The Movie Report
Volume 90

#295 - 298
October 3, 2001 - October 24, 2001

all movies are graded out of four stars (****)

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#298 October 24, 2001 by Michael Dequina


Bones poster Bones (R) 1/2*
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No film, let alone trailer, that's unspooled in theatres this year generates quite the laughter that the preview for Bones always elicits. With Snoop Dogg uttering the oh-so-quotable would-be badass line "I'm on a natural high. A supernatural high," the ad for Ernest Dickerson's urban horror film promises lots of unintentional hilarity.

For most of its run time, though, Bones isn't quite as much fun as that abbreviated taste. In fact, for a good hour the top-billed rap superstar is barely featured. Aside from a couple of flashbacks, including unintentionally comic retro-Blaxploitation title sequence where his inner city entrepreneur character Jimmy Bones struts the streets all pimped out in a pinstriped suit, Snoop is relegated to veritable cameo status for the first two acts. Bones begins as a weak haunted house picture that is more cheesy than flat-out awful. The house in question is a disheveled old ghetto brownstone that a none-too-bright young man named Patrick (Khalil Kain) decides to turn into a nightclub. Little does he know that the building is not only where Bones was murdered back in 1979, but it is also where his very pissed off spirit resides. Furthermore, little does Patrick know that his businessman father Jeremiah (Clifton Powell) played a major role in Bones' brutal end.

Dickerson spends this first hour trying to establish a somber and serious horror movie tone, and rather surprisingly he actually has some success in spots. The effects work used to depict the Bones ghost is convincing if not exactly scary, and there is one dream/psychic vision sequence that registers pretty high on the creepy scale. But any efforts to create a convincingly horrific atmosphere are done in by the terrible dialogue and poor plotting by writers Adam Simon and Tim Metcalfe, not to mention the wretched efforts from his cast, particularly a still-slumming Pam Grier (why oh why is she getting such bad parts after her memorable career-reviving turn in Jackie Brown?) as Bones' psychic former love Pearl.

But Grier has nothing on Snoop, who finally enters the picture in some substantial way for the final act. As soon as the dramatically challenged Snoop takes center stage, gone are any traces of attempts at a serious thriller, and Bones suddenly morphs into an intelligence-insulting ghetto version of The Crow that makes up its new supernatural rules as it goes along. With the shift, Dickerson throws up his hands and surrenders to full-on camp: a talking severed heads becomes a wisecracking comic sidekick; people cower in fear before Snoop, who with his soft voice and flamboyant pimpwear is far from intimidating figure of horror he's supposed to be; that his would-be cold-blooded pre-killing one-liners are howlers of the highest order certainly doesn't help. Nothing sums up Bones better than its parting shot, in which maggots are projectile vomited directly toward the audience. How so very appropriate.

From Hell poster From Hell (R) ***
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With the murderous villain at the center being no less than the legendary Jack the Ripper, audiences appear to have expected From Hell to be a period slasher film, if the mixed early reaction is any indication. While Allen and Albert Hughes' adaptation of Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell's graphic novel may not completely satisfy anyone's shallow bloodlust, it certainly has something more substantial to offer.

This speculative take on the notorious serial murderer of women isn't at its most engaging on the basic story level, however. While smartly constructed, the film is a fairly standard whodunit/police procedural in period dress. Granted, the key investigator, Inspector Fred Abberline, is hardly portrayed as the straightest of arrows, per the usual case with any character played by Johnny Depp. Playing an important role in his investigation are absinthe- and opium-induced visions that give him rare insight into the mind of the killer and his grisly crimes, thus granting the Hughes Brothers the opportunity to craft some unsettlingly stylized visuals. This side of the story, however, also gives scripters Terry Hayes and Rafael Yglesias room to haul in the reliable cop movie cliché of having the superior officer taking our hero off of the case, which is but one distracting concession to convention; the main one is a forced romance between Aberline and Mary Kelly (Heather Graham), the most impossibly clean (in every sense) prostitute to ever to strut the squalid streets in the 19th century London ghetto.

Given that the sleekness the Hughes Brothers lend the film is it's greatest virtue, it is tempting to say that From Hell is a case of style over substance, but to say that is to deny the substance in the style. The Graham character's unnatural (if conceptually understandable) glow notwithstanding, the grimy details of the period are convincingly recreated. More importantly, though, the murder scenes are disturbing and intense without resorting to extreme gore; stylish minimalism such as glints of light reflecting off of a blade and brief shots of blood flow amid the foggy shadows of night create a palpable air of suspense and menace.

Less patient viewers (read: most audiences) may take issue with the less-than-nailbiting pace, not to mention there isn't a traditional fright to be had. But cheap, rapid-fire scares is not what the Hughes Brothers are concerned with; From Hell is about transporting one to a different time and place as well and soaking one into its climate of fear and dread--which, given current events, is all the more relatable and immediate. What the film may lack in human warmth (though the performances, from Depp and Graham down to Ian Holm and Jason Flemyng in supporting roles, are strong) and connection it compensates for in its creation of an immersive and haunting cinematic world. The audience doesn't simply watch the film; this lushly mounted production washes over the viewer and makes them live this dark, dangerous time in history.

The Last Castle poster The Last Castle (R) **
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All outward appearances indicate class: a cast toplined by Robert Redford and James Gandolfini; a director who coaxed two Oscar-nominated performances in his last film; a release slot in the vicinity of those of previous--and successful--DreamWorks Oscar hopefuls, American Beauty and Almost Famous. Rod Lurie's The Last Castle is, instead, all crass in its empty bluster and bogus uplift.

Redford, looking rather fit from the neck down, plays General Irwin, who as the film begins is transferred to the castle-like (hence the title) military prison run by Colonel Winter (Gandolfini, doing his best in a role that doesn't call for it). A showdown between the disgraced war hero and the iron-fisted warden is anticipated from the get-go, but what isn't is the stunningly ridiculous way in which Lurie and writers David Scarpa and Graham Yost fire up the friction. Winter, an admirer of Irwin's exploits as a soldier and a writer, leaves Irwin in a room with a subordinate (Steve Burton) to fetch his copy of Irwin's book, so the general can sign it. Just as he is about to reenter the room, Winter overhears Irwin call his extensive collection of antique combat artifacts the work of someone who's never known true combat. And with this rather oblique, barely stinging sort-of insult, an overblown war of wits begins.

