THE ADVENTURES OF PINOCCHIO - TRAINSPOTTING - SUPERCOP
KINGPIN - A TIME TO KILL
THE ADVENTURES OF PINOCCHIO
"The Adventures of Pinocchio," is a live action adaptation of the 1883 novel by Italian children's writer Carlo Collodi, rather than a remake of the 1940 Disney animation classic.
In this version, the old puppetmaker, Geppetto, played by Martin Landau, creates his boy-puppet, Pinocchio, from a very special piece of wood -- wood from the tree where he carved his declaration of love for the beautiful Leona many, many years before.
His love, unexpressed, goes unrequited, but its magic still lives in the wood used to create little Pinocchio.
The visual magic that brings Pinocchio to life is provided by the always fabulous Jim Henson's Creature Shop.
Technically, "The Adventures of Pinocchio" is a very well done, though not perfect, piece of work. Pinocchio's animation by Henson's Creature Shop is singularly notable from the group known for notable creations. They, subtly, give Pinocchio such expressions as wonderment in a convincing way.
Other F/X and animatronics -- the donkey boys, the bad boys town, the whale and his innard, are interesting and clever. Inside the whale may be scary for smaller kids
Martin Landau does a wonderful job as old Geppetto. He is one of our finest character actors and does the role justice.
Genevieve Bujold appears, after years away from the screen, as the aged love interest and acts as an anchor to the story and Geppetto.
Comic relief in the form of Felinet and the simple minded Volpe, played with good humor by Bebe Neuwirth and Rob Schneider, works pretty well.
Big mistake is the vaguely defined character, Pepe, as Pinocchio's muse. David Doyle was dead wrong as his voice.
Another complaint is the telling of Pinocchio's story. All the elements are there, visually, but the story/dialogue are flat and without much emotion.
I watched the Disney original and, though it may be comparing apples and oranges, found it to be a much richer and more satisfying film. The new "Pinocchio," about the same length as Disney's animation, seemed much longer.
Obviously, any kids film that is intelligently done gets my recommendation.
This one could have been better and I give it B-. It's not shabby, that's for sure.
"The Adventures of Pinocchio" is based more faithfully on the 1883 Italian children's classic by Carlo Collodi than the 1942 Disney animation. Except for the terrific animatronics work by Jim Henson's Creature Shop, there was something about this film that reminded me of the dubbed European fairytale films that comprised local kids' matinees in the early 1960s. This is probably because "The Adventures of Pinocchio"' was shot on location in the Czech Republic. The movie has a wonderful period feel with terrific locations, set design and costume, and is certainly of a much higher standard than those low budget films of my youth.
This Pinocchio is less cuddly than the Disney version -- he's a blank slate that begins to learn how to act by mimicking those around him. Martin Landau's Geppetto is a more fully facetted character -- a lonely bachelor who still grieves the loss of Leona (Genevieve Bujold) to his brother 25 years earlier. In fact Pinocchio is Geppetto and Leona's 'love child - having been carved from the same tree trunk that Geppetto carved their initials in all those years ago.
German camp actor Udo Kier is the evil Lorenzini, who wants Pinocchio for his theater show. Bebe Newirth (TV's 'Cheers') and Rob Schneider (TV's "Saturday Night Live," "Judge Dredd") are Felinet and Volpe -- characters represented by a cat and a fox in the Disney version. Kier is appropriately evil, eating hot chili peppers in order to blow smoke and fire through his stage production sea serpent, but it's Neuwirth and Schneider who provide more fun with their scheming scams. Schneider is particularly amusing as the dense (rather than foxy) Volpe.
There's no Jiminy Cricket here -- instead we have Pepe the cricket voiced by David Doyle and seeming entirely too modern for this period piece -- in fact, he seemed like an outtake from "James and the Giant Peach" to me.
Although there's a lot to admire in this live action adaptation of the Pinocchio story, I found its pace somehow off -- it seemed draggy despite its relatively short running time. I had higher expectations for this, and was somewhat disappointed -- even though the usually blander than bland Jonathon Taylor Thomas' appearance at the end surprisingly buoyed he finale. 'The Adventures of Pinocchio' has its heart in the right place, though.
"I chose not to choose life, I chose something else. And the reasons? There are no reasons. Who needs reasons when you've got heroin?"
