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Cinerina

U-571

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I have to say this first off – I really do not like Matthew McConaughey. The fact that a movie which features his bongo-ness in practically every frame and continues the sad decline of Bill Paxton’s career can still garner a Full Price Feature can mean only one thing: summer is here, with all the great movies that means. U-571 is a WWII hero’s tale, with Germans and Americans, submarines, sweating tension, explosions, jimmy-rigging, Morse code madness, and more. It’s tight, in every sense. Tight editing, tight story, tight quarters, tight close calls – whoooo!

“When men were men,” as it were, and also when machines couldn’t bail our slacker butts out of the fire. If a similar scenario were set with today’s subs and computers and communications (not to mention nukes), it would have been a bunch of guys at keyboards, boring the socks off us while the camera crew tried to make it interesting and the subs graze the top layers of the Abyss. Not here – U-571 is all pistons and valves and squeaking, leaking war subs, oily men and oilier waters, sinking oil drums full of death and crushing underwater pressure in waters that light can still penetrate.

Wow! Great camera work, cool shots (my favorite is from below U-571 with depth charges exploding above them), Aliensesque music by Richard Marvin, and by gum some serious guts! I had raised a hullabaloo about the 10th century moxie of the 13th Warrior men, but it’s all well and good to get macho when Beowulf (or is it Grendel) is at your door – it’s altogether different in the 20th century, right? But Hitler was the Grendel of that time and these boys are gonna lick him if they have to die trying – and they know and accept they are expendable, something we today just will not put up with (for better or worse). It’s cool. it’s exciting. It’s technically impressive.

Someone once wrote there is an inherent suspense in a submarine, due to the environment and the closeness of the quarters and the dependence on machinery to live – and this no doubt helps the movie along – but I think the script and performances are such that they could have pulled it off in a different environment (though perhaps depth charges are not as effective on the open plain, you see my point) – I even have to admit that McConaughey was very good, which wounds me to the soul. For once, he was cast in a role that used his qualities that have (for me) hurt him in the past – his combination of bravado/swaggering ego and insecurity/modesty. A million movies have been made about someone being thrust into the limelight when they are not ready, but actors usually stay afraid or instantly take charge, and I have to hand it to my fellow Texan, he did right by the role. Those who know me may guess at what a glowing recommendation this is.

Parents who shy away from war movies (read: Saving Private Ryan) will be pleased to see the film garnered a PG-13 rating, and indeed a few events in the first reel suffer for it by having certain event sliced up for family viewing, but it’s basically made clear enough. It kind of lends itself to being more mature, ironically, by gearing itself for a younger audience – my imagined slacker-run nuclear sub from earlier would be filled with Paxton’s Aliens character Hudson, spouting amusing and probably rated R quips until something happens to save the day. We don’t know who will save the day, or even if indeed anyone can or will – everyone in the movie is so ready to die for what they believe, anything can happen. It’s this old-fashioned manliness that makes it such a great film. Go see it – why are you at the computer?

I am starting to notice that in general, the movies I have liked best in the past year usually have in the credits “written and directed by,” and this is no exception. Writer/director Jonathan Mostow did the underrated Breakdown (both jobs) and also directed episode 12 of From the Earth to the Moon. Besides a little B-movie, **that’s it.** Is it true that Hollywood, as a machine, really is responsible for ruining film? Writer submits script to studio, studio buys it, revises it, finds a director who changes it with his vision, add rewrites and meddlesome producers (assuming the director allows it) and the script is often totally different from what the author intended. If it was good enough to get optioned, why wouldn’t it be good enough to be shot? Writer/directors can maintain the integrity of the story and it does show up on the big screen – audiences are responding by flocking to story-driven movies like they haven’t since the early 70’s – and they seem to care less about flashy special effects (World is Not Enough) or big stars doing nothing (Drowning Mona).

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 4/21/00
Time in minutes 120
Director Jonathan Mostow
Studio Universal Pictures

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East is East

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Marketed as the wackiest British comedy, East is East will surprise those going for sheer culture-clash farce. The Full Monty, also a comedy based upon a more serious skeleton (the bad job situation in their town), was wacky and hilarious even by American standards; that is to say, just about everything was funny, and the seriousness of the men’s plight was downplayed. This is not so with East is East, a film about a Pakistani father who has raised his children in England with an English mother, yet wants them to be as true to his heritage as he thinks he is.

