2001

Pearl Harbor (2001, Michael Bay)

Pearl Harbor is a couple things. It’s a breathtaking historical visualization of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. And it’s a patronizing, cynical, disinterested war melodrama. The big problem with the melodrama is Randall Wallace’s script, which is vapid at best. It also barely factors in to the attack sequence. The attack sequence is all director Bay, for better and for worse, along with some unfortunate digital blurring to keep the rating down.

The Pearl Harbor sequence comes about halfway through. The movie runs three hours, the attack is at eighty minutes. Before the attack, there are some scenes with the Japanese (led by Mako and Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, who are both great) planning the attack and the Americans worrying about an attack. The Americans are mostly Jon Voight as FDR, Dan Aykroyd as the Naval Intelligence guy who can’t convince anyone to be worried, and Colm Feore as the Pearl Harbor base commander. But even if Aykroyd did get boss Graham Beckel to listen, the Japanese plan was too good. The Americans are just unprepared, which actually brings in the closest thing to a political statement the film makes. It makes various implications regarding the American military brass, as opposed to guys on the ground like Feore or Alec Baldwin’s Doolittle; Voight’s FDR isn’t with the brass either. It’s… interesting.

It’s probably what happens when history fails the politics of the filmmakers.

In other words, the film does a terrible job essaying how 1941 felt to the average person. Because Wallace does a crappy job in general and Bay’s really not interested in doing anything with regular people, not when he gets to do a special effects heavy war movie. As for the melodrama… the only person more disconnected from the melodrama than Bay is leading lady Kate Beckinsale, who doesn’t even get a caricature to play. Wallace’s script is, actually, quite interesting when you realize Beckinsale doesn’t just have less character than practically every other nurse (who are all man-starved caricatures, the slutty one, the sweet one, the fat one, the nerd), but her lack of character is what obliterates the film’s potential. Not just Beckinsale’s performance, which is… fine, given the circumstances. It’s vaguely believable she’s interested in Ben Affleck, but they—Wallace and Bay—can’t figure out how to get Beckinsale interested in third love triangle leg, Josh Hartnett.

See, Affleck and Hartnett are childhood best friends from Tennessee—the accents are better than you’d think; maybe not authentic, but better than you’d think. Affleck’s the alpha, Hartnett’s the beta. Though Affleck’s still fallible, he’s got dyslexia in 1941.

So let’s talk about the melodrama.

The movie opens with a flashback showing Hartnett’s character has a bad but sympathetic dad (William Fichtner in a flashback-redeeming cameo—or at least flashback-evening cameo) and sets Affleck up as his protector. Only Affleck’s about to ship out to England to get in the war because he’s getting old and still wants to be a war hero. He lies to Hartnett about volunteering and breaks new girlfriend Beckinsale’s heart, but she’s going to wait for him. Coincidentally Navy nurse Beckinsale and Army flier Hartnett both get posted to Pearl Harbor, where they see each other to say hello but don’t hang out. Or maybe they do. Because their supporting casts hang out but the film doesn’t do anything with Harnett or Beckinsale’s character development. What you’ve got with Pearl Harbor is a film wanting a beta to alpha arc for Harnett, but resenting Hartnett for being a beta, and then accidentally coming to the conclusion the alpha and beta labels are a bad way to think about masculinity. Only it can’t recognize that possibility because… dudes. There’s nothing more painful than the scenes when Affleck and Hartnett try to bond after Affleck gets back to find Hartnett and Beckinsale together. Much like when Beckinsale’s character is so exceptionally shallow you have to wonder how she made it through the scene without just defaulting to an honest answer and then when she becomes literal background in the third arc, you eventually welcome Hartnett and Affleck just standing around looking pensive as opposed to trying to talk about their incredibly complex situation.

Even though there are a couple times they’re supposedly going to have a hard talk. And there are a couple times Beckinsale’s going to get real with someone. Only she doesn’t have enough agency to do it. And Wallace doesn’t know how to write men talking about anything not military or war expository-related except Affleck and Hartnett’s buddies trying to figure out the best way to manipulate the nurses into bed. But they don’t mean it in a bad way—come on, it’s 1941, no one knew women were people yet.

Not even women.

So, spoiler, no, Beckinsale doesn’t have some kind of empowerment arc.

In fact, even though she gets the ill-advised, poorly written, and awkwardly placed end narration… Bay cuts her out of the end of the movie because she’s not a dude.

