Salma Hayek

Review: The Hitman’s Bodyguard

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Review: The Hitman’s Bodyguard

August is typically where the bad movies of the summer go to die. But some rise to the top and stand out among the late summer flops. The Hitman’s Bodyguard is one of those movies. It’s the buddy-cop action-comedy you need, with no cops in it. It’s full of action, all the funny you want, and it’s a real treat spending time with Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson. This is a great summer movie to end the summer with.

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Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant

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After a truly fantastical opening credits sequence, I worried that Cirque du Freak might have exhausted its quality potential. Thankfully, it had not. Adapting the first three of Darren Shan’s books and having a whimsical and sardonic dark tone, this film will inevitably be compared to Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. That film also squished three wonderful books into one passable film and had an outstanding cast. To compare them is a disservice to both, however. I have not read Shan’s books, but The Vampire’s Assistant made me want to. A key difference between these works is the generally more sunny and big-picture tone of Cirque du Freak, compared to the cynical, intimate feel of Unfortunate Events. The filmgoing experience is very different but the superficial similarities might make you prejudge and miss this one, if the other one didn’t do it for you.

The real appeal of Cirque du Freak is the engaging cast of characters. Our sweet goody two-shoes titular hero (named Darren Shan!) gets himself into a pretty serious pickle, but has a fantastic network of freaks and outcasts by his side. Key among these is John C. Reilly, the vampire who makes it all happen. Reilly has always solidly marched the line between weird and sympathetic, and this role benefits from this and his wonderful, dry sense of humor. Fellow freak-show denizens have small yet titillating parts, sucking you in for future tales to tell and flitting away to let the central relationships in the story play out. We meet, briefly, Salma Hayek, Orlando Jones, Ken Watanabe, Patrick Fugit, Jane Krakowski, and Jessica Carlton. We want more of all of them. But for now, we must have exposition. A war is brewing between the Vampires and the Vampaneze, and you can probably guess that Universal really wants to have a sequel explore this plot element, which drops in at the end, Lord of the Rings style. Meanwhile, we have families to abandon, best friends to negotiate, and teachers to complain about (Galaxy Quest’s Patrick Breen, always a hoot).

The funny bits are amusing, the action entertaining, the themes simple, the promise of future tales tantalizing, and the overall feel of the movie is more charming than epic or scary. It has the simple feel of a Young Adult series but some of the same adult-friendly wit that Mr. Snicket engages in. I love these people and I want to see more of them. I also want to see more story involving Mr. Tiny (Michael Cerveris, in artificial layers of blubber), who was a delectably prissy and menacing creature. I want more! Some book adaptations feel like they left something out; this movie is dense but still just a sample size. The creepy small CG creatures aren’t particularly compelling but I suspect they will become important. Meanwhile, I’ll grab the book and see if it sates my need to wallow around in this fun and adventurous world. The only real deficit is that the stakes, whatever they are, never feel all that high, despite death and battle and soul sucking and so forth. So, maybe it’s a little frothy? It’s still fun.

MPAA Rating PG 13

Release date 10/23/09

Time in minutes 109

Director Paul Weitz

Studio Universal Pictures

Comments Off on Frida


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A biopic of an intense visual artist like Frida Kahlo could only be directed by a woman such as Julie Taymor, whose prior stage & screen work is so visual as to be iconic. Taymor shoots scenes rich with color and shadow, and she also segues brilliantly through some Kahlo paintings and bizarre but folksy animations. These portray what would in a conventional movie be conveyed through montage, but instead create a living painting out of the silver screen and add to the idea of Frida as one whose work is exclusively autobiographical.

Personally, I was ignorant of Kahlo’s life history, and had only seen her colorful, angry looking paintings. Her story in this film is fascinating, from her innocent 1922 teenage years, her crippling 1925 accident, to her death in 1954. It is a story of how she came to be known, how her paintings content came to be, and her life with Diego Rivera. It is a love story as bizarre and personal as her paintings.

