Originally posted 23 January 2002
Movies: Brotherhood of the Wolf, Harry Potter and More
Since last I wrote just six weeks ago, I have seen 15 movies. That's a prodigious and commendable input, but it means this review could get terrifyingly long. To make things easier on all of us, I have grouped the shows into several categories: Movies That Would Have Scared Me When I Was Seven; Movies I Might Have Liked When I Was 17, If I Had Been Making Out in the Back of the Theater and Blissfully Unaware of the Actual Film; Movies for the PBS/NPR Crowd; and Revivals with Rich. Some of the movies fall into more than one category; I'll leave it to you to figure out which.
--Movies That Would Have Scared Me When I Was Seven--
Embarrassingly enough, this list is headed up by "Brotherhood of the Wolf," an 18th Century French kung-fu fantasy mess that I saw on Sunday night at the 84th Street Sony with Brian and Laurie and my old movie mate Matthew. I am powerless to resist martial arts movies, and it was my idea that we go see this flick. Mea culpa. It is bad, it is gory, and there is hardly any kung fu. But the 11-year-old boys sitting behind us provided some interesting commentary: during one particularly gruesome scene a preadolescent deadpanned, "He just scalped the guy. That's not nice."
Here's how "Brotherhood" scored on a scale of 1 - 10 in my categories of analysis:
* Shoes: 3. Some cool, above the knee boots (on the men).
* Dogs: 5. There are a lot of dogs in this movie, everything from a French goat-herding puffball to wolfhounds and Dobermans. And, of course, there are dozens of great-looking wolves. But a lot of wolves get slaughtered, and it's kind of upsetting. I was glad I hadn't brought my dog, Robie, to see this one.
* Cell phones: 0/10. None in the film, and none in the theater. But somebody down the row in front of us was listening to music on a Walkman the entire time. At every quiet moment in the movie, I could hear the tinny static of headphones in use. Also, this is easily the tenth time at this theater that I have seen somebody bring a toddler into an R-rated movie, and even I (with virtually no moral compass) am disturbed by such parenting.
* Do things blow up?: 0. Some rocks fell over.
* Poker: 0/-10. Some card were seen during the film, but no poker was played. I would have let a wolf chew off my left pinky toe to have been playing poker instead of watching this lupine loser.
Of course, some martial arts movies make me want to whoop with joy. "Once Upon a Time in China," the 1991 classic featuring Jet Li in his first big role, is of that ilk. Matthew and I saw it at the Film Forum a few nights ago, and it made my week. The acting is comparable to that in porn movies, the screenplay is gleefully cheesy, and the story is an afterthought. But the movie kicks all kinds of ass. From the gorgeous opening titles to the awesomely choreographed and lovingly filmed fight sequences, this baby gets ten thumbs up from me--as does Jet Li.
Less successful was "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," which I saw on my own at 84th Street last weekend. I really enjoyed the first Harry Potter book (I've been less enamored of the three sequels so far), and although the reviews have been middling, I was hopeful that the movie would add dimension to my experience of the book. No such luck. Instead, I was so bored I feared a spell had been cast on me.
Here's how "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" scored on a scale of 1 - 10 in my categories of analysis:
* Shoes: 0. You can't see wizards' shoes because they wear floor-length robes.
* Dogs: 2. There are two dogs at Hogwarts and one of them has three heads.
* Cell phones: 0/-4. While Harry and his cohorts don't know from wireless phones, parents bringing their children to see "Harry Potter" for the fourteenth time seem to think it's okay to gab on their Nokias during the movie.
* Do things blow up?: 2. At a school full of potions and curses, not as much blows up as one might hope.
* Poker: 0/-10. Wizards play chess, not poker. Halfway through, I almost asked one seven-year-old behind me if she could be interested in a little five-card draw.
Personally, I liked "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring" a lot more. I saw it a few weeks back at the 68th Street Sonyplex with my dogrun friends Jackie and Brett. I haven't yet checked out the book, but the movie was entertaining enough to pique my interest in reading it. For those more serious about their Middle Earth pursuits, note that my brother, a bigtime fan of the Ring series, found this film little better than the flimsy "Harry Potter" adaptation.
Best of all in Movies-That-Would-Have-Scared-Me-When-I-Was-Seven category was "Monsters, Inc.," which Brett and I went to see a few weeks ago at ye oldde 84th Street Sonyplex. This is the latest from Pixar, the studio that brought us the "Toy Story" gems and "A Bug's Life." It's 92 minutes of action, drama and laughs. And it's sweet; at the end, Brett and I both got teary. Although monsters don't wear shoes or keep dogs, this film was one of my favorites of the season. If you go, stick around for the side-splitting outtakes during the closing credits.
--Movies I Might Have Liked When I Was 17, If I Had Been Making Out in the Back of the Theater and Blissfully Unaware of the Actual Film--
Somehow, when "Kate & Leopold" came out, Jackie, Brett and my neighbor Rich and I convinced ourselves that it would be okay to spend a Saturday night seeing it at the 68th Street Sonyplex. What the hell were we thinking?
