"Thus open the gates of paradise."

In this issue

July Movie Reviews (15 Jul 2004)

  It's the dog days of summer, so that means it's time to see what films the dog dragged in. This week, we look at "Spiderman 2", "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind", "Super Size Me", and more.

Lost In Translation (11 Oct 2003)

I never thought I'd say this, but I have seen a film by Sofia Coppola that isn't awful. But that's too mild -- I expect "Lost In Translation" to be remembered, unlike last year's OscarTM winner. (For 10 points, who won best actress?)

Open Range (23 Aug 2003)

Saddle up. It's this summer's horse opera, "Open Range", directed by and starring Kevin Costner. Please leave your rootin' and tootin' at the door.


Links to older articles.

July Movie Reviews

15 Jul 2004

Jackie Chan and Steve Coogan
  Around The World In 80 Days

Starring: Jackie Chan, Steve Coogan, Jim Boradbent, Cécile De France
Directed by: Frank Coraci

What the hell is it with Jackie Chan these days? "The Medallion"? "Shanghai Knights"? "The Tuxedo"? Could these lightweight bits of fluff really be from the same man who made such solid films as "Rumble in the Bronx" or "Drunken Master"? Well, yes, they are. And despite being silly (and not necessarily in a good sense), I'll still go to see them because of Jackie Chan. But don't think you can keep doing this candy floss nonsense, Jackie! Keep it up and there'll be no more Mr. Nice Guy. 

This year's outing has Chan paired up with British comedian Steve Coogan (24 Hour Party People) in a bit of bright pastiche that's nominally a rendition of Jules Verne's novel. In it, Philleas Fogg (Coogan) makes a wager with Lord Kelvin (played by the always fabulous Jim Broadbent) that he can circumnavigate the world in 80 days. With his servant Passepartout (Chan), they're off with a bang and then it goes on for another 80 minutes or so. You have to wait until the last third of the film to finally see Jackie do his thing as he protects his village from nasty thugs in rural China. He's as good as he's ever been, and reprises some great fighting using a wooden bench. We've seen it before, but it's the reason I go. 

Celebrities come and go throughout the film in cameo roles that serve to distract you during the parts when I guess the writers were out on a smoke break. Ask yourself this: Is this a good sign?

Official Site | IMDB


Kate Winslet and Jim Carrey
  Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind

Starring: Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet,  Tom Wilkinson
Directed by: Michel Gondry

For an exercise in sheer frustration, ask around the office and see if anyone has even heard of this film. Go on, try it. The usual response is, "When's it coming out?"  The answer: four months ago (March 2004). "Who's in it"? Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet. "Oh. I don't like Jim Carrey movies. Except The Mask." Excuse yourself when the conversation reaches this point; it will save the blood vessels in your temples from throbbing so alarmingly.

Like many movies I like a whole lot, I don't want to say much about this film at all. Carrey plays it straight, and Winslet is fine. The film is the story of their relationship so far. It was written by Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich) , and that's about all you have to know.

In the dreamy ride from one memory to another, the story reveals itself. Characters are illuminated. There are no explosions and no supernatural heroes. Special kudos to editor Valdís Óskarsdóttir. This is a work of art. Highly recommended.

Official Site | IMDB


Moran Spurlock. In about 10 minutes, he will be very ill. Photo: Julie Soefer
Super Size Me

Written, Directed, Starring: Morgan Spurlock

This is by far the most entertaining and disturbing documentary I have seen in a long time. Spurlock undertakes the task of examining the health effects of eating nothing but McDonald's food for 30 days. There's something here for the train wreck watcher in all of us. 

As he documents his declining health, he takes a look at the epidemic of obesity in the American people. That's the U.S. Surgeon General calling it an "epidemic", not me. One in four, if you want the numbers. He looks at school lunch programs and the way fast foods are specifically targeted towards children.

This is far from a rigorous scientific study, but it's great fun to watch, and is also flat out horrifying. I saw this with local artist Jazzmaster B.;  we had intended on having supper at McDonalds afterwards -- just on a lark -- but by the time the credits rolled, there was just no way.

Official Site | IMDB | Healthy Chef Alex


J.K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson
Spiderman 2

Starting: Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, Alfred Molina
Directed By: Sam Raimi

I think I liked "Spiderman" (the first movie). I think. It was a while ago now, and the only thing I really remember about it was how great J. K. Simmons was as newspaperman J. Jonah Jameson. The rest of the movie was so much computer generated swinging around.

In this sequel, Simmons is back, and continues chewing up every single scene he's in. The only thing wrong with this film is that it isn't called "J. Jonah Jameson 2". Instead it's called "Spiderman 2", and it's "about" Peter Parker wrestling between his life as a young man (going to school, paying rent, dating girls) and his life as a superhero (spinning webs, any size; catching thieves, just like flies.) And there's something about him fighting a bad guy (Molina) with snakelike robotic arms. Please.

