THE PACIFIER THE
MERCHANT OF VENICE BRIDE
AND PREJUDICE IN
THE REALMS OF THE UNREAL
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In December 1967, Columbia Pictures released a daring picture called
Guess Whos Coming To Dinner? The story centers on the commotion
a young white woman creates in her family when she takes her black fiancée
home to meet her parents.
The story was daring at the time because most Americans regarded interracial
relationships as taboo. Interracial relationships were even illegal in
several states just six months before the film was released. In June 1967,
a Supreme Court decision struck down those miscegenation laws as unconstitutional.
Guess Who, the modern incarnation of that classic movie, is proof
of how much times have changed and how much they havent. In Guess
Who, a young black woman, Theresa (Zoe Saldana), takes her white fiancée
home to meet her parents. Theresas fiancé Simon (Ashton Kutcher)
is awkward and unsure of himself. He makes one blunder after another as
he tries to please Theresas father Percy (Bernie Mac). He lies (and
gets caught at it) and even tries at one point to borrow money from Theresas
father so that he can stay afloat while looking for a new job.
In the 1967 classic, John Prentice (the fiancée played by Sidney
Poitier) was poised, successful and confident. The filmmakers probably
had to make the character that way. After all, a white girl marrying a
black man was almost unthinkable at the time. If the filmmakers wanted
to challenge the bias, it was probably best to do so with an exemplary
black male character, one who was actually a cut above his white fiancée
in social status and maturity.
The problem appears to have been just the opposite in Guess Who,
where it was probably more desirable for the white fiancée to be
a little beneath his black fiancée (to satisfy the most condescending
brand of political correctness). Tensions still exist (although in a more
subtle way than they did in the 60s), so why add gas to the simmering
Then theres the issue of the actors. The 1967 film boasted a stellar
cast that included Katherine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy and Sidney Poitier.
In contrast, the cast of Guess Who consists of a lovable lot of
performers whove not quite made it to the status of heralded veterans.
Kutcher with his boyish charms and understated goofiness is easy to root
for, even when his mouth gets him into a mound of trouble. Bernie Macs
deadpan delivery of one-liners can at times be hilarious. Saldanas
poise, beauty and ability to exude an air of intelligence make her a pleasure
However, actors dont usually write their own lines, as the saying
goes. But in cases like this, maybe they should. This movie takes many
detours from the topic thats supposed to be its focus (which is
the parents reaction to the interracial relationship) and wanders
into Meet the Fockers territory.
Alas, this is really a story about how dumb a man might act when his
future father-in-law scares the daylights out of him. Its also about
one-liners and silly pranks designed to create a cinematic vehicle for
work-hungry stars like Kutcher and Mac.
If only the script was as likeable as the cast. (PG-13) Rating: 2.5 (posted 3/25/05)
One major indication that a horror film is failing miserably is the
audience laughing during scenes that weren't intended to be funny. Sometimes
things are going so well before the laughter starts. Like in last years
Saw, audiences at a screening I attended seemed to latch onto the interesting
premise of two men imprisoned in a room by an unknown captor until
the implausible plot twists and overacting started.
Then there was Hide and Seek, which boasted two great actors (Robert
Deniro and Dakota Fanning) and a premise that seemed at first rather frightening
but turned out to be a series of empty teasers.
Now comes The Ring Two, sequel to The Ring, which was released
in 2002. Newspaper editor Rachel Keller (Naomi Watts) and her son Aidan
(12-year-old David Dorfman) have moved to the small town of Astoria, OR,
for a fresh start.
Unfortunately, trouble (in the form of a creepy videotape) has followed
them. Rachel discovers that their troubles have begun again after she
investigates the death of a local teen. She sneaks a peak at the deceased
and immediately knows that the death is the work of Samara, the ghost
of a child, which inhabits the tape.
Dorfman does a great job of playing a terrified and, sometimes, terrifying
boy. Hes not given much to do most of the time, though. He just
stands or sits around looking pale and almost catatonic. Watts character
is all adrenaline. Shes always springing into action to protect
her son or doing that goofy horror-movie thing where she walks into obviously
dangerous situations, just to investigate. After watching the two for
about 20 minutes, any initial empathy will likely turn to boredom.