Om Puri is the father, full of pride and hypocrisy and depth – likable enough to all who meet him, but feared by his children. Five boys and one daughter behave with varying degrees of complicity to his Pakistani upbringing, and even the ones who seem most accepting of the ways of this country they have never known, still cannot comply with him altogether. About an hour into the film, it gets unexpectedly rough, turning abruptly into a drama, and it is hard to pull off the lighthearted resolution the first part of the film demands. Would that reflect reality? Of course not – which is was makes this movie more real than a wacky comedy – but it starts out fairly amusingly enough (and the previews for US audiences are playing up the farcical aspects of the story) and then changes tone. The tone change is rewarding, from a dramatic standpoint, but as sheer comedy goes, it’s pretty harsh.

Having little to no cultural knowledge of Pakistani religion or practices, it was very interesting to be exposed to their customs and their beliefs. It was also frustrating to see a father held with such high status never seem to learn his lesson – no one changed in the movie, and I think that is part of what felt unrewarding. One side or the other has to bend, and at the end, a peace had been called, but no resolution. Getting there was difficult, hard even to watch, must less to live, at times, and the token “public embarrassment” scene was so alien to us in the audience that it was hard to sense the humiliation that would have made it funny. A non film example: Let’s say a culture finds the exposure of wrists and ankles is obscene and offensive, and we have a scene where the daffy neighbor comes by to show off her new ankle tattoo. Having no innate shame of our own ankles and wrists, we cannot feel the embarrassment felt at this neighbor unwittingly making our leads feel humiliated.

The British as a people are also much more aware of the various social potholes that they fall into, and are more easily embarrassed than Americans in general (which says great things about their empathy but not their social security), so the scene was robbed of much of its comedic potential for me. Here in the States as well, we were founded under the basis of freedom of religion, and some of the indignities suffered by Puri’s children are inconceivable. Certainly, parental influence has great emotional weight, but to a degree the legalities of some of the activities in the film are shocking here. So again, the movie loses its comedic potential, and becomes a serious family drama. Not that this is a bad thing, but I feel it was dreadfully mismarketed. The culture clashes are interesting, the conflict is unresolved and unsatisfying, and all the actors do a terrific job. So many children creates some confusion – two brothers I had trouble keeping apart and when all the names are tossed about without their owners present, it took some time to willow out who was who, plotwise.

Since it deals in Important Cultural Issues, I predict a nomination for Best Foreign Film next year, but I do not think it is a clean enough script to be effective. By clean of course I mean lean and mean, not free of profanity. Oh yeah, if you take offense at the word “bastard,” it’s used like the F word in a Tarantino bar fight. Me, I think it’s kind of funny.

MPAA Rating R -language, sexual content & domestic violence.
Release date 4/14/00
Time in minutes 96
Director Damien O’Donnell
Studio Miramax

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American Psycho

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My first thought, analysis-wise, upon leaving the theatre, was “Thank goodness Leonardo DiCaprio turned this role down.” I then scurried into the second film of my double feature, relieved for the respite of not having to think about American Psycho. Former Disney Newsie Christian Bale is Patrick Bateman, a ruthless and generic young businessman in the killer 80’s, and what makes him unique is, well, he’s a lunatic. Watching the film, I took his actions literally, but upon reflection, I wonder that a deeper statement was not made (perhaps by accident). Some magazines (indeed, even the press material) have described this film as a satire of the 80’s avarice and voraciously empty souls of the young rich. The novel was written in the thick of this money-grubbing world, and Ellis probably intended no sly extra layer where now we can laugh at these clowns as we check our Yahoo stock.

The men Bateman associates with are just like him, so much so that they are basically indistinguishable, and all with spinning, materialistic moral compasses and nothing interesting to offer anyone, not even themselves. No one notices the atrocities of life around them. No one makes eye contact, acknowledges openness, and **no one** accepts defeat at the hands of another. In this chilling world, Bateman shakes things up by being a homicidal maniac – to no effect. Is this a statement on the general moral emptiness of a rabid fixation on money and success? Or is he so nuts he thinks he has murdered a bunch of people when really he is just going all OCD with his skin-care regimen? Someone has gone missing? Well I hope his apartment isn’t nicer than mine.

