2002 November-December

(2 Nov) Muhammad Ali The Greatest (1974, William Klein) [ review ] 70

(4 Nov) Pump Up the Volume (1990, Allan Moyle) [ review ] 94

(7 Nov) The Real Eve (2002, Andrew Peddington) 60
[ Reviewed for the Apollo Movie Guide ]

(8 Nov) 8 Mile (2003, Curtis Hanson) [ review ] 86

(8 Nov) Québec-Montréal (2002, Ricardo Trogi) 32
[ reviewed in my Cinemania coverage ]

(9 Nov) Petites misères (2002, Philippe Boon and Laurent Brandenbourger) 62
[ reviewed in my Cinemania coverage ]

(9 Nov) Monsieur Batignole (2002, Gérard Jugnot) 70
[ reviewed in my Cinemania coverage ]

(9 Nov) Une affaire privée (2002, Guillaume Nicloux) 72
[ reviewed in my Cinemania coverage ]

(10 Nov) Cet amour-là (2002, Josée Dayan) 5
[ reviewed in my Cinemania coverage ]

(10 Nov) Oui, mais… (2002, Yves Lavandier) 93
[ reviewed in my Cinemania coverage ]

(11 Nov) Une hirondelle a fait le printemps (2002, Christian Carion) 47
[ reviewed in my Cinemania coverage ]

(11 Nov) Chaos (2002, Colinne Serreau) 84
[ reviewed in my Cinemania coverage ]

(12 Nov) Laissez-passer (2002, Bertrand Tavernier) 78
[ reviewed in my Cinemania coverage ]

(12 Nov) Ma femme est une actrice (2002, Yvan Attal) 45
[ reviewed in my Cinemania coverage ]

(13 Nov) Sur mes lèvres (2002, Jacques Audiard) 58
[ reviewed in my Cinemania coverage ]

(13 Nov) L’emploi du temps (2002, Laurent Cantet) 86
[ reviewed in my Cinemania coverage ]

(14 Nov) Sueurs (2002, Louis-Pascal Couvelaire) 56
[ reviewed in my Cinemania coverage ]

(15 Nov) Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002, Chris Colombus) [ review ] 61

(15 Nov) Le Doux amour des hommes (2002, Jean-Paul Civeyrac) 89
[ reviewed in my Cinemania coverage ]

(16 Nov) Jojo la frite (2002, Nicolas Cuche) 44
[ reviewed in my Cinemania coverage ]

(17 Nov) Unfaithful (2002, Adrian Lyne) [ review ] 44

(20 Nov) Ice Age (2002, Chris Wedge) 42
[ Featuring the voices of Ray Romano as a mammoth, Denis Leary as a saber-toothed tiger and John Leguizamo as a sloth, Chris Wedge’s computer-animated film follows this unlikely herd as they try to take a human baby back to his father. Well made but not that well made, amusing but not that amusing, “Ice Age” is worth seeing, I guess, if you have already seen Pixar’s vastly superior flicks or “Shrek”. ]

(22 Nov) Rosetta (1999, the Dardenne brothers) 90
[ 17 year old Rosetta is like Eminem’s character in “8 Mile”: stuck living with her alcoholic mother in a trailer park, shifting between numbing minimum-wage jobs, hurt and angry as hell about all of it. Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne’s film eschews stylistic flourishes, screenplay beats and even dialogue to a degree in favor of long unstable tracking shots keeping close to Rosetta as she goes through her day-to-day routine. This unintrusive approach, paired with a devastating performance by Émilie Dequenne in the title role, make for an affecting, unflinching look at life as a constant struggle not to sink further into misery. ]

(23 Nov) Safe (1995, Todd Haynes) 85
[ Working less like a disease-movie-of-the-week than like an all-out horror movie in which every day “fumes” and chemicals act as the monster waiting around every corner, the first half of Todd Haynes’ film is truly creepy. The use of cheesy ‘80s pop is slightly distracting and the husband character is one-dimensionally non-understanding, but Julianne Moore gives a stripped down, understated but powerful performance, and the exploration of environmental illness is terrifying and thought-provoking. What I’m really not sure about “Safe” is how midway through it hands itself to a self-help guru who attempts to help Moore not only with her health but with her spirit. Haynes has said that his film’s values run counter to those encouraged in the story, but that distinction isn’t clear on screen. Still, that’s a nitpick about an otherwise solid picture. ]

