Thursday, January 4, 2001
It may be only rock 'n' roll, but writer-director Cameron Crowe ("Jerry Maguire") clearly loves it. Fortunately, his enthusiasm rubs off on a viewer. Crowe's unflinching, but still affectionate look back at his own life as a teen journalist for Rolling Stone during the '70s is often wildly funny. It also has some fascinating moral dilemmas (how close should reporters get to their subjects?) and terrific performances by Billy Crudup, Kate Hudson, Frances McDormand, Philip Seymour Hoffman and newcomer Patrick Fugit. Crowe also deserves bonus points for ripping off his new mentor Billy Wilder ("The Apartment"), but doing so in a way that fits his own story and does the old master proud.
Driven by a subtly engrossing performance from Clive Owen ("Bent"), this oddly skewed thriller by writer Paul Mayersberg ("The Man who Fell to Earth") and director Mike Hodges (the GOOD version of "Get Carter") makes a viewer's head spin like a roulette wheel even after repeat viewings. Owen's title character likes to think he's above all the customers (or "punters" as he calls them) who hope to get lucky at the casino that employs him. What makes "Croupier" fascinating is that a very human heart beats beneath his tuxedo, making him just as susceptible as they are. Mayersburg comes up with lots of wonderfully disorienting plot turns and deserves special credit for writing voiceover narration that actually works.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Taiwanese-born director Ang Lee and his frequent collaborator writer James Schamus ("Ride with the Devil") combine dazzling special effects, eye-popping action (courtesy of "The Matrix" stunt coordinator Yuen Wo-Ping) and (those rarest of entities) story and character development. "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" seamlessly blends low-key psychological drama (notice how the characters rarely say what's actually on their minds) with tasty eye candy. It also firmly demonstrates that action stars Chow Yun-Fat and Michelle Yeoh are terrific actors (something you might not notice in their American flicks). Zhang Ziyi is captivating as the renegade princess they try to influence. After watching her whomp serious posterior, you wonder why such talentless bores as Chuck Norris and Steven Seagal ever got serious consideration as action heroes.
Moviegoers owe John Malkovich an enormous debt for helping to introduce this amazing Tamil-language flick from India into the American market. Writer-director Santosh Sivan's mesmerizing story concerns a young female Tamil guerilla (Ayesha Dharker) who has been picked to kill a government official. To ensure the man's execution, it will be a suicide mission. Her second thoughts about bringing about his death and her own give the movie an expected tension and also a surprising beauty. Sivan fills the screen with breathtaking images (he also worked as the cinematographer) and coaxes solid turns from his non-professional actors. Dharker is captivating, and chances are you'll see her again. She will play Queen Jamillia in "Star Wars: Episode II."
The Girl on the Bridge
French director Patrice Leconte ("The Hairdresser's Husband") has staged some of the most erotically-charged sequences that have ever been filmed, even if the actors never remove their clothes. In "The Girl on the Bridge" this subtle-yet-deft sexuality is accompanied by a bravely goofy story about a knife thrower (Daniel Auteuil) and the suicidal woman who serves as his "target" (Vanessa Paradis). Shot in shimmering black-and-white, the film has the look and feel of a fairy tale and a pungent humor to go with it. Auteuil and Paradis also have an engaging chemistry that no mere skin flick could ever hope to match.
Requiem for a Dream
Dude, Where's My Car?
If you're going to make a movie that glorifies drugs, it had better be entertaining. "Dude, Where's My Car?," about a pair of young stoners (Ashton Kutcher and Seann William Scott) who lose their vehicle on a lost evening, isn't. Their quest introduces them to stereotypical Asians, mean-spirited transsexuals, a pot-smoking dog and space-alien necklaces that make breasts grow. Somehow, none of these encounters end up being funny. Watching real potheads making fools of themselves on "Cops" is a lot more amusing. Where's Tommy Chong when you need him?
Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard's only real skill as a writer was in his prodigious ability to get people to part with their money. If Dianetics offers its practitioners any power beyond the grave, none was in evidence during "Battlefield Earth," a transcendentally pathetic adaptation of the late cult leader's massive doorstop (I mean book). While the source material is hardly sterling (one character exclaims, "You're as crazy as a nebula of crap!"), George Lucas protï¿½gï¿½ Roger Christian manages to make things even worse with poor editing, disjointed composition and (the ultimate sci-fi sin) lame special effects. By producing and starring in "Battlefield Earth," Scientology follower John Travolta inadvertently prevents anyone from ever taking the movement (or himself) seriously again.
I Dreamed of Africa
The mark of a terrible biopic is when the closing titles contain more interesting information about the person being portrayed (in this case, naturalist Kuki Gallmann) than the footage that preceded it. Such is the case with the latest entry from "Chariots of Fire" director Hugh Hudson. From Kim Basinger's wooden portrayal (forget about that second Oscar, Kim), you assume that Gallmann is not terribly bright. Her warnings to her offspring about the dangers of the jungle sound more goofy than ominous ("There's a difference between risk and stupidity"), and her conversations with African locals border on racist. When Gallmann's friends and family start dying, you wish they'd do it faster because the scenery is more agreeable than they are.
"Showgirls" director Paul Verhoeven and "End of Days" scribe Andrew W. Marlowe make an "Invisible Man" knockoff that proves this: While technology has advanced exponentially since the 1933 James Whale version, storytelling has devolved to the Stone Age. Thanks to computer-generated effects (that look like computer-generated effects), audiences learn that invisibility turns obnoxious people into sex fiends. It also seems to make the scientists who discover the secret of invisibility dumber than the teen-agers in slasher films. Memo to Elizabeth Shue and her colleagues: When you are being chased by a psychotic, naked, invisible man (Kevin Bacon), splitting up is a bad idea.
In the audio commentary for the DVD of the gritty 1971 classic "Get Carter" (directed by Mike Hodges of "Croupier"), Michael Caine recalls telling people that he named his dog "Carter" after "a movie you'll never see." If only the same could be said of the remake. Sylvester Stallone lacks the menace that the British actor brought the title role, which is only augmented by the fact that Caine appears in the new film as well. Director Stephen Kay ("The Mod Squad") lacks Hodges' ability to tell tough, realistic stories and can't even get vehicle chases right. "Get Carter" may be the first movie where a pursuit involving only two cars is confusing.
Ready to Rumble