Reviews

Tumbleweeds


Directed by: Gavin O’Connor
Written by:Gavin O’Connor, Angela Shelton
Starring: Janet McTeer, Jay O. Sanders, Kimberly Brown, Gavin O’Connor, Laurel Holloman
Released: September 7, 2000
Grade: A-

Mary Jo Walker (McTeer) is an effervescent mother with a 12-year old daughter, Ava (Shelton) - named after Hollywood legend Ava Gardner.  Mary’s been through four marriages and when things go bad, both her and Ava pack up there bags and travel somewhere else to create new start.

On Ava’s suggestion, they head off to San Diego, California to see the beach and find new opportunities.  Ava enrols in a local school and starts making friends from day one.  Mary makes her own friends when she finds a filing job to help pay the “bills that keep coming in”.  Things look even rosier when Mary meets and falls for Jack (O’Connor) and the three move in together.  However, given her past run of separations, is this romance going to be any different?

Delightfully told, Tumbleweeds will guarantee futures for most of its participants.  Gavin O’Connor has left his options open.  He co-wrote the screenplay, took on a major supporting role and was the film’s director - a lot of work!

From an acting perspective, Kimberly Brown has exploded onto the Hollywood scene with her portrayal as Ava.  Her Southern accent, mixed with classic facial expressions, gives her character an edge that makes her perfect opposite McTeer.  As for McTeer, what can be said?  Where has she come from?  Predominantly appearing in English films, Tumbleweeds earned her a Golden Globe Award, an Academy Award nomination and several other film critics’ awards along the way.

Playing Mary, McTeer is more than just a zany mother - her exuberant exterior hides a troubled interior that is evident from the outset.  You always have a feeling where the film is going (especially after the introduction of workmate Dan) but there’s an instinct that tells you it may not all be so predictable and that’s a tribute to the acting abilities of the cast.

Mother-daughter bonding movies are becoming a common occurrence on film screens.  Anywhere But Here with Susan Sarandon and Natalie Portman bears a striking resemblance to Tumbleweeds.  In the wash up, Tumbleweeds gets the nod from me for in essence, the richness of it characters.

     

Scary Movie


Directed by: Keenen Ivory Wayans
Written by:Shawn Wayans, Marlon Wayans, Buddy Johnson, Phil Beauman, Jason Friedberg, Aaron Seltzer
Starring: Shannon Elizabeth, Regina Hall, Lochlyn Munro, Jon Abrahams, Marlon Wayans, Carmen Electra, Shawn Wayans
Released: August 31, 2000
Grade: B

Ever since Flying High, spoofs have been a successful part of cinema culture. They're not difficult to make - you find famous moments from a group of well-known, smash-hit films and take the piss out of them.  I've bagged plenty of teen horror films of late - I Know What You Did Last Summer, I Still Know What You Did Last Summer, Disturbing Behaviour, Urban Legend and despite being not yet released I think I will include Urban Legend 2.  The time has come for someone to take these films to the cleaners.


Comedian Keenan Ivory Wayans is that someone.  Scary Movie takes a "stab" at every film from Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer to The Usual Suspects and The Matrix. There’s no need to go into further detail because spoofs aren't about plots and storylines - if you've seen the above films, you'll understand all the jokes and have a jolly good laugh at their expense.


For once, overplaying of roles is required, which explains why I enjoyed the characters so much. Special mention has to go to newcomer Anna Faris who plays the lead (some sort of Katie Homes/Jennifer Love Hewitt mix).  She has to play it straight when everyone around her is completely nuts and is the best character of the film.


Bottom line, when it comes to review a film like this, all that is important is the comedic factor and whether the jokes hit the mark?  There were plenty of hilarious scenes (most of which you see in the trailer) but for each one there seemed to be an equal number of jokes that didn't work.  For example, there was a lengthy scene taking-off I Know What You Did Last Summer that was too long with little laughter.  I would have preferred to see the film use a few more original ideas than mimicking these films so closely.


Regardless, Scary Movie is worth seeing from an entertainment perspective.  It's short, funny and contains plenty of really disgusting scenes.  We're due for a new spoof and this film fills the gap nicely.  The funniest scene came near the end when a cinema patron at Shakespeare In Love broke all the taboos - she talked, ate loudly and had her mobile phone ring during the movie.  Just when the masked killer was about to slay her, the other moviegoers did it for him.  If only...