(24 Nov) Ghost World (2001, Terry Zwigoff) [ review ] 91

(26 Nov) Triumph of the Will (1934, Leni Riefenstahl) 80
[ The extreme example of cinema being used to brilliant and powerful effect but for all the wrong reasons. Leni Riefenstahl’s historical portrait of the National Socialist Party in all its glory is pure propaganda for Hitler’s movement, yet however manipulative it is an impressive piece of filmmaking. The black and white cinematography is spectacular and it’s quite something to see all those “hero shots” of the Fuhrer surrounded by hundreds of thousands of Brown Shirts, SS, Hitler youths and others, all in uniforms and formation, carrying Nazi banners and saluting as one. The DVD Special Edition features audio commentary by historian Dr. Anthony R. Santoro, who helpfully puts what we see into context. ]

(27 Nov) Solaris (2002, Steven Soderbergh) [ review ] 60

(27 Nov) Femme Fatale (2002, Brian De Palma) 62
[ I like Brian De Palma as much as the next guy, having seen about half his films and at least liked all of them, and “Femme Fatale” is no different: it’s a well crafted, fun thriller. Still, I don’t get the 4 star reviews the likes of Roger Ebert have appraised the film with. De Palma pulls a few nice set pieces here, notably a bait-and-switch diamond heist at the 2001 Cannes Film Festival set to a quasi-Bolero score, and it’s nifty how most of the storytelling is done visually (and what dialogue there is is almost all in French!). But with all the violence, sleazy sex and preposterous twists, how is this different than “Original Sin” (which also stars Antonio Banderas as the patsy)? Rebecca Romijn-Stamos is hot as hell in the lead, but De Palma is falling apart under his own stylistic and thematic fixations. At least he does entertainingly so. ]

(28 Nov) Gimme Shelter (1970, Albert & David Maysles) 88
[ They’re all so young and goofy as they perform “Jumping Jack Flash” in the opening moments of this fascinating rockumentary… And then the film cuts to the band members listening to a call-in radio show about their infamous free concert in 1969 at San Francisco’s Altamont Speedway where 300 000 “flower children” clashed with Hell’s Angels hired to do the security and all hell broke loose. To think, it was supposed to be a “microcosmic society which sets the example to the rest of America as to how one can behave in large gatherings”… The ‘60s and the Love Generation’s dreams were definitely over, but the music remains exciting. Mick Jagger is one helluvah performer, backed by arguably the greatest rock & roll band in the world, and it’s a gas gas gas to see them rip through “Satisfaction”, “Honky Tonk Women”, “Street Fighting Man”, “Sympathy for the Devil”, “Under My Thumb”… The film also features appearances by Tina Turner and Jefferson Airplane, and the crowd itself is spectacular, for better or worse. ]

(28 Nov) Barbershop (2002, Tim Story) 55
[ A sweet-spirited ghetto comedy? Hey, why not! Ice Cube’s latest flick is a bit trite and predictable, bit it’s quite amusing at times (especially when Cedric the Entertainer is on screen) and it inspires a nice sense of community. Some of the dialogue is pretty smart too, controversy be damned. ]

(28 Nov) 24 Hour Party People (2002, Michael Winterbottom) 76
[ This free-form narrative film follows promoter Tony Wilson as he finds himself at the center of successive cultural booms in the Manchester music scene of the ‘70s and ‘80s, from an early gig by the Sex Pistols to the emergence of New Wave bands like Joy Division and the Happy Mondays to the first raves. I remember seeing a Behind the Music-type program about that era once and it was very interesting, but nowhere near as out there and irreverent as Michael Winterbottom’s take on it. I love how Steve Coogan (as Wilson) talks directly to the camera to comment on events and how Winterbottom weaves together fact and fiction, truth and legend, throwing in real concert footage then going out on irreverent tangents of fantasy, all the while ignoring the conventions of biopics, making Wilson into “a minor character in his own life”. The end result is a glorious mess, but I believe it’s representative of that time and place. ]