If you like satisfying come-uppances, don’t look to this adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’ book. If you want creative ways to rid your neighborhood of prostitutes and delve into levels of inhuman coldness, get in line now. If you want to see Christian Bale naked, a lot, and believe me, it’s a sight to see, get in line now. It’s interesting but frustrating at the same time. I was scared and tense and viscerally enjoying the drama – but the proto-Boiler Room dick-measuring contests were tiresome and too unreal to even enjoy. It’s chilly, flat, cold – it’s like being in a museum about crazy people. The environment is sterile and unemotional, but it describes wild, insane, highly charged emotional issues. It’s interesting. But it’s not involving, beyond the initial visceral push of the events unfolding on screen. If you like Huey Lewis (and have always considered him and The News the harbingers of murderous doom*) you may find a level of this film to be even more interesting. Let me tell you, there is some seriously sick stuff happening. Thankfully, to avoid the NC17 that was hovering over director Mary Harron’s head, some stuff was snipped, and the majority of the really Reservoir-Dogs-Times-Three stuff happens offscreen, Shakespeare-style.

Bale is perfect, somehow – and DiCaprio would have been horrible. It has nothing to do with acting – Bale’s British upbringing enables him to hold his cards close to his chest and he can mock our American bravado at the same time. DiCaprio just looks too precious, waifish, wide-eyed to play a role like Patrick Bateman. Chloe Sevigny and Reese Witherspoon also appear, inexplicably, in this film. Witherspoon is Bates’ fiancee, yet there is no connection to suggest they have even met. nothing about any of these people that could make us believe he was affianced to her for any reason. Sevigny is meek and victim-y and odd, not unlike her character in The Last Days of Disco. Enter Willem Dafoe, an investigator – and if anyone can crack this case, Jesus can. So we know some of this is real, some of it is fake – but it’s not like The Game, where only the protagonist is confused about reality. I would argue that most of us in the audience were also confused.

If you are offended by purposeless terrible deeds and unrepentant evil, skip it. Otherwise, it’s a great movie to chat about over a nice, fluffy dessert.

MPAA Rating R -strong violence, sexuality, drug use & language
Release date 4/14/00
Time in minutes 101
Director Mary Harron
Studio Lion’s Gate

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Keeping The Faith

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The trailer would lead you to believe that this is a raucous comedy, worthy of Ben Stiller’s association – but this is also an Ed Norton movie, a slow, gentle, intellectual comedy. In case you don’t know it, Stiller plays a rabbi and Norton plays a priest. They are best friends and take their faiths very seriously, but while they adhere to different religions, they both seem to take the more humanist approach that faith and individual spirituality are more important than the specific trappings of religion, i.e. God is a God is a God. Ironically, it is the very trappings within which they operate as part of their vocations that cause all the fun when their best junior high friend, Jenna “I am so luminous it hurts” Elfman shows up. Also ironic (in a different way) that Touchstone Pictures (a child of Disney) would put this out – baiting the Church who have been quite impatient with the Family Studio of late. But I digress.

Norton and Stiller are adorable, very serious about their work, very cocky and sexy (which is weird to see in a priest), and they are both foiled deliciously by Elfman. It’s a nice cast, good work all around, but the story can really only go one way for everyone to remain true to themselves. So it does, but the drive is nice, even if it is a little predictable. Certainly there are obstacles and quandaries and whatnot along the way, I didn’t mean to imply there were not. Huge crises occur, maddeningly poignant moments, and some cute schtick blessedly spared the ruination of previews exposure.

I took almost no notes because it is a pleasant, meandering sweet story, that doth not offend one’s holy sensibilities too much but is still pretty forward-thinking. A laugh riot it’s not, and Norton is well on his way to donning Woody Allen’s director mantle for this kind of movie. Occasionally, it is weird to hear professional cynic Ben Stiller talk about his relationship with the Almighty, and definitely weird for him to also seem happy and – dare I say – gleeful? But it’s a nice change of pace for our Ben. Milos Forman, the man who directed Amadeus and Man in the Moon, plays an older priest friend of Norton’s, and I wish we could see more of him onscreen. I enjoyed him tremendously. While Elfman does always sound like she has a cold, I am starting to see how Dharma and Greg managed to win such a following – she is winsome and not so frighteningly beautiful that she seems inaccessible (Michelle Pfeiffer) or so determined to be totally goofy that she freaks you out (Amanda Peet) – she’s the girl next door, the one you either want to be or want to date – who wouldn’t renounce their vows for her? But that would be heresy to say, wouldn’t it?

