Minoes (2001, Vincent Bal), the English dubbed version

After we finished watching Minoes, my fiancée turned and asked me if it was a children’s film or if the Dutch just made weird films. While it appears to be assigned to the children’s film genre in festivals, the film won best picture and best actress at the Netherlands Film Festival. Still, I wouldn’t just say it isn’t an odd film. I think it’s my first Dutch film, actually.

While Minoes is good, I did watch it dubbed, so it’s possible I got something or lost something or neither. Again, it’s intended for young audience–lot of mild swearing, actually… those naughty Canadian dubbers–and maybe that level of storytelling depth made dubbing less offensive. Minoes is an enjoyable experience, though probably not for people who don’t like cats (it’s a cat who turns into a young woman). The film doesn’t ask any questions about the transformation, sticking to expected child-level of acceptance. Since the questions are never raised, there’s no expectation of an answer, which might only be nice at the end, but Minoes establishes early there won’t be any questions… It establishes its setting, its conflicts, then sticks with them.

The director, Bal, has a great sense of composition and the film’s rooftop sets are wonderful–both functional and imaginative, while never unrealistic. I’m not sure how the special effects were done, if there were any (the cats mouths appeared to be moving to words, but since it was dubbed, I don’t know for sure), but they were excellent as well. The talking cats fell immediately into the film’s agreement with itself and the audience so there was never an issue. None of the special effects looked CG (but well could have been) and there was no gee whiz factor to the film. All the cats just happened to talk in Minoes.

Since I did see it dubbed, I can’t really can’t say anything about the acting, though the lead, Carice van Houten, seems like she did a good job….

The film seems to agree with Mel Stuart's excellent observation: make a movie for adults and kids will be smart enough to figure it out.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Vincent Bal; screenplay by Bal, Burny Bos and Tamara Bos, based on the novel by Annie M.G. Schmidt; director of photography, Walther van den Ende; edited by Peter Alderliesten; music by Peter Vermeersch; production designer, Vincent de Pater; produced by Burny Bos; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Carice van Houten (Minoes), Theo Maassen (Tibbe), Sarah Bannier (Bibi), Hans Kesting (Harrie de Haringman), Olga Zuiderhoek (Mevrouw van Dam), Jack Wouterse (Burgermeester van Weezel) and Pierre Bokma (Meneer Ellemeet).


Rules of Dating (2005, Han Jae-rim)

Rules of Dating opens with an incredibly sexist and funny scene. The film establishes itself as a sexual harassment comedy with that opening scene–it doesn’t keep that genre long (though I think it’s the first time I ever thought of calling a film a sexual harassment comedy), but that opening also has quick edits, jump cuts, and lots of Steadicam one and two shots, giving it the neo-cinema verite look. It’s off-putting, while not poorly done, because the film can never decide how seriously it wants to be taken….

Soon, it becomes a drama and it stays a drama for most of the remainder, veering occasionally into romance but never too much. In the end–before the emotionally invalidating epilogue–the film comfortably assumes a sexual harassment drama classification. After sitting through the first act, before the romance between the harasser and victim, this conclusion is somewhat welcome. It’s unexpected surprise, because Rules of Dating is particularly deep. The male “protagonist” goes from being a sleaze to being a romantic hero. The female lead, played by Kang Hye-jeong is excellent (continuing the Korean tradition of actresses playing characters older than they are, something America hasn’t got much apparent interest in doing). The guy’s all right. As the comedic sleaze and the romantic hero, he’s good, but when he’s being the sleazy sleaze and the drama guy, not so good. Both these characters have significant others who, toward the end–after the leads spend ninety minutes either cheating on or thinking about cheating on them with no guilt–are revealed to be rather shitty people, simplifying the audience’s emotions.

In the end, Rules of Dating has the opportunity to be incredibly complex, then flushes all down the toilet to provide a happy ending. This happy ending, of course, was not in the film’s “contract” with the viewer. After the first fifteen or so minutes, after the first time the guy tries to force himself on the woman, any happy ending expectation disappeared. Since it was well-acted (enough) and the direction was nice–I think it’s the first Korean Panavision film I’ve seen and the director knew how to use the wide frame–I was incredibly hopeful. But… there were about seven minutes and it’s hard to crap something up in seven minutes, but managed to do it. Without a surprise ending even. Just a dumb one.