Make that "wit," for the buffoonish Winter is so clearly outmatched by Irwin, who can apparently not only do wrong but never has any doubt in his mind about succeeding in his cause. And what is that, exactly? Apparently Winter's been doing a crappy job of running his facility for a long time, but we never see any particularly objectionable behavior until that fateful eavesdropped conversation, which apparently cuts so deep that Winter becomes a sadist virtually overnight. Irwin wants no less than the warden's resignation, and so natural a leader is Irwin that he not only is able to anticipate Winter's every dispicable move, he knows exactly the right thing to do and say to get his way; after some laughably pompous speechifying, he has the entire inmate population eating out of his hand.

That is, the entire population except surly prison bookie Yates (the gifted rising star Mark Ruffalo, who deserves a better mainstream splash than this tripe), who for a good portion of the film's run time is actually the most likable and relatable character. Whenever Irwin launches into one of his long-winded, ham-fisted rallying cries (and are there ever a lot of those), Yates is in the background doing exactly what the audience is doing: rolling his eyes in disbelief. How disappointing it is, then, when Yates makes a turn. That's not giving anything away, for after all I've already established that Irwin's perfectly-pitched powers of psychological seduction are the envy of any cult leader.

As ridiculous as it is, all the egomaniacal grandstanding is just a warm-up for The Last Castle's truly overheated third act, when the boiling bluster becomes Bruckheimer-ish boom-boom bombast. The inmates revolt with A-Team-like homemade weapons; numerous structures are blown up or destroyed in spectacular fashion; a helicopter crashes, setting up that old action movie standby, the slo-mo run-explosion-dive. Not only is the action amped up in this final stretch, so are the dramatic pretensions, to unintended comic effect. The supposedly uplifting (literally and figuratively) finale is so overwrought that it plays as either cheap pandering to the hyper-patriotic mindset of the country right now or a gross parody of it. The latter can be said of The Last Castle; it lays everything on so thick that the film becomes a rather comical exaggeration of all it's supposed to be.

On the Line poster On the Line (PG) * 1/2 Lance Bass, Joey Fatone, Emmanuelle Chriqui interviews
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At the risk of losing whatever little credibility I may have as a reviewer, let me admit this up front and get it out of the way: I most certainly do not mind the guys of *NSYNC, and I'd go so far as to say that I like them (and no, this has nothing to do with the fact that a few people associated with them, not to mention one of the guys themselves, regularly read my work). Having been the most successful of the so-called "boy bands" that have played a major part of the huge teen pop boom of recent years, the five members would be easy targets in any attempt to expand beyond the musical realm--after all, they already are easy targets in the musical realm. But even speaking as someone who is *NSYNC-friendly, if you will (and hence more likely to give the guys a fairer shake), there's simply no getting around the fact that On the Line, the feature acting debut of two-fifths of the singing group, is not a good film. In fact, it's a rather bad example of that already barrel-bottom-scraping genre, the teenybopper romantic comedy.

Lance Bass (who also executive produced) and Joey Fatone, the two *NSYNC-ers who headline this formulaic filmic fluffball, at the very least should be commended for playing it relatively safe for their maiden screen voyage; one quality that has always set their group apart from their Tiger Beat-staple contemporaries (*cough*Backstreet Boys*cough*) is their ability to not take themselves too seriously and maintain a healthy sense of humor about themselves and their teen idoldom status. This comes through in both of their performances; as if to just get it over and done with, Bass appears (attention teenage girls!) shirtless within the first five minutes of the film, and Fatone shows that he is certainly unafraid to make an ass of himself onscreen.

And does Fatone ever make an ass of himself--and not entirely in a good way--as Rod, the wannabe rocker best friend of Bass's Kevin, a young ad exec who spends the film's 80 minutes pining over and searching for Abbey (Emmanuelle Chriqui), one of those impossibly perfect matches that only people in movies spontaneously meet on commuter trains. Kevin meets Abbey during one fateful trip on Chicago's famed "L," and with one from-memory, in-unison reciting of the names of all the U.S. Presidents, it's clear that this is a match made in... well, movies like this. Yet the terminally timid Kevin chokes and lets Abbey go her on her merry way without getting her number, and so he launches a major campaign to find her by putting up posters all around town--and in so doing, becoming a local celebrity of some sort.

No, On the Line is not terribly realistic, but it's not as if romantic comedies are really expected to be. What is expected, though, is some fair measure of laughs, and director Eric Bross doesn't offer up many here. Dave Foley has some good moments as Kevin's uppity boss, and the ever-reliable Jerry Stiller shows up (much too briefly) as the ad agency's mail clerk, but the comic burden largely rests on the characters of Kevin's obnoxious best friends/roomies, and are these guys ever annoying. There's the white boy hip-hopper (GQ), the sharp-dressed slacker (James Bulliard), and, of course, Fatone's Rod. While his wildly overenthusiastic covers of '80s metal tunes are good for a chuckle or two, for the most part Fatone appears to be channelling David Arquette--not the genuinely funny Arquette of the Scream movies, but the grating one of the AT&T commercials and recent Warner Bros. comedies.

One of Arquette's better films (and one of the better examples of teen-targeted flicks), Never Been Kissed, is not only echoed but flat out ripped off in On the Line's eerily similar conclusion. That's just one example of how uninspired Eric Aronson and Paul Stanton's script is. On the Line is based on their own short film On the L, and the manner in which a number of plot threads feel underwritten and truncated likely owes to those origins. Much is made about how the newspaper columnist (Dan Montgomery) assigned to cover Kevin's story holds a long-standing grudge against his subject, but there's no real payoff. Similarly, Abbey's side of the film, where she struggles through a rapidly fizzling relationship, is a creative dead end before it inevitably reconverges with Kevin's story; a shame, since Chriqui is an appealing and natural actress whose work here hints at a capability of doing far more than what little she's given.

Bass proves to be similarly likable--if not exactly possessing of much range--as the lead, but his and Fatone's work in On the Line ultimately proves why they are the two-fifths of *NSYNC that generally skulks in the background. Bass is pleasant, but he hardly has a forceful enough presence to carry the weight of an entire film. The best moments of On the Line are the closing five minutes, and that's not the snotty comment that it sounds like. Not only does it feature Al Green performing a rousing and slightly more upbeat rendition of his classic "Let's Stay Together" (marred only by GQ's wholly ill-advised and embarrassingly vanilla rap interlude), but it includes a brief skit starring two other members of the group. This sketch, which completely reflects *NSYNC's happily self-deprecating off-camera sense of humor, is by far the only really funny part of the whole film, and the two hilarious guest stars end up walking away with the whole movie. It just goes to show that the wrong pair from within the group was handed the movie deal.

