Reviewed by Russ Simmons
There are a number of clichéd elements that youre sure
to find in a typical chick flick. Just when you start checking them off
one-by-one while watching Little Black Book, the movie adds a welcome,
unexpected facet that sets it apart from the rest.
Brittany Murphy leads a capable cast as Stacey, a newly hired associate
producer on a sleazy TV talk show hosted by Kippie Kann (About Schmidts
Stacy suspects that her boyfriend Derek (Ron Livingston from Office
Space) is hiding things from his past. At the urging of her co-worker
Barb, played by Holly Hunter (Thirteen), Stacy snoops into Dereks
Palm Pilot and looks up information on his former lovers.
Stacy yearns to grill these women about Dereks past, but has to
come up with a ruse so that they wont know that shes currently
shacking up with him. She decides to pose as Barb, who is doing research
for possible new theme shows for Kippies TV gabfest.
Naturally, Stacy feels a little guilty while snooping into Dereks
but not enough to stop. As one of the ongoing chick flick clichés
insists, Alls fair in love and war.
Murphy is a fine actress who has proven herself in number of dramatic
roles (Girl Interrupted, Dont Say a Word, 8 Mile).
Shes also displayed a ditzy appeal as a light comedienne (Just
Married, Uptown Girls).
Murphys innate likeability makes Stacy tolerable even when the character
is engaged in some pretty unethical behavior. When guilt begins to take
over, Stacy begins to question her motives. Murphys acting chops
are very much in evidence as her character completes this dramatic arch.
Still, Little Black Book is, for the most part, formulaic Hollywood
product. One might wonder, therefore, why picky actors like Hunter and
Bates would choose to participate (financial considerations not withstanding).
The answer probably has something to do with the movies take on
sordid TV talk shows.
First time screenwriter Melissa Carter and veteran British television
director Nick Hurran take dead aim at the unscrupulous drivel that makes
up much of daytime TV. The fact that they were able to do this in the
context of a silly Hollywood comedy is a small, but notable accomplishment.
Ultimately, however, its a clever twist that gives Little Black
Book its slight edge over others of its ilk. It helps to make up for
many of the films otherwise irritating, by-the-numbers clichés.
(PG-13) Rating: 3; Posted 8/6/04
Story of the Weeping Camel
Reviewed by Russ Simmons
The Story of the Weeping Camel is the undoubtedly best Mongolian
film of the year. The fact that it may be the only Mongolian film to be
released this year doesnt diminish that accomplishment.
A simple, yet surprisingly insightful film from first-time directors Byambasuren
Davaa and Luigi Falorni (from a story idea by Davaa and Batbayar Davgadorj),
The Story of the Weeping Camel immerses its audience in an utterly
alien environment. At the same time, it presents universal themes that
people can relate to from any culture.
This straightforward tale involves an extended family of herdsmen living
in the harsh reaches of the Gobi Desert, at least fifty kilometers from
the nearest town. Without electricity and most current technology, they
live much as their ancestors did centuries ago. The very existence of
these hard-working folks depends entirely on their sheep and camels. Their
lives are so intertwined that the smallest disruption in the flock can
precipitate a crisis.
One such crisis occurs when one of camels gives birth to a rare white
offspring. After a long and difficult labor, the mother rejects its baby.
Unless the herdsmen can convince the mother to suckle the newborn, it
will surely die.
As is their ancient custom, they call on a musician to come and perform
a ritual to reunite mother and child. According to legend, the ceremony
is so moving that the camel will ultimately burst into tears.
Although this isnt technically a documentary, the filmmakers took
great pains to find actual herdsmen to reenact their everyday lives for
the camera. Their dialogue is improvised and, for the most part, the events
actually happened as they are depicted.
Although the filmmakers had much of the story decided upon beforehand,
there were fortuitous circumstances that greatly aided their efforts.
They were able to shoot the actual birth of a rare white camel whose mother
did indeed reject it. They also got footage of the musical ceremony that,
reportedly, reunited them.
The performers who were recruited for the film are utterly guileless,
able to ignore the cameras and allow the filmmakers to get a fly-on-the-wall
perspective into their lives. As the family interacts with one another
and their flocks, we see the parallels between their lives and those of
their animals. This interconnection of man and nature is the movies
overriding theme. Our technological drive, it is implied, is counterproductive.
Although the world of the Weeping Camel is harsh, it is hardly
austere. Its got heart. (PG) Rating: 4; Posted 8/6/04
Home at the End of the World
Reviewed by Russ Simmons
When his unconventional relationships are questioned, Bobby Morrow is
likely to say, Its just love.