The tag line for the poster reads, “If you have to believe in something, you might as well believe in love,” which I think does the screenplay a disservice in how it presents a forward thinking pair of religious guys. Faith is not wavered from, and doubt is fleeting. But if you can ignore this minor transgression (to forgive is divine) then it’s a nice little movie you should see with someone raised in a different faith than yourself.

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 4/14/00
Time in minutes 128
Director Edward Norton
Studio Touchstone Pictures

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Cinerina

Black and White

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Reviewing a movie with such a loaded topic presents some difficulty for a reviewer of any color – and how to refer to the various “thems” without seeming to be, well, implying something? The one thing I can say about Black and White that anyone would agree with, is that it didn’t really explore the topic as it was purported to. The film has a fascination with rich white kids who glamorize the black gangsta life (to the point that they call each other their “niggaz,” which was vehemently defined as separate from the very hot word “niggers”), and some semblance of interest in the black gangstas’ own reaction to their pale shadows. Certainly, many of the characters seem to come off trying to be colorblind, claiming to be attracted by the pure lifestyle, but then contradict themselves constantly.

Rich white kids put on this dropped, Harlem-is-my-town show for their parents, but only socialize with extremely wealthy black gangstas, and dis their fellow gangsta-worshipping boyfriends. A white social anthropologist (Claudia Schiffer, no stranger to being objectified) is in a relationship with a black man, claiming that she is color blind, that she loves the man – but really seeks danger (and, as a privileged NYU grad, associates danger with blackness) and ultimately is more shallow than anyone. The “wiggaz” are all extremely wealthy and well-connected, and their less-fortunate classmates of all colors wonder what the appeal is in pretending to have come from being poor, or acting ignorant, or whatever it is. A white filmmaker in a marriage of denial to a gay man studies these strange people, without noticing the bizarreness of her own life. Oh, did I mention it’s Brooke Shields with the nouveau-Indian look of a pierced nose and semi-dreadlocks, who lives in a penthouse?

The movie carries itself like a documentary, then gets bogged down in some kind of plot (which is actually reserved for the African-American half of the cast plus Schiffer), making any kind of real exploration seem even more contrived than it was. A classroom scene where a teacher asks kids about what they like to do can be real; a neurotic outside white guy (Ben Stiller) doing a quick wrap-up of everyone’s psychology is not. The most likable characters seem to be forgotten in favor of weird stunt-casting like Mike Tyson, making esoteric reference to his own life and past. The thing is, while the movie doesn’t spark much in itself, it does generate conversation, and is therefore worthy of viewing. It’s racist in some ways (the only black character who is not a gold-toothed rap hood is a mincing Oreo writer for Vanity Fair), OK, in many ways – what about white kids who “act like white kids” but enjoy hip hop music? Where does the culture (formed from the music) begin and the skin color end?

While I was watching it I jotted down a number of questions of my own about identity and what defines us, our preferences or our heritage, yadda yadda yadda, and then lost all my notes. Is this typically white premenstrual female, human, or am I emulating some other ethnicity by being unusually irresponsible with my notes? The movie seems to draw some conclusions like sexually adventurous girls can only find satisfaction with the more raw men of color – but what the hell is that? Their white boyfriends are being played by Elijah Wood and Eddie Kaye Thomas, the most white bread boys possible, yet who also adhere to (and mingle with) the black community’s standard of behavior. What about Thomas’ brother, the only actual criminal in the movie? And how about all the various ways black and white people get out of trouble or evade their responsibilities in this movie?

Perhaps now was not the time to make this movie – yet I cannot imagine it being made earlier than this. Mel Brooks got away with some serious racial commentary buried under humor (co-written with Richard Pryor) back in the seventies, but this movie tries so hard not to offend while still trying to make a point, that it ends up frustrating you with what could have been.

MPAA Rating R for violence, sexuality, and language.
Release date 4/5/00
Time in minutes 98
Director James Toback
Studio Screen Gems

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Joe Gould's Secret

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“Directed by Stanley Tucci” needs to be much more of a draw than it appears to be. Big Night, slow, delicious, wonderful. The Imposters – can’t recommend it enough. Joe Gould’s Secret – slow, detailed, cautious, and ultimately kind of obtuse. Perhaps the problem is that this is the first movie he has directed that he hasn’t written. “Written and Directed by Stanley Tucci” – there’s a treat! My friends and I skipped the tempting press screening so we could all (not just two of us) see it together. Tucci is the man.