Riding in Cars with Boys poster Riding in Cars with Boys (PG-13) **
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Over the span of 20 years, a young woman is presented with a number of life obstacles and not only perseveres, but triumphs. If this sounds like the makings of one of those late-in-the-year, gimme-an-Oscar-or-at-the-very-least-a-nomination vehicles developed for a major Hollywood star, you wouldn't be mistaken. The project in question is Riding in Cars with Boys; the star is Drew Barrymore; and there's no chance in hell you'll hear about this one on that early February morning when Academy Award nods are announced.

Penny Marshall directed this screen version of Beverly Donofrio's memoir, and its main character's mentality and evolution can actually be summed up by the theme song of Marshall's major claim to fame, the classic sitcom Laverne & Shirley.

"Give us any chance we'll take it/Leave us any rule we'll break it/We're gonna make our dreams come true/Doing it our way." Barrymore's Bev is a high schooler in 1960s Connecticut with big dreams of attending NYU and becoming a writer. The "rules" for such success don't include getting pregnant at age 15--but that's exactly what happens to Bev by the slacker Ray Hasek (Steve Zahn). Such a seeming setback doesn't faze this dreamer, however, and she accepts the hand she's dealt and vows to soldier on in own her style...

"Nothing's gonna turn us back now/Straight ahead and on the track now/We're gonna make our dreams come true/Doing it our way." Bev, at the behest of her strict father (James Woods), marries the ever-irresponsible Ray. The arrival of son Jason doesn't make the Hasek household happy, but armed with her high school equivalency, SAT scores that are implied to be solid, and a killer entrance essay, Bev seems to be right on course to university, on a scholarship, no less. Alas...

"There is nothing we won't try/Never heard the word 'impossible'/This time there's no stopping us/We're gonna do it." An old high school chum (Peter Facinelli) makes a dramatic suggestion to 20something Bev: that she and her family move to California and pursue her academic aspirations there. Bev decides to give it a shot; Ray agrees to it; plans are made. Alas...

"On your mark, get set, and go now/Got a dream--yes, we just know now/We're gonna make our dreams come true." After much arguing and various other troubles, Ray disappears from the picture (in every sense), and a liberated Bev finally appears poised at the starting line for the sprint to success. But there's the little matter of a son that needs to be taken care of...

"And we'll do it our way/Yes, our way/Making our dreams come true/For me and you." At age 35, Bev is poised to have her memoirs published, and her now-20-year-old son (a miscast Adam Garcia, looking every bit older than Barrymore as he is in real life) is a university student himself. Bev appears to have made everything come together for herself and Jason. (Or has she?)

Barrymore (and the rest of the cast, which includes a memorable Brittany Murphy as Bev's best friend Fay) does a creditable job navigating the alternately serious and comic turns of Morgan Upton Ward's script, but there's only so much that can be done with such a single-minded character. Barrymore's innate likability can go a long way, but it can't instantly make a fairly one-note character interesting. Donofrio's book is subtitled Confessions of a Bad Girl Who Made Good, but there's little hint of that "badness" aside from her teenage pregnancy, and even then she's given an air of nobility in how she holds on to her dreams in the face of such a challenge.

Even worse, Marshall and Ward drive home Bev's ambitions without following through on delivering a satisfactory payoff. The structure, where various remembrances are interspersed with the 1980s Bev and Jason taking a long road trip, allows a convenient way for the filmmakers to skip around to only key passages in Bev's life, but shouldn't have someone realized that one of the lost sections was the realization of one of Bev's most important aspirations: her entire university experience? Getting a book published may have been one of her goals, but the focus had clearly been placed on college.

Ultimately, the main question is if Beverly Donofrio's life story seem like one worth telling. Perhaps her writing style makes it one worth reading about, but whatever distinguished Riding in Cars with Boys the book certainly doesn't show up in the movie, which turns her life into a rather stock inspirational story of personal empowerment.

In Brief

Waking Life poster Waking Life (R) *** 1/2
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A plotless rumination on the nature of dreams, reality, and identity doesn't sound like the most mesmerizing of movie experiences, but Richard Linklater has managed that feat with his latest feature. The loose structure, in which 40 or so characters are seen--or rather, eavesdropped on--as they discuss such heady metaphysical and philosophical ideas, more than recalls the writer-director's breakthrough debut, Slacker, but here all the nonstop, free-form conversation feels less random, unified not only by their common subject matter but by a nominal protagonist (Wiley Wiggins) who may be encountering all these people or just dreaming it all up. While the discussions are fascinating and often times fun (helping out are the presences of the likes of Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, reprising their Before Sunrise roles; and Steven Soderbergh), it would be a lie to say that the writing is what distinguishes the picture; what does is the gorgeously done rotoscope animation, which gives the right air of shifting reality--or unreality--to the entire affair, not to mention makes the film ceaselessly fascinating and exciting to watch.

#297 October 12, 2001 by Michael Dequina


Bandits poster Bandits (PG-13) ***
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Bruce Willis may stand ahead of the pack on the poster for Bandits, but the real stars of Barry Levinson's comedy are standing right behind: Billy Bob Thornton and Cate Blanchett. Without this Oscar-nominated (or, in the case of Thornton, also Oscar-winning) duo, it would be difficult to imagine this caper being such a spirited screwball romp.

This is not to say that Willis does not hold up his end of the film as Joe Blake, the tough guy convict who sets all of the action in motion by making a daring prison break for which fellow inmate Terry Collins (Thornton) happens to be along for the ride. As the fugitive pair grab headlines on the lam as the "sleepover bandits" who take bank managers (and their families) hostage the night before each heist, Willis is reliably stoic as the macho straight man of the piece. But he cannot help but come off as flat compared to Thornton's hilarious Terry, whose brainy self-image is contradicted by his ridiculously strong neuroses, particularly over his health.

Bandits gets an added jolt of manic energy with the entrance of Kate Wheeler (Blanchett), a housewife who is memorably introduced while she dances and cooks to the rampaging strains of Bonnie Tyler's "Holding Out for a Hero." But it's Tyler's other big early '80s hit, the melodramatic power ballad "Total Eclipse of the Heart," that's Kate's anthem, and after being dissed one time too many by her cold husband, Kate drives off in a bawling, "Eclipse"-warbling huff--and ends up literally running into Terry. She becomes his and Joe's hostage, but after each guy spends some quality time with this fiery female, a classic triangle is born.

