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Review Archive

About Schmidt
USA, Directed by Alexander Payne
Lumiere: 05/22/02: 10:00pm
(***) of four
Time slept during: None.

Coming off the heels of the critically acclaimed Election is Alexander Payneís newest film, About Schmidt. The movie follows Schmidt, a newly retired businessman feeling out of place in his home and his town. Schmidt is perfectly embodied by Jack Nicholson, who will very likely pick up an Oscar nomination for his work here. The audience falls in love with him immediately, which is paramount to the success of the movie since it stays with him during the entire duration. Kathy Bates also does a wonderful job in her too-small role. With a deliberately slow pacing that fits the movie well, itís another entertaining black comedy in the same vein as Election, but with less vicious bite and a little more tugging of the heartstrings.

The Adversary
France, Directed by Nicole Garcia
Lumiere: 05/25/02: 07:00pm
(*** and 1/2) of four
Time slept during: None.

A stunningly quiet movie that restrains itself to generate even more power, Garciaís new movie evokes an atmosphere of quiet dread that maintains itself until the emotional last few minutes. Daniel Autueil, one of my favorite actors that keeps popping up in more and more movies, does an incredible job with a very difficult role. The Badalamenti score haunts the movie well and keep an eye out on the impressively subtle editing. As Autueilís world begins to fall apart around him, some well-place, but quick jump cuts hint at his growing disconnection with himself and with the world around him. An example of how every element comes together to make this a great movie.

All or Nothing
England, Directed by Mike Leigh
Lumiere: 05/17/02: 07:30pm
(** and 1/2) of four
Time slept during: None

A gloomy, never-happy slice-of-life drama from Topsy-Turvy director Mike Leigh finds him back in Secrets and Lies territory. The result, though, is a film too trapped in its depressive quicksand to really provoke my interest. We are introduced to the sorry-sack characters and while a number of storylines are opened up, Leigh eventually pushes aside most of them to focus on the cab driver and his family. Itís a shame because some of the other stories were left somewhat hanging and could have propelled the movie into a more Altman-esqe landscape that would have been more interesting to watch. Acting from the two main leads is top-notch for the dour material given to them, but again, I just kept waiting for something to break the drone of sadness that lurks over the whole movie. As it stands, it was just a little consistent in its tone to keep my interest going. A disappointment after the fantastic Topsy-Turvy, which found Leigh in a completely different mode.

The Bank
Australia, Directed by Robert Connolly
Palais C: 05/20/02: 05:30pm
(** and 1/2) of four
Time slept during: None.

An enjoyable, but slight Australian film basically takes the basic idea behind Pi and turns it into a standard corporate thriller instead of the schizophrenic masterpiece that Aronofsky created. A brilliant mathematician believes he has the key to predict the stock market and a financial giant hires him to find it. The movie never gets overly ambitious, but it does what it does well. Itís essentially just a big-budget Australian summer flick, but it is enjoyable enough to watch. The plot twists and turns enough times to keep you guessing until the surprise ending. In the end, though, itís worth it just to hear Anthony LaPaglia (as the President of the Evil Bank) say, "Iím like God with a better suit." Beautiful...

Bowling for Columbine
USA, Directed by Michael Moore
Lumiere: 05/17/02: 04:15pm
(****) of four
Time slept during: None

Thereís nothing quite like extremely well done propaganda. From Triumph of the Will to Harlan County USA, the documentary is the perfect medium for amazingly persuasive propaganda of the highest order--and Mooreís new movie is another perfect example. Simply put, it was the best movie I saw at the Festival. A stunningly intelligent and well-crafted look at gun control and the culture of violence in America, Moore mixes together humor, real-life tragedy, and politics and gets the combination just right. Make no mistake about the film, though, because it truly is as deeply propagandistic as they come (his interviews and press-attracting spectacles are not examples of non-partisan filmmaking--and he makes no mistake in ensuring that every angle in the movie is turned to point exactly where he wants it), but at least itís propaganda for the right side. While the saddest part of the film may be that the very people that most need to see it would never do so, it still is an astoundingly thought-provoking exercise in filmmaking that captivates during its entire two-hour running time and is more than worthy of the special jury prize that was awarded to it.

