Sexy Beast

Spain’s hot. Too hot. But not for Gal Dove (Ray Winstone), who loves nothing better than to lie by his pool, in the back of gorgeous hacienda out in the sticks, letting the sun almost literally bake him like a turkey. Yeah, this is the life, living off his past accomplishments in glorious retirement with a beautiful wife (Amanda Redman) he loves. But happiness won’t be ever lasting for the couple, as Gal’s shady past comes back to haunt him in the form of Don Logan (Ben Kingsley), a seemingly psychotic gangster he used to work with occasionally before he retired. Ray tries to tell Don just that, to little avail. Logan is here to offer him to go back to London and take part in an ambitious heist. Retirement, schmetirement. Don wants Gal on the job, and that’s that. No? Yes. No, Gal can’t. Yes he can. No he can’t. YES HE CAN! Cause Don frickin’ said so!

Tee hee. “Sexy Beast” is a movie hard to pin down, but whatever your grasp of it is, you can’t help but be sneakily amused by it. It’s a movie all about style and attitude. There’s a plot, but barely. The film lasts less than 90 minutes, and it’s perfect like that. It quickly establishes Ray’s pleasant, sun-drenched life, then shadows it with a sense of nameless dread. Said dread soon gets a name in Don Logan’s, a name which casts a general feeling of uneasiness as soon as it is spoken by Jackie (Julianne White), the wife of one of Gal and his wife DeeDee’s friends. And when Don arrives in Spain, all their bad feelings are confirmed. Don will not leave them alone until he gets what he wants, and he’ll spend at least half the movie harassing Gal into accepting to do one last job. This sounds redundant and dull, but it’s actually endlessly riveting, and the reason for that is Ben Kingsley. Truly, you do not wanna deprive yourself of seeing Kingsley in “Sexy Beast”, especially if you still think of him mostly as the actor who won an actor for playing Gandhi. Don Logan is a whole different ballpark, one badass, tough as nails, foul-mouthed ballpark! This is quite possibly the most intense and memorable performance I’ve seen all year.

“Sexy Beast” is the feature film debut of commercial and music video director Jonathan Glazer. Sometimes this spells trouble, as filmmakers skilled at crafting short pieces strain to make a whole movie as consistent, or they’ll rely on bells and whistles too much and make a pretty but empty picture. Glazer’s film is indeed pure style to a degree, playing on sort of the same turf as Guy Ritchie’s flicks, which also put a Cockney spin on the post-Tarantino gangster flick genre. Except that instead of multiplying characters, overcomplicating things story-wise and staging forced bits of black humor, the Louis Mellis and David Scinto screenplay Glazer’s working from sticks to a few basic ideas which are nicely developed into an exciting, witty modern noir tale. And while the events that occur through the film aren’t all that numerous, they have much weight to them. Logan isn’t just any thug coming for Ray. They have a history of bad blood together, a history which also involves Jackie, for whom Don had/has confused feelings that only make things more awkward. A lot more is implied than is spoken aloud, but that’s part of what makes the film interesting, how it plays in nuances.

Then again, this unwillingness to spell everything out for the audience and the often very thick accents of the cast can make the film difficult to comprehend by moments, and some things are left unanswered, like what’s the implications of all the bunnies pointed or being pointed at by guns, what’s the deal with Gal’s pool boy or even the meaning of the title. Yet even if you find yourself scratching you head, you can always content yourself with enjoying the savvy with which the film is crafted. The cinematography and editing are very dynamic and the powerful visuals are matched by a very effective, beat-heavy score. “Sexy Beast” is not without flaws, but it has a sustained edge in and around Ben Kingsley’s Don Logan that you won’t forget anytime soon.

Shallow Hal

When Hal (Jack Black) was 9, his beloved father died but before he passed away, the old man had time to make his boy promise him one last thing: to not settle for average, and only pursue “hot young tail”. Now all grown up, Hal does just that, judging women solely by their looks and treating them as sex objects. Then one day, he has another influential conversation, this time with TV self-help guru Anthony Robbins (playing himself), who hypnotises him so he’ll only see women’s inner beauty. Thus here he goes flirting with girls he wouldn’t even have had a second thought for before, to the great dismay of his best buddy in bigotry, Mauricio (Jason Alexander). More so, Hal falls in love with fun-loving Rosemary (Gwyneth Paltrow), aware only of what a great personality and a big heart she has. How will he feel when he realises that’s she actually weighs 300 pounds?

I did not want to see this movie. The trailer was horrible. It made the film look like a beyond mediocre comedy, with a premise that seemed not only silly but offensive. Guy is “cursed” into finding fat women hot. Oh, so we get to laugh at all the fatties and how ridiculous it would be to actually love one because, gasp, she’s a good person. And Gwyneth Paltrow in a fat suit? *sigh* Not only did I not laugh once during the trailer, I found some of the jokes so lame that I wanted to avoid seeing the movie just to not have to watch them again. Fat Gwyneth jumps in pool, big splash, little kid is thrown into a tree. *long sigh* Okay, so I ended up seeing the movie anyways. Why, you ask ? Well, first there’s the fact that it’s directed by the Farrelly brothers, whose every film from “Dumb & Dumber” to “Me, Myself & Irene” has made me laugh hard and often. I figured that there had to be some funnies in their latest. And then there’s Jack Black.

