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I saw this movie at the Palm Springs INternational Film Festival and it totally blew me away. This is one filmmaker who definitely knows what he's doing. I met him after the screening and he was really nice, very sexy and seemed to know his stuff, unlike a lot of other Hollywood posers who just make these stupid one-joke surprise ending shorts. It's a great film that really gets at the nature of being alive, of being PRESENT, and trusting your instincts. David Aronson is a director who's really good at just doing his thing. I really hope he continues to make films as he is someone with a talent for lighting faces to make them look really bright. The lead actress also speaks English exceptionally well which I attribute to the director's expertise. Of all the May-December romances I've had the privilege of seeing lately, this one's the most touching and acute.
Margaret Cho: Assassin (2005)
Yes, she's funny, and no, she's not interested in the majority
The thing that makes me laugh about straight, white men and their reactions to comedians like Margaret Cho is that they're so used to being the major demographic for every movie, television show, advertisement etc. that when something isn't aimed at them they feel COMPLETELY lost. "Oh my God, why is she talking about gays all the time?" "Why is she talking about her period?" "Why is she talking about Asians?" Since when did a comedian vary their topics that much? Just because it's not about you doesn't mean it's not funny, it's just that for ONCE you're not the one translating what you're hearing to make it apply to your life the way ethnic people, gays and lesbians or women in general often have to do. So if you don't think Margaret's funny because her sense of humour doesn't appeal to you, that's cool, but if you don't think she's funny because she's not talking about you, TOOOOOOOOOOO BAD! You're going to have to share the world with others after all.
*** 1/2 Good but not better than Quills
Daniel Auteuil makes an excellent Marquis de Sade (even better than Geoffrey Rush in Quills) in this intelligent film by one of France's very best directors, Benoit Jacquot (The School of Flesh, Pas De Scandale). Unlike the aforementioned Philip Kaufman picture, which examined the issue of censorship by using Sade and his work as a backdrop, this film intends to explore the sides of the infamous pornographer as philanthropist. While being held prisoner in a grand chateau with many other nobles following the French revolution, Sade befriends a curious young woman and teaches her a thing or two about growing up. The relationship they develop is genuine and in the end very moving, mostly because while instructing her to loosen up she teaches him how he can reclaim his emotional self and learn to once again love the society that he has dismissed as conventional and narrow. Not Jacquot's best, but a worthy piece of work.
Saving Grace (2000)
** 1/2 Funny but not impressive
One-joke comedy that benefits from the brilliant performance by its beautiful star Brenda Blethyn. Blethyn plays the widow of a seemingly rich man who after death leaves her without a penny in the bank and nothing to protect her from losing her beautiful country home. The solution is easy, of course: grow weed in your greenhouse. This she does with her reefer-smoking gardener (Craig Ferguson, who also co-wrote), but the trouble starts when she has to try and sell it all. Extremely funny all the way through, but the film's last third is so flaccid it seems to undermine everything it's been working for up until that point.
Shadow of the Vampire (2000)
*** 1/2 Great recreation of an era
Gorgeous film by E. Elias Merhige that fictionalizes the accounts surrounding the filming of F.W. Murnau's German Expressionist classic Nosferatu. The real production of Nosferatu is still so fraught with myth and mystery that it lends itself perfectly to a film of this sort, and the director has all kinds of fun fleshing it out, particularly in his casting: as Max Schreck, the fastidious actor who may or may not have been a real vampire, Willem Dafoe gives one of the most impressive performances of his career, reaching out from under all that makeup and delivering a character who is both terrifying and hilarious at the same time. John Malkovich as Murnau is better than I've ever seen him, so adaptive to his surroundings that for the first time I forgot that I was actually watching John Malkovich the actor at work. The film's script doesn't live up to its visual perfection, leaving you with a film that's really great while it's on but lacking a sense of completion when it's over. Also notable are Catherine McCormack as a vamp (a real turn of events for her!) and Cary Elwes going blonde again (I guess he finally remembered we once thought he was a hunk to be reckoned with).
Shanghai Noon (2000)
*** Exact remake of Rush Hour
Exact remake of Jackie Chan's hit crossover film Rush Hour, except this time the setting is the Old West and the American partner is cowboy Owen Wilson (who has pretty much the best hairstylist of the year after Tom Cruise in Mission: Impossible 2). A Chinese princess (Lucy Liu) has been kidnapped upon her arrival to a newly settling western America and needs to be rescued; Chan is the court jester who is sent to find her. Lots of fun stuff, nothing too impressive.