USA, Directed by Finn Taylor
Riviera 07: 05/22/02: 11:30am
(**) of four
Time slept during: About twenty minutes.

After a fast-paced and rousing opening directed with aplomb by Taylor, the movie slams right into a wall with its contrived "ankle security bracelet" storyline device and never really recovers. Robin Tunney exudes personality and charisma in the lead role (she really needs to start getting some better roles), but it isnít enough. By the end of the movie, it turns into a Run Lola Run-inspired hunt for a killer that seems out of place with the rest of the movie. It will probably appeal to some, but it just didnít do it for me.

Dead Room
England, Directed by Ian David Diaz
Riviera 08: 05/19/02: 04:00pm
(Zero) of four
Time slept during: About 30 minutes before I left the theatre.

Bad. Terrible. So bad that I couldnít laugh at how bad it was because I was too much in disbelief. As it stands, it was the only movie that I simply needed to walk out of in the entire Festival. It tries to be a horror-comedy, but the "horror" is boring and features amazingly terrible special effects and the "comedy" basically means so much overacting that I was amazed there was any scenery left during shooting after the actors chewed up everything around them. The foreign characters apply accents so atrocious that I was almost offended by how bad they were. I did get a good amount of sleep before trying to watch the rest of the film, but I soon decided that I didnít need to subject myself to this any longer (especially since about 10 of the other 11 people in the theatre had already left). For all of these reasons, we wonít be seeing this one in the US, but letís count our blessings there. So bad...<shudder>

France, Directed by Olivier Assayas
Lumiere: 05/19/02: 10:30pm
(** and 1/2) of four
Time slept during: None.

A murky, ice-cold cyberthriller that gets so bogged down in its own icy evil by the end that the plot begins caving in on itself until the viewer is left feeling almost numbed to what is happening. What begins as an extremely promising corporate thriller involving cyber-porn and high-tech companies moves along at a nice pace until the deaths start piling up and the script doesnít know what to do with them. By the end, major characters are being killed suddenly and their deaths are never mentioned again, causing the viewer to get lose their attachment to what should be a very gripping story. Connie Nielson is effective in the lead role, but her rapid turn from antagonistic ice-queen to pity-evoking protagonist doesnít develop as well as it should, making what should be a perfectly evil ending not feel quite as emotionally stirring as it should. Music is a top-notch electronic drone provided by Sonic Youth that fits wonderfully. In the end, the film held my attention well during its long running time because I simply wanted to know where it would go next, but it just does not connect well enough to deliver. One of the bigger could-have-beenís of the Festival so far.

India, Directed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali
Lumiere: 05/23/02: 10:30pm
(***) of four
Time slept during: About thirty minutes.

A spectacle in every sense of the word, this unbelievably lavish Bollywood production features gorgeous art design and a swirling direction by Bhansali. The songs work well in the movie and donít distract from the main plot, which is a little bit contrived, but effective for what the movie is. For a first exposure to the world of Indian film, itís a good one, though the extremely long running time of the movie wrecked havoc on me since it only began at 10:30 at night.

Fail Safe
USA, Directed by Sydney Lumet
Salle Bunuel: 05/21/02: 03:00pm
(****) of four
Time slept during: None.

A fantastic piece of filmmaking, from script to screen, Lumetís atomic bomb nightmare plays out with even more chilling plausibility now than it would have 40 years ago. A top-notch script propels you along, slowly building up tension so that, by the time the finale arrives, youíre almost sweating in your seat to find out what happens. The ultra-frightening ending also guarantees goosebumps both then and whenever you think about it later on. A stunning anti-war message that everyone should see.

The Good Girl
USA, Directed by Miguel Arteta
Palais C: 05/17/02: 11:30am
(***) of four
Time slept during: None

Brought to you by the same writer/director team behind Chuck and Buck, The Good Girl is another fiendish comedy tapping the darkest of comedy veins. Jennifer Aniston is wonderful as the small-town cashier who shakes up her life with an affair with a younger co-worker, only have it backfire in worse and worse ways. While the darkness of the comedy may not appeal to all audiences, itís a refreshing break from more overtly in-your-face summer comedies (such as anything from Adam Sandler or featuring Austin Powers). Itís not quite as good as Chuck and Buck, but it shows that Arteta and writer Mike White are still a team to be reckoned with.

