Originally posted 18 June 2002
Movies: Tomb Raider, Driven, Bridget Jones, and more!
By now, you're used my disappearing for months at a time, leaving your inbox bereft of incisive opinions about the latest Hollywood crap. So I'm not going to go into the whole macarena about why this write-up has been so delayed. Actually, I will. But that's below. Meantime, here's a review.
Last night, my friend Erik and I went to see "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider" at the Sony on 3rd Avenue and 11th. We were off to a bad start when we got to our theater and discovered that 1) the screen was the size of a legal pad; and 2) the room was covered in a visible film of dried soda studded with dust and used gum. The grime was gross, but it was the screen size that really pissed me off. What's the point of paying $11.50 to see an action movie writ small? My mood was sour and my elbow bonded to the armrest as the film started.
"Tomb Raider" is based on the acclaimed video game of the same name, and it stars Angelina Jolie ("Girl, Interrupted," "Gone in Sixty Seconds") in the title role. I don't play the game, but it has a reputation for being one of the few quality video contests that has a female protagonist. So right away, I'm interested in the movie. Also, the poster for the film is inspiring: Jolie, in a shortie jumpsuit so tight you can see the outline of her belly button, stands legs apart, shoulders wide, comfortably holding a large gun at her side and looking off the page at something she's clearly about to wipe out. Her waist-length braid sways behind her, suggesting that she has just landed in this position. The movie title is emblazoned directly over her crotch. The poster has mesmerized me for weeks.
The movie, unfortunately, will not have the same effect. The opening scene--tomb-raiding heroism all the way--exemplifies one of my action-movie pet peeves: the editing is so frenetic, it's impossible to tell what's going on. And then the characters speak. And the British accents are so bad, Meryl Streep would be rolling over in her grave, if only she were dead. And then Jon Voight, Jolie's real-life father, plays Croft's dad. And it's all terribly sentimental--backed up by soggy accents and a feeble plotline and sets that could double as Disney rides. And I was obsessed with Jolie's lips, which are a disquieting gray color and look as if they've had six too many collagen injections. Afterwards, Erik said he thought for the first half-hour that "Tomb Raider" could well turn out to be the worst movie ever made.
But the movie saves itself from such ignominy. It's got little dialog--thank god. (I was thinking this was because the writers recognized that the film's appeal was not going to lie in witty repartee, but Erik more astutely noted that they probably just didn't bother to write many lines.) A few of the action scenes are filmed in exciting style, and they involve plenty of fun phallic imagery (although on the whole, the movie is surprisingly--even pleasingly--PG). The soundtrack is classic video-game electronica, amped up for the silver screen. And, in general, the production doesn't take itself too seriously.
Here's how "Tomb Raider" scored on a scale of 1 - 10 in my categories of analysis:
Shoes: 2. I would award this category a "1" for ugliness, but Croft keeps her nifty knife in the leg of a boot, so I'm giving credit for storage.
Dogs: 8. The last segment of the movie involves a slew of handsome sled dogs. Improves the film 11-fold.
Do things blow up?: 3. Yeah, but it's all cheesy-looking special effects. The final action scene, in which Jolie runs out of a tomb just ahead of a series of explosions, is kind of cool.
Cell phones: 8. None rang in the theater during the movie, and there is not too much fetishy gadget abuse in the film itself.
Despite the film's general silliness, and the fact that the sound cut out for about three minutes towards the beginning (which didn't influence our understanding of the story at all), I was in a pretty good mood by the end. Strong female lead, a few good action scenes, running time under 100 minutes. It's not a film classic, but it didn't offend my sensibilities or make me feel dirty for having paid to see it.
So I've got "Tomb Raider" under my belt, but the span between that and the last movie I'd seen was perhaps the longest drought of my adult life. My excuse? My friend Laurie Fitch and I have got season seats for the Yankees, a package of 41 tickets (half the 81 home games), which works out to an average of 3.4 Bronx nights per week during team homestands, for six months. Put another way, I'm attending seven games a month this summer, plus road trips to see the team in Boston, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Toronto and Flushing. It's grueling. And it nearly obviates movie going from April to September, not to mention the post-season, which engulfs October.