Those words seem to be the guiding principle behind the well-meaning,
but somewhat stilted drama, A Home at the End of the World. Director
Michael Mayers debut film is something of a coming of age drama
about an enigmatic young man who never quite comes of age. Hes a
kind-hearted soul, but that is about all we ever really know about him.
Based upon a novel by Michael Cunningham (The Hours), A Home
at the End of the World begins in 1967 when an impressionable Cleveland
boy named Bobby Morrow (Andrew Chalmers) is seven years old, and it follows
the trials and tribulations of his life through the mid-1980s.
Bobbys older brother introduces him to the joys of recreational
drugs and an accompanying laid back philosophy. Sadly, all of the members
of Bobbys nuclear family die over a period of a few short years.
In 1974, the lonely teenage Bobby (Erik Smith) meets Jonathan (Harris
Allan). Jonathan and Bobby experiment with gay sex and, ultimately, Bobby
becomes a member of Jonathans extended family. Eager to please a
find a place to fit in, Bobby introduces Jonathans mother
Alice (Sissy Spacek) to the joys of pot and Laura Nyro, while Alice teaches
Bobby to bake.
By the time the early 80s roll around, Alice has to gently suggest
that Bobby (Colin Farrell), now a professional baker, find a home of his
own. He travels to New York City to join his brother Jonathan
(Dallas Roberts), who is engaged in a promiscuous gay lifestyle. Jonathans
eccentric roommate Clare (Robin Wright Penn) immediately takes to Bobby,
and the threesome form an alternative, sexually ambiguous family. As Bobby
would say, Its just love.
Mayer does a good job of relating a sense of time and place, skillfully
recreating the era. He has a little more trouble with establishing believable
Spacek is spot on as Alice and Penn and Roberts give workmanlike performances.
Farrells characterization is a bit more problematic, however. Hes
certainly sincere, but also awkwardly actor-ish and never
completely convincing in the role. Bobby rolls with the punches and tries
hard to please, but were never sure what he wants. The only clue
were given into his motivations is when he admits to Clare, I
cant be alone.
The film is occasionally touching and has its heart in the right place,
but it lacks insight. Perhaps the novel elucidated Bobbys feelings,
but they didnt make it on the screen. (R) Rating: 2.5; Posted 8/6/04
Reviewed by Liz Sweeney
When it comes to remakes, film fans typically fall into two categories:
those who object to remakes on principle and those who feel that anything
goes. The industry is rife with exquisite examples of remakes gone wrong.
The Vanishing and the ironically named Point of No Return
are two that immediately come to mind. However, there are notable exceptions:
An Affair to Remember was a remake and The Maltese Falcon
was actually the third film version of Hammetts novel.
Jonathan Demmes take on The Manchurian Candidate should find
some acceptable middle ground. With top tier stars Denzel Washington and
Meryl Streep, and a prime summer release date, Hollywood has no doubt
calculated this to be an easy success with little risk or originality.
However, to assume that this version can only succeed as standard thriller
fare, with none of the historical underpinnings and special niche status
of the original is a mistake. The proximal context of John F. Kennedys
murder, McCarthyism and the Red Menace paranoia of the time have been
replaced by nefarious corporate activity, the Patriot Act and contemporary
wars. This Manchurian Candidate may not be as creepy and off-kilter
as the original, but its no less grounded in relevant political
Denzel Washington plays Ben Marco, a Gulf War vet plagued with horrific
dreams that conflict with the inspirational speeches he gives detailing
his platoons victory after an ambush in the Kuwaiti desert. Others
in his platoon can relate the story verbatim, with Sergeant Raymond Shaw
(Liev Shreiber) cast as their savior, his heroic deeds meriting him the
Medal of Honor. As Raymond Shaw is thrown into national limelight as a
vice presidential candidate, under the ambitious guidance of his mother,
Sen. Eleanor Prentiss Shaw (Meryl Streep), Marcos nightmares become
more pressing. Filled with visions of murder and mind-control, Marcos
apparent paranoia casts him as a crazed misfit in the eyes of those who
know him. Marco nevertheless sets out to unravel the truth against the
high stakes race for the presidency.
Streeps character is especially well played as the bogeywoman of
contemporary misogynists. The original senators wife is now a senator
in her own right, and comparisons to Hillary Clinton have been bandied
about with glee. Sen. Shaws unchecked ambition coupled with maternal
affection, reek of Freudian chauvinism and mirror a mainstream media message:
Powerful women are evil. Unfortunately, while the films political
allegories may be on target, the sexual politics lack irony.
Filmgoers who are indifferent to the notion of remakes should find The
Manchurian Candidate a satisfying and politically relevant experience.
Those who object to its sheer existence can exercise their freedom of
choice. That is, while they still have any. (R) Rating: 3; Posted 8/5/04