Her Island, My Island
Japan, Directed by Itsumitchi Isomura
Riviera 3: 05/15/02: 01:30pm
(**) of four
Time slept during: a minute or two here and there during the movie

A woman returns to the home she left years before and deals with her changing family and the news she needs to share with them in this slow, quiet Japanese drama. Kuriko returns home from Tokyo, looking to make peace with her family as she shares with them the news that sheís getting married. We move with her as she talks with old friends and we learn about the old life she left years before. Despite the intelligent compositions and the carefully placed symbols, the movie proceeds at an exceedingly slow pace, making it very difficult for the viewer to keep their attention on everything. The movie slowly layers on different parts of Kurikoís past, but the viewer never feels very grounded in the story. What kept my attention during most of the movie was trying to guess at a major twist in the end that never materialized. For what is essentially a rather simply story, the movie dwells on itself too much and doesnít involve the viewers nearly enough. Someone with the patience to really try to throw himself deep into the movie may find himself rewarded, but I was left feeling that a little more was needed to wake up the quiet pace and really hold my interest. These pacing issues will likely keep the movie from ever having a theatrical release in the US--Iím sure there are many other Japanese dramas that would deserve it more than this one would.

Hollywood Ending
USA, Directed by Woody Allen
Lumiere: 05/15/02: 07:15pm
(**) of four
Time slept during: approximately 20 minutes (I think)

A major disappointment of the Festival, Allen does nothing to restore himself to his old, comic genius self with his new film. The plot could have led to a scathing look at how modern big-budget, over-produced studio films are made nowadays, but it instead leads to a barrage of consistently not-funny blind jokes that feel far too stale to be funny (are we still laughing at watching a blind person look in the wrong direction at someone who is talking to them?) Despite a wink-wink ending for the French (which would only be enjoyable to watch in France, lucky me), the movie takes exceedingly long to get there (two hours that really should have only been 88 quick minutes). Itís also getting a little creepy to constantly see Allen get the young co-stars who are 30 years his junior. Go rent Annie Hall again instead.

Spain, Directed by Juan Carlos Fresnadillo
Olympia 07: 05/18/02: 06:00pm
(*** and 1/2) of four
Time slept during: None.

A clever, taut thriller out of Spain that I think will do quite well in the US given enough time and marketing muscle to prove its worth. The script and direction are top-notch, keeping the audience constantly involved in the movie and waiting to see what will happen next. Fresnadillo shows signs of becoming a breakthrough director if he can keep making films like this one.

The Kid Stays in the Picture
USA, Directed by Nanette Burstein and Brett Morgen
Riviera 07: 05/22/02: 02:30pm
(*** and 1/2) of four
Time slept during: None.

The best achievement in Burstein and Morgenís superb documentary is how they take a standard "True Hollywood Story" and make it explode with life on film. The pictures swirl and take on new lives around us, the music sets the mood, and the fantastic voice-over by Robert Evans himself takes us far out of the realm of static documentaries. The story achieves real drama and heart when coming out of Evansí mouth and draws the audience deep into the movie. A wonderful example of the potentials of documentary filmmaking. Also, extra points are awarded for including the hilarious footage of Dustin Hoffmanís Evans imitation during the end credits.

Killer Tattoo
Thailand, Directed by Yuthlert Sippapak
Riviera 6: 05/16/02: 02:00pm
(*** and 1/2) of four
Time slept during: None

Okay, stay with me here people: so weíre in a post-apocalyptic future and thereís an old assassin named Pae Buffgun. Heís just left prison and takes a job to make some money and begin his big comeback. The job is the assassination of the local police chief known as The Iron Cop. He makes up a motley team including an assassin who thinks heís Elvis (and wears white suits and talks in broken English), his bomb-expert companion, and another old assassin. The problem is, however, is that Pae Buffgun has accidentally been mistaken for Pae Toughgun, a crazed, extremely deadly professional assassin who also takes the same job. When their paths cross, war breaks out and the body count just keeps on climbing.