The cast is sprinkled with pretty-big-name actors like Antonio Banderas, Ashley Judd, Ed Norton, and we cannot guess their future role in Frida’s life, as they are famous faces who surely must get a lot of screen time. No matter what, the star of this film is Salma Hayek. Hayek is radiantly, fiercely beautiful despite Frida’s signature chevron eyebrow, and you forget that she is anyone but Frida Kahlo as you watch her every move. Hayek fought for this project to be made, and it is clear that she is very passionate about her fellow countrywoman and her story being told. Hayek and Kahlo were both tiny, childlike spitfires, sensual and confident. Salma embodies Frida, and brings life to the surreal self portraits we see trapped in cheap tin frames. Trapped for so much of her life in beds or wheelchairs, when she can stand, she is dancing.

Frida spent most of her later life with Diego Rivera, famous communist, muralist, and polygamist, played with unapologetic gusto by Alfred Molina. Rivera and his work are always huge, epic, political, but only are personal as far as recording the images of his models and lovers. He is a selfish man who pretends to think of The People first but will not sacrifice any of his own ego toward betterment of all. Frida paints almost exclusively herself, yet she is generous, open, loving, and embodies the ideals that Rivera strives to express. When she paints her pain, it is her only real complaint. Frida has been quoted as saying, “I paint self-portraits because I am so often alone, because I am the person I know best.” It’s a little long, but it is a small price to learn about such an interesting woman.

MPAA Rating R – sexuality/nudity/language
Release date 10/25/02
Time in minutes 123
Director Julie Taymor
Studio Miramax

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Kevin Smith films have to me, always had a nice, fun, friendly, low-budget feel to them, so you forgive a few technical slip ups or a flat delivery or two, and enjoy the fun spirit of the film. Now, Kevin has money, star power, and some indie cred up his sleeve, and the bar is raised. Supportive as I am of Smith’s work, I feel he needs to either stay in the small, tight ensemble comedy vein, with weird and wacky characters like Jay and Silent Bob, or make the big movies it seems clear he is itching to make (see also: Mallrats).

Dogma is a very thoughtful, carefully researched and written film, and definitely his most ambitious yet, with “real stars” and special effects and massive crowd scenes. Anyone who pays attention to extras in shots will notice a lot of repeating faces and a lot of terrible extras direction. This is a mark of a production that is still being run like a little indie, but with the expectations of a big movie. The shows were sold out all day the second day it was open, so it seems to be doing fine, despite a slipshod approach. An amusing disclaimer at the beginning of the film attempts to deflect any political ire that the statements and portrayals contained wherein may stir up, but the movie does not take its subject matter lightly enough to really offend anyone. In fact, it takes a pretty pedantic and thoughtful stance, which in and of itself is not really a bad thing, but it is a little expectations-breaking.

“Before they were stars” poster boys Ben Affleck and Matt Damon twirl their way inexplicably through their roles, alternately sympathetic, pathetic, and unsympathetic. Linda Fiorentino looks like she just woke up the whole movie. Alan Rickman, definitely the high point, is pastily made up but with a drunken swagger rules the film. Chris Rock is not quite fulfilling his comedic potential, and Salma Hayek as an asexual muse is also a case of Smith underusing some serious resources. Jason Lee is a low-rent Bruce Campbell (consider that statement carefully) running about with unclear motivations and three surly hockey teens that so closely resemble today’s disenfranchised youth, it’s not clear if they are supernaturally controlled or just normal. Best stunt casting: George Carlin as a cardinal. Oh yeah, and Jay and Silent Bob again. They seem wildly out of place in this film, a running gag from Clerks that has been carried into Smith’s “new” career out of sentiment more than usefulness. Don’t get me wrong, sentiment is great, but what are these guys for, exactly?

