STARSHIP TROOPERS - BEAN - THE JACKAL
EVE'S BAYOU - THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO LITTLE
THE WINDS OF THE DOVE
SICK: THE LIFE AND DEATH OF
BOB FLANAGAN SUPERMASOCHIST
EYE OF GOD
Adapted from the classic 1959 science fiction novel by Robert Heinlein, "Starship Troopers" pits mankind against bugkind in this $100 million special F/X extravaganza by director Paul Verhoeven.
Man's colonization of the stars is abruptly halted when a race of giant, Man intelligent bugs vies for the same territory. The Bugs are bent on destroying man and it's the job of the Mobile Infantry to stop them.
The film opens in an homage to the 1929 anti-war masterpiece, Lewis Milestone's "All Quiet On The Western Front.," with one-armed teacher, and veteran of the Bug Wars, Jean Rasczak (Michael Ironside), mesmerizing his class of young warriors-to-be with the glories of battle and the opportunity to become a Citizen - a privilege bestowed only on those who enter national (read: military) service. From here, we're introduced to the central characters.
Screen newcomer Casper Van Dien is Johnny Rico, a gung-ho young guy who has ambitions of leadership and sees the Mobile Infantry as his stepping stone to command - and, to the heart of Carmen Ibanez (Denise Richards), a gung-ho young woman who has ambitions to command a starship in the war against the arachnids. (Be warned, there's a lot of gung-ho in this movie.) Johnny is not aware that beautiful, tough as nails Dizzy Flores (Dina Myer) has the hots for him, to the point where she gets assigned to his MI unit. Rounding out this love quadrangle is starship officer Zander Barcalow (Patrick Muldoon), who wants to do more with Carmen than just go into hyperspace, if you know what I mean.
The pretty cast of leads are little more than two dimensional characters. But, this is OK. The whole "human" side of the story has little to do with what really attracts us to "Starship Troopers." First and foremost, we're here to see a special F/X spectacle of enormous proportions. In fact, Verhoeven and effects veteran, Phil Tippet ("Lost World: Jurasic Park 2"), dish up a dizzying supply of bug attacks, starship battles, more ammunition expended than any other film, and gung-ho militarism.
The key arachnid assaults on the space troopers are truly overwhelming. There is so much action going on that actually making out the physiology of the warrior bugs is difficult. They seem to consist, only, of lethal, pointy appendages and have numbers so huge, they simply overrun their opponents by sheer force. Other bugs are suitably cool. None have the personality, however, of the monster in the "Alien" series.
Comparison to Verhoeven's sci-fi classic "Robocop" is obvious. His earlier film isn't, technically, as proficient as "Starship Troopers," the years between have spawned serious improvements in the F/X industry. But, the earlier film has experienced lead actors, intelligent scripting, and offbeat humor. "Troopers" has the effects, but not the makings of a classic.
"Starship Troopers" delivers on the levels that it needs to, and should make back its money, and then some, without a problem. The violence-loving, teenage boy in all of us will be quite satisfied. I give it a B.
Director Paul Verhoeven ("Showgirls," "Total Recall") goes back to his early Hollywood days and steals his own style from "Robocop" to bring Robert Heinlein's Sci-Fi classic "Starship Troopers" to the screen. While not quite the thrill ride of "Robocop," "Starship Troopers" has enough razzle dazzle special effects, battle sequences and dark humor to provide an entertaining two hours.
In a future Buenes Aires, citizens are the elite of society who attain the right to vote by serving in the military, while those who don't are the pampered but disdained civilians. A group of clean cut kids with intersecting romantic yearnings is about to become the newest batch of recruits. Johnny Rico (Casper Van Dien, who looks like a homespun, Americanized version of Dolph Lungren), the son of wealthy civilians, is joining against their wishes in order to be close to his girlfriend Carmen (squeaky clean and dull Denise Richards), whose ambition is to become a Starfleet pilot. Dizzy (Dina Meyer) is a tough chick entering the infantry with her heart on her sleeve for Rico. Neil Patrick Harris (TV's "Doogie Howser, M.D.") is a brainiac slated for military intelligence. Jake Busey ("The Frighteners") is Rico's dumb lug sidekick.
After a highly entertaining sequence where the infantry-bound attend bootcamp led by a gleefully sadistic drill instructor (Clancy Brown) who makes his point by breaking arms and impaling appendages with knives, the former classmates are suddenly thrown into war when 'the Bugs' attack and wipe out their home city and loved ones. Against a backdrop of war with truly scary and seemingly unstoppable Bugs (created by Phil Tippet of "Jurassic Park"), Rico becomes a hero while he loses his girl, gets the girl who's good for him, then doubles back again.
The film is an odd mix of "Beverly Hills 90210," 50's Cold War giant bug films and last year's "Screamers", punctuated by the satiric news bites that peppered "Robocop."
Clancy Brown as the drill instructor and Michael Ironside as the war veteran teacher turned active Lieutenant are more fun to watch than the rather generic young cast with the exception of Harris, whose eyes sink under increasingly ashen skin while the war progresses (punctuated by Harris' dry witticisms).
Production values are good, although some scenes seem overly lit. The Bugs are terrific - the arachnids are really terrifying, as are the fire-spurting bugs which liquify people a la "Mars Attacks!." The score is suitable.
Although I would have hoped for a more original climax than the surviving characters impossibly outrunning a nuclear blast (one of the most oft-repeated movie cliches of recent years), "Starship Troopers" was more fun than I expected it to be.
