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The Cider House Rules

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I am probably going to be whipped behind the woodshed for saying so, but I was seriously underwhelmed by this Best Picture nominee. I just don’t see what everyone is so worked up about. Yes, I am certain the novel is very touching, moving, deep, and filled with metaphor and allegory, but the film adaptation feels labored and restless. John Irving wrote the novel as well as the adaptation, and maybe that is the problem. It is hard to tell when you cannot show in a novel, and then hard to show what you have easily told in a film. It’s amazing books get adapted at all, frankly, especially introspective dramas like this one. He seems to waffle between obtaining a beautiful subtlety in weaving together his various takes of choices and rules, rarely known and broken by choice, and so on, but then he beats you over the head with it in the very next scene. It’s lovely to look upon, this kingdom of Maine in 1943. The instruments of medicine used throughout are alarmingly primitive – our parents went under knives like that, oh my god, how did they survive to produce me?

Nearly everyone in the film had smile-inducing performances, warmth and depth. Michael Caine is just as good as he always has been, but perhaps he has never been appreciated because he was always waxing Cockney. Tobey Maguire has always come off to me as reserved and kind of Wesley Crusheresque, like he doesn’t really want to be in the movie. As he is the lead in the film, it is kind of inexcusable for me to be emotionally disconnected to him, isn’t it? Delroy Lindo and Erykah Badu were lovely, I’d like to see her more especially. Charlize Theron is a waxwork image of the beautiful perfect mid-century bombshell, fragile and objectified. It seems a terrible waste, as when she is given something to do she is quite good at it, but then Mighty Joe Editor comes along and you just see her in her panties.

The titular Rules, and the examination thereof, were actually the weakest part of the film. It was a leaden treatment of what the movie was doing perfectly well in portraying all along – and using that particular item as the title just drove all the focus away from the real important stuff that was going on. A pity. It may be a surprise to some that some discussion of abortion (as a practice, not as a character’s option) takes place that, to me, in my political arena, seemed very rational and also very giving to both sides of the opinion coin. I wondered if a certain situation had not been painted with extra vigor in order to appease the conservative half of the audience. It’s a touchy topic, but not the focus of the movie, just another string in the admittedly complex Maypole of choices and life decisions and rules choosing the truths you live with and what have you that make the story so satisfying. A shame the movie is not as satisfying as its ideas.

I had actually forgotten that the film was up for Best Picture when I went to see it – I knew I had to see it in order to comment in my Oscar Predictions for this year (coming soon!) but I could not for the life of me see how this would have garnered a Best Picture nomination after seeing it. It’s lovely, it’s pleasant, it’s better than most – but it’s little more than that. I don’t want to trash it, there is nothing *wrong* with it per se, it just didn’t stick with me and it wasn’t the Oscar cream fest I had been expecting. Everyone has been crowing about Michael Caine but he has always been this good, why hasn’t anyone noticed before? His Dr. Larch is layered, caring, flawed, altruistic, and grounded (mostly). Did he just have to speak like an American for people to notice?

I think people should see it, but I don’t think they should spend too much money on it. Save money on watching it and buy the book as a supplement.

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 12/10/99
Time in minutes 130
Director Lasse Hallström
Studio Miramax

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The Green Mile

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I have to say, it’s no Shawshank, though it could have been! Tom Hanks plays the main prison guard in this fable of miracles and respect and life…it’s a pretty freakin’ heavy movie, so do not go if you are the slightest bit blue. The acting is marvelous, you should recoil in horror and cry within only a few moments of each other somewhere in that third reel. You should not drink anything before you sit down. It is three hours long and you feel every minute, but that is not to say that the movie drags – but it took almost as long to watch as it did to read all six books. If you don’t know the story, don’t let my waxing poetic about the magic and stuff turn you off – it has a supernatural element but it works, more like The Dead Zone successfully being supernatural than (gulp) Pet Sematary, say.

The Green Mile, like so few Stephen King movies before it, is a beautifully faithful adaptation of the book(s) – Frank Darabont, who elevated a forgotten novella into Oscar Bait with The Shawshank Redemption, wrote this one as well and also directed. Some of the other crew are different – notably instead of Roger Deakins’ poetic camera work we have Episode One’s David Tattersall (he also did Con Air, and the film is scattered with Con Air alumni), and the magic of the film suffers a bit for it.