It's a predictable development, but the three stars work so well together that even the most contrived dramatic developments are fun to watch. Thornton is the film's centerpiece in more ways than one; not only is his eccentric character the film's comic heart, his built-in familiarity with both of his co-stars fuels the trio's easygoing chemistry. He and Armageddon cohort Willis make an amiable pair, but Thornton really comes to life with Blanchett, who is such a chameleon it's easy to forget that she had worked with him previously on Pushing Tin. As in that film, Blanchett shows natural flair for comedy, handling slapstick and zingers with equal aplomb.

Unfortunate it is, then, that Levinson and writer Harley Peyton at times threaten to undermine the cast's commendable efforts. Levinson's pacing sometimes goes slack, and the two-hour-plus run time is too strongly felt; a clumsy framing device is more of an unnecessary distraction instead of an enhancement, not to mention it telegraphs some of the film's closing twists. But a threat is all it remains, and despite the bumps along the way Bandits is a blast.

In Brief

Corky Romano poster Corky Romano (PG-13) **
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Posing the question "Who is Corky?" in huge block letters, the promotional campaign for Corky Romano not merely tempts but invites the easy, smart-ass retort of "Who cares?"--or, perhaps more accurately, "Who the fuck cares," for the only image running with said query is the disembodied head of Saturday Night Live player Chris Kattan sporting an especially toothy, especially goofy smile. Surprising it is, then, that some of the silliness actually elicits laughter. Not terribly surprising, however, is that there's not enough of that laughter.

Kattan plays Corky, the black sheep son of mob boss "Pops" Romano (Peter Falk). The paper-thin plot has Pops enlisting Corky to infiltrate the FBI to destroy incriminating evidence, thus setting the stage for this flamboyant assistant veterinarian to bumble his way through fed headquarters and stumble his way through crime scenes. Seeing Kattan knock over numerous props on each set is as unfunny as it sounds, but every now and again pops up a scene good for some giggle-worthy stupidity, such as when Corky, accidentally tweaked on cocaine (don't ask), has to give a speech to a room full of elementary school children. While Kattan is a nimble enough comedian to pull off some moments of amusing idiocy, thankfully director Rob Pritts has surrounded him with a cast of reliable pros, which in addition to Falk includes Richard Roundtree as Corky's FBI superior and Chris Penn and Peter Berg as Corky's far-tougher (at least on the outside) brothers.

Corky Romano isn't based on a Saturday Night Live sketch, but it might as well as been, considering how quickly the energy peters out before the sub-90-minute run time has expired. A subplot involving a FBI agent (Matthew Glave) jealous of the attention lavished on Corky is predictable and tiresome, and the film succumbs to the usual third act pitfalls of idiot comedies: the goofy hero somehow grows some brains in the final stretch, where some completely unearned attempts at heartstring-yanking take place. Some light amusements make Corky hardly the ordeal it appears to be, but that's not exactly the most glowing of praise, now is it?

My First Mister poster My First Mister (R) ** 1/2
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Two misfits--one a teenage girl, the other a far older man--strike up a most unlikely friendship. If this sounds like Ghost World to you, you wouldn't be mistaken, for Christine Lahti's feature directorial debut plays like a watered-down variation--that is, until the final third, when the film not only deviates but flat out derails.

The teenage girl is Jennifer (Leelee Sobieski), a.k.a. "J," who outwardly expresses her distaste for the world at large by hiding behind a black-clad, white-faced, multi-pierced Goth exterior. While on the hunt for a job, J meets sad sack Randall (Albert Brooks), the pushing-50 manager of a men's fine clothing store, who takes a chance on her as a stock room clerk. The pair's initial dislike and distrust proves to be short-lived, for those feelings gradually melt away as J and the newly-nicknamed "R" spend more time at and away from the workplace. Such a friendship between polar opposites would have felt awfully contrived were it not for the performances of and chemistry between Sobieski and Brooks; they manage to remain genuine even when everything surrounding them feels less so.

And as My First Mister progresses, those surroundings become too conventional and contrived for Sobieski and Brooks to make the film work. In the final stretch Lahti and writer Jill Franklyn engage in a trick even more unforgivable than the indulgent, Ally McBeal-ish fantasy visuals that mar the opening passages: manipulative schmaltz. It's as if Lahti and Franklyn didn't have enough faith in J and R's shared loneliness, nor Sobieski and Brooks' natural and quietly affecting rapport, to elicit a strong emotional response from the audience, so deadly secrets and heretofore undiscovered relatives are uneasily forced into the picture. In a sense, though, the calculated sappiness does succeed in provoking a heightened reaction--but resentment and disgust is surely not what they had in mind.

#296 October 5, 2001 by Michael Dequina


Mulholland Dr. one-sheet Mulholland Dr. (R) **** David Lynch & Laura Elena Harring interviews
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David Lynch's Mulholland Dr. began life as a television series pilot commissioned by ABC for the 1999-2000 season. Like Lynch's legendary 1990-1991 foray into network television, Twin Peaks (which later spawned the criminally underrated 1992 prequel feature, Twin Peaks--Fire Walk with Me), the engine driving the Mulholland pilot is a mystery centering on a young woman.

The pilot begins on a dark stretch of the titular, windy road in the Hollywood Hills, where said woman (Laura Elena Harring, a long way from doing the lambada in the 1990 camp classic The Forbidden Dance) narrowly escapes an attempted hit, thanks to a freak traffic accident. While she stumbles away from the scene with her life, she doesn't come away with her memory, and she ultimately holes up in a nearby apartment that happens to be empty--at least when she first gets there; she is soon greeted by perky aspiring actress Betty (Naomi Watts), the fresh-from-Deep Water, Ontario niece of the apartment's regular tenant. Betty and the amnesiac woman, who takes on the name "Rita" after looking at a poster for the Hayworth-starrer Gilda, become quick friends, and Betty vows to help Rita recover her lost past.

Also like Peaks, Mulholland is an ensemble piece, and while the Betty/Rita storyline is the main concern, there are other subplots that play out in the background. One that directly relates to the main story is that of a clumsy hitman (Mark Pellegrino) out to finish the job on Rita. Another major thread has less direct relation: one involving Adam Kesher (Justin Theroux), a hot Hollywood director who's being forced to surrender casting control--and perhaps more--to some mob types.

