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Mulholland Drive

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I am extremely put out that I spent money on this film. It has gotten raves and hoopla from a variety of sources, more than David Lynch’s usual fringe freaks’ hullaballoo, so I thought I should see it before Oscar season gets going. My companion and I still trade articles about it in our fury to purge the experience. (PS thanks JW for some of the ammo below)

For the record, before I get carried away by my righteous hellfire, I must say that I am extremely impressed by Australian Naomi Watts: as an actor, as someone able to interpret an uninterpretable script while shooting out of sequence, and for her sheer bravery at some of the things she is asked to do and be and look like in this film. So kudos to Naomi, and my condolences that your breakout part could not have been in a more watchable film. She is an interesting Kim Novakian blend of super-modern and extremely old-fashioned, and occasionally other elements of the film follow suit. What she is asked to do in this film is very courageous – it’s good acting, but does good filmmaking automatically follow? Not at all. The film is performance art, it’s masturbation – apparently very fulfilling for the doer but pretty dang tiresome for the watcher.

Mulholland Drive is as elusive as the meaning of life, but far less interesting. Besides a few random non-sequitur scenes at the beginning (which are never resolved), the film kicks off with an almost Hitchcockian interest and tone, with old Hollywood archetypes meeting and greeting and immediately embarking on a fascinating mystery. Then, some weird randomness but it seems like reasonable randomness that will/should be explained later, a whetstone to keep us interested in what appears to be the central story.

Oh no! After a totally out of left field shift in priorities and mindsets on the parts of the two main ladies, a gratuitous and deus ex masturba sex scene is followed by a trip to a nightclub in the middle of the night, which immediately turns into something Salvador Dali might have painted after some bad paella. Not only does the movie and the plot take a very sharp turn, it does a bootleggers’ U-turn and dashes down an alley and shuts its headlights off while the unsuspecting audience drives by. It is an infuriating conceit on the part of Lynch to purposefully obscure any path to even interpretation, much less resolution.

Some have theorized that a fever dream (whose dream? Fever brought on by what?) begins at this juncture, but really, if it is a dream, what resolution is there? None! There are theories abounding (read the reader mail on salon.com for some serious amusement) as to what the various symbols mean, etc. What it boils down to, however, is that David Lynch enjoys sprinkling his work with obtuse randomness to make it seem deep and arty, with no intention of even providing the tools for the intelligent movie-goer to work it out. My companion loves art films and, as she puts it, can find a narrative in practically anything, and she was very disgusted by his blatant disregard for his audience. Yes, I am the first to admit that American movies are possibly the most guilty of the crime of dumbing down to the audience, but countless competent filmmakers (best recent example: Christopher Nolan, Memento) have shown that you can toy with the mind of the audience, withhold crucial information, and force them to come to their own conclusions about what they have just seen without being a pretentious sham-flanderer!

When an actor cannot possibly find the logic or justification for his dialogue in the script he reads, the dialogue cannot help but sound like a terrible student film. This is why student films largely seem as though they are ruled by the non-actor. With glaring exceptions on the part of Naomi Watts, who somehow can find a meaning in everything, most of the actors sounded like they were in physical pain, and therefore so were we. An early un-repeated scene in a diner somewhere felt like the worst entry in a contest. We are purposefully given no clues, visual or through dialogue, to know who these two men are, and the film decides never to resolve it.

And don’t get me started on Club Silencio and the Cowboy. It’s everything alienating about the weirdest of foreign films without the forgiving veil of the language barrier. And it lays it on thick.

Someone writing on Salon.com came up with this:
“Thematically, Lynch seems to be working out a number of things: the enticing but empty imagery of the movie screen; the accompanying imagery that is used as stardust to cover up the unpleasantries of the movie-making process; the imagery that the ambitious use to reimagine and remake themselves; and the imagery and imagination actors put to work to create their characters.”

Even taking that interpretation (which is not unreasonable) to an extreme, it does not forgive or excuse the sloppy filmmaking, horrible focus tricks, Myst I music track, wooden supporting characters forced to make a mini-scene real, and totally unjustified cross-back role changes. Yuck.