Michael Clark Duncan was genetically engineered to play the gentle giant, John Coffey – he’s absolutely gi-normous and his voice is deeper than the Pacific, and he looks like a guy you’d want as your best friend. You may remember him from Armageddon. Add some Depression-era “massa” speak to that character and of course eliminate all post-modern sarcasm and you have half the man John Coffey is. Tom Hanks IS Paul Edgecombe, he always has been Paul Edgecombe and there’s no reason to stop now. Dabbs Greer should make a career of playing Tom Hanks as an old man. David Morse (you’ll recognize him) is finally fleshed out as a real 3D guy after all these movies he’s done. The rest of the supporting cast is equally strong, equally well-cast. James Cromwell might be a wee too old for his wife, but we’ll let that slip. It’s so close to being magic that it hurts – but ultimately, despite the overall positive aspect of the story, it’s depressing as hell! Merry Christmas! I got you tickets to see The Green Mile.

The supernatural aspect is handled as naturally as possible, perhaps to not freak out the “oh boy it’s an Stephen King story” faction, perhaps just to make it more about the people and less about the effects, but it still requires you to do a little suspension of disbelief dance for which Shawshank may have spoiled you. One of my companions settled back in smug “oh yeah Stephen King” right when he should have been really starting to dig in to the story, but he recovered. Ironically, he was the most affected by the movie once the cold night hit our faces again. It’s moving, it’s a downer, it’s really well done by all, go see it. But it is a downer.

MPAA Rating R-violence, language &some sex-related material.
Release date 12/10/99
Time in minutes 180
Director Frank Darabont
Studio Castle Rock Entertainment

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Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo

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What? Are you surprised? Surprised I even went to go see it? OK, here’s the deal. We wanted to see another movie to lighten the air after The Green Mile (which is very good but obviously intoxicated us), so we chose this instead of Toy Story 2 (which is fantastic). I expected very little, as I always do, but I got quite a bit less. Gone is the humor potential of the film by most of the decent jokes being shown a hundred times in the preview. Gone is the hope that it will be silly, raunchy fun along the lines of Something About Mary when they cast no one else to support Rob Schneider. Yes, we laughed begrudgingly a couple of times. Other times, other people in the audience laughed while we stared, saddened and vaguely furious that we hadn’t snuck in. One of my companions (the deciding vote in the film selection – NOT THAT I AM BLAMING YOU!) was extremely apologetic and fearful of my wrath. Not so – I expected exactly what I got which was a steaming pile of dull, witless antics with humor that South Park fans would find simplistic and puerile.

Rob Schneider, for all his career mistakes, does have one thing, well, two. He has that great, dead-eyed expression which makes him look like an idiot, but when he then does something clever or reacts belatedly to something, it’s good plain old slapstick acting. He is the king (or the man-queen, in Deuce parlance) of the unmoving-head doubletake. The other things he does (besides whine) is pull off a sincere nice guy, an everyman who appreciates that he doesn’t get much good in life and therefore when he does, we can really see that he appreciates it. If only he were given decent material, he might actually save himself from Deuce Deuce: The Man-Whore returns.

Surreally scary is William Forsythe as some poorly explained cop character, who is really just an excuse for some penis talk in a movie, about gigolos, mind you, almost utterly devoid of sex. The other decent thing about this movie (which still does not make it worthy of recommendation) is the fact that Rob’s character actually does some good and extends a message – granted, a message on how to get in good with women, but a sincere one. Like, with tolerance and kindness and stuff. But it doesn’t, you know, make the movie any funnier. The worst part was seeing gags that could have worked, even would have worked, but then crashed and burned. Nothing is depressing about seeing a pie in the face gag flop – you don’t expect it to work. But when a moderately original idea, executed so badly that it just eliminates all hope of someone else trying it and succeeding, that makes it the most painful.

The internet movie database helpfully notes, “If you like this title, we also recommend…Election.” By all means, just go rent Election (an odd recommendation, really, seems like Night at The Roxbury or Kingpin would be more the companion piece to this dreck) – Election is marvelous. And, if memory serves, there is much more nudity.