I guess to simplify the problem with the melodrama plot—it’s about Hartnett having a man-crush on Affleck because Affleck’s a square-jawed superman only to realize he’d rather have a lady, something Affleck seemingly wanted for himself but wasn’t ever going to tell puppy dog Hartnett about, and then Beckinsale—the object of their affections—doesn’t have enough of a character to react honestly to either, but with Affleck there’s at least movie romance cuteness; with Hartnett it’s a chemistry-free, erotic-free, erotic affair. It’s wholesome. With shtupping. Is it wholesome shtupping? Eh? Bay’s really bad at directing sex scenes.

Really, really, really, really bad. You’re surprised the actors aren’t blushing red from the stupidity.

Not like the canoodling, which Bay does somewhat well. Hartnett and Beckinsale’s romance is mostly short montage sequences where they cuddle and breath heavy on each other and it looks like a perfume commercial.

But the Pearl Harbor attack sequence is awesome filmmaking. Editors Roger Barton, Mark Goldblatt, Chris Lebenzon, and Steven Rosenblum don’t get jack to do before it and about twice that amount after it, but the attack is breathtaking thanks to them. Their cuts are so good the digital vaselining of the frame to insure the PG-13 doesn’t matter. It doesn’t work, but it doesn’t matter. John Schwartzman’s photography is great throughout, especially on the attack. Even an uncaring bastard like Bay is able to make each death tragic. It also reveals if Cuba Gooding Jr., who’s shoehorned into the movie to give it a single Black character with a story arc, is Bay’s real hero. Gooding’s a cook who ends up shooting down Japanese planes; Bay’s a lot more interested in the ground action than the flying action. Pearl Harbor doesn’t reinvent any wheels (or even try), but it definitely gets a lot less interest when it’s “leads” Affleck and Hartnett hitting the sky to avenge.

But getting them to the planes to go into the sky? Bay’s all about their (ground) trip to it. It’s a problem. Bay’s a problem.

Other great crew contributions? Nigel Phelps’s production design is fantastic. Hans Zimmer’s score is fine. Nothing special, but nothing bad. It’s all about that editing though. All about that editing.

Now for the acting. Lots of good supporting performances. The film has a bunch of sturdy character actors giving sturdy performances in bit parts. In the bigger ones, Aykroyd’s pretty good. Voight’s no qualifiers good. He’s really able to turn FDR into an action hero. It’s something. Baldwin’s great as Doolittle. Gooding’s fine. It’s a shallower performance than it’s the part because Wallace does a crap job with it. Bay and Wallace believe in institutional racism in 1941 but not person-to-person racism. The movie’s patronizing as hell.

Of the main cast—Hartnett’s flying sidekicks and Beckinsale’s nursing sidekicks—Michael Shannon is a revelation, Tom Sizemore’s good, Ewen Bremner’s able to get over his stutter, which is only there to get sweet nurse Jaime King to fall for him. Jennifer Garner’s bad but likable as the nerdy nurse. Some of the better glorified cameos are Feore, Leland Orser, and Kim Coates.

Affleck’s a really good lead. He’s able to do it all. He’s not able to give he and Beckinsale enough chemistry to give their romance depth, but its all so disingenuous it’d be a miracle. And Pearl doesn’t have any miracles.

Hartnett’s got some really good moments and some potentially good scenes. It’s hard to wish for more because it’s so clear the film’s disinterested in him. Hartnett and Beckinsale start their flirtation just as the Pearl Harbor attack preparations subplot really gets going and, again, it’s not like Wallace and Bay are actually interested in how anyone existed in fall 1941 in Pearl Harbor and definitely not with a girl.

Beckinsale’s… never bad. She’s never… wholly unconvincing. Though she has an utter lack of chemistry with Hartnett, who she needs some with because they get so little in the script, and still not quite enough with Affleck to get over the silly romance stuff. You’d say she was miscast but she’s good with the straight nursing stuff.

In case anyone’s wondering, Pearl Harbor intentionally and utterly fails Bechdel. I suppose it’s technically exempt when they’re talking about the wounded but… the rest of it? This group of nurses moves from rural U.S.A. to paradise Hawaii and has no reaction other than “boys, boys, boys.”

When Wallace and Bay are bad at something… they’re real bad at it.