While the characters, setting, and situations, not to mention the more noir-based flavor, are quite distinct from Peaks, the pilot-based portion of Mulholland Dr. (which is rather easy to recognize as roughly the first 100 minutes of the film's total 146-minute run time) more than recalls that earlier series. Some characters are even direct analogues to those in Peaks: Betty's golly-gee enthusiasm at cracking a case is a more extreme take on FBI Agent Dale Cooper's similar work attitude; the creepy mob figure who sits in a curtained room is played by none other than Peaks' diminutive curtained room resident Michael J. Anderson, wearing an oversize body; and the information-imparting ways of the Peaks character of the Giant continue in the form of the Cowboy (Monty Montgomery). That character--and, in one standout sequence, the hitman--offers some scene-stealing doses of typically absurdist Lynchian humor. Most Peaks-ish of all is the unsettling, unpredictable atmosphere. Once again Lynch regular Angelo Badalamenti (who has a memorable cameo) composes a haunting, dread-filled score that highlights the underlying danger and evil that threatens to surface at any given moment.

ABC passed on Mulholland Dr. as a series, reportedly because higher-ups found it--shock of shocks--too weird. (The network instead went with Wasteland, the Kevin Williamson-created twentysomething drama that ended up flaming out after a scant two months on the air.) But based on the intoxicating narrative groundwork he establishes, there's little doubt that Lynch could have had another watercooler sensation along the lines of first-season Peaks. If that series, with its focal families living in a small town filled with dirty secrets, can be seen as Lynch's take on the old school TV soap, then all indications suggest that a regular Mulholland Dr. series would have been his uniquely off-kilter spin on the slick '90s breed of sudser, with its young, Aaron Spelling-ready cast members (interestingly enough, Harring toiled for a year on that producer's short-lived daytime drama Sunset Beach) intertwining in an apartment complex that--perhaps not so coincidentally--bears eerie resemblance to the Melrose Place compound.

A year after Mulholland Dr. was officially pronounced dead as a television project (talks with other networks went nowhere), Lynch secured financing to morph his open-ended pilot into a self-contained feature. That the final 40 minutes or so do not offer a clean and conventional resolution to the many dangling threads that had been carefully introduced will certainly be a source of endless irritation to many a moviegoer. However, this should be a reason for relief; it's not in Lynch's blood to come up with tidy solutions, as so clearly illustrated by the half-hearted quickie wrap-up to the "Who Killed Laura Palmer?" mystery in the European version of the Peaks pilot.

Call it either brilliant or boggling (or maybe even both?), there's no denying that the course that Lynch decided to take is nothing short of astonishing. Instead of serving up a capper to a previously unfinished work, he redefines the whole--or, rather, refines it. Most attention will be paid to the many surreal occurrences in this final stretch, but far more important than the surface trickery is what it accomplishes: redirect the focus from events and characters to the film's raw emotional core. In scattering events and identities with seeming randomness, Lynch apparently says that such particulars are moot; what matters are the emotions boiling within the people--in particular, the person played by Watts, whose virtuoso performance is a wonder on par with the film's daring transformation.

Perhaps nothing illustrates this better than Mulholland Dr.'s most startling scene, where Betty and Rita go to a creepy nightclub/theatre and sit transfixed as a woman onstage warbles a heart-crushing, a cappella, Spanish version of Roy Orbison's "Cryin'." Just about everything about the scene has the air of the unreal--the strange woman with the blue hair in the box seating; the blurred lines between singing/speaking and lipsynching in the show, not to mention those between the languages--except the intimately devastating emotional impact of the singer's lament of lost love (which proves to hold even more resonance as the film goes on).

At first glance, the simple, single-sentence--or, rather, "single-line," since it's technically just a phrase--synopsis offered in the Mulholland Dr. press kit appears to be a classic case of Lynch playing coy. But once one sees the maddening, masterful Mulholland Dr., one would be hard-pressed to come up with a more accurate and appropriate description of the experience than "a love story in the city of dreams."

Training Day poster Training Day (R) ***
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Training Day could not be more aptly titled, and not simply because those two words offer the most accurate and succinct summation possible of the film's story and structure. The title also gives a clear idea of how star Denzel Washington schools the viewer in how electrifying screen acting can be.

Director Antoine Fuqua wisely trades in the glossy flash of his previous two films, The Replacement Killers and Bait, for more a more realistic, down-and-dirty approach befitting this dark and gritty story. Training Day slavishly sticks to the 24-hour time period of its title, a day in which rookie LAPD cop Jake Hoyt (Ethan Hawke) is to be shown the ropes of the narcotics investigation beat by 13-year vet Alonzo Harris (Washington). The training that Jake receives goes beyond the expected by-the-book procedures, however. As the long day wears on, it becomes an increasingly charged clash of personalities and ideologies, with the naive Jake learning about the code of street justice in the hardest possible way from the many difficult situations into which Alonzo places him--not to mention from the morally ambiguous Alonzo himself.

The press and advertising for Training Day have made it clear that Alonzo is perhaps just as bad, if not worse, than the types he busts every day, but Washington makes the gradual unpeeling of his character's layers absolutely riveting. Washington's natural magnetism as well as any other baggage he brings with him from previous films actually works wonders for this role. Much like how Alonzo's behavior constantly subverts any idealistic notions about law enforcement officers, Washington's fearless performance continually challenges any preconceptions of "nobility" one may have associated with the actor; the viewer is never allowed any comfort as one is made increasingly uncertain of just how far the character will go. Alonzo's test of Jake's mettle is paralleled by the implicit acting challenge Washington's formidable work presents to Hawke, and like his character, the well-cast Hawke proves up to the demanding task, at times rather surprisingly so.

Disappointing it is, then, that David Ayer's script fails to keep up with the pace of the actors; the story gets too reliant on contrivance and coincidence to drive its final third. Effectively summing up Training Day is one of the film's more awkward moments, a scene where Alonzo gives a charged speech in the middle of the night, in the middle of a residential street. It's hard not to see the scene as the bit of melodramatic grandstanding that it is, but that point--and any other issues with the material, for that matter--is made irrelevant by Washington's volcanic energy and fierce conviction.

In Brief

Joy Ride poster Joy Ride (R) ***
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Think for a second about the events that take place in Joy Ride, and the film is absolutely preposterous. Luckily, director John Dahl keeps the action moving so swiftly and has such skill at building and maintaining tension that one is never afforded a moment of deep reflection--and as such, a good, nail-biting time is to be had. The story doesn't begin too off-the-wall, with just-out-of-jail Fuller (Steve Zahn) goading his more responsible younger brother Lewis (Paul Walker) into playing a prank on a truck driver over the CB radio.