Who? JB! Wonderboy! I’m in awe of this guy. I’ve discovered him only last year in “High Fidelity”, in which he stole every scene. Then I saw him in “Saving Silverman” a comedy which, while uneven, had its share of guffaws, many of them thanks to JB. What really made Black a god in my book though is my discovery of his band, Tenacious D. The idea of two overweight, average looking dudes with acoustic guitars proclaiming themselves the greatest band on earth is amusing, but as funny as their CD and their live gigs can be, what’s really surprising is how hard they really rock! When he’s on, Black has the presence of a Jim Morrison, no kidding, you can’t take your eyes off him! And that, my loyal readers, is why I paid good money to see a movie which I wasn’t interested in seeing at all.

Now here’s the funny thing: the movie was surprisingly good. I’m even tempted to say great, but I’ll need another watching or two to confirm my initial reaction. The fatty jokes from the trailer? Barely a few minutes of the running length. Turns out the movie isn’t mocking overweight people, it’s saying OK, some people are big, get over it. They can be as smart, funny and lovable as anyone. Through its protagonist who sees beyond appearances, “Shallow Hal” makes you realise that you should really take the time to know people before saying they’re “not your type”. Beforehand, I deemed the premise hypocritical and artificial, i.e. what good is it if you get to love “ugly” people only by thinking they’re pretty and thin? There’s no worth in being brainwashed into being less shallow, right ? Well, as the film aptly retorts, everyone’s already brainwashed by TV, magazines and movies into thinking teenage anorexics are ideals. Tony Robbins and the movie are only levelling the field for Hal, so he can see past his shallow instincts.

What makes it work for the audience is that by showing us Rosemary looking gorgeous like Gwyneth Paltrow, the picture also makes us not reduce her to her extra pounds. We kind of forget that and get lost in the cutesy love story. We fall for Rosemary along with Hal, we find her cool and interesting and funny, we think they make a nice couple. By the time Hal -and us- finally see her as her natural, wider self, we are able to get past that. She’s still Rosemary, we still love her, and we still want our lovers to get their happy ending. When have the manipulative mechanics of romantic comedies ever been used to communicate such a potent lesson?

“Shallow Hal” confirms something I suspected about Peter and Bobby Farrelly, that they’re not about gross-out humor as much as they’re about heart. The recurring themes in their filmography are not merely bodily fluids and functions but love and friendship. What makes their movies succeed in the end, I think, is that they’re about often unusual people making good together. We’ve seen sympathetic characters in their films who were dumb (and dumber), bowling players, Amish, retarded, handicapped, schizophrenic, albino, overweight. Sure, they have jokes about these differences, but it’s not mean, it’s like they only want to include them in the comedy, to judge everyone fair game. Take Walt, a supporting character in “Hal” who’s afflicted with spina bifida, which restrains him to walk on all four. Actor Rene Kirby’s condition is sometimes played for laughs, but what comes through mostly is how happy and fulfilled he seems, and how he’d be the first to take a crack at himself. This reminds me of an anecdote told by legendary French Canadian comedy group Rock et Belles Oreilles in their DVD anthology. They talk about how, after a skit in which they played blind hockey players aired, the Association for the Blind not only didn’t protest but they gave them an award! I guess people prefer to be included in good humor than be taken in pity.

But I’m getting sappy here: it *is* the Farrellys we’re talking about, and they still have a knack for making you laugh hard. They’re not filmmaking visionaries, but their movies have a smooth flow, bright visuals and consistently enjoyable alt pop soundtracks. They also get solid work from their actors. Jack Black, of course, rocks. He might not have conventional leading man good looks, but his natural charisma more than makes up for it and, dare I say, that makes him sexy. He’s got some really funny men-behaving-badly scenes with Jason Alexander, playing a rowdier, dumber George Costanza with sprayed on hair, and he actually has chemistry with Paltrow. She really shines in the film, endearingly playing as insecure and self-conscious. You just want to hug her, with or without the fat suit (which doesn’t look as grotesque as it could have, thankfully).

So there you have it. Yes, “Shallow Hal” ‘s marketing campaign made it look unfunny and offensive but as it nicely reminds us itself, you shouldn’t pass judgement on appearances alone. While it’s quite often hilarious, it’s not the Farrelly’s funniest, but it’s probably their most mature, heartfelt movie.

The One

Hey, y’all, what do you know? We thought we were living in a universe, right? Well we were wrong, this is in fact a multiverse! There are countless (well, 125) dimensions similar but different in varying degrees to ours, and there is another version of you in each of these dimensions. In one particular world, unlike here though, people are aware of this reality, and they’ve even found a way to hop from one dimension to another. But wait, it is highly RESTRICTED! There’s even a multiverse police to keep thing balanced. Cause there needs to be a balance. So things remain, er, balanced. Unfortunately, there’s a bad little boy named Yulaw (Jet Li) who decided to travel illegally between worlds, systemically killing each of his selfs? Why? Because apparently, everytime one of your other “you” dies, his energy is divided between the survivors. Yulaw figures that if he kills all of his personas, he’ll become a God!

But what about natural death? Everyone dies eventually, do those who live longest get stronger and stronger? How many 90 year olds do you know who can dodge bullets and crush cars? And why exactly 125 dimensions? And why does there have to be the same people in each, only with different hair or a different job? And what is it about black holes and breaches and whatnot that make it possible for one to slide into another world? And… Dah, why bother? I could spend all night trying to make sense of the huge gaps in logic “The One” suffers from, but I’ll sum them up as such: it’s a STOOPID movie! TV writers James Wong and Glen Morgan’s screenplay is an astonishing achievement in the field of mediocre, pseudo sci-fi writing. Monkeys could come up with less leaky concepts!