MPAA Rating R-violence, language, strong sexuality
Release date 10/12/01
Time in minutes 147
Director David Lynch
Studio Universal Focus

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My First Mister

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I should say right off the bat that before I saw this film, Albert Brooks was the only attraction for me to go see it – for some reason I have developed this rabid anti-Leelee Sobieski attitude which I have had trouble overcoming. My First Mister did wonders for that problem. It is weird and interesting to see the proud virgin and Helen Hunt doppelganger with this character’s tattoos and piercings and black hair and makeup – she is aggressively rebellious against the attempts of her sweet Stepford mother (Carol Kane) to make her “pretty.”

I love the film, love Leelee in it, love Albert of course, great stuff all around. She plays a disenfranchised, isolated punk of a girl, with self-destructive and anti-social tendencies, cloaked in a screaming maw of loneliness. She meets Albert Brooks, a schlumpy obsessive who is also, but differently, cloaked in isolation. Somehow, an amazing friendship blossoms, ultimately transforming more than the sum of its parts. She’s not just tattooed and surly and he’s not just geeky and stern – their characters are beautifully written and fleshed out gradually and admirably by the actors. As with a flower opening, a single, simple bud becoming a profusion of petals and color and scents, these characters truly come alive in each other’s presence. The film skirts toward the dangerous, the obvious, and even the maudlin, but thankfully never quite gets there. Quite refreshing.

Comparisons with Ghost World will probably crop up – these are both indie films about rebellious teens wallowing selfishly in cynicism and angst whose lives are enriched by befriending older men are always compared, as if teen angst itself were as formulaic as an asteroid movie. In Ghost World, the teen and the adult are drawn together by a mutual fascination, which leads to their ultimate separation. However, in My First Mister, the May-December acquaintances are repelled by preconceived prejudices that lead to their ultimate bonding. And neither film is Lolita, if you’re concerned about that. Unlike Ghost World, which I did enjoy, My First Mister is a little more accessible, so I feel I can more easily issue a blanket statement of “go see it you will like it.”

Director Christine Lahti helms this, her second feature film as a director, with confidence and sensibility. It’s definitely got a womanly angle, insofar as how the characters end up approaching the changes within, but it’s not a schmaltz fest by any reckoning. The screenwriter, Jill Franklyn, has previously only written for TV, and knowing that, it seems that the episodic nature of the steps of their relationship could have been broken into different episodes fairly easily – but it doesn’t feel choppy. However, each separate event does play in a kind of standalone manner, which might feel bumpy to persons unused to enjoying non-commercial television. These two women should be very proud of this work.

Albert Brooks (Mother, Defending Your Life) specializes in self-exploratory characters who hide behind their flaws or fears, and you have to love him for the humor with which he infuses his neuroses. Either Sobieski was just waiting for the right role, or else she bloomed in Brooks’ presence and influence. Whatever the reason, I really loved it. Despite taking forever to actually sit down and write about it, I have been recommended it to most people I’ve run into. And now you!

MPAA Rating R- language & sexual material
Release date 10/12/01
Time in minutes 105
Director Christine Lahti
Studio Paramount Classics

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Zoolander

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Whatever Zoolander is or is not, it is completely and utterly committed to the gag.  It full on drives it home with every frame, every word – the sad part is that the gag is not worth all the trouble.  However, not even the considerable comic talents of Ben and Jerry Stiller, Owen Wilson, or Christine Taylor (Marcia in the Brady Bunch movies) can make this hodgepodge into more than it is.  You’ll notice I don’t include the chronically anti-funny Will Ferrell in this list.  Most often on the large or small screen, he is merely a liability or an annoyance – but as the heavy in this film, so much rides on him not sucking that it dooms the film.  And yet, this is Ferrell’s least unwatchable role ever.

For those who don’t know, Derek Zoolander (Ben Stiller) is conscripted into spy work to bring down a fashionista regime that is threatening to – what?  I was never sure – something evil regarding migrant/child laborers and profits and what have you.  The plot is unimportant, and takes a back seat to the notion that male models are stupid and have secret power in their looks.  His competitor in model-hood is the always delightful Owen Wilson, whose normally brilliant persona has been diluted by his character’s weird New age rock & roller model pastiche.  This killed any chance of Owen’s tangy wit to really shine.  It’s a waste of both Wilson’s and Stiller’s considerable bit to play such lunkheads.

