Originally posted 2 December 2002
Movies: Die Another Day, The Quiet American, and many more!
Lately I am fielding six calls a day from friends who have seen the preview for "Maid in Manhattan" and are stunned, nauseated or both. It is obvious to everyone that casting Jennifer Lopez and Ralph Fiennes in a romantic comedy together is a colossal, gruesome mistake. What is Hollywood thinking?
The first time I saw a poster for the movie, on a bus stop at 79th and Broadway, I pulled up short and my mouth fell open, Three Stooges-style. The very idea of the movie--a blatant "Pretty Woman" remake--is revolting, and in the poster, Fiennes actually looks a little ill. If the gross, chemistry-free pairing of Fiennes and Lopez weren't bad enough, the entire plot of the movie is evident from the static print ad. Why bother to pay $10 to sit through it? This can only turn out well if Fiennes is the maid.
I'll keep dreaming.
Meantime, yesterday, at the Sony on 84th Street, I saw "Die Another Day," which might have more accurately been titled "Dayenu." It would have been enough Bond 12 installments ago. The latest version has plot gaps you could drive a hovercraft through, and it strains credulity even for a Bond flick (large holes in the side of a plummeting airplane, for example, fail to suck 007 into oblivion). But who am I to argue with Halle Berry in a string bikini?
For a detailed listing of all the ways this flick is not original, check out the movie's trivia page on IMDB.com, which lists references in "Die Another Day" to the previous 19 Bond movies. It's not clear whether all of these references are intentional or whether the movies are just so formulaic that repetition is unavoidable. Still, it made me wonder why there're writers credited for "Die Another Day." (I also pondered what kind of geeks know so much stuff about Bond movies).
Here's how "Die Another Day" scored in my categories of analysis:
* Shoes: 5. For a movie famously awash in product placements, there's nary a Prada loafer nor a Jimmy Choo sandal to set your heart racing.
* Dogs: 0. I guess the AKC didn't buy its way into this flick either.
* Cell phones: 5/5. One went off in the theater during the movie, but it fit right in with the onscreen technophilia. In fact, in the movie itself, cell phones are not overused, and the gadgetry has its appealing moments. But I wonder: does Ford, a major commercial sponsor of the movie, feel it got screwed on the invisible-car gimmick?
* Do things blow up? 7. In the opening scene, an entire North Korean military base is torched to smithereens by a few rounds of machine gun fire. So that's cool. And as the movie progresses, plenty of buildings, cars and other stuff get thoroughly obliterated. I'm sure this accounts for the 8 million people listed in the credits, which scroll up seven names across. But even with a crew a third the size of North Korea's actual population, and a budget possibly larger than the country's GNP, "Die Another Day" lacks a satisfying edge in most of its explosions. I could have gone for a little more detail in the mayhem.
(A couple of weeks ago, at about 3:00 in the morning on some cable channel north of ESPN, I caught "True Lies," James Cameron's 1994 action bonanza starring Jamie Lee Curtis and Arnold Schwarzenegger. It is not exactly the feminist film of the century (nor is it likely to please any Arab-American association), but man! things blow up really spectacularly in that picture.)
* Poker: 0. There's a little gambling over a fencing duel, but nobody challenges Bond to play a to-the-death game of five-card stud with a twist, no bookends, high/low.
There have been far worse Bond chapters, and although "Die Another Day" isn't winning any points for global politics, I wasn't sorry to have seen it. But it's only a few hours since I left the theater, and I can barely remember the film. Which is probably a good thing: I'm already prepared for the next one.
I have seen 12 other films (assuming I'm not forgetting any) since I last emailed around a movie opinion. One--"Singing in the Rain," which was running at the Film Forum for its 50th anniversary--was life-changingly great (and I have seen it at least a dozen times). Several others were not bad, including:
* "The Quiet American," which I saw at the Village Sonyplex last week with Tara and Jim. I rather liked this movie, an adaptation of Graham Greene's novel of the same name. The flick features a love triangle that is thin, but the relationship between the characters played by Michael Caine and Brendan Fraser is layered and charged like a trip wire. Caine is marvelous to watch, and Fraser is better than I expected.
Jim and Tara didn't like the movie as much as I did, but we were all captivated by the Vietnamese dresses. They've got this multi-panel, slit-to-the-waist, wraparound thing going on that is *fascinating.*
After the movie, Jim pointed out (and later emailed me, in case I'd missed it the first time around) that "film is less the art of the possible as it is the necessity of illusion. Its cinematic resonance is suggestive, its vocabulary a simulacrum of context." He also noted, apropos of nothing, that Halle Berry is hot.
* "Far from Heaven." Rich and I saw this homage to post-war melodramas about two weeks ago at the Roachplex. Visually, it's gor-gee-ous, worth seeing for the cinematography and furniture alone. The story didn't wow me, but Julianne Moore did. She gives a beautifully understated performance, and Patricia Clarkson is wonderful in a supporting role. Dennis Quaid, in a gender-role reversal of the classic melodrama, is over the top with emotion.
* "Secretary." I saw this flick with Matthew and his galpal, M, at the Angelika a few weeks ago. For a movie about sadomasochism, it was a little too easy to watch. But Maggie Gylenhaal really acts her sweet ass off, and James Spader--in a role that could have been another throwaway creep part for him--is a subtle foil for her ambition. Bonus: he's looking better as he gets older.