MPAA Rating R for sexual content, language, and crude humor.
Release date 12/10/99
Time in minutes 88
Director Mike Mitchell
Studio Touchstone Pictures

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Cradle will Rock

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A fascinating little Written-And-Directed-By-Tim Robbins(channeling Robert Altman) period piece, Cradle Will Rock is not a farce, nor is it a drama. It has elements of both in it, as well as a zillion smarty-pants references and sight gags (some harking to the French Revolution in 1789, others to modern Broadway), so it’s not necessarily the movie that Joe Armageddon would want to take his best girl to on a Saturday night. I know the title makes it sounds like some awful USA Up All Night slasher film, but it’s not. Let me put it this way – one of my companions (and I know you must think I make this stuff up but I don’t!) got a Bachelor’s degree in Music and he has a Ph.D. now, he took a class on Art and Literature of the Depression, he loves the music of the 1930’s (when the film takes place) – and STILL he felt that the movie was targeted to a niche audience even more select than himself. You should also know something about theatre, the Red Scare, and Diego Rivera.

That said, it was totally interesting, never slow or boring, even when you aren’t sure where the action is leading. Historical figures are played by familiar faces (John Cusack as Nelson Rockefeller, anyone?) and some dialogue is lifted right off of federal court transcripts. But it is an era about which little is really taught or discussed. The film circles around the troubles encountered by the Federal Theatre Project, part of the WPA program during the Depression, and the constant, manic terror of the Communist Threat. All kinds of things happen but with our…for lack of a better word, “more enlightened” hindsight, the political actions of our own United States back then seem hypocritical, and deliciously so. While anti-Red factions are marching against Communism, they are doing it in the most Iron Curtain-y, censorshippish and tyrannical sort of way. Very sly, that Tim Robbins. Oh and he does it with really long, luxurious takes and pretty music too.

Cradle Will Rock does not have the documentary feel of his Bob Roberts, but the same deadpan lambasting of the powers that be permeates this film. Even Dead Man Walking skirted around preaching to us and just showed us what the director has his own opinions about, bald faced, naked, and present, and let us respond to it the way we will. Bob Roberts was controversial because it poked fun at our current politics; Cradle Will Rock is japing at 1930’s New Deal politics, which, no matter what side of the fence you stand on now, seems hopelessly naive and quaint. Or does it? Do politicians still seek to prevent the viewing of public works of art because of some personal fear of what might be incited by viewing? Cradle Will Rock can poke fun at that hypocrisy because it is portraying real events (with fictional bits thrown in for color) through a lens 65 years long.

Besides all that deep stuff, there’s the cast! John Cusack, Joan Cusack, Bill Murray, Angus MacFadyen, Emily Watson, Hank Azaria, Bill Murray (riding his post-Rushmore credibility wave with aplomb), Susan Sarandon, Paul Giamatti, Philip Baker Hall (recently in Magnolia), Vanessa Redgrave, John Turturro, Jack Black…my heavens! And I don’t recognize Cherry Jones but she was great, too. There’s something for everyone here, but don’t feel bad if you feel left out. We all did! But we still enjoyed it.

MPAA Rating R for some language and sexuality.
Release date 12/8/99 NY/LA
Time in minutes 132
Director Tim Robbins
Studio Touchstone

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End of Days

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You know, I am just as surprised at that high rating as you are. Maybe I am watching the movie through rose-tinted glasses, but I really viscerally enjoyed that movie. And remember, I rate by entertainment value, bang for your buck. You want an end of the world kind of action thriller, this is the place to go. If you are sick to death of the whole Y2K bug end of the world nonsense, why not curl up with a nice Biblical hellfire and devil reigning for a thousand years kind of end of the world tale, just for variety’s sake. You’ve no doubt seen some iteration of the preview (and I am always leery of movies that cut radically different previews, as if angling for an audience they don’t believe is going to be there) and thought, well, that looks pretty cool. It does look pretty cool and I thought the score was pretty bad ass too! Overall the movie was a moderately hackneyed vehicle for some genuinely cool stuff – so if you want cool stuff, you’ll enjoy the movie. Also (having double featured with The World Is Not Enough) I have to say that all the explosions and whatnot actually happen for a REASON which is novelty enough these days.