Jerry Stiller plays the Danny DeVito of the fashion world, and he and his new real-life daughter in law Christine Taylor are just not given enough to do.  The fashion industry is weird enough that to properly parody it is hardly worth the hyperbole.  A cameo from David Bowie is funny but was it worth the scene that made it possible?

My two companions and I definitely laughed at certain points, and we generally admired the shrewd production design, but something important was missing.  Cohesion?  Maybe.  A solid foundation?  Certainly.

It’s already a known quantity that MTV films are not going to be top of the mark, and now it appears VH1 films are following in that bland tradition.  Because Stiller invented this character for the VH1 Fashion Awards, somehow it became a real movie.  I am loathe to acknowledge that Ben Stiller’s genius (as exhibited in his critically acclaimed series way back when) is not evident in this film, much.  The best gags come from the art department and the props, not from the story, and that’s a killer every time.  Oh Ben!

It pains me to admit that Ben’s aim is not true.  Go home and rent The Cable Guy and let’s hope that Owen and Ben can work together on something as great as Meet The Parents again.

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 10/5/01
Time in minutes 105
Director Ben Stiller
Studio Paramount

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The Musketeer

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While it may seem petty, in light of this week’s events, to decry this movie as an abomination, well, that is what it felt like sitting in the theatre. The Musketeer starts out in an average enough fashion, with slightly wooden dialogue, Tim Roth over acting, super tight shots of abrupt movements. Then, an appalling 1970’s student film takes over for the opening credits. Apparently paying Xin Xin Xiong (the fight choreographer, whose name was the only one billed in the previews) left no cash for the titles. My companions giggled uncomfortably during the weird and horrible early 80’s TV movie titles. Still, chin up, we will survive this – and besides, the teaser portion of the movie looked just fine. Key word: Looked. Please note the past tense.

Then the movie reverted back to normal. The sucking began slowly, gradually, imperceptibly. An out of focus shot here, an overly dark action sequence there, inexplicable behavior and silly dialogue scattered like breadcrumbs in the dark woods. It was still the first real scene in the film, it could just have been a ham-handed bid at mystery.

The first fight scene is elaborate, almost cartoonish in its fifty-moves-where-one-will-do, with fingerhold balance absurdity. Impressive hiding of the wires, however – it was so dark in this scene they could have been suspended from nautical ropes. Was it dark? You bet – the almost totally Asian stunt team (according to the credits) probably did not resemble their white French Gallic patrician characters very much, so the director opts for a muddy too-close soup of stupidity.

The director, Peter Hyams, is also the cinematographer (in a low attempt to be Robert Rodriguez, I suppose) and his name set off clanging Notre Dame-size bells in my head – but from what? End of Days, that wasn’t so bad (but now that I think about it, it was dark), Timecop – and The Relic. Long the butt of my movie crowd’s derision, The Relic was only used as an object of positive comparison after Phantoms came out. Similarly, The Musketeer is only watchable when compared to the truly unwatchable, like Battlefield Earth. We did have a lot of laughs watching this film, and it is extremely MST3K-friendly, but man is it rank.

Enter the dame, modern American Virgin/Beauty/Pie’s Mena Suvari, whose period acting is comparable to Winona Ryder’s. “Sexual tension” is played as flat wit after being translated into various languages. Then it gets worse. Continuity is non-existent – bad guys disappear when they are dispatched like a Playstation game, and turn up with the same logic-free silliness. By the end we were holding our pounding heads in agony (like Relic companion SJ’s forehead bruise after pounding his fist there repeatedly during that film), rolling our eyes, gasping in horror, and inserting our own superior dialogue. Instead of calling in, say, William Goldman or Carrie Fisher, apparently all the script rewrites were done by Koko (the gorilla) – didn’t Cardinal Richlieu at one point say “drink drink apple me kill D’Artagnan?”

Bad dialogue, dark dark scenes, Stephen Rea & Tim Roth yawning through their scenes, Catherine Deneuve looking like she shot up heroin just to tolerate the job, and D’Artagnan (The Wedding Planner’s Justin Chambers) almost irritatingly serious throughout.

