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I have been walking around for a week trying to find the time to write this review because, quite honestly, this is one of the best movies I have seen in years. The more I think about it, the more impressed I am. I haven’t felt as exhilarated (expressed, in this case, with repeated bursts of stunned profanity) coming out of a movie theatre since, I don’t know, 1998. By exhilarated I mean the raw joyous thrill of experiencing an amazing concept that has been fully and perfectly realized. Having said all that, I have built it up too much, and it will never be as good as I say. Oh, but it is.

Guy Pearce (LA Confidential, Ravenous, Priscilla Queen of the Desert) plays a man whose wife was attacked and killed in their home; at the time of the incident he sustained a serious head injury, which has affected the part of the brain responsible for encoding new memories. As a result, he lives his life every minute as if he has just woken up in the middle of something he has never seen before. He develops a system for remembering, consisting of notes and polaroids and tattoos, and he’s hunting the man who killed his wife. Investigation without benefit of memory, revenge without benefit of resolution – for if he finds him, will he remember afterward? An interesting premise, but that is only the backbone, the hook to get you in the theatre.

The real beauty of it all lies in the screenplay. Because Leonard (Pearce) can’t make new memories, but we as an audience still can, a straightforward narrative would rob us of the sense of disorientation and mistrust he feels in every waking moment. Writer/director Christopher Nolan (Academy members take note) shoots the film in reverse sequence, scooting slowly backwards in time, sometimes repeating himself to make the overlap clearer, but always filling us with a sense of unbelievable suspense and dread and fascination. We know, within 2 minutes of the film rolling, how this manhunt turns out – but we don’t know how it got there, and the journey backwards, back through Leonard’s experiences and questions being answered and then unanswered and then asked, is amazing to watch. My companions and I all wished that we could just keep watching it. I realized after 90 of its 120 minutes I could probably literally watch it another three hours and be totally riveted. Bad ass!

As if the initial idea were not enough, interspersed with his hunt is a story from before the accident, where he met a man with a condition similar to his own, and his misery at not having understood it as being real at the time. This line of remembrance leads to all sorts of doubt with his present condition, as well as opening new doors of potential truth. One of my companions, a neuroscientist, was convinced that the writers were neuroscientists as well, so accurate were the details. This in my mind is as ringing an endorsement as my aerospace engineer friend giving the thumbs-up to a sci fi movie.

The acting is natural, seemingly effortless, so the performance feels real. Coupled with the unique disorientation of the reverse chronology, and we feel as connected to his search as the Polaroid camera strapped under his jacket. Pearce is driven and driving forward, always forward, although he can never truly know what progress he has made – he has to trust the people around him and his record keeping; it’s simply amazing. I can’t discuss the more specific plot points without giving anything away, but watch what people do very carefully – a character hides all the pens in the house before doing something rather surprising – many of the tattoos on his body supply information we will never know where he got. In any given moment of action in the film, we don’t know what happened 30 minutes earlier any more than Leonard does. We have no idea if what we are watching is what should be happening. When we back up further, we have the benefit of seeing the “future” and how it has come from what we are watching now – and we still don’t know how we got here. Bloody fascinating. Fantastic.

Check out the website, too, Very very very cool.

MPAA Rating R-language, drugs, violence
Release date 3/30/01
Time in minutes 120
Director Christopher Nolan
Studio Newmarket Film Group

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Someone Like You

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I admit, I chose this film from my other choices as the lesser of several evils, the deciding factor being an appreciation for Ashley Judd and Greg Kinnear. I am very glad I saw it. Formerly (and better) titled “Animal Husbandry,” Someone Like You probably suffered from test screenings and other paranoid Hollywood practices. What starts out as a nice pseudo-romantic comedy with a great angle on a woman trying to figure out why men do what they do from an anthropological point of view, ends slightly right of the 1950’s. I was satisfied by the ending, just like I am sort of forced to be satisfied by Ariel the Mermaid giving up her identity and family and even biology to be with her prince. It sounds all neo-feminist to say so, but the whole movie spends its time trying to show Ashley Judd that she needs to not approach men like they just rode up on a white horse, and then she just sees someone ride up on a white horse and it “changes” her. Titles roll.