It’s shame the movie’s not better. But it’s far from a failure; Bay lacks narrative instinct and interest, he’s indifferent to his actors’ performances—which nicely doesn’t matter because most of the parts are thin and the performances grand—but he’s ambitious to the nth with the attack sequence and he’s at least willing to acknowledge it does need some kind of bookends. Unfortunately for the actors, the audience, the film, Wallace is writing those bookends. Because he’s inept. You’d expect more from an intern who watched a week of History Channel. Some of its Bay’s fault—if he’d cared about the melodrama, it’d be fine….

As is, thanks to the cast and crew’s work, Pearl Harbor is tolerable when it’s not phenomenal, which isn’t bad at all.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Michael Bay; written by Randall Wallace; director of photography, John Schwartzman; edited by Roger Barton, Mark Goldblatt, Chris Lebenzon, and Steven Rosenblum; music by Hans Zimmer; production designer, Nigel Phelps; produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and Bay; released by Touchstone Pictures.

Starring Ben Affleck (Rafe), Josh Hartnett (Danny), Kate Beckinsale (Evelyn), Cuba Gooding Jr. (Miller), Alec Baldwin (Doolittle), Ewen Bremner (Red), Michael Shannon (Gooz), William Lee Scott (Billy), Tom Sizemore (Earl), Jaime King (Betty), Jennifer Garner (Sandra), Catherine Kellner (Barbara), Sara Rue (Martha), Mako (Yamamoto), Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa (Genda), Dan Aykroyd (Thurman), Kim Coates (Richards), Leland Orser (Jackson), Colm Feore (Kimmel), Raphael Sbarge (Kimmel’s Aide), and Jon Voight and the President of the United States.


Rat Race (2001, Jerry Zucker)

If you had told me there was a movie with John Cleese in funny fake teeth and Smash Mouth as a plot point (a positive one), I don’t know I would’ve believed it. But if there is going to be a movie with John Cleese in funny fake teeth and Smash Mouth as in a positive cameo… it’s going to be a movie like Rat Race. Rat Race is a big budget situation comedy masquerading as a madcap comedy adventure. Cleese is a Las Vegas casino owner who sends six or seven or twelve random people on a race from Vegas to New Mexico. Whoever gets there first gets two million dollars. Little do the contestants know Cleese has arranged the whole thing as a bet for a group of high owners at the casino.

Though it wouldn’t matter much because the stuff with Cleese and the high rollers is just for interlude gags.

The main race contestants are Cuba Gooding Jr. and Jon Lovitz. Maybe not in screen time (but maybe in screen time, it’s not worth counting), but definitely in extreme gags. Gooding at one point has stolen a charter busload of “I Love Lucy” Lucy cosplayers and Lovitz kind of kidnaps his family to go on the race with him (he doesn’t tell them about the race because he’s Jon Lovitz and it wouldn’t work if he wasn’t a liar). Then there are the couples. Breckin Meyer is a pointlessly straight-laced young lawyer (his character details don’t matter at all) who gets helicopter pilot Amy Smart involved in the race; he’s crushing on her, she’s not crushing on him. Whoopi Goldberg was at the casino to meet long-lost daughter Lanai Chapman; not long-lost but Goldberg gave her up for adoption. Again, the character details don’t end up mattering at all. Once the couples are paired, they’re paired. Like idiot brothers Seth Green and Vince Vieluf (who apparently dropped his agent for not getting him more face time on Rat Race promotional material, but should’ve sued him for letting him do the role, which has him suffering from an infected tongue ring piercing and unintelligible the whole time—Andy Breckman’s screenplay never goes cheap or obvious when it can do both at once). Green’s the weasel, Vieluf’s the dumb lug. Evil George and Lenny, basically. They talk about splitting up for about a half hour of the film’s near two hour runtime but never actually get around to it. Breckman’s script also has its red herrings to fill runtime.

Because somehow it matters Rat Race goes on for near two hours? Like the runtime is going to give it legitimacy.

The last contestant is Rowan Atkinson, who appears to have done Rat Race in yet another attempt to breakthrough in the Colonies. Snideness aside, Atkinson’s great. Everything he does is great. Even when it’s in his dumb subplot involving jackass ambulance driver Wayne Knight and a transplant heart.

Rat Race is kind of a catch-22. The subplots are so bland, you need someone as bland as Meyer do one of them. And, frankly, Smart too. They’re both middling. She’s a little better, but only because Meyer’s unable to appear to listen or think. Green and Vieluf do a lot of terribly executed, large scale physical humor. Director Zucker isn’t necessarily really bad at the giant sight gags, it’s just he’s using CGI and it’s poorly done. And Thomas E. Ackerman’s photography is bad. It’s more often less competent than competent. So you don’t care Green and Vieluf are one-note because the scenes are so perfunctory, even when they’re effective. Zucker’s got a couple good shots in the movie—establishing shots for the large-scale sight gags—and they’re the same shot. It’s like he has one good shot, but only two opportunities to use it. The rest of the time… middling direction.