The aesthetic of the film was, however, clever, much of the time. The
visuals call attention to the ordinary: exhibits at a fair, storefronts
and their signage, the seaside landscape. So when the visuals turn eerily
foggy or dark, the contrast is arresting. And there is at least one scene
that is visually stunning.
Too bad the story isnt as inventive as some of the visual effects. Rather than fear, The Ring Two will likely elicit yawns. (PG-13) Rating: 2 (posted 3/25/05)
Joan Allen is mostly known for her roles as prim and proper, emotionally
repressed ladies. (She received Oscar nominations for Nixon, The Crucible
and The Contender.)
Early in Gunner Palace, a young soldier gives an unseen cameraman
a tour of the home he shares with hundreds of other soldiers. The building,
a bombed out palace in a now treacherous area of Baghdad, once belonged
to Saddam Husseins son Uday.
As the young soldier talks, the sound of explosions play like a soundtrack
in the background. Then suddenly, theres a bang in a nearby room
and a voice yelling. Two or three soldiers run into the room and find
one of their own looking for a rat and commenting that the rat must be
the one who ate his cookies. One of the soldiers picks up a bat and stalks
around the room like hes going to kill the rat. Another soldier
comments on the oddity that theyre so preoccupied with a rat while
bombs are falling all around them.
This early scene captures the dominant theme that emerges in the documentary
Gunner Palace; its human nature that wherever we reside becomes
home. For better or worse, the soldiers of the 2/3 Field Artillery Unit
have made Iraq home, despite the fact that its a war zone and despite
that its a world away from the country they call home.
Bombings, injuries and deaths occur off screen, which makes it easier
for viewers to settle into the soldiers sometimes mundane daily
routines days of swimming in the palaces huge pool, playing
guitars, clowning around or going on daily patrols and nightly raids.
On screen, the soldiers talk about their experiences in Iraq or explain
certain aspects of their jobs. In the process, they give viewers a glimpse
of what its like to live on the edge of danger.
At one point, a group of soldiers on patrol see what appears to be a
plastic bag in the street. One of them takes the job of investigating.
It could be an IED (jargon for an improvised explosive device).
One soldier points out that trash is a common sight on the streets of
Baghdad, but sometimes trash is a disguise for bombs.
Gunner Palace reminded me of an extended episode of Cops
at times because it introduced so many soldiers and seemed to focus more
on the activities and events surrounding the job than the personalities
and personal experiences of three or four soldiers.
The camera cuts from soldier to soldier like a photographer at a talent
show, capturing some of them as they break into freestyle raps, talk about
their experiences or express their ideas about the war and the politics
This film requires patience to watch. It bounces from story to story
and involves actions that may at first seem too absurd to comprehend (such
as soldiers rapping in the middle of a war zone or having a cookout and
pool party while bombs are exploding in the background).
But at the end of the movies 85 minutes, I found myself lingering
in my seat, contemplating the words of one of the soldiers. He said that
after the movie ends people will go into the kitchen and get popcorn,
then theyll forget him. After he made that statement, I knew Id
make a conscious effort not to forget. Its likely that this simple
film will similarly touch many other viewers.
Gunners Palace is very modest technically, but it does a good job of jump-starting awareness. It does a good job of paying homage to the soldiers who have lived (as well as those who have died) in Iraq. (PG-13) Rating: 3 (posted 3/25/05)
The best French film of 2004 was undoubtedly Jean-Pierre Jeunets
disconcertingly whimsical WWI film, A Very Long Engagement. Through
skill, creativity and enormous imagination, it showed both the despair
and hope that came out of that conflict.
Due to politics of filmdom and the silly guidelines regarding foreign
language nominations, it was ineligible for Academy Award consideration.
(It won the French equivalent of the Oscar.)
As it turned out, the official French nominee for the Oscar was Christophe
Barratiers The Chorus, a sweet and sentimental movie that
goes to great lengths to tug at our heartstrings. (Go figure.)
An amiable little feature, The Chorus stars Gerard Jugnot as Clement
Mathieu as a middle-aged, down-on-his-luck music professor. Needing to
take any job he could find in 1948 France, he winds up at a boarding school
for delinquent boys.
Disturbed by the prison atmosphere he encounters, he attempts to break
through by organizing a choir and acquainting them with the healing power
of music. Naturally, his attempts are met with derision.
