Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Reviewed by Liz Sweeney
Unsuspecting filmgoers choosing this month's romantic comedy starring
Jim Carrey will feel either misled and disappointed, or wholly
entertained and gratified. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
is more melancholy than merry, and while the story's thesis is intrinsically
romantic, viewers may find the flawed personalities and frustrated relationships
not the escape they were looking for.
Although billed as a romantic comedy, Eternal Sunshine is better
appreciated as an archetypal Charlie Kaufman film. Quirky and convoluted,
Eternal Sunshine does not follow a linear time progression, and
Kaufmans hallmark philosophical ruminations and cultural and literary
references abound. Filmgoers will need to pay attention.
The unique story trails the terminally drab Joel Barish (Jim Carrey)
and his interaction with his own memory, specifically as it concerns his
relationship with his darling Clementine (Kate Winslet). Clementine appears
only very briefly in the real world; she mostly exists in Joels
head, thanks to a procedure to erase each other from their memories. The
sci-fi elements of memory erasure are reduced to comically mundane and
realistic details. As one character explains, Technically, the procedure
is brain damage, but its on par with a night of heavy drinking.
Juxtaposing Joels central predicament, fighting the very memory
erasure he initiates, is a satirical subplot involving the antics of the
Eraser Team from Lacuna Inc. (Elijah Wood, Mark Ruffalo, Kirsten Dunst
and Tom Wilkinson). While big events are transpiring in Joels head,
the staff is involved in their own little personal dramas. Blessed
are the forgetful, quotes naïve receptionist Kirsten Dunst.
For they get the better even of their blunders. The reference
to Nietzsche is not incidental: the ability to say yes! to life
and to embrace conflict as life-affirming is at the heart of the film.
Although all relationships eventually come to an end, Kauffman shows us
that people start new ones or rekindle old ones and history
repeats itself with uncanny precision.
As Joel and Clementine grow achingly familiar with each others character
flaws, Clementine throws this dictum at Joel: Youll find things
you dont like about me, and Ill get bored with you, because
thats what I do! The ill-suited couple is poignantly believable
in a way that is anathema to the genre. The realization that love is not
without consequences is Joels ultimate redemption. (R) Rating: 4;
Reviewed by Russ Simmons
It is understandable if one regrets the success of The
Silence of the Lambs. Of course, anytime that a movie achieves that
kind of esteem, it will spawn imitators.
With serial killer movies, however, the copies are usually extremely ugly
and downright stupid. (Philip Kaufmanns inane Twisted is
a perfect example.)
To say that Taking Lives isnt stupid may be damning it with
faint praise. Truth is, its two-thirds of a solid thriller. The
final third is where things fall apart.
Angelina Jolie stars as an FBI profiler who is recruited by the Montreal
police department to help them investigate a series of brutal killings.
(The graphic depiction of the victims is in keeping with the repellent
nature of contemporary Hollywood films of this genre.)
Jolie learns that a local woman (Gena Rowlands) believes that her son
has, for a number of years, been killing young men his own age and usurping
their identities. (Keifer Sutherland, exuding appropriate menace, lurks
in the shadows just long enough to raise the hairs on your neck.)
A suspect, played by Ethan Hawke, doesnt fit the mold, so Jolie
decides to use him as bait to capture the killer. That sets up the opportunity
for the filmmakers build some tension as they place the stars in peril.
Director D.J. Caruso (The Salton Sea) and cinematographer Amir
M. Mokri show a good deal of creativity in their efforts, especially in
the films first reel. Their use of the Montreal locations also adds
a welcome, distinctive element.
Hawke and Jolie provide strong performances, giving the movie a lot more
appeal than it deserves. Tchéky Karyo, Jean-Hughes Anglade and
Olivier Martinez add color as the French Canadian cops.
In the true spirit of Silence of the Lambs, the script attempts
to link the killer and the profiler. Do they have a common bond, a similar
prurient interest that shows they are cut from the same cloth? This is
a potentially fascinating element that the filmmakers toy with, but never
fully develop. In fact, were given so little background on Jolies
character that this factor is ultimately rendered irrelevant.
Jon Bokenkamps screenplay, loosely based on Michael Pyes novel,
has some sharp dialogue, but it falls apart when the plot takes an absurd
turn and disintegrates with an absurd and laughable conclusion. It is
unusual for a film with dialogue this good to have this many plot holes.
What could have been an exceptional thriller is thus reduced to standard
status. Perhaps it will utterly fail and give this genre a much-needed
rest. (R) Rating: 3; Posted 3/22/04
of The Christ
Reviewed by Liz Sweeney
Bertrand Russell once wrote that religion is based primarily
upon fear and that fear is the parent of cruelty. The Passion of The
Christ does much to reinforce this notion. By highlighting the crucifixion
of Jesus as the subject of his religious epic and mounting a prolonged
one-note indulgence of blood-splattered brutality, Mel Gibsons reconstruction
smacks of fundamentalist fear mongering seeking to serve up fiction as
Truth. It seems no coincidence that such a controversial spectacle arrives
at a time when these same characteristics pervade the political landscape.