(4 Dec) Max (2002, Menno Meyjes) [ review ] 65

(5 Dec) My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002, Joel Zwick) 6
[ This is THE success story of 2002. The huge box office of flicks like “Spider-Man”, “Attack of the Clones” or “Chamber of Secrets” was expected, but who would have thought that an independent family comedy which opened to less than a million dollars last April would stay in the Top 20 for 33 weeks (and counting!) and gross more than 200 M$? Nonetheless, I managed not to see the film… until now. Soooooo, how’s that “Big Fat Greek Wedding”? Excruciating! What are people thinking? This is barely a movie, it’s a sitcom. An obnoxious, contrived, shallow, trite, boring, badly directed sitcom, rehashing the same old romantic comedy clichés and stereotypical characters, only here they’re Greek stereotypes. Whoop-tee-doo. Ugly girl meets bland hunk who doesn’t notice her until she gets a makeover, they want to get married but her big fat loud Greek family gets in the way. So writer-star Nia Vardalos got Tom Hanks and his own Greek wife to produce this film adaptation of her one-woman-show and through freak circumstances people embraced it… Doesn’t mean it’s any good. The woman might be really likable in real life but it doesn’t show on screen and she’s even less of a writer than an actress. ]

(5 Dec) The Banger Sisters (2002, Bon Dolman) 62
[ This uninspired but surprisingly enjoyable comedy has Goldie Hawn playing sort of a 30-years-later Penny Lane (the groupie Hawn’s daughter Kate Hudson portrayed in Cameron Crowe’s “Almost Famous”). Renamed Suzette, the blond firecracker used to “rattle” rock stars like Jim Morrison back in the ‘70s with her best friend Vinnie (Susan Sarandon). But while Suzette has remained wild, sexual and fun, Vinnie has turned into an uptight rich housewife. Anyone can see where this is going, with the former “banger sisters” clashing but eventually bonding again and learning Valuable Lessons about being true to yourself blah blah blah. Yet while writer-director Bob Dolman fails to breathe much fresh air into this succession of Screenplay 101 clichés, the cast manages to at least make them fun. Goldie Hawn is damn hot and fun and game even though she’s past 50, Susan Sarandon gets good mileage out of her American Beautyish reconnect-with-your-long-lost-mojo character arc, Geoffrey Rush does what he can as an obsessive-compulsive writer who’s also predictably shook up by Suzette and Erika Christensen’s thinly veiled variation on Diane Court proves she could have played Ione Skye’s part in “Say Anything” – yes, another Cameron Crowe film. “The Banger Sisters” is nowhere near as insightful or touching as Crowe’s movies, but it’s a colorful and lively 90 minutes worth sitting through. ]

(6 Dec) La Pianiste (2002, Michael Haneke) 75
[ Isabelle Huppert plays an extremely strict piano teacher smothered by her mother who gets involved sexually with a young student who unleashes her darkest impulses. Michael Heneke directs the film in an almost clinical way. Most of the time his camera and Huppert are utterly impassive, with only great classical music achieving to soften them up somewhat. Hence, it’s quite a shock when explicit sex and violent self-abuse are introduced, and it gets to a point where “La Pianiste” is so messed up that you don’t know where to look. I can’t say I “enjoyed” watching this, but it’s certainly an intense and memorable experience and Huppert gives a rivetingly unrestrained performance. ]

(7 Dec) Legally Blonde (2001, Robert Luketic) [ review ] 72

(8 Dec) One Hour Photo (2002, Mark Romanek) [ review ] 80

(10 Dec) Y Tu Mama Tambien (2002, Alfonso Cuaron) [ review ] 91

(11 Dec) Antwone Fisher (2002, Denzel Washington) [ review ] 85

(11 Dec) Igby goes down (2002, Burr Steers) [ review ] 72

(12 Dec) The Good Girl (2002, Miguer Arteta) [ review ] 40

(15 Dec) In the Mood for Love (2000, Wong Kar-Wai) 63
[ Wong Kar-Wai’s latest is as stylish and visually stunning as his previous films, but it unfolds in a much more understated, quiet and slow manner. You gotta love the exquisite shot composition, Maggie Cheung’s colorful print dresses, the hypnotically repetitive musical cues and Tony Leung’s slow-burn charm, but the plot is so thin and the characters so passive that you could skip and shuffle scenes at random (or turn off the subtitles) without losing much. ]