Naturally, such a mindless stunt snowballs into a tense run for their--and Lewis' friend Venna's (Leelee Sobieski)--lives, not to mention a series of events that become increasingly far-fetched. Thank goodness, then, for the wit of Dahl, writers Clay Tarver and J.J. Abrams, and particularly Zahn, which prevents the film from ever taking itself too seriously. But grounding the over-the-top antics is the genuine suspense; sure, it may not make much sense for a huge truck to be plowing through a field in pursuit of three people running on foot, but is it scary? Certainly--at least in this ultimately quite convincing context.

Max Keeble's Big Move poster Max Keeble's Big Move (PG) **
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Let it be said from the get-go: I left this film's target audience long ago. But good so-called "family films" should indeed hold something of interest for everyone from 8 to 80, and this film plays like a Disney Channel sitcom pilot that no one over 13 would ever want to watch. The "Max Keeble" of the title is a mischievous 7th grader (Alex D. Linz), and a "big move" to Chicago is what his parents announce to Max a mere week into the school year. Seeing nothing to lose, Max--with the help of best friends Megan (Zena Grey), a clarinet player; and Robe (Josh Peck), a stereotypically clumsy heavyset type who wears his namesake to school and everywhere else--seeks to even the score with his numerous tormentors, including a bully (Noel Fisher) and an evil ice cream man (Jamie Kennedy). Larry Miller and Amy Hill have a few amusing moments as, respectively, the corrupt principal and his less-than-helpful secretary; but as a whole this is tube-level entertainment, from the broad humor and characterizations to the obvious signposts of a limited budget (e.g. Britney Spears' "...Baby One More Time" is played numerous times--but only in its instrumental form).

#295 October 3, 2001 by Michael Dequina


Captain Corelli's Mandolin poster Captain Corelli's Mandolin (R) *
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Take a well-regarded novel, an epic historical setting, an Academy Award-winning actor, the director of a recent Best Picture winner, and the current flavor-of-the-year actress, and you get Captain Corelli's Mandolin, one of the year's most embarrassing big-budget miscalculations.

Shockingly enough, director John Madden's would-be prestige project has bigger problems than that inexplicable It Girl Penelope Cruz, whose awkward and altogether unimpressive display here further greases her wheels on the fast track to the overhyped starlet scrap heap. No, much more blame goes to a comically miscast Nicolas Cage as the captain of the title, a warmhearted Italian soldier whose oh-so-seductive strummings of the mandolin earn him--or should I say "curse him with"--the affections of Pelagia (Cruz), the homeliest woman in all of WWII-era Greece. With tensions escalating between the Greek citizens and their fascist occupiers and war sweeping over the rest of the continent, will Corelli and Pelagia's love survive?

But wait a second--how, why, and when exactly do these two fall for each other in the first place? Don't ask screenwriter Shawn Slovo, who adapted Louis de Bernières' novel. When Corelli first moves in with Pelagia and her doctor father (John Hurt), his presence is annoyance to her--an easily understandable reaction, given how painful Cage's faux accent is. One night Corelli plucks a few strings on that magical mandolin of his, and suddenly Pelagia's swooning, and her existence-justifying feelings for her intended (Christian Bale) have been completely erased. Another night, Corelli scopes out Pelagia doing a tango, and he's all hot and bothered. On yet another night, Corelli strums an especially sappy tune, declares it "Pelagia's Song," and the next morning they're doing the naked horizontal lambada in the forest. Huh?

Cage and Cruz are as flat as decades-old Coca-Cola together (which is probably proof positive of their alleged off-screen affair). But even worse, the pair fails to connect with the audience. Corelli is supposed to be a sensitive romantic, but Cage's wide-eyed and slurred portrayal is less soulful than stoned; Cruz's misbegotten idea of conveying dramatic weight is yelling her lines as loudly as possible. The only believable sense of romance coming from the entire picture is, literally, the picture--John Toll's cinematography lovingly captures the natural splendor of the Greek locations. It's too bad the two "lovebirds" have to come in and ruin what would've been a gorgeous travelogue film.

Serendipity poster Serendipity (PG-13) ***
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"A fortunate accident" is how Sara Thomas (Kate Beckinsale) defines the concept of "serendipity" to Jonathan Trager (John Cusack) early on in Peter Chelsom's romantic comedy of the same name. Accident or not, Serendipity the film can certainly be described as a "fortunate" arrival in multiplexes during this less-than-stellar year. The film is hardly a groundbreaker, but it's most certainly a big-hearted charmer--and when it comes to the rom-com genre, that's all that matters.

Much of the charm comes from leads Cusack and Beckinsale, who establish a palpable romantic rapport in the film's extended prologue. It's rush holiday shopping season in 1990 New York City, and Jonathan and Sara meet when fighting for the last pair of black cashmere gloves in a crowded department store. A search for gloves appears to have become a discovery of love, for the strongly attracted pair then spend one long night on the town getting to know each other and falling hard. But the timing is off for the attached Sara, and she proposes to Jonathan an unusual plan where they part, leaving their reunion entirely up to the powers of fate. Years later, Sara and Jonathan are in committed relationships with other people, but both still keep watch for possible signs--and consider the idea of taking destiny into their own hands.

Notions of fate and destiny aren't an alien concept in romantic comedies; in recent years the concept has become somewhat of a staple, playing a role in films from 1993's smash Sleepless in Seattle to the recently released Happy Accidents. Writer Marc Klein doesn't make many, if any, deviations from tried-and-true formula. Not only do the pieces of the plot fall into their expected places at all the regularly scheduled intervals, the characterizations also have a ring of familiarity. Both Sara and Jonathan have best friends/sounding boards who have quirky senses of humor; the current love interest for the female is eccentric to say the least, and the one for the male has her share of neuroses.

While innovation is always a welcome addition to any film, it's not entirely necessary in a film like Serendipity. What matters most is the manner in which it goes about its familiar business, and those behind Serendipity have made an immensely likable entertainment. Not only do they strike convincing sparks together, the affable Cusack and the luminous Beckinsale are able to engage the audience individually, a critical component considering they spend most of the film carrying separate halves of the film. However, they are strongly helped by the well-cast supporting players. The lively comic instincts of Molly Shannon and Jeremy Piven elevate what could have easily been stock best friend roles; in Piven's case, his lifelong off-screen friendship with Cusack makes for an added level of convincing on-camera cameraderie. As the potential spoilers to a Jonathan-Sara pairing, John Corbett and Bridget Moynahan are also appealing, albeit in different ways. Moynahan's Hallie isn't so much ill-suited for Jonathan than simply not as an ideal a match as Sara; Corbett's eccentric, egocentric new age musician Lars is harder to like, but his charisma makes Sara's attraction to him understandable.