Cleese too. He’s really funny. Especially with those fake teeth. But it’s a movie where the joke is John Cleese in some obviously fake fake teeth.

Dave Thomas has a really small part and, much like Atkinson, is able to get away successful. Goldberg isn’t bad, she’s just not successful. The movie ditches her and Chapman pretty quick, after one really funny sequence.

Gooding and Lovitz are both… inoffensive, while managing to also be the least sympathetic characters in the film. Maybe because Gooding’s supposed to somehow be inherently sympathetic because he’s a victim of unfair public shaming and because Lovitz is supposed to be saddled with an annoying family (wife Kathy Najimy wants to see David Copperfeld instead of gamble and spend time with husband Lovitz because… harpy?; the kids are just annoying, but end up being sympathetic because Lovitz is… Lovitz). I already said Atkinson is great. Who else is there… Green and Vieluf. Vieluf’s more likable than Green and probably better. Green just mugs.

Last thing. The music. Not the Smash Mouth performance, which sucks, but the “score” by John Powell, which reuses familiar classical ditties like In the Hall of the Mountain King and some also La Traviata. Trust me, you’ve heard the music. Probably in television commercials because it’s effective music. Just culturally rote. And that music ends up in some big set pieces, so it’s unclear what Powell’s actually bringing to the film other than making it sound consistent with a television commercial.

Rat Race is cheap and obvious but occasionally funny and usually inoffensive.

And Atkinson is exceptional.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Jerry Zucker; written by Andy Breckman; director of photography, Thomas E. Ackerman; edited by Tom Lewis; music by John Powell; production designer, Gary Frutkoff; produced by Sean Daniel, Janet Zucker, and Jerry Zucker; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Cuba Gooding Jr. (Owen Templeton), Jon Lovitz (Randy Pear), Rowan Atkinson (Enrico Pollini), Breckin Meyer (Nick Schaffer), Amy Smart (Tracy Faucet), Seth Green (Duane Cody), Vince Vieluf (Blaine Cody), Whoopi Goldberg (Vera Baker), Lanei Chapman (Merrill Jennings), Kathy Najimy (Beverly Pear), Wayne Knight (Zack Mallozzi), Dave Thomas (Harold Grisham), and John Cleese (Donald P. Sinclair).


Disco Pigs (2001, Kirsten Sheridan)

Disco Pigs might not be the best title for Disco Pigs, but it’s hard to imagine any other title for it so an imperfect one is better than a wrong one. Maybe disco had some appropriate cultural Irish relevancy. Or maybe playwright Enda Walsh, who adapted the screenplay himself, couldn’t think of anything else either.

The film opens with an unborn baby–who will grow up to be lead Elaine Cassidy–with Cassidy narrating her thoughts about being born. Writer Walsh gets in some foreshadowing during this narration, kind of some sore thumb foreshadowing, only it takes a long, long time for it to come out in the narrative.

The film quickly fastforwards to Cassidy at sixteen years, 348 days. In her crib at the hospital, she meets another baby in the adjoining crib. That baby grows up to be Cillian Murphy. He too is sixteen years, 348 days, when the present action begins. They live next door to one another and have been their entire lives. Their rooms are mirrors of one another, each with a secret window between so they can hold hands as they sleep each night.

Disco Pigs is the story of their seventeen days until their seventeenth birthday.

For the first third of the film, about ninety percent is Cassidy and Murphy together. They’re so wrapped up in one another–and have been for so long–they don’t seem to form outside relationships as individuals, just as a unit. They have their own shorthand language, somewhat fantastical, with the rest of the world utterly detached.

Director Sheridan keeps a bit of distance, occasionally developing Cassidy separate from Murphy–though Murphy’s the one who gets the eventual big scene in the first act. Even though they’re teenagers, surrounded by teenagers doing teenage things, there’s a chasteness to their relationship. Physical romance is still something for a giggle, not a fantasy. Until it becomes clear Murphy’s moving away from the giggling to the fantasy faster than Cassidy and even though they have their own language, it’s a child’s language, without the words they need to communicate now.

