July 29, 2006
Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx take over the roles of Sonny Crockett and Ricardo Tubbs. Unfortunately, they forgot to bring with them any semblance of personalities. Farrell was sadly miscast in this role, and Foxx is aching to break out the two-dimensional strictures of his character. There is little for them to do except assume their poses and push the plot along. While this is never going to be mentioned in the same breath as the masterpiece Heat, Miami Vice is manages to entertain, but offers little more than a very good TV episode.
The plot is hardly original—the usual blah blah about drug deals "going down" and undercover agents being discovered and taken out—and in many instances the use of slang and code make much of the plot details unintelligible. Add the fact that many of the actors either have, or affect, thick accents, half the time I was going "Heh? Wha? What did he say? Speak up or speak English!" Now, I am the last person to poke fun at someone whose first language is not English. (After all, my first language is fifteenth-century German!) But could you at least enunciate so we could all follow along?
Ach! It didn't matter. You could still glean the lineaments of the plot—pure '80s TV cop drama. For Mann, the real crimes in his stories are the betrayal of personal loyalties and the exploitation of human relationships—not the heist or the drug deal per se. These are what drive the drama and keep you interested, even though subtitles would have been a nice touch.
Again, Farrell seemed ill at ease as Sonny. He is not a leading man: He is a character actor. Foxx is a rare bird—a comic turned serious actor who never impresses you as having to strain to repress his manic or comic energy (think Robin Williams). He is perfectly at ease in the skin of any character he assumes, and unselfconscious. He was fine here, but again, there was not much for him to do but follow the director to the climax. I wish Mann had thought through Crockett and Tubbs' relationship and given it some life, perhaps even some backstory. Nothing. They simply vow their loyalty to each other and maintain straight faces. Fine—but perhaps it would have been another opportunity for drama to strain that loyalty, perhaps con the audience into thinking it had been broken even. Nothing.
Yet, I was never bored. And that's because Mann knows how to tell a crime story—at his own pace and hitting the notes he wants to hit. So this is a lukewarm approval. Beware that there was brief nudity and some cursing. Not in the movie, but on the subway ride to the theater.
Next week, my Lutherans, I will make good on my promise to review Pirates II or Scoop. I have a feeling my miserable ex-assistant will review World Trade Center for that magazine he works for (or rather its blog). Seeing as he was living in Manhattan on that terrible day, I will probably let him have his say and recuse myself from a review of the same picture.
July 23, 2006
Lady in the Water
Now to our motion picture. Lady in the Water is a fractured fairy tale, a convoluted mess that left my entire lymphatic system withered and desiccated. Ron Howard's daughter jumps out of a community swimming pool in some Section-8 housing development called The Cove, chased by a hedgehog dressed in Astroturf. The superintendent of this hideous establishment, played by the inimitable hangdog Paul Giamatti, comes to her rescue. It seems that a Korean fairy tale has come to life and the various miserable tenants of the complex must realize their purpose, their destiny, in order to save Story—the name of Howard's water nymph.
This is a film that is constantly telling you what it is about. People must discover their roles to save Story—get it? If not, you will be told repeatedly, until your only desire is to choke to death on your own sputum. A newcomer to the Cove, a film critic played by Bob Balaban, thinks he knows exactly how stories should play out. His cynicism, and his fate, are writer-director M. Night Shyamalan's commentary on his own critics, who seemed determined to revise their Sixth Sense opinion of the director and reduce him to hackdom.
In fact, infinitely more interesting than Lady in the Water, and almost a key to understanding it, is a new book by sportswriter Michael Bamberger called The Man Who Heard Voices: Or, How M. Night Shyamalan Risked His Career on a Fairy Tale. In it, Bamberger chronicles Shyamalan's struggle to bring this disaster to the big screen. It also tells of the director's break with Disney, his insecurities, the voices in his head, and his Michael Jordan–inspired drive. Even though Disney executives were willing to give Shyamalan $60 million to do with what he wished, the fact that they admitted to being flummoxed by his Lady script was enough to drive him into the arms of Warner Bros.
