Archive for September, 2002

(THE LAST KISS)

2001

September 25, 2002

Camera 7

Italy

Italian

These weblogs aren’t perfect. I just finished writing for about 15 minutes about how I was surrounded by Italians on my recent trip to Greece and how we shy Americans could learn a few things about being loud and passionate and then the weblog didn’t post it and it was lost.

My point was that this film was terrific and full of love and torment and would have sounded incredibly ridiculous had it been in English. Some of the lines are wince-inducing:

“My heart belongs only to you”

“You have made me love you, you cannot leave me”

“I must be with my girlfriend, I am sorry I have broken your heart”

But when said in loud Italian, while tears are running down faces, by incredibly beautiful actors, the words seem to hold water. I believed all of them.

Carlo and his girlfriend, Giulia are going to have a baby. They are just about to turn 30 as well. Carlo gets nervous and begins a relationship with an 18-year-old high school student. Meanwhile, Giulia’s mother leaves her father after 35 years of marriage. The other characters consist of Carlo’s college buddies and their respective lovers/wives/children.

This film shows in a pretty honest way that even though Carlo can be living with an absolute goddess in Giulia (black hair, light-blue eyes), he can also strongly long for the man he was at 18, and he finds a little bit of that 18-year-old in the arms of Francesca, who believes that Carlo is nothing less than the love of her life. Something that doesn’t always come across on screen in other films is that when a guy Carlo’s age pursues someone like Francesca, it isn’t because she has a young body and is naive and makes him feel like an experienced teacher, although all of that is there. It’s simply because she makes him feel like he’s young again. A different example is AMERICAN BEAUTY. Spacey pursued Mena, but he never felt young again, he just felt sleazy. Carlo is recapturing his youth through this girl. He lives with a woman any man would want, but he is worried about getting older. Francesca can hold off old-age a bit longer with her poetry and stuffed animals and her huge heart that hasn’t yet been broken over and over again.

We see love, Italian style, among a 60-year-old married couple, several 30-year-old couples, and a young 18-year-old schoolgirl.

It wasn’t the deepest film of all time, but I smiled in recognition more times than I like to admit.

7.1 Critical Consensus

Comments No Comments »

2002

September 18, 2002

Camera One

USA

English

I can’t stand Robin Williams, and yet I enjoyed this film, so it must have been good. I liked the creepy vibe and the use of color. Sy is awash in beige and the family he covets could scarcely be more colorful. Williams plays one of those ‘invisible’ people that we come into contact with all the time, but rarely think about. The guy at the gas station, the old man we pass on the way to work. What if one of those invisible people didn’t think that we were invisible also. That we had something that he desired. That’s basically the plot here. A photo technician can live vicariously through other’s happy celebrations. Kids being born, birthdays, Christmases. These are all captured on film and a photo guy is perfectly poised to begin to feel like he’s part of the family.

This film makes the Wal-mart-ish store just about as scary as the Overlook Hotel.

There is a scene towards the end that ‘explains’ why Williams did what he did that is pure bush league. This film is not much more than an arthouse monster movie.

7.0 Critical Consensus

Comments No Comments »

2001

September 16, 2002

HBO

UK / USA

English

It Appears To Be A Matter Of Life And Death–Wit.

The unbelievable Emma Thompson plays a professor of literature who is diagnosed with late-stage ovarian cancer. If this film had been eligible for Oscars, we would have seen her name among the nominees. She suffers the indignities of testing and uncaring caregivers and narrates to the camera with a dry, grammatically perfect wit. It is impossible to look away as she seems to be dying in front of our eyes.

This really got to me. What a performance.

Comments No Comments »

1999

September 14, 2002

DVD

USA

English

Enough with the serious documentaries. I need a light comedy that won’t make me think at all. Thank you, American Pie.

6.5 Critical Consensus

Comments No Comments »

2002

September 14, 2002

PBS

USA

English

Documentary about religious faith when something terrible happens. Asks the question, where was God on September 11th? Heads of all manner of religions are represented. Many people had their belief strengthened, others have not forgiven god yet.

