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Chicago (2002)
PLEASE don't compare it to Moulin Rouge., 1 February 2003

"Moulin Rouge" was the short-attention-span version of a musical, and I get the annoying feeling that Baz Luhrmann was serious when he said that he threw in all the recycled songs so that the audience would be able to understand the story better (talk about aiming for the lowest common denominator or having low expectations about the average intelligence of the audience...). I thought MR had a pretty picture and was interesting and, at times, an assault on the senses beyond what was necessary for its story. I also thought that the joke of recycling songs got stretched *way* too far, *way* too fast. Throwing in one original song hurt worst of all, because many audience members were wondering, "Why don't I recognize this song? Who did this originally, Sting or Madonna? Hmmm. I'll have to look it up when I get home," so they ultimately missed most of the scene.

The only thing that "Moulin Rouge" has in common with "Chicago" is that both of them owe a huge, immeasurable debt to Bob Fosse. The difference between the two is that "Chicago" knows it and pays deliberate homage to Fosse, whereas the makers of "Moulin Rouge" have repeatedly lauded themselves for having created something entirely original.

"Chicago" seems to assume more intelligence of the audience than "Moulin Rouge" does. "Chicago's" themes are glitz and glamor and ruthless ambition, and it uses the archetypes of stage and movie musicals to underscore those themes. If that unnerves some people, perhaps they understand the archetypes too well and too viscerally and, thus, sympathize with Roxie in a way that becomes uncomfortable. (No, I don't think that's the only reason someone would complain about the references used in "Chicago", but the people I've seen making those complaints seem not to have considered that the filmmakers might have made reference to other musicals as a way to support a story about entertainers and entertainment.)

There is a comparison that cannot help but be made--"Cabaret".

Musically, stylistically, choreographically, filmically, "Chicago" is very similar to "Cabaret" (though not so much as to be accused of being a carbon copy or "Cabaret-lite"). This should come as no surprise to anyone, considering the origins of this musical (or the fact that the filmmakers dedicated the film to Fosse and Gwen Verdon--or the fact that Chita Rivera, who played Velma in Fosse's stage production, is in the film). The most obvious nod is the way in which the musical numbers are removed from the "real-world" layer of the film--no character bursts into song except when they're on a stage.

Personally, I'd have been very disappointed if they had *not* tipped their hats to Fosse or if they tried to *avoid* including anything that could be considered Fosse-like. Even Sam Mendes, in his restaging of "Cabaret," left in some deliberate Fosse references. If computer-controlled cameras had been available to Fosse, I think his camera work and editing would have evolved in ways similar to what we see in "Chicago" (and the some of the less horrendous parts of "Moulin Rouge," for that matter).

"Chicago" is not just homage to Fosse. There are other influences (Marilyn Monroe and Besse Smith, for example) as well as original ideas. But the influence of Fosse on this film is far and away the strongest and most obvious influence. Most importantly, "Chicago" is a *well* *executed* homage to Bob Fosse.

People who complain about the editing of "Chicago" or call it "MTV-like" need to go back and watch "Cabaret" again (as well as Fosse's "All That Jazz") and pay attention to his editing (remember, Fosse directed, choreographed and edited). Perhaps "Chicago" has quicker edits than "Cabaret", but the musical number "All That Jazz" at the beginning of "Chicago" still felt like it was choreographed, filmed and edited as a deliberate nod to "Willkommen" (and, to a lesser degree, "Mein Herr" and other "Cabaret" numbers). While I will agree that music videos have raised (or lowered) the industry bar on how many edits per second are permissible, especially in musical numbers, I did not feel that the editing of "Chicago" was anywhere near the visual assault created in some sections of "Moulin Rouge".

39 out of 45 people found the following review useful:
Consuming passion?, 9 January 2002

"Babette's Feast" proves that not all film theories and formulas are true 100% of the time. Here's a story where there is no life-or-death conflict, no raging anger, no violent outbursts. Nothing blowed up real good, and there is nothing resembling a chase scene. The conflict is about the ways in which people can be nice to each other. Their personal differences of passion or conviction are not as important as the ways in which they can connect with each other.

How shockingly refreshing.

There is an undercurrent to this film that gives it the feel of a Garrison Keillor monologue, in that it is built around people's personal foibles and quirks.

Even more refreshing is how "Babette's Feast" manages to be nice without becoming cloying, saccharine, facile, superficial or insincere. People's personal passions are portrayed not only from their own perspective, but from the perspective of the people they affect, with more realism than you usually get in film, yet also with sincere and infectious optimism.

If you don't come away from "Babette's Feast" smiling and feeling better, then you must have been distracted from giving it your full attention. This is one of those very rare films that you can recommend to everyone you know. It is truly in a class by itself. Like Mary Poppins, "Practically perfect in every way."

Utterly charming and subtly stunning.

Titanic (1997)
0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Watch it on the big screen, but not on TV, 9 January 2002

Technically, "Titanic" is outstanding. It attests to Cameron's (and crew's) knowledge of how to use the big screen effectively. The overwhelming size of the subject (the ship, that is) is suited to the largest screen you can find.

However, if you watch it on television, the models and special effects are less dazzling and less overwhelming, and you fall prey to the urge to pay attention to the plot, characters and dialog, which reveals just how weak a movie this really is.