Faith is a common thread through many of Shyamalan's films. Not as we Lutherans understand faith—a fervent trust in a sovereign God and a merciful saviour—but as a means of tapping into some supernatural power that will somehow enable you to realize your true identity, your true nature, and fulfill your destiny. Sounds like New Age ka-ka to me, but at least in Lady, there is a definite tension between this karmic sensibility and a more Christian understanding of the power of confession, which is realized at a climactic moment late in the film. I wish I could say it was not hoaky and predictable. Unfortunately, it was hoaky and predictable.
There are also flying monkeys of some kind.
This film opened at No. 3 this weekend. Disney must be quite pleased at having been vindicated. Shyamalan must be curled up in a fetal position. It is a shame. He is a writer-director of considerable talent, who offers up family fare and themes of hope and courage. This is no little thing in this day and age. I only wish that, in flipping the bird to his critics, trying to prove he was his own man and an unpredictable artist, he hadn't offered up so much reheated tripe, which is neither for children or adults, but only mental patients (not that they, too, do not deserve to be entertained, otherwise, what would be the point of the EU parliament?).
P.S. Can you believe that Pirates of the Caribbean sequel? Already $500 million worldwide! I will try and see it soon, my Lutherans, as well as the new Woody Allen, Scoop. Until then, remember the immortal words of that comic genius Spike Milligan: "Any man can be 62, but it takes a bus to be 62A." I don't know what it means either, but I was told it was quite witty...
July 13, 2006
From Chabon to Shyamalan
In any event Mr. Chabon’s novel put me in mind of my favorite M. Night Shyamalan film, Unbreakable. More than just a magical-realist tale of how an average Joe comes to embrace his true identity as a superhero, Unbreakable is also a powerful allegory for how only superhuman strength can keep at bay the powers that threaten to tear the American family apart.
WILL YOU SHUT UP, OECOLAMPADIUS! NO, I DON’T KNOW WHERE YOU PUT YOUR COMB!? WHY DO YOU HARRASS ME WITH THIS NONSENSE! WHY DON’T YOU DO US ALL A FAVOR AND KEEP THAT SWISS GANG OF YOURS FROM OPENING ALL THE CHOCOLATE SQUARES AND THEN PUTTING THEM BACK IN THE BOX HALF-EATEN! ACH!
I only hope Mr. Shyamalan’s latest, Lady in the Water, is more Unbreakable than Signs. While I appreciated the message of the latter—that God’s providential care extends even to the most mundane and upsetting of life’s exigencies—why, O why, did he have to bring space aliens into it?! While not wanting to weigh in on the whole immigration controversy that has captivated your nation, I do hereby implore the INS—or the MPAA—to place strict limits on the number of space aliens who can invade otherwise entertaining cinema! Does The Abyss ring any bells?
July 08, 2006
The Devil Wears Nada
The devil of this film, however, is fully clothed at all times. Her name is Miranda Priestly, and she is the editor in chief of Runway magazine. Her real-life analogue is Anna Wintour, helmswoman of Vogue, and the script for The Devil Wears Prada is an adaptation of a novel written by one of Wintour’s disgruntled ex-admins.
But as devils go, I’m afraid Priestley is a piker. Yes, she’s relentlessly demanding, boorish, self-obsessed, tactless, and unkind. But I’m afraid the script, and Ms. Streep’s portrayal, which includes donning Wintour’s signature silver-white mane, gives too much away about this putative dragon lady too soon. There’s a wry, impish grin always straining to burst out of the grimaced visage of the workaholic businesswoman. And don’t we already know that she’s paid a heavy price for her enormous success: She’s much gossiped about, another marriage is on the rocks, and her children will probably grow up to write books about her, with blurbs from their various therapists, most of whom will have guested on Oprah pitching books of their own. So let her have her townhouse, sychophants, and habitués of haute couture. We know that deep down, she’s really unhappy…
And what of her prey—the unstylish wannabe journalist, Andrea, played by Princess Diaries’ Anne Hathaway? Will she crumble under Priestly’s iron fist? Will she rise to the occasion and meet her employer’s unreasonable demands, simply to show her she can? Or will she be won over, sell her soul, prostitute her values, in order to gain access to a size-2 world that affords one every luxury?
We know this story. And we know how it will end. We know every twist and turn—the angry boyfriend, the homosexual confidante, the tortured conscience turned dragon-lady apologist.