Director Franco Zeffirelli (Endless Love) was a friend and colleague
of renowned opera diva, Maria Callas. He directed her in a number of stage
and television productions.
Last year, the film Blind Spot: Hitlers Secretary played
to receptive local audiences. The documentary featured fascinating talking
head footage of Traudl Junge, the titular character who worked for der
Führer right up until his death.
After decades of silence, she agreed to open up and tell her story to
filmmakers André Heller and Othmar Schmiderer. She died days later.
In the dramatic entry, Downfall: Hitler and the End of the Third Reich,
Junge is once again a major character. As played by Alexandra Maria Lara
(Leise Krieger), Junge is a naïve and faithful stenographer who narrates
the story of her experiences during Hitlers final days in the bunker.
The great Swiss actor Bruno Ganz (The Manchurian Candidate) portrays
Hitler, and he doesnt shun away from any of the complex facets of
this character. Like many powerful political figures, he is both attractive
and repulsive. Here is a man of principles and strong philosophical contention.
In a debate, he can seem reasonable, even persuasive.
Of course, there are elements of his character and philosophy that are
abhorrent. In a chilling conversation, he readily and unapologetically
admits that he lacks a human trait that he considers a sign of weakness:
Aside from a brief moment in 1942, the movie concentrates on events of
1945 when the Soviet Army was invading Berlin and about to topple Hitlers
government. For all intents and purposes, the war is over, but Hitler
and a handful of his henchmen remain steadfast to their ideals,
choosing death over surrender.
Director Oliver Hirschbiegel (The Experiment) shies away from
nothing and does a commendable job of combining the various elements of
the story. Although he has received some criticism for making Hitler and
his aides seem somewhat sympathetic (a debatable point), he realistically
depicts the Nazis as conflicted human beings. (This is, after all, the
first German production to take on this story. Controversy is inevitable.)
The most electrifying moment comes at the films conclusion. In a scene borrowed from Blind Spot, Traudl Junge, days before her death, reluctantly admits some degree of culpability. Her words will ring true for any of us who have failed to take a stand in the face of injustice. (R) Rating: 3.5 (posted 3/18/05)
Over the last couple of decades, the Japanese have carved out a unique
and popular niche in the world of animation. A fanatical worldwide audience
embraces their approach, called anime. Others just dont get it.
The latest entry is the most expensive (a reported $20 million) and elaborate
(10 years in the making) anime production to date. Steamboy marks
the return of Katsuhiro Ôtomo, whose landmark film Akira came out
An ornate Jules Vern-like science fiction fantasy, Steamboy attempts
to make some sophisticated statements about the dangers of technology.
Although the visuals are stunning, the story and characterizations leave
something to be desired.
The story takes place in England during the mid-19th century. Ray Steam
(voiced by Anna Paquin) is the young son of a noted inventor, Eddie (Alfred
Molina.) Eddie and Rays grandfather Lord Steam (Patrick Stewart),
another renowned scientist, have been abroad for some time working on
a top-secret invention.
Their development, the Steam Ball, is a bowling ball-sized device that
allows chemicals to be placed under such enormous pressure that the release
of steam can generate enormous energy. Naturally, nefarious corporate
entities want to use the invention for their own purposes, mostly military
The story pits the father and the grandfather against one another, and
poor Ray is caught in the middle. A canny inventor himself, Ray tries
desperately to figure out which family member he ultimately must support.
Ôtomos art direction is amazingly lush, making it easy to
see where the films enormous budget went. It seamlessly incorporates
classic hand drawn animation techniques with computer-generated graphics,
creating a fantastical, retro technological world. There are many impressive
moments where the mechanical creations, camera pans and realistic reflections
seem plausible and otherworldly at the same time.
Its too bad that the same cant be said for the characters.
As in nearly all anime, the settings are elaborately, imaginatively rendered,
but the characters faces seem flat and emotionless. (The dubbing just
emphasizes this flaw.) Its like putting stick figures in a beautiful
The story is problematic, too. Although the message that
scientific advancement should be approached with caution is obvious, there
is a certain moral ambiguity to the film. Just as Ray is constantly confused
about whether to follow his father or grandfather (or neither), we are
equally at sea. Perhaps this is Ôtomos point, but if so, it
is an unsettling one.