I am sorry to say I was more titillated by the previews for GalaxyQuest, End of Days, Girl Interrupted, and Magnolia than by the film they preceded. Dogma is very interesting, and should spark discussion among people who are interested in discussing such things (though, no doubt, will just be blown off as a fluffy Life of Brian type of harmless movie with a secular audience in mind), but more likely will actually slip away into obscurity, despite being hotly anticipated for three years. It’s fine, it’s not hilarious, it’s not boring, it’s just a nice little movie about faith and the nature of living well.

Bonus cameo: Bud Cort!

MPAA Rating R-strong language, violence, crude humor ,drugs
Release date 11/12/99
Time in minutes 130
Director Kevin Smith
Studio Lions Gate

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Wild Wild West

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The expectations I had going into this movie were so low, so pessimistic, so permeated with dread and pre-show nausea, that really, they had nowhere to go but up. I was expecting the pandering, look at me showiness of Men in Black, coupled with the vapid excitement of Independence Day, layered with a cheesy slice of The Avengers (shudder). Instead, I got a moderately watchable, surprisingly innocuous summer film. For air-conditioned spectacle and non-insulting comedy (unless you are black or paraplegic), you can’t beat Wild Wild West. Had I not seen it already, it would have been a perfect film for that “you-got-off-work-early-for-the-holiday” surprise afternoon.

Will Smith – I know he’s a nice guy, everyone who works with him loves him, audiences adore him, studios bank on him, but he does nothing for me. He doesn’t bother me, but he’s not ” a draw.” (pun intended – get it. draw, like a gunfight? Oh never mind) On the other hand, I have sat through some serious garbage to get to see Kevin Kline be Kevin Kline, and I was not only not disappointed, I was actually not even embarrassed to see him in this movie (as I was to see Tim Robbins in The Spy Who Shagged Me, for example). Kevin gets to play two characters again, and he gets to do that thing which I think only Kevin Kline can do, which is be both cocky and fallible. He’s a master at it (read: Otto in Fish Called Wanda, the French guy in French Kiss, The Pirate King in Pirates of Penzance) and I love him. Phoebe Cates, look out! Kenneth Branagh…now, since breaking up with the only woman in the world who is perfect for him, Emma Thompson, his career choices have ranged from the shoddy to the inexplicable. But he’s actually quite a pleasing villain.

The star of the movie, of course, is the effects team. But, the nice thing about the effects is, even though you know they are computer generated (she said in a vaguely bored tone), their beauty and execution is in their design and appearance. I have to say, no matter what you think of Wild Wild West, you have to applaud its design. The inventions, Branagh’s lair’s decor, the costumes, the trains, all very fabu!!! Bo Welch is the production designer and he has a nice little resume: Men in Black (ugh), The Birdcage, Wolf, Batman Returns, Edward Scissorhands, Joe Vs. The Volcano (that lamp!!!), Beetlejuice…you notice a pattern? Kick ass is the pattern, for the color blind. His art director, Tom Duffield, worked with him on these films as well. CREAMORA! I put their names in here because I want them to know I noticed, and I love them. Hire me! Hire me!!! Teach me what you know! Ahem, excuse me. (But seriously…)

WWW is not brilliant, it’s not seat of your pants, it’s not even post modern – but! The story actually has a beginning, middle, and end (which, given some of the Not-Scottish stuff I have seen this summer is really the equivalent of a Full Price Feature recommendation), and it has characters that, while thin, are still slightly more than two dimensional (thank Smith, Kline, and Branagh for that – nothing like hiring ACTORS, have you noticed?). Salma Hayek, thrown away as usual as the Hot Babe. For the record, there are no boobies, guys, sorry. Rent Desperado. You’ll see more of her skin in Fools Rush In.

The movie does have some high points, even for the detractors I saw it with (I found it to be a pleasant diversion, they thought it was not very good. But you know what – it was almost exactly 72 times better than Phantom Menace) – for example, some lovely pun interplay between Smith and Branagh, and also some surprisingly engaging interplay (sometimes) between Smith and Kline. Sure, they threw in a couple of silly, anachronistic jokes, but they didn’t beat you with them like Myers’ British nitwit does. Sure, you know how it will end (basically) and that’s not why you see a Fourth Of July Weekend movie. You go for the fun. And I thought it was pretty fun. Ooh, special guest appearance by Ted Levine, formerly known as Jame Gumb, the baddie in Silence of the Lambs. Oscar winners crawling all over this movie and it was definitely not as horrific as Sphere. Just go.