Such sharp casting and performances is a testament to the wonderful directing job by Chelsom. From the first frames he sets up the right atmosphere of fairy tale romance; contributing mightily to that is John de Borman's cinematography, which captures all the visual splendor of winter in the Big Apple (a sight that is even more powerful and magical in light of recent events). More importantly, however, Chelsom found the right rhythm for this story, and the film comes in at an efficient sub-90-minute run time. There isn't a wasted moment, and as such Serendipity leaves one with a pleasant feeling few films generate: that of wanting more.

In Brief

Don't Say a Word poster Don't Say a Word (R) **
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"I'll never tell." If only Gary Fleder's workmanlike thriller were as much fun as mimicking star Brittany Murphy's singsong delivery of the film's tagline. What Murphy's institutionalized character Elisabeth won't tell is a six digit number that apparently holds the key to the location to a stolen jewel--not to mention it's the piece of information sought out by the kidnappers of the young daughter of Elisabeth's psychiatrist Nathan Conrad (Michael Douglas), who has 24 hours to retrieve the number. So the stage has been set for a nailbiting suspenser--or at least it should have been. The promise of the set-up starts deflating with the introduction of a parallel plot involving a police detective's (an unconvincing Jennifer Esposito) murder investigation, and the main story gets harder to swallow when Elisabeth's behavior becomes maddeningly inconsistent (sometimes she's coherent, sometimes not) and the "treatment" that Nathan gives his patient proves to be nothing particularly special--showing Elisabeth certain objects is all it took for someone to make a breakthrough with her? There are rousing moments to be sure, like Nathan's broken leg-afflicted wife (Famke Janssen) somehow holding her own in physical combat with a bad guy, but such overtly calculated crowdpleasers make the film feel that much more run-of-the-mill.

Hearts in Atlantis poster Hearts in Atlantis (PG-13) **
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Stephen King would be the last person one would think responsible for one of those supremely saccharine sweet "summer that changed my life" films, but that's exactly what Scott Hicks' soggy adaptation of one of King's stories in his book of the same name is. In the year 1960, young Bobby Garfield's (Anton Yelchin) life is changed when a mysterious stranger named Ted Brautigan (Anthony Hopkins) comes to live with Bobby and his widowed mother Liz (Hope Davis). Ted becomes best friend to Bobby, offering his worldly wisdom to the youngster and something more--a taste of his mysterious psychic powers.

Contrary to what the trailers say, Ted is actually not looking for someone to "pass his gift to"; in fact, Bobby's inherited psychic powers play a fairly minor role in the larger scheme of things. Then again, so does the mystery surrounding Ted and his pursuers, a subplot that fizzles out in a most astonishing fashion. Strip away the metaphysical gloss, and what's left is a stock tale of mentorship and coming-of-age during one of those eventful summers that only seem to exist in movies. That the film does manage to generate some mild emotional response is not so much Hicks' nor scripter William Goldman's doing than that of Hopkins and Yelchin's gentle rapport--the one aspect of the film that doesn't feel pre-programmed.

L.I.E. poster L.I.E. (NC-17) ** 1/2
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Those noticing the rating and are already halfway out the door in hopes of seeing something salacious and scandalous--take a seat. There is nothing here that can be considered more objectionable than anything that appears in a token R-rated movie: some bad language, a fleeting glimpse of male-female sex, non-explicit verbal sexual references and innuendo. The restrictive rating seems more a reaction to the orientation of those references: the focal character is gay teen Howie (Paul Franklin Dano), and the film's key relationship is the chaste friendship between him and Big John (Brian Cox), a pedophile.

The performances in Michael Cuesta's film are dead-on; Cox has deservedly earned many kudos for his tightrope walk of a performance: creepy yet oddly sympathetic and charming--which just ups the creepy factor. Just as good is Dano as the troubled Howie, as is an all-too-briefly seen Billy Kay as Gary, Howie's bad boy best friend and unrequited crush. But providing too much of a distraction from these intriguing Howie-John and Howie-Gary relationships is the conventionally strained one between Howie and his father (Bruce Altman), who has a most uninvolving subplot involving his shady business practices. The plot threads that do work are involving, but given how they stop rather than come to a natural end, L.I.E.--which stands for "Long Island Expressway"--ultimately offer little satisfaction outside of the strong performances.

Lakeboat poster Lakeboat (R) ***
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Like the object of its title, Lakeboat cruises along very slowly, and much like the lakeboat laborers' daily routine, not much happens in this film. But Lakeboat itself cannot be described as routine, what with a top-notch troupe of actors delivering the propulsive dialogue of David Mamet. Mamet himself doesn't direct this adaptation of his very first play, but with the helming chores being handled by Mamet regular Joe Mantegna (in his feature directing debut), there probably wouldn't have been much difference. Mantegna, who is also briefly seen in a throwaway role, wisely stays close to the script and simply steps back and lets the cast work their magic.

The setting is a steel freighter on the Great Lakes, and the audience surrogate is Dale Katzman (Tony Mamet), a grad student who takes a summer job on the ship. Dale's limited stay on the freighter and running speculation on what caused the ship's night cook Guigliani (an unbilled Andy Garcia, whose involvement is nonetheless spelled out in all the advertising) to miss the boat's departure are the only elements in Lakeboat resembling a plot in any way. The piece is quite literally a character study, with Dale observing and listening in on the interactions between the bored crew of grizzled veterans, played by Charles Durning, George Wendt, Robert Forster, Denis Leary, J.J. Johnston, Peter Falk,and Jack Wallace. These guys talk mostly among themselves on subjects ranging from the hot weather to the physical strength of Steven Seagal, but every once in a while they find a moment to impart their "wisdom" to the younger fellow on board.

In the latter is how this seemingly static film generates some dramatic tension and true poignancy. Dale stands in direct constrast and opposition with the rest of the crew not only due to his youth but also his limitless options and promise in life--promise that these men never tasted. The one exception would be Joe (a spectacular Forster), Dale's roommate; in the film's most memorable moments, Joe lays bare the loneliness, despair over dashed dreams, and sad resignation that the others aboard would never own up to having. Mantegna's unambitious visual scheme and the episodic nature of Mamet's script may often make the film feel stagebound, but beautiful moments of performance such as Forster's subtly spellbinding monologues transcend such technical limitations and make for compelling cinema.