But the film hits its nadir when Peter's aunt May delivers an inexcusable speech about why Spiderman has to exist, and why little boys like Timmy from across the street (not his real name -- changed here to protect an otherwise innocent fictional character) need superheroes. Apparently this was in case I hadn't been paying attention for the last hour. If you thought Spike Lee was fond of clubbing his audiences, you haven't seen the business end of this example of the "Tell, don't show" school of screenwriting. Pitiful.

IMDB | Official Site


Lost In Translation

11 Oct 2003

It has been such a lame fall for movies. Summer and fall, really. Remember any of the allegedly "big" summer movies? The Hulk? Terminator III? And the instantly forgettable Matrix Reloaded? Please.

I tried to clear my palette at the end of August with Winged Migration -- a movie featuring birds. Migrating. Yes, the cinematography was tremendous. It was an outstanding accomplishment in the field, and one can only hope that their dedication and skill will not go unrecognized. But it was 90 minutes of damned birds flying, let's not forget. Good for miconaps, but my neck got sore from my head bobbing all the time.

But let's put all that behind us, because here's finally a film worth seeing. Twice, anyway. Here's the premise: Middle-aged American actor (Bill Murray) goes to Tokyo to make whisky commercials. At the same hotel he meets a young American woman (Scarlett Johansson) whose photographer husband is on assignment in Tokyo. Both are miserable. The film is about how they meet and the friendship that ensues. 

I saw this movie on Tuesday. It's Sunday morning, and I'm still thinking about it. The writing is as close to true as I've seen in a fictional film. The acting is spot on, but I have to confess a personal bias: I think Bill Murray is fabulous when he takes on a dramatic role, as he does here. You don't watch him thinking, "There's that guy from Saturday Night Live". Instead you think: "There's that actor in Japan." It's a subtle distinction.

In the bill for this article, I expressed some surprise at seeing a film by Sofia Coppola that I liked. Mostly, her last film, Virgin Suicides, left a taste in my mouth that needed a case of wash to clear. Nasty. There was the segment from New York Stories which she wrote (possibly the slowest of the three), and an astonishingly dismal acting job in The Godfather Part III. So I wasn't expecting anything noteworthy when I heard she had both written and directed this film. In this case, I'm delighted to be proven wrong. It's a solid movie which I don't expect to consign to the dustbin once the season has passed. Go see it.


Lost In Translation (IMDB)
Lost In Translation (Official Site)

And if you're wondering, the winner of last year's the best actress OscarTM went to  Nicole Kidman for The Hours.


Open Range

23 Aug 2003

Annette Bening
There are few reasons one should abandon a perfectly good, sunny summer afternoon for the cool darkness of the local multiplex. And yet, that's what I did this afternoon -- I shunned a comfortable August afternoon to see "Open Range", a film about a couple of old cowboys played by Kevin Costner and Robert Duvall. To understand my decision, you have to do a bit of math.
  • It's a western: 1 point. I have no love of the genre, but when done well, it lends itself to the "show, don't tell" school of storytelling, and that's usually worth the risk.
  • It's directed by Kevin Costner, maker of "The Postman", and "Waterworld". -5 points.
  • It's directed by Kevin Costner, who also made "Dances With Wolves". +2 points.
  • Costner acts in it. 1 point. I tend bad-mouth Costner a lot because it's easy and it usually gets a laugh. This is grossly unfair of me, and if you're reading this, Mr. Costner, I apologize. Even though he's been in some four spool barkers, he also did "No Way Out", "The Untouchables", and "Thirteen Days". This last film I panned pretty vehemently when it came out, but I've seen it at least four times since then, so I guess it wasn't so bad after all.
  • Robert Duvall: +3 points. Give my regards to Tom Hagen.

If you add up the numbers you get 1. It's a positive number, and so I went.

The picture opens up with a couple minutes of wide open spaces and a couple of taciturn aging cowboys (Costner, Duvall), driving a herd across endless expanses of green fields. The orchestral score swells as the camera soars, our cue to be awed by the majesty of . . . of  . . . of the Opening Of The Film. In fact, it's the Stoney Indian Reserve outside Calgary, Alberta, but you don't find that out unless you stay for the credits. Now where was I? I seem to be a bit distracted. And so was the first 20 minutes of the film. When it tries to show us who these people are, you can't help sensing that it's trying just a little too hard. We're already familiar with the characters -- they're archetypes from a genre that's we've seen in countless other movies. There's the Tight-Lipped Man With a Violent History. There's the Wise Old Guy, the Brash Kid Who Wants Respect, and the Other Guy (this last one usually takes the form of the Cooky Cook. Think "Giles" from "Rocket Robin Hood"). Sometimes you wish they would just get on with it.

Eventually they do, and that's when the film finds its pace and starts working. The story goes like this: A bad rancher (Michael Gambon) doesn't want Costner and Duvall's characters driving their cattle across the land he could be using himself. There's a gunfight, and people are shot. It's a western, OK? I shouldn't have to draw you a roadmap.

Costner is fine. So is Duvall. Gambon makes for a curiously unconvincing Irishman, which is all the more confusing because Gambon is, in fact, Irish. 

