18 March 2003

The Indie Scene

Spider: 3 Stars. I think this little character study of the titular schizophrenic wanted to be a bit of a murder mystery as well, in the vein of The Usual Suspects, or something of the sort. It doesn't succeed there, as the "plot twist" was fairly obvious. However, simply the delving into Ralph Fiennes' Spider is a fascinating journey into a disturbed mind. The direction by David Cronenberg is slow, but not plodding, and consequently it feels like one is taking a long, hard look at Spider to see what makes him tick. Miranda Richardson is, as always, wonderful, and John Neville, Gabriel Byrne, and Lynn Redgrave (clearly off the Weight Watchers plan) fill out the cast quite well.

The Quiet American: 3.5 Stars. It's pretty clear why the distributors of this film were worried that would be perceived as anti-American. This romance set against the backdrop of American manipulation of 1950s Vietnam clearly exposes the ethically-bankrupt operations of the CIA in its efforts to oppose the communist insurgence from the north. That said, this is a heck of a film. Michael Caine turns in yet another Oscar-nominated performance as a older, married British journalist in love with a beautiful local girl, and Brendan Fraser does his standard "sweet dork" character who falls for the same girl (he falls really, really quickly...like immediately...way too fast...you get the idea). Only Fraser's not a sweet dork, he's running the entire CIA operation to discredit the communists, by any means necessary. What this film lacked was more of Fraser as the CIA-dude. He only gets one scene to chew up as a badass, and he does such a good job, one wonders why we can't get more of the same. But, alas, the script doesn't allow it, so we're left to wonder whether or not there could've been two Oscar nominations, instead of one.

City of God: 4 Stars. Wow. Go South America. After last year's Argentinian masterpiece Nine Queens blew me away, I had high hopes for this Brazilian tale of mostly teenage gangsters in the impoverished outskirts of Rio. And it delivered. While watching this, I had the feeling that this was the directors' (Kátia Lund and Fernando Meirelles) first chance to make a movie with a decent budget...there's all sorts of gimmicky stuff reminiscent of Run Lola Run, Traffic, and even Amelie, but it works. Lund and Meirelles have put together a gripping, nonlinear story of vicious violence, love, drugs, murder, and redemption shown through the eyes of City of God resident and would-be photographer Rocket (Alexandre Rodrigues). Special Kudos for everyone involved in this film...keep up the good work! And to the Americans: Don't remake this film.

12 March 2003

Hot, or not?

The Hot Chick: 2.25 Stars. I don't feel that my $1.50 was wasted, but I'm glad I didn't throw down a full Hamilton for this Rob Schneider vehicle. This little flick puts a gender-bending twist the body-switching theme popularized in the 1980s (Kirk Cameron/Dudley Moore (Like Father, Like Son) and Fred Savage/Judge Reinhold (Vice Versa) having starred in the most well-known of them...George Burns/Charlie Schlatter (18 Again) paired in one of the least). Now we have Rob Schneider and Rachel McAdams. The first problem this film has is that the titular star is, in fact, the third hottest chick in the film, behind über-sexy Anna Faris and MTV Undressed star Samia Doumit. For comparison, Anna and Samia vs. Rachel. One could argue that the gal playing Rachel's mom, Melora Hardin, is also hotter. But, that aside, this film is owned by Rob Schneider. It rises and falls with his performance, and, for the most part, he does a pretty good job playing a teenaged girl trapped inside a hairy Jewish guy. There are the usual trappings of Adam Sandler's Happy Madison production company: the shouting of "That's a big bitch!", the man exposing his penis for another man's inspection (this time it's Caddyshack star Michael O'Keefe, all growed up), and Sandler's required cameo (this time as a Rastafarian-type rehashing an old SNL skit). Overall, not a great film, but I laughed. Quick question, though. What was Robert Davi doing in this film???

11 March 2003

The Oscars are A-Coming!

Well, I'll be in France when the Oscars come to town, so I'll give you my picks now to fill out your office pools. I have to warn you, I'm almost always wrong. So here's the big awards, plus 1:

Best Actor in a Leading Role

About Schmidt - Jack Nicholson
Adaptation. - Nicolas Cage
Gangs of New York - Daniel Day-Lewis
Pianist, The - Adrien Brody: He's playing an artsy Holocaust survivor, and he's the only one of the 5 without an Oscar already.
Quiet American, The - Michael Caine: He's got 2 Best Supporting Actor trophies, so he may have a chance.