Gabriel Byrne bored me as a priest in Stigmata but let me tell you one thing – he was BORN to play this part. He’s delightful!! He’s filled with a casual “oh I am like this all the time” offhandedness about his Satanic glory – as if, as he should be, he’s used to having this power, these feelings. I am sooo tired of the Devil’s Advocate WOW I have NEVER been this EVIL histronics of actors who think, “I am playing the pinnacle of bad guys, I have got to dance for the man and make him BELIEVE!” Ugh! Satan as a coolly confident, low key, serpentine smoothie has always been more effective when winning over his victims or winning over his movie audiences. Come on, who do you buy from when you shop? CRAZY AL who jumps around and waves radios under your nose, or the guy who convinces you it was your idea to buy it all along? And Byrne is so deliciously casual about it, so non-standard sexy and charismatic. You don’t buy in to it so much that you want him to win, however! Go Ahnold!!! I love Arnold Schwartzenegger in movies, almost all the time. I don’t know if it’s his accent or how immense he is (without anyone else seeming to notice this hulking man in their midst) or just his dry, wry delivery, but Arnold does it for me as an action and (for the most part) comic actor.

The woman, you ask? Who is the woman? (I know my audience – you boob hungry fiends, ya!) Robin Tunney is her name and looking terrified is her game. She’s not good or bad, she’s just what she needs to be – She was in Niagra Niagra, Empire Records, Encino Man, and some other stuff, and she looks like the 20 yr. old character she is playing but she is really a doddering 27! You don’t get to see her boobs, sorry – but there are boobs.

Director Peter Hyams has, in my opinion, really missed over the years, and even detractors of End of Days would have to agree that this is his best film. I don’t want to scare you away, but he is also credited with, erm, well, Timecop, The Relic, and Stay Tuned. Oh, and Capricorn One! Does that help? I used to make fun of The Relic, which also looked pretty cool (I mean the effects) but was kind of silly – but after seeing Anaconda all I could say was, “At least The Relic had (missing aspect of Anaconda) and at least The Relic wasn’t (visual expression of excrement)!” So, you know, if you liked those movies, you will cream over End of Days, and if you hated those movies, well, Hyams may have improved enough to make you like this one as I did. It probably helps that the screenwriter for Air Force One wrote this one. So think of it as a pre-biblical-apocalypse Air Force One, rather than The Relic with Ahnold.

MPAA Rating R-intense violence/gore,strong sex scene&language
Release date 11/24/99
Time in minutes 115
Director Peter Hyams
Studio Universal Pictures

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End of Days

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You know, I am just as surprised at that high rating as you are. Maybe I am watching the movie through rose-tinted glasses, but I really viscerally enjoyed that movie. And remember, I rate by entertainment value, bang for your buck. You want an end of the world kind of action thriller, this is the place to go. If you are sick to death of the whole Y2K bug end of the world nonsense, why not curl up with a nice Biblical hellfire and devil reigning for a thousand years kind of end of the world tale, just for variety’s sake. You’ve no doubt seen some iteration of the preview (and I am always leery of movies that cut radically different previews, as if angling for an audience they don’t believe is going to be there) and thought, well, that looks pretty cool. It does look pretty cool and I thought the score was pretty bad ass too! Overall the movie was a moderately hackneyed vehicle for some genuinely cool stuff – so if you want cool stuff, you’ll enjoy the movie. Also (having double featured with The World Is Not Enough) I have to say that all the explosions and whatnot actually happen for a REASON which is novelty enough these days.

Gabriel Byrne bored me as a priest in Stigmata but let me tell you one thing – he was BORN to play this part. He’s delightful!! He’s filled with a casual “oh I am like this all the time” offhandedness about his Satanic glory – as if, as he should be, he’s used to having this power, these feelings. I am sooo tired of the Devil’s Advocate WOW I have NEVER been this EVIL histronics of actors who think, “I am playing the pinnacle of bad guys, I have got to dance for the man and make him BELIEVE!” Ugh! Satan as a coolly confident, low key, serpentine smoothie has always been more effective when winning over his victims or winning over his movie audiences. Come on, who do you buy from when you shop? CRAZY AL who jumps around and waves radios under your nose, or the guy who convinces you it was your idea to buy it all along? And Byrne is so deliciously casual about it, so non-standard sexy and charismatic. You don’t buy in to it so much that you want him to win, however! Go Ahnold!!! I love Arnold Schwartzenegger in movies, almost all the time. I don’t know if it’s his accent or how immense he is (without anyone else seeming to notice this hulking man in their midst) or just his dry, wry delivery, but Arnold does it for me as an action and (for the most part) comic actor.