In a nation whose leadership is distinctly divisive and where religion
and politics mix as easily as the bloody mary needed to fortify oneself
in such times, The Passion of The Christ will find a ripe audience.
In many respects, The Passion is a classic Hollywood epic, a kind
of Braveheart does the Bible. Showcasing the last 12 hours of the
life of Jesus, The Passion is ambitious and mostly successful in
its sweeping cinematography, large crowd scenes and soft-focus flashbacks.
And like Braveheart, this film is big on simple emotions like love,
loyalty and treachery.
Although so much of the film is dedicated to fetishistic torture, the
more meaningful moments occur in the sequences between flayings. When
the film opens, Jesus (Jim Caviezel) is praying in the Garden of Olives,
and we witness his struggle to overcome the temptations of a suitably
creepy Satan (Rosalinda Celentano), an androgynous and inscrutable ashen
figure, snaking about in a hooded cloak. We behold Judas Iscariots
betrayal and Marys struggle to choose whether or not to witness
her sons suffering. We see a flashback memory of Jesus as a young
boy. Perhaps one of the most lingering images is of the two Marys (Monica
Bellucci and Maia Morgenstern) mopping up the blood of Jesus which has
pooled around the pillar where he was thrashed. What is remarkably lacking
is any substance surrounding Jesus religious life or teachings.
Unique in using Hebrew, Latin and Aramaic, apparently the spoken languages
of the time, the sparse subtitles were added later and not everything
gets translated for the audience. Unless youre a linguistic specialist,
you might miss the controversial line, "His blood is on us, on our
children," which remains in the film but is not subtitled. A testament
to the inherent power of the story, the presence of subtitles has failed
to deter ardent interest from mainstream audiences who more typically
ignore foreign language films.
While the performances are solid, they remain secondary to the chief concept,
namely the idea that a man willingly died for the sins of humankind in
a gruesomely violent way. Filmgoers who flock to that message have reported
profoundness not apparent in other biblical epics. Bertrand Russell would
counsel, Conquer the world by intelligence and not merely by being
slavishly subdued by the terror that comes from it. (PG-R) Rating:
2, Posted 3/15/04
Touching the Void
Reviewed by Liz Sweeney
In 1985, two British mountain-climbers set out to scale the Siula Grande
in Peru in an attempt to be the first to reach the 21,000-foot summit.
What transpired became legendary in mountaineering circles, and the lives
of the two climbers were forever changed. Touching the Void is
a documentary based on the book of the same name by Joe Simpson about
his harrowing near-death experience. While the book is dedicated to his
climbing partner Simon Yates, Yates continues to be vilified in climbing
circles as the guy who cut the rope.
Blurring the lines of true documentary, Touching the Void uses
interviews with Joe Simpson interspersed with reenactment footage played
by actors. The controversial technique brings an immediacy to the film
and illuminates the physical and emotional extremes conquered in this
After two and a half days taking the summit successfully, disaster strikes
during descent. The mountain is lined with formations that limit visibility.
Downclimbing a 30-foot cliff, Joes ax rips out when the ice breaks
away. He falls 20 feet and the impact rams his tibia through his knee
and breaks his heel and ankle. At 20,000 feet, he knows that no rescue
is available and that a fracture equals death. However, about an hour
later, Simon appears by his side and improvises a heroic attempt to get
them both down the mountain.
Suffering from frostbite and surrounded by a storm and darkness, Simon
lowers Joe for close to 10 hours. Unaware that the worst is still before
them, they advance toward an 80-foot cliff, at the base of which is a
deep crevasse. When Joe goes over the cliff, Simon waits for the signal
ready tug on the rope. However, Joe is actually suspended
in mid air with no way to get purchase on the mountain and no way to communicate
with Simon. Joes weight gradually pulls Simon toward the cliffs
edge and finally, believing Joe is dead from the fall, Simon cuts the
rope, releasing Joe to another 70 foot plunge, this time headfirst into
the crevasse. Incredibly, Joe survives, and what follows is a nightmarish,
two-day journey back to base camp.
The story of the disastrous climb and survival is unmistakably compelling;
watching the film is a visceral experience that from the comfort of the
theatre begs the question: Why would a person choose such an endeavor?
In an NPR interview, Joe Simpson lists the characteristics of the kind
of climber he was before the Peru experience, namely, a sense of invincibility,
too much testosterone, a lack of imagination, and the confidence of youth.