Herewith, then, is a round up of opinions on movies I saw before the season started or during the Yankees' early-season series out of town. Savor it; at the rate I'm going, I won't have another list this beefy until mid-winter.
* Driven. What're you going to do on Sunday afternoons in the black hole between the ballgame and "The Sopranos"? Watch Nascar racing on Fox, naturally. My neighbor Amy and I had been nurturing an interest in motor sports when Sylvester Stallone's latest movie was released in April; we went to see "Driven" the day it opened. The movie showcases a bunch of CART races (which involve those skinny, open-wheeled cars that go about 200 mph, literally), and a lot of things blow up at close range and in slow motion. Unfortunately, Sly wrote the screenplay, which shows, and the soundtrack is a terrible waste. Still, low expectations helped us enjoy this flick, which alternately prompted Amy to say, "Wow, that was fucking cool!" and "Wow, that was the worst movie scene of all time."
* Memento. I saw "Memento" in Boston with my brother, his girlfriend and his roommate. The story is told backwards, and it requires a tremendous amount of concentration to keep up with. Although flawed and ultimately confusing (it took the four of us about two hours to decide we were never going to really understand the film), I liked "Memento" for challenging me and for its very good acting.
* Bridget Jones's Diary. I read the book while in London a couple of years ago, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Based on the corny previews, however, I was wary of the movie, certain that the spirited Bridget would be made to mush. But when offered a free ticket to a preview of the movie, I decided to go--if only to be able to complain loudly afterwards about the dismal state of romantic comedies in Hollywood these days. I was very pleasantly surprised, then, to find myself laughing out loud during the movie and just generally enjoying it. Renee Zellweger is a creditable Bridget, and Hugh Grant is marvelous as the dastardly romantic interest. There's snappy dialog and an old-movie sensibility about the love triangle. I can't comment on the much-discussed weight that Zellweger gained for this role; we were forced to sit in the second row of the theater, and everyone looked disproportionately wide from that angle.
* Blow. I saw Johnny Depp's latest by myself at the Sonyplex on 68th Street. Long, boring, sentimental: it blew. Depp was pretty good, although I found his character deeply unbelievable and his Massachusetts accent erratic. Overall effect: a young director (Ted Demme, "Beautiful Girls"), profoundly influenced by Scorcese, makes an After School Special.
* In the Mood for Love. A beautiful, poetic Chinese movie starring Tony Leung Chiu Wai, an Asian screen star, and Maggie Cheung, one of the top heroines in Hong Kong action movies, in an unusual non-martial arts role. I liked everything about the film, although I kept expecting Cheung to break out of the melancholy mode, throw a high kick at Tony and scream "Hi *ya*!"
* Taste of Others. I saw this delightful French film downtown with Erik and Stephanie and Joseph. Complicated characters, interesting situations, charming French realism, good shoes. My favorite of the movies reviewed in this opinion.
* The Gleaners and I. My neighbor Rich and I saw this Agnes Varda pic at Film Forum. It's got some provocative ideas about material use and waste, food in particular. But I'm pretty familiar with those concepts, and I found the movie a little precious. Not a waste of time, however, and a good example of personal filmmaking.
* Pollock. Uck. Ed Harris indulges his most narcissistic fantasies by playing a fantastic narcissist. I saw this one at Lincoln Plaza with Zoe, a friend from a writing class I took over the winter, and neither of us liked it much. It reveals nothing new about Pollock, creativity, alcoholism, Eastern Long Island or the intersection of those things. Marcia Gay Harden as Lee Krasner was a lot of fun to watch, however, and the cast did include a pretty cute border collie.
Okay, that's all the opinions that are fit to digitize today. I'll try to get out another SMO before the All-Star Break. Meantime, let's go Yanks!