Reviews

Unbreakable


Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan
Written by:M. Night Shyamalan
Starring: Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson, Robin Wright, Spencer Treat Clark
Released: November 30, 2000
Grade: A-

“Why are you looking at me like that?” 

“There are two reasons why I am looking at you like this.  One, because it seems in a few minutes you will be the only survivor of this train wreck.  And two, you don’t have a single broken bone or a scratch on you.” 

After a discouraging job interview in New York, security officer David Dunn (Willis) is returning home on train 177 to Philadelphia.  The next minute he finds himself waking up on a hospital bed talking to a doctor and asking what happened.  The train derailed, 131 people were killed and Dunn is the sole survivor.

At a memorial service for those killed, an envelope is left on Dunn’s windshield asking the question “How many times have you been sick?”  Dunn can’t seem to remember so does some searching.  He asks his wife, he asks his boss but no one can seem to remember a cold, a sore throat, anything.  The only injury of any kind came from a car accident in college that wrecked his football career.

The envelope was left by Elijah Price (Jackson), an obsessed comic book collector with his own art gallery, Limited Edition.  Elijah suffers from a rare medical condition - a severe brittleness of the bone and has spent a third of his life in hospital.  It has occurred to Elijah that if there is someone like him, there must be someone who is the exact opposite?  Every day he has scoured newspapers looking for the elusive phrase “there was a sole survivor”.  Has the riddle been solved in the discovery of David Dunn?  Is he truly unbreakable?  Just what does Elijah want with Dunn now that he has been found?

M. Night Shyamalan (The Sixth Sense) will make you wait for the answers.  Like The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable is deliberate and pieces of the puzzle are revealed ever so slowly.  There was a moment midway through the movie where I knew he had me.  The film had turned in a way I didn’t expect and there was no way of predicting where next it would go.  Attention should also be given to Shyamalan’s use of colour - the movie is very grim but colours on certain characters do stand out.

Roles are purposely underplayed but the cast could be better with emphasis on the role of Dunn’s son played by Spencer Treat Clark (he sure ain’t no Haley Joel Osment).  It is the story that makes the film however and can best be described as creatively brilliant with only a few minor qualms.

Once again I was fooled by the twist ending which doesn’t quite have the impact of The Sixth Sense.  Be prepared but don’t expect a revelation that puts everything preceding it in a new light.  Rather, prepare for an ending that will foretell the future.  It is not a well-publicised fact that Unbreakable is rumoured to be the first in a trilogy.  This will make more sense after you see it.

Craftily told and directed, Unbreakable will again make you sit up straight and pay attention.  Part of the new breed of filmmakers, Academy Award nominated Shyamalan will have us all awaiting the next instalment.  Are you ready to take that first step?  Are you ready for the truth?

     

Autumn In New York


Directed by: Joan Chen
Written by:Allison Burnett
Starring: Richard Gere, Winona Ryder, Anthony LaPaglia, Mary Beth Hurt, Sherry Stringfield, Elaine Stritch
Released: November 23, 2000
Grade: C

Will Keane (Gere) is a food connoisseur with his own high-priced restaurant earning him cover shots on exclusive New York magazines.  Never married, he has the reputation of being a “womaniser” having romanced so many women and never taken the next step.  He’s only recently dumped his latest girlfriend with the “it’s not you, it’s me” routine.

It doesn’t take long for Keane to find someone new when he sights a dashing young lady, Charlotte Fielding (Ryder), celebrating her 22nd birthday in his restaurant.  Even more surprising is that she is the daughter of a former flame from many years ago.  Will’s friends are joking with him regarding the age difference but both seem to like each other and soon they find themselves falling in love.

Love in movies is never easy and soon we find Charlotte is suffering from a tumour in her heart and has less than a year to live.  This comes as a shock to Will and his theory of loving and leaving women is going to put to the test...

Romantic dramas are designed to move people but I can honestly say my facial expression did not alter for the entire 105 minutes.  Evidence of romance between Gere and Ryder was lacking and it seemed a poor casting choice.  The supporting stars, including Anthony LaPaglia, Sherry Stringfield and Mary Beth Hurt, offer little to help the story.  The subplots that have been accommodated into the main story and equally less interesting and confusingly resolved.

Joan Chen is an accomplished actress and has shown directorial ability before (in The Sent Down Girl) but this is a very weak effort.  All the picturesque shots of New York are mundane and of particular note, the big romance scene between Ryder and Gere in the bedroom is bewilderingly shot.

When released in the United States, MGM refused to screen the film to critics prior to its release and in anyone’s book, that’s a bad sign.  If the film was worth recommending, the studio would be dying for critics to see it to generate positive word and Oscar hype.  When a film costs $40m and has even the studio running scared, you know you’ve got problems.  At least now, I know for sure.