And yet, I am ashamed to say I was nevertheless entertained by this predictable bauble. Blame Hathaway’s ingenuousness ingenue. While you can see the plot kinks coming, one almost wishes she would Faust out and follow her reluctant mentor to fame, fortune, and anorexia. Why not? You can’t help but believe she could reach the ice queen’s airy heights and yet maintain a dollop of compassion for those she has stepped on to make her ascent. And what would be so bad about that?
And that is the true temptation of this tale. You can lose your soul in more ways than one. There is success at any price—even at the cost of loyalty to friends and family. And there is the belief that success consists solely in playing by “the rules.” Andrea’s boyfriend tells her that he wouldn’t care if she were a pole dancer, so long as she did it with integrity. This is what passes for wisdom in films these days, I am horrified to say. How does one act with integrity if the very thing you are acting in is itself a projection of the fragmented and alienated self? And there's still the larger question of who is using whom in this scenario. Every pathetic wretch who passes through Runway's offices acknowledges that Priestly is a witch, yet they still want that one year of experience under her withering gaze in order to advance their publishing careers.
Andrea would have failed as a Priestly creature even if she had managed to keep a family intact and properly reward her underlings, because she would still be selling a lie to a susceptible public. Priestly attempts to justify her obsession with the fashion world by explaining that even Andrea’s pilly "poly-blend" sweater that she just threw on is a distant offshoot of some vaunted designer’s color of choice, which had made its way to the bargain basement once that season’s designs had played themselves out among the gaudy rich. So even the hoi poloi are fashionistas—they just don’t know it. Now if that isn’t a proper rationale for 6'2", 104-lb models displaying eveningwear only three people in the world can either afford or fit into—what is?
But Andrea comes to her senses in the end. While I don’t want to give away the very, very ending, my meaningless and miserable ex-assistant did ask me to throw in a bit of trivia. The offices of The Daily Mirror are in fact the offices of The Sun, a New York paper with a decidedly conservative bent. He knows this from experience, having worked there as a freelance copy editor. (I know the word trivia is related to trivial, but even this tidbit strains the plasticity of language beyond what I can endure.)
So, a halfhearted recommendation. I think many would find the moral morass the young Andrea finds herself in a curious and amusing bit of business, as well as a source of discussion afterward. But don’t expect a confrontation with Evil. Just evil. Which, of course, as we Lutherans know, is bad enough.
July 04, 2006
I TELL YOU THE ITALIANS CHEATED! THEY BRIBED THE OFFICIALS! THEY SUBSTITUTED REGULATION SOCCER BALLS FOR ITALIAN HOMING DEVICES! THEY SAWED OFF THE LEGS OF OUR BEST PLAYERS!
UNDER THE ARMOIRE, MY LUTHERANS!
WILL MY SUFFERING NEVER END!!!!!!!!!
The Ultimate in Passive-Aggressive Male Entertainment!
Speaking of brutality—Germany takes on Italy for a ticket to the World Cup Finals at 3pm EST today! If you remember: The Italians "defeated" the Germans in 1982, but only after cheating mercilessly throughout the match—at one point blinding several German players by spritzing Anisette in their eyes, and at another, stabbing the German goalie through the heart with a butcher's knife. If that were not enough, the German coach was kidnapped by mafiosi midway through the game, set ablaze, and dropped on a German midfielder while he was at prayer!
If the Germans lose, I shall have to hide under an armoire for six weeks to purge myself of the humiliation! (Not that my current living conditions afford me much more in the way of comfort or emotional equilibrium—WILL YOU SHUT THAT TELEVISION OFF, CALVINUS! I DON'T CARE IF YOU'VE NEVER SEEN THAT EPISODE OF CHARLES IN CHARGE!)
I hope to post reviews of either Pirates of the Caribbean 2 or The Devil Wears Prada by weekend's end—even if I have to do so from under bedroom furniture. Go, my Germans! And watch those wily Italians! Who knows what abominations they will perform in order to bamboozle their way to victory!