My brother points out that of all the film genres, the romantic comedy has really fallen on the worst of times. "Kate & Leopold"--at 121 excruciating minutes--is perfect fodder for this argument. The story is trite, the characters are dull, the supposed spark between Meg Ryan and Hugh Jackman made me and my three compatriots proud to be single. Even the side characters played by such skillful actors as Natasha Lyonne, Breckin Meyer and Liev Schreiber were flat as beer that's been sitting open for four days.
Here's how "Kate & Leopold" scored in my categories of analysis:
* Shoes: 3. I wasn't that inspired by the shoes, but in a couple of scenes Ryan wears a leather shirt that looks great on her.
* Dogs: 8. There was an Anatolian shepherd in the movie, which was adorable and not seen nearly enough. Bonus points given because Robie's best dog friend is an Anatolian, and because Jackie, Brett, Rich and I are enamored of another Anatolian in our dogrun.
* Cell phones: 0/3. I don't recall any ringing in the theater. There was only mild gadget abuse in the movie.
* Do things blow up?: 0. Nope. But there was a cool reconstruction of the Brooklyn Bridge circa 100 years ago.
* Poker: 0/-10. None in the movie. I spent most of the two-hour duration wondering if Meg Ryan would be more fun to play poker with than to watch caper around onscreen.
Little better was "A Beautiful Mind," which Rich I saw at one of the Chelseaplexes a few weeks ago. I had forgotten that it was directed by Ron Howard ("How the Grinch Stole Christmas," "Apollo 13"), and since it had gotten lots of good reviews, I went in with dangerously high expectations. I'm sure nobody will be surprised to learn that I hated this flick.
"A Beautiful Mind" is a well-lighted schmaltzfest that can't decide whether it's about the pain of mental illness, the horrors of McCarthyism, or the belief that love will triumph over all. In the hands of an Oscar-chaser like Howard, this emotional melee is guaranteed to annoy a motion picture minimalist like me. Credit where due: Russel Crowe is fine, if you like that kind of thing. And Jennifer Connelly looks incredible. But she wears a lot of espadrilles in this flick, which didn't always go well with her cute outfits.
Last week, my friend Judy and I hoofed it over the Angelika to see "What Time Is It There?" The better question might be: what time is it over? Judy truly hated this slow-moving Taiwanese film, while I was merely antsy. Each scene is shot with one unmoving camera, and while many of them were beautifully composed, they added up to nothing more than 116 minutes of time that could better have been spent playing poker or keeping up with reading on Enron.
--Movies for the PBS/NPR Crowd--
When it opened back in December, my friend Amy O and I went to see "The Royal Tenenbaums" at Lincoln Plaza. I had loved the previous movie from director Wes Anderson, "Rushmore," and I was all hot to trot for his new offering. Instead, I wound up warm to conform. That is, I liked it okay--I generally find something of value in movies about family dysfunction (to say nothing of movies with Owen Wilson), and I was entertained while watching it--but it didn't change my life or anything. There are dogs, there are shoes. I can't really remember much about any of them.
"Gosford Park" has gotten reams of good reviews, and I'm not going to buck the trend. I found this film, which I saw with Brett and Jackie at the 68th Street Sonyplexorama, to be lite, entertaining fare. I had a cough when we went to see it, and Brett conked out and snored loudly during the middle of the movie. Jackie, who was wedged between us, slunk low in her seat and tried to keep her soda slurping down to a dull roar. Possibly, other patrons were gabbing away on their cell phones throughout this flick, but I couldn't tell over the racket we were making.
Because I won my own name-this-site contest (more on that in my next review), I took myself to see "Lantana" at Lincoln Plaza last week. A tight Aussie film looking at four intertwined marriages, "Lantana" is very, very good. The acting is seamless and the storytelling is engrossing. If you haven't seen it yet, do yourself a favor and check it out.
Last weekend, Amy O and I saw "Monster's Ball" at Lincoln Plaza. A gripping drama starring Halle Berry and Billy Bob Thornton, this movie has lots to recommend it. Topping the list is Halle Berry, who takes movie acting to a new level in this film--she just about blows the screen out of the theater, she's so good. I also liked the spare screenplay and the movie's willingness to stick with small, sometimes deeply painful moments. I didn't think about playing poker the whole time I was watching it.
--Revivals with Rich--
I have had a bad cold for a few weeks now, and at its peak, I promised to stay in for a few nights. So Rich and I rented "Croupier" and camped out at my place with some Haagen Dazs and a box of Puffs Plus. "Croupier" is UK movie that came out in 1998 and got terrific reviews on this side of the pond (maybe on the other side too; how should I know?). With its casino-evocative title, I thought we'd be in for a night of fun. In fact, if we'd ignored my cold, blown off the movie and gone to Foxwoods, we might have had a chance. As it was, neither of us got much out of this flick. Still, I was glad to have seen it for its one poker scene, during which the main character, played by the sexy Clive Owen, deals a hand in which the players around the table get a straight, a flush, a full house, four of a kind, and a straight flush. Atlantic City, here we come.
On New Year's Eve, Rich and I caught a Film Forum double feature of "The Apartment" and "Some Like it Hot," both Billy Wilder movies starring Jack Lemon. The tandem was a perfect ending to 2001 and a reminder of why sitting in a dark, poorly ventilated room with a bunch of pasty, poorly ventilated strangers can be a great experience.