Good points: production design, art department, locations, makeup, wardrobe, all fantastic. The ladder scene (even if it is ridiculous, it’s still extremely cool.)
Bad points: Everything else. The entire movie is a flimsy and needlessly complex construct to justify the admittedly cool ladder scene. FYI: The Ladder Scene is one hour, 45 minutes into the film. Do yourself a favor: buy a ticket to Rat Race, watch these 5 minutes of the Musketeer, and then go see Rat Race.

Hong Kong actioners generally don’t need such dense and elaborate plots to show off cool fight choreography. The Must-Not-Hear is low on fights, big on badly explained 17th century French politics, and long on suck. The HTML code on the home page for The Musketeer would be a better screenplay.

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 9/7/01
Time in minutes 104
Director Peter Hyams
Studio Universal

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Rat Race

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“What! Full Price Feature?!” Believe me, I am as shocked as you are. I fully expected to come out of that theatre with a couple of amusing moments, smiling maybe, nut not much more. I can’t give away what was funny about the movie without ruining it, so I will have to rely on detailing our reaction to the film. Not only did I laugh my freakin’ butt off (as did my three very diverse companions) pretty much the whole time (after a mite slow beginning), but the four of us were still cracking up, loudly, walking out of the theatre and into the car and most of the drive home. We recollected all our favorite moments, which were legion, and laughed afresh. It was the simple, unaffected laughter of delight in simple, easy pleasure. Guffawing, if you will. Now that’s funny! Remember in the date montage in Naked Gun when Leslie Nielsen and Priscilla Presley come out of Platoon clutching their guts and laughing? That was us, except instead of Platoon, it was Rat Race! So, with my pricing schema of dollar value for entertainment received, this is indeed a Full Price Feature. I want to see it again!

Now if course I have built it up too much, but I have peeked at ratings on other sites and they seem to agree. What looks like a disjointed, multi-storyline wackofest is actually a beautifully shot, action-packed comedy with a little something for everyone. Some of the jokes telegraph themselves a mile away, and a lot of people seem to crash vehicles through fences, but for some reason, it all works! My favorite shot, which I do not want to give away, literally had me hopping up in down in my seat, even though it was apparent what would happen and how it would be, it was the execution that was so hilarious. It was like a cartoon come to life, in a good way. If you need your humor to be dry and verbose, well, you weren’t honestly expecting that after looking at those creepy big-head-big-hand posters, were you? I hope you like those images because they also are the main visual crux of the official movie site and the opening credits.

The characters are a diverse group of actors and comedians who have very little character interaction outside of their teams in the race, yet the sense of working together to a common comedic goal is still felt. A good story involves the dynamics between people, but this story can rely on the over-reaching theme of greed to unite the people who are otherwise apart on screen. But the miniature teams of one or 2 or 4 all have their own magic as well. It’s the details, however, that really make it work. I wish I could give away things but I fear the trailer has already done some of that for me. I never would have seen it if not for the previews, so I guess it was a necessary evil. I now wish to see the original film upon which this one was based, It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, to see if it compares.

Bizarre situation exacerbated by wicked machination with reincorporation and huge reaction equals comedy. There’s slapstick, situational humor, subtle physicality, tumbling disaster, Darwin-award behavior, good natured humor, mistaken identity, peril, insanity, over-the-top, observational humor, corn-pone chuckles, surreal visual gags, and even an homage to a classic Lucy episode – whatever you like, they got it! It’s a Zucker film. So go get it!

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 8/17/01
Time in minutes 125
Director Jerry Zucker
Studio Paramount

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American Pie 2

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The 1980’s are alive and well.  This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it is true.  Back are the days of amusing and mild, sophomoric sex jokes, but with a slightly expanded PG-13 vocabulary (“in the ass” used to be taboo, as I recall).  The gang from the first movie is back, and I think the filmmakers tied together the old chums in a surprisingly thorough and realistic way.  It’s only a year later, so of course some of them are still friends, and others have new dynamics, all interesting and all with a little more depth than one might expect for a movie of this type.  They all get something to do besides serve the plot (even the least developed character, Nadja from Sweden, gets a little more to do), and they really have fantastic ensemble.  That said, this film is a pleasant bit of competent fluff that will make you laugh some and make you grin a lot.
 