Scary Movie (2000)
** 1/2 Funny but eventually overdone
Very funny but eventually tiring satire of the teenage horror film genre; the Wayans brothers have produced their most financially successful comedy yet with this film that parodies the Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer films, among others, with biting sarcasm. Some of the jokes really work, some of them really don't, but it is thanks to a very funny performance by Anna Faris (standing in for the Jennifer Love Hewitts and Neve Campbells of the world) that makes it worth watching. Features a funny cameo by Dawson's Creek star James Van Der Beek.
**** Even better than the original!
Samuel L. Jackson rules this film update of Ernest Tidyman's cool-as-sin cop, first filmed in 1971 with Richard Roundtree. John Singleton brings Shaft to the nineties without losing the slick seventies look that made the original so much a piece of nostalgia, even including themes and the main song from Isaac Hayes' original Academy Award-winning score. The plot involves a snooty heir (Christian Bale) who thinks he can get away with murder, not realizing that Shaft is on the scene and ready to take him down! Toni Collette, Vanessa Williams and Jeffrey Wright all lend able support, but it is Jackson who takes the cake here. Incidentally, Singleton originally wanted Wesley Snipes for the role, but producer Scott Rudin stated that he wouldn't make the film unless Jackson played it (Snipes later said he wouldn't have taken it even if they begged him, and made The Art of War instead). Roundtree makes a cameo appearance and is a very welcome sight. Great action flick.
Parsley Days (2000)
*** Great little Canadian film
Charming little Canadian film that marks the debut of director Andrea Dorfman. The story follows a bicycle maintenance teacher named Kate who is in a seemingly perfect relationship with the perfect boyfriend, Ollie, a sexual education instructor. Trouble comes in the form of a possible pregnancy for Kate, resulting in her re-evaluation of how much she wants to be in her relationship with Ollie despite his apparent perfection. A good herbologist friend recommends to her the ingestion of mass amounts of parsley for the purposes of a natural abortion (supposedly the acidic qualities in parsley will interrupt a very new pregnancy). The film's humble budget is quite obvious from the get-go (some bad looping included), but Dorfman's sharp observations of her deliciously quirky characters are so marvelous that it's really all you notice when watching it.
Paragraph 175 (2000)
*** 1/2 Powerful stuff
Touching documentary by the creators of Common Threads: Stories From The Quilt and The Celluloid Closet that interviews survivors of the Holocaust who had been interred in concentration camps for being homosexual. Directors Jeffrey Friedman and Rob Epstein cleverly use real footage and very powerful interviews, all linked by Rupert Everett's narration to tell a very powerful story and make a very difficult, if not always unforgettable, film. It's not as zesty as The Celluloid Closet was, due to its subject matter naturally, nor is it as compelling as their Oscar-winning effort of 1984 The Times of Harvey Milk, mostly due to a somewhat wobbly narrative, but it's definitely a worthy piece of work, especially since the men who do tell their stories onscreen are at turns brave, wry and heartbreakingly vulnerable.
The Original Kings of Comedy (2000)
** 1/2 So funny but too long!
Spike Lee's original documentary that follows the live performance of four very funny comedians would be so much better if it wasn't so long! By the time you get to Bernie Mac, the sensational closing act, you find yourself so tired of watching the film (in truth, stand-up comedy is a very different experience when sitting in a movie theatre as opposed to seeing and feeling it live) that no matter how funny Mr. Mac is, the truth is the whole thing's just run out of steam. That said, you will get a lot of laughs out of these truly hysterical guys.
Proof of Life (2000)
** Poorly done dramatic thriller
Meg Ryan and Russell Crowe star in this political thriller about a woman whose life is turned upside down when her engineer husband (David Morse) is kidnapped by a revolutionary army in a fictitious South American country. Crowe plays the hostage negotiations expert who helps get her husband back after months of being held hostage. Sounds very interesting, but it's lazily directed by Taylor Hackford who doesn't raise any momentum beyond a dull thud and who constantly underestimates the talents of his actors: Morse looks like he's constipated for two hours, Crowe is left with little to do but stand around and look hunky (which he does well, but still...) and Ryan's performance is rendered completely useless by a script that seems to have no idea what to do with her. Add to this the appearance of usually excellent characters like Pamela Reed and David Caruso whose performances, thanks to their trappings, are hokey and constantly uneven. The climax of the film is a battle in the jungle that tries to imitate an action movie but I found that it was too little too late, and since the characters were all so thinly drawn I wasn't all that interested in their fate anyway. This isn't helped by the fact that Ryan and Crowe have zippo chemistry between them, leaving the romance angle to fizzle helplessly on the back burner of the story without much interest. Hackford and scriptwriter Tony Gilroy, who respectively directed and wrote the stunning Dolores Claiborne, have neglected to repeat that successful union here, and shame on them for thinking that exotic locales and archetypal movie characters would overcome wooden dialogue and lackluster pacing.