Comments No Comments »

2002

September 14, 2002

Showtime

USA

English

A series of short films from NYU students about the WTC attack.

1) Twice A Day. No dialogue. Guy does normal everyday things before stepping on the ill-fated Newark to Los Angeles plane.

2) From The 104th Floor. Absolutely unforgettable. Some 14 year old girl from Vermont wrote a poem about a woman working on the 104th floor. It was incredibly touching. The poem was narrated by Rosie Perez and animated with black and white charcoal. The voice of the poem is speaking with her lover. She says she remembers going to Coney Island and riding the roller coaster and how she screamed all the way down and you were by my side. “Now I have only two choices, burn up, or jump.”

3) Breaking Bread. We follow a fire station as they buy and prepare dinner while telling stories about food. Actually quite interesting. One fireman does mention that people are acting like they always have towards firemen, except now they’re wearing FDNY hats while they cut the trucks off in traffic.

4) Unfurled. My least favorite. It’s about the display of flags all around the country.

5) Local 40. Story of the ironworkers who helped in the cleanup.

6) Covered Girls. Fantastic story of what it’s been like post-9/11 being a Muslim woman. The subjects are normal New York American girls who happen to follow a religion that requires their covering. Funny scenes of a playground basketball game between two covered teams.

7) Welcome To New York. The story of the opportunists selling attack-related stuff on the streets of New York. The picture-taking at the site is hard to figure out. Our guide is a bicycle taxi guy.

8) Engine Trouble. One of three fiction stories in the series. A talking toy truck tries to get its owner to get him to New York City where his firefighting brothers need him.

9) One Life. Shows how one death can affect a whole bunch of people.

A pretty good cross-section of different views of the tragedy. The slickness of each film is surprising as they are all still students. I think most of the high-end equipment was lent to the directors.

Comments No Comments »

2002

September 14, 2002

PBS

English / Spanish

Documentary about the same family featured in another P.O.V. film, LA BODA. The family lives in both a migrant camp in California and a small house on the Texas-Mexico border. This story is about the education of the kids of migrants. They often arrive at new schools and before their paperwork makes it, they’ve already moved on to the next town to pick produce. The kids seem to be alright with this, although they must remember which of their friends lives in each town.

Comments No Comments »

2002

September 14, 2002

PBS

USA / Vietnam

English / Vietnamese

Documenatry about a Vietnamese exchange student who spends her senior year of high school in a Southern high school. This kind of story requires a thoughful protagonist and we get one in Mai. She is unsure of herself, wonders why her host family is sad when they have so much. They are considered white trash, but they still have more than most of Mai’s countrymen. Unique in the fact that she comes from the North of Vietnam, her father having fought against the US in the war. We follow her for a couple of years, to Tulane, then to Detroit. She is a compelling subject.

Comments No Comments »

2002

September 13, 2002

PBS

English

Documentary narrated by Kevin Spacey about the clean-up effort. Unique in its telling of the construction worker’s side of things. They often didn’t get along with the firefighters who were also onsite for most of the year. Described pretty well all the planning that goes into a demolition site.

Comments No Comments »

2002

September 12, 2002

PBS

English

This may be the single happiest film to come out of the 9/11 avalanche of documentaries. I realize that that isn’t saying much.

Here’s the deal. When the airspace was closed that morning, most domestic jets were allowed to land at their destinations, but none of the jets coming from other countries were allowed into US airspace. I remember that a Korean Airliner didn’t heed the calls and landed at SFO surrounded by airforce fighter planes. Planes coming from Europe were diverted to Eastern Canada and planes coming from Asia were sent to Vancouver and other west coast Canadian towns. 30,000 passengers were diverted to Canada where they were to stay for 4 days.

At first, people napped in airports and watched the news coverage. Many were kept on the planes for more than 24 hours as they parked on the runways. But then, without planning or making any calls, buses began arriving to take passengers to high schools and churches and community centers where entire towns had come out bearing blankets and clothing and food for the weary Americans who seemed so far from home. It really brought tears to my eyes. Life-long friendships developed. High school kids passed toothbrushes and sandwiches; women invited people into their homes, dogs were brought over to play with, talent shows took place. It was a spontaneous outpouring of kindness that has probably never been seen before. Strangers helping strangers.