The one who steals the show, however, is Annette Bening. She plays the town doctor (or rather, the doctor's sister, but she's also a capable healer). Your eye is drawn to her in every scene she's in. I can't explain it well, but there are some actors who, even though they're just standing around, command your attention. Whatever it is, however she does it, she does it. I wasn't expecting this from her at all, and so perhaps that heightens my delight in seeing the film.

Should you go see this film? Perhaps. If you're inclined to go, do go while it's still in theatres. The Alberta scenery is beautful and sublime. It would be a shame to have to see that on small screen.

Open Range (IMDB)
Open Range (Official site)



Previous articles:

Owning Mahowny (14 Aug 2003)
Film Farm Blowup (07 Apr 2003)
Full Frontal (05 Oct 2002)
The Kid Stays In The Picture (03 Oct 2002)
Road To Perdition (17 Jul 2002)
Bridgit Jones's Diary (06 Apr 2002)
One Day In September (06 Apr 2002)
Memento (06 Apr 2002)
2002 Academy Awards (06 Apr 2002)
Chocolat (06 Apr 2002)
2000 -- A Year Of Films (06 Apr 2002)
Almost Famous (06 Apr 2002)
Girlfight (06 Apr 2002)
The Tailor Of Panama (06 Apr 2002)
Summer films (06 Apr 2002)
Re-Viewed (06 Apr 2002)
Pollock (06 Apr 2002)
O Brother, Where Art Thou? (06 Apr 2002)
8 1/2 Women (06 Apr 2002)
Alice et Martin (06 Apr 2002)
All About My Mother (06 Apr 2002)
The Cell (06 Apr 2002)
Croupier (06 Apr 2002)
The Legend Of Drunken Master (06 Apr 2002)
La Fille Sur Le Pont (06 Apr 2002)
The Girl Next Door (06 Apr 2002)
Hamlet (06 Apr 2002)
Judy Berlin (06 Apr 2002)
Requiem For A Dream (06 Apr 2002)
2000 Toronto International Film Festival (06 Apr 2002)
Timecode (06 Apr 2002)
Unbreakable (06 Apr 2002)
The Virgin Suicides (06 Apr 2002)
Wonderland (06 Apr 2002)
X-Men (06 Apr 2002)
The Big Kahuna (06 Apr 2002)
Me Myself I (06 Apr 2002)
Mission To Mars (06 Apr 2002)
Orlando (06 Apr 2002)
Boys Don't Cry (06 Apr 2002)
The Ninth Gate (06 Apr 2002)
Eye Of The Beholder (06 Apr 2002)
Small Time Crooks (06 Apr 2002)
The End Of The Affair (06 Apr 2002)
Shanghai Noon (06 Apr 2002)
Rosetta (06 Apr 2002)
The Talented Mr. Ripley (06 Apr 2002)
High Fidelity (06 Apr 2002)
Titus (06 Apr 2002)
Love's Labour's Lost (06 Apr 2002)
Holy Smoke (06 Apr 2002)
American Psycho (06 Apr 2002)
The Insider (06 Apr 2002)
The Cradle Will Rock (06 Apr 2002)
The Limey (06 Apr 2002)
Lisbon Story (06 Apr 2002)
Magnolia (06 Apr 2002)
Man On The Moon (06 Apr 2002)
Being John Malkovich (06 Apr 2002)
Romance (06 Apr 2002)
Sleepy Hollow (06 Apr 2002)
Stigmata (06 Apr 2002)
Anna And The King (06 Apr 2002)
Supernova (06 Apr 2002)
Sweet And Lowdown (06 Apr 2002)
Felicia's Journey (06 Apr 2002)
Earth (06 Apr 2002)
Topsy Turvy (06 Apr 2002)
Guinevere (06 Apr 2002)
My Son The Fanatic (06 Apr 2002)
Runaway Bride (06 Apr 2002)
Outside Providence (06 Apr 2002)
The Blair Witch Project (06 Apr 2002)
Buena Vista Social Club (06 Apr 2002)
Arlington Road (06 Apr 2002)
Besieged (06 Apr 2002)
Private Confessions (06 Apr 2002)
Conte D'Automne (06 Apr 2002)
Happy, Texas (06 Apr 2002)
Fight Club (06 Apr 2002)
The Sixth Sense (06 Apr 2002)
Le Diner De Cons (06 Apr 2002)
The Winslow Boy (06 Apr 2002)
American Beauty (06 Apr 2002)
The Thomas Crown Affair (06 Apr 2002)
Bringing Out The Dead (06 Apr 2002)
Eyes Wide Shut (06 Apr 2002)
L'Ecole De La Chair (The School Of Flesh) (06 Apr 2002)
Toronto Film Festival 1998 (06 Apr 2002)
Dune (06 Apr 2002)
Summer Of Sam et al (06 Apr 2002)
Election (06 Apr 2002)
Hurlyburly (06 Apr 2002)
Hideous Kinky (06 Apr 2002)
Monsters Of Grace (06 Apr 2002)
The Phantom Menace (06 Apr 2002)