3 items from 2004
Screened at the Venice International Film Festival.
Mysterious Skin is a skin-deep movie lacking any mystery concerning two boys who play for a Little League team in Kansas and the pedophile incident that drives them to take different adult paths. The film lacks any illumination on a serious issue and box office prospects appear minimal.
Brian, a baseball no-hoper, wakes up one day in the cellar of his home with a nosebleed and no recollection of what happened over the previous five hours. Neil, a crackerjack ballplayer, fancies the team's muscled and mustached coach even before the man takes him to the movies, takes him home, and takes off his pants.
Brian grows up haunted by his missing five hours and concludes, as you would, that aliens had kidnapped him. Neil takes it as a given that his homosexuality means charging men for his services.
Brian tracks down a dimwitted woman who claims to have been abducted by aliens several times. She wants to grope him and talk about alien experiments on humans, but Brian is keen to find Neil, whom he recognizes from a ball team photograph. Neil, meanwhile, has gone to New York where he specializes in making himself vulnerable to men with dangerous infections.
Interest in these characters, never strong, dissipates early as director Gregg Araki delivers one dull scene after another. Brady Corbett, as Brian, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, as Neil, are unable to overcome trite dialogue and static direction. Elisabeth Shue, vivacious as ever in the thankless role of Neil's tarty mother, looks as if she's arrived from another movie. The only question the movie raises is whatever happened to Shue's career? »
Elisabeth Shue, who next appears in Gregg Araki's indie Mysterious Skin, has signed on to star in John Gatins' Dreamer for DreamWorks and Tollin/Robbins Prods. Shooting starts this month on the project, which Hyde Park recently boarded to co-finance. The film will follow the story of a Kentucky horse trainer and his daughter, who rescue a horse with a broken leg. The two then help nurse the animal back to health and take it to race in the Breeders' Cup. Shue will play the mother in the family. Kris Kristofferson and Freddy Rodriguez also star. Gatins wrote the script. Producers on the project include Tollin/Robbins partners Mike Tollin and Brian Robbins along with Hunt Lowry. Bill Johnson is executive producing along with Hyde Park's Ashok Armitraj and Jon Jashni. The project is being overseen by production executive David Beaubaire for production topper Adam Goodman. Shue will next be seen in the upcoming feature Hide and Seek. She is repped by CAA. »
Two parallel stories generate mystery and sparks in "Leo", a well-written drama of psychological depth but diminishing returns. The feature debut of helmer Mehdi Norowzian, whose short "Killing Joe" was nominated for an Oscar in 2000, features steamy Southern atmospherics and strong performances from Elisabeth Shue and Joseph Fiennes.
The script by Amir Tadjedin and Massy Tadjedin offers penetrating observations about the cruelty of a mother tormented by guilt and the survival instincts of a child forced to grow up too fast. But by expending so much energy obscuring the connection between the two story lines, it denies viewers a deeper involvement with the characters. Despite the story's strengths and impressive widescreen lensing, the film's theatrical prospects look limited.
At the heart of the mystery is Stephen (Fiennes), a murderer released from Mississippi State Prison whom Fiennes infuses with the equanimity and inward gaze of a strange saint. He goes to work at a diner that feels like an archetypal purgatory of stunted souls, complete with Sam Shepard and Dennis Hopper.
Shepard is well-cast as the tough, mystical proprietor who believes in the curative powers of the Bible and shepherd's pie. Hopper is diner regular Horace, a wild-eyed bully who keeps waitress Caroline Deborah Kara Unger) under his thumb and takes particular delight in taunting Stephen.
Hopper is so good at playing -- and by now so identified with -- sadistic freaks that his presence here is something of a distraction and feels out of proportion to the low-key proceedings. Through no fault of Unger's, who does her best with a slim role, the put-upon Caroline is less a character than a type, a weathered waif who incites Stephen's need to save someone. In this waiting station on his road to redemption, he opens up to Caroline and fellow ex-con Louis (James Middleton), but his chief outlet is the lined pages he fills all night.
The nature of Stephen's writing project slowly emerges as his story is intercut with the unhappy tale of Mary (Shue), who's raising a toddler girl while suffocating in her marriage to an Ole Miss professor (Jake Weber). She flinches at the insincere niceties of genteel Southern academia and easily falls prey to the malicious intrusions of one of the faculty wives (Amie Quigley) -- an overage 1950s sorority sister with her cardigans, pearls and casseroles. Stricken by doubt and jealousy, Mary begins her downward spiral when she turns a tentative flirtation with a hunky house painter (Justin Chambers) into something a lot less tentative.
Shue delivers a finely calibrated portrait of a sensuous, book-smart woman whose emotional delicacy traps her in tragedy, where she punishes herself and everyone around her. In what may be a comment on the character's inertia but mainly feels like an odd lapse from the film's realistic tone, the self-destructive Mary never ages over an 18-year period.
There are plenty of luminous and affecting moments in "Leo", especially when Shue is onscreen, but after so much emphasis on creating a puzzle, the resolution of its dual narrative doesn't pack the intended punch, being neither altogether surprising or dramatically satisfying.
Gold Circle Films
A Freewheel/Joy/Scala production
Director: Mehdi Norowzian
Screenwriters: Amir Tadjedin, Massy Tadjedin
Executive producers: Nik Powell, Derek Roy, Sara Giles
Director of photography: Zubin Mistry
Production designer: Stefania Cella
Music: Mark Adler
Costume designer: Jacqueline West
Editor: Tariq Anwar
Stephen: Joseph Fiennes
Mary: Elisabeth Shue
Ryan: Justin Chambers
Caroline: Deborah Kara Unger
Ben: Jake Weber
Leo: Davis Sweatt
Vic: Sam Shepard
Horace: Dennis Hopper
Brynne: Mary Stuart Masterson
Louis: James Middleton
Ruth: Amie Quigley
Running time -- 103 minutes
No MPAA rating »
3 items from 2004
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