For anime fans, Steamboy is a must-see. For the rest of us, the dazzling visuals ultimately overcome the movies imperfections. (PG-13) Rating: 3 (posted 3/18/05)
What would the teen years be without drama? They wouldnt be the
Ice Princess, the latest nod to those hyperbolic adolescent years,
captures the drama of the teen years as well as the fantasy.
The protagonist, Casey Carlyle (Michelle Trachtenberg), couldnt
be a more unlikely candidate to become a glamorous professional figure
skater. Shes a physics geek with a mom whos a college professor.
Caseys mom has had her on the road to Harvard for years, but Casey
also likes to skate (during brief periods when shes not studying,
To her dismay, Caseys nothing like the skating divas at her high
school. These skating princesses spend hours training with professional
coaches in a rink, but Casey skates alone on the lake outside her home.
The divas wear makeup and get invited to the parties, but Casey remains
unadorned and ignored by the in-crowd.
Director Tim Fywell captures the feeling of alienation with humor and
astuteness. In one scene, for instance, Gen Harwood (Hayden Panetierre)
walks past Casey and a friend in a school hallway. The camera speed slows
to catch the natural sway of Gens shoulder-length blonde hair and
the smooth fullness of her lightly made-up face as she passes. Casey and
her friend shoot Gen an admiring glance. Then the camera returns to a
normal speed as the two outcasts from popularity discuss the improbably
chance of getting an invitation to one of the popular kids parties.
The introduction of slow-motion shots definitely adds hyperbole, but
it also accurately dramatizes how awed a high-school nerd might be by
a popular kid.
Ice Princess is an exercise in melodrama. The actors overplay
every scene. Gen snipes at her win-at-all-cost mother with the slightest
provocation. Caseys mom, Joan, (Joan Cusak) takes every opportunity
to rant about the images of women in our society. And Gens brother,
Teddy (Trevor Blumas), hollers like Casey has committed a felony when
he spots her skating while hes trying to run the Zamboni.
Still, the tween and teen set will likely enjoy watching this story
of self-discovery, rebellion, and ultimately, triumph. Gen discovers that
she has a talent and passion that has nothing to do with what her mother
wants for her. Plus, she gains the attention of a cute boy and entry to
The plot carries few surprises, but the characters are likeable enough, and the story contains the stuff that teen fantasies are made of. (G) Rating: 3 (posted 3/18/05)
Animated films such as Shrek and The Incredibles won fans by being smart
and family-friendly. Their multi-layered tales tend to have an entertaining
story and upbeat message for kids, and beneath the surface, jokes and
observations that are direct pitches to the adults in the audience and
will slide right over most of the kiddies heads. Robots, the latest
project from the creators of Ice Age, is in this appealing category of
Robots tells the story of a Rodney Copperbottom (Ewan McGregor), a robot
born to relatively poor parents. Rodneys parents cant afford
to get fancy upgrades for him as he grows up, and Rodney observes the
toll that his fathers job as a dishwasher has taken on the elder
Somewhere along the way, Rodney decides hes going be an inventor,
and he keeps experimenting with an invention that will make his fathers
job easier. But he ultimately has to leave home to pursue his dream of
working with Bigweld (Mel Brooks), a bigshot inventor who lives in Robot
City (which seems to be the robot worlds equivalent of New York).
The movie carries the inspirational message that people can typically
become whatever they want, if theyre willing to work hard enough
for it. The message is clear, but the screenwriters dont hit audiences
on the head with it.
But the thing that makes Robots most appealing is the originality of
the idea behind it. There are no humans in the movies world. Yet
everything the Robots do, from having a baby to working to pitching ads
for new parts is surrounded by humorous references to the human world.
For instance, double-entendres in dialogues about Rodneys initial
assembly are the basis of one of the films funniest gags.
Unfortunately, when Rodney gets to Robot City, the characters seem to
multiply so that its hard to keep up with all of his pals. Theres
also the introduction of some low-level humor (fart jokes and big-butt
jokes). The plot also seems to lose its way at that point. But in the
end the story makes its way back to the central theme about pursuing dream,
and the film ends with a funny and toe-tapping musical number.