It’s an interesting, winding work – Tucci plays Joseph Mitchell, a “real” journalist (1950) who does a story on homeless eccentric pseudo-journalist Joe Gould (Ian Holm), and in a way, becomes intertwined in the man’s story – they are joined together by words and seeking truth and so it’s very (in every sense) prosaic and intellectual while not getting too deep into the emotional motivations of either man. Holm gives a showboat of a performance sure to win him a nomination if anyone sees it and remembers it by December, but one that gives us little insight into this beloved madman of the streets. Coming out of the theatre, I wanted to take a notebook and record the minutiae of the people around me, my impressions and their words; I wanted to take candid black and white photography, Life Magazine style, of the world at which no one these days has time to stop and look. I content myself with sharing my impressions of films, but this movie actually called myself and what I do into doubt. Am I creating, can I call myself a writer merely commenting on the works of others? My purpose is supposed to be to help you decide if you want to see a movie, or to urge you to entertain yourself where you might not have done – but even the most delicious turn of phrase I may churn out amounts to nothing. Mitchell realized this, and never wrote again. We would call this tragic, a man abandoning his art. He was involved in the meta-purpose of commenting on Gould’s comments. And now I am commenting on that. Where will it end?

For this reason, perhaps, I enjoyed the film much more than my companions did. We were all in agreement that the attention to period detail, the technical work of the movie, was very enjoyable. We agreed that Holm was (as always) a delight and definitely enjoying his colorful role. We agreed that it was a tad poky, languid, sweet and slow as molasses, really. One of my group felt it was too thick and confusing, he didn’t “get it.” He’s an extremely intelligent person, so I wonder if it merely spoke to me, with my natural writer’s affinity for self-doubt (doubly felt since I do not also indulge in the writer’s drink). I leave it to you to decide. I say Matinee Price because it is beautifully done but may still leave you untouched. The important thing is, see Stanley Tucci’s other directorial movies and perhaps you may glean why we all walked out of the theatre slightly at a loss. Myself, I would have happily read Gould’s life’s work, The Oral History of Our Time, but viewers of the movie will understand why this desire remains unquenched.

There is truth in beauty, and beauty in truth, someone said. There is also something beautiful about the mundane, and truth resides there as well. Gould celebrated the beauty of the mundane, he benefited greatly from the kindness of strangers (bizarrely altruistic New Yorkers), and he was as true to himself as his particular driving madness would allow him. Mitchell’s life was touched by Gould and Gould’s by Mitchell – but who really changed? Some delicious prose, delightful lines of dialogue, but the movie comes off feeling a little hollow, because we are not allowed to touch the inner workings of this true story.

MPAA Rating R for some language and brief nudity
Release date 4/4/00
Time in minutes 108
Director Stanley Tucci
Studio USA Films

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Cinerina

What Planet Are You From?

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Take my advice, and rent Mating Habits of the Earthbound Human instead. It will have more outsider perspective on our crazy world of love and sex without all the inanity. The short version is Garry Shandling (you may know him as Larry Sanders) is an alien (H1449-G) sent by his boss (Ben Kingsley, sexy dialect and all!) to earth to find and impregnate an earth woman so their planet can take over from within. He befriends professional weasel Greg Kinnear. The Earth woman in question is none other than Best Actress nominee Annette Bening. John Goodman is on his trail. There are some amusing cameos and small parts and a number of very good one liners, but by god, this is really a shame.

Shandling had a brilliant Fox show, a super-brilliant HBO show, and as I dimly recall, great standup. But Garry is a straight man, not a comic. He performs best being the unaware stone faced man around who swirls wacky neighbors and employees. Garry is super funny but he cannot carry this movie. You’d think, OK, he’s an alien, a la Starman, and we are the wacky ones orbiting the alien straight man. You would think that, but you would be wrong. The inherent problem is that Starman was superior to us, and we were primitive and interesting. Shandling’s terrible planet is bad, and so we are the normal ones, which means Garry has to be funny. And he’s not. His penis is kind of funny, but it gets old quickly. Long story. It would have been better as a short film, actually.