Pay It Forward (2000)
Horrendously cheesy film that leaves an excellent performance by Helen Hunt swamped by directionless direction by Mimi Leder (maybe she should stick to the action genre after all) and a hackneyed screenplay. The plot follows the plight of a troubled and shy young boy (Haley Joel Osment, his first post-Academy Award nomination role) who is given an assignment at school to change the world by his burn-scarred seventh grade teacher (Kevin Spacey in a disappointingly melodramatic performance). His idea is to do something generous for somebody, in the best case a stranger, who you then instruct to pay the kindness forward to three people instead of paying the donor back. The film's alternate plot follows Jay Mohr as he tries to work his way backwards through the story to find out who it was that originated the Pay It Forward movement; despite Mohr's noted talent, this subplot is so distracting and quite frankly so boring that you just want to close your eyes and stick your fingers in your ears every time the film goes in his direction. Hunt's lyrical performance as Osment's mother truly is the film's one reward, and any time she's left alone with any of the characters is pretty much the only time you feel any genuine, non-manipulating emotion coming your way. However, her role is so close to that in her Academy Award-winning performance as Carol in As Good As It Gets that most viewers will find they're not getting anything too new out of it. The film's ending is probably one of the very worst of the year, giving one the impression that they simply ran out of money and had to just the end film right there. Best to leave this one alone.
Remember the Titans (2000)
**** Great football film
What do you get when you mix manipulative comedy-drama that plays its historical backdrop of racial intolerance in 1970s Virginia too broadly with the slam-bang ridiculous action style of movies from the producing efforts of Jerry Bruckheimer? Not to mention a anti-airtight script that wanders around looking for a backbone! Thoroughly satisfying entertainment, is what I say! Sure it's intentions are obvious from the start (as is the playing out of its climactic ending), but for two hours Bruckheimer and director Boaz Yakin keep you busy enjoying all the talent involved in making this movie about how you gotta have heart to win. And all that jazz.
Denzel Washington gives his first warmhearted performance as a true-life football coach assigned to a newly-integrated school who has enough troubles with trying to get his team to get along with each other, let alone win some games, let alone win a seasonal championship, let alone resist the volatile intolerance and bigotry that surrounds the school's new political plateau. Despite its predictable nature the film truly is a deserving crowd-pleaser and features some young actors at the peak of their ensemble-hearted form, most notably Ryan Hurst as Team Captain Bertier, Kip Pardue as the native Californian who rocks the whole team, black and white, with his hippy-ness and the very funny Donald Faison (Clueless's Murray) as Petey, the guy who thinks (much to the coach's detrement) that football is FUN. Hayden Panettiere is a scream (and the best performer in the whole film!) as Coach Yoast's (Will Patton) pint-sized daughter, who has her own ideas about how to run a real football team.
Red Planet (2000)
** Worse than Mission To Mars
Humdrum space adventure that makes the other Mars movie of its year Mission To Mars seem like Shakespeare. Val Kilmer leads an impressive but wasted cast as a member of a group of cosmonauts in the year 2057 who embark on a mission to the red planet to find out what exactly happened to a backfired atmospheric reorganizing project initiated by terraformers twenty years prior. A few of the usual pitfalls ensue: power failures, lack of natural resources and everything getting saved in the nick of time before the clock counts to zero, but apart from that, there's not really all that much that happens. How can you possibly make a multi-million dollar film about five people on Mars and still manage to have them do nothing but sit around? Even the deaths of the various lesser members of the cast seem incidental and happenstance more than integral parts of a scary story. If the characters were being explored in even the most meager of fashions perhaps the mellowness of it all would be more forgivable, but as it seems that all the actors are just posing for the cameras until their agents can get their hands on some better quality scripts there's really not much to do except bear it with them. Val Kilmer does a hackneyed job of his character, at once putting on a ridiculous voice to signify that he's a high school geek but at the same time building his musculature up (and then saying somewhere in the film that he's not a jock; WHATEVER!) and spray-painting his hair a Euroclub blonde. A subplot about a robot that goes haywire tries to preach about the dangers of giving morality to artificial intelligence, but as the machine is injured in a fall (instead of actually choosing to go bad) this also begins to be more of an excuse to kill time instead of teach anybody a lesson. Even if Mission To Mars' plot outcome was the most ridiculously inane thing to happen in a movie all year, at least something happened in it. The filmmakers also committed the dire sin of casting ultracool action babe Carrie-Anne Moss as the commander of the spaceship and then leaving her trapped in a room for the ENTIRE film!! WHHAAAT? One gets the impression the film would actually have been interesting had she been allowed to get down onto the red earth and be among the people. Oh well, better luck next time.