Like the movies main character, the creators of Robots appear to have pursued an admirable dream (to craft an original and entertaining animated film). Like Rodney, they made a few blunders, but everything turned out pretty good in the end. (PG) Rating: 3 (posted 3/14/05)
Youve got to hand it to Bruce Willis. He may not always make the best career choices, but he sure knows his way around a thriller.
Hostage is Willis latest venture into Die Hard-like
territory, but this time the filmmakers aim for a more realistic tone.
Upon hearing the plot elements, one might think that theyre in for yet another tired rehash of well-worn movie clichés. In fact, that is the case. It would be understandable to experience a feeling of déjà vu given the fact that Hostage could have easily been yet another late night, made for cable thriller. But thanks to a strong cast, taut editing and brisk direction, Hostage is an intense and entertaining action thriller.
The movie opens with a sequence that changes the life of LAPD hostage negotiator Jeff Talley (Willis). Because of an error of judgment, innocent people die. Guilt-ridden, Talley leaves the force and takes a job as police chief in the rural Ventura County town of Bristo Camino. It is a mundane job, and his bickering wife and daughter dont exactly engender marital bliss.
Things get complicated when a trio of juvenile delinquents decides to rob the home of a wealthy businessman named Smith, played by Kevin Pollak (A Few Good Men.) They invade his fortified home only to become trapped inside themselves. They take Smith, his teenaged daughter and adolescent son as hostages.
Problem is, Smith is some kind of Mafia accountant and powerful and sinister forces must make sure that important information (stored on a DVD somewhere in the house) is recovered, hostages be damned. Sophisticated thugs kidnap Talleys family and use them to manipulate him into doing their bidding during the dangerous standoff.
Yes, this kind of territory has been covered many times in the past, but French director Florent Emilio Siri (The Nest) knows what hes doing. In his English language debut, he builds considerable tension and presents the action at a zippy pace
The young actors acquit themselves nicely, too. Michelle Horn and Jimmy Bennett as the Smith kids make an impression, as do Jonathan Tucker, Ben Foster and Marshall Allman as the delinquents. Foster is especially creepy as Mars, the mentally unstable member of the trio of kidnappers.
But this movie belongs to Willis. His convincing performance here ranks with the best of his career. You dont often see this much earnestness in an action movie.
Yes, Hostage is a disposable and clichéd thriller, but if you want intensity, it delivers the goods. (R) Rating: 3.5 (posted 3/11/05)
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has come under a great deal of criticism over how it handles its documentary awards. Although Oscar has made many improvements in the last couple of years, a lot of great work is still ignored.
That brings us to Born Into Brothels, this years winner for Best
Documentary. Truth is, it isnt particularly well crafted. In fact,
there were several better documentary films released this year.
But it is an eye-opening and heartbreaking look at the children of Calcuttas
prostitutes. If humanitarianism is the criteria, then Born Into Brothels
deserves the recognition.
The film is the work of photojournalist Zana Briski (along with Ross
Kauffman) and it focuses on her experiences with seven youngsters who
inhabit one of Calcuttas most notorious red light districts. Their
mothers, grandmothers and often great-grandmothers are sex workers living
in squalid conditions with little hope of escape.
Briski, a British citizen, doesnt take a fly-on-the-wall approach
like most documentaries. She becomes heavily involved in the lives of
her subjects, making her a central character in her own film.
Determined to try to do something to improve the lot of some of the kids,
Briski decides to teach them something she knows a lot about. She gives
them lessons in photography. Her hope is to ultimately get them enrolled
in boarding school so that she can break the cycle of prostitution and
Her photography class is a resounding success, and the children capture
some images that only they could uncover in their neglected world. Briski
even manages to arrange gallery exhibitions of their pictures in New York
and India in an attempt to raise money for their aid.
The photos of one of the children afford him a unique opportunity. The
especially talented youngster named Avijit is invited to attend a world
conference for child photographers in Amsterdam.
Getting the children into boarding school is another story. Briski discovers
that there are some nearly insurmountable obstacles in her way. Not only
must she battle prejudice, the caste system and reluctant parents, but
also the inscrutable Indian bureaucracy. The children must have proper
documentation (few do in the red light district), be free of disease and
have the permission of both parents. (Some have no idea who their father
From a filmmaking standpoint, Born Into Brothels is not particularly notable. As a social document, its an eye-opening and heartbreaking look at innocents in a desperate, mostly inescapable situation. (Not rated) Rating: 3 (posted 3/011/05)
The marketing tagline for this film is Prepare for battle. But Prepare for nap time would be more fitting.