So why see it? Because, despite that kind of icky studio sellout moment (even the stock is different, as if throwing the reshooting of the ending in our faces), the rest of the movie is delightful! It’s smart and funny and sexy and tender and silly and witty and amusing and just plain old entertaining. I went with a male companion, and he liked it a lot too, so I know it’s not just the old man-bashing chick movie angle or the squishy dance of intimacy appeal. I know I myself went through a similar (if not as obsessive) post-breakup bender trying to comprehend the male species, and I was relieved to have it played out for me. Women love to be validated by other women’s experiences, and ladies, this will validate you like you wouldn’t believe!

I mentioned earlier that the original title was Animal Husbandry, which is the title of the novel on which it was based. I am going to run out and buy that book, because all the characters thankfully transcend the little romantic comedy pigeonholes that Hollywood has made, the amusing zoological tidbits Judd’s character uncovers are very amusing (the notion of “new cow” is both painfully true and deliciously funny), and I really enjoyed the interesting dynamic between Judd and Kinnear and Hugh Jackman. Ellen Barkin seems vaguely miscast in this film as their boss (did I mention all these people work together? How delightful!) but nothing is harmed by it.

Looking at director Tony Goldwyn’s movies, I see that he has acted in a long list of movies that should have been much better, but I suspect got ruined in testing. He must be aware that it does not have to be a formula to work, but I suspect as a 3rd-time director, he was under the thumb of someone more paranoid than himself. Still, it is enjoyable and sweet and funny and even touching, all that crap your dates will like, gents, and all that stuff you want your guys to see, ladies. So go see it.

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 3/30/01
Time in minutes 100
Director Tony Goldwyn
Studio 20th Century Fox

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Spy Kids

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Yes, I saw it, and yes, I say Matinee Price. When I first saw the preview for this flick, I was rolling my eyes right along next to you. I did think the preview looked pretty slick, and I was intrigued by the Alan Cumming inclusion in the cast. I then softened, seeing that “Desperado” look on Antonio Banderas’ face – he didn’t look like he was in pain, he looked like he was having fun. A few days later, flipping through an entertainment magazine, the decision was made for me: Directed by Robert Rodriguez. But where to find someone who would be willing to see it with me?

“So?” you say. “It’s a kid’s movie.” My reply to you is, SO? The day you stop eating ice cream, laughing at (well-made) kids movies, and riding the miniature train in the park is the day you get old, my friends. On top of that, Robert Rodriguez is the X-factor for children in film. He worked at my college newspaper as a cartoonist, and the majority of his better strips centered around his little sister. Arguably the best segment in Four Rooms is the one directed by him, with the little kids left alone in the room by their dad (Banderas). I trust Rodriguez with kids as a subject. So I went.

My companions and I squeezed into a sold-out theatre and were treated to cool effects, really nifty little props, and several Wonka-esque touches which (for us) resparked the childhood whimsy that we are accustomed to repressing. We generally agreed the kids themselves were nothing to write home about, as characters or as actors, but they got to do things any kid would give up his entire left half of his body to do. We all agreed that an eight-to-ten year old would die of joy to see this movie, and two of us agreed that we enjoyed it too. The other agreed that it looked cool but it was still a little pandering to its ideal demographic. Isn’t that the point of making a kid’s movie, so kids will like it?

It’s not genius, but it’s pleasantly enjoyable. Danny Elfman writes the music for the children’s program hosted by actually-an-arch-enemy Alan Cumming (an amusing twist on the Wonka image) assisted by his minion, Minion (Tony Shaloub). The film is filled with a lot of stuff that will fly right over kids’ heads, and an admirably few kid-only jokes. You can’t blame them for inserting a “poopy” joke after a full 45 minutes of adult-appreciable jokes, however.

A good kid’s movie is one that the kids will love, of course, but also that the parents can sit through without passing out. Parents will enjoy the little verbal jokes, the gentle stabs at creepy kids fantasy shows (think Teletubbies shot with mutants), parodies of spy movie cliches, and the truly well-executed action sequences. Kids will enjoy empathizing with the child leads, having instant McDonald’s food, cash, and watch phones at the touch of a button, boring parents who are secretly extremely cool, the gadgets, and the totally kick ass visuals. I liked it.