Nora Dunn, of all people, has the majority of the funny lines in this movie – and she’s in what, 3 scenes? Kinnear is sort of transparently funny as a Seduce-and-destroy dropout (more like 1-877-LAME-HER) who is Shandling’s only friend initially. But despite being able to do something with very little Kinnear is not allowed to do even that much. He would have been too powder puff for The Boiler Room but he’s too nasty for a comedy. John Goodman looks like he is puffing his way to a Home Alone 4 audition – whence the mighty giant from Always and The Hudsucker Proxy? Oh yeah…Blues Brothers 2000. I forgot.

The biggest tragedy is how good this movie should have been. Kingsley has almost funny straight man scenes, Janeane Garafalo is herself but all too briefly. I mean, Linda Fiorentino, in a mesh dress, isn’t enough to wake up the audience. Annette “American Beauty” Bening! Wasted. She’s good, she’s not funny, she’s not supposed to be funny. She’s not given as much funny as she was in The American President. Attention Mike Nichols: You directed The Birdcage! The Graduate! Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolfe! Frickin’ Postcards from the Edge and Working Girl! YOU KNOW HOW TO USE YOUR CAST! What happened?!?!?! I could blame the script – but you can change the script when it isn’t working! Oh and the cast would have been so good.

I am sad. I say Rental with Snacks because it is not completely devoid of watchability – but it is not a movie that this cast and crew should have been able to make without it being better. Oh and Carter Burwell (swoon!) gets my vote for funniest use of a score since Deep Rising.

MPAA Rating R for sexuality and language
Release date 3/3/00
Time in minutes 104
Director Mike Nichols
Studio Columbia

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High Fidelity

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The Top 5 Reasons to Love This Movie:
1. Great dialogue
2. John Cusack’s familiar but never stale take on the Average Guy
3. A fantastic supporting cast including Jack Black, Lili Taylor, Tim Robbins, and Joan Cusack
4. Totally cool dissection of the culture of music and vinyl aficionados in particular
5. Equally cool story and soundtrack, not unlike Grosse Pointe Blank.

Love it love it love it! I am told Nick Hornby’s book is great too, and there is (of course) a new tie-in edition with beautiful John Cusack on the cover, and I’m gonna buy it! Yes, I loved this movie, not just because it had my future husband John in it, but also because it was super-intelligent! It nails the music-junkie, vinyl snobbery culture down (I don’t mean that to sound negative) and it also has quite pointed observations on the hunt for not-loneliness. Here is a guy, a guy who looks like John Cusack, I remind you, having that early-mid-life what-is-wrong-with-me crisis that we all go through, and he narrates it to the screen, Ferris Bueller style.

I should remark that this guy, this character Rob Gordon, is the anti-Ferris, lest any other comparisons be made. Bueller was able to talk to the screen in a fourth-wall-breaking way that is extremely hard to pull off, interrupting scenes and not being overheard in public. Cusack’s groovy Chicago slacker guy does it with equal aplomb and with the self-effacing charm that makes him such a winning actor. He’s doing what he loves, he’s beaten down by his experiences and the idiocy of those around him, and he’s just telling us about it. How else could a guy get away with so many top five lists in a film? He’s equally morose and idealistic, a unique quality I think our age group has, a kind of fatalistic optimism. We cling to our dreams and fantasies even when they don’t deliver – and I guess we finally grow up when we let go of them. But the movie is not as heavy and heady as that – the headiness comes with intelligent, funny dialogue, and dead-on characterizations and passions and human arguments and…mmmmm, like eating a delicious dinner.

Go to the official website (I think it’s on the GO network) and check out all the hilarious Top Five lists they have there. Cusack and his costar Jack Black had a great deal to do with the screenplay and the website content – music and music culture is clearly a personal passion for them both. You may recognize Jack from such films as Cradle Will Rock, Bob Roberts, or Tenacious D from Mr. Show. Black sings in a band in the film, and of course Cusack has always integrated music into his films in some way or another: the famous jam box scene from Say Anything; the entire movie of Tapeheads (made with Tim Robbins); being music supervisor for his first writer/producer outing, Grosse Pointe Blank, others, others… They clearly identified with their characters, and it makes all the difference. Back to Tim Robbins – he’s in it too! Bonus! (Seriously, rent Tapeheads if you can find it – what a hoot!) He mocks another kind of music snob which I think we are all familiar with. Oh and there’s Catherine Zeta-Jones, Lili Taylor, and Joan Cusack as well- some seriously hot talent here! Even Lisa Bonet – who was pretty cool, actually.