Their respective home lives reveal some more differences. Murphy’s mother, Eleanor Methven, finds him more of a laugh than a concern. She’s got another kid, a younger sister (presumably from a different dad, but it’s never mentioned). Meanwhile, Cassidy’s parents–Geraldine O’Rawe and Brían F. O’Byrne–are far more concerned Cassidy’s future. So they let the school talk them into sending her away.

The middle portion of the film is Murphy’s quest to find her juxtaposed against Cassidy socially developing away from him. It’s also when it becomes clear Murphy’s not just missing his best friend, he’s severely mentally disturbed. While Cassidy’s section quickly becomes affable (thanks to the influence of roommate Tara Lynne O’Neill), Murphy’s half is harrowing.

The third part of the film is the birthday, which director Sheridan and editor Ben Yeates methodically pace. It retains some of that harrowing momentum, only cut loose of any expectations, both from the viewer’s perspective and Cassidy’s.

Both Cassidy and Murphy are exceptional. It’s a toss-up who’s better; even though they start from similar positions, Walsh’s narrative gives them entirely different character arcs. There’s a relative staticness to the roles in the beginning, something Murphy retains, only it becomes clear entropy is affecting him as well. And he’s aware of it; it’s never part of the script, but it’s always present in Murphy’s performance.

Sheridan’s direction stays calm, even after she closes the narrative distance. There’s seemingly a greater sympathy with Cassidy, yet in hindsight–and after some foreshadowed backstory gets covered–it’s there with Murphy as well. The third act really is about integrating the various styles Sheridan’s been working with–that joint first act, which develops stress fractures, and the separate, wildly different second act. It’s all got to come together.

Great photography from Igor Jadue-Lillo. Great music from Gavin Friday and Maurice Seezer.

Disco Pigs is difficult, terrifying, and lovely. Cassidy and Murphy give breathtaking performances.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Kirsten Sheridan; screenplay by Enda Walsh, based on his play; director of photography, Igor Jadue-Lillo; edited by Ben Yeates; music by Gavin Friday and Maurice Seezer; produced by Ed Guiney; released by Renaissance Films.

Starring Elaine Cassidy (Runt), Cillian Murphy (Pig), Tara Lynne O’Neill (Mags), Brían F. O’Byrne (Runt’s Dad), Geraldine O’Rawe (Runt’s Mam), Eleanor Methven (Pig’s Mam), Darren Healy (Marky), and Michael Rawley (Foxy).


Ghosts of Mars (2001, John Carpenter)

Ghost of Mars has a lot of earnestness going for it. Director Carpenter needs quite a bit his cast and he supports them even when they’re clearly not able to succeed–especially lead Natasha Henstridge. He takes the project seriously, his cast takes it seriously. Sure, it doesn’t exactly work out, but it’s not from lack of effort.

Some of the problem is the editing. Carpenter and editor Paul C. Warschilka do these crossfades, which might be an attempt to obfuscate the low budget. And Carpenter pushes with the crossfades at the start. Then he drops them once the action gets going. They’re only for the lead-up to the action, when Ghosts is more horror than action. At least in terms of strange creatures lurking in the night and Carpenter trying to disturb the viewer instead of enthrall them. In a strange turn, instead of tasking cinematographer Gary B. Kibbe with hiding the low budget and instilling mood, Carpenter relies on Warschilka.

It actually might be for the best, given the acting.

So Henstridge. While she’s not good and she’s sometimes bad, she tries hard at playing her part. She’s a badass future cop on Mars who has to save the day, teaming up with Ice Cube’s outlaw. Cube’s all right. He maybe gives the best lead performance, but he doesn’t have much competition. Jason Statham isn’t any good, though he eventually becomes likable. Clea DuVall is in a similar situation. She’s not good–her part is even worse than Statham’s–but she’s immediately likable. Thanks to the editing. Joanna Cassidy’s probably the best performance and she’s very supporting. Pam Grier sort of troopers through it. She knows how to do the material, she knows how to direct attention.

But then there’s the narrative construction. Carpenter doesn’t waste time establishing the characters as sympathetic, instead he uses a framing device to interest the viewer in the story. Again, it’s somewhat effective just because it covers Henstridge’s acting failings. It also shakes up the narrative a bit. Carpenter’s not as interested in being interesting as encouraging interest. Not just in terms of the rising action, but in the ground situation. Ghosts of Mars goes out of its way to be unique, even when it doesn’t help the narrative or the character development. The setup for the Mars society is all unnecessary filler. It distracts and just gives the actors problems.