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 3/30/01
Time in minutes 90
Director Robert Rodriguez
Studio Dimension Films

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The Mexican

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What I am about to say about this film will sound, to the careless observer, like a discouragement, rather than the intended encouragement. I really enjoy all (two of) Gore Verbinski’s movies. Yes, he is the guy who did the Budweiser frogs commercial, but that only was a launching pad to make the odd, surprisingly rewarding Mousehunt (see my review for more on that). “Mousehunt?” you groan. “How stupid.” Not at all – MH is dark, funny, and while it seems a very straight-forward sort of idea, Verbinski manages to make it more interesting that it probably was intended to be. Witness the chameleons “sequel” to the frogs commercial. Anyway, The Mexican does the same thing.

Passersby may wonder why a movie called “The Mexican” stars such patently whitebread super-stars as Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts – well, that is because it’s really about a legendary pistol known as the Mexican. Roberts and Pitt share very little screen time, but have a terrific chemistry nonetheless. Roberts spends most of her time with James Gandolfini, of HBO’s The Sopranos fame; don’t think you know everything about his character from what you see in the preview. What delightful surprises are in store for you, future viewers!

Both Pitt and Roberts have demonstrated in their recent work that they have a terrific sense of humor in their acting as well as an ability to, well, act. This means they can carry off a mildly dark comedy like this (I say mild – Bob Balaban is the heavy) and imbue it with something more than a road movie or a will-they-or-won’t-they love story. In fact, it is the scenes wherein the most expected, the most “standardized” action is occurring (the obligatory couple’s fight at the beginning) that Verbinski gets lost. This is not a typical problem – usually of course it is the SEEN IT kind of scenes that are handled as a matter of course, and the quirky stuff handled with awkward lack of sureness. The same is true for Mousehunt, in retrospect: the more telegraphable the scene, the less convincingly it happens on screen. Why is this a good thing? Verbinski picks his films (it would seem) purposefully to avoid SEEN IT type scenes. Thanks to the International Language of American Film, however, these types of scenes cannot be altogether omitted, to retain some clarity.

It’s a comedy, it’s a slim drama, it’s an adventure tale, with an amusingly presented Mexican legend inserted every once in a while. It’s got a little gore, a lot of Julia and Brad doing what they do best, which is be totally likable while advancing the story, and what more can we really ask for? Oh, yeah. a pretty pistol and a tale that involves you as well. And there’s even a bit with a dog.

MPAA Rating R – language, some violence
Release date 3/2/01
Time in minutes 123
Director Gore Verbinski
Studio Dreamworks

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Saving Silverman

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Such promise, such disappointment – such a great cast! – With the always reliable Steve Zahn, delightful Jack Black, promising and sweet Jason Biggs, and funny-sexy Amanda Peet – how could this movie have come out so badly? The idea is pretty simple – two guy friends who recognize their best bud has been taken in by an evil woman attempt to break them up, and get him with a real nice girl. Buddy movie antics aplenty plus pseudo romantic comedy times this cast should equal gut busting laughs. But no. Instead, several good mid-size yuks, a little “almost” moments of just about living up to its potential, and a boatload of tripping over things.

Saving Silverman starts out with the obligatory “this is our long guy friendship” vignette-fest, introducing them with preview-friendly quick takes of their somewhat funny lives and somewhat funny outlooks on life, and then finally getting them to the inciting incident where it all goes south. One could attribute the weakness of these bits to their brevity, or blame the brevity for truncating the could-be humor; however, as the movie progresses you find out that it’s just not good writing. Once people start interrelating, it’s just a big hairy mess with tortilla chips stuck in its matted fur. Amanda Teat is a two dimensional bitch, giving us no reason to believe Biggs is so stupid – the girl of his dreams is also 2D and over-perfect, giving us no doubt anything but what should happen will happen. The guys are obnoxious and incompetent, and while I love all these actors in other movies, I wished nothing but pain on everyone (the characters) involved.

The movie’s saving grace is that, in fact, everyone involved does go through a lot of pain, insanely creating a reward system for the unintended audience reaction to the characters. It’s not Saturday Night Live bad, but it’s still a physical desire for injury. What this movie does have a lot of, and what it also does very well, is hard, injurious physical humor. Fall after fall after fall – big stuff, eye-scrunching, back-breaking, car-alarm activating physical comedy fills the holes left by the story. When done well, pure pain/slapstick is worthy of its own praise. Few people consider the Weekend at Bernie’s movies to be great literary works, but to the people who follow the art of body-centered humor work, they are masterpieces of simulating terrible injury.