So confides the lead character of "Trainspotting," Renton (Ewan McGregor) at the onset of this exhilirating British film based on the book by Irvine Welsh. The title refers to a hobby popular with young British males where they spend hours gathering useless information about the trains that pass by - the penultimate pointless pastime.
Renton initially tries to kick the habit, but soon falls back in with his junkie buddies Spud and Sick Boy, soon-to-be junkie Tommy, and alcoholic tough guy Begbie.
"Trainspotting" has become the surprise phenomenal hit of Britain as well as the Cannes Film Festival and it is indeed one of the freshest in-your-face films to come down the pike in a while. It surprises me that the adjective that most springs to mind to describe a film about Edinburgh heroin junks that is by turns both comic and tragic as exhilirating, but that it is. It's more episodic than linear, although its final act becomes more conventional in its storytelling when the gang of mates attempt to score big in a drug deal with people they're clearly in over their heads with.
The subject matter here is clearly not for all tastes. In its most celebrated scene, Renton dives into the filthiest toilet in Scotland to retrieve suppositories filled with morphine. A baby dies in a flop house when people are too drugged out to notice, only to return to haunt Renton during parentally enforced withdrawal by crawling across his ceiling. After Spud passes out at his girlfriend's house after an evening of excess at a nightclub, a silly mishap causes his vomit and feces encrusted sheets to be flung into the faces of his girlfriends' parents. Spud also gets one of the funniest scenes, going through an obligatory job interview on speed in order to stay on the dole.
Director Danny Boyle, producer Andrew MacDonald and screenwriter John Hodge, who previously brought us 'Shallow Grave', have come up with a jangly slice of low-life catapulted along with daring, comic and sometimes touching performances, nervous editting, and a driving soundtrack featuring Blur, Pulp and Iggy Pop. Ewan McGregor has a star-making turn as Renton, Ewen Bremner is innocent and befuddled as Spud, Kevin McKidd heartbreaking as Tommy and Jonny Lee Miller is slickly stylish as the Sean Connery-obsessed Sick Boy. The most explosive performance comes from Robert Carlyle as Benbie, the hair-trigger nutcase who gets off on beating people to a pulp.
"Trainspotting" is an original, and while I wouldn't recommend it to my mother, there's something to be said for a piece of cinema that grabs you by the throat like a pitbull and doesn't let go.
In some minds, this is an extremely controversial film because it condones the use and abuse of heroin.
With this, I differ.
Yes, the main character and narrator, Renton (played by Ewan McGregor) does compare shooting up heroin to having an orgasm, only a thousand times better. This statement is more than tempered by the depiction of absolute devastation the drug causes.
On balance, I'd have to say "Trainspotting" will have to go down in the annals as one of the great anti-heroin films of all time - better than Otto Preminger's "The Man With The Golden Arm," and on a par with Alex Cox's "Sid and Nancy," maybe even better!
Danny Boyle and his collaborators, producer Andrew MacDonald and writer John Hodge, took the experience they got making the stylish, but not great, "Shallow Grave" and honed "Trainspotting" to a point where they attained the difficult balance of story, acting and style.
This is a true ensemble piece, with all the characters developing their all too unique human traits and emotions. McGregor is the focal, not the main, character, but carries the film quite well.
Around him, however, are a group of characters that are people. You may not like them -- Robert Carlyle as Begbie is not a drug user, but he is, if you'll excuse the expession, such a violent asshole, you can see why Renton and his friends find it easier to tolerate him than to try to get rid of him.
Spud, played by Ewen Bremner, who also played the Renton character in a stage version of the novel a few years ago, is the most endearing character in the film. His job interview - required, in order to stay on the dole -- is a priceless bit of manic humor.
The visuals, from the early toilet scene -- a nauseatingly enthralling piece of cinema - to Renton's hallucinations during withdrawal, are terrifically well done and integral to the story.
(Another aspect of the film, it's ability to cut back and forth, and abruptly, between humor and horror, is extremely hard to do and is done to good success here.)
There is not a lot of wasted time in "Trainspotting." It's politics and self attitude are particularly poignant if you are familiar with Scotland, at all. And still funny if you're not.
I've been meandering around as to what to give "Trainspotting." The negativity and hopeless aspects tend to make me want to downgrade it a little bit. BUT, these very aspects are what help to make this such a significant film - about both drug addiction and life.
