Reviews

Eye Of The Beholder


Directed by: Stephan Elliott
Written by:Stephan Elliott
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Ashley Judd, Patrick Bergin, k. d. lang, Jason Priestly
Released: August 10, 2000
Grade: C+

It’s taken a long time for Stephan Elliot’s latest, Eye Of The Beholder, to reach cinemas.  Completed back in 1998, it was finally released in the United States back in January and attained a very unusual honour.  It debuted in the number 1 spot but became the smallest opening by a number 1 film in over two years.  It promptly slipped from the charts with little fanfare.  In Australia, audiences were even less impressed with the film opening in 9th place - a big difference.

Eye Of The Beholder is an intriguing thriller.  A mysterious detective known only as “the Eye” (McGregor) is given the assignment of watching the boss’s son who is suspected of embezzling family monies.  When the son is murdered by a deceptive woman named Joanna (Judd), Eye finds himself fascinated by her and follows her all across America trying to learn more about her.

There’s not a lot more to say.  The film is a little muddled but that is Elliot’s intention - he doesn’t want to give everything away too early.  All the way, I wasn’t sure where it was going or what it was about and yet I couldn’t stop watching - I had to see how it ended.  Therein lies the flaw - the disappointing ending.

Small side items are also a distraction.  How is it he follows her around without being noticed?  How does he always manage to pack so quickly when she’s on the move?  How does he never manage to lose sight of her?  What is up with all the snow domes?  What happened to the boss?  These questions will really only make sense once you’ve watched the film and I feel I’m not the only one who will be asking them.

Ashley Judd always has a strong presence on screen and her exuberance makes her the most likeable in the film.  McGregor downplays his role and perhaps was not the best man for the job.  Small cameos from actors like k.d. lang and Jason Priestly stop the eyes from wandering but they can’t boost the film’s slower moments (and there are quite a few).

The film’s arthouse style is a gamble that has backfired.  There’s little to take away and little you’ll remember the next day.  On the back of the disgraceful Welcome To Woop Woop, Stephan Elliott should have a close look at the subject material before tackling his next project.  That is of course, if he gets another chance.

     

High Fidelity


Directed by: Stephen Frears
Written by:D.V. DeVincentis, Steve Pink, John Cusack, Scott Rosenberg
Starring: John Cusack, Iben Hjejle, Todd Louiso, Jack Black, Joan Cusack, Lisa Bonet, Tim Robbins, Lili Taylor, Chris Rehmann
Released: August 10, 2000
Grade: B+

Based on the novel by Nick Hornby (Fever Pitch), High Fidelity is the story of one man and his quest to discover why he’s constantly dumped.  From his first love in grade 7 to his current flame, Rob always seems to wind up on the receiving end, or so it seems.

He owns his own struggling record shop, which keeps alive his passion for music.  He has two faithful employees who are both nuts and his mother and sister are constantly on his case to get married and settle down.  Yes, it is a comedy.

This light-hearted insight on relationships is filled with sharp wit but several jokes don’t quite strike the target.  Those appreciative of music will adore the soundtrack and constant references to past musical greats.  There are a few references to the film industry thrown in for good measure.

It’s a beauty of a cast also.  John Cusack is always perfect in these roles and is backed by the quirkiness of Todd Louiso and Jack Black as the two employees.  It’s filled with small cameos including Tim Robbins at his very best.

There’s a tendency for the film to drag towards the end but it’s positive to see a different take on romance that doesn’t offer the same answers as all the others.  The characters have touching qualities and Rob’s obsession with music is an illustration of the depth of this characterisation.

Falling into the “arthouse” basket, High Fidelity is adult comedy with an M rating.  It’s time to roll back the clock to some of your old music favourites.  If you could put five songs on a compilation tape - which songs would you choose?  The answer could tell you more about yourself that you might think.

     

Chopper


Directed by: Andrew Dominik
Written by:Andrew Dominik
Starring: Eric Bana, Simon Lyndon, Vince Colosimo, David Field, Daniel Wyllie, Bill Young
Released: August 3, 2000
Grade: B+

Chopper isn’t your run of the mill Australian film.  Many have heard stories, read books, or even caught glimpses on TV of Mark “Chopper” Read and had a good chuckle.  This film is not what people will expect.  Sure there are a laughs - it’s part of Read’s persona, but there’s a lot more beneath the surface that shows a different look at the Australian criminal icon.

The film is ultimately told in two parts.  The first is set in Melbourne’s Pentridge Prision, 1978.  Read has been sentenced to over 16 years for the attempted kidnapping of a judge.  In the slammer, we discover just how interesting a character he really is.  Eric Bana plays the role superbly.  It’s hard to tell most of the time when Read is being serious or just joking which makes the film all the more unsettling.

Read is released in 1986 where the film begins it’s second act.  We see him back in society enhancing the enigma.  Not as interesting as the first half, Read is assisting police in their investigations in return for turning a blind eye to his own activities.

The most rewarding aspect of watching this film is Bana’s performance.  13kg was packed on in four weeks for the role showing how dedicated he was to making the most of this opportunity.  It was actually Read’s idea for casting Bana is the key role.