    

Kevin And Perry Go Large


Directed by: Ed Bye
Written by:Dave Cummings, Harry Enfield
Starring: Harry Enfield, Kathy Burke, Rhys Ifans, Laura Fraser, James Fleet
Released: November 23, 2000
Grade: C-

Bad (adj.), (1) not good; not as it ought to be, (2) evil; wicked, (3) causing harm, harmful, (4) not friendly; cross; unpleasant, (5) unfavourable, (6) severe, (7) rotten; spoiled, (8) sorry, (9) sick; ill, (10) incorrect, (11) worthless, (12) not valid.  Apologies for the emphasis but I had to make sure everyone knew the definition of “bad” before continuing.

With all the movies I’ve seen, there are plenty of great stories to tell.  At a screening of Very Bad Things, the projector was too low and in several scenes boom mikes were visible at the top.  At a screening of The Green Mile, two reels were played out of order leaving the audience in a very confused state.  At a screening of The Mighty, I was the only one in the cinema and yet a Hoyts attendant with a food tray stood down front for ten minutes during the trailers in the hope someone would buy something.

In the words of Magnolia, “this was not just one of those things”.  How many times have you seen a film so bad that you were left laughing uncontrollably?  How many times have you seen film where you spent more time with your hands over your eyes than looking at the screen?  How many times have you seen a film where an audience member screamed out in full voice, “Fuck, how did that get past the censors?”, not once but twice?

Kevin And Perry Go Large is based on an English television show with Harry Enfield and Kathy Burke starring as two hideously ugly teenagers looking to get laid.  When they read in a porno that everyone sleeps with everyone in Ibiza, they’re soon on their way.

Mr. Cranky is a favourite critic on mine in that every film receives a rating from one bomb to five bombs.  Just recently, a sixth bomb was introduced with the caption “proof that Jesus died in vein”.  Whilst Mr. Cranky has had the good fortune not to have seen Kevin And Perry Go Large, I feel I can carry the flame and describe the film as such.

I would love to elaborate on all the gross and disgusting scenes but the conclusion should put just the right picture in your mind.  Perry videotapes Kevin’s parents having sex “bondage” style.  He then takes the tape, becomes horny and gets large (that’s the film’s term for an erection).  The tape is then accidentally seen by one of Ibiza’s top DJs who uses it to accompany a mix put together by Kevin and Perry to screen for thousands at a nightclub and can I add that Kevin’s parents also happen to be there.

If this sounds like your kind of movie, please tell me and I will make sure I never speak to you again.  It is one of life’s great tragedies to see 36-year-old Kathy Burke in her role as Perry.  Three years ago she won the best actress award at Cannes (for Nil By Mouth) and now she is playing a 15-year-old teenager joking about erections, acne and ejaculation.  This was truly painful and the memories will be hard to erase.  To think that Billy Elliot was screening in the cinema next door.  My most favoured and least favoured films of 2000 screening side-by-side with a two-foot thick wall in between.  Unfortunately, I was on the wrong side.

     

Charlie's Angels


Directed by: McG
Written by:Ryan Rowe, Ed Solomon, John August
Starring: Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore, Lucy Liu, Bill Murray, Tim Curry, Kelly Lynch, Luke Wilson, Sam Rockwell, Matt LeBlanc, Tom Green
Released: November 23, 2000
Grade: B

Charlie’s Angels stands for everything I loathe in cinema and given the trailers, I was primed to dish out a lethal review.  It’s been rehashed from a TV show, has a screenplay cornier than Batman & Robin and requires no consciousness to understand.  Yet, with is fast pace, dazzling colours and luscious ladies, it was a compelling viewing experience.  I dare not look yet I cannot turn away.

It kicks off from the opening scene when we see Natalie (Diaz), Dylan (Barrymore) and Alex (Liu) defuse an impossible situation aboard an airliner.  They come from varied backgrounds but have been recruited by the reclusive Charlie to carry out world-saving assignments.  Their contact with Charlie is through “middleman” Bosley (Murray) who is little more than an aging womaniser.

The latest assignment will be a tough one.  They are approached by vixen Vivian Wood (Lynch) when a millionaire scientist, Eric Knox (Rockwell), is kidnapped.  Knox had developed a revolutionary computer program with the ability to remember and replicate any voice it hears.  In the wrong hands, it could be used to manipulate global satellites and throw the world into chaos.  Oh no!

The Angels’ are hungry for some lovin’ but have to forego relationships with their boyfriends (Tom Green, Luke Wilson and Matt LeBlanc) until they track down the kidnappers and generally “kick ass”.  If you wish to continue, please read on.

Bottom line, you can’t describe Charlie’s Angels without using “popcorn” and “movie” together in the same sentence - you know exactly what you’re in for when you buy that ticket.  The strongest feature comes from the brisk pace it sets.  Action is prominent and time is not wasted on trivial side characters, awful dialogue and attempts to bring authenticity to the script (a pitfall many recent action films have fallen victim too).

Diaz, Barrymore and Liu must have had a ball and their effervescence shows.  Instead of playing perfect tough gals, they show a hilarious ditsy side in many scenes with particular praise going to Cameron Diaz.  They know it’s all for fun and don’t try to take it any further.  Disappointingly, more wasn’t made of Bill Murray.  The comedic genius seemed too tightly bound by the script and Murray wasn’t given the flexibility to show his great talent, improvisation.