On an interesting side note, the tagline for Scary Movie reads “No Mercy.  No Shame.  No Sequel.”  Believe it or not, given the film’s worldwide success a sequel is in the works.  How ironic it is that a film bagging others for releasing sequels succumbs to the same fate.  I guess it goes to show that in Hollywood, there’s only one thing that’s truly important - money.

     

Loser


Directed by: Amy Heckerling
Written by:Amy Heckerling
Starring: Jason Biggs, Mena Suvari, Greg Kinnear, Thomas Sadoski
Released: August 17, 2000
Grade: B-

Not exactly orthodox, Loser is a better-than-average teen comedy that starts strongly but finishes with a whimper.  Director Amy Heckerling is no stranger to attracting a young audience based on her previous successes - Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Clueless and Look Who’s Talking.

We meet Paul (Biggs) with his family at his country home being accepted to university in New York.  Paul is excited but worried that he may be overawed by the size of the Big Apple.  Upon arrival, he finds his three roommates are yahoos who are interested in beer, drugs, women rather than study.  Everyone thinks of him as a loser and things aren’t going too well until meets Dora (Suvari).  Paul falls for Dora but she’s currently seeing someone - her much older English literature lecturer, Professor Edward Alcott (Kinnear). 

Jason Biggs and Mena Suvari are reunited after their breakthrough performances in American Pie and are really good together.  They are certainly part of the better half of upcoming actors and actresses.  Their “different” hairstyles must have been a real blast for the film’s stylist.   Also keep an eye out for some small Hollywood cameos which I will not give away but were suitably chosen.

There’s quite a few sharp lines is Loser but it’s not a “split your sides laughing” type of comedy and that is made clear from the outset.  It’s a sweet story with some unusual locations and characters thrown in.  It’s not award winning material, nor is it that memorable, but it’s worth seeing Biggs and Suvari in action knowing they’ve both got a fruitful career ahead.

     

Where The Heart Is


Directed by: Matt Williams
Written by:Lowell Ganz, Babaloo Mandel
Starring: Natalie Portman, James Frain, Stockard Channing, Laura House, Ashley Judd
Released: August 31, 2000
Grade: C+

Natalie Portman is Novalee Nation - a pregnant 17-year-old trying to make things work with her boyfriend, Jack.  The two are travelling across America to California to start a life together.  Pulling over at a Wal-Mart store in Oklahoma for a pair of new shoes, Jack drives off leaving Novalee stranded with no home, money or prospects.

Novalee hides out each night in the Wal-Mart as she tries to figure out what to do next.  Her question is answered when the baby decides its time to arrive and with the help of curious librarian named Forney (James Frain), she gives birth inside the store creating a whirlwind of media attention.

In hospital she develops a friendship with a Lexie (Ashley Judd), a nurse with four children of her own.  She also meets Thelma (Stockard Channing), an elderly religious woman who offers Novalee and her child a place to stay.  The story chronicles the next five years of Novalee’s life.

This film had more ups and downs than any film this year.  There were so many moments I really enjoyed which impressed me with the detail of the storyline and the quality of the actors.  Yet, there we other moments so filled with clichés I wondered whether the same screenwriter was responsible.  My greatest irritation was Novalee’s obsession with the number 5 and how it represented misfortune - it seemed totally out of character given her personality.

Based on the novel by Billie Letts, Where The Heart Is has all the ingredients of an American soap opera condensed into two hours.  Light-hearted and joyful one minute, emotional and tear-jerking the next.  Director Matt Williams tries to integrate a second storyline into the film - the fate of her boyfriend Jack.  Whilst a good idea, Williams doesn’t give it the attention or significance it deserved and the whole subplot becomes an unwarranted distraction.

With many great performances, Where The Heart Is is more Hallmark than Hollywood.  The finest example of a “chick flick” one is likely to see.