I smiled most of the way through.

Comments No Comments »

2002

September 12, 2002

Union City

USA

English / Portuguese

It’s Not Like They Didn’t Warn Us–Signs.

Mel Gibson. Joaquin Phoenix. Cherry Jones. Rory Culkin. Abigail Breslin.

A farmer wakes up to find crop circles in his corn. Are the alien believers right? Are they using the circles for mapping or is it just some neighbor kids.

Enjoyable as a monster-movie romp. Less successful as a ‘man-whose-lost-his-faith’ drama. There are dying words and holy water symbols and even America’s pasttime finds its way into this hodge-podge.

There is a pivotal scene straight out of the most celebrated episode of Homicide: Life On The Street, The Subway.

The tension created is fantastic, especially a boarded up house, with scared family listening to footsteps as they move around the house. Scary, but I don’t recommend looking deeper, although a mini online ‘believers’ community has already sprung up.

6.5 Critical Consensus

Comments No Comments »

2002

September 11, 2002

HBO

USA

English

Documentary about the WTC attack using photography from nearly 120 different witnesses. Even if you’ve seen it all, you haven’t seen some of the footage in this documentary. Each shot is credited in the lower right hand corner. Guliani is center-stage as he reflects on what happens. The filmmakers do a great job of not narrating the footage. We just hear people yelling and sirens blazing.

Well done.

Comments No Comments »

2002

September 11, 2002

Camera 3

USA

English

Everyone Says He Should Date Girls His Own Age. Oscar Respectfully Disagrees–Tadpole.

Aaron Stanford. Sigourney Weaver. John Ritter. Bebe Neuwirth. Robert Iler.

Pretty sharp comedy about a prep-school 15-year-old who is in lust with his stepmother, played by Weaver. As he tries to seduce her using the words of poets he’s studied at school, he ends up sleeping with Weaver’s sexy friend played by Neuwirth. Ritter is his left-leaning father.

It’s a short film, but full of laughs. It’s a no-brainer that if these sexy, sophisticated women were hanging around, any sane teenager would want to sleep with them. There’s really no weirdness there. Stanford is great as the kid. He is just goofy enough to be believable. Weaver just has to be unattainable, Ritter understanding. Neuwirth is incredibly attractive and seems to be having the most fun here. And I used to think that Robert Iler was the one terrible actor among the SOPRANOS cast, but no more. He can actually act.

7.3 Critical Consensus

Comments No Comments »

1991

September 8, 2002

Sundance

UK / France

English

George Sand chases after Chopin to a country house-party and succeeds in seducing him later in Paris. Impromptu.

Judy Davis. Hugh Grant. Mandy Patinkin. Bernadette Peters. Julian Sands. Emma Thompson.

The story of the artists of Paris, falling in and out of love, having duels, being invited to country houses, and living like artists have for centuries. This is really Davis’ film. She plays a writer smitten with Chopin, played with one foot in the grave by Hugh Grant with a helmet of hair we haven’t seen since the Bay City Rollers. She is such a force that the rest of the cast can’t really keep up. Thompson is always good and here she plays a woman with money, but no measurable artistic talent, who surrounds herself with artists to compensate. She is all nervous energy. The costumes and sets are cool and the music is obviously a highlight. Davis places herself on the floor under the piano as Chopin plays.

6.25 Ebert

8.75 Maltin

7.5 Videohound

* Halliwell’s

Comments No Comments »

1997

September 7, 2002

HBO

UK

English

Two young con men who set out to cheat their way to owning a stately home find love instead. Shooting Fish.

Dan Futterman. Stuart Townsend. Kate Beckinsale.