Thereís the basic plot, but really, following the plot isnít the point at all of a movie like this. Moving along at a frenetic and chaotic pace, the movie leaps from scene to scene, keeping the viewers constantly wondering whatís coming next and whoís going to die next. Strangely enough, one of the only other movies I could really compare it to is the only other Thai movie Iíve seen, the dark comedy/thriller 69. Tattoo features an insane blend of guns, explosions, blood, and comedy that few others movies can rival (except perhaps some other hyperkinetic Asian films). The movie definitely knows its audience and will certainly appeal to those who know what to expect. After the first 20 minutes, youíll know for certain whether or not youíll like the entire movie. My advice, though, is simply not to take it seriously at all, let go, and enjoy. Itís a movie that doesnít warrant any serious introspection or pondering while youíre watching. In fact, too much time spent trying to make sense of it will just keep you from seeing the next wild action scene. Sippapak never lets the movie get boring and never allows it to get (too) cheesy. Itís one of those movies where you really are laughing with it and not just at it. Itís silly and anarchic, but when you walk out, youíll be certain that youíve never seen anything quite like it. Doesnít that sound refreshing?

The Man Without A Past
Finland, Directed by Aki Kaurismaki
Lumiere: 05/22/02: 07:00pm
(***) of four
Time slept during: None.

A rather hard-to-describe surreal comedy from Kaurismaki that at least isnít much like anything else at Cannes. Opinions about the film will likely vary greatly from person to person--many people at Cannes adored its oddball charm. I enjoyed the movie, but I never felt really sucked into its world. I probably need to give it another viewing, but it just didnít leave me as enthralled as it did many others. Thatís not to say it isnít a good film, though, because it definitely is and its uniqueness is a great part of its appeal. Strong performances lead the way.

USA, Directed by CW Cressler
Arcades 02: 05/20/02: 08:30pm
(***) of four
Time slept during: None.

A movie that practically screams, "Guilty Pleasure," Cresslerís first feature is a gore and violence splattered romantic comedy that isnít going to reinvent the wheel, but it provides enough enjoyment to make it a fantastic late-night movie to run into on Cinemax. Basically, just check your brain and your taste at the door and sit back and relax. Sure, the supporting actors overact relentlessly--sure, some of the dialogue is pretty hokey--sure, the violence and gore are almost too silly to be effective, but I canít deny at all that I had a fun time watching the movie (it helps that Iím a sick bastard who got some great laughs at the splattery goodness of the movieís violence). The two leads keep the movie together with enough charisma to make you actually care what happens to them. Know what youíre getting into beforehand, but with that caveat, enjoy!

Ode to Cologne
Germany, Directed by Wim Wenders
Riviera 05: 05/17/02: 01:15pm
(****) of four
Time slept during: About five minutes (accidentally--hey, weíve had a lot of early mornings)

Wendersí rockumentary about the German band BAP clearly shows the power of a director that handles his craft beautifully. I was worried at first about seeing the movie because I had never heard of the band before and had no idea if I would enjoy listening to them for the first time here. It turns out that I had nothing to worry about at all. Wendersí direction is fantastic, sending his camera off floating and soaring around with a fluid cohesion that never distracts you from the band or its music. The songs are incredibly catchy and draw you in immediately--especially since Wenders never commits musicas interruptus and lets each song play out to the end. The movie may seem like a throw-away project for the usually more serious-minded Wenders, but he throws his all behind every shot in the movie, drawing you in and never letting go. It was simply such an enjoyable movie to watch that I returned for its second screening a few nights later. I just hope it finds its way to US theatres so I can make it number three very quickly.

The Old Place
France, Directed by Jean-Luc Godard
Salle Bunuel: 05/21/02: 02:15pm
(**) of four
Time slept during: None.

A short film so Godard that it almost hurts, The Old Place betrays its art museum roots too quickly. It simply doesnít sustain over the course of its 40 minutes, instead likely being better in shorter, more digestible portions. It panders and never really goes anywhere and I will fully admit that many of its messages were just lost on me. Also, Godardís style is really showing its seams--the movie looks as if it could have been made in 2000 or 1960. Being a fan of many of Godardís early works, I was hoping to see him change with the times, but it doesnít seem to come out that way. Disappointing.