Best Actor in a Supporting Role

Adaptation. - Chris Cooper: This is my slam-dunk lock.
Catch Me If You Can - Christopher Walken
Chicago - John C. Reilly: He was amazing in Chicago, but lacks the screen time to win.
Hours, The - Ed Harris
Road to Perdition - Paul Newman

Best Actress in a Leading Role

Chicago - Renée Zellweger
Far from Heaven - Julianne Moore
Frida - Salma Hayek
Hours, The - Nicole Kidman: You can pretty much flip a coin in this category...but this would be a fine slap in Tom Cruise's face.
Unfaithful - Diane Lane

Best Actress in a Supporting Role

About Schmidt - Kathy Bates
Adaptation. - Meryl Streep
Chicago - Queen Latifah: She would be a fun choice, and not entirely undeserving, but I just can't see it.
Chicago - Catherine Zeta-Jones
Hours, The - Julianne Moore: She's due, and will get the Best Actress sometime soon at the pace she's setting.

Best Director

Chicago - Rob Marshall
Gangs of New York - Martin Scorsese: Whatever you say about this film, he's due.
Hable con ella - Pedro Almodóvar
Hours, The - Stephen Daldry
Pianist, The - Roman Polanski

Best Picture

Chicago: I'd prefer TTT, but Chicago has to win something, right?
Gangs of New York
Hours, The
Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, The
Pianist, The

Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen

Far from Heaven - Todd Haynes
Gangs of New York - Jay Cocks (screenplay/story); Steven Zaillian (screenplay); Kenneth Lonergan (screenplay)
Hable con ella - Pedro Almodóvar
My Big Fat Greek Wedding - Nia Vardalos: There are $250 Million reasons to give it to her.
Y tu mamá también - Carlos Cuarón; Alfonso Cuarón

Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published

About a Boy - Peter Hedges (II); Chris Weitz; Paul Weitz
Adaptation. - Charlie Kaufman; Donald Kaufman: How can you not award a writer that doesn't exist?
Chicago - Bill Condon
Hours, The - David Hare
Pianist, The - Ronald Harwood

Best Cinematography

Chicago - Dion Beebe
Far from Heaven - Edward Lachman
Gangs of New York - Michael Ballhaus: Where is Insomnia on this list???
Pianist, The - Pawel Edelman
Road to Perdition - Conrad L. Hall

Best Animated Feature

Ice Age - Chris Wedge
Lilo & Stitch - Chris Sanders (III): This is such a silly category, but I figured I'd chime in.
Spirited Away - Hayao Miyazaki
Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron - Jeffrey Katzenberg
Treasure Planet - Ron Clements

Ok, that's enough. Figure out the rest for yourselves.
The Good, and the Better

The Pianist: 3 Stars. I'm not sure what I expected to get out of this Holocaust film by Roman Polanski. It was nominated for a slew of Academy Awards, but I hadn't heard much by word-of-mouth. Turns out it's, and I hate to put it this way, just another Holocaust epic. The first half of the movie is like any of the others -- focus on one family, Germans invade, Jews are rounded up, senseless destruction and killings, railcars stuffed with people, pretty much the worst that humanity has to offer. The only thing new that this film brings to the table is some depiction of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. I'd've prefered a film that began in the Ghetto, taking it for granted we knew how all the Jews got there, and then really showed what happened, how they organized, how they fought, etc. Instead, it was just a loud accompaniment to the hidden isolation of the title character, played by Adrian Brody. Brody is unremarkable as the title character, and I suspect he got his Academy nod simply because he played a character who survived the Holocaust, not as a result of any spectacular acting. Liam Neeson was far better as Oskar Schindler (and also deserved the Oscar, which was instead given to Tom Hanks simply because he played an AIDS-afflicted gay man, not as a result of any spectacular acting). Kudos to Thomas Kretschmann, who turned in the best acting in the film portraying a sympathetic German officer.

The Guru: 3.5 Stars. Easily the best film I've seen since The Two Towers, this light, funny, and enormously entertaining romantic comedy was just was I needed last Friday night. British actor Jimi Mistry is a charismatic wonder as a recent immigrant from India to New York City who finds himself being billed as "The Guru of Sex" after he spouts some sex advice (gleaned from porn actress Heather Graham) at a party thrown by socialite Marisa Tomei. There's no surprises in the plot, but it's the getting there that makes this film so much fun. Graham and Mistry have a great chemistry, and the supporting cast of fellow Indian emigres can only be described as top-notch casting. I especially enjoyed the self-mocking dialogue referring to the stereotypical work opportunites for Indians in the US. Double Kudos for the always entertaining Ajay Naidu (you will recognize him from Office Space), who is hilarious in his brief scenes.

04 March 2003

Hard Core

Narc: 3 Stars. It's nice to see an old-school type of cop drama like this up on the silver screen. Ray Liotta and Jason Patric play flawed detectives investigating the murder of Liotta's former partner in the gritty, snowy urban sprawl of Detroit. There's all sorts of lies, deceptions, shady characters, and bodies that turn up in their twisted investigation, which stalls to plodding at times, but is well-paced in general. The end was a little neat, but I still liked how it was done. Kudos to the cinematographer...just an awe-inspiring job.