Vin Diesel stars Navy SEAL Lt. Shane Wolf. After a government scientist is killed, Wolf is assigned to protect the scientists wife and five children. The family needs protection because someone is still out there trying to find a top-secret invention the scientist created.
Before long, the scientists widow goes out of town, leaving Wolf alone with the children and their nanny. Then the nanny quits, and Wolf is left with the solo mission of caring for them.
While Wolf marches around the house barking orders at the kids, the children do what tykes do in these kinds of movies. The little ones throw up and poop their diapers, and the adolescents sneak around in an attempt to defy most of the commands theyre given.
In the process, a very predictable script unfolds. Wolf, who at first has the personality and mannerisms of a soldier robot, soon becomes domesticated, learning to change diapers and do a dance that helps little Peter go to sleep at night.
Likewise, the children learn to appreciate Wolfs talents for fighting, organizing and just being a good pal. Unfortunately, the changes occur quickly rather than unfolding slowly and more naturally.
Diesel may be an action star, but he seems more like hes a slapstick version of an action hero in this film. Even when hes showcasing his karate moves and shoving bad guys through windows, its hard to take him seriously here because he wears a bland expression most of the time and seems to just be going through the motions.
And it would be so nice if some innovative moviemaker would come along and find something else for kids to do in comedies besides play mean, dangerous pranks on adults and boldly poop in places few kids have pooped before.
The Pacifier, directed by Adam Shankman, who also directed A Walk to Remember and The Wedding Planner, two films that had at least an ounce of warmth. But warmth and humor are mostly M.I.A. in this film. For instance, the childrens father has just been killed, but they carry on as if nothing much has happened. In fact, they seem more affected by the their new houseguests presence than the loss of their father.
But the worst thing is that this film is about as predictable as a trip around a go-kart track, a diversion that might, by the way, be more entertaining for families than seeing this film. (PG) Rating: 1 (posted 3/07/05)
Even in the best Shakespeare adaptations, accessibility is an issue. The work of the Bard is often just too foreign to attract significant numbers at the box office.
Michael Radfords smart and skillfully filmed version of The Merchant of Venice is one of the more easily digested versions of a Shakespearean work. It is also one of the most unusual, combining comedy with elements of tragedy and pointed social commentary.
The story is set in 16th century Venice, when Jews were confined to ghettos and forbidden to walk the streets after dusk. They were not allowed to own property and made their living as moneylenders, a profession looked down upon by their Christian neighbors.
One such moneylender is Shylock (Al Pacino), a figure who is both a victim and a villain. His lot is forced upon him, but he has made a fortune by shrewdly lending money at high interest rates. This practice has brought him scorn, especially from Antonio (Jeremy Irons), the titular character who would never charge interest from anyone in need.
The animosity between these two characters comes to a head when Antonio finds himself in need of a loan. His best friend Bassanio (Joseph Fiennes) needs some money immediately in order to pursue the hand of the beautiful Portia (Lynn Collins).
Although Antonio is a successful merchant, his fortune is tied up in ships that are currently abroad so he has nothing to loan Bassanio. For love of his friend, Antonio goes to Shylock for the money. The scheming Shylock agrees to the loanŠbut only if Antonio agrees to forfeit a pound of his flesh if he cannot pay on time.
Pacino makes a strong impression as Shylock. Although Shakespeare has been often accused of anti-Semitism for this portrait, Shylock is a complex and somewhat empathetic character whose foibles can be partly ascribed to his environment, and Pacino adeptly exploits these elements. When his daughter betrays him, one cant help but have pangs of compassion.
The entire cast is fine, but the real find is newcomer Collins. (Cate Blanchett was originally cast as Portia, but had to drop out due to pregnancy.) She manages to bring out the fierce intelligence and depth of the character.
Radford (Il Postino) makes excellent use of the Venetian setting and ensures that this movie is more than just an academic exercise. The classic courtroom scene has a palpable tension, even for those who are well aware of the plays outcome.