As the Bernie movies also proved, fantastic physical comedy work alone cannot carry a movie. That was supposed to be the job of normally inspired Zahn and Black, at least, if not also Biggs and Peet. Alas, everyone was (apparently) so concerned about the safety of their stuntmen and principals, they forgot to let the cast do what they were cast to do, and typically do well – be funny. Shortly after I saw it, a desperate, too-long preview started airing, giving away the few bits (R. Lee Ermey, the Neil Diamond obsession of the characters) that were actually bordering on delightful. Will the self-destructive compulsion of this film never end? Catch it on HBO, out of respect for the genuinely good work all the stunt people did. Ouch!

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 2/9/01
Time in minutes 92
Director Dennis dugan
Studio Columbia Tristar

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It is inevitable that this movie will be compared to Silence of the Lambs, and well it should. As an obsessive with regards to Jonathan Demme’s 1991 multiple Academy Award-winning film, I fear the brunt of my criticism here will be steeped in comparisons. Sorry. I also apologize for the tardiness of this review – every time I tried to see this film, it was sold out. It made Spielberg and Lucas-size bucks opening weekend, which shows you how much people have wanted it to come out. I can’t imagine that that many people read the book, since the book was, well, universally loathed. Judging by the screaming and cringing going on during some of the scenes, I suspect I am right. Director Ridley Scott knows how to work up an audience on a visceral level, and he takes a difficult text and makes it work on screen.

Lambs was first a film that focused on the intellectual chemistry between its main characters, Lecter and Starling, and secondly a crime thriller with villains capable of doing things we can barely endure to hear tell of. Lecter impressed us, he seduced us, with his charisma, his insight, his probity, his erudition, and his scorn for the discourteous. He could see through all with whom he spoke, and his disdain for those who tried to study him elevated him above simple brutal madman. Starling was gutsy to go toe to glass-encased toe with him, and Jodie Foster made us all feel we know her, her level of integrity and how completely opposite from Lecter she is. He admires her for this strength, and their dynamic fascinates us still.

Now, Hannibal the Cannibal is back, living his life, but of course eternally careful, always a dangerous animal even when he is behaving in a civilized manner. He is keenly intelligent – he knows the cause and effect of enacting his mad impulses. He also is the best of film smartypants characters, and we love him even as we cringe in fear that he might notice us. In Lambs, he was an elegant villain, all verbal knives, but whose (in that film) isolated acts of extreme violence served as a pointed contrast to his scholarly, urbane persona with Clarice. In Hannibal, he pretty much cuts loose, for no real reason, and comes toward, not after, Starling (played now by Julianne Moore, more on that in a bit), leaving a bloody mess in his wake. The gore is half-seen, mostly, even somewhat implied; (well, except for…) nothing like what we saw in Gladiator or The Patriot or Saving Private Ryan, yet all people talk about is how gory this film is. Someone compared it to Dead Alive, which is like comparing the violence in Bambi to that in Heavy Metal.

The weakness of Hannibal (the movie) is not only its source material (wherein Starling flies way off her character track and, inexplicably, becomes a sniveling victim in the process) but also in not reveling in the deliciousness that is the character of Dr. Hannibal Lecter. He is such an impressive literary figure, so unique, so compelling, and here he’s just a smart guy with a short temper who is on the lam, so to speak. Those who endured the novel will be pleased to know that they dropped a couple of the more freak-showy sub-plots, and changed the ending, but also kept it. You know what I mean. It was anti-climactic, in a way, but still effective, if the writhing sorority girls in my audience are any litmus test.

Julianne Moore. I am neither a fan nor a detractor of Moore as an actress, I generally enjoy her. I have a particularly deep fondness for Jodie Foster bordering on the maternal, so I was sad to hear she’d turned down the film (but I read the book and so was not surprised). Who can fill those cheap shoes? Foster is a great actress who filled this character with brains to match such a figure as Hannibal Lecter, and you can hear her mind working as she emotes. Tough shoes to fill. Julianne Moore kept the accent, and the screenwriter kept her cadences, and Moore did a great job, as good as anyone could do. I felt she was Clarice really about 15 minutes into the film, and I relaxed, knowing Moore would take care of business. So brava, Julianne!