Overall, Ghosts of Mars isn’t a success, but it’s a decent enough diversion. Carpenter and the cast put enough into it to get over the many bumps in the production. It’s more of an accomplishment, given its constraints, than anything else.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by John Carpenter; written by Larry Sulkis and Carpenter; director of photography, Gary B. Kibbe; edited by Paul C. Warschilka; music by Carpenter; production designer, William A. Elliott; produced by Sandy King; released by Screen Gems.

Starring Natasha Henstridge (Lieutenant Melanie Ballard), Ice Cube (Desolation Williams), Jason Statham (Sgt. Jericho Butler), Pam Grier (Commander Helena Braddock), Clea DuVall (Bashira Kincaid), Liam Waite (Michael Descanso), Joanna Cassidy (Whitlock) and Rosemary Forsyth (Inquisitor).


Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack (2001, Kaneko Shûsuke)

While watching Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack, I had a daydream. I day dreamt Craig Armstrong, composer of The Incredible Hulk score, had been brought in the redo the score of Attack for the U.S. home video market. He did not. Instead, Ôtani Kô actually did compose the score for the film I was watching, meaning director Kaneko okayed that music. Because the music is where Attack forecasts its eventual problems. The music goes from undistinguished but fine to godawful. Shorting after the music goes to godawful, the film starts its slide down from the not insignificant heights it had reached.

Kaneko’s approach to Godzilla, the monster, is to make him a villain again. Kaneko’s approach to a Godzilla movie is to make the viewer the victim. Kaneko makes every giant monster attack visceral. Introduce a couple disposable characters, identify with them as giant monsters threaten their lives. It’s occasionally successful and at least once pretty fun, but it’s a contrived approach. Kaneko’s not trying to tell the story, he’s trying to make the viewer like the movie. Two very different things.

Some of the problem is that story. It’s light. Godzilla is a soulless monster (with grey devil’s eyes), the other monsters are all Japanese folklore creatures who are coming back to save Japan from the invading monster. They just didn’t help at any other time. And there’s some historical and political things thrown in because Kaneko and the script want to appear edgy. But it’s not edgy. It’s silly. As Attack progresses, the film descends into narrative absurdity, even lower than when the film started with wisecracks about the crappy American Godzilla remake.

Attack should still be better. Kaneko does a fabulous job for the first half of the film. The first monster fight is outstanding. He just flops on the final one, when there’s multiple magical resurrections and so on. But that flop isn’t about pacing, which is bad, or about the effects, which are good, it’s about the narrative. The script goes slack at the end. The last twenty minutes are tedious and the coda is awful.

Better humans–and better human stories–would help. Niiyama Chiharu is an intrepid faux news reporter who decides to cover the giant monster story. No other reporters are covering it. Luckily her dad is the Navy admiral in charge of hunting Godzilla. Uzaki Ryûdô plays the dad. Neither of them are particularly good, neither of them are particularly bad. Niiyama gets annoying in the second half when she’s telling everyone to trust in the giant monsters.

So much potential, so much technical talent, such a bad second half. Kaneko figured out the beginning of a movie and then got lost he was done setting up.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Kaneko Shûsuke; written by Hasegawa Keiichi, Yokotani Masahiro and Kaneko; diretor of photography, Kishimoto Masahiro; edited by Tomita Isao; music by Ôtani Kô; production designer, Miike Toshio; produced by Honma Hideyuki; released by Toho Company Ltd.

Starring Niiyama Chiharu (Tachibana Yuri), Uzaki Ryûdô (SDF Adm. Tachibana Taizô), Kobayashi Masahiro (Takeda Teruaki), Sano Shirô (Kadokura Haruki), Nishina Takashi (AD Maruo Aki), Minami Kaho (SDF Intelligence Capt. Emori Kumi), Ohwada Shin’ya (SDF Lt. Gen. Mikumo Katsumasa), Murai Kunio (SDF HQ Secretary Hinogaki Masato), Watanabe Hiroyuki (Hirose Yutaka) and Katsurayama Shingo (SDF Intelligence Maj. Kobayakawa Tokihiko).


Les Grands Ensembles (The Housing Projects) (2001, Pierre Huyghe)

Properly exhibited, Les Grands Ensembles should be projected in an art gallery. In an endless loop. The film runs just under eight minutes. In it, artist Pierre Huyghe tells a strange little story about two buildings. Now, the full title of the piece is (apparently) Les Grands Ensembles (The Housing Projects), and so, one should look on the buildings as projects.