(15 Dec) Lilo & Stitch (2002, Chris Sanders) 82
[ This animated flick sorta kinda rips off “The Iron Giant”, which itself sorta kinda ripped off “E.T.”, but the story of a kid-and-its-monster is as fun and touching as ever. I love that Lilo is not the usual whitebread Disney heroin, she’s a badass Hawain chick, and Stitch is even more of a hyperactive troublemaker. Add lively drawings, amusing wham-bam sci-fi and an all-Elvis soundtracks and you’ve got yourself 85 minutes of smilin’. ]

(16 Dec) The Essential Goofy (2002, various animators) 80
[ This DVD collection of all the theatrical animated shorts starring Goofy is part of the Walt Disney Treasures series hosted by film critic/historian Leonard Maltin, who set out to preserve these gems from the ‘30s, ‘40’s, ‘50s… Packing more than 4 hours of goofiness over 2 discs, “The Essential Goofy” eventually outstays its welcome (or maybe it’s the later cartoons that aren’t up to par), but for the most part the Goof’s antics are hilarious, thanks to inspired animation and tremendous voice-work by Pinto Colvig. Highlights include the How-to series, especially the ones in which Goofy stumbles through sports like hockey, baseball or skiing, which are pretty darn silly but did make me learn something as a kid: that one shouldn’t take himself too seriously. Goof away! ]

(17 Dec) The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002, Peter Jackson) [ review ] 94

(19 Dec) The Pianist (2002, Roman Polanski) 43
[ It’s hard to criticise a film for being too educational (there were 400 thous- no, 340 000 Jews in Warsaw before World War II and by 1942 they were down to less than 60 000) or too ruthless (Jews are beaten, abused and shot at random), but is there anything about the Holocaust that wasn’t already conveyed to wrenching perfection by “Schindler’s List”? I know, this is history that needs to be told and retold… But must it be in such a generic fashion? The events depicted are horrifying for sure, Roman Polanski’s direction is efficient enough and you can see all the weariness and quiet desperation in the world in Adrien Brody’s eyes, but I still didn’t find “The Pianist” particularly moving or artistically achieved. I think it’s supposed to be about the triumph of the human spirit, but Wladyslaw Szpilman is barely developed as a character so we don’t see much spirit, triumphing as it may be. He gets all the breaks while everyone dies around him, then he hides for half the movie… But he’s a brilliant musician so he deserved to be spared? Again, I don’t want to criticise the man’s life or the filmmakers’ noble intentions, but this just isn’t a great film, Palme d’Or or not. ]

(20 Dec) Gangs of New York (2002, Martin Scorsese) [ review ] 58

(20 Dec) About Schmidt (2002, Alexander Payne) [ review ] 26

(20 Dec) Adaptation (2002, Spike Jonze) [ review ] 83

(21 Dec) Die Another Day (2002, Lee Tamahori) 44
[ Despite an unexpected early setback that has 007 being tortured for 14 months in a North Korean prison (to the sounds of a Madonna techno-dance track!), James Bond is still the same old shallow hard-drinking fast-driving slutty killing machine. Director Lee Tamahori does a decent job trying to liven things up, but this franchise remains hampered by explosive but tiresome action sequences, cheesy one-liners, overly complicated world domination schemes, a fetish for gadgets and rampant misogyny. Pierce Brosnan has the Bond swagger down perfectly by now and Halle Berry’s easy on the eyes, but they’re playing little more than horny action figures and the villains are even more forgettable. The majority opinion seems to be that this is one of the better Bond flicks, but I’ve never been much of a fan of the series and this mildly entertaining new entry didn’t win me over either. ]

(23 Dec) Morvern Callar (2002, Lynne Ramsay) 59
[ And there’s Morvern, alone in her apartment with the corpse of her boyfriend, his suicide note (“Don’t try to understand, it just felt like the right thing to do.” ), his just completed novel on the computer, the Christmas trees with its blinking lights and his to-be-opened gifts to her (including a mix tape). Lynne Ramsay’s follow-up to “Ratcatcher” is an initially engrossing if woefully downbeat quasi-Dogme film (natural locations, hand-held camerawork, no score, sparse dialogue…). Samantha Morton is particularly involving as the title character, but as her denial of her boyfriend’s death stretches and she ends up going on a vacation to Spain with her best friend (Kathleen McDermott), the movie comes undone something fierce and just jerks around in circles for an hour. ]