The woman, you ask? Who is the woman? (I know my audience – you boob hungry fiends, ya!) Robin Tunney is her name and looking terrified is her game. She’s not good or bad, she’s just what she needs to be – She was in Niagra Niagra, Empire Records, Encino Man, and some other stuff, and she looks like the 20 yr. old character she is playing but she is really a doddering 27! You don’t get to see her boobs, sorry – but there are boobs.

Director Peter Hyams has, in my opinion, really missed over the years, and even detractors of End of Days would have to agree that this is his best film. I don’t want to scare you away, but he is also credited with, erm, well, Timecop, The Relic, and Stay Tuned. Oh, and Capricorn One! Does that help? I used to make fun of The Relic, which also looked pretty cool (I mean the effects) but was kind of silly – but after seeing Anaconda all I could say was, “At least The Relic had (missing aspect of Anaconda) and at least The Relic wasn’t (visual expression of excrement)!” So, you know, if you liked those movies, you will cream over End of Days, and if you hated those movies, well, Hyams may have improved enough to make you like this one as I did. It probably helps that the screenwriter for Air Force One wrote this one. So think of it as a pre-biblical-apocalypse Air Force One, rather than The Relic with Ahnold.

MPAA Rating R-intense violence/gore,strong sex scene&language
Release date 11/24/1999
Time in minutes 115
Director Peter Hyams
Studio Universal Pictures

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Toy Story 2

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Oscar winners Tom Hanks and Wallace Shawn reprise their roles as Woody and Rex, and all the rest as well: Tim Allen as hubris-cured Buzz Lightyear, etc. Add Wayne Knight as a Harry Knowles avaricious collector freak (a human), Joan Cusack as Jessie the Yodeling Cowgirl and Kelsey Grammar as Stinky Pete to the already stellar vocal cast, and all you need is the magic of Pixar. And you got it. If you recall, Toy Story was the first fully computer animated feature film, and the people looked weird and bendy, the surfaces were static – but it was a watershed of the genre. Now, you can see how just a few years has really bumped up the standard of Silicon Graphics rendering – WOWZA. The production design was textured and rich but not cluttered, and the pacing was brilliant. I’d also like to fling kudos at all the developers? advances in hair and fur and the softer organic elements in general. To be totally honest, the delicious, dialogue-free three minute multi-media preview for Dinosaur (May 2000) was worth seeing the movie for – but Toy Story 2 is really a great ride!

I know it looks like I have a little animation bias when you examine my years of reviews, but folks, I think something happens in an animation studio that just doesn’t happen in live action film, not very often these days, anyway, that makes a difference. Maybe it’s the amazing meld of vocal talent being produced by a separate entity than the visual acting. Maybe it’s the added beauty of having to plan so carefully in advance so as not to delete scenes later on, that makes the quality better. Maybe it’s just that the only good writers left in Hollywood work for Disney and Fox (and Warner Brothers, let’s not forget The Iron Giant, out on video now!), because the initial script is more dialogue driven since animation is not bound by special effects expense or what have you. Maybe voice talent is cheaper to get (no trailers, wardrobe, makeup, continuity on set) and they can actually spend money on script development. I don’t know. But by golly, Toy Story 2 is the best freaking sequel I have seen since…since Scream 2? Aliens? They are such different genres it’s hard to say. But by all means, run out and see it!

I seriously think the Academy is going to have to add an animated feature category (and its attendant sub-categories of design and other talents) to its awards roster, much as the Emmys should have been doing for about 10 years. If I had my choice at nominees in that category, I couldn’t do it. Pixar, leaders in the computer graphics industry, are now dabbling in mixed media, with great success, in this reporter’s opinion.