Oh yeah, there were other people in the film – Gary Oldman with his creepy scars, Giancarlo Giannini as the Italian policeman who sets the action moving, but let’s face it. We love these books and films because of Starling and Lecter’s dynamic, it’s the interplay and the power balance and their unique strengths that bring us back. It’s worth seeing, but think of it as its own work and don’t (despite all I have said) compare it with Lambs.

*note: I am so so regretful of this high rating!

MPAA Rating R-strong violence/nudity/language.
Release date 2/9/01
Time in minutes 130
Director Ridley Scott
Studio MGM-Universal

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Head Over Heels

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I walked out of a free screening of Down To Earth after 30 minutes, and, unwilling to just go home in the chilly rain, slipped into Head Over Heels. I have to admit, I (and my companion, with whom I rarely harmonize in movie selection) enjoyed this little film. Freddie Prinz Jr. has been in so many lame movies where he is clearly better than his material, but is also trapped by it. Here, he is too good to be true, and totally believable as such. The movie is carried by Monica Potter (aspiring to graduate summa cum laude from Julia Roberts University of dewy, coltish, lovely and funny performers) and her four model roommates. I don’t have to make that pun for you, do I? The models (with the possible exception of Ivana Milicevic) are all working real models, and none of them are afraid to lampoon themselves or their industry. And, the best part is, not one crack about eating or diet or bulimia or anything!

This is not a remake of the 1937 musical, but it aspires to be of the old-old school genre of situational comedy. Take Rear Window, add Lucille Ball, and a credit (as in The Women) like, “Gowns by Edith Head” – oh, and a Great Dane named Hamlet – and you have a pleasant diversion for an evening. The romance is nice, the intrigue is nice, and best of all, it’s not screamingly predictable and Freddie takes his shirt off. The plot twists happen abruptly, due to the length of the picture, but they don’t feel like they were yanked out of a firmly toned butt. There is nice screwball humor, character humor, and flat-out bonking into things physical humor. The models are beautiful but not horrifying, flat characters, they all have their own personalities and are funny in their own way, and there’s even a nice poop joke for the boys.

Monica Potter has been in some, er, poorly received work, but then again, she is blessed/cursed with this blonde beauty that is very straightforward and not as unique as it could be. Hopefully, the right people will see Head Over Heels and see that she has a strong potential, better even than Cameron Diaz, to be the next funny beautiful girl who can actually sustain both halves of the equation. Her part isn’t as funny as it is plot-driving, but she has some of my favorite lines. Don’t get me wrong, this is no Golden Globe nominee or even an MTV Movie Awards magnet, but it’s a sweet, funny, refreshingly different little movie about a woman, her models, and the guy she loves, who may or may not be a cold-blooded murderer. Did I not mention that part? The Rear Window aspects of the film are actually the most stilted, but they are the main story arc. The antics make up for any hackneyed chestnut of a plotline, however.

* Originally rated Rental With Snacks, this movie has grown in my estimation with every passing viewing.

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 2/2/01
Time in minutes 86
Director Mark waters
Studio Universal

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Sugar and Spice

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What are little girls made of? The immediate response is, of course, Sugar and Spice and everything nice – but in this film, they are made up of an entirely different mettle of stuff. I am almost ashamed to tell you how much I enjoyed this movie – and not for the reasons you might think. You may gasp – “Matinee AND snacks? You mean this movie might win an Oscar?” so again I must defend my rating scheme. It’s bang for your buck in the rating, people, and Sugar & Spice is all you could ever dream of in a cheerleader bankrobbing movie – and more. OK, granted, most people, myself included, have low expectations regarding movies with “cheerleading” as a key word. But by the time I walked in the theatre, my hopes were so high they really had to deliver. And they DID.

I may have abused the Matinee rating recently, but frankly, due to time and money constraints, I have managed to see mostly good dollar value films recently. Sugar and Spice is no exception. It will never be nominated for a Golden Globe or an Oscar, your grandkids will not have heard of it, but if you go see it, I will be shocked if you don’t have a good time. Really! I had thought it would be silly, energetic camp, like Bring It On – but it’s more (dare I say?) Heather, Can’t Hardly Wait, even Clueless fun. Big talk, I know! Consider this – take the winning Debbie Does Dallas scenario of an inseparable group of cheerleader pitching in to help a fellow sister in need, add a dose of naively devious sticktoitiveness (as in Heathers’ suicide project), and then write *good dialogue.* Oh, and do some kick ass cheer routines.