My companion queried sagely, “Was there anything in that movie for chicks?”  In the 1980’s, we gals endured topless bimbo after topless bimbo, all oppressively hard-bodied, bouncing around, while the guys were either Lambda nerds or buttoned up preps or funky freaks.  You rarely saw a guy with his shirt off, unless maybe he was the handsome but dastardly bad guy from the rival frat/camp/clique/whatever.  In this movie, the boys are, on average, cuter by the pound than 80’s comedy guys, so I guess there is a little bit for the man fans.  The chicks get some power in this movie, and some comedy, and even as they themselves are being exploited (all in good fun) they are doing it right back (I am referring specifically to my favorite scene with the house painters and their customers).  So I guess that is the appeal.  And I saw bare boy bottom!
 
Did I like it?  Sure I did!  Is it the greatest thing since apple pie?  Certainly not, but it lives up to its predecessor without ruining the flava, I mean, gestalt, of the original – or the films that inspired the original.  More power to them to make a reasonable story involving such a large cast of characters, without the 90210 trap of forcing every one to remain totally like best friends forever, y’know!
 
I can’t help but think Jason Biggs is going to be huge, he’s just got that lovely smile and that fantastic, almost-impossible to fake sense of self-deprecation and humor.  I would actually go see a movie just about him and his dad and his late-blooming struggles through teen life – the prequel to American Pie, if you will.  I always love Finch.  Chris Klein and Mena Suvari mostly serve as a cozy, monogamous comparative state to their horny friends, and different characters get focus at different times.  And welcome back, Stifler’s Mom!  She’s been high profile lately, in Legally Blonde and Best in Show, but she will always be Stifler’s Mom to me.  I did enjoy this film, just as I did the first one.  It’s fun – relax and enjoy it.

MPAA Rating R-strong sexual content, language, drinking
Release date 8/10/01
Time in minutes 115
Director J. B. Rogers
Studio Universal

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Ghost World

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I should say up front, my companions were highly unsatisfied with this movie.  I myself did not think it was the greatest cinematic work ever projected, but I enjoyed the dialogue and the dynamic (slow to come and unresolved) between Thora Birch and Steve Buscemi.  Buscemi is a wildly underappreciated actor, and he has Seymour, a great character, to play with in this movie.  Enid (Thora Birch) and her friend Rebecca (Scarlett Johansson) are disaffected teens newly graduated from high school, looking for something.  Rebecca is organized, beautiful, self-confident, and thankfully has little patience for wafflers.  Enid has made a career of belittling those around her for her amusement and embracing the truly absurd, which appears to be a purposeful outing of herself from normal society when, at the same time, she longs to belong.  Their resultant personalities are the natural by-product of their divergent experiences.

Director Terry Zwigoff is no stranger to oddballs or slow films – he did the interesting but poky Crumb, and it should be noted how Crumb fits into this film as well.  It is slow, there are no literal ghosts (one of my companions was concerned it was a horror movie) and it is definitely not the wacky comedy it is marketed to be.  However, Buscemi fans should enjoy getting him to simultaneously be creepy and adorable, hopelessly nerdy and subtly cool, and generally an interesting blend of self-deprecation and haughty disgust at Other People.  Illeana Douglas gave me a lot of laughs as one of those art teachers who takes self-expression past accessible into absurd, and cannot reward any effort that is not deep.  Enid’s character, so fervent about being the unusual one, feels forced to be so by this teacher, and it’s another interesting dynamic, one that again I had some personal experience with which to appreciate it.

I think we all have a phase we go through where we wrestle between thinking we are above everything/everyone and thinking we are worth completely nothing; admittedly, most of the time, this does occur concurrently with general teen angst, so it gets lost in the shuffle as a separate struggle.  My self-esteem did not remotely begin to blossom until my late 20’s, and arguably has yet to bloom (despite the arrogant conceit of writing movie reviews – like I could do better?), so I appreciated the screenwriters’ portrayal of the dichotomy.  Enid seems to have been raised exclusively by her father, as was I, and I am certain that there are elements that spoke to me and not my fellow moviegoers.