For those leery of Shakespeare, fear not. (R) Rating: 4 (posted 3/04/05)
The Indian film industry is the worlds most productive. Bollywood is responsible for hundreds of movies each year that appeal to a huge audience.
Indian-British filmmaker Gurinder Chadha (Bend it Like Beckham) has made an attempt to introduce Western audiences to the unique style of Bollywood films with Bride and Prejudice, an English-language reworking of Jane Austens Pride and Prejudice.
The story takes place in modern India and is a soap opera involving a beautiful ingénue named Lalita Bakshi (Indian superstar Aishwarya Rai). Her mother (Nadira Babbar) is attempting to marry off her four daughters to wealthy men, regardless of the girls reluctance.
When a British man of Indian descent named Balraj Bingley (Naveen Andrews) travels to an Indian village for the wedding of a friend, he brings along a rich American colleague, Will Darcy, played by Martin Henderson (The Ring). While Balraj goes for the eldest Bakshi daughter, Will is attracted to Lalita. Unfortunately, he doesnt get off to a good start with her. He puts his foot in his mouth giving the progressively minded Lalita the false impression that hes an unrepentant imperialist.
Things are further complicated when Lalita is wooed by a deceitful Brit named Johnny Wickham (Daniel Gillies) who has had conflicts with Will in the past.
The rest of the movie covers the convoluted route to romance between Will and Lalita, and the many obstacles that fall in their way.
But this is a Bollywood style film, which means that it is a unique mixture of sober drama, broad comedy and (most importantly) lavish musical numbers! The uninitiated may find this to be an uneasy blend, not because of the music (although some of the numbers are clunky), but because the various approaches seem jarring in the same film.
But even if one overlooks the movies odd structure, there are other aspects that are problematic. Most importantly, there is no chemistry between Rai and Henderson. Although Rai is stunning and quite spunky in her role, Henderson is an utter dud. He hasnt a clue of how to breathe some life into his stuffy character.
On the plus side, the movie has an amiable supporting cast and is beautifully photographed. (The color saturation is reminiscent of the old Technicolor musicals of the 40s and 50s.)
Bride and Prejudice may find an audience in spite of its flaws. That audience, however, will probably be in India. (PG-13) Rating: 2.5 (posted 3/04/05)
The contention that there is a correlation between mental illness and artistic genius is a debatable one, but it is a theory that has more than its share of intriguing examples.
A case in point is Henry Darger, a Chicago recluse who worked for decades as a janitor in a Catholic institution. When he died in 1972 at age 80, his landlords looked into his solitary room and made an astonishing discovery.
For over forty years (and perhaps much longer), Darger worked on a 15,000-page novel titled The Story of the Vivian Girls, in What is Known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinnian War Storm, Caused by the Child Slave.
Its the tale of the Vivian Girls, seven virtuous prepubescent sisters who wage a long and bloody war against evil, slave-trading adults. Their allies are Christian forces and magical flying beasts called Blengins..
This convoluted epic was illustrated with hundreds of paintings, collages and drawings rendered on butcher paper, grocery bags and any other medium that Darger could scrounge up from the dump. Inspired by illustrations in books by Frank L. Baum, comics and newspaper ads, the work has been embraced by the art world as genius. Some claim him to be the greatest self-taught artist in American history.
Director Jessica Yu, an Oscar-winner for her 1996 documentary short, Breathing Lessons, takes on Dargers story without trying too hard to understand him. Her aim is to introduce audiences to Dargers art and give what little background information that exists about his life.
The movie combines talking head interviews with the handful of people who knew him, lushly photographed images of his workplace, and altered newsreel footage of Chicago during Dargers lifetime. Dakota Fanning and Larry Pine provide narration, including passages from the novel and Dargers autobiographical writings.
But Yu takes it one step further. In a move that may make purists cringe, Yu has taken Dargers comic-like artwork and brought it to life through animation. It could be argued that this approach compromises the art, but it sure makes it a lot more cinematic.
The visuals are so absorbing, in fact, that the movie can be enjoyed simply as great eye candy. Those who may not care about Darger, the person (or find him simply too enigmatic to connect with) may still take pleasure in it. The soundtrack, featuring songs by Tom Waits and a score by Jeff Beal is an added bonus.