Yes, the Jack and Diane romantic exposition that gets us to the plot point problem is long, but never slow. Diane (Marley Shelton) is so perfectly dewy and sweet, she can’t even blink her giant, kitteny eyes in gratitude before the hijinks begin. And did I mention, the dialogue is sparkling! So, already we have a winsome cast, good words, good story idea. Drop in an un-romanticized Important Teen Issue, without a drop of didacticism, and the adventure of a good-natured crime spree with no violence. What could be better?

Faithful Readers may notice I generally refer obliquely to my movie-going partners merely as my “companion(s),” but demographically speaking, I must now out them to make my point that this movie is a pip! My scientist boyfriend and my gal friend whose sister is a state squad cheerleader agree with me – the movie is a well-written, fun ride, with great visual gags (some subtle, easy to miss; none of this SNL **Look at this it’s funny!!!** business), sacrilegious funnery, and interesting plot twists. Sean Young (yes you read that right) has a great bit part, I won’t ruin it for you. For two weeks I was just excited about the potential supreme high camp of a cheerleader bankrobber movie – thrilled I could even put those three words together in a sentence – but now I am doubly pleased. The same scientist boyfriend who rarely sees movies twice *wants to own this one.”

Give it a chance – it’s worth your money.

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 1/26/01
Time in minutes 82
Director Francine McDougall
Studio New Line

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Shadow of the Vampire

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I have heard very interesting tidbits about this movie since seeing it – I heard that they shot and recorded the film (within the film) portions, i.e. the Nosferatu footage being reproduced with the modern cast, on vintage, 1921 equipment. *That* is cool. I wish I knew more historically about the real circumstances surrounding the production of Dr. Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau’s Nosferatu, and I am sorry to say that this film taught me little more than that I brought with me. If you don’t know, this film is a fiction (or perhaps a depiction of a legend/legendary rumor) about the shadowy identity of Max Shreck, the otherwise unknown actor who played Nosferatu in the silent film of the same name. Heralded as the most realistic vampire movie of all time (who determines that? Agents?), it is said that they director hired a real one, and Czechoslovakian mayhem ensued.

Consulting the IMDB, I am surprised to see that Max Shreck has 21 films to his credit, this being the first. The kicker is, Shreck means “terror” in German, and so this led some to believe it was a psuedonym. Nice idea – and whether it was ever truly believed or not, it makes for an interesting movie. Naturally, having a real vampire on board can lead to some production problems heretofore unanticipated by the crew. Shadow is no wacky comedy, it’s more of a “what if” kind of art film….produced by Nicolas Cage. An odd credit in an interesting little movie – I guess his experience on Vampire’s Kiss never left him.

John Malkovich is the madman director who hires this Shreck, and (save for his unshakable Chicago twang) is super but also just what you would expect of Malkovich. Shreck is played by – no, Shreck is re-animated by Willem Dafoe, in an unexpected little slice of Oscar bait. Holy crucifix, Batman, this is some serious performance! He’s ratty and unpleasant and in control and ethereal and humorous and scary – and his makeup is fantastic! It’s a great role, and he fills it up to the brim. Truly great work.

The reshot Nosferatu stuff looks great: There is Eddie Izzard on screen, but he looks like he was filmed 80 years ago. Beautiful camera and lighting work too, evocative of the era and also nice now. Technically, this film is a wonder. I had never heard of most of the production team – clearly, this was Cage’s pet project. I hope their relative obscurity changes for the better, so here, I am outing them: The cinematographer is Lou Bogue; Art Direction by Chris Bradley; Ann Buchanan – hair and makeup design; Katja Reinert – makeup artist Production Design – Assheton Gorton ; Sweet, haunting music by Dan Jones, oh and Wagner.

It’s very interesting, amusing, but with a few hiccups in pacing and not quite enough information to have a fully fleshed story. Should we wonder if it’s true that he was a real vampire, or just be amused by the “what if?” The story has some events but they plow forward with a slice-of-life kind of rhythm, no real resolution or conflict so much as a sense of problem and a continuation of that sense. Malkovich and Dafoe have several scenes between them, and more is done in their faces than in two pages of script featuring the ingenue, which is a relief.

Do swing by the film’s site,, and check out the gallery, especially the makeup section. It was amusing to see this vampire film so close on the feels of Dracula 2000, because the legend is the same, but the treatment is, of course, not. Both vampires are feral, untamable forces – but Shreck is a lonely creature who empathizes with Stoker’s little character only in terms of being utterly unique and alone, and forever doomed to remain so. Catch it.