For a movie about teachers, there were no scenes in a classroom for ninety minutes, maybe a hundred. That omission should have told me more about how Rules of Dating was going to turn out than it did.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Han Jae-rim; written by Han and Go Yun-hui; director of photography, Park Yong-su; music by Lee Byung-woo; produced by Cha Seoung-Jae; released by CJ Entertainment.

Starring Park Hae-il (Yoo-rim) and Kang Hye-jeong (Hong).


Tess (1979, Roman Polanski)

I don’t mind sitting three hours for an unhappy ending. Actually, I think most long films have unhappy endings, don’t they? However, I did not sit through the three poorly acted and written hours of Tess expecting to have to tolerate a scene with the sun rising at Stonehenge and some bullshit insight into the finiteness of nobility. Oh, good grief, the Stonehenge finale was in the book… (I’m cruising Wikipedia as I type).

Argh.

I was going to start out this post with a discussion on the long, mediocre film. Whether or not the film truly improves over time, or if through the long viewing time, the brain’s quality receptors somehow get burned out. Whether or not the taste buds go dry. Unfortunately, Tess‘s absurd third act–when the unlikable, emotionally abusive husband the audience has just spent forty-five minutes despising, becomes the hero; the somewhat amusing and somehow honorable scoundrel becomes the villain, of course, at the same time–ruins my previous analysis. The analysis only works if the film is consistently mediocre. Tess putrefies at the end. (A reasonable comparison would be Wim Wender’s Until the End of the World, which is two hours longer than Tess–five hours–and never swings high or low, just stays steadily unremarkable).

However, Tess is not a wholly unpleasant experience. The cinematography is beautiful (though one can’t help but notice it’s lifted from Barry Lyndon, which did it better too) and the scenery, for much of the film, is glorious. Polanksi couldn’t shoot in England, so he used the French countryside. While the English countryside is beautiful in its own way, there’s an inherent dreariness to it. The French countryside is simply glorious and when the story becomes dreary, the muddy skies look fake.

Nastassja Kinski is nice enough to turn in an unspeakably bad performance, so bad it’s comical, especially since the subtitle writers of the DVD I watched couldn’t understand her awful English accent and frequently got lines quite wrong. Also terrible is Peter Firth as the husband, but Leigh Lawson is good as the scoundrel. The switch in characters’ personalities is actually not as annoying–oh, it’s still bad–as when we’re expected to remember people who were in the film for four minutes and never in a close-up. There’s period where Kinski visits a friend who I thought was the mother until five or six minutes into the second scene. The film’s writing is terrible, but if the Stonehenge finale isn’t Polanki’s fault I’m not going to go blaming him for all the other tripe in the script.

What a lousy way to spend three hours… though, as Tess was nominated for Best Picture, it’s nice to know the Academy was almost as full of shit in the late 1970s as it is today.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Roman Polanski; written by Polanski, Gérard Brach, and John Brownjohn, based on a novel by Thomas Hardy; cinematographers, Geoffrey Unsworth and Ghislain Cloquet; edited by Alastair McIntyre and Tom Priestley; music by Philippe Sarde; production designer, Pierre Guffroy; produced by Claude Berri; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring John Collin (John Durbeyfield), Leigh Lawson (Alec Durbeyfield), Tony Church (Parson Tringham), Nastassja Kinski (Tess) and Peter Firth (Angel Clare).


Sixteen Candles (1984, John Hughes)

I enjoy throwing odd ones up occasionally, whether they’re inexplicable (Transporter 2) or heavily based in nostalgia (any Godzilla film). Sixteen Candles is somewhat both, though renting it was the fiancée’s idea. My freshman year of college, I did one of my presentation on racism in John Hughes’ films. Sixteen Candles has some great examples–not just the Chinese exchange student frequently referred to as “the Chinaman,” and played by the obviously ethnically Japanese Gedde Watanabe–it also makes fun of the physically handicapped. Great stuff there. I also remember it being one of my favorite Hughes films. It’s hard to have a favorite Hughes film because none of them are any good, but after this viewing, I think I can safely say Sixteen Candles is my favorite. In fact, it’s the only one I’d watch again.