I’ll bet, if you just Google, you can read all about their importance in Ensembles, which has very little to do with the film itself. Removed from the exhibition context, it is instead this meticulous, exhilarating race towards exhaustion.

The film is a single shot. The two buildings, a park in between. The problem with seeing it as representational of time passing is the lack of human representatives. The buildings are models. Great models. The park is a great model. There’s fog (live action fog) clouding the buildings. Then people get home. How do we know? Lights go on. One here, one there, then in the tower.

But then too many get home at once, too many leave at once. And there aren’t any cars, so what’s going on. Well, then Ensembles becomes this celebration of light, the two buildings taking on personalities as they try to out light one another. Until the fog gets worse, until there’s window attacking the park, attacking the buildings.

There’s this quiet, invading music from Pan Sonic and Cédric Pigot.

Ensembles is a technical marvel.

3/3Highly Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Pierre Huyghe; music by Pan Sonic and Cédric Pigot.


Jason X (2001, James Isaac)

Jason X is wonderfully bad. I don’t think it’s intended to be camp, but who knows. It certainly plays as high camp, possibly the best camp at the expense of the Friday the 13th series. Maybe if it were just a little less gory….

Todd Farmer’s script borrows a number of set pieces and dialogue exchanges from Aliens. And he forecasts it at the beginning, when Lexa Doig’s present day protagonist gets cryogenically frozen trying to escape killer monster Jason. It immediately feels like Aliens and then the similarities just continue, complete with a Burke character in Jonathan Potts and even Apone with Peter Mensah.

Would the film be at all amusing to someone not well-versed in Friday the 13th, Aliens and eighties movies in general? No. Farmer’s script is exaggerated and most of the actors can’t sell the lines. Melyssa Ade does rather well with her lame one-liners, giving them a proverbial eye roll on delivery.

The problem’s director Isaac. He can’t direct. The movie could even get away with the cheap (and derivative) special effects if Isaac and photographer Derick V. Underschultz were better at their jobs. Harry Manfredini turns in a surprisingly okay score and editor David Handman gets in a couple rather solid jump scares.

By turning slasher movie monster Jason Voorhees into Alien, Jason X erases all expectations. It’s too stupid to consider taking seriously. And has some success. Doig’s likable and Manesh’s good.

It’s truly too bad Isaac’s not a better director.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by James Isaac; screenplay by Todd Farmer, based on characters created by Victor Miller; director of photography, Derick V. Underschultz; edited by David Handman; music by Harry Manfredini; production designer, John Dondertman; produced by Noel Cunningham; released by New Line Cinema.

Starring Lexa Doig (Rowan), Lisa Ryder (Kay-Em 14), Chuck Campbell (Tsunaron), Jonathan Potts (Professor Lowe), Peter Mensah (Sgt. Brodski), Melyssa Ade (Janessa) and Kane Hodder (Jason Voorhees).


The Fast and the Furious (2001, Rob Cohen)

An undercover cop (Paul Walker) finds himself drawn into a criminal underworld with a charismatic leader (Vin Diesel)! There’s not much original about The Fast and the Furious. What the screenwriters don’t lift out of Point Break, there’s director Cohen grabbing car chase related moments out of Lethal Weapon 3 and so on. Well, Cohen also does have a neat Duel reference too.

Oh, right. I should try to discuss The Fast and the Furious, not just list all the other movies it rips off.

Diesel’s fine. Walker’s bad. Michelle Rodriguez’s bad. No one else leaves an impression. Except Ted Levine, who should know better.

The movie has this strange disconnect between Cohen’s more traditional cops and robbers bro-mance and the pervasive, overbearing soundtrack. Whole sequences are just set to a song, seemingly chosen just because it’s loud and sounds cool. Peter Honess’s editing is deaf to the corresponding songs; even if they match the narrative, Honess can’t figure out where to cut them. The first half of the movie feels entirely different from the second, mostly because BT’s sentimental score completely replaces the Top 40 selections.

Another interesting disconnect is the one between how Cohen visualizes the race scenes and how the script talks about them. Diesel gets a long monologue about how it feels to drive and Cohen’s best idea for visualizing the experience is to make it play like a sci-fi movie. Time slows down and there’s bullet-time.

