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2.04.05

THE WEDDING DATE BOOGYMAN VERA DRAKE

Ratings range from "0" (watch TV instead) to "5" (a must-see).

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The Wedding Date
Reviewed by Deborah Young

With Valentine’s Day quickly approaching, the idea of love is in the air. There’s no better time for the fantasy of a fairytale romance to hit the big screen. The Wedding Date is an attempt to bring a modern Cinderella-type fairytale to life.

The timeless tale has been revamped for the screen before. Remember Pretty Woman, in which Julia Roberts donned the role of a spunky prostitute whom Richard Gere’s character hires to accompany him for a week? At the end of the film, he saves her (with love AND money) and she (as Robertsč character puts it) ”saves him right back” (from his cold, emotionally empty life). The audience is left to imagine that they lived happily ever after.

The Wedding Date puts a man in the hooker role. Kat Ellis (Debra Messing) has hired male escort Nick (Dermot Mulroney) to accompany her to her sister’s wedding. But unlike Julia Roberts’ character in Pretty Woman, Nick fits in perfectly with Kat’s family and friends. The other women covet him and Kat appears to have been suppressing the need to get intensely personal with him from Day One, although she makes lame attempts to pretend she isn’t.

Like Gere’s Pretty Woman character, Kat is wound tighter than a guitar string. But viewers never get an explanation of why she’s that way. Screenwriter Dana Fox failed to craft dialogue that revealed the heart of Kat (or Nick, for that matter). So their stories stay on the surface.

It’s as if the creators of this film couldn’t get past the shell of a borrowed premise and into the characters. They tried to build the film on the foundation of a flimsy and soulless plot: Sexy boy meets uptight girl; they fight, makeup and probably wind up living happily ever after.

The dialogue couldn’t be less subtle. In one scene, Kat is standing on her toes while looking into the mirror, and Nick quips, “Is that (habit) from practicing ballet or from a lifetime of walking on eggshells?” (Hint, hint. The audience is probably supposed to hear bells at this point and get a revelation about Kat — Pick door number two — the eggshells!)

Then there’s the scene where Kat tells Nick, ”You’re like the Yoda of escorts. Getting you on the phone is harder than getting into college.”

OK, Nick is good at his job, too good. (He doesn’t have enough flaws to make his character interesting). Kat’s character is too flat (uptight without the endearing spunkiness). And the film holds too few surprises (with the exception of Kat’s wacky and hilarious cousin TJ, played with flair by Sarah Parish). (PG-13) Rating: 1.5 (posted 2/4/05)


   

Boogeyman
Reviewed by Russ Simmons

Every child fears that there is something living in his or her closet or under the bed. This is an idea that Hollywood has exploited ad nauseam. (Heck, even Disney ran with this concept in Monsters, Inc.)

Boogeyman is just the latest in a long line of horror thrillers of its ilk, but it attempts to put a contemporary spin on the model.

Barry Watson (TV’s 7th Heaven) plays Tim Jensen, a journalist in his twenties who endured a traumatic experience as a child. In the film’s opening sequence, we see how Tim’s father was sucked into the nether regions of his closet by the titular character, an evil specter of indefinable nature. (This scene is extremely well executed and scary.)

Fifteen years later, Tim returns to his boyhood home upon learning of the death of his estranged mother (Zena’s Lucy Lawless). Tim had been having some nasty nightmares about dear old mom and sensed that something was wrong just before she expired.

After consulting a psychiatrist who treated him as a boy, Tim decides that he must spend a night in his old house in order to rid his psyche of all of bad vibes left by the departure of his pop. (Tim’s therapist believes that the memory of his father’s demise is a hallucination induced by abandonment.)

Once at his old house, Tim’s nerves get the better of him and he starts to see things that may or may not be there. Is he going mad, or is there really a boogeyman stealing people out from under his nose?

This concept may have worked better had the filmmakers stayed with one idea or the other. Director Stephen T. Kay (Get Carter) doesn’t tip his hand until the late going, and even then the script doesn’t explain to us just what we’re dealing with. (The screenplay is by journeymen Erick Kripke, Julie Snowden and Stiles White, and it bears all the earmarks of being written by committee.)

So, since he didn’t have much of a script to work with, Kay tried to trump substance with style. His whiplash camera movements and screeching soundtrack “boos” are quite effective…up to a point. Once wečre accustomed to this barrage, however, the effect becomes utterly numbing. (Your intrepid reviewer nearly fell asleep a couple of times.) Boogeyman exists simply to give us a couple of easy scares, and that’s just what it delivers. As a concept, however, it belongs in the closet. (PG-13) Rating: 2.5 (posted 2/4/05)


Vera Drake
Reviewed by Russ Simmons

For years, actress Imelda Staunton and director Mike Leigh have been quietly offering excellent work that has received critical acclaim. As far as mainstream audiences are concerned, however, they’ve been flying under the radar screen.

That may change thanks to their latest effort, Vera Drake, a heart wrenching drama about an abortionist in 1950s England. It won the Best Film and Best Actress awards at the 2004 Venice Film Festival. Leigh and Staunton have also picked up Oscar nominations for their work.

Staunton (Shakespeare in Love, Peter’s Friends) plays the title role, a kindly middle-aged mother of two who works as a maid. She also cares for her sickly mother, dotes on her adoring husband, Sam (Phil Davis from Gangs of New York) and is generally a friend to anyone in need.

Whenever visiting a housebound invalid or inviting over a lonely stranger, she’s quick to offer to “put the kettle on” and serve them a biscuit.

Sam’s brother sums it up best when he tells him, “She’s got a heart of gold, that woman. Youčre a lucky man.”

Besides her normal duties, Vera secretly “helps young girls out.” Those girls, of course, are poor and have found themselves pregnant with nowhere else to turn. (Doctors routinely performed the illegal procedure, too, but charged their patients a hefty premium.) Vera offers her aid for free, even though the woman who connects Vera with the troubled girls secretly charges them.

So why does she do it? The film hints at a tragedy from Vera’s past that motivates her to offer her aid without charge or judgment.

Naturally, her actions are in violation of the mores of the day. Her decision to continue her practices ultimately leads to tragedy.

The acting, down to the very smallest supporting role, is extraordinary. It is Staunton, however, who makes the strongest impression. Hers is a performance of profound depth the results are achingly real.

Leigh (Secrets and Lies, Topsy Turvy) has a keen sense for detail, and he creates a mid-century world that appears utterly credible. His dialogue has such a ring of authenticity that it hardly seems “written” at all and, as a result, we almost feel like we’re eavesdropping in on the lives of some poor Londoners.

In dealing with the thorny subject of abortion, he is amazingly even-handed. He doesn’t impose any viewpoint on the audience, respecting us enough to simply present a plausible story and let us make up our own minds.

But Vera Drake isn’t really about abortion. It’s about peopleŠ…just like all of the best films. (R) Rating: 4 (posted 2/4/05)



 


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