Immediately after this film, Hughes started infusing his films with social commentary (usually about the poor boy and the rich girl or the poor girl and the rich boy) and it was pretty bad. For the first half of Sixteen Candles, I was going to decry Hughes as the forebear of shitty Hollywood story structure. Molly Ringwald–the lead of the film–disappears for about twenty minutes, maybe more, and the film’s only ninety minutes long. In her absence, there are these great scenes with Michael Schoeffling and Anthony Michael Hall–and I realized why I liked Sixteen Candles so much. The film makes no claims at reality–it speaks directly to the viewer on a few occasions, something Hughes later milked in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off–and there’s no real dramatic tension. It’s an incredibly light comedy and taken as such, it’s a pleasant diversion.

Oddly (given National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation), Sixteen Candles fails the most in the simple family situation. Hughes doesn’t know what to do–he gives Ringwald an asshole little brother and a doped-up sister. He can’t even give Paul Dooley anything to do. Ringwald holds a lot of the film together, but it’s Schoeffling and Hall who really have the most to do. I’d never been particularly impressed by Hall–never had any idea why, for instance, Kubrick wanted him for Full Metal Jacket–but he does a good job in an impossible role. His character completely changes–in the viewer’s perception–in a six or seven minute scene. It’s good work. Schoeffling never really went anywhere. However, according to one website, endless numbers of baby boys born in the mid-1980s were named Jake after his character. He has even more impossible role of being the perfect guy and turns it into a deep performance. There’s none of that serious Hughes teen angst in this one, so the actors aren’t given anything impossible to pull off. Their only job is to make the viewer enjoy the film.

As for Hughes the director… well, Sixteen Candles has got to be his best looking film. The cinematography is incredibly lush in this one. It’s not as far removed as Technicolor, instead a welcoming, idealized reality (there’s also little damaging violence inflicted on the film’s many “geeks,” another bit of that idealization).

Sixteen Candles is not a great film. Even without the bigotry, there’s the incredible shallowness. However, it’s acceptance of that shallowness is exactly what makes it an enjoyable experience.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Written and directed by John Hughes; director of photography, Bobby Byrne; edited by Edward Warschilka; music by Ira Newborn; produced by Hilton A. Green; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Molly Ringwald (Samantha Baker), Justin Henry (Mike Baker), Michael Schoeffling (Jake Ryan), Haviland Morris (Caroline Mulford), Gedde Watanabe (Long Duk Dong), Anthony Michael Hall (The Geek), Paul Dooley (Jim Baker), Carlin Glynn (Brenda Baker), Blanche Baker (Ginny Baker), Edward Andrews (Howard Baker), Billie Bird (Dorothy Baker), Carole Cook (Grandma Helen), Max Showalter (Grandpa Fred), Liane Alexandra Curtis (Randy), John Cusack (Bryce) and Darren Harris (Cliff).


Everybody Wins (1990, Karel Reisz)

What a weird movie. Debra Winger cannot act. Don’t know exactly why Terms of Endearment worked, but she cannot act. She’s really terrible in this one. Arthur Miller adapted his play, which was from 1982–except it was a one act play. Somewhere in the adaptation, Everybody Wins becomes a ludicrous attempt at a thriller. It’s set in a Connecticut town, which looks a lot like Pennsylvania in the film, and Reisz gives the setting absolutely no personality.

Winger convinces Nick Nolte to investigate a case, except she’s a total flake and doesn’t tell him anything about the case until the last fifteen minutes. So, right away, it’s unbelievable for Nolte, playing a renowned investigator, would put up with Winger. Most of their scenes involve her hiding something from him, but he sticks around… because if he left, it’d be a one act movie. Will Patton shows up for a bit and he’s fine. He and Nolte have an interesting relationship for a few scenes. Poor Jack Warden stuck in a nothing role, just to pop in whenever you’ve forgotten he’s in the movie.