First-time director Joseph McGinty Nichol is simply known in the credits as McG and I’m at a loss to understand why.  His direction of Charlie’s Angels shows he has talent though and his boldness should be rewarded with future projects.  Credit is also due to the special effects team and editors Peter Teschner and Wayne Wahrman who have created the best action sequences since The Matrix.

This is not the sort of film I endorse nor would I see it a second time.  Still, if tacky action films need be made you may as well go the whole way and Charlie’s Angels fits the bill.  Given its huge success in the United States and the lack of decent scripts, one feels a sequel will be just around the corner.  I may save my scathing review for then.

 

The Cell


Directed by: Tarsem Singh
Written by:Mark Protosevich
Starring: Jennifer Lopez, Vince Vaughn, Vincent D’Onofrio, Marianne Jean-Baptiste
Released: November 16, 2000
Grade: B-

Um, where do I start with this one?  There is a serial killer on the loose in California who is killing his victims through excruciating torture.  They are locked in a watertight tank for 40 hours until it floods with water and its inhabitant perishes.

There is a detective named Peter Novak who is trying to track down the killer.  The body count is increasing and subtle clues are being left - he knows the killer wants to be caught.  Sure enough to clues lead to the house of Carl Stargher and Novak has his man but due to heavy trauma, Stargher lapses into a coma from which he will never awake.

There is a young lady by the name of Julia Hickson who is missing.  Novak knows Stargher was behind her kidnapping but the whereabouts of her and the tank remain unknown.  The only person who can answer both questions is Stargher but he will never speak again and the clock is ticking.

Finally there is child psychologist, Catharine Deane.  For 18 months she has been part of a secret project trying to help a young boy awake from his own coma.  Through complicated technological advancements, she has travelled through his mind trying to unlock the mysteries that keep it traumatised.

As the pieces fit together, Deane is recommended to Novak as the solution to his problems - she could search Stargher’s mind for the location of the tank.  Fraught with danger, this will be like nothing like Deane has experienced before.  She will traverse the mind of a serial killer...

One wonders how writer Mark Protosevich managed to put this movie on paper.  It is remarkably complex and relies on heavy computer imagery and illusions to create the effect of being within one’s mind.  Director Tarsem Singh deserves credit for providing one of 2000’s most original films.  From the opening credits, nothing is certain and what lies behind the next bend is never known.

Whilst intriguing, The Cell never seems to take the next step.  The premise is interesting but too much time is spent outside rather than inside Stargher’s mind.  Many supporting characters appear to be going through the motions with predictable actions and dialogue - they’re just distracting puppets in the main show.

Plenty of discussion has been preceded The Cell from the United States with critics calling it everything from “one of the best films of the year” (Chicago Sun-Times) to “an awfully generic variation on the overworked serial-killer genre” (New York Post).  All I can suggest is to look deep and make up your own mind.  That is of course, if someone hasn’t already looked there first.

 

Girlfight


Directed by: Karyn Kusama
Written by:Karyn Kusama
Starring: Michelle Rodriguez, Santiago Douglas, Jaime Tirelli, Ray Santiago
Released: November 23, 2000
Grade: A-

The Dendy was packed when I caught up with an advance screening of the latest independent film, Girlfight.  I’d heard so little but one need only look at the awards it has claimed to understand the interest.  Not only did it capture the top prize at Sundance this year, it also claimed the Young Cinema Award at Cannes.

Diana (Rodriguez) is a tough girl in her final year of high school.  Home life has been tough since her mother passed away several years earlier and her father’s always shown favour for her younger brother Tiny (Santiago).  Tiny is given $10 a week by his father for boxing lessons and Diana resents the treatment Tiny receives.

At the gym one day, Diana finds the best way to express herself is in the boxing ring.  Hector (Tirelli), the boxing coach, is hesitant but sees talent in Diana and agrees to let her train if she’ll put in the effort.  All this is going on behind the back of her father and Diana will have a hard time keeping it from him.

Has the whole world gone topsy-turvy?  If any of this seems vaguely familiar, one need only recall Billy Elliot.  Instead of a boy learning ballet, we have a girl learning boxing and both are battling the odds and the wishes of their parent.  Girlfight is a tough, gritty look at boxing but like Billy Elliot is more a study of people and the things that drive them.

Michelle Rodriguez has come from obscurity for her first film role.  The role requires both acting ability and supreme physical strength and few would have met the criteria.  You clearly see Michelle bulking up as her training regime increases. It’s the great interaction between Michelle and other cast members that makes the film.  Karyn Kusama’s direction of the boxing scenes and Theodore Shapiro’s music score are highlights that shouldn’t go unnoticed.

Once again illustrating the importance of storytelling, Girlfight has it all - action, laughter, romance and drama mixed with a dash of realism.  All’s fair in love and boxing.