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 6/30/1999
Time in minutes 107
Director Barry Sonnenfeld
Studio Warner Brothers

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Breaking Up

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Russell Crowe and Salma Hayek are the only people (save two one liners) who speak in this movie. They play a couple who (they tell us) had a great relationship at the start and now it’s all going to hell. Then we get to watch
them exist together in time for 2 unbearable hours. The screenwriter was Michael Christofer writing based on his own play of the same name, and maybe a movie screenwriter could have saved this movie. If anyone is tolerant of stagey screen adaptations of plays, I am, OK, but this script is all about two people and it’s all done by two people, with non-speaking extras filling the screen.

The movie starts with a sort of split-screen interview style with Russell and Salma. It’s too long. WAY too long. AND they are not even actually in a split screen – they are set up on a set that is made to look split screen and they
don’t even use it. The whole movie is painted in shades of red and blue and some yellow and green – it’s like Dick Tracy when he was just out of college and depressed because his relationship isn’t working out. Unlike Dick Tracy (which, for the record, I hated, but respected the thoroughness of the production design if not the aesthetics), Breaking Up doesn’t attempt to use this visual aid to their conflicts – instead, their apartments are identical so we can’t tell what is going on.

The couple have great sex, then a HUGE need to be apart. They fight, split up, spend time apart, and end up crawling pathetically back to each other, whining about how great it was, they should see each other, they miss each other. (What’s to miss?) Then they have dinner and argue, make up by having sex, and one or the other sneaks home or starts an argument to have an excuse to leave. They pine constantly for the great emotional relationship they once had but we never get to witness any of it to feel as robbed of it as they do.

If we could ever have had a sense that they had a decent relationship, we would care. If they broke up, had the same problems with other people, then went back to each other, we would care (albeit less). If they even remotely had any kind of decent relationship sustained for longer than an orgasm, we could care. BUT THERE IS NO REASON GIVEN US TO CARE.

To Crowe’s and Hayek’s credit, they were very natural and real with each other on screen and they spouted off the good parts of dialogue well. Really, it’s a very good depiction of a horrid relationship with only fading chemistry. Crowe was at the screening of the movie and I wished someone would have asked him “How could you do this movie after doing LA Confidential?” He did say something enigmatic to the tune of “This is not like all those epic romantic love stories that have been made throughout the years.” My friends and I got a sense that he was not all that pleased.

The director, having been given a shooting script that was no doubt nothing more than the stage play with CUT TO and FADE TO added in, tried to wake us up with interesting little camera tricks like video montages and weird dream sequences and a nifty little black and white bit where we pan back and forth from table to table in a cafe and see each of them on dates and it’s shot live so they are literally running (out of sight) to be in the next “scene” within the same shot – once the camera had to wait for Russell to get to his table. Cute ideas but films should open up the 1 or 2 rooms setting of a play and this movie did not. Basically it was pretty annoying. The best parts were some man on the street interviews done by the wacky couple as to whether or not they should get married (NO GOD IN HEAVEN NO!) but that, sadly, was only a few minutes.

An audience member quote: “That movie was so annoying I almost didn’t want to see Salma Hayek naked.” I think anyone who saw Desperado would agree that would have to be awfully annoying to miss her naked.

Really, unless you are trying to break up a couple just like these people, do not go. If you go, take that terrible couple with you (make them pay too just for making you live through the hell of watching them together) and then gush about what a terrible relationship the movie couple had. Otherwise, avoid. I”m so sorry, Russell and Salma, it’s a big zero.

MPAA Rating R – language & sexuality
Release date 10/17/97
Time in minutes 96
Director Robert Greenwald
Studio Warner Brothers