This is one of those perfect Saturday morning on the couch films. I’ve seen it three times now. American Futterman and English Townsend make up a team of charming con men. Beckinsale is hired as a secretary but is soon part of the gang. The capers are funny and Futterman seems like a born salesman. Beckinsale has a haircut that only an incredible hottie (which she is) could pull off. Sort of like Maggie O’Connell on Northern Exposure. The movie runs out of gas with about a half hour left and once a jockey fills up with helium we know the best is over. The two leads have a great chemistry with each other and let’s face it, why wouldn’t both men fall head over heels in love with Beckinsale.

* Halliwell’s

6.25 Maltin

6.25 Videohound

Comments No Comments »

2002

September 7, 2002

Camera 7

USA / Germany / Netherlands

English

It’s Her Last Best Chance…Is She Going To Take It? The Good Girl.

Jennifer Aniston. John C. Reilly. Jake Gyllenhaal. Tim Blake Nelson. John Doe.

I’m not really sure how I feel about this one. First of all, the buzz is correct. Even though Aniston is beautiful and famous and rich and married to a cute guy, she really can act. She had the slouched shoulders and baggie clothes that this character would inhabit. We believe that she is stuck in this go-nowhere world. The very first line of the film is in voiceover and we hear her attempt a Texas accent. I was taken out a bit and thought, Jennifer’s trying to do southern. I hope it works. There were a few other times I was brought out of the film, mostly when I expected Aniston to make a snide remark or show how much smarter she was than the wackos she was surrounded by. This isn’t her fault, it’s just that her characters have been so snarky and widely seen that it will take awhile for her to overcome this. She has a bright future ahead.

Now the story. Aniston works in a discount store that makes WalMart look like Saks. It’s called “Retail Rodeo” and she works at the cosmetics counter. She comes home after a hard day to find her husband (Reilly, who is again perfect as a common schlub) and his best friend Nelson (creepy) getting stoned and watching TV. She needs more and thinks she can find it in the arms of a young co-worker who calls himself “Holden” after Catcher in the Rye (played intensely by Gyllenhaal.) One thing that I liked about this film is that Aniston has no idea what CITRye is and has never read it. She is a small-town girl with little education. He is intense and quiet and angry at the world. She is angry also but is too timid to let her feelings show. Holden is all about feelings. He calls himself a writer, but his writing seems to be limited to short stories written out on scraps of paper.

He is smitten with her, she is excited by him. Conflict ensues.

Reilly’s character is handled well. He is a ‘dupe’ in the classic sense of the word. He’s not a bad guy. He doesn’t hurt Aniston’s character, he just doesn’t excite her. He has simply needs, he doesn’t complain, he seems perfectly happy painting houses. He would be an easy husband on which to cheat. Of all the people in the film, he may be the one with the least to apologize for.

Nelson’s character is sharper and more devious, Holden has deep emotional problems. And Aniston’s character throws caution to the wind and wants to finally start living, at the age of 30.

There were several laugh-out-loud moments, many involving Aniston’s workplace. But upon further reflection, the film is notable for Aniston’s performance, if not for the plot, which isn’t all that unique or compelling.

7.4 Critical Consensus

Comments No Comments »

1997

September 2, 2002

DVD

USA

English

A delinquent working-class youth with a gift for mathematics has a difficult choice to make: to continue working as a janitor, and drinking, and brawling with his friends, or become a highly paid resident genius with a powerful corporation.

Matt Damon. Robin Williams. Minnie Driver. Ben Affleck.

Probably the 6th time I’ve seen this film. It’s still good, but different things stand out now. I can’t get over just how natural the Driver/Damon relationship was captured on film. I wonder where Minnie is now and just how heartbroken she was after breaking up with Matt and not being allowed to sit at the Miramax table at the Golden Globes. But their relationship might have been worth it because we have these absolutely honest scenes with the two of them courting and slowly opening up. She just seems like a doll.

I watched the commentary track with Matt and Ben and Gus Van Sant. It was enlightening. B&M; sort of perpetuate their outsider status, but they speak on the commentary like life-long movie insiders. Their story has sort of overwhelmed reality and its nice to hear them speak about the filmmaking process. And then Van Sant begins talking in that slow cadence of his. There were a lot of inside jokes that I never would have known about had I not watched it with the commentary.