The Replacements (2000)
** Horrible football film
Fairly funny film that clunks along from scene to scene, never building up any comedic momentum but nonetheless manages to be humorous sometimes. Mostly the film is weighed down by Keanu Reeves' dull performance as a scab football player during a professional players' strike and Gene Hackman's tired bit as the coach who thinks he's seen it all. Nothing inspired ever happens, even the football scenes aren't very exciting, and then the film ends up with a finale about professionals and their love of money over the game that is so out of place and oh-so-self-righteous in a bad way that I wanted to slap the writer. Brooke Langton makes a sparkling star debut as Reeves' love interest, standing out from a cast of known character actors like Orlando Jones and Rhys Ifans (Notting Hill) who are basically riffing off the personas we know them already for.
Reindeer Games (2000)
** 1/2 Has its moments
Silly little action thriller designed as a vehicle for its sexy boytoy star Ben Affleck. He plays a young man in prison whose lovelorn cellmate James Frain exchanges letters with an equally infatuated young lady (Charlize Theron). When Frain dies in a prison riot, Affleck meets Theron in his cellmate's place and finds himself strongly attracted to her. However, her gangster brother (Gary Sinise) and his cohorts catch up with the two lovebirds and force them to help in ripping off a local casino. Is this the whole story? With conspiracy-theorist John Frankenheimer at the helm, I would think not! Not nearly as good as Frankenheimer's masterpiece The Manchurian Candidate, but not nearly as bad as his rancid The Island of Dr. Moreau.
**** 1/2 Best artist biopic ever!
Ed Harris gives his most powerful and fascinating performance ever in this fantastic film biography of the great abstract artist Jackson Pollock. Doing double duty as star and director (a sure and fine debut), Harris gives us a better view of the conflicted artist and just about any other recent film besides Before Night Falls. While Carrington hardly gave us any glimpses of its subjects (Dora Carrington and Lytton Strachey) creating their artform, and Total Eclipse didn't even allow us to see its main characters (the poets Verlaine and Rimbaud) as anything but moony deadbeats, Pollock is a different film altogether, fresh in its approach to viewing its protagonist painting his masterpieces (which are the best scenes in the film), plus giving a heartbreakingly sincere look at Pollock's personal life alone and with his wife, painter Lee Krasner (Marcia Gay Harden). As Krasner, Harden is so electrifying that simply watching her plow a garden with her husband is a miracle of great acting that couldn't be more exciting to watch. The cast is rounded out by great appearances by Val Kilmer, Sada Thompson, Barbara Garrick and most unrecognizable (but fantastic) Harris' real life wife Amy Madigan as art promoter Peggy Guggenheim.
Requiem for a Dream (2000)
**** 1/2 Harrowing, brilliant
Harrowing, uncompromising look at the world of drug addiction, Darren Aronofsky's sophomoric effort is a masterpiece of visual elegance and hard-edged style that surpasses his witty but self-conscious debut, Pi: here the fast-paced cutting and frenetic energy do get wearing at times, but on the whole the psychotic carnival ride of images is so suited to the subject matter that it makes it all feel appropriate. Ellen Burstyn stars in a career-topping performance as an aging, lonely woman who gets addicted to diet pills when she becomes convinced that she's eligible to be a television game show contestant. Jared Leto is her son, a junkie trying to make it on the streets as a big-time dealer with his best friend (Marlon Wayans), but neither of them can shake their habits long enough to accomplish it. Jennifer Connolly is excellent as Leto's girlfriend, at first a promising young woman from a well-to-do family, but eventually a dope fiend who will really do anything for a hit. Brilliant as it may be, the film pulls no punches and is in no way easy, therefore a warning to sensitive viewers that they might consider thinking about this one before committing to it.
