Reviews

Hannibal


Directed by: Ridley Scott
Written by:David Mamet, Steven Zaillian
Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Julianne Moore, Giancarlo Giannini, Ray Liotta, Gary Oldman
Released: February 15, 2001
Grade: C+

Even before I saw Hannibal, I knew it had no chance of matching its predecessor, Silence Of The Lambs, which won five Oscars and is one of only three films to win the big four - picture, director, actor and actress (the other two being It Happened One Night in 1934 and One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest in 1975).  This sequel has been in the works for some time as a result of casting problems.  Jodie Foster turned it down as did original director, Jonathan Demme, who was replaced by Ridley Scott (Gladiator).  This is one of those films that despite the profit it will produce, should never have been made.

Clarice Starling (Moore) has just received a severe reprimand following a botched FBI raid.  In the subsequent whirlwind of media attention, she gets a call from Mason Verger (Oldman), one of Hannibal's former victims who lived to tell the tale.  It has been 10 years since her famous encounter with Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Hopkins) and Verger provides Clarice with new information and combined with a letter from Dr. Lecter himself, her passion for the case is reignited.

For the film's first hour and a half, we see Clarice in America perusing over evidence trying to pinpoint Dr. Lecter's location.  Meanwhile, an Italian detective has put the pieces together and realised than Dr. Lecter is living in Florence as a librarian and seeks the $3,000,000 reward on offer for his capture.  After receiving word of the detective’s discovery, Clarice warns him to be careful but alas, he is killed (but not before much time wastage).

Dr. Lecter finally heads back to the States to meet with Clarice and it provides the material for the film's final 35 minutes.  The film was somewhat compelling to this point but became a laughing stock as a result of what followed.  I can't give much away but the demise of both Mason Verger and FBI agent Paul Krendler (Liotta) was incredibly stupid and incredibly disgusting.  I didn't want to discuss the ratings debacle that has surrounded the film's Australian release but I have to add my two cents.  Based on these two scenes, I cannot understand how the film escaped with a mere MA rating.  It was never to the point where I would have walked out (as some critics have) but it was clearly in bad taste and the original never went this far.

There's nothing much more to say except to emphasise my severe disappointment with Hannibal.  There were no thrills, no resolutions and no sense behind it all.  Two audience members in front of me said at the very end, "is that it?"  Whilst I wasn't prepared to yell my own opinions, I knew exactly how they felt.

    

Duets


Directed by: Bruce Paltrow
Written by:John Byrum
Starring: Maria Bello, Andrew Braugher, Paul Giamatti, Huey Lewis, Gwyneth Paltrow, Scott Speedman, Marian Seldes
Released: February 8, 2001
Grade: C+

Right off the bat I was comparing this film against Magnolia and found it vastly inferior.  Duets is a group of seemingly unrelated stories and characters who come together in the end for a purpose.  The purpose is karaoke.

A professional singer and hustler, Ricky Dean (Lewis) is returning to Las Vegas for a funeral.  There, he meets his daughter, Liv (Paltrow), whom he hasn't seen in over ten years.  Meanwhile, there's Todd Woods (Paul Giamatti), a salesman who travels all over America making a fortune only to have no respect from his wife and kids.  In frustration, he storms out of the house and just starts driving with no intended destination.  In the desert, he comes across hitchhiker, Reggie Kane (Braugher) who has a mysterious past.  Finally, there's Billy Hannon (Speedman) who's just found out his girlfriend is sleeping with his best friend and he heads to a bar to drown his sorrows.  There, he meets a zany singer named Suzi Loomis (Bello) who wants a lift to California and in a drunken stupor, he agrees.

We criss-cross back and forth between the three "duos" until they all converge at a $5,000 karaoke challenge in Nevada where only one will be the winner.  There was zero care factor for any of the stories and I could not have cared less how they unfolded.  I'm glad I didn't because the ending was very weak and offered little in the way of resolution.  Dumb stuff.

Gwyneth Paltrow's father, Bruce Paltrow, makes nothing of his chance behind the camera and I expect he won’t be receiving many more offers following Duets.  It's a lifeless tale that thinks it's witty when it couldn't be further from it.  Even the karaoke scenes are a bore but at least they provide a break from the main stories.

Interestingly, all the film’s stars have the opportunity to sing and all but one uses their real voice with Scott Speedman relying on voice over.  Incidentally, Speedman's role was originally written for Brad Pitt (when both he and Gwyneth were dating) but as time as shown, not all things work out.  This film is a perfect example.

    

Requiem For A Dream


Directed by: Darren Aronofsky
Written by:Hubert Selby Jr, Darren Aronofsky
Starring: Ellen Burstyn, Jared Leto, Jennifer Connolly, Marlon Wayans
Released: February 8, 2001
Grade: A+

"They held each other and kissed

and pushed each others' darkness into the corner,

believing in each others' light, each others' dream." - Hubert Selby Jr.

They say a picture paints a thousand words.  I've always believed film is an art form and anyone who thinks otherwise needs to see Requiem For A Dream.  Some movies are about more than big stars, popcorn and happy endings.  Some movies leave you thinking for a long time.