Iben Hjelje, who plays Laura, seems slightly alien in this movie. She’s likable, but never quite with us. maybe it was her repressed accent, or her post-chemo bangs, but I couldn’t quite warm up to her. I muttered, “bitch,” under my breath during much of her screen time, and her character would be the one I would say is least real, least involved. Because of it, we can’t quite get behind Rob’s infatuation with her, unless it is to work out all his inner demons.

Bonus for me: to hear John Cusack describe a movie-reviewer woman he likes as being unassailably cool because of what she does. Swoon!

Top Five Reasons to Adore John Cusack
1. He’s totally accessible, in looks and personality – he’s not a god, he’s an everyman
2. He’s smart as hell!
3. He’s a boxer man.
4. He’s friends with cool people (in real life) and works with them again and again
5. He’s making movies like this one

Go see it.

MPAA Rating R for language and some sexuality.
Release date 3/31/00
Time in minutes 120
Director Stephen Frears
Studio Touchstone Pictures

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The Road to El Dorado

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It’s no Prince of Egypt, but it’s no Anastasia either. Hans Zimmer’s score should have remained the only musical accompaniment to this film, the songs in which are the second collaboration between Elton John and Tim Rice since the Lion King. Me personally, I felt that The Lion King’s music was the weakest part of an otherwise wonderful movie – and I am sad to say that that is the case again. The most delicious thing about El Dorado is of course Kenneth Branagh and Kevin Kline’s interplay. These are two highly trained actors with vim and vigor and passion, having a fantastic time in the studio. They should get the chance to work together again because they have delightful chemistry, good vocal matches, equally good timing and wit and everything. Any time the story itself grows simplistic, a shade of nuance from Tulio or Miguel adds life that would otherwise be missing.

El Dorado also lacks a good deal of the visual design lushness that made Prince of Egypt such an amazing film – but it is lovely, and it does take advantage of the Deep Canvas technology really mastered in Tarzan. It uses music similarly to Tarzan, in that very little of the numbers are songs sung by a character – and the one that is, is sung by Elton and frickin’ Randy Newman on the CD, not Kenneth and Kevin! Grumble. This worked great for Tarzan (you know, inexplicably, Phil Collins won the Oscar for Best Song – probably because of the unobtrusive quality of the music) but it does not work here – the songs are alarmingly mixed in. Detractors of musical theatre (in all its forms) hate the notion of people suddenly bursting into song. I love it, myself, but it has to be real, it has to be true. In The Little Mermaid, for example, the movie that rejuvenated the genre, every song propels plot and/or character development. In El Dorado, it propels filler. So that bummed me out.

The animators make a lot of use of psychedelia and oversimplified Mayan (? Yucatan type) art motifs rather than (as in Prince of Egypt) being led more by the beautiful native works. Yes, of course, it’s a mythical city, but it has a style similar to that of the Mayans and Aztecs and Olmecs and Toltecs and PaintFlecks…it is a shame they did not use that design concept as gorgeously as in Prince of Egypt. “Hey, shut up about these other movies. What did you think of this one?” It was OK. I was entertained, I was interested, the main characters (for the most part, more on that in a bit) were interesting and well drawn (figuratively speaking as well as literally) and it was cool to look at most of the time. But it was only OK, and I don’t want people not to go because they think it will be a bad time, but to know why it was not Great and Fabulous and Wonderful.

Now, I have to say, the water, all the water shots, usage, whatever, is the best I have ever seen in an animated movie. For some reason I have always noticed Disney water and how realistic and beautiful it is. This movie blows it all out of the…well, water. Holy mackerel! And no, they didn’t integrate the computer work with the hand-drawn stuff as well as less recent movies have (how can that be?) but it’s still nice to look at.