However, I must note that all three of my companions are improvisers who I fervently admire, and whose personal struggles with ego and whatnot have surely occurred so long ago that they have forgotten the horrible balancing act that was being played out on screen by these accomplished actors.  My intelligent, self-assured, and artistically sensitive companions felt that the acting was one-note and flat, and they didn’t find anyone sympathetic.  I found characters sympathetic by recognizing myself and some of my friends within them.  So we’re both right, as far as gleaning a recommendation for this film, or not.  Basically, if you find searching for one’s own sense of self exhausting or passé, then skip this film altogether.  Otherwise, if you’re still struggling as I am, you might dig it.  If you love Steve Buscemi (as all people should) you will, at least, appreciate his work.  I didn’t love this movie, but on some level I really connected with it.  Maybe you will too.  But you can find out by renting it.

MPAA Rating R -strong language & sexual content
Release date 8/3/01
Time in minutes 101
Director Terry Zwigoff
Studio MGM

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The Princess Diaries

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The Princess Diaries takes the fantasy that every shy, insecure little girl has had at some point in her life and gives it the live-action Disney treatment; in other words, renders it a little boring and a little schmaltzy. This is a simple, good-natured film, but nothing to write home about. Anne Hathaway (from Get Real) is the normal gal who turns out to be the sole heir to fictional wee European country Genovia, ruled by gentry of all types of Euro-ancestry. Disney stalwart Julie Andrews is her grandmother and her Henry Higgins, training her to pass for royalty (which she is anyway) at the big ball, and generally making her feel bad for something that is not her fault – her nature.

Suspending one’s disbelief that a country would allow their sole heir to live unknown and in a major city like San Francisco unguarded and untrained, one still has to suspend disbelief further to imagine that a teenage girl with a modicum of sense would have so much trouble exhibiting any kind of manners after being raised in a strict private school environment.

Let’s leave that for now; little girls all dream of being discovered as a lost princess, and so it follows that we want to see the transformation and the joys and wonders of such a dream. Disney has instead shown us the serious side of taking on such a huge responsibility, the fact that this girl has to change who she is in order to be accepted by her huge family, and give up her cool life with her cool mom and her normal friends to be surrounded by a country she does not know or have any ties to other than blood. The film presents an odd lesson. Just when it seems that she should be happy that she is now considered beautiful and important, she loses her friends for selling out. Disney kind of pulls out a better lesson at the last minute (remember who your friends really are), but certainly not one that regular girls could use, unless they were suddenly thrust into a similar situation.

If your little girl is hovering on the brink of child stardom or international royalty, this is a good film to take her to, to remind her to be true to her duties and family and the people who loved her when she was nobody, as well as the importance of the greater good when making huge decisions that might affect an entire country. But if your little girl is born of normal plebeian parents and has some insecurity issues about her appearance, don’t take her – it will only teach her that she won’t be valuable until she is groomed, beautiful, self-sacrificing, and correctly mannered.

MPAA Rating G
Release date 8/3/01
Time in minutes 110
Director Garry Marshall
Studio Walt Disney

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Rush Hour 2

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How ironic that the very companion who ribs me about over-using this rating was my companion for this film? But it’s true – this film is rock-em sock-em enough, funny enough, and interesting enough (plotwise) to earn my penultimate rating, basically a B+. First of all let me just say that Jackie has still got it. It’s the little things that are more impressive than the big ones sometimes – flipping around with a dumpster, scaling a bamboo scaffold in seconds, slipping through a tiny tiny space. Jackie also is willing to relinquish some (but not all) the joke-telling to motormouth Chris Tucker, who gets them into huge amounts of trouble, with amusing conclusions.

It’s a real action movie, but it is also a real cop/buddy comedy, and the chemistry between Tucker and Chan is priceless. Zhang Ziyi from Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon is in this film too, as cool and collected as Lucy Liu, but as delicate as a lotus blossom…or is she. What a treat! As an extra delight, Lalo Schifrin (most recently he did music for Rush Hour 1 but he also did a little ditty called the Mission: Impossible theme) composed the music, and the resultant cheese-kitsch helps keep the humor going even in a perilous gang fight.

