2 items from 1998
You can judge a society by the kind of people it celebrates, Woody Allen declares in "Celebrity", an acerbic and hilarious takedown on our culture's infatuation with such "15 minutes of fame" types as hostages, criminals, supermodels, actors and the scores of unlikely oddballs who scorch to national attention.
Winding his send-up around his prototypical story line of squirrely writer going through midlife crisis, this latest black-and-white Woody should cause much celebration for Miramax. Not just smart, it's also accessibly funny and should reach a wider audience than Allen's usual demographic of the upscale, neurotic intelligentsia.
Kenneth Branagh steps in for Woody in this latest opus, replete with all the tics, stutters, flounders and hypertensive screwiness. He's Lee Simon, a travel writer lurching through a midlife crisis, both professionally and personally: the novel is not going well (he's thinking of doing a screenplay) and his long-term marriage has reached the doldrums. His literary conceits occasion him to think he's a T.S. Eliot figure, namely J. Alfred Prufrock, measuring his life "out in coffee spoons" and, in like grandiose manner, deciding to "eat a peach" -- namely go after a shapely blonde model/actress (Melanie Griffith) who pays him momentary heed when he does a puff piece on her.
Narratively, "Celebrity" promenades down the same epicene streets that Allen invariably treads: the comfy boulevards of the homo snobbium whose pitter-patter, upper-class ennui is oh so taxing and debilitating. As Lee laments, it's the "Age of Psychiatry" where people have become so civilized that a new barbarity has, accordingly, developed from their surface sophistication. Indeed, thematically "Celebrity" is a bit of a stern sermon: While Allen laces his preaching with slapstick (both verbal and physical) as opposed to fire and brimstone, the overall message is the same -- it's a putdown of the sophisticated world of the artsy elites whose values and ethics are transitory and trendy and whose lives, accordingly, are fractured and unsteady, with no firm guideposts, either moral or traditional, to give them firmament. It's in Lee's genuflection, his writerly forays into the upper-crust world of media celebrity and the hoity-toity that Allen's satiric humor is most bilious and, wonderfully, uproarious. Whether skewering supermodels, action movies, literary stars, snooty N.Y. Times reviewers, auteurs or other poseurs, Allen's humor strips bare the "discreet charm" of the cultural elite.
As the flibbertyjibbit writer, Branagh brings a bevy of squirming contradiction to his performance. He's a tweedy Woody no less, alternately sympathetic and loathsome. Other performances are equally inspired. As his addled, high-strung wife, Judy Davis, once again, bristles with so much craziness and hysteria that all the Saint John's Wort in the world couldn't cure her, while Griffith oozes callow cruelty as a supermodel/ actress. Credit casting directors Juliet Taylor and Laura Rosenthal for the inspired assemblage of players and real-life drop-ins. Leonardo DiCaprio does a perfect turn as a coke-crazed star-of-the-moment, while Winona Ryder is beguiling and treacherous as a self-centered temptress. The slew of "celebrities" who drop in for a cameo meld perfectly, adding an apt neo-Warhol smell to the proceedings. Among them: Donald Trump and Joey Buttafucco.
Allen's terrific troupe of tried-and-true technicians, including production designer Santo Loquasto and costumer Suzy Benzinger, bring the right high sheen and polish to this decayed upper-crust world. Loquasto's bric-a-brac and settings reveal the slight bases of these character's shallow lives, while Benzinger's plumery is the perfect adornment to this "Emperor's New Clothes" environment. As ever, the ever-conflicted Allen (part aesthete and part hedonist) mixes his story with wonderful, contrapuntal tones, including Sven Nykvist's spare lensings, which infuse a Bergman-esque darkness and abyss-like quality to this world. Stuart Copeland's chipper compositions illuminate its screwy vitality. And, oh so delectable, the scrumptious big-band sounds -- most memorably a smudgy trumpet on "A Slow Boat to China" -- give old-time backbone to these thin and tacky times.