But time is just a magazine.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Rob Cohen; screenplay by Gary Scott Thompson, Erik Bergquist and David Ayer, based on a story by Thompson and a magazine article by Ken Li; director of photography, Ericson Core; edited by Peter Honess; music by BT; production designer, Waldemar Kalinowski; produced by Neal H. Moritz; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Paul Walker (Brian O’Conner), Vin Diesel (Dominic Toretto), Michelle Rodriguez (Letty), Jordana Brewster (Mia Toretto), Rick Yune (Johnny Tran), Chad Lindberg (Jesse), Johnny Strong (Leon), Matt Schulze (Vince), Noel Gugliemi (Hector), Vyto Ruginis (Harry), Thom Barry (Agent Bilkins) and Ted Levine (Sgt. Tanner).


The Devil’s Backbone (2001, Guillermo del Toro)

The Devil’s Backbone takes place at an orphanage during the Spanish Civil War (in Spain, obviously). The film follows Fernando Tielve as he arrives and has conflicts with the other boys, before everything gets worked out. For about half the film, one of the other boys, Íñigo Garcés, is the antagonist. But everything with the boys is basically a misunderstanding and, in the second half, the film introduces the real villain.

There’s also a ghost, some political unrest, unrequited love between the school doctor and the headmistress, lust, greed and an unexploded bomb. Director del Toro goes overboard with the symbolism; for much of the film, it works too. He tries to be way too tidy in the end, however, and it doesn’t work. He refocuses the story away from Tielve and Garcés and the other boys–greed and lust are the (literal) apple here–but the boys have nothing to do with them. They lose their story.

It’s too bad, but there’s still a lot of great work in the film. del Toro’s direction, Guillermo Navarro’s photography and Javier Navarrete’s music are all phenomenal. Luis de la Madrid’s editing hangs a little, but usually for symbolism’s sake, which might be del Toro’s fault.

Tielve and Garcés are both excellent. As the adults, Federico Luppi and Marisa Paredes are great. In the film’s most difficult role–an orphan grown-up and returned–Eduardo Noriega does okay, but better when it matters.

Backbone’s almost an excellent film. Very, very close.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Guillermo del Toro; written by del Toro, Antonio Trashorras and David Muñoz; director of photography, Guillermo Navarro; edited by Luis de la Madrid; music by Javier Navarrete; production designer, César Macarrón; produced by Agustín Almodóvar and Bertha Navarro; released by Sony Pictures Classics.

Starring Fernando Tielve (Carlos), Íñigo Garcés (Jaime), Marisa Paredes (Carmen), Eduardo Noriega (Jacinto), Federico Luppi (Dr. Casares), Irene Visedo (Conchita) and Adrián Lamana (Gálvez).


My Sassy Girl (2001, Kwak Jae-young), the director’s cut

The most important action in My Sassy Girl takes place off screen–the film takes place over a few years (though the main action is over three and a half months), with listless Cha Tae-hyun home from compulsory national service and back in school and having no idea what to do with his life. Enter Jun Ji-hyun's mystery girl, who doesn't just give Cha a love interest, but often provides him with someone to care for (she can't drink, but does) and someone to give him an energy boost.

Director Kwak never goes into either characters' home life too much, but both are still living with their somewhat overbearing parents. The parents get enough personality to be memorable, but Kwak can't give them too much time because My Sassy Girl has a very tight, very meticulous structure. Most of Jun's off screen life is a mystery and it turns out a lot of Cha's is too. And Cha narrates the film, but Kwak wants to fix the audience's attention.

The film is unambiguous–for the comedic scenes, Kwak goes for silent era slapstick music, for melodramatic ones, composer Kim Hyeong-seok is ready with a devastating piece. But Kwak identifies exactly what film stereotypes he wants to play with–Cha and Jun have a scene discussing melodrama in Korean cinema, with a “movie in the movie” example, no less.

Thanks to Kwak's sincere yet ambitious directing and scripting and excellent performances from the leads–Jun gets the harder one and excels–My Sassy Girl is outstanding.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Kwak Jae-young; screenplay by Kwak, based on a novel by Kim Ho-sik; director of photography, Kim Sung-bok; edited by Kim Sang-beom; music by Kim Hyeong-seok; production designer, Oh Sang-man; produced by Shin Chul; released by Cinema Service.

Starring Cha Tae-hyun (Kyun-woo), Jun Ji-hyun (The Girl), Kim In-mun (Kyun-woo’s Father), Song Wok-suk (Kyun-woo’s Mother), Han Jin-hie (The Girl’s Father), Hyun Sook-hee (The Girl’s Mother) and Seo Dong-won (The Deserter).


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