I can’t avoid it any more. Oscar nominee Rosie Perez is the voice of Chel. This is not right. The least-understandable speaker in Hollywood (Roberto Bernigni and Pedro Almodovar aside), Perez is a terrible choice for an animated voiceover. On top of that, OK, perhaps, as a Puerto Rican, her accent is as close to Cuba in 1519 as we can get, since Gloria Estefan was busy with Music of the Heart – **but she sounds like she is from New Jersey** and you can hear the “you go girl” head bobs and the pursed lips – and THEN they animated them in. Chel, as a whole, is a weak character, with a scary, wrong voice. Yes, Branagh has his English accent and Kline his Theatre English one. So what? Armand Assante and Edward James Olmos sound perfect with their accents. All these people have won or been nominated for Oscars, I can see how this cast would look good on paper (and KB and KK are!) but ROSIE PEREZ? “It ain’t right!” To be fair, she never ascends into her screechy “you don’t love me!!” voice she is so well known for, but she still sounds like she should be clamping a cigarette and waggling her neck above her tube top. Which Chel is wearing.

The movie is worth seeing for Kenneth and Kevin (oh how much glee I have just to hear them when they do their thing that they do so well, that special vocal magic that each of them uniquely have no matter what character they inhabit) and the animation is very good, just not the most amazing thing I have ever seen. Lots of nice side visuals will be missed, so watch out for them. Altivo, the horse, is surprisingly funny.

MPAA Rating PG
Release date 3/31/00
Time in minutes 89
Director Will Finn, Bibo Bergeron, Don Paul, Eric Bergeron
Studio Dreamworks

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Romeo Must Die

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Slick movie. The short version is that the movie is structured loosely around Romeo and Juliet, but has the body count of Hamlet. Hong Kong meets Harlem (and both cultures get pretty equal soundtrack time and sympathy play) meets old school Mafia-style crime families with the moves of, well, of Jet Li, and you got yourself a rock ’em sock ’em little R&J for the new millennium. The “star-crossed lovers,” Aaliyah and Jet Li, hardly seem more than just good friends who flirt, but the enmity between their sides of the battle is all East Verona, kickin’ it old school, right in the throat. So basically, except for a widely broadcast “surprise” ending, the plot is just what you think it is, with some cross-gender changes just for kick-assedness sake.

The movie starts out with Shockwave-looking credits – another sign of the gradual trend of all graphic art looking more and more like web-based design, but cool. Gorgeous Russell Wong* and fabulous Jet Li both move like extra terrestrial killer panthers, and they are a joy to watch. Delroy Lindo’s gang is more traditional, with guns and explosives and whatnot, but they provide the comic relief with Lindo’s main bodyguard. This movie is chock full of testosterone, but it’s a much more accessible type than that in The Boiler Room. Our man Li and Aaliyah’s mob guys play a little game of football and it’s the best game of football I have ever seen (that says a lot coming from sports-hater me) – if it was always like that, I think I’d be a Chargers fan!

I’m sad to report that the groovy leaps and amazing aerial feats performed by Li and his ilk are done through the help of wires, but it still looks awesome. An effect is used three times, I won’t ruin it for you, but I have never seen it before (well, except in a primitive sense in stomach relief commercials) and hoo-ah, I really didn’t think movies could get more detailed with their injuries but lo! I was wrong. It was sparingly used and used well. My only complaint was that the camera was so tight on some of the fight scenes that I couldn’t tell what was happening – just a flurry of limbs and then a wide shot of someone flailing off to the side.

I say matinee (maybe with snack) because it wasn’t the laugh riot of a Jackie Chan movie (or the “he’s actually doing that” aspect either), but the fights occur for a reason, they are nicely done, and there’s even somewhat of a story going on behind the scenes. I had to laugh at the uncomfortable-looking white extras – they looked out of place and very nervous. That sounds ridiculous, but go see it and watch them, you’ll see what I mean. The Baldwin-esque developer that shows up on the golf course mid-film looks like he was dug up by headshot only, and I pity him for being lost in this movie. Delroy Lindo and Wong and Li and Aaliyah are all too strong for him to shine at all.

Aaliyah fans will be pleased that she sings about 4 tracks in this movie. I had not heard her (at least not consciously) before and she does great on screen and on soundtrack. And she’s only 21! No, gentlemen, you will not see her boobies. Sorry! But I think the opening scene will help you with the disappointment.

*I say gorgeous Russell Wong but then mid-movie I realized he looked like the love child of Dean Cain and Jack Wagner, so I now am questioning everything I have ever known. He does nice karate moves, though.

MPAA Rating R – violence, some language, and brief nudity.
Release date 3/22/00
Time in minutes 120
Director Andrzej Bartkowiak
Studio Warner Brothers

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