I'm giving "Trainspotting" an A. It's one of the best films so far this year.
Jackie Chan is back in the USA, once again, this time with the release of his 1992 international hit "Supercop", costarring Michelle Khan.
Chan plays Hong Kong supercop Kevin Chan, who is sent on assignment to mainland China to infiltrate a massive drug ring. His orders are to help a drug czar, known as the Panther, escape from prison, and gain access to Panther's inner circle.
To help Chan, the People's Republic assigns the beautiful and capable Inpector Yang, played by Khan, to lend her martial arts and police skills to the mission.
What follows are the adventures of the two supercops as they battle the bad guys, eventually ending up in a spectacular, and unusual, chase through the city of Kuala Lampur in Malaysia.
From the top, this is a far better film than "Rumble In The Bronx." Chan is no less charming in "Rumble...", but the entire production of "Supercop" is superior to Chan's first real foray into US cinema.
Aside from the really bad dubbing, most obvious in the early parts of the film, before the action starts, production is pretty slick. Besides, once the action starts, dialog takes a back seat, anyway.
Jackie Chan has a really terrific film persona. He exudes good nature and humor, even as he beats the bejeezus out of a slew of bad guys. He does this all with a Gary Cooper type of "Aw, shucks!" mannerism that belies his obvious physical skills.
Michelle Khan and her abilities compliment Chan's style very well. She's more formal in her martial arts actions than Chan, but he has so much experience doing this kind of film, it's no wonder. It'll be interesting to see her now. Hopefully, she's developing some of Chan's sense of humor, which serves him so well.
The action sequences - live action, all of it. No computer generated or blue screen stuff here - should make Hollywood take notice. People like live action stunts. Hollywood's computer-generated stuff is impressive, but they still don't have that unique quality really well-done live action has.
And, action is, of course, the key word for "Supercop." Once things are explained to the viewer, Chan and director/stunt coordinator Stanley Tong go balls-to-the-wall with one fight/action sequence after another, culminating in one of the most original and exciting helicopter chase scenes I've ever seen. The unbelievable part is that Chan and Khan do all their own stunts! LUNATICS!
I love Chan's philosophy about his stunts: He wouldn't have someone do a stunt that he can't do himself, so why not just do it! This dedication shows in his performance. Hang around through the credits at the film's end. Chan's production outakes tell it all. (At the same time, listen to Tom Jones cover of "Kung Fu Fighting." Seriously.)
This is definitely a niche-oriented film -- it's going for the martial arts/action fans and hits them square on the nose.
We'll be seeing many more of Chan's past, present and future films over the next few years. He has a deal to release his existing films, one every six months.
"Supercop" will be a superstar. I give it a B.
Somebody please get Jackie Chan a better screenwriter! While "Supercop" is a bit better than the earlier "Rumble in the Bronx," the story is still nothing but an excuse for Chan's amazing physical stunts and charming humor at his own expense.
This time he's paired with "the female Jackie Chan," Michelle Khan, and what a team they make! If Chan can jump off a 10 story building onto a rope ladder dangling from a helicopter moving a speeds of 100 mph, Khan can do gymnastics while hanging onto the side of a careening bus and drive a motorcycle onto the roof of a moving train! They're truly amazing to watch.
Except for a couple of humorous interludes, though, the action which connects the mind-blowing stunts drags - the film could easily have been cut down to a 75 minute run time much to its benefit.
It's hard to be too critical of a Jackie Chan film, though. It IS fun, even with its goofy dubbing and Tom Jones' cover of "Kung Fu Fighting."
Chan fans rejoice -- Miramax will be releasing a lot of his back catalog in the U.S. in six month intervals. Hopefully the much praised 'Drunken Master II' will give us a little more to chew on.
From the folks that brought us "Dumb and Dumber" comes "Kingpin," a bowling comedy that markets itself with the tag line 'Put your mind in he gutter this summer.' Woody Harrelson is Roy Munson, a nice-guy Iowa state bowling champion, who's bamboozled into a bowling hustle by the sleezy Ernie McCracken (played by Bill Murray). The hustlees uncover the scam and McCracken takes off leaving Munson to lose his bowling hand in the ball return machine.