* "Interview with the Assassin." I saw this mock documentary at the Angelika with the Chrisses recently. The movie has a number of compelling plot twists and some fine acting. Unfortunately, Chris K missed a few chunks of the film as she dashed out to vomit several times. The poor thing! Because Chris B and I thought she just had to pee a lot, however, neither of us followed her, and we didn't learn until afterwards that she had been puking her guts up. I believe this makes us among the worst husband-and-friend teams a girl could hope to see a fake documentary with. Something to keep in mind during flu season.
* "Igby Goes Down." I saw this indie when it came out, maybe by myself, um, maybe with Amy O, maybe with Rich, maybe with somebody else. Does anyone remember? Anyway, it's a little self-consciously "aren't we all 'The Graduate' meets 'Catcher in the Rye'?" and the side characters are stock stereotypes. But Kieran Culkin gives an enchanting performance, and Jeff Goldblum is terrific. Plus Amanda Peet wears some groovy shoes.
* "My Bid Fat Greek Wedding." Jonathan and I saw "Greek Wedding" sometime during the fall because it was getting hard to avoid. We were both in crummy moods that night, and this lite fare was just the antidote. The movie doesn't pretend to be serious or even very good, and it manages to be charming and funny in small ways. Nia Vardalos, the writer and star, is disarmingly straightforward as the main character. On the other hand, that John Corbett (Aidan on "Sex and the City" and Chris on "Northern Exposure") is only a slightly better actor than my dog. And his ears aren't as cute.
* "Blue Crush." Saw it in late August with Adam and Tania at a small cineplex on Long Beach Island, where we were spending a week. The theater was old--it appeared to have a bed sheet for a screen and a couple of transistor radios piping in the sound--but this movie doesn't exactly require state-of-the-art viewing conditions. It is dopey and moderate fun, and it plays like a long MTV video. In fact, the best scenes are the surfing shots set to music, and one sequence in which a dog hangs ten.
A handful of the movies I've seen lately left me whelmed--neither sorry to have seen them, nor moved in any significant way. Included in that group are:
* "Real Women Have Curves," which I saw at the Roachplex by myself a few weeks ago. The title really drew me in, the film did not.
* "Standing in the Shadow of Motown." Marci and I saw this documentary last week at the dumpy theater on 62nd and Broadway. It's about the talented studio musicians who played on dozens of Motown hits but were little know to fans. The interviews with the old guys are interesting, but the historical stuff is handled in a clunky manner, and I didn't learn as much as I could have. Also, the film inexplicably started 20 minutes late, and the couple down the row from us shouted to each other constantly. Here's a tip: if you're deaf, don't go to the movies and yell a lot.
* "Ararat." Jonathan and I saw this, the latest from Atom Egoyan ("Sweet Hereafter," "Exotica") at the 68th Street Sonyplex last week. Interesting ideas and decent acting, both completely snowed under by a blizzard of story lines. We couldn't really tell what was going on, but we weren't sorry to have seen the movie.
Finally, I really hated "Bowling for Columbine," which Jonathan and I saw at the 68th Sonyplex about a month ago. The movie is a documentary in which writer and director Michael Moore ("Roger and Me") attempts to investigate why gun accidents are relatively common in the United States. This is a good question to ask, but Moore's techniques are manipulative, misleading and sloppy. Indeed, he employs precisely the methods he accuses mainstream media of using to whip up fear.
For instance, Moore provides partial statistics. The movie claims 11,000 people die each year in the US from gunshot wounds. Much lower numbers for other countries flash across the screen. But without giving any stats about the countries' populations, which Moore does not, this is a useless comparison. Nonetheless, it made the audience we were watching with gasp.
More subtle but no less insidious are the videotaped interviews, which are edited out of order, with inter-cut comments from Moore, making the subjects appear to say or respond to things they may not have been aware of. In addition, Moore harasses people like Dick Clark and Charlton Heston and then sighs disingenuously as if *he* is being given a hard time. And he wears some seriously shabby white leather sneakers.
The movie's few good scenes are undermined by its overall sensibility. But does it matter? Moore is preaching to the converted, and he knows it.
Frankly, I was disgusted--and I am one of the converted.
I learned two things from this film:
1) Marilyn Manson is amazingly well spoken. He is one of the few smart, analytical voices in the movie, and he comes across as very thoughtful. Maybe it's an act, but his interview made me want to run out and buy his albums. Or vote him into the Senate.
2) Unless it is in the context of a documentary about September 11, I never want to see video of the planes slamming into the World Trade Towers again. In one segment of "Columbine," Moore shows the second plane as it hits. Seeing that familiar footage unexpectedly took my breath away, literally; afterwards, Jonathan said it made him feel as if he'd been punched.
If only the movie itself had had such a strong impact. Sadly, its politics were little better than "Die Another Day's," and it doesn't feature Halle Berry. With such dismal details, it's hard to make an argument for "Columbine."
Administrata. Take note! The URL for my Web site has changed. It is now www.dogsandshoes.com (no longer www.sarashsmo.com). If you've got me bookmarked, now would be the perfect time to update the link.