I wrote about this film back in early 1998.

8.3 Critical Consensus

7.5 Ebert

7.5 Maltin

5.0 Videohound

** Halliwell’s

Comments No Comments »

2002

September 2, 2002

HBO

USA

English

Fantastic story of two Jersey girls in their 30s now, who can’t turn heads like they used to be able to, but still get out there to the bars as often as they can, looking for love. Uma Thurman and Juliette Lewis are the women and they have desperation written all over their faces. Actually pretty heartbreaking to watch. They dress too young and act too young and end up basing their entire self-worth on how men see them. Great performances and pacing. Gena Rowlands and Ben Gazara play a couple even more hesitant to get out there and date again.

Comments No Comments »

2000

September 2, 2002

Sundance

USA

English

When Does A Close Friend Become Too Close? Chuck & Buck.

A successful 27-year-old music executive in Los Angeles is stalked by a childhood friend who seems stuck in early adolescence and wants them to resume their boyish sexual games.

Pretty creepy. It took about half an hour before I was even into the story. Not one of my favorites. Good job by both of the brothers that brought us American Pie.

6.5 Critical Consensus

** Halliwell’s

Comments No Comments »

2000

September 1, 2002

The Movie Channel

U.K. / France

English

Inside Every One Of Us Is A Special Talent Waiting To Come Out. The Trick Is Finding It–Billy Elliott.

In a Durham village during a year-long strike in 1984, an eleven-year-old miner’s son defies his father by learning ballet rather than boxing.

I was pretty disappointed in this film about a mining family’s boy and his wish to dance rather than box. The film takes place in 1984 for reasons that hopefully had to do with a real miner’s strike at that time and not so that we can see whether or not he makes it to the London stage to perform SWAN LAKE.

The kid is good enough, the story is pretty funny, but there is a mixture of fantasy that rears up every once in awhile that isn’t necessary. A girl disappears when a truck passes, Billy dances all over his neighborhood in work boots that sound like tap shoes, he kicks a door down with the force of his will to dance. The entire miner’s strike element was lost on me. I didn’t need to see any of his older brother. It was very nice to see that Billy’s best friend was a cross-dressing gay kid, completely in love with Billy and that Billy didn’t feel the need to beat him up or anything. The tender scenes with the dance instructor’s daughter were good also “I’ll show you my fanny, if you like” “No thanks. You’re all right.”

The film goes way way out of its way to show that male ballet dancers are not necessarily gay. The postscript shows this a bit ridiculously, but all along we have to know that the village is behind him, the boxing coach behind him, his butch-as-can-be father is behind him. Enough already. Billy likes to dance. End of story.

8.0 Critical Consensus

*** Halliwell’s

Comments No Comments »

2002

August 29, 2002

British Airways Flight 287 LHR to SFO

France / U.K. / USA

English

Everybody Loves Earnest…But Nobody’s Quite Sure Who He Really Is–The Importance Of Being Earnest.

Rupert Everett. Colin Firth. Reese Witherspoon. Judy Dench. Tom Wilkinson.

Funny English drama complete with country estates and expensive London restaurants. Witherspoon nails the accent pretty well. It rises above the normal with its deception and sexual tension and the fact that our two protagonists are liars. The plot, such as it is, revolves around longtime friends Everett and Firth who both come up with the name Earnest to serve their purposes. For example, I’d love to stay here on this boring country estate, but I must tend to my brother Earnest in London.

A pleasant diversion.

5.3 Critical Consensus

Comments No Comments »

2002

August 29, 2002

British Airways Flight 287 LHR to SFO

USA

English / Greek

Love Is Here To Stay…So Is Her Family–My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

Nia Vardalos. John Corbett.

I probably would have waited for the satellite to show this had it not been on the plane. I thought it was timely as I was returning from a vacation in Greece.