A Jean Doumanian production
Producer: Jean Doumanian
Screenwriter-director: Woody Allen
Executive producer: J.E. Beaucaire
Co-executive producers: Jack Rollins,
Charles H. Joffe, Letty Aronson
Co-producer: Richard Brick
Director of photography: Sven Nykvist
Production designer: Santo Loquasto
Editor: Susan E. Morse
Costume designer: Suzy Benzinger
Casting: Juliet Taylor, Laura Rosenthal
Black and white/stereo
Lee Simon: Kenneth Branagh
David: Hank Azaria
Robin Simon: Judy Davis
Brandon Darrow: Leonardo DiCaprio
Nicole Oliver: Melanie Griffith
Bonnie: Famke Janssen
Dr. Lupus: Michael Lerner
Nola: Winona Ryder
Supermodel: Charlize Theron
Tony Gardella: Joe Mantegna
Director: Greg Mottola
Running time -- 112 minutes
MPAA rating: R
Hot off the seemingly invincible "Titanic", Leonardo DiCaprio makes good on his reputation as history's official poster boy with "The Man in the Iron Mask", a picture whose fortunes rest entirely on his young shoulders.
Loosely based on the oft-filmed 1850 Alexandre Dumas classic (other renditions include a silent 1929 Douglas Fairbanks film, James Whale's 1939 version and a Mike Newell-directed 1977 telefilm starring Richard Chamberlain and Louis Jordan), the latest treatment marks the directorial debut of "Braveheart" scribe Randall Wallace, and the behind-the-camera inexperience shows.
While the writing is lively -- with dialogue nimbly contemporized for 20th century ears -- the direction is wildly uneven, particularly in its mishandling of crowd and action sequences.
Still, with DiCaprio aboard and doing double time in dual roles, MGM should reap handsome dividends, especially in the film's first few weeks.
This third installment of Dumas' Three Musketeers trilogy begins with the king's famed Royal Guards having been more or less put out to pasture. While d'Artagnan (Gabriel Byrne) is still in active service as captain of the Musketeers, Aramis (Jeremy Irons) has become a priest and Athos (John Malkovich) is dedicated to raising his son Raoul (Peter Sarsgaard). Even the lusty, life-loving Porthos (Gerard Depardieu) pines for the long-gone, virile days of his youth.
But there's trouble at the palace. King Louis XIII has died, succeeded by his arrogant, selfish heir (DiCaprio). With peasants threatening to revolt, Aramis comes up with a solution. Faster than you can say "separated at birth," they storm the Bastille and sneak out Prisoner 64389000, who -- behind the iron mask -- turns out to be King Louis XIV's long-hidden twin Phillippe (also DiCaprio).
The big switcheroo doesn't exactly go without a hitch, but ultimately the Musketeers successfully relive past glories and all again is right in the kingdom.
DiCaprio is fine in both roles, and while his long mane may occasionally mistake him for a lost Hanson brother, his legions of fans should squeal with delight.
Wallace's portrayal of the graying Musketeers as sort of aging rock stars is particularly entertaining. As Aramis, Porthos and Athos join d'Artagnan to go all for one and one for all one last time, you can't help thinking about a bunch of guys putting the band together and hitting the road. They're The Rolling Stones of the 17th century.
Byrne and Irons (who's never looked more robust) have the swarthy gleam of derring-do down cold, while Depardieu is a comic delight as the womanizing Porthos. Less effectively cast is Malkovich, whose effete line readings render his Musketeer status somewhat unconvincing.
But it's Wallace's leaden direction that lets the picture down. The action sequences -- particularly the Musketeers' last hurrah -- cry out for the visual panache of a John Woo or even a Mel Gibson. Alas, the swash buckles under Wallace's uncertain touch. There's better choreography in those candy bar commercials.
Other technical aspects hit the bull's-eye, including Peter Suschitzky's textured camerawork and Anthony Pratt's nicely detailed production design. Nick Glennie-Smith's score, meanwhile, surges smoothly forward even when the rest of the picture fails to follow suit.
THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK
United Artists Pictures presents
a Randall Wallace film
Director-screenwriter: Randall Wallace
Producers: Randall Wallace, Russell Smith
Executive producer: Alan Ladd Jr.
Based on the novel by: Alexandre Dumas
Director of photography: Peter Suschitzky
Production designer: Anthony Pratt
Editor: William Hoy
Costume designer: James Acheson
Music: Nick Glennie-Smith
Casting: Amanda Mackey Johnson, Cathy Sandrich
King Louis XIV/Phillippe: Leonardo DiCaprio
Aramis: Jeremy Irons
Athos: John Malkovich
Porthos: Gerard Depardieu
d'Artagnan: Gabriel Byrne
Queen Anne: Anne Parillaud
Christine: Judith Godreche
Raoul: Peter Sarsgaard
Lieutenant Andre: Edward Atterton
Running time -- 132 minutes
MPAA rating: PG-13
2 items from 1998
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