     

My Mother Frank


Directed by: Mark Lamprell
Written by:Mark Lamprell
Starring: Sam Neill, Sinead Cusack, Matthew Newton, Sacha Horler, Rose Byrne
Released: August 17, 2000
Grade: A-

It’s been a great year for Australian films at both a qualitative and quantitative level.  A record 25 films are vying for AFI consideration this year and My Mother Frank is sure to be a contender.  Based on an original screenplay by Mark Lamprell that was inspired from his own life story, My Mother Frank is a poignant film with plenty of light-heartedness mixed with touching emotion.

Frances, known to all as Frank, is a devout Catholic who’s lived a reclusive life since her husband passed away several years ago.  Her son David (Newton) wants to see her mother “get a life” and bluntly puts it to her that she should enrol in an adult education course to get out of the house and learn new things.  Frances takes David’s idea one step further.  She enrols at the same Sydney university David attends and the two worlds are set to collide.

Overwhelmed by new experiences, Frank is soon at odds with her university lecturer (Neill) over a serious plagiarism dispute.  Meanwhile, David finds himself lusting after the girlfriend of his best mate.  Sparks are in the air and when they catch alight, Frank and David find their relationship severely strained.

My Mother Frank is a strong story developed through really great performances.  It is ultimately the tale of a mother-son relationship and I’m sure many can relate to their emotional states.  There are also some nice scenes involving the continual appearance of two nuns.

Director Mark Lamprell could not find the perfect actress to play Frank in Australia and was forced to look abroad.  His eventual choice, Sinead Cusack, is an Irish actress who’s most widely seen performance was in Stealing Beauty so she’s not exactly a big name.  Regardless, she is the shining light of My Mother Frank and her performance is one of the best of the year.  Her character has a tough exterior hiding a vulnerable interior and Cusack exhibits these qualities with her brilliance.  Matthew Newton, son of Bert, also shows he’s got a big future ahead of him with this film coming hot on the heels of his role in the big Australian hit, Looking For Alibrandi.

It is the strong screenplay that makes My Mother Frank such an enjoyable view.  There has been a striking lack of story in many films this year that makes this all the more appreciated.  It doesn’t rely on typical Australian stereotypes and doesn’t rely on rehashed Hollywood formulas.  Winner of the audience prize at the 2000 Brisbane International Film Festival, My Mother Frank is not to be missed.  It’s a tribute to Australian filmmaking and shows the rest of the world just how we like to see it done.

     

Hollow Man


Directed by: Paul Verhoven
Written by:Gary Scott Thompson, Andrew Marlowe
Starring: Kevin Bacon, Josh Brolin, William Devane, Elizabeth Shue
Released: August 24, 2000
Grade: C+

Sebastian (Bacon) is head of a science team working on a top-secret government project.  Their creation is an invisibility serum creating limitless possibilities.  They have had no problem turning their subjects (animals) invisible but for four years have had problems transforming them back into their visible form.

Working at home one night, Sebastian makes a major breakthrough and unlocks the secret.  Hungry to become the first human to undergo the transformation, Sebastian acts against the wishes of both the government agency and his teammates and injects the serum into himself to create history.  However, things go wrong when Sebastian finds himself unable to return to a visible state and this creates serious ramifications...

Hollow Man has potential which is exemplified by the dazzling special effects that are on the lips of all cinema goers.  It’s a small wonder how the computer imaging team led by guru Scott E. Anderson (Starship Troopers, Babe) has pulled it off.  Kevin Bacon manages to maintain a strong presence despite not being seen during most all of the film - I guess his voice was good enough.

A surprise for me came during the opening credits.  I was bemused to find Elizabeth Shue taking top billing over Kevin Bacon.  After seeing the entire film and given it’s advertising, I’m convinced Bacon had the lead and did have more screen time over Shue.

Although taking its time to develop the premise, the opening was promising.  What followed was a sharp decline where all interesting storylines were discarded before culminating with a big action swansong more unrealistic than that of Mission: Impossible 2 (and that’s a big task).  That’s what makes it all the more disappointing because at least with M:I-2, I was expecting Hollywood trash.

Paul Verhoven’s (Basic Instinct, Showgirls) direction does little to help the film with it all revolving around special effects.  It subscribes to my old theory - why pump millions of dollars into making a film seem more realistic when the screenplay does exactly the opposite. 

Given the film’s title, I could use many clichés to sum up my dissatisfaction with Hollow Man.  For the record, let’s say that the film was missing a lot more than just Kevin Bacon.