Liam poster Liam (R) ***
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The title character (Anthony Borrows) is a seven-year-old in 1930s Liverpool, and while his struggles with a strict Catholic upbringing (particularly in his schooling) make for many a comic highlight in Stephen Frears' drama, the film is really the sad story of Liam's father (Ian Hart), a devoted family man whose desperation in times of economic distress leads him down a destructive path. Writer Jimmy McGovern's story is simple, but the emotions it evokes are not, and they make an intimate impact due to the commendable work of everyone in the cast, ranging from veterans such as Hart to gifted newcomers such as Borrows and Megan Burns (as Liam's older sister Teresa).

Rock Star poster Rock Star (R) ***
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This period music dramedy has already been written off as the first high profile flop of the fall movie season, but as in the case, albeit inversely, to the sleeper strength of Keanu Reeves' horrid Hardball, box office receipts are not directly proportional to actual quality. The film actually divvies up nicely into two parts. First is the rather breezy story of (as the tagline puts it) "a wannabe who got to be"--in this case Chris Cole (Mark Wahlberg), the obsessive front man for a heavy metal cover/tribute band, who is plucked from obscurity to be the lead singer of his favorite band, Steel Dragon. Once Chris, now known as "Izzy," is firmly planted at the top, the film shifts gears into a more serious, if unoriginal, exploration of the price of fame, particularly the toll it takes on Chris's relationship with his devoted girlfriend Emily (Jennifer Aniston). The work of Wahlberg, writer John Stockwell, and director Stephen Herek is more absorbing in the film's lighter first half, but they all handle the switch to more dramatic fare with little strain. Yet they don't pull off the transition with the remarkable ease demonstrated by the underestimated Aniston. Having already proven her ability to carry light comedy (the otherwise mediocre Picture Perfect) and handle weightier material (The Object of My Affection), that she is able to steal the show with her impressive depth in a supporting role is the true indicator of her versatility and post-Friends potential.

Zoolander poster Zoolander (PG-13) ***
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Believe it or not, the fact that Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson play the top two male models in the entire world gives only a small idea of just how outrageous this fashion satire is--but the fact that comic live wires such as Stiller, Wilson, and Will Ferrell head the cast gives a very clear idea of how hilariously enjoyable this film is. Sure, the premise is ridiculous: Ferrell's evil fashion designer programs Stiller's dimwitted (to say the least) Derek Zoolander into becoming an assassin. But along the way Stiller, who also co-wrote and directed, gets in some smart and always silly jabs at the fashion industry and image- and celebrity-obsessed society in general. The business of looking good is certainly an easy target--Stiller doesn't exactly make fun of anything that hasn't before--but when such low aims are attacked with such ferocious energy and (yes) style, one is too busy laughing to complain. Also making strong impressions alongside Stiller, Wilson, and Ferrell are a well-cast (for once) Milla Jovovich as an evil henchwoman; and two rather fortuitous instances of nepotism: Stiller's wife Christine Taylor, ably playing straight woman as a Time magazine reporter; and Stiller's father Jerry as Zoolander's agent.


Town & Country DVD Town & Country (R) full movie review
Movie: * 1/2; Disc: **
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It certainly seemed like a simple enough idea: assemble some of Hollywood's respected older acting talent--Warren Beatty, Goldie Hawn, Diane Keaton, Garry Shandling--for a screwball farce about marriage and infidelity. Who knew that from such humble origins would spring a film project of rare infamy. The fact that this labored and largely unfunny mess is now the biggest flop in film history actually pales in comparison to the legend of its stormy three-year production, during which battles between stars and filmmakers (or should I say "star" and "filmmaker") led to constant rethinking and reshooting that pushed the budget of what should have been a small-scale effort to north of $80 million.

At the junket for his far more satisfying romantic comedy Serendipity back in August, director Peter Chelsom told the press that he did indeed record a frank but restrained commentary track for New Line's DVD of Town & Country, and that some of the numerous scrapped scenes would also be included. But click on the "All Access Pass" selection on the DVD menu, and one finds that the access is severely limited. All that's there are the usual IMDb-derived cast and crew filmographies and the film's theatrical trailer. Chelsom's commentary is nowhere to be found, and neither is a single glimpse of any deleted scenes. Static menus lead one to the usual options for subtitles and sound, as well as the choice of watching either full-frame or widescreen transfers of the film. Perhaps it's fitting that a film as uninteresting as Town & Country is given a DVD treatment to match, but such a juicy inside story begs to be told--and it's disappointing and frustrating to know that, at one point in time, that story was going to be, even if only partially.

Specifications: Full-frame and 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen; English 5.1 Surround; English Dolby Surround; English subtitles; English closed captioning. (New Line Home Entertainment)

3000 Miles to Graceland DVD The Pledge DVD 3000 Miles to Graceland (R) full movie review
Movie: * 1/2; Disc: **
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The Pledge (R) full movie review
Movie: ** 1/2; Disc: **
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Franchise Pictures' business plan of producing pet projects that big name stars could not get made anywhere else for one reason or another appears wise. More often than not, though, once these projects are made, that one reason or another why those other studios and companies to pass become all too clear. Case in point, the star-studded action flop 3000 Miles to Graceland, which despite its intriguingly varied array of on-screen talent--Kurt Russell, Kevin Costner, Christian Slater, Courteney Cox, David Arquette, Howie Long, and Ice-T--is done in by a terrible script and the clunky direction of one Demian Lichtenstein, whose skills seem more suited for direct-to-video shoot-'em-up schlock.

Franchise needs to pay more attention to the content rather than the cast, as the emphasis lay on in one of their more interesting (if still financially unsuccessful) efforts, the brooding drama The Pledge. As with most Franchise projects, there's no shortage of name talent involved, but for once the talent--Sean Penn directs, Jack Nicholson toplines--seems incidental to the story of a cop obsessed with finding a killer. Some creaky plotting and an overly chilly directing touch make the film fall just shy of the mark, but the merits of the film (namely, Nicholson's work) are memorable.

Graceland and The Pledge are like night and day when it comes to quality, but success--or lack thereof--is the great equalizer in Hollywood, so Warner has given them similarly barebones DVD treatments. Both films look and sound as good as they can for home viewing, but the pickings are ridiculously slim when a mere listing of cast and crew information, with only one or two full filmographies, is passed off as a special feature.

Specifications for both: 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen; English and French 5.1 Surround; English and French subtitles; English closed captioning. (Warner Home Video)


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