Excellent drama about the Marquis de Sade's influence on the keepers and inmates of the madhouse Charenton, where he spent his last days after being declared criminally insane by French authorities. Geoffrey Rush lives it up in a mostly-convincing performance as the Marquis, and Kate Winslet is letter-perfect as the charwoman who he adores for her innocence. The issues of censorship and its backwards application by authoritative figures is the message here, and it is executed gracefully by Philip Kaufman's sure direction and the performances by the ensemble cast, particularly Winslet and Joaquin Phoenix as the noble hearted priest who runs the asylum. Better than the other film about the Marquis made the same year, Benoit Jacquot's Sade, but in that film its star Daniel Auteuil made a better lead. This film has some very explicit content that is at the same time shocking and refreshingly honest. Very handsome production and a very good film.
The Perfect Storm (2000)
** Technically brilliant but badly written
The other horrible film of the year was one that seemed to promise excitement and moving drama and instead delivered false character development and a very uneven story. George Clooney leads a great cast in this true story of a sword fisherman whose tiny fishing boat gets caught in the storm of the century. Wolfgang Petersen has directed many far superior thrillers (even the slightly overwrought Outbreak is far better than this), and far more satisfying ones as well. The scenes involving the actual storm are exciting and often terrifying, but anything else in the film seems like useless padding and just an excuse to make the film long enough to satisfying your paying dollar. The very talented Diane Lane gives an embarrassing performance as the noble blue-collar woman waiting for her man (Mark Wahlberg) on shore. When she screams at the evil guy who was paying for the fish that the boys were out trying to get, you really wonder why the hell she bothered to accept such a badly written role. Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio makes the most of her role as a fellow boat captain, and her conclusion speech is the only truly memorable acting in the whole film (no surprise there, she rocks).
Passion of Mind (2000)
*** Truly original drama
Demi Moore is excellent in this intelligent drama about a widow living with her children in France who keeps going to sleep and waking up as a single career woman in New York. The double life is so effectively convincing that she can't tell which of the lives is real and which is the dream. On top of this, she has romantic interests in both lives, a controlling and passionate writer in France (Stellan Skarsgard), and a giving and kind man in New York (William Fichtner, his best performance yet). Moore's fascinating screen presence keeps this movie going even when it sags terribly in the middle, and Ronald Bass' script makes such a compelling argument for both of her lives that it's very difficult to guess for yourself what the outcome will be. The film's conclusion is so well played out and rewarding that it renders any previous flaws completely void. Also features a rich performance by Sinead Cusack.
The Next Best Thing (2000)
** Sorry Mo, your film blows
I am the biggest Madonna fan in the entire world but even I can find very little to like in this horrifically bad comedy-drama about a single aging woman who has a child with her gay best friend (Rupert Everett). While Madonna is far more relaxed and charming than she's ever been in a film before, her work is completely unraveled by extremely incoherent direction by John Schlesinger and a pitiful script by Thomas Ropelewski (which she and Everett supposedly contributed to). Everett's performance is a lot more grating than his best friend role in My Best Friend's Wedding and the script takes him to an annoying extreme of saintliness as the plot progresses. The film wouldn't be half bad if the first two-thirds were continued on, but as the story takes us into a Kramer Vs. Kramer-like courtroom case in the end that turns its main characters into the most unlikable idiots it seems impossible to enjoy the film. Benjamin Bratt is once again useless and charisma-free as Madonna's boyfriend, the one who throws the wrench in the perfect clockwork of their dull family existence. At least Madonna looks like she's having fun (and for the record, I LOVE the accent!)
My Dog Skip (2000)
Cute little World War II film about a young boy (Frankie Muniz) and his devoted relationship to his adorable dog. Diane Lane proves to be growing more luminous as the year's pass, and here she's every bit the movie star as the young man's mother, with Kevin Bacon quite touching as his wounded veteran father. The film isn't anything too memorable but it's worthwhile family viewing all the same.
The Ninth Gate (1999)
*** Little payoff but intriguing film
This latest piece by Roman Polanski doesn't quite pay off in the end as well as it should, but it's a fascinating thriller all the same. Johnny Depp is terrific in the lead role as an antiques appraiser who is given the ride of his life when he's asked to investigate the whereabouts of a book that was supposedly written the devil himself. Along the way he finds himself constantly being followed by a supernaturally gifted woman (Emmanuelle Seigner, way better here than in Polanski's Bitter Moon) and an obsessed lady with dark purposes (the always-gorgeous Lena Olin). Polanski fared much better in the Satanic subject with Rosemary's Baby thirty years earlier, but the beautiful production design and constantly tightening plot here make it well worth a look.