17 years later Munson's a paunchy, balding alcoholic loser in Scranton, until he discovers a bowling prodigy in Ishmael, an Amish dimwit played by Randy Quaid. The two set off to compete in he $1 million dollar Odor Eater's bowling tournament in Reno, picking up Vanessa Angel's Claudia on the way. After a harrying road trip, they arrive in Reno only to find they're up against bowling's biggest superstar -- Ernie 'Big Ern' McCracken.
"Kingpin" is made of the type of jokes that will appeal to teenage boys - there's lots of sex and bodily function humor here -- and I laughed through most of it.
Bill Murray steals the show whenever he's on screen -- he's unapologetically slimy, sports the most outrageous comb-over hairdo and reveres his custom made acrylic bowling bowl which encases a big red rose. Woody Harrelson's no slouch either finding one of his most flesh-out roles as Munson -- the guy who's very name comes to mean 'loser' in the local vernacular. Vanessa Angel's also good as the street smart dame. Randy Quaid maybe comes off the weakest as the childlike Ishmael with the Buster Brown hairdo. Chris Eliot is hilarious as a wealthy high stakes gambler who makes an offer to Harrelson that's perversely close to one he came up against in 'Indecent Proposal.'
This is one of the most genuinely funny movies of the year, despite its low brow taste. It's only fitting that Munson is redeemed by a product endorsement from Trojan condoms.
Yes, this is a comedy movie with its humor planted firmly in the bathroom and the gutter - T&A jokes, disgusting dental care, really bad comb-overs, are the grist for "Kingpin"'s humor mill. But, they made me laugh! This isn't an Abrahams/Zucker type of comedy -- it's on the same level, but the jokes seem to work more consistently - the Farrelly Brothers drew laughs from most of their jokes, even those that don't quite hit the mark.
"Kingpin" either rips off, or pays homage to, a whole slew of films, from "Witness," "The Graduate" and "The Hustler" to "Indecent Proposal.. The fantasy sequence with Chris Elliot reprising the Robert Redford role, with Randy Quaid in Demi Moore's femme role is quite funny.
Stupid plot holes and really dumb oversights make the second half of the film less laugh infected than the first half. Fortunately, Bill Murray's character comes to the front in the last 40 minutes, and he gives a terrific performance as bowling kingpin, Big Ernie McCracken. He is priceless.
Harrelson does solid, yeoman's work as the hapless Ray Munson, giving a good physical performance. He looks and acts in such an unsavory, selfish manner, that I have to give him credit for really acting.
Randy Quaid is OK as bowling natural Ishmael. His role has been compared to his far superior performance in "The Last Detail." I can see why the comparison, but I would not make it. He was great in the earlier film. He's OK here.
The sheer number of real laughs I had, Bill Murray's excellent perf, and the film's unpretentious good nature, makes me actually recommend this film to those of us who enjoy low-brow humor. It certainly will be popular with its primary audience of young adult males.
I don't care what others may say. I'm giving "Kingpin" a B.
A TIME TO KILL
"A Time to Kill" is the latest adaptation of a John Grisham book, this time from the author's first and favorite.
The story, with an all star cast led by newcomer Matthew McConaughey and Sandra Bullock, begins with the abduction and brutal rape of a 10-year-old black girl by two red neck low life in Mississippi.
Following their arrest, the little girls's father, Carl Lee Hailey, played by Samuel L. Jackson, decides to make sure the two are punished for their crime and guns them down in front of the entire town.
There begins the story as Jake Brigance takes on Carl Lee's violently controversial case in the small, but volatile, southern town.
Reviews and criticism for this film have been all over the place. Some critics have slammed it as being bleeding-heart-liberal crap that prays upon the viewers emotions, condoning circumvention of due process of law in favor of the individual's sense of justice.
Others have praised it as being a top notch political thriller that sustains the tensions of the film to its climax.
My feelings fall somewhere in between.
The Grisham book is still my favorite of his works. He has a lot of enthusiasm and emotion in his writing and it comes to the surface. He puts you in Carl Lee Hailey's shoes, so you feel the what-if-it-were-your-little-girl gut wrenching emotion.
Joel Schumacher, with Grisham, does, indeed, convey this raw emotion to the screen. In the simplest way, the filmmakers cut to the chase, avoiding any legitimate portrayal of justice in the film, and prey on the emotion of how the viewer would feel. At this level, it works.