MPAA Rating R sexuality,drugs, violence langauge
Release date 1/26/01
Time in minutes 84
Director Elias Merhige
Studio Lion’s Gate

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The Gift

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Despite the fact that The Gift was written by Billy Bob Thornton and Tom Epperson, and directed by Sam Raimi, this movie is not so much a guy’s movie. It does have Thornton’s trademark Intense Downtown Crackerville, for sure, and it does have Raimi’s unflinching flirtation with danger, violent undercurrents, and blood-flecked, white faces. However, The Gift, like the good parts in What Lies Beneath, is a chick’s horror movie. So guys come out, overall, kind of “whatever,” but gals are grinning and quaking in ecstatic terror. This, to me, is a good thing, though what it says about our society is a whole other oyster.

Finally, someone, somewhere figured out that after seeing all those Halloween and Freddy movies with our boyfriends, some of us ladies developed a taste (or cultivated a dormant taste) for being scared. Scared safely, in the movies, rather than the mounting terror we feel in the streets in our home towns these days. They also figured out they don’t get the same reaction (read: dollars) from us ladies as they do from the guys when stupid co-eds prance around the dorm in their panties. So Zemeckis and Raimi have finally figured out how to get the gals in the seats. For the record, gals, there is no rape scene, although it does seem like the kind of movie that would be all about that stuff.

Cate Blanchett has the gift of second sight in a small Georgia town, and eventually it starts to have negative repercussions for her on two plot lines. She’s also (as the tag line indicates) the only witness to a murder, but of course, she wasn’t there, it’s her gift, you see? The plot takes some obvious turns here and there, and sometimes breaks the tension with a stinger every so often, but basically, it’s a good story with unexpected and even almost shocking plot twists, and a whole film of very, very good performances. The fantastic cast includes Blanchett, Hilary Swank, Giovanni Ribisi, Greg Kinnear, and yes, Keanu Reeves. Don’t roll your eyes! This is quite seriously the best work I’ve seen him do since…well, gosh. He’s a bad man, and he does a good job. Kinnear is allowed to play against type and he relishes it. As for Swank, she’s a mullet-headed simpering hick, and she’s great. Katie Holmes takes her shirt off; beyond that she’s a competent performer in a cast of strong ones. Yes, Keanu really is good.

Blanchett is the movie, of course. As a psychic, or fortune teller, she must be warm and empathetic – but as a mom and a widow, she must be strong, practical, and we must empathize with her. She is luminous, beautiful, not just a beautiful woman, but it’s as if the Shining was being expressed anew as a concept just in her tired, terrified face. Hurrah. I personally, as did my female companion and the “in touch with his feminine side” companion with us, enjoyed the hell out of The Gift. Our fourth doesn’t like horror movies as a rule, but even he thought the acting was great. I was very satisfied, I got my money’s worth, and I was interested, entertained, forced to think, and scared out of my wits! For only eight dollars!

I mention earlier “chick horror movies.” I hope they make more of them. I am making this definition up as I go along, so bear with me: Chick horror movies have a sensitive, extra-in-tune female protagonist, an unidentifiable, nearly palpable bad thing that feels male, but we can’t be sure, we only know it hurts woman, and it’s not a serial killer. They have the things that women are afraid of that men are not – big empty houses, the vulnerability of door locks and isolation and bath tubs and night time solitude. The difference in a chick horror movie is that the danger is targeted, motivated, and it’s not based on women-hatred or sexual predation. It’s not exploitational, it’s just looming and scary. Someone is already hurt/dead/whatever, so the fear is not that it will happen once but that we will discover the truth about it. And, importantly, who did it – what person who we hardly think about can be capable of being so terrifying? The two chick horror films, this and What Lies Beneath, have ghosts or psychic elements. Since women tend to be more open to that sort of idea than men are, maybe that is a key element. The female lead in Dracula 2000 has profound visions of her tormentor long before meeting him…that’s kind of a chick movie too…hmmmmm.

Anyway, the Gift is great. Go with the gals or win points with your girlfriend.

MPAA Rating R violence language sexuality/nudity
Release date 1/19/01
Time in minutes 111
Director Sam Raimi
Studio Paramount Classics