It’s not really a case of the film being predictable, but once some of the clues come out, it’s unbelievable Nolte the investigator wouldn’t piece anything together. Except he pieces absolutely nothing together–in the entire film–which dismisses it as a mystery or detective film. There’s no real jeopardy involved, so it’s not a thriller either. Winger’s so terrible it’s not a romance. The film’s only interesting with Nolte and Patton and Nolte and Judith Ivey, who plays his sister (the character’s got an interesting history, but none of it, apparently, gets to come through in the film).

I’ve seen Reisz and Nolte’s other collaboration, Who’ll Stop the Rain, and I guess Everybody Wins is better. Everybody Wins is shorter and, for the first half, it’s just boring, not particularly bad. In fact, I think some of the beginning might even be good. Nolte does a good job, but it’s definitely one of his autopilot performances. Reisz has some good moments (just can’t make the setting stick until the end, when it’s too late to fix the film). There’s even homage to Who’ll Stop the Rain, which I can’t believe anyone would pick up on, but who knows, maybe there’s somebody else out there going through all of MGM’s Nick Nolte releases too.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Karel Reisz; screenplay by Arthur Miller; director of photography, Ian Blake; edited by John Bloom; music by Mark Isham; production designer, Peter Larkin; produced by Jeremy Thomas; released by Orion Pictures.

Starring Debra Winger (Angela Crispini), Nick Nolte (Tom O’Toole), Will Patton (Jerry), Judith Ivey (Connie), Kathleen Wilhoite (Amy), Jack Warden (Judge Harry Murdoch), Frank Converse (Charlie Haggerty) and Frank Military (Felix).


The Jerk (1979, Carl Reiner)

“Classics.” In the sense, “oh, it’s a classic.” Possibly even, “it’s classic.” “Classic” is a lousy classification for film. It’s applied mostly as if it were a genre, with something like King Kong escaping to the sci-fi section, but A Night at the Opera absent from the comedy one.

The Jerk is considered a “classic” and I don’t quite get it. It’s occasionally funny, but mostly drags on. It’s poorly titled (according to IMDb, the working title was Easy Money, which is better), because The Jerk suggests… well, it suggests Steve Martin is playing a jerk. According to Oxford’s, a jerk is (in the informal) a contemptibly obnoxious person. The film gets the title from the colloquialism, “What do you think I am, some kind of a jerk or something?” Except, in that colloquialism jerk doesn’t mean obnoxious person, it means sap, dope, maybe patsy. I suppose they could have called any of those, but didn’t. Because The Jerk, starring Steve Martin in a bathrobe, looks like a movie you’d want to see. It looks like a funny movie.

The film’s structure is also particular. Bernadette Peters has almost no dialogue for the film’s last third or so. She’s around–both on screen and in the story–but she’s not doing anything. The film is so delineated into scenes, once she’s done, she has to stick around, but the film doesn’t have anything to do with her. The first half of the film has this deliberate pacing–lots of funny moments in amusing scenes. The scenes flow from one to the other, more on the comedic factor than any sort of dramatic one. It’s not extreme enough to be notable, but it creates a pleasant viewing experience. The second half of the film, which feels like someone checked his or her watch and got really worried about the running time, is hurried and almost all in summary or half-scene.

Steve Martin wrote the script with Carl Gottlieb, who’s the only guy to work on all of the first three Jaws films. I imagine the tight structure of the first half is from his hand, but it’s hard to blame the second act on either writer. Once director Carl Reiner shows up in a cameo, it’s apparent the film’s lost its footing. Most of Reiner’s filmography is Steve Martin films, so I guess they liked each other, but Reiner’s not bringing anything particular to the film. I just finished watching it an hour ago and nothing’s resonating. It’s all seeped away, except maybe the subtly touching relationship between Martin and his adopted brother, played by Dick Anthony Williams.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Carl Reiner; screenplay by Steve Martin, Carl Gottlieb and Michael Elias, based on a story by Martin and Gottlieb; director of photography, Victor J. Kemper; edited by Bud Molin; music by Jack Elliot; production designer, Jack T. Collis; produced by William E. McEuen and David V. Picker; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Steve Martin (Navin R. Johnson), Bernadette Peters (Marie Kimble Johnson), Catlin Adams (Patty Bernstein), Mabel King (Mother), Richard Ward (Father), Dick Anthony Williams (Taj Jonson), Bill Macy (Stan Fox), M. Emmet Walsh (Madman) and Dick O’Neill (Frosty).


