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Anything Else (2003)
Woody Allen returns to form
Near the end of Woody Allen's new film Anything Else, the mastermind of the film, Allen himself, tells the main character Jerry Falk, played by Jason Biggs, that in comedy if one wants to be original one has to be good and if one wants to cheat they have to steal from the best. Allen does just that by copying from many of his best films, most notably Annie Hall, and produces yet another fantastic romantic comedy.
Anything Else is Allen at the top of his form. The story of a young man who is tormented by his love for a flighty women is something that could only be told by Woody Allen. Add that to his mastery of many interesting camera techniques and you get a very well made and original comedy.
Jason Biggs comes to play in this role, something he has yet to do, and is close to pulling it off. Biggs almost holds his own when he is alone on screen with Woody Allen. Christina Ricci is respectable in her role as Biggs love interest and so is Stockard Channing in the role of her mother. All of them are no match for the comic presence of Woody Allen. The fact that the film is written a directed by Woody Allen, and that he is also given significant screen time, makes Anything Else a very funny movie.
Woody Allen is a fantastic director; even if his most recent films have be far from good. Anything Else draws heavily from his early films Annie Hall and Manhattan. The difference between those two films and Allen's most recent work is that Allen himself was the star. Allen is the only person fully capable of pulling off the dialogue that he writes. Jason Biggs tries, which is a step up from American Pie 3, but he, like the rest of the cast, can't quite do it. That is all ok; because in Anything Else a little bit of Woody goes a long way.
Matchstick Men (2003)
Too much Cage not enough Rockwell
There are very few films that interact with the audience the way that Ridley Scott's Matchstick Men does. It opens as a film about con men, turns into a film about family men, and ends one-hundred and eighty degrees from where it began. Along the way Scott plays the audience in his own kind of con, and he pulls it off pretty well.
Nicolas Cage plays Roy an obsessive compulsive grifter, who at the urging of his partner Frank, played by Sam Rockwell, visits a shrink who directs him to the now teenage daughter he left with his ex-wife. Roy meets his daughter Angela, played by Alison Lohman, and begins to strike up an almost normal father daughter relationship with his wayward teen. While this is happening Roy and Frank are involved in a con against a rich business man. That is all that can be said about the story without giving anything away.
The driving force behind Matchstick Men is Nicolas Cage and his wacky acting. At times he is over the top, but for the most part he turns in a good performance. Unfortunately for Cage the supporting acting is good enough to make him look like he is trying to hard. Were Matchstick Men fails isn't in the story, which is confusing but for a reason and works in self out in the end, but in its failure to utilize the talents of Sam Rockwell. Rockwell is brilliant, but he isn't on screen enough to make people take notice. If Ridley Scott were to remake this film, he could greatly improve on it by adding more scenes with Sam Rockwell. Overall Matchstick Men succeeds and frustrates at the same time.
Once Upon a Time in Mexico (2003)
Once Upon a Time is a Mex-i-can
Some movies are made to be taken seriously and some just aren't. Robert Rodriguez's new film is one of those that isn't. By now it is common knowledge that Rodriguez made this film at the prodding of his close friend Quentin Tarantino in order to fill out his El Mariachi trilogy. Tarantino and Rodriguez envisioned that Once Upon a Time in Mexico would be like Sergio Leone's The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. The final film of Leone's Clint Eastwood starring Fistful of Dollars trilogy. Once Upon a Time uses characters from two earlier Rodriguez's films and tries to put a rest to his story once and for all.
That story is of a wandering mariachi, played by Antonio Benderas, who has a reputation of being a hitman. In this chapter of Rodriguez's story, El Mariachi is sent by US CIA agent, Johnny Depp, to kill the leader of a drug cartel, played by Willem Defoe. This piece of information is only slightly relevant to the movie. Most of the film focuses on the death of El Mariachi's wife, Selma Hayek, agent Sand's obsession with Mexican pork, and a retired FBI agent living in Mexico.
For what its worth Once Upon a Time in Mexico delivers. Rodriquez combines witty dialogue, great characters, and massive explosions to make an exciting movie. Depp gives another great performance, making two this summer and dozens for his career, and proves that a film doesn't have to be a comedy for it to be funny. The rest of the actors take their places behind Depp, and let him carry the weight of the film.
Robert Rodriguez is a very talented director, and if he wanted to it would be very easily within his power to make a serious movie. However Once Upon a Time in Mexico is not that movie. If you think this movie is going to be about Mexican-American relations or the inner workings of the mariachi business you are wrong and seeing this movie would be a waste of your time. On the other hand if you are in the mood for a movie packed with snappy one-liners and over the top explosions Once Upon a Time in Mexico is a good fit.
Masked and Anonymous (2003)
Dylan makes good
There was a time when music mattered, and the people that made that music mattered too. Bob Dylan was one of those people. Dylan has floated in and out of the public eye over the years, but has made somewhat of a return with the release of his 2001 album Love and Theft. He has tried to increase his current comeback, and extend his hand into another form of art, by written and staring in a new film.
Masked and Anonymous is good no matter what your opinion of Bob Dylan may be. For Dylan fans this is a tour de force of film making. Written like a Dylan epic tune, think Desolation Row, Masked stays just out of reach of the explainable. Coupled with great cameos, Val Kilmer is far and away the best of many, Masked delivers. John Goodman and Jeff Bridges hold supply the majority of the nessecary acting with Luke Wilson helping out on occasion. However this is the Wilson of Old School, and a far cry from the Wilson of the Royla Tennebaums. None of that really matters, however, because this film was made for Bob Dylan, and he is the single most important character on screen.
In Jack Fate Dylan has created a chracter that personifies his style. Fate, an aging rock star returning home for a benefit concert, symbolizes what h as become of Dylan's career as a musician. Masked isn't really the story of Bob Dylan's life, no more then any of his songs are, it can be, however, his response to what his life has been like. The story itself lacks a little and the characters are never fully defined, but like the supporting acting none of that matters. The important part of Masked and Anonymous, and the only reason it was ever made, is Bob Dylan. Taken that way, Masked and Anonymous is a truly excellent, and original, piece of film.