prisoner, for example) only serve to undermine the poorly-expressed theme.

Visually, the film is rotoscoped live action with an animation overlay – every shot appears painted/drawn or colored in some way but is based on real, filmed motion. This is visually interesting but I fear it could not hold my interest for the length of the film. It was not enough. From an artistic sensibility, it is very interesting to see how the presentation of a subject can be modified just with color or hair movement or the wavy gravy backgrounds showing how unmoored they are, thereby exceeding the value of the original subject. But the film is too long (I later discovered it was a tidy 84 minutes) to rely on that novelty alone for the duration.

As with most Linklater films, the scant enjoyment I generally derive from his “typical” work (Slacker, Dazed and Confused) is from spotting Austin locations and local actors. This was an additional challenge with the animated overlay obscuring many details, but I was pleased to recognize places by the feel of them rather than a clear defined look, such as the Spider House coffee place, and so on. So kudos to the animators for retaining the feel of places as well as the spirit of Guy Forsythe on his ukelele and other bits – I cannot say anything bad about the visuals of the film.

However, Linklater always seems to overestimate the audience’s patience with being inundated with flatly stated philosophies. My companion’s quote was “it starts out as a song of sophistry, and ends up a symphony of solipsism.” Whether he means the philosophical/psychological definition of this precept or Webster’s definition (that the view of the self is the only reality).either way, it’s a blanket statement of self-involved, self-centered masturbatory filmmaking when applied to this film As it stands, it represents all that student films have managed to achieve in the video era in the realm of embarrassing their audiences. Cosmic one-note jibber-jabber.

I like a theological or alternative pseudoscience debate as much if not more than the next moderately educated person, but every monologue meandered away from anything more than audience-immolation. It was difficult to focus or care so I ended up admiring the coloring. I wouldn’t recommend it, but if it’s your cup of tea, it’s definitely worth your money. How’s that for vague?

MPAA Rating R-language & violent images
Release date 10/19/01
Time in minutes 97
Director Richard Linklater
Studio Fox Searchlight

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