Mission to Moscow (1943, Michael Curtiz)

Mission to Moscow is straight propaganda. There’s a lot of Hollywood propaganda in the early 1940s, even the late 1930s, but usually, with those films, there’s at least the pretense of dramatic storytelling. There’s a love story attached, maybe a love triangle, something. There’s nothing attached to Mission to Moscow. It’s essentially a long advertisement for the Soviet Union. Most amusing, I suppose, is when Stalin himself shows up. The film’s from 1943, so nobody knew about him yet.

Walter Huston plays the ambassador to Russia and his story sort of guides the film. It follows him, but the way he moves is for the exposition, not for the character. There isn’t a single conflict for his character in the entire film. Huston’s fantastic, of course, but he’s better at the beginning. For most of the film he looks concerned or he gives speeches, but at the beginning there’s still some dramatic excitement. There are a number of other good performances, particularly Oskar Homolka.

As long as Mission to Moscow is, it’s competently told–writing this screenplay later got Howard Koch blacklisted–and there are a number of nice segments. The film ought to be famous as Michael Curtiz’s follow-up to Casablanca (but isn’t) and it’s probably his strongest directorial effort. There’s one particular scene, at a formal reception, which is beautifully constructed. The camera moves from each country’s representatives, both establishing their political situation as well as the particularities of the characters. It’s too bad this scene–as well as an excellent trial scene–are surrounded by such boring material.

The film plays on Turner Classic Movies from time to time and I read Warner Bros. is considering a DVD release (though I don’t know as part of what collection–no one knows Huston or Curtiz anymore).

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Michael Curtiz; screenplay by Howard Koch, based on the book by Joseph E. Davies; director of photography, Bert Glennon; edited by Owen Marks; music by Max Steiner; produced by Robert Bruckner; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Walter Huston (Ambassador Joseph E. Davies), Ann Harding (Mrs. Marjorie Davies), Oskar Homolka (Maxim Litvinov, Foreign Minister), George Tobias (Freddie), Gene Lockhart (Premier Molotov), Eleanor Parker (Emlen Davies), Richard Travis (Paul), Helmut Dantine (Major Kamenev), Victor Francen (Vyshinsky, chief trial prosecutor), Henry Daniell (Minister von Ribbentrop), Barbara Everest (Mrs. Litvinov), Dudley Field Malone (Winston Churchill), Roman Bohnen (Mr. Krestinsky), Maria Palmer (Tanya Litvinov), Moroni Olsen (Colonel Faymonville), Minor Watson (Loy Henderson), Vladimir Sokoloff (Mikhail Kalinin, USSR president), Maurice Schwartz (Dr. Botkin) and Joseph E. Davies (Himself).



This film is also discussed in Sum Up | Eleanor Parker, Part 1: Dream Factory.

Home from the Hill (1960, Vincente Minnelli)

Whenever I see a list of “classic” films, I rarely see any of the complex character pieces Hollywood produced in the 1950s and 1960s. They produced quite a few, but none ever get much credit. Harriet Frank Jr. and Irving Ravetch wrote a few of them, but the Paul Newman films are–as Paul Newman films–better known than Home from the Hill. I first saw Hill back when I was watching Eleanor Parker films and I’ve probably seen it once since then, just to watch the laserdisc. Like many films I saw seven years ago, I don’t remember a lot about it. The best way to remember a lot about a film is to write about it for a class or something (I doubt these posts will ingrain themselves like actual research did for Mr. Deeds Goes to Town). For example, I forgot how fast Home from the Hill moves along. Thirty-seven minutes passes with the snap of the fingers. It’s a longer film too, 150 minutes, and it’s either got a ten minutes first act or a fifty-five minute one. I’d have to be graded on it to make a judgement.