Although it is deliberately paced, seems somewhat padded and is definitely not for everyone, In the Realms of the Unreal is a fascinating look at the work of a geniusŠor a madman. (Unrated) Rating: 3.5 (posted 3/04/05)
Last year, the film The Butterfly Effect used hyper-kinetic, MTV-style visuals to tell an intriguing time-travel story. Some found it fascinating while others felt it was laughably silly.
Audiences will probably be similarly split on The Jacket, yet another drama that uses elements of time-travel to explore issues that involve moral decision-making. The biggest difference is that The Jacket employs much better actors.
Adrian Brody (Oscar-winner for The Pianist) portrays Jack Starks, an American soldier who was shot in the head by an Iranian boy during the first Gulf War. At first declared dead, Jack ultimately recovered but lost chunks of his memory a problem that would come to haunt him.
On a snowy day in 1992, he aids a stranded motorist and her young daughter. Later that day, Jack hitches a ride with a crazed man who shoots and kills a policeman. Because of his faulty memory, Jack is convicted of the crime and sent to a mental asylum.
There, Jack is the victim of experimentation at the hands of Dr. Becker (Kris Kristofferson) who injects him with a cocktail of drugs in an effort to reset his homicidal brain. Instead, the drugs allow Jack to travel forward to the year 2007 where he meets a young woman named Jackie (Keira Knightly) who, as it happens, is the young girl he aided on the fateful day the cop was killed.
Sad, lonely and alcoholic, Jackie is emulating her mother who accidentally burned herself alive while smoking in bed a few years earlier. Jack (who can only go forward in time while in the drug-induced state) uses this insight to try to set things right for Jackie when he returns to the year 1992.
Yes, the premise, like all time-travel scenarios, is fraught with logistical problems. In order to enjoy the story, one must be very willing to suspend disbelief. But the earnest cast (that also includes Jennifer Jason Leigh, Daniel Craig, Brad Renfro and Kelly Lynch) helps make the implausible plot easier to accept.
Director John Maybury (Love Is the Devil: Study for a Portrait of Francis Bacon) adds a lot of visual flair to Massy Tadjedins adaptation of the story by Tom Bleeker and Marc Rocco. Some of his imagery is quite unsettling, giving us an all-too palpable feel of Jacks torturous condition.
Bizarre and discomforting (and, some would add, cold), The Jacket should provide fodder for some interesting post-movie discussions. For that accomplishment alone, one must give it its due. (R) Rating: 3 (posted 3/04/05)
Be Cool is an apt title for this scattered tale that focuses mostly on wannabes. The lead character Chili (John Travolta) is a movie producer who wants to be in the music business. He wants to manage the stalled singing career of Linda Moon (Christina Milian), a young singer who wants to be a star.
Lindas problem is that shes represented by a group of thugs who treat her more like a call girl than a singer, and they book her in sleazy bars where the clientele cares more about her looks than her singing ability. At the start of the film, shes ready to quit the business. Shes tired of the bad gigs and the mistreatment she receives from Raji (Vince Vaughn), her managers main flunky.
Raji is a wannabe gangster, a young white guy who wants to be black (or as Linda puts it, he thinks hes black). He struts around slinging slang like a cowboy slinging a lasso, and he tries to scare Chili out of the idea of making Linda break her restrictive contract with Nick Carr (Harvey Keitel).
Sound confusing? It is. This story is constructed in scene patches rather than with a cohesive plot with a subplot or two. There are hosts of characters with conflicting agendas: Russian mobsters, a thuggish hip-hop group and their Ivy-league educated producer, as well as Carr and his flunkies. None of these characters are fully developed. Theyre mostly stereotypes.
But the basic story is that Chili is dodging bullets while he tries to get financing to record Linda Moon. Along the way he interacts with quirky characters that inject humor into the story.
One of the funniest characters is Elliot Wilhelm (The Rock), Rajis gay bodyguard and a wannabe actor. Theres a scene in which hes sent out to get a baseball bat to intimidate someone with. He returns with a little red aluminum bat that looks about as intimidating as a toothpick.
One warning here: Much of the films humor revolves around ethnicity or sexual preference. Some viewers might find this kind of humor offensive.
The bottom line: In its 114-minute running time, this sequel to Get Shorty delivers about an hour of gags that many viewers will probably find funny. (PG-13) Rating: 2.5 (posted 3/04/05)
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