Platoís Breaking Point
England, Directed by Nigel Roffe-Barker
Riviera 04: 05/16/02: 04:00pm
(***) of four
Time slept during: None

The film focuses on two criminals: Plato and his closest friend. Suspected of being involved in multiple bank heists, the two are placed under constant police surveillance. The pressure becomes too much for Plato, though, who soon seems close to cracking. As his world disintegrates around him, Plato finds himself descending more and more into madness and he soon believes that violence is his only way out. The movie is a low-budget DV feature shot in London that really manages to reach outside of its restraints. Roffe-Barker directs with style, keeping the viewer wondering what will happen next. Acting is also excellent, which elevates the movie further since it relies heavily on watching the psychological states of the characters. Though it already runs at a lean 84 minutes, some sequences still seem a bit overlong and I wonder if there isnít a fantastic 70 minute movie hidden in here somewhere. Additionally, some of the "split-screen" flashy editing seems somewhat misplaced in an altogether non-flashy movie. Still, minor problems can easily be ignored thanks to the intelligent script and the gripping acting. The movie will very likely not find much of an audience outside of Britain, but it deserves more than that.

Punch-Drunk Love
USA, Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
Lumiere: 05/19/02: 07:30pm
(****) of four
Time slept during: None.

Anderson has finally delivered his first true PT Anderson film. After films including Boogie Nights (his pitch-perfect Scorsese film), and Magnolia (his wonderful Altman film that showed signs of a budding originality in the form of some CG frogs), Anderson turns in a 90 minute drama/comedy/"musical" that stands as one of the most original films in the Festival. His choice of Adam Sandler in the lead role is inspiring, as his hapless loser look is finally given material that uses it well. The movie also features one of the most ingenious uses of music and sound ever heard in film. The entire soundtrack is the heartbeat and breath of the film, using loud, jarring sounds counterpointed against flowingly beautiful melodies to demonstrate the way Sandlerís life is turned upside-down after meeting Emily Watson. Andersonís direction is also awe-inspiring--upon leaving the movie, my first comment was that Anderson needed to win the Direction prize and thank God that he actually did because his work is fantastic. With so many movies filmed in 1:85 anymore, thereís nothing better than see a capable director dominate a 2:35 aspect ratio with ease. The extreme quirkiness of film may keep the film from being any more than a moderate box office success, but itís another strong punctuation point in Andersonís young and incredibly promising career.

Searching for Debra Winger
USA, Directed by Rosanna Arquette
Riviera 04: 05/19/02: 02:00pm
(*** and 1/2) of four
Time slept during: None.

A surprisingly intimate look at the treatment of women in Hollywood brings together an unprecedented amount of actresses to share their opinions with a refreshing and candid feel. Arquette displays a verve for interviewing and seems genuinely enthralled by the process of making her movie and her interest and excitement rubs off on the final product and on the audience. Itís an illuminating piece of film that deserves to be seen by everyone working in the industry (especially the men), but it should be well-accepted by all audiences. Just another example of how vibrant the documentary scene is and I look forward to seeing more from Arquette in the future.

Sex is Comedy
France, Directed by Catherine Breillat
Palais H: 05/20/02: 01:30pm
(***) of four
Time slept during: None.

I donít always enjoy Catherine Breillatís movies, but I always find them interesting and I highly respect her as a filmmaker and writer. Her newest one is one of her best, falling just behind Fat Girl for that honor. A very small-scale film, it looks at the process of filming one of the most notorious types of scenes out there: a sex scene. As is usual for Breillat, the movie exudes her personal philosophies about gender relations and sexual politics, but this time, the result is much more enjoyable than some of her older works (which pile on graphic sexual images for their "messages," but also for their shock value). The actors, including La Femme Nikita herself, Anne Parillaud, all do an excellent job, throwing themselves into the roles Breillat has written for them. Though the film is intensely autobiographical (based on Breillatís experiences filming Fat Girl), it does not shut the door to the audience and should find a welcoming audience with art film fans out there.

Canada, Directed by David Cronenberg
Lumiere: 05/21/02: 10:30pm
(**) of four
Time slept during: None.