Home from the Hill features a quintessential Robert Mitchum performance. He’s a Texan land baron who hunts, drinks and philanders. He’s got a wife–Parker–and son, George Hamilton, he has nothing to do with and an illegitimate son, George Peppard, he’s got everything to do with. Each of these characters has an incredibly complex relationship with one another and–for a film with a lot of sweeping camerawork–Minnelli is incredibly gentle with the way he explores the relationships. The editing of the film, the physical cutting between shot to shot, is imperfect, but there are these wonderful moments in the film when Minnelli just lets big things go little. Big things go unsaid. It’s lovely. The film’s extreme beauty in these evolving character relationships, the way they change and their changing value for the audience. It’s some of the finest family work ever done in film (seeing it makes me wonder if Spielberg has seen it, based on his work in Jaws–P.T. Anderson might not have seen it, but he’s seen Jaws I’m sure). It’s a different type of family work then something like Ordinary People, almost an entirely subset. In many ways, the modern Japanese family drama handles camerawork in the same ways.

The acting is excellent. It’s some of Mitchum’s best work and Parker’s great, but it’s the two Georges who surprised me the first time I saw it and surprised me again today. Besides looking identical to a young Anthony Perkins, Hamilton is great. Nuanced, subtle, had a lot of difficult stuff to do. He’s become a joke. So has Peppard. He’s remembered for “The A-Team,” but his performance in Home from the Hill is indicative of a “star quality” the 1960s rarely produced. Peppard’s performance is even more impressive. Mercury Theater member Everett Sloane has a small role–he’s unrecognizable, or at least was to me–and even he has a complex relationship with the characters. Frank and Ravetch adapted a novel, so I’m not sure how much of the structuring was theirs and how much was from the source (after finding out the structure of The Killing is from the novel, no one gets undue credit), but the film’s laid out brilliantly. Again, it’s worth a graded essay, but this post will have to do.

Warner Bros. is rumored to have the film in the works for DVD–I watched my LaserDisc, which is actually rotting, my first experience with that malady–hopefully by the end of this year.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Vincente Minnelli; screenplay by Harriet Frank Jr. and Irving Ravetch, based on the novel by William Humphrey; director of photography, Milton R. Krasner; edited by Harold F. Kress; music by Bronislau Kaper; produced by Edmund Grainger and Sol C. Siegel; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Robert Mitchum (Capt. Wade Hunnicutt), Eleanor Parker (Hannah Hunnicutt), George Peppard (Rafe Copley), George Hamilton (Theron Hunnicutt), Everett Sloane (Albert Halstead), Luana Patten (Libby Halstead), Anne Seymour (Sarah Halstead), Constance Ford (Opal Bixby), Ken Renard (Chauncey) and Ray Teal (Dr. Reuben Carson).



This film is also discussed in Sum Up | Eleanor Parker, Part 2: Technicolor.

Transporter 2 (2005, Louis Leterrier)

This film is actually dedicated to someone’s memory. Sort of offensive, isn’t it? Dedicating a crappy movie to someone’s memory? Peter Jackson dedicated King Kong to Fay Wray’s memory and there’s certainly some evidence she wouldn’t have wanted the honor (Wray didn’t like the idea of Kong being remade and turned Jackson down during his first attempt, in 1997 or whatever). It’s something to think about, I suppose.

There isn’t anything to think about in Transporter 2. I watched the first one, which I think is probably better–if only because François Berléand’s detective has more to do–and didn’t even bother writing it up. For some reason, the second one offends me. The first one wasn’t any good, but it didn’t offend. This one is somehow offensively worse. Maybe because all the acting so bad. Besides Jason Statham and Berléand, the best performance is from former supermodel Amber Valletta (who looks the right age to play Matthew Modine’s wife in the film, even if he’s fifteen years older than her). She’s not good, either. She’s just surprisingly not awful. The supermodel in the film–Kate Nauta–is possibly the worst actress I have ever seen… she’s actually that bad.

She’s so bad I used ‘that’ like I just did.

Maybe I was in a more giving mood last time, but Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen are awful writers. Besson’s written some crap, but not of this magnitude before–instead of directing films, he just writes them now and I’ve seen a couple others and they aren’t this bad. I can just blame in all on Kamen, who is–historically–unbearably bad. Just awful.