I need to get one thing out of the way first. This film is the single biggest story of the 2002 movie season. Two years ago CROUPIER played art houses for six months on its way to the biggest profit, last year the film was MEMENTO which seemed to play for ten months. MBFGWedding is closing in on 100 million dollars and is adding screens every week. The story of this film is one of the most pleasantly shocking since Sundance unleashed SEX LIES & VIDEOTAPE way back in 1989.

The difference between this film and MEMENTO or CROUPIER is that it poses absolutely no challenge. There is no sex, no violence, no swearing. There are no puzzles to figure out. There are no bad guys, there is no gambling or sultry femme fatales. The filmmakers have come up with a film that everyone, from Grandmother to conservative to ethnic family member can enjoy without fear of being offended or feeling dumb. We know what will happen at the end–look at the title.

Having said that, I enjoyed it through and through. The plane was alive with laughter as the different seats chose this film over SPIDER-MAN and HART’S WAR. I laughed more unselfconciously than I have in quite a while. The laughs came automatically, like I didn’t have to think about them. I didn’t have to figure out the humor–it was just funny.

I think most of the success is due to the sheer likability (and non-threateningness) of the leads, Vardalos and Corbett. Vardalos has one of those ‘stick to your guns in Hollywood’ stories about how she couldn’t get work, was encouraged to change her name to something more Latin, wrote a play, got offers to translate it to a film with Marisa Tomei and an all-Italian cast, and then Rita Wilson caught the show, encouraged Tom Hanks to see it, and the rest is history. Not only does Vardalos know this material–she lived this material. She has a way of delivering lines in a whisper almost that is just so appealing. She is not thin, which is refreshing. She is large and opinionated and Greek, which we don’t see often enough in the movies.

And who does she get as her boyfriend? The most likable, cute, caring guy that New York City (Sex & The City) or Chicago (this film) has ever seen, John Corbett. I happen to like him and he plays the quiet WASP very well. But you fear that he’ll be eaten alive by her family as they push him away at first and then wrap their big arms around him at the end.

Upon later review (like ten minutes after the credits have ended), you’ll wonder what all the fuss was about. This is a movie that will get your mother into an art theater, where she may be subject to trailers for other films that will challenge her more than this film. Men will like it and women will like it. There is nothing not to like in it.

I had fun watching it in spite of myself.

5.2 Critical Consensus

Comments No Comments »

2001

August 15, 2002

British Airways Flight 2192 DFW to LGW

USA

English

We Scare Because We Care–Monsters, Inc.

I was downright excited when I saw this as a choice on the plane. Not as nostalgic as TOY STORY because it takes place in a completely foreign world. The voices are good and the sheer happiness of the plot is great also. I don’t know how those Pixar people do it, but this was another winner. Billy Crystal and John Goodman find just the right note to use for their characters.

8.4 Critical Consensus

Comments No Comments »

2002

August 15, 2002

British Airways Flight 2192 DFW to LGW

USA

English

One Wrong Turn Deserves Another–Changing Lanes.

The next four entries were all seen on the back of an airplane seat, on a whopping nine-inch screen. With the jostling and meal service, this was obviously not the best viewing condition. One upside is that if a film could keep my interest while I’m trying to cut into my chicken with a plastic fork, then it must have some merit.

Ben Affleck and Sam Jackson get into a fender bender while both on their way to New York City courthouses. Ben is in a Mercedes, Jackson in something less impressive. Affleck ends up leaving while Jackson pleads for insurance information. Jackson is stranded and this makes him late for a custody hearing and then the revenge is on, as they say in the hood.

Several things: Jackson is good in any role and here is no exception. Affleck is rarely good in any role and here is a big exception. I do believe I saw him act for once. He didn’t do his aw shucks, downcast eye thing–he actually became a character. This fact alone is cause for celebration as I’m pretty sure he isn’t about to retire from the acting game.

There are holes a plenty in the plot–the judge won’t listen to reason, Affleck’s bosses are obviously bad, the bank lender turns mean, etc. But the two men in the middle do a pretty good job with routine material.

6.5 Critical Consensus

Comments No Comments »

Written by Michael W. Cummins