One might suggest that this being a Jet Li action film, the plot doesn’t matter. Well, if there was 10 minutes of it and then 80 of badass kung-fu, I might fall for it. But this is a movie in which the fights are few and far between, and in the meantime we have to sit through scene after scene of exposition hogwash debited dead serious by really bad actors. Delroy “Mr. Potato Head” Lindo embarrasses himself as a Multiverse cop with incomprehensible motivation paired with Jaston Statham, who commits an even more obnoxious, unconvincing non-performance as his idiotic, “procedure is bullshit” partner. Worst still is the tacked on, ultra cheesy and derivative love story with Carla Gugino.

You just know that “The One” was green-lighted just for this pitch, “Jet Li against Jet Li”. Then why did they have to bury this geeky thrill into retarded inter-dimensional nonsense? It does lead to some tasty eye candy, I’ll grant that much. Wong (who directed his script) does have some visual flair. There are a few pretty cool scenes in which one of the Jet Lis does some superhuman stuff, like killing guys four times before they hit the ground or using motorcycles like fly swappers. Wong rips off “The Matrix”‘s signature bullet-time shots, but it’s used effectively. Yet as stated, there isn’t enough action in the film to compensate for the utter dullness of its plot.

Like Wong’s other superficially well crafted movie “Final Destination”, “The One” turns out to be a confused, shallow, pointless mess. Even the initially cool fighting gets repetitive, and the climactic Li-on-Li showdown is a big letdown, with a lot of distracting camera trickery but very little actual physical prowess. What’s cool about Jet Li is that he’s this little, harmless looking fella but when he gets mad, he can fight like a god. Smacking a lot of special effects over this can be nice, but not when it overshadows what Li does best. “The One” is a must-miss, unless you’re a diehard Jet Li fan. Even then, you might be better off not seeing him in a film so bad even The Rock turned it down.

The Man Who Wasn’t There

Ah, the Coen brothers. You really can’t pin those lads down. Then again, you couldn’t mistake one of their films for anyone else’s. Their big thing seems to be to take an established genre, like gangster films or Capra feel-good comedies, reproduce it down to the smallest details, then start wedging in a bunch of more or less subtle odd touches. Someone taking just too long to die. Golden age wrestling. A Cyclops. Killer thieves watching the Tonight Show. The Dude, abiding. Henceforth, what looked like an utterly classic, by-the-numbers genre piece ends up being an offbeat, hard to define movie not quite like anything you’ve seen before. Take “Fargo”, their best film in my opinion. There’s this man, who has his own wife kidnapped to score a ransom from her wealthy father. Yawn, right? Yet watch as the Coen bring in the most unlikely of cops, an amusingly down-to-earth pregnant woman. Sometimes, though, the Coen’s work can be obnoxious, like in last year’s misguided “O Brother Where Art Thou?”, their dull one-joke redneck comedy (wonderful soundtrack, though).

And then there’s films like “Raising Arizona” or this one which, while they don’t work perfectly, have well enough great things about them to be memorable. “The Man Who Wasn’t There” is the Coen’s take on the film noir. Shot in glorious black-and-white, set in northern California in the late 1940s, with all the nice big American cars, the old fashioned hairstyles (“the executive contour”), everyone’s smoking drenching every shot with moody smoke. And at the centre of it all, another iconic Coen character in Ed Crane, played with evocative reserve by Billy Bob Thornton.

Crane works the second chair at his brother-in-law Frank (Michael Badalucco)’s barber shop. Crane is a man of few words. “I don’t talk much. I just cut the hair.” And so he does, keeping to himself, the eternal cigarette dangling between his lips. He’s the kind of man you don’t notice, a man without stories. But he does have a pretty wife in Doris (Frances McDormand), who works as an accountant in a department store downtown, he’s got a nice bungalow, an electric ice machine, garbage disposal… He’s got it made.

Yeah. But Ed’s not content with his station in life. He’s fed up with being “the barber”. Second chair barber at that. So when he hears about this new thing which is supposed to become a cash cow, something called dry-cleaning, he’s intrigued. And tempted. It sounds crazy (“cleaning, without water!”), but what if this is his big opportunity? All he needs is ten grands to launch himself. He doesn’t have the capital, but he soon figures out a blackmailing scheme directed at his wife’s boss (James Gandolfini), with whom she’s two-timing him. A simple plan. Unfortunately, simple plans have a tendency to get complicated, especially if you’re an everyman character in a film noir pastiche who’s stepping out of line for the first time. I won’t get into the specifics, but the Coen bros are far from being done with their barber.

The film is almost melodramatic in its unflinching succession of cruelly ironic twists. It walks a very fine line between tragedy and ridicule, and it’s hard to tell which the filmmakers would rather lean towards. To me, this is the main reason why I found “The Man Who Wasn’t There” good, but not great. It had the potential to be emotionally wrenching and thematically haunting, but just too often Joel and Ethan Coen can’t help but get silly and take potshots at the genre. Those are actually pretty funny, like when Ed’s potential dry cleaning partner (Jon Polio) makes a pass at him (“That was way out of line!”), or when Big Dave’s wife (Katherine Borowitz) rambles on about UFOs, but it takes you out of the story. The Coen say their movie is about “existential dread”, but you get the feeling it’s also a joke to them. Of course, I can’t pretend to know what their intents truly are, but this is the impression I got, that they cared less about involving us with the characters’ ordeal than about being clever.