Chan and Tucker jump right into things, the main advantage of a sequel, so there is little set up for their relationship – I was briefly at a loss, not having seen Rush Hour since it came out in 1998. Not to worry, little needs explaining in a good Jackie Chan movie and no one disappoints us by the end. One trend I am noticing with guy-guy buddy comedies is the addition of a shopping foray, and this film is no exception. Very amusing cameo by Jeremy Piven, whom we all love. Don Cheadle also gets to whup a little behind in a bizarre small role.

Speaking of trends, most people know that all Jackie Chan movies also have outtakes at the end, and this one is no exception – and my huge Chan fan companion (he actually inducted me into the fandom) agreed with me that these were the funniest in a good long while. So, what a winner! I’m not going to give anything away. Chan’s American movies benefit from a little more accessible storytelling and jokes, as well as no horrible, horrible actors as in some imports from the past, and I think he is enjoying it as much as we are.

It’s fun, it’s well-paced, it has laughs and stunts and the delicious tension of not knowing who is a good guy and who is not, and of course, Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker. It’s doing bangup at the box office – and it deserves to.

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 8/3/01
Time in minutes 105
Director Brett Ratner
Studio New Line Cinema

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Planet of the Apes

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If you’ve seen the original Apes movies, you know the franchise has nowhere to go but up. The originals are hokey, goofy, yet still exciting and fun, like a 1960s Star Trek episode. Tim Burton puts his own wicked spin on the concept in this remake of the first film, but he attempts to make it more real, more plausible, than Charlton Heston’s Planet. Apparently, the problem now becomes forcing a willing suspension of disbelief until the big questions are answered. When they are answered, they are answered pretty clearly, and everything is ultimately justified; but during the majority of the movie, the audience is thinking, “How unlikely is this?” Burton’s Apes is more plausible than any of the previous Apes movies (allowing for time travel of course) yet for some reason, people are not responding well. My recommendation is this: get the hell over it and enjoy this big cool action movie!

First of all, wow! Burton has never disappointed us with the visuals, and he does not do so now. Gorgeous arboreal villages filled with amazingly real chimps, orangutans, gorillas, and what appear to be baboons or mandrills (who are actually monkeys I think). Stunning, amazing, Oscar-caliber makeup by Rick Baker; astoundingly flexible and natural, allows for great lip movement and facial expressions of the actors underneath. Burton cast very strong actors under all that makeup, presumably to help get the acting past the latex – and the result is fantastic. Tim Roth, in particular, as baddie chimp Thade, seethes and grimaces and elocutes with grand style. Paul Giamatti is the comic relief without being painful – Giamatti’s comedy is in his face and it all comes through. Too little can never be said about the sexy chimp played by Helena Bonham-Carter.

The unfortunate side effect of all these strong actors in the ape roles is the fact that Burton cast a bunch of blah actors in the human roles (I am, for the moment, leaving out Mark Wahlberg in this general commentary). They have no characters, no life in their faces, and no real spark – why on earth would we root for them? Let the apes keep them enslaved, these apes treat their human pets better than we treat our apes here on earth now, and our apes do tricks! We are supposed to root for them because they are human, but they are so uninteresting that we kind of secretly hope the apes will win. As for Marky Mark, well, he’s kind of your generic hero in a tight, ripped outfit, who looks frantic, concerned, heroic, and all-American, which is how it should be, but even our lead isn’t given enough character to do anything with. I was much more fascinated by the interrelationships and politics with the apes.

Did I mention how cool everything looked? By now everyone has heard that the actors went to ape school to get the walk and stance and behavior down, and between that and the detailed makeup, the overall effect is quite amazing. No clam-shell Dr. Zaius-faced men in wigs walking about like humans. They touch each other like apes, handle objects like apes, run on all fours, bad ass! It’s a given that Danny Elfman’s score is cool and will be ignored by the Oscar committees again so just know that now.

To sum up: great visuals, ape actors good, human actors bad (but they are given nothing to work with) and good clean summer fun, with an animal rights twist.

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 7/27/01
Time in minutes 120
Director Tim Burton
Studio 20th Century Fox

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