I left Requiem For A Dream an emotionally changed individual.  I walked out the Dendy Cinema doors with a wave of others and headed down Adelaide Street.  The whole time, the film's intense music score was repeating over and over through my mind.  All sense of reality had been taken from me during the film's final half-hour and it would take more than a short walk to get it back.

If I sound cryptic, it's just that this film is anything but standard.  Harry (Leto) is a guy who likes to get high on drugs whilst dealing a little on the side cause there's money to be made.  Also a junkie is his girlfriend, Marion (Connolly), who wants Harry to get some cash together to help create their future.  Helping Harry obtain the drugs for distribution is his partner Tyrone (Wayans).  Tyrone wants the respect that comes with being a powerful drug dealer.  Finally, there's Harry's mother, Sara (Burstyn).  She's fixated by television and on getting a letter in the mail offering her a chance to appear on a show, she knows this is her chance to shine.  To lose a few kilos in preparation, she gets the number of local doctor who can give her pills to lessen her appetite.

All four of these people want more out of life and have turned to drugs to do it.  Unlike many other films on the subject matter, the whole "drugs are bad" theme is not obviously stated.  You watch these four, watch what becomes of them and then you can decide for yourself the effect that drugs have.

31-year-old director Darren Aronofsky (Pi) has created a hypnotic experience reminiscent of Paul Thomas Anderson's Magnolia.  We have a bunch of related stories that when interwoven create a viewing experience that when mixed with Client Mansel's score, is impossible to look away from.  Aronofsky is bold and unafraid to push new techniques.  There were several scenes that were incredibly difficult to bear and I'm not just referring to those where people inject needles and get high.  To see Sara struggle with her "demon" refrigerator is a perfect example.

Since the award season has started, I have touted that if Julia Roberts' performance in Erin Brockovich was the best of year then I'm not here.  I can now sleep soundly having witnessed Ellen Burstyn’s incredible accomplishment.  Despite being 68 years of age, she creates a compassionate character, tortured by the effect of drugs and it must have been a very draining experience.  She was last nominated for an Academy Award twenty years ago and is a certainty to be rewarded with a nomination this year.

When you see as many films as I do, you often have preconceptions and end up finding yourself going through the motions by just ticking off each film as you see it.  Then out of nowhere, something comes along that reinvigorates your passion as both a viewer and a critic.  This is my drug.  This is what I get off on.  This is Requiem For A Dream.

    

The Legend Of Bagger Vance


Directed by: Robert Redford
Written by:Jeremy Leven
Starring: Will Smith, Matt Damon, Charlize Theron, Bruce McGill, Joel Gretsch, Lane Smith, Jack Lemmon
Released: February 8, 2001
Grade: B-

It's the great depression and the people of Savannah, Georgia are struggling.  Wealthy businessman John Invergordon poured millions into creating one of the world's finest golf courses only to go broke.  He ended his problems with a single bullet to the head leaving the property to his daughter, Adele (Theron) who is not relenting to the Council’s pressure for her to sell the land.

To help promote the course, Adele has organised one of the wealthiest exhibitions ever staged.  4-time U.S. Open and grand slam champion Bobby Jones will take on 5-time U.S. PGA winner Walter Hagen for the princely sum of $10,000.  The residents of Savannah are interested but want to be represented in the match - they want a local Southerner to take on the triumphant duo.

Rannulph Junuh (Damon) happens to be the man.  As a youngster, he won tournaments all over the country and looked set to be one of golf's great players.  But World War I then began and after enlisting for combat, he returned a changed individual.  His golf was never the same again.

A former love interest of Adele, Junuh wants no part of the match but that inner burning he'd long forgotten was resurfacing - that ultimate challenge between man and ball that can never be won.  His game is rusty and he just can't seem to find his swing until he comes across a mysterious gentleman named Bagger Vance (Smith) whose philosophies rub off on Junuh helping his game to return.

The Legend Of Bagger Vance could be compared in its own terminology - an up and down ride that featured a few birdies but just too many bogies.  There was much to like but ultimately the screenplay was the let down.  The film plays like a fairy tale which is evident from Jack Lemmon’s short introduction.  Just because it's pure fiction doesn't forgive the sappy dialogue.  Will Smith pulls out every quote in the book to the point where it becomes embarrassing to watch.  There's a moment on the 16th hole in the final round where Junuh lines up a shot from the woods and Bagger talks him through his demons.  It's way too much.

Golf fans are going to get more out of the film.  The two actors selected to play Bobby Jones and Walter Hagen (Joel Gretsch and Bruce McGill) are fantastic and both have the look, mannerisms and swing of the real Jones and Hagen.  Of the others, Charlize Theron stood out and her complicated relationship with Matt Damon was unexpectedly worth watching.  Damon had never before played golf prior to shooting and practiced non-stop for a month to the point where his hands were covered in blisters.  It shows dedication and apparently he's become a real golf nut since.  Will Smith again left me unimpressed and I cannot understand why he has top billing in this film over Damon.