Matthew McConaughey, in his first starring role, acquits himself (no pun intended. Well, maybe.) very well. He has talent, as I observed in his small, but powerful, performance when we reviewed John Sayles' "Lone Star" a couple of shows back.
Sandra Bullock, giving a solid performance as the liberal law student who wants to help Jake Brigance, had her role fleshed out considerably from the book -- to justify the 6 or 7 million dollar salary she got for, essentially, a supporting role.
Samuel L. Jackson is steadily establishing himself as one of the top actors in the US. I was bowled over by his premier perf as a crack addict in Spike Lee's "Jungle Fever". He's no disappointment in "A Time To Kill", giving a powerful and convincing performance.
Although few of this stellar supporting cast get a chance to stretch and shape their characters, the sheer skill of the actors ensures, at least, a compelling and dramatic story. Kevin Spacey, Oliver Platt, Donald Sutherland, Keifer Sutherland, Charles S. Dutton, Patrick McGoohan, Ashley Judd, and Brenda Fricker are a few of the actors to lend their supporting effort.
The problems I have with the film:
- Obviously, the whole concept of vigilante justice is abhorant to our legal system. "A Time To Kill" uses the raw emotion of a terrible event to get by this circumvention of justice. Fortunately, neither the book nor the movie even attempt to get beyond the emotional levels they mine so well.
- McConaughey's Jake keeps refusing, without reason given, to accept the obviously capable (and free) legal help offered by Bullock's Ellen Roarke. This is a flaw in the film that Grisham covered in the book: a small, southern town would not take too well to one of it's upright citizens being involved with a beautiful, liberal, northerner. Especially not a married upright citizen. In the film, Jake's repeated refusals to accept Ellen's help seems just plain macho stubborn.
- Jake Brigance never seems to have a strategy on just how he's supposed to get Carl Lee off. The screenwriters left this for the (again) emotional entreating by Jake for the jury to envision themselves in Carl Lee's place. Hopefully, emotion won't replace "beyond a reasonable doubt" as the lynchpin of our legal system.
So with all that, "A Time To Kill" gave me exactly what I wanted it to give: a good adaptation of a novel that I really liked, with high production values (note the riot scenes between the Klan and the town's black population - very stylish), good acting, and a story that hard hits at the gut level.
Criticism notwithstanding, I give "A Time To Kill" a B+.
This is a very slick, solid adaptation of Grisham's first novel solidly directed by Grisham veteran Joel Schumacher. The large ensemble cast is almost uniformly excellent -- from the star-making lead role of Jake Brigance played by relative unknown Matthew McConaughey to the relatively minor role of Deputy Looney played by Chris Cooper - both coming from the excellent 'Lone Star.'
McConaughey has great rapport with his buddy, the less socially responsible Harry Rex Vonner, played by Oliver Platt. Sandra Bullock is particularly saucy, smart and seductive as young law student Ellen Roark -- this is her best role since 'Speed.' Samuel L. Jackson is given the opportunity to add more complexity to the character of Carl Lee Hailey than were found in the book -- he's not only enraged by the crime against his daughter, but the crimes against his race. Patrick McGoohan is wickedly droll as Judge Omar Noose, a man clearly on the side of the State, but willing to acknowledge a fine legal turn in his courtroom.
The film is extremely well editted and paced -- tension builds as the trial divides the races and the Ku Klux Klan is introduced to the mix. Sexual tension is also evident as Ellen and Jake are clearly attracted to each other in the absence of Jake's wife Clara (Ashley Judd), who refuses to support his role in the high profile case.
I have one main nit to pick with "A Time to Kill," and it's hard to blame the film as the problem is directly imported from the book - while it's almost inhuman not to understand Carl Lee Hailey's murderous act, the story makes no attempt whatsoever to caution against vigilantism. If Akiva Goldsman could adapt his screenplay to include an eloquent speech from Carl Lee about racial injustice on the eve of the trial summations, he could have also tempered this aspect of the story - not to do so was almost immoral in my opinion. Take into account that Grisham is suing Oliver Stone over a 'Natural Born Killers' copycat murder of a friend's child and one has to wonder how Grisham would feel if he was sued if someone blows away a murder suspect, no matter how emotionally justified.
All in all, though, as a film "A Time to Kill" is a powerfuly well-acted and executed film.
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