Certainly a different perspective on the violent criminal, Chopper shows that there’s no simple line between good and evil.  Read has killed and will probably kill again but his mindset is more intriguing than the bluntness of the murders. 

 

Shanghai Noon


Directed by: Tom Dey
Written by:Alfred Gough
Starring: Jackie Chan, Owen Wilson, Lucy Liu, Brandon Merrill, Xander Berkeley
Released: August 10, 2000
Grade: C+

Jackie Chan shows all his usual tricks and manoeuvres in his latest American crossover, Shanghai Noon.  Paired with Owen Wilson (The Haunting), Chan plays Chon Wang, who is sent from China to the United States to rescue the kidnapped Princess Pei Pei (Liu) who is being held for ransom.  Chan’s journey takes him across the American deep south and the film becomes a western-style action comedy.

Jackie Chan films are all similar and frankly I am tiring of them.  We’ve seen Mr. Nice Guy, First Strike, Rush Hour, Who Am I? and Rumble In The Bronx over the past few years and it’s the same old stuff.  Chan is a great stuntman with some comedic ability but like your Van Dammes and Stallones, familiarity breeds contempt.

The most joy I found watching Shanghai Noon came from Lucy Liu who plays the princess very well.  She hardly speaks a word and manages to create a mystery to an otherwise stock character.  Owen Wilson also had his moments with his laid-back, casual style.

Some of the jokes are funny but you feel the whole time that you’re just going through the motions.  After about half an hour the novelty had worn thin and I spent most the remainder glancing at my watch, other patrons and the curtains on the cinema walls.  They were nice curtains…

     

Frequency


Directed by: Gregory Hoblit
Written by:Toby Emmerich
Starring: Dennis Quaid, James Caviezel, Shawn Doyle, Andre Braugher
Released: August 3, 2000
Grade: A

Every so often, a film comes along that sweeps you up and takes you away.  Frequency is such a powerful and enjoyable viewing experience, it’s hard to give too much of the plot away without spoiling the developments and pleasant surprises.

Frank Sullivan (Quaid) is a husband, father, firefighter and fan of the New York Mets.  It’s October 10, 1969 and the Mets are taking on Baltimore in game one of the World Series.  Also making news is a rare occurrence of the aurora borealis (Northern lights).

John Sullivan (Caviezel) is a police officer who’s life hasn’t turned out they way he expected.  His baseball career went nowhere and he’s just broken it off with his long-time girlfriend.  It’s October 10, 1999 and the aurora borealis is once again appearing over American skies.

Pulling out his father’s old ham radio for his best friend’s son, John revives memories of his father who passed away thirty years ago.  The radio doesn’t appear to work and John flicks through old photos and newspaper articles and ponders on what once was and what is now.

John manages to get a signal on the radio and starts talking baseball with the man on the other end. The conversation progresses and John finds something slightly askew.  The man on the other end shares the same name as his father, Frank Sullivan, and seems to be talking as if the year were 1969.  What if...

Director Gregory Hoblit is experienced with twisting subject material given his last two films, Primal Fear and Fallen.  His creativity at mixing 1969 with 1999 is remarkable and with the help of editor David Rosenbloom, he has created one of the finest directing performances of the year.  Actors Dennis Quaid and Jim Caviezel work superbly together.  They manage to create an emotional father-son relationship despite not spending a single scene together during the film.

Where has writer Toby Emmerich come from?  Emmerich up until this point has been a music supervisor and created soundtracks to films including Boogie Nights, Austin Powers and Dumb And Dumber.  His script, full of magic and enchantment, comes completely from left field.  The background subplot becomes a little silly during the final ten minutes but it provides the end result that was necessary.

Frequency is a stunning film that stirs emotions and past memories without the commercialism and tackiness that Hollywood so often provides.  The opening credits and scene are smartly created and no time is wasted in developing the story.  It may not always follow the laws of physics and has a few small holes but its ability to have you overlook those minor flaws is a tribute to its power.

     

The Virgin Suicides


Directed by: Sofia Coppola
Written by:Sofia Coppola
Starring: James Woods, Kathleen Turner, Kirsten Dunst, Josh Hartnett, Hannah Hall
Released: August 10, 2000
Grade: C+

I originally saw this film at the Brisbane International Film Festival and was surprised to find people who found this film enjoyable.  Based upon the novel by  Jeffrey Eugenides, it’s one of those films where you’re better off having read the book before seeing the film.

It’s the story of the five Lisbon sisters - Cecilia, Lux, Bonnie, Mary and Therese.  Their parents keep a tight reign over the daughters allowing them little socialisation and other activities.  When Cecilia commits suicides, Mr and Mrs Lisbon are advised by a psychologist that the daughters need more influences than those they are currently limited to within the house.  They agree to allow the daughters to the school’s Homecoming Dance but the ramifications from that dance would change the path of all their lives.

The Virgin Suicides is the directorial debut of Sofia Coppola and it left little impression on me.  The film is an attempt to create some art-house cult movie through its darkness and controversial subtext but the end product is boring.  The performances were one of the few strengths to shine with James Woods and Kathleen Turner particularly good as the two parents.

From the viewpoints of others, my best recommendation is if you’re interested in this, read the novel.  If you haven’t, take your chances but be prepared for disappointment.  An underwhelming view.