Movie buffs will laugh at the various small homages to other films tucked in – some obvious (Star Wars series), others not so obvious (This is Spinal Tap, Tron). There’s plenty to keep adults awake and the two zillion kids in the screening I attended were equally enraptured by the indefatigable characters they were watching. Big yuks, nice plot twists, some emotional and, uh, actional dilemmas, everything you want. As an added bonus, there’s an almost invisible Randy Newman presence. Toy Story 1 can never be seen by me again because of what Randy did to Buzz’ big epiphany. This time, the one song (as in the first, and in Tarzan, a narrative song, not a dialogue song) was sung by the distinctly more reverent Sarah McLachlan, and I deeply appreciated the improvement. In short, I cracked up and had a great time. You will too.

As of this mailing, on the day it was supposed to have come out, I have already seen it twice.

MPAA Rating G
Release date 11/24/99
Time in minutes 92
Director Lee Unkrich, John Lasseter
Studio Walt Disney / Pixar

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Tumbleweeds

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The best thing about this movie is the acting. The storyline is almost secondary to the performances, and in fact, the story line is crystal clear predictable from about frame 50. This should not deter anyone from seeing it, but do not expect a twisty, exciting roller coaster ride of emotions if you go. Instead, sit back and watch Janet McTeer and Kimberly Brown be the best mother-daughter team ever invented, listen to their deep corn-pone accents and marvel at the fact that McTeer is **British** and then smile knowingly as character A is introduced and you know exactly what will happen with him; character B, same thing…McTeer won a Tony award and it shows – but she is not stagey or too big – she is just utterly real.

Writer/director Gavin O’Connor (the film is co-written by Angela Shelton, which would account for the marvelous handling of intra-female dynamics) is also featured as a character, Jack, with utterly transparent characterization. His entire shoot schedule could have been tattooed on his head, we so know exactly where this is going to go. Perhaps that’s part of Tumbleweeds’ charm – we know what kind of problems the ladies are going to face, we see them before they do and we know exactly what’s going to happen. Somehow this does create a poignancy to their situation. I hadn’t thought about it until just now. Hmmm – maybe the utter predictability served the movie more than I had considered. I leave it to you.

Mom and daughter have a strong bond (unlike me with my mom) and they escape to San Diego (as I recently have done) and with this as a story element I was hooked in for good. This may not resonate the same way with most people, but I found them to be very brave (and well-funded) and I enjoyed just watching them be together. I don’t know what costume buyer picked out those bathing suits, but whoo! No thank you.

Bonus: Jay O. Sanders, seemingly most often used as a vaguely menacing or authoritative character actor, is given a see through role with a surprise scene where I was bawling his performance was so good. Go Jay O.! Seriously, the movie is worth renting just for his scene, and it’s worth paying matinee price to see everyone just do their stuff. I haven’t seen the Susan Sarandon/Natalie Portman mom/daughter on the road movie, but from what I can tell, that relationship is all conflict and this one is mostly not – they are like best friends and they are definitely family. It’s quite heart warming, really. Go see it with your mom or your girl friend who makes poor choices in her life, and hold hands. It’s a nice little movie.

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 11/24/99 NY/LA
Time in minutes 102
Director Gavin O’Connor
Studio Fine Line Features

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Messenger, The Story of Joan of Arc

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If you liked Braveheart, you should like The Messenger. It’s chock full of long, vivid battle scenes, terrible injuries, terrible deeds, and epic cinematography (though, somehow, not as huge as Braveheart). However, if you liked the Fifth Element (also directed by Luc Besson) you will see none of that wacky tongue in cheek comedy here – The Messenger is a very serious film. This is one of its virtues, however. Besson, a French man, is very passionate about his paean to Jeanne d’Arc (though it never explains the of Arc part of her name) and his love for his mother France is very deep. He imbues the film with glory and xenophobia and righteous fire in the name of 15th century warriors who died trying to free his country from the English pigdogs, and it saves The Messenger from being a scene chewing vehicle for his then-wife, Milla Jovovich.

Milla is beautiful, so beautiful you can see why she is the revered virgin of legend and also her charisma to make tough and scratchy soldiers follow her. Jovovich also really sold me on her belief – she is the heart of the film and therefore had I not believed her religious fervor I would have been snoozing through it – but she really digs in and gets down with her revelations and I believe her performance totally. Her passion and Luc’s passion for the project is what made this movie go from a 13th Warrior kind of mish mosh to what was actually a pretty cool (if weirdly cast) small epic.