Where did Cameron go right? He combined a Harlequin romance with "Terminator". The first half or so of "Titanic" is a generic romance story, which never fails to draw audiences. But to keep it from becoming a "chick flick," it turns into action and suspense as soon as the ship starts to sink. "What *other* reason can we come with for the heroes to go back down into the sinking ship?" seemed to be the watchword for the plot after that. When Kate finally emerged for the last time, I fully expected her to turn around and say, "Oh, wait! I left the stove on and the windows open!" and run back downstairs one more time. So it's calculated to appeal to the widest audience imaginable--"Gone With the Wind" meets "Die Hard." Looking at the box office figures, I'd say he calculated that appeal pretty well.

Where did he go wrong?

(1) Well, I shouldn't go into how bad I thought most of the romance scenes were. A lot of people believed them, so it seems to be a matter of taste. Personally, I believed the romance scenes about as much as I believe that Milli Vanilli did their own singing. I don't know whether to attribute it to bad writing, bad directing, bad acting or just plain bad karma. The romance scenes feel very conflicted, as if the actors were wishing for better lines, or as if they were having some disagreement with the director about interpretation. You can always tell the difference between an actor who is into the part and one who is just going through the motions, following orders with little understanding of his character's motives. Leonardo's courtship of Kate felt like the latter more than the former.

(2) He got confused by his own narrative. All the scenes on board the fatal voyage are supposed to be seen through the eyes of Kate's character. Yet we see things she couldn't possibly have known about or guessed. The narrator's point of view slips back and forth between first-person and fly-on-the-wall, but it keeps insisting that it's only first-person narrative.

(3) So, what did she tell the diving team about the fate of the jewel? The whole reason that she's telling them this story is that they're searching for a jewel in the wreck, and she claims to know where it is. Throughout the movie, the camera is very careful to follow this jewel so that we know all about its comings and goings and can track its path through the sinking ship. In the end, we know the fate of the jewel, and she knows the fate of the jewel, but we never know what she actually said about it. Did she lie to them? No, the lie would have been acted out in the flashback she was telling (unless what we were seeing wasn't really a representation of her first-person narrative--see previous paragraph). Did she tell them the truth? I think it's possible to avoid spoiling the plot by simply answering, "Most definitely not." Did her listeners get so engrossed by her narrative that they felt ashamed at their greed and became resolved to abandon their quest and devote their lives to more spiritual causes? Don't know. The movie doesn't tell us. So the one thing that provided the impetus for the whole story is abandoned, and this thread is left dangling loose. Don't pick at it too much, it might cause the whole thing to unravel.

Viscerally, "Titanic" is engrossing. Intellectually, it falls far short of the mark it seems to be aiming at. If you've never seen it and plan to see it, just accept as your mantra William Hurt's line from "The Big Chill"--"Sometimes you just have to let art . . . flow over you."

Bolero (1984)
55 out of 62 people found the following review useful:
The MPAA was right - "X", 4 January 2002

One thing to remember about "Bolero" is that the reason lots of people went to see it on its initial release was that the MPAA wanted to rate it "X". Jon and Bo decided to release it without a rating in order to avoid having to make cuts to their masterwork. As a result, there was a lot of fanfare around the release of "Bolero." A whole lot of people (okay, let's be completely honest--"a whole lot of men") flocked to the theaters because of this controversy, figuring, "Hey, if the MPAA wanted it to be 'X,' it must be pretty steamy stuff. So here's our golden opportunity to see what those darn censors tried to protect us from."

Having worked in a theater that exhibited "Bolero" on its first run in 1984, I can attest to the fact that, during most showings, at least a third of the audience walked out before the half-way mark. A lot of people demanded their money back on this one. To be frank, a fair number of them were disappointed because they expected explicit pornography and instead only got soft-core.

Bo is in search of ecstasy--"E-X-T-A-S-Y," as her character says early in the story. Later in the movie, during a fantasy sequence, Bo sees a neon sign that reads, "Extasy." She says, "See? I was right - 'X'," then makes an "X" in front of her face with her two index fingers. (The scene is actually much funnier in context (unintentionally funny, that is), but I don't want to spoil the movie's only entertaining moment.)

Well, the MPAA was right - it should have been rated X. While the camera never gets as up-close and personal as one usually expects in pornography, it still carefully focuses your attention where it wants you to look--and I don't mean "at Bo's eyes". The camera even resorts to objectification a few times, showing people only from the neck to the hips--reducing people to body parts because the filmmakers want you to focus only on the sex and to forget about the characters and the plot, which is a basic staple of most mainstream pornography.

"Bolero" seemed to want to be a fable with the moral, "Sex with someone you love is infinitely better than casual sex." However, it tried to deliver this moral through soft-core porn that is mostly centered around casual sex, which strikes me as a conflict of interests.

"Bolero" wants to be pornography, but it also wants to be a morality play. It ultimately fails to be a good example of either one. "Deep Throat" and "The Opening of Misty Beethoven" had better plots, better scripts and better acting, and, to all appearances, their creators communicated their intentions more successfully.

Like Tanya Roberts' "Sheena," if "Bolero" had been a little worse than it is, it could have become a camp classic. Sadly, the majority of "Bolero" is just plain not interesting. When people really love or really hate a movie, you at least know that the movie has enough substance to evoke such strong responses. The main response that "Bolero" evoked from people was yawns, which is one of the worst things a filmmaker can achieve.