No doubt these were the same attributes that bore him through the impossible
ordeal, which he refers to as a long, drawn-out dying. Joe returned to
the Siula Grande with Simon to perform the long shots of the climbers
on the side of the mountain and not surprisingly suffered a nervous breakdown.
What is remarkable, is that both Joe and Simon continued as ardent mountaineers
after their catastrophic venture. (Not rated) Rating: 3; Posted 3/15/04
Reviewed by Russ Simmons
If you had just starred in the title role in Oscar-winning Best Picture
of the year, how would you choose to follow it up? Would you consider
tempting fate by trying your had in a genre that has proved to be box-office
poison for the last few decades?
Viggo Mortensen, star of The Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King,
plays haggard cowboy Frank T. Hopkins in Hidalgo, a new Western
from the folks at Disney. Allegedly based on a true story, Hidalgo
concerns Hopkins involvement in a particularly grueling endurance
A one-time star of Buffalo Bill Codys Wild West Show, Hopkins was
on his way to becoming an alcoholic has-been when he was presented with
a challenge that he couldnt refuse. Hopkins, who had a reputation
as Americas greatest rider and was the winner of numerous long distance
races, was a man sorely in need of a test.
Haunted by memories of the slaughter of Native Americans, Hopkins was
ready to climb into a bottle when a wealthy Arabian sheik named Riyadh
(Omar Sharif) invited him to participate in a grueling race called the
Ocean of Fire. A 3,000-mile survival trek across the Arabian Desert, the
contest involved the cream of the equestrian crop from across the Arab
world. The chance to become the first American to win the race proved
to be more than Hopkins could resist.
Hopping on a boat with his trusty mustang Hidalgo, Hopkins embarked on
a journey that became the stuff of legend.
The events in Hidalgo, as presented by director Joe Johnston (Jumanji),
stretch credibility at times. You might be tempted to wonder aloud how
the cowboy and his steed could possibly have weathered the arduous challenges
as theyre depicted in the film. (The racers endure assassination
attempts, bandits, sandstorms and even locust plagues.) Still, the dramatic
trials are presented in an entertainingly old fashioned way.
The film is less a stranger-in-a-strange-land story as it is a Rocky-style
crowd pleaser, an underdog against the odds tale that (if given the right
treatment) will always find an eager audience.
But what really makes Hidalgo work is the magnetic central performance
by Mortensen. He has the tough guy charisma of the great Western stars
while maintaining a romantic appeal for the ladies.
Perhaps Mortensen knows what hes doing after all. Before The
Lord of the Rings, no fantasy film had ever won an Oscar. (PG-13)
Rating: 3, Posted 3/15/04
Reviewed by Russ Simmons
Thanks to his Oscar-nominated turn in The Pirates of
the Caribbean, Johnny Depp is getting a bit more notice for his acting
chops. And due to his impressive performance in the new thriller Secret
Window, audiences will probably forgive some of the movies shortcomings.
Based upon a Stephen King novella, Secret Window tells the story
of a novelist named Mort Rainey (Depp), recently separated from his wife
and experiencing writers block.
Stunned by his wifes infidelity and holed up for months in a remote
lakeside cabin, Rainey cant quite seem to reconnect with his muse.
One day, a psycho writer from Mississippi named John Shooter (John Turturro)
shows up and accuses Rainey of plagiarizing his story and threatens Rainey
with violence. Thats when the merry mix-ups begin. Shooter demands
that Rainey prove that he wrote the contested story, but Raineys
attempts to do so are thwarted at every turn. Things really begin to get
sticky when Shooter makes good on his threats and the bodies start to
Rainey enlists the aid of the local sheriff (Len Cariou) and a private
investigator (Charles Dutton), but their efforts have limited effect.
The canny Shooter is able to anticipate their moves and prevent them from
interfering with his vendetta. Not bad for a Mississippi hick who sports
a large, black Mennonite hat.
Secret Window displays some interesting stylistic flourishes, especially
in an early scene where Depps character discovers his wife (Maria
Bello) in bed with another man (Timothy Hutton). Director/screenwriter
David Koepp (director of Stir of Echoes and writer of Panic
Room) doesnt allow his camera work to become overly showy until
late in the third act when all heck breaks loose.
The nagging problems in Secret Window lie largely in Kings
story. Its similarity to some of his other work is a bit too apparent,
and the plot lacks a satisfying conclusion. (Oddly enough, Depps
character proclaims that The most important part of a story is the
ending. Thats just the place where Secret Window lets
Still, Depps performance saves the day. He seems to have an uncanny
ability to add entertaining superfluities to his characterizations without
ever detracting from their grounding in reality. Hes quickly emerging
as a star who can be counted on to carry a picture, and he chooses his
roles based on what is interesting to act rather than what will be big
at the box-office. (R) Rating: 3, Posted 3/15/04