July 01, 2006
Superman Returns ... Unfortunately
This ponderous mess of a summer action movie has been touted as a thinly disguised retelling of the life of Our Lord. And yes, despite my idiot former assistant's demurrer to the contrary, it is quite obvious that this Superman is a Christ allegory. With Marlon Brando's voice resurrected from the studio vaults to intone how he is sending his only son to Earth to help us Earthlings be good, to Superman's own cruciform descents into our atmosphere, to his death, resurrection, and ascension—not once but twice!—there is no doubting that Superman is to be read as a Christ-like saviour.
After a five-year abscence wandering about the ruins of his decimated home planet Krypton, our hero returns to Earth, and to his mother, played by Eva Marie Saint (who is reunited, sort of, with her On the Waterfront costar Brando), to take his rightful place as Clark Kent by day and superhero by calamity. Meanwhile, Lex Luthor (note the spelling, danke schön!) has discovered Superman's Fortress of Solitude, that secret hideaway of colossal stalagmitic crystals somewhere in the Arctic Circle where Superman repairs to spend time with his father's ceaseless apothegms and to grow in cosmic knowledge. Luthor, played by Kevin Spacey, who previously teamed with director Bryan Singer in The Usual Suspects, desires to tap into the power of these crystals, which will not only enlarge his own brain capacity but will also enable him to construct a massive landmass off the eastern United States that will bury most of the U.S. under water and enable him to offer the world the most highly advanced technological society in the Milky Way—for a price, of course. The Man of Science is willing to kill "billions" in order to steal fire from the heavens, as did his mythological hero Prometheus once did (although I think the body count was much lower in the Greek version).
This is the most interesting part of the movie—the actual Evil Genius doing his thing, the pitting of a mad, New Agey Einstein against our myopic Kansas do-gooder. If only the movie had remained at this pitch. First of all, it's a good 45 minutes too long! AND THOSE STUPID COMMERCIALS THAT FRONT EVERY MOTION PICTURE THESE DAYS MADE IT SEEM EVEN LONGER! Yes, Hollywood gets an "F" for how it depicts smoking in relation to young people—how about its depiction of stupidity? For that it should get an "A"!
Second of all, the repetition and banality of so many of the flying/rescue images, the shadowy cinematography that has everyone in chiaroscuro obscurity, the retelling of the same plot points—including the story of Jesus writ small—make for a ponderous and exasperating two and a half hours.
In short, there was no need to make this picture! Granted, Mr. Singer has done good by emphasizing that the world DOES need a saviour, even though an embittered Lois Lane, who in Superman's five-year abscence almost married someone else and now has an asthmatic weasle of a son, is supposed to collect a Pulitzer Prize for an article entitled "Why We Don't Need Superman." Singer also surprised us with an overtly Christian mutant in X-Men 2: Battle of the Circus Monkeys, or whatever the heck it was. So kudos to Bryan Singer for reintroducing Christian themes and iconography to major motion pictures!
Nevertheless, I remained strangely unaffected by the whole business. Perhaps because I knew that this Superman's resurrection could only mean a return to the status quo. There is no hope or promise of a new heavens and a new earth. That promise is made only by Lex Luthor—and boy does he botch it up, as all utopian schemers do!
And the performances! Ach! Spacey had a lot more fun as the embodiment of radical evil, Keyser Soze, in his previous Singer outing. And Frank Langella as Perry White looks and sounds half asleep—as I was about 20 minutes into this cinematic soporific! Kate Bosworth, who previously played Sandra Dee to Spacey's Bobby Darin in the execrable Beyond the Sea, has all the appeal and screen presence of a dead puppy. (Now that Kirsten Dunst on the other hand! One of the trailers was for Spider-Man 3—and wowza wowzee wow-wow! That looks like more fun than rolling over a bishop with a Buick! May 4, 2007, my Lutherans!)
Newcomer Brandon Routh is merely Christopher Reeve redux—likable but banal. Whether or not Routh can actually act, time will tell. There's not much for him to do as Superman except keep a straight face as he flies around in his girly tights. (Reeve, God rest his soul, never had much of a range, and was always some variation of Clark Kent in every picture.)
So there you have it. The Gospel According to Bryan Singer—but a tired retread of the Superman legend nonetheless. And don't expect a comic-book Passion, as some have dubbed it. Think more Da Vinci Code—I will say no more!