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.


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.


The Replacements

Directed by: Howard Deutch
Written by:Vince McKewin
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Gene Hackman, Brooke Langton, Orlando Jones, Jack Warden
Released: November 9, 2000
Grade: B-

The players’ strike began officially at 4pm.  Washington team owner Ed O’Neil (Warden) calls in friend and former coach Jimmy McGinty (Hackman) to round up a team of “replacements” within a week.  Washington needs to win three of their last four games to make the playoffs.

McGinty wants total control over team selection.  His list of players consists entirely of “has beens” and those that “never were” but they’ve all caught the eye of McGinty some time over his career.  His quarterback is Shane Falco (Reeves), a college star who choked four years ago in the Sugarbowl (when the team lost by 45 points) and was never heard from again.

Athletes don’t often get a second chance but for this team, that opportunity has been presented to them.  They’ve got nothing to lose and everything to play for.  A chance to make amends for past disappointments.

The pitiful screenplay from Vince McKewin (Fly Away Home) takes stereotypes to an unattainable level.  Every team member has their own heartbreak story and it’s tiring to listen to and believe them all.  Reeves has a love interest in Brooke Langton which nothing more than a frivolous distraction.  It’s as if the story doesn’t know what it wants to be.  It tries to throw in laughs, romance, drama, action and in the end, it adds up to a zero interest value.

What they were thinking in getting Howard Deutch to direct?  Just look at his last two films, Grumpier Old Men and The Odd Couple 2, and one tells you that he’s not a guy who’ll bring flair to this production.  His direction is flat and when compared against that of Oliver Stone’s in this year’s other big football flick, Any Given Sunday, it looks even worse.  The football scenes were confusing and I could  not understand his insistence on showing the cheergirls every ten seconds.

As much as I loathed The Replacements, the two performances from Keanu Reeves and Gene Hackman shone.  I have never rated Keanu Reeves as an actor but my respect has increased over the past two years.  When he rejected Speed 2, the press ridiculed him but he rebounded with The Matrix, winner of four Academy Awards.  Here, Reeves underplays his role and shows that a leader need not necessarily be the most outspoken.

Gene Hackman was equally impressive as coach McGinty.  He’s in a similar position to the replacements in that this is going to be one of his last opportunities to coach at this level.  He’s not loud, he doesn’t shout at the players - he’s there to have fun and it’s invigorating to see a coach played that way.  Hackman also has the honour of closing the film with a line that epitomises the feeling one has for his character - “greatness, however brief, stays with a man.”


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.



Directed by: Guy Ritchie
Written by:Guy Ritchie
Starring: Benicio Del Toro, Dennis Farina, Vinnie Jones, Brad Pitt, Jason Stratham, Ewen Bremner, Jason Flemyng
Released: November 9, 2000
Grade: B

In the tradition of his last film Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels, Guy Ritchie has again followed the “English gangster” theme in his follow up, Snatch.  Practically a sequel, Snatch is the story of many people who’s lives cross in a series of coincidences.

Turkish (Stratham) and Tommy (Stephen Graham) are two regular guys setting up a rigged boxing match for Brick Top (Alan Ford).  They’ve arranged for their boxer to go down in the fourth round so Brick Top and his friends can cash in with the bookies.  Two days before the fight, Tommy goes in search of a new caravan for Turkish and winds up in a gypsy community.  When an argument over price ensues, the boxer is flattened by gypsy Mickey O’Neill (Pitt), leaving them without a fight.  To save face, they convince Mickey to take his place in the ring.

Meanwhile in America, Uncle Avi (Farina) is overjoyed to find the jewel heist he organised has gone off without a hitch.  Franky Four Fingers (Del Toro) with his Russian crew stole an 84-carat diamond in Antwerp and has fled to London waiting to return to the States.  Franky has a nasty gambling habit and Avi is just hoping Franky can stay out of trouble.  That won’t be as easy as Franky has gotten wind of the fixed fight and wants a piece of the action.

Russian Boris The Blade (Rade Serbedzija) isn’t letting Franky just walk out of London with the diamond.  He’s arranged two pawnshop owners, Vinny (Robbie Gee) and Sol (Lennie James) to intercept Franky at the fight.

There are even more characters but to save you from total confusion, we’ll leave it at that.  The fundamental problem with Snatch is whilst well acted and directed, it is all too similar to Lock, Stock and other recent English films.  The idea has been done to death and one gets the feeling the studios are become less and less adventurous.

A slick soundtrack and quick camerawork add to the film’s positives but a soft ending spoils much of the earlier work.  Rent Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels.


Boys And Girls

Directed by: Robert Iscove
Written by:Andrew Lowery, Andrew Miller
Starring: Freddie Prinze Jr, Claire Forlani, Jason Biggs, Heather Donahue
Released: November 9, 2000
Grade: C-

Despite my strong disliking for them, I’m usually in a relaxed frame of mind when checking out the latest teen flick.  No thought is required and a showcase of young talent on display.  Ten minutes into Boys And Girls, it occurred to me that I’ve just got to stop going to these movies - they may be addictive but they sure are bad.

The story opens with Ryan (Prinze Jnr) and Jennifer (Forlani) bumping into each other at several points across the early years of their lives.  When the film settles, we find them at college where they develop a strong friendship but neither seems to have much luck when it comes to love.  From the opening minute it is painfully clear to the audience that the two are perfect for each other and will ultimately end up together.  Yet somehow our two stars find it necessary to draw it out for another 93 minutes.

I squirmed and squirmed trying to slink deeper and deeper into my seat, wanting to escape from the whole experience.  When you take the director of She’s All That and combine with the writer of Color Of Night, you can start saying your prayers.  It’s a love story so commercial, you’ll feel like it’s been written straight from a screenwriter’s textbook.  Rule number 1: If you’re going to tackle a genre that’s been done many times before at least try to make it different.

I never walk out of films but this is as close as I’ve gone this year.  The last half hour was spent slipping in and out of consciousness.  Boys And Girls should not be approached at any cost and is considered dangerous to your future wellbeing.