John Malkovich, as the Dauphin de Steppenwolf (how does he keep getting roles that demand dialect and then Chicagoing his way through them?!?!), has the right feebleness of character and strength of ego to play the rotten Dauphin-cum-King of France – if only he didn’t sound, well, like himself. One amusing moment is when the Dauphin says, “If only I could be someone else,” and of course with Being John Malkovich playing across the hall, this was an added funny bonus. He and, of all people, Dustin Hoffman, lend some American star power to the film but I think they are wildly misplaced. Hoffman’s credit is The Conscience, and it’s an interestingly used concept, but the second he shows up, the film starts to drag drag drag. When he’s gone, we’re caught up in the story again, watching Milla work her onscreen magic and, even knowing the outcome, hoping it will be OK for her in some way at the end. But when Hoffman shows up, it’s Sphere all over again.

Faye Dunaway, looking even more like an alien than normal with her French Renaissance headdress, sleepwalks her way though the film – it’s never clear what we should make of her, and it’s not really all that important, I guess. The central relationship is between God and France and Jeanne and it’s when the movie gets into the nitty gritty with that, it’s at its best. That, and some seriously cool camera work with the battles (watch for a cool catapult section) and the painstaking production design of the battlements and weapons. The reason to see The Messenger is of course the messenger herself, and Milla’s Revlon (Maybelline?) commercials will never quite look the same – Buy InstaCurl ReadyLash Mascara – God wants you to! But she is more than her gibberish-spouting chosen one from Fifth Element – she is a scripture spouting chosen one who really believes in what she is saying. It’s actually quite enjoyable overall.

MPAA Rating R for strong graphic battles, a rape and language.
Release date 11/22/99
Time in minutes 148
Director Luc Besson
Studio Columbia TriStar

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Goodbye 20th Century

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Zbogum na dvadesetiot vek

This is a Macedonian contender for Best Foreign Film that fell into my mailbox and to be honest, I am not sure how we found each other. If you like comic books, weird, David Lynchian homages, and squeaky Slavonic voices, with subtitles – you’ll LOVE Goodbye 20th Century.

I personally found it a little frustrating – the movie started out being mythic, then comic bookish, then zany, then pseudo erotic, then actually quite silly/disturbing, finally ending up with chaotic and gratuitous. As soon as I resigned myself to the rules set out for me, the filmmakers turned it around and made it weird again. It’s a self-proclaimed fairy tale, but one in which the elements do not mesh to create a single story or lesson, or even, well, amusement.

Take Six String Samurai, with its basically “I graduated from film school” look, add a dash of Conan knockoffs like Sheena and Road Warrior knock offs like, well, the later Road Warriors, inhale a bunch of helium, get Santa plenty pissed at you, and then have jerky, Showgirls hot tub sex with your stiff and creepy sister – and you have an idea of what I had to watch, here. It was on nice film stock but still shot like a hand held home movie – very odd. The imagery that escaped me (such as apples in the bath) might be Macedonian in nature, but I have no idea. And why did some characters speak English?

Apparently, this movie opened in New York on November 19, and I have been combing my entertainment magazines looking for some mention of it. The info packet that came with the tape is full of more mythic stuff (shades of the Blair Witch) but not very cohesive. The movie starts in 2019, jumps to 1919, then to 1999, fairly inexplicably. Recurring characters don’t, and interesting bits aren’t. I let my friend watch it and he loved it, he loved the weirdness and the randomness and the craziness, though he agreed that it was a tad incoherent.

The publicity material says, among other things that are not carried out by the film, “This is a film about the merry Santa Claus who in rage destroys our world, and about the people who are, as a result, condemned to immortal life.” Some of the sponsors include the Ministries of Culture and Defence, and Customs Administration, and the Army of the Republic of Macedonia, and two National Theatres. Clearly their people sunk the gross national product into this film…if only I could have understood it!

MPAA Rating Not rated; would be R in the US
Release date 11/19/99
Time in minutes 83
Director Darko Mitrevski, Aleksandar Popovski
Studio Mirco & Slavco First Partisan

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