(24 Dec) The Cat’s Meow (2002, Peter Bogdanovich) 40
[ A depiction of what might have happened during an infamous 1924 weekend party on the yacht of William Randolph Hearst (Edward Herrmann) attended by, amongst others, Charlie Chaplin (Eddie Izzard), Hollywood mogul Thomas Ince (Cary Elwes), gossip columnist Louella Parsons (Jennifer Tilly), novelist Elinor Glyn (Joanna Lumley) and of course, film star and Hearst mistress Marion Davies, portrayed with irresistible spunk by Kirsten Dunst. Unfortunately, she’s one of the few bright spots in this limply directed film dripping with chatty exposition, broad satire and even broader drama. This much whispered about tale is interesting, but the way it’s presented here it’s neither affecting or much fun. ]

(25 Dec) Personal Velocity (2002, Rebecca Miller) 68
[ Rebecca Miller wrote and directed this adaptation of hew own novel which presents three portraits of women struggling to take control of their lives. There’s Delia (Kyra Sedgwick), a housewife with a “strong heavy ass which looked great in blue jeans” who leaves her abusive husband and attempts to make a new life for her kids and her; Greta (Parker Posey), a law school dropout who married for comfort and now has problems with fidelity; and Paula (Fairuza Balk), a pregnant would-be artist who picks up a hitchhiker after a near-death experience. The three stories are only vaguely connected and the film is so literary that it’s like an illustrated novel, with almost wall-to-wall third-person narration putting what we see into context. Yet the narration is really well written and it’s filled out to a great extent by visual storytelling. The digital video cinematography brings a feel of harsh realism, but there are neat touches of whimsy and cinematic flourishes throughout. The movie is a bit uneven, with the Parker Posey story being quite more involving than the others, but “Personal Velocity” overall remains a touching and insightful film. ]

(25 Dec) Catch Me If You Can (2002, Steven Spielberg) [ review ] 91

(28 Dec) The Two Towers (2002, Peter Jackson) [ review ] 94

(29 Dec) Evelyn (2002, Bruce Beresford) 41
[ Overripe melodrama about an Irish man struggling to get the custody of his children back from the Church and the State. Pretty boy Pierce Brosnan is not particularly convincing as a drunken working class single father and director Bruce Beresford wouldn’t know subtlety if it crawled up his ass, but the (true) story in itself is touching. Who wouldn’t want the cute kids to return to their loving father? ]

(30 Dec) Baise-Moi (2000, Virginie Despentes) 33
[ This low-budget French Thelma & Louise without morals flick is hardly more “artistic” or “shocking” than your average porno. Even though it throws in some of that old ultraviolence into the mix, “Baise-Moi” fails to register as more than juvenile provocation. I kinda like the idea of girls who totally discorporate from their sexuality (“I leave nothing precious in my pussy for those jerks”), but beyond that the writing is as rotten as the direction – and the acting. At least it assumes its crassness, unlike the faux-intello posturing of Catherine Breillat or Larry Clark. ]

(30 Dec) 8 Femmes (2002, François Ozon) [ review ] 86

(31 Dec) Vulgar (2002, Bryan Johnson) 10
[ A down-on-his-luck clown (Brian O’Halloran, Dante from “Clerks”) becomes a TV sensation overnight but must still deal with the men who gang-raped him and now want to blackmail him about it. Are you laughing yet? Bryan Johnson, the “writer” and “director” of this “movie”, is apparently not aware that the vulgarity + clown outfit = hilarity equation was proved tiresomely wrong already when Bobcat Goldthwait made “Shakes the Clown”. And just because he’s a friend of Kevin Smith (who exec produced and cameos, as does Jason Mewes) doesn’t mean he has any of his wit. “Vulgar” is an amateurish mess of retarded “humor” drowned in an inexplicably dark rape/revenge storyline. I have no idea who this is supposed to appeal to. ]

2003 LOG BEGINS h e r e