Statham’s still appealing and I’m perplexed he can’t catch on. Maybe he’s just been in so many bad movies he can’t get a real job. More likely he makes enough money from these turds he doesn’t want to get a real job. It’s too bad, because I don’t think I can sit through another one of these….

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Louis Leterrier; written by Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen; director of photography, Mitchell Amundsen; edited by Christine Lucas-Navarro and Vincent Tabaillon; music by Alexandre Azaria; production designer, John Mark Harrington; produced by Besson and Steven Chasman; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Jason Statham (Frank Martin), Alessandro Gassman (Gianni), Amber Valletta (Audrey Billings), Kate Nauta (Lola), Matthew Modine (Mr. Billings), Jason Flemyng (Dimitri), François Berléand (Tarconi), Keith David (Stappleton), Hunter Clary (Jack Billings), and Shannon Briggs (Max).


Field of Dreams (1989, Phil Alden Robinson)

If asked, I’d probably blame MTV, video games, and CG for the downfall of American cinema. These reasons are my knee-jerk examples and, if they’re not the whole problem, they’re certainly the major contributing factors. However, following Field of Dreams, I think I’ll have to revise my answer. There’s a sense of cynicism about American cinema, even if it’s not pronounced, it’s present; Field of Dreams was not the last idealistic American film, but it might have been the peak of them. Or the last bump anyway. By the late 1990s, Capra-esque had become a pejorative after all. P.T. Anderson might have cost American cinema more than he contributed.

Watching Field of Dreams now, as a full cynic, as someone who deliberates on the filmic adaptation of novels, as someone who’s seen how bad American baseball movies have gotten, is interesting. No, it’s not. It’s not interesting. Maybe, while watching it, all of those list items did occur to me for a moment or two, but not for any sustained period. Field of Dreams presents a beautiful world, not just in its universal statement, but also in its small ones. There’s a beauty to the scene where James Earl Jones talks to people in the bar. It’s hard to imagine such a scene actually occurring today, which makes Dreams‘s message more significant in modernity than perhaps it was in 1988. (I mean, Bush is worse than Reagan, right?)

I can’t think of a more successful father and son film between Field of Dreams and East of Eden. They’re incredibly different–except there is farming in both–but they’re the only two films to significantly essay the relationship. I just thought of calling them Iron John films (after Bly’s book), but two films isn’t really enough for a label I don’t think.

Besides having James Earl Jones’ finest performance, Costner’s great–I love his awful shirts–so’s Amy Madigan and Ray Liotta and Burt Lancaster and everybody. Phil Alden Robinson, who has gone on to other stuff and none of it–even Sneakers, which is good–shows this level of excellence, controls not just the actors, but the editing, the sound, every part of Field of Dreams fits perfectly. It’s not even the case of a well-tooled construction, it’s an organic creation. James Horner’s score is obviously an important feature–more important, even, than Amy Madigan or Ray Liotta or Burt Lancaster–but there’s also the baseball element. Baseball–in the American context, I’m not sure what it means in the Japanese–does represent some idealized American existence. I don’t even like baseball (which is not, however, why I don’t like Bull Durham. Bull Durham just isn’t good).

Field of Dreams is also an example of the benevolent studio. I believe Universal Studios had the picture’s best interest in mind. There are two significant, studio-dictated changes to Field of Dreams. One was the title, changed from Shoeless Joe, which was the title of the novel and is not the correct title for this film’s story. Second came at the very end: the “Dad” line. I tried watching that particular scene as cynically as possible, with full knowledge of the preview audience and whatnot, but it changed the scene’s effect. I can’t believe I forgot how great this film was… In fact, I’m embarrassed I was expecting less from it.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Phil Alden Robinson; screenplay by Robinson, based on a novel by W.P. Kinsella; director of photography, John Lindley; edited by Ian Crafford; music by James Horner; production designer, Dennis Gassner; produced by Lawrence Gordon and Charles Gordon; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Kevin Costner (Ray Kinsella), Amy Madigan (Annie Kinsella), Gaby Hoffman (Karin Kinsella), Ray Liotta (Shoeless Joe Jackson), Timothy Busfield (Mark), James Earl Jones (Terence Mann) and Burt Lancaster (Moonlight Graham).


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