Robert Redford's direction wasn't quite what I expected but I liked the style.  He immaculately captured the beauty of both the course and the era and the camera angles he used to follow the golf balls were entrancing.  Redford has also created wonderful tension by letting the crowd's emotions do the talking and watching them get excited, made me get excited.  Other crew worth complimenting are production designer Stuart Craig (The English Patient) and costume designer Judianna Makovsky (Pleasantville).  One thing I can't understand though is the annoying sound effect used for when the ball hits the ground after a drive.  Trust me, a real ball doesn't make that sound.

When you break it down, The Legend Of Bagger Vance is a story of life, love and golf.  It tries to tell us that golf is just a game and that life is the real challenge.  I agree completely but I think it's a fact most are already aware of.

    

Get Carter


Directed by: Stephen T. Kay
Written by:Ted Lewis
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Miranda Richardson, Rachel Leigh Cook, Michael Caine, Alan Cumming, Mickey Rourke
Released: February 1, 2001
Grade: C+

Apparently, if you have a problem you get Jack Carter (Stallone).  He's the guy that helps people remember promises they've somehow forgotten.  He's tough, mean, violent, unrelenting and isn't someone you want on your back.  His latest assignment though will take him beyond his call of duty - this time, it's personal (I am well aware of the cliché).

Jack's brother was killed in a drink driving incident and so he has travelled from Las Vegas to Seattle for the funeral.  He hadn't seen his brother or his wife Gloria (Richardson) and daughter Doreen (Cook) is almost five years.  Jack is suspicious of his brother's death and some light investigation confirms those thoughts.  Everyone just wants Jack to go back home but he's determined to get to the bottom of things and of course, you know he's going to.

The suspects are established early.  There's multi-millionaire Jeremy Kinnear (Cumming) whose computer wheelings and dealings have drawn attention.  There's nightclub owner Cyrus Paice (Rourke) who has established himself as a porn entrepreneur.  There's his brother’s boss Cliff Brumby (Caine) who knows something but isn't showing his cards just yet.  Finally, there's the mysterious Geraldine (Rhona Mitra) who attends the funeral and when confronted becomes defensive.

The film has promise and one cannot criticise the cast.  Rourke, Caine and Richardson and all great and Sylvester Stallone delivers a performance similar to the quiet style we witnessed in Copland.  In fact, much of the film reminded me of Copland with a dash of Mel Gibson's Payback thrown in.

The screenplay frustrates and from the expressions of those in the cinema I attended, others share this viewpoint.  The film begins encouragingly but mid-way through it starts slipping and the final stretch is a bore.  When all the secrets are finally revealed, it felt like a bad episode of Walker: Texas Ranger.

Overdrawn and repetitive is an apt description of director Stephen T. Kay’s direction and Jerry Greenberg’s editing.   In Get Carter, Stallone makes a valiant effort to break away from the action genre but this film will not be remembered.  Be forewarned that the film contains a high level of violence and some would be advised to stay at home.  In fact, I'd advise most to stay at home anyway.

    

Lucky Numbers


Directed by: Nora Ephron
Written by:Adam Resnick
Starring: John Travolta, Lisa Kudrow, Tim Roth, Ed O'Neill, Michael Rapaport, Daryl Mitchell, Bill Pullman
Released: February 8, 2001
Grade: C

You'd think the latest film from director Nora Ephron would have opened with more fanfare on a stream of multiplexes and with a wave of advertising.  Her films include Sleepless In Seattle, Michael and You've Got Mail which all grossed over $95m in the United States alone.  Strange indeed to see a film starring John Travolta and Lisa Kudrow sneak by and show for only a few weeks.  The mystery was solved once I saw this awful film.  It cost $65m to make and barely passed the $10m box-office mark in the States.  I'm surprised to see the film even released in Australia.

John Travolta is Russ Richards, a weatherman for a local news station.  Everyone seems to love him, including himself.  The money is good but he keeps blowing it on ridiculous business ventures.  His latest sees him open a snow mobile store only to see an unseasonably warm winter keep the snow away.  He's now flat broke and with the bank foreclosing on his lavish house, he's willing to try anything.

With the help of strip-club owner Gig (Roth) and lover Crystal (Kudrow), they devise a scheme to rig the local lottery and walk away with the $6.4m jackpot.  Amazingly, the plan works perfectly but the troubles don't arise until after the lotto has been won.  It seems there are many in the loop and all want a "fair" share of the loot.  With everything from blackmail to beatings, the upper hand keeps changing and just who is going to end up with the actual winning ticket?

It's not a particularly interesting idea and would have a better 10 minute short film because there is not enough material to make it stretch into a full feature.  The final half-hour was nuts as the film spiralled out of control.  Travolta's performance is woeful and his character’s smugness is so annoying.  Travolta seems like he's on autopilot.  The only decent cast member was Bill Pullman as a lethargic cop but the film is long gone by the time he makes his entrance.

It never got started and never went anywhere.  A few funny gags but there's little else to laugh about in this comedy.  Those unfortunate enough to see it won't feel very "lucky" at all.