Spinning out from his popular British TV series "Mr. Bean," Rowan Atkinson arrives on the big screen in "Bean," already a huge international hit before arriving in the States. Mr. Bean is an art museum security guard at London's National Art Gallery much despised by the museum staff who can't fire him because he's sucked up to the Chairman of the Board. When a trendy Los Angeles modern art museum purchases Whistler's Mother for the grand sum of $50 million, the London staff seizes the opportunity to rid themselves of Bean by passing him off as an art historian to the hapless LA curator, David Langley (Peter MacNicol "Sophie's Choice"). By the end of his extended LA trip, Bean has managed to destroy everything in his path, including the famous painting, but oddly, has become fast friends with Langley and his family.
Being a huge fan of the "Mr. Bean" television series, I was concerned that "Bean" would befall the fate of many short skits, such as those of Saturday Night Live, that stretch their material too thin when attempting feature length storylines. Unfortunately, my fears were justified.
"Bean" does have its moments. Rowan Atkinson turns a simple nose blowing episode into a comic delight. His arrival at LAX is a hoot - a childish prank convinces airport security that he's carrying a loaded weapon, giving the Langley family pause right off the bat as they must convince officials that Bean is really a visiting art scholar. When left alone with Whistler's Mother, his nasal passages betray him a second time too close to the painting. His attempts to clean it off escalate into increasingly destructive gestures until finally Whistler's Mother has been eradicated. When Bean's forced to give a speech about the painting to an exclusive audience (Bean speaks!), the writing is inspired ("It's large, not microscopic, which is good, because it's easier to see this way.")
Atkinson's Bean is a character which is a mix of Jacques Tati's mostly silent Mr. Hulot and a self-serving, mischievous little boy. No matter how talented Atkinson is, however, the movie "Bean" plays like a series of skits strung together that finally overstay their welcome. Some of the ideas are simply warmed over from the TV series, such as Bean's attempts to prepare a turkey. The film's storyline is really over at just over the one hour mark, but the film is padded by a silly hospital sequence and joy ride through LA.
The supporting cast, which includes Pamela Reed as Langley's fed up wife, is completely bland with the exception of a small cameo by Burt Reynolds as the jingoistic American General who provided the funding for the painting.
Productions values are sub-par - the film looks really cheesy and the score sounded to my ears as if it borrowed themes from the score of "Beetlejuice."
In press material, Atkinson states that if he attempts a sequel, he'd go back to the more silent originals of the character. Now that he's made a huge success by cheapening his creation for the masses, I can only hope he strives for more originality with any future efforts.
My advice - catch "Mr. Bean" on PBS.
"The Jackal," by director Michael Caton-Jones ("Rob Roy," "Memphis Bell"), is based on the screenplay by Chuck Pfarrer, who based his work on the screenplay of the 1973 international hit, Fred Zinneman's "The Day of the Jackal." (Make note that there is no mention in any press material of the original Frederick Forsythe novel on which Kenneth Ross based his '73 adaptation.)
The film stars Bruce Willis as the title character, a ruthless assassin who operates on a multi-national level with a clientel of cutthroats - very wealthy cutthroats who will pay the killer well to eliminate someone at the very top of the U.S. government. The Jackal agrees to do the job for the astronomical sum of $70-million and sets into motion his secret plan.
The FBI, led by Deputy Director Carter Preston (Sidney Portier), are given tantalizing evidence of the Jackal's presence, but have not a clue to his targets or intentions. Preston, aided by Russian liaison officer, Major Valentina Koslova (Diane Venora), is desperate to find the Jackal and turns to the one man who can help, imprisoned IRA terrorist fighter Declan Mulqueen, played by Richard Gere.
"The Jackal" is a slick, complicated Hollywood action thriller that has lots of surface-level power to appeal to the general film-going population as we enter the holiday film season. Comparison to the 1973 Zinneman film is inevitable - the earlier film is an elegant rendition of the terrific Forsythe novel, providing an excellent cat and mouse story and character study as Edward Fox's Jackal matches wits with a brilliant French police official (Michel Lonsdale), whose job is to stop the assassin from killing the President of France, Charles DeGualle. The telling is one of the most taut, intelligent and exciting thrillers of the last decades, combining action, murder, and political intrigue in a neat package.
Hollywood, in its usual wisdom, has taken the subtlety of the original - for instance, the earlier Jackal's weapon is an ingenious single shot rifle made to be concealed - and inflated it to the proportions to which we've become accustomed (or, are we just numbed?). Instead of a simple rifle, the Jackal purchases, through clandestine illegal arm dealers, a 20-millimeter hi-tech, rapid fire cannon armed with depleted uranium-tipped shells that'll blow a hole about this big through a concrete wall. With this hunk of hardware, the climax is an explosive cacophony as the Jackal attempts to earn his pay. In the original film, the failed assassination of DeGualle is almost anti-climactic, with the intriguing story leading to the assassination attempt being the grab.
Of the stars, Richard Gere and Diane Venora fair best. Gere, sporting a convincing, soft Irish brogue, gives one of the best, most likable performances of his recent outings. Mulqueen is an engaging character whose previous political violence he can justify because he was just "being a soldier" in a war. His real motivation in assisting the Feds in their hunt is steeped in a forlorn past romance with former Basque terrorist, Isabella, who was nearly killed by the Jackal. She also lost Mulqueen's child because of the Jackal, adding to the vendetta to find and kill the killer.
Diane Venora, playing different from her usual Latino type ("Heat"), gives a good performance as Major Koslova. Initially stiff-seeming, Valentina's personality unfolds as she chain smokes and displays a wry sense of humor, and a not awful Russian accent. I noted her performance over all the others in the film, even Gere.
Bruce Willis should stick with his wise-cracking leading action figure film persona. As the bad guy, he is given little to do, except go through a series of makeup changes and jump around airports around the world. His character, the Jackal, is cold, ruthless and humorless, giving Willis small chance to