Easily the most disappointing film of the entire Festival, Cronenbergís new film plays out like an uninterrupted drone with no real surprises or developments. The plot has potential, but it is too uneventful to carry an entire film, especially when the "twist" at the end can be guessed before the film even begins. Ralph Fiennes does an excellent job embodying the lead role, but does very little except mutter incomprehensibly and putter along the streets slowly. Thereís no considerable development and no real sympathy is generated for him. There are some sparks of good filmmaking in the movie, such as the application of Miranda Richardson in multiple roles, but none of it is enough to maintain any interest in the movie. I kept waiting for it to pick up before I fell asleep, but it simply just ended. Since mental illness is Cronenbergís bread and butter, I expected much, much more from him with this one.

Star Wars: Episode II--Attack of the Clones
USA, Directed by George Lucas
Lumiere: late 05/16/02: 12:30am
(*** and 1/2) of four
Time slept during: None

Believe it or not, the Star Wars legacy finally has another worthy entry with Episode II. While many of the same mistakes that plagued The Phantom Menace are still here: Lucas still feels the need to excessively over-explain everything in the Star Wars universe, the acting still feels stiff and unemotional, and the dialogue in many scenes is downright laughable, the problems are much, much easier to overlook this time because the movie propels itself at such an enjoyable, fast-paced pace. Some fantastic action setpieces, starting right off with a breathtaking race through a Blade Runner-esqe city, keep the audience always waiting to find out what will happen next and Lucas ups the ante every time until weíre in the middle of a huge war by the end of the film. When all is said and done, it may not be an amazing, artistic piece of film, but it was a hell of a good time to watch and it kept a smile on my face the entire time. Unlike at the end of the first prequel, I walked out of this one cursing at how cruel it was that it would be another three years until the next one rolled around. I didnít know if Lucas could do it, but Star Wars is back and I couldnít be happier.

Sweet Sixteen
England, Directed by Ken Loach
Lumiere: 05/21/02: 07:30pm
(*** and 1/2) of four
Time slept during: None.

Loachís coming-of-age working-class drama succeeds admirably in evoking the lost innocence of the poor youths desperately trying to break free of their dour lives. An example of the gloomy English drama that works, Loach injects some much needed humor and humanity into the film, creating genuine sympathy in the audience towards the lead character. The English subtitles are a must, making the film much easier to watch when you donít have to constantly worry about missing dialogue through the extremely thick accents.

Ten Minutes Older
Various, Various Directors
Palais K: 05/20/02: 03:30pm
(***) of four
Time slept during: None.

Seven directors are given ten minutes and told to create a representation of time in any way they choose. Itís an intriguing idea and, thanks to a wonderful selection of directors, becomes an intriguing film. While the quality varies from director to director (with Wim Wenders and Spike Lee producing the best ten minute shorts), the movie never falters and stays watchable. I look forward to hearing more from this series of films.

24 Hour Party People
England, Directed by Michael Winterbottom
Lumiere: 05/18/02: 10:00pm
(*** and 1/2) of four
Time slept during: None.

A movie that just leaps off the screen in vitality, Winterbottomís newest film chronicles the rise and fall of the Manchester music scene of the 70ís and 80ís. By constantly referring back to itself and staying thoroughly self-reflexive, the movie has as anarchic and playful a feel as the music itself does. Some brilliant performances hold together the script and keep you interested despite your opinion of the bands and music involved. It was not received overly well in Cannes (I think that I actually started the applause at the end myself after no one else seemed to be), but it deserves much, much better and will become a great underground favorite in cities that can nurture it.

The Uncertainty Principle
Portugal, Directed by Manoel de Oliveira
Lumiere: 05/18/02: 02:30pm
(**) of four
Time slept during: A lot...a LOT.

For my first Portuguese film, I probably should have picked something that could have kept my pulse going at a more healthy level. Considering that I had gotten enough sleep to count on two hands over the past week, going to a movie with no camera movement, molasses-slow pacing, and no action probably wasnít the best move. Oliveiraís compositions are excellent, with each scene looking as if each element were meticulously placed their himself, but the mind-numbing slowness of the movie just paralyzed me instantly. My frequent short sleeping spells were also not helping me keep the plot completely intact, which was contributing to my cetera, et cetera (quite the Catch-22). I wish I could have stayed with the movie better because Iím sure there are some that will enjoy it greatly. Iím just not one of those people.

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