Still, if only on an aesthetic level, “The Man Who Wasn’t There” is one of the most beautifully crafted movies they’ve made. I couldn’t get enough of Roger Deakins‘ b&w cinematography, of the almost expressionistic use of light and shadow, the Carter Burwell score playing around Beethoven sonatas. And then there’s the Coen’s wonderfully rich and colorful dialogue dispensed by Billy Bob Thornton (mostly in deadpan voice-over) and by the all-around great supporting cast. James Gandolfini has strong presence without relying on his Tony Soprano mannerisms, Frances McDormand is interestingly colder and sultrier than usual, Tony Shalhoub steals many scenes as a smarmy, full of b.s. lawyer. There’s also a few very nice, ambiguous scenes between Thornton and Scarlett Johansson, who plays a pretty young girl whom Crane likes to watch play the piano. So, even though I wish the Coen had invested themselves in their story more seriously, they more than make up for it with style and atmosphere.

Monsters, Inc

You know how, as a kid, you thought that monsters would come out from the closet at night? Well, you were right! Every day, at the Monsters, Inc. factory down in Monstropolis, monsters go through inter-dimensional portals which open into the bedrooms of children all around the world. They proceed to frighten said kids in order to make them scream. For you see, in the monster’s world, children’s screams are the main source of energy, powering cars, lighting houses, everything. The top scarer at Monsters, Inc. is James P. Sullivan (John Goodman), an 8 foot tall, blue-with-pink-polka-dots haired monster who’s coached by his best friend Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal), a one-eyed green thingie. Their success at the company is threatened when they somehow let a 3 year old girl into Monstropolis, which is a very bad thing because human children are, of course, the most toxic and dangerous thing there is. Or so they think.

“Monsters, Inc.” is the latest from Pixar, the computer animation geniuses behind the “Toy Story” movies. Once again, their technical wizardry gets further more impressive. It seems that with every movie, they become more skilled at making everything look stunning, creating rich and large universes filled with imaginative, offbeat details. Yet while there is an endless collection of creatures of all shapes and sizes in the movie, the most amazing creation might just be Boo, the little girl. Now, she’s not a technically perfect replica of a human, as it wouldn’t fit the overall somehow cartoony feel of the picture, but her expressions and behaviour and all the thoughtful little touches brought by the Pixar guys are incredibly life-like. You forget that she’s just a bunch of pixels and you actually start to care for her, as if she was real.

This also goes for Mike and Sully, who might look freaky but soon reveal themselves to be some jolly good guys. John Goodman gives Sully his big-bear-who’s-really-a-softie attitude and he becomes a completely endearing character. Just visually, he’s a treat, with the alleged 3 million animated hairs of his fur which makes you wanna grab him and pet him, but even better is how he’s given a personality and feelings. It’s particularly touching to watch him opening up and becoming affectionate and protective towards Boo. Mike is mostly there for comic relief, with Billy Crystal doing his shtick, but he’s likable too and the friendly back-and-forth between Sully and him is nice. The film also features the voice talents of Steve Buscemi as a chameleon-like vilain, James Coburn as the grumpy boss of the factory and Jennifer Tilly as Mike’s snake-haired girlfriend.

“Monsters, Inc.” is obviously targeted at kids, so there isn’t much depth to its story, which is little more than a continuous succession of chases filled with eye candy and slapstick, but it’s crafted with enough heart, skill and energy to entertain audiences of all ages. Personally, I preferred the rowdier, funnier “Shrek” or even more so, Richard Linklater’s mind-blowing cartoon for adults “Waking Life”, but if “Monsters, Inc.” wins the first Best Animated Film Oscar next March (and it probably will), I won’t be displeased. There’s nothing wrong with just being a lot of fun.

Ghost World

Enid (Thora Birch) and Rebecca (Scarlett Johansson) have known each other since they were kids. They always had that us against them thing, hanging on the fringe of the world and having a good laugh at its expense while trying to figure out what other possibilities they have. Cause it’s easy to name what you don’t care for, what’s harder is pinpointing what you do want of life exactly. Like, now that they’re out of high school after yearning for years to be free to go their own way, they’re looking into getting jobs and an apartment, but things haven’t really changed overnight just because they’ve graduated. They’re still stuck in the land of mini malls and fake 50s dinners, home to the free but also the idiotic, the ridiculous and the pathetic. They still have their sarcasm, but even that’s wearing thin…

Thus is the setting of “Ghost World”, a fantastic little film with a very particular tragicomic tone. Often times, you’re not sure whether to laugh or cry; the movie can be hilarious at times, but it can also get quite depressing. But then, through the helping hand of the movie gods, hope presents itself. Not in the form of phony Hollywood schmaltz, but in something nice and simple like making a new friend. Enid, meet Seymour (Steve Buscemi), a funny looking fortysomething loner who divides himself between an inconsequential desk job and his passion for vintage 20s and 30s blues 78″ records. He’s sort of a dork, but Enid is intrigued by him so they start spending time together and then… Well, you’ll see! Just don’t expect the usual clichés and forced resolutions. This isn’t a movie driven by bogus plot mechanics, but by the nature of its complex, unusual characters.

“Ghost World” is based on the comic book by Daniel Clowes, who wrote the adaptation himself with Terry Zwigoff, who also directs. His first fiction feature, this is in the same vein as his acclaimed 1995 documentary “Crumb”, about famed cartoonist (and Zwigoff friend) Robert Crumb, a renown misfit. Both pictures denote an aversion for the mainstream and an affection for “beautiful losers”. Indeed, there’s real heart and truth to the film beyond the satirical jabs and the colourful visual look (which is in keeping with the illustrated source material). While the central figures are multi-dimensional and well defined, the people who revolve around them are seen as caricatures. There’s the out of touch father (Bob Balaban), the pushover buddy (Brad Renfro) who works at the 7-11, his Greek boss and the mulleted doofus who are always at each other’s throat, Enid’s kooky summer school art teacher (Illeana Douglas), the old man who waits all day every day at a bus stop even though that bus line has been cancelled… The broad strokes with which the supporting cast is drawn puts the leads more into perspective, and we get to see how shallow and bizarre the world appears to them.

Enid, as played by Thora Birch, is an original and compelling character. I like that even though she doesn’t fit in, she’s not a shy wallflower, she’s extraverted and outgoing. This differentiates her from Jane, Birch’s character in “American Beauty”: Enid doesn’t just mope, she creates her own style and gets her kicks her way, whether it be by wearing a Catwoman mask or following strange people. That’s how she gets to know Seymour, a character who’s actually not in the Eight Ball comics. He was created by Zwigoff as a variation of himself and friends of his (Crumb himself must have been an inspiration). Maybe this is his silly fantasy of getting laid by a cool young girl who “gets” him. One way or the other, Seymour is a wonderful part and Steve Buscemi is great in it. He’s often cast as an offbeat, nervous crook, but here we see a softer side of him. Birch and him make an unlikely couple, but they have chemistry and their relationship is surprisingly touching. “Ghost World” is short on noise and flash, but it’s one of the most genuine and smart films I’ve seen all year.

Captain Corelli’s Mandolin

Here’s a film with all the right ingredients which somehow manages to taste bland as a hell. I mean, it’s directed by John Madden , who previously did the wonderful “Shakespeare in Love”, it has a stellar cast led by Nicolas Cage, one of my very favorite actors, and it’s shot by John Toll, who was also the director of photography on “The Thin Red Line”, one of the greatest looking films in recent memory. It’s an adaptation of a Louis de Bernieres novel by screenwriter Shawn Slovo. I haven’t read the book, but had one reviewer go: “If you read nothing else in this life, you must read Captain Corelli’s Mandolin”. Okay, this was proclaimed by one of those fangirls but still, how could a best-seller which meant so much to at least that one girl be turned into so forgettable a film?

1940, the beautiful Greek island of Cephallonia, home to doctor Iannis (a hard to recognize but enjoyable John Hurt) and his daughter Pelagia. She’s engaged to local fisherman Mandras (Christian Bale), but she might be more interested in following her father’s foot steps and studying medicine than settling into marriage. Life on the island is good and simple, until the war raging in mainland Europe threatens to come disturb things here too. The Greeks have fought and even on occasion defeated Mussolini’s troops, but when Hitler’s Nazi troops join in, they’re forced to surrender. Enter the Italian army on Cephallonia, trying to take over the island without rocking things to much. Dr. Iannis is ordered to let a Captain stay in his home, which doesn’t please him much until he meets the man. Antonio Corelli (Nicolas Cage) turns out to be not a brutish soldier but a soft-tempered, opera loving, mandolin playing gentleman. And Palagia herself grows to care for this enemy in their home…

Spells trouble, right? Well, not really. For the longest time, the movie is mostly about people hanging around while nothing much happens. All the soldiers seem to do is sing opera, get drunk and flirt with girls. You start wondering whether this is a musical or a war film! There was potential for another “Pearl Harbor” (I mean this as a good thing, I’m one of the few who gave it a positive review last May), with a love triangle set against wartime, but Corelli and Pelagia’s romance is surprisingly inconsequential. You neither get the feeling that their passion is overwhelming or that much is at stake. He gets a boner from watching her dance, she gets wet from hearing him play the mandolin… They roll in the hay, they profess their love and then… Well, nothing ! You’d expect Pelagia’s father to oppose her affair, but he actually approves it. Then, surely, Mandras will fight for his woman, right? Nah, he just mopes a little but does nothing about it. It’s as if the filmmakers purposely avoid any drama, how dull is that!

Eventually, trouble does occur, as the Germans pop in and decide that the Italians haven’t been hard enough on the Greeks, so we get a lot of planes, jeeps, tanks, explosions, soldiers shooting or getting shot… But it’s all mostly just noise, there is little to drive the story. Maybe they could have gone for tear-jerking tragedy, or honourable sacrifice, anything to make the love story more dramatic, but no such thing happens. What twist we get is that **SPOILER WARNING Corelli leaves the island because the Germans want to kill him because he fought on the Greek’s side. Yet I wasn’t moved by how our lovers were separated. I mean, can’t Pelagia just go to frickin’ Italy with him? Where’s the problem? END OF SPOILER** We eventually get the obligatory happy end, but it has no impact: we don’t learn anything, we don’t think anything, we don’t feel anything. Yawn.

I’m not quite sure what went wrong. Cage and Cruz are pretty good. There aren’t much sparks flying between them, but they’re cute together. Cage’s Italian accent is laughable at first, but you get used to it and he seems to have really mastered the mandolin (for those two scenes at least). It’s no great performance, though. The only actor who really leaves a strong impression is Christian Bale, with his manly, proud Mandras, a simple fisherman willing to fight for his country against impossible odds. There’s a fire to him that’s absent from the rest of the film. He’s actually more deserving of getting the girl and the screen time than Corelli. I can’t believe he doesn’t get to beat the girly Italian’s ass and make his girl see that he’s the bigger man. Maybe then this wouldn’t be such a vapid picture. As it is, the only reason to see it is John Toll’s gorgeous cinematography, which offers us such gorgeous sights as blue skies and seas, lush vegetation, rocky earthy hills, sandy white beaches and Penelope Cruz’ naked boobies…

Apocalypse Now Redux

I first saw “Apocalypse Now” as a teenager on some classic movies cable network, and it blew my mind. A few years later, I talked a bunch of friends and the (then) love of my life into watching it, and I was once again amazed as were, I was happy to find out, the rest of the girls and boys used to your “Men In Black”, “Top Gun” and whatnot. Yet even though the 1979 film is already one of those films really special to me, I wasn’t ready for the impact of this “Redux”. This isn’t merely a re-release, or a half-assed Director’s Cut. This is a re-imagining of Francis Ford Coppola’s classic Viet-Nam epic. He didn’t just add a few new scenes, or tinker with the special effect like Lucas did with his “Star Wars” trilogy. He actually went back to the editing room with his load of some 5 hours of footage and crafted a whole new cut, this time with no pressures to make it shorter or in any way different than his own daring, artistic vision. What we get is a film which is not only almost an hour longer but also different in tone, pace and feeling.

You probably know the story by now, a variation on Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” novel in which colonial Africa is replaced by war-bound Viet-Nam. Our unlikely hero is Captain Willard (Martin Sheen) who, when we first meet with him, is depressed and piss drunk in his hotel room, aching to get a new assignment, anything to occupy his mind. He gets more than he’s asked for when his superiors send him on a very secret, very touchy mission : to “terminate with extreme prejudice” Colonel Kurtz (Marlon Brando). The catch is that Kurtz is not an enemy, but an American officer who apparently went nuts. Willard himself will soon start questioning his own sanity, as his journey through the hell that is war wears him down more and more. Death is never very far, and for what ? This isn’t World War II where the Nazis are clearly to be stopped, this is a conflict that has cocky, brutish U.S. troops bombing harmless villages so they can go surfing, abusing clueless peasants, basically screwing up a whole country just because they don’t jive politically and economically with the capitalist regime…

John Milius (who co-wrote the film with Coppola and Esquire’s war correspondent in Nam Michael Herr) describes “Apocalypse Now” as a modern “Odyssey”, with the Cyclops becoming surf-obsessed commanding officer Kilgore (played by Robert Duvall) with a thing for “the smell of napalm in the morning”, and the Sirens working as Playboy bunnies sent to cheer up the troops. Other twists include a tiger attack, a tense confrontation with a suspicious merchant boat, a visit to an aimless military camp devoid of a c.o. described as “the asshole of the world”. These scenes we were all familiar with, but in “Redux” there’s more. There’s a fun scene in which Willard and his boys steal Kilgore’s beloved surf board which establishes furthermore the camaraderie between them and an amusing enough scene with the Playmates where they trade sexual favours for some of Willard’s diesel fuel.

And then there’s the infamous French plantation sequence, which takes up most of the additional hour of footage. As far as I’m concerned, the jury is still out on that. I thought the discussion of the war between the Frenchmen was quite interesting, and the bit where Willard is seduced by a blasée French woman is both sensual and eerie, but I think this extended tangent somehow breaks the flow of the film. The other major addition to the film comes along in its riveting last act, when Willard finally arrives in Cambodia to the end of the river and the village where Kurtz rules like a pagan god over the natives, who are willing to kill or be killed for him. I love how Coppola uses Marlon Brando, as a rarely seen upfront but always felt menacing presence, sorta kinda like the shark in “Jaws”.

Through the film, we’ve gone through Kurtz’ dossier with Willard and we are eager to see how such a admirable officer could have gone this far off the deep end, but when we get to him, we hardly get to take a good look at him. Draped in shadows, slithering away from the frame, Brando presides over his people, and over Willard. The new material involves Kurtz reading to Willard from a Time article blabbering about how there is hope to this war again and things are smelling better. “Can you smell that, soldier?”. Priceless. I think that single line justifies this whole “Redux” business. More so, there’s absolutely no way you can miss seeing this oh so powerful picture on a big screen in a glorious new Technicolor dye transfer print. Right from the start, there’s no help being hooked, as you can hear helicopters approaching from all the way behind you and seemingly flying over you to bomb the jungle on screen, as the percussive opening notes of The Doors’ “The End” gradually fill your ears. And then the montage with the flapping ceiling fan over Willard’s soiled hotel bed, and the unforgettable first words of the film’s wonderfully used narration, “Saigon. Shit. I’m still only in Saigon.”

Or what about the classic helicopter raid set to Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” which, 22 years of supposed advances in special effects and moviemaking techniques later, still stands as one of the most breathtaking action sequences ever made. There’s also all the great performances, from Sheen to Duvall to Brando by the way of Dennis Hopper, playing a constantly stoned photographer who worships Kurt and the rock and roller private played by a teenage Laurence “Larry” Fishburne. “Apocalypse Now” was always a unique cinematic journey, a surreal orgy of images and sounds, beauty and horror. It was one of the best movies of the ’70s, and “Apocalypse Now Redux” might be the best movie to be released in 2001. It’s certainly better than anything Coppola made in the 22 years in between, and it puts to shame most of what takes up screens these days. If there’s ever been a must-see, this is it.

NOTE: An updated version of this review was written upon the release of the Apocalypse Now: The Complete Dossier DVD

Freddy Got Fingered

Gord Brody (Tom Green) is a 28 year old slacker who finally leaves home to go to Hollywood and pursue is dream of working as a cartoon animator. Of course, making it as an artist is not that easy, and Gord finds himself rejected by a studio executive (Anthony Michael Hall) and stuck in a cheese sandwich factory, a dead-end job if there ever was one. So he returns to Portland and moves back in his parents’ basement, much to the disenchantment of his father (Rip Torn). Dad wants him to get a job, but Brody prefers to take it easy drawing his “doodles”, skateboarding with his best buddy (Harland Williams) and hanging with his wheelchair-bound rocket scientist girlfriend (Marisa Coughland). Henceforth begins a war between father and son where no blow is too low, be it destroying Gord’s skateboard ramp or denouncing Daddy as a child molester who’d fingered younger brother Freddy (Eddie Kaye Thomas).

It’s been advanced that insanity and genius are two sides of a same reality, two somehow intertwined extremes. Tom Green’s oeuvre is a good example of that. From his original Canadian show to its reinvented MTV version, Green has made a name for himself by pulling the most demented stunts, be it humping a dead moose, putting a horse’s head in his parents’ bed à la Godfather or make a whole show of his real-life removal of a cancer-ridden testicle. Some will dismiss it all as the work of a wacko, but others find it kind of brilliant in an admittedly very quirky way. I fall in the latter category, finding Green to be a fearless performer with an intriguing vision. He stole and ran away with “Road Trip” last year, and now with “Freddy Got Fingered” (which he co-wrote and directed), he’s come up with, in his own words, “the stupidest, most disgusting movie you’ve ever seen”.

He starts off with a familiar tone, that of many an 80s teen comedy, with an early scene showing him skateboarding through a shopping mall while a security guard chases him. Then his parents wave him goodbye as he leaves home, and then… He stops his car by a farm, runs up to a horse, grabs its erecting penis and starts jerking it vigorously! How many 80s comedies provided such a sight? Right there, you know if this movie is for you. Unsurprisingly, many people aren’t interested in a picture featuring inter-species hand-jobs. For instance, if you look at sites like Rotten Tomatoes, you’ll see that “Freddy Got Fingered” has received nearly nothing but brutally negative reviews. To many a film reviewer, it seems this is the bottom of the barrel and then some.

Well, once again, I beg to differ. Yes, Tom Green’s directorial debut is juvenile, vulgar, generally sloppily crafted, offensive and thoroughly retarded. Then again, it’s the most hilarious movie I’ve seen so far this year, and Green is rivetingly grotesque. Syndicated critic Roger Ebert loathed the film but accurately described the film as a “milestone of neo-surrealism”. Indeed, for every gross-out scene involving a bloody deer carcass or whatnot, we get delightfully absurd moments like Green playing keyboards with attached sausages or the “backwards man”. In any case, I’ll take wretched fun like “Freddy Got Fingered” over a (supposedly) sophisticated bore like last week’s Bridget Jones’ Diary any day.


Ohmigod. This movie just gets better! Yes, I know, the vast majority of critics hated it; James Berardinelli even wrote he has “gotten better entertainment value from a colonoscopy” (whatever gets you off, dude!). I don’t get it. Or maybe it’s “they” who don’t get it. I truly believe writer-director-star Tom Green has done something special here. Even if you don’t find his humor funny (I personally think it’s hilarious), his film is still rivetingly offbeat. There’s all this weird and weirder stuff that keeps happening. But then again, it actually holds itself, there IS a story. A nice story, about man-child who wants to be an artist but whose ambitions are squashed by his father who wants him to quit dreaming and get a stupid day job. There’s even a love story worked in, and it’s actually sweet how Betty inspires Gordy to not give up. Of course, all this generally degenerates into insanity, but this is a Tom Green movie after all!

I find Gordy to be an endearing character, I like the scenes with his crippled girlfriend, the dynamic between him and his dad is fun. The cast is good, from an unrecognizable Anthony Michael Hall to the shameless Rip Torn, the charming and funny Marisa Coughland and deadpan performances from Eddie Kaye Thomas and Harland Williams. Green himself is just, whoa. To me, he’s an artist. You can’t deny he has a wild imagination. The things he does with his voice, his body, his face. He also turns out to be a surprisingly good director; very few comedies are this visually inventive, and the punk soundtrack is awesome. Or, going back to his screenplay, it’s hard to fathom how he can come up with bits of dialogue like this particularly zesty one, from a scene where Gordy tells his mom she deserves better than his dad : “If I were you, I would show him that I deserve respect. If I were you I would go out, I’d have sex with strange men, I’d have sex with basketball players. I’d have sex with Greeks, men from Greece.” Here’s a rather classic scene, the son telling his mother she doesn’t have to put up with her abusive husband, yet look how Green goes out on a tangent way into too-much-information territory!

But here I am reviewing the movie again when I should really be telling you about the DVD extras, which are really enjoyable. Well, if you loathe the movie, I doubt they will change your mind, but if you like Green, you’ll love this disc. Extra features include trailers, TV spots, a featurette, a half hour behind-the-scenes MTV special, as well as an audience participation track from the premiere of the movie. I only listened to a bit of that, since I couldn’t see the point; there’s also a track like that on the “Rocky Horror” DVD, but that’s a movie where background noise is expected. More interesting are the deleted scenes, which include a cameo by Canadian unfunny late night host Mike Bullard, scenes with Gord’s Uncle Neal and his Native American gay lover and a rather nifty spoof of the opening of “Apocalypse Now” which had to be axed because The Doors were asking 400 grands for the rights to “The End”.

And then there’s the commentaries. There are a few scene-specific ones by the actors which are pretty straight-forward (though Harland Williams sounds stoned on his), but it’s the one by Green that you really need to hear. It’s a demented, silly track which is almost as funny as the movie itself. Hear about the slickness of horse penises, about how the movie is similar to a Three’s Company episode, hear Green choke on a coffee stirring stick and do a lot of inane play-by-play (“here I am. oh I’m acting.. music, music.”). And when he runs out of things to say, Green actually makes a bunch of “irrelevant sounds” or sings ! Actually, we do learn a little about the making of the movie, like how autobiographical it can be, since real-life Green used to love skateboarding and flipping creamers (!) and he had to move back into his parents’ basement when he was struggling to find a way to get paid to be stupid.

Green also gets back at the critics, namely EW’s Owen Gleiberman who not only panned the movie but went on to write that Green had “a hyperactive computer addict’s stringbean body, a wimp’s receding profile (his goatee seems to be shouting, “I know I’m here to fill out this guy’s loser face!”), and the rabid, staring eyes of a deranged lizard.” Talk about a personnal attack! I don’t blame Green for raging on in his commentary about how critics “are old. and bored, and cynical. I hate them all!” Sour grapes aside, Green does make some good points about how he was really trying to “send up the formula of mainstream movies”, or how they relatively “took the high road. No poo poo or pee pee. Like Annie Hall.” Not quite, but I stand by my belief that “Freddy Got Fingered” is by far the most underrated film of the year, when it’s actually been one of the most entertaining. See, Tom, some people *did* get it.

Joe Dirt

This movie is the latest release from Adam Sandler’s production company, Happy Gilmore, which previously brought us “Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo” and “Little Nicky”. For some people, this will inspire nameless dread, but not to me. Au contraire, from the first time I saw images from “Joe Dirt”, I was grinning hard and looking forward to it. Sure, movies like this aren’t high art, not by a long stretch, but they’re wildly entertaining. Critics tend to put all lowbrow comedies in the same basket, dismissing them as juvenile gross-out humor, failing to see that there’s a difference between the an audience insulting, mean spirited movie and a comparatively harmless goofy little movie. Sandler’s movies are most often “inner circle” affairs, put together between college buddies, old Saturday Night Live castmates and various recurring hang-arounds having a good time. Here, for instance, Sandler acts as executive producer while David Spade stars (he also co-wrote the script with Fred Wolf).

The movie revolves around Joe Dirt (Spade), a mullet and trash ‘stache wearin’, rock concert T-shirt, acid wash jean sportin’, badass chain-steering-wheeled car drivin’ dude who works as a janitor at a trendy Los Angeles radio station. He somehow catches the eye of popular shock jock DJ (Dennis Miller) who, fascinated by this “white trash treasure”, puts him on the air and gives him the opportunity to tell the world (well, Southern California) his story. So we follow Joe as he reminisces by his bizarre life, starting from when his parents lost him during a visit to the Grand Canyon at age 8. He tells about how he went from foster home to foster home, passed through reform school and then settled for a while in the postcard perfect Silver Town, where he befriended the bodacious Brandy (Brittany Daniel) and her dog Charlie, only to leave again to cross the country looking for his parents…

Which, of course, is just an excuse to kick off a not that usual road movie which has our pathetic hero working at various loser jobs, getting into plenty of wacky situations and meeting colorful people like rapcore superstar Kid Rock (who’s actually a lot of fun) as Dirt’s muscle car driving nemesis, Kevin Nealon as a greasy mechanic, Jaime Pressly as a trailer park beauty, Roseanne Arquette as a gator farm owner (check out that shirt!), Brian Thompson as a redneck who’s watched “Silence Of The Lambs” one too many time, Adam Beach as the wise Kicking Wing, as well as Christopher Walken, who steals the movie as creepy school janitor Clem.

First time director Dennie Gordon, while not being the future of Hollywood or anything, crafts a good looking, nicely paced ride packed with macho arena rock anthems from Bachman-Turner Overdrive, Def Leppard and others. It’s like “Forrest Gump”, but with flaming cow farts, a smelly meteor, frozen testicles, incestuous sex, canine copulation, a gator attack, a hot air balloon in the shape of a tooth and various other ventures into bad taste. All of which could make for a pretty horrible time, except that it’s all in good fun. Unlike a movie like “Meet the Parents” in which the filmmakers seem to hate their protagonist and be out to humiliate him in the cruellest ways, here Joe Dirt is actually made to be a sympathetic character. As portrayed by David Spade, who for once holds back the cynicism and attitude to disappear under Dirt’s blond mullet, Joe is often ridiculous and rather dumb, but there’s a sweetness to him. In that aspect, “Joe Dirt” reminds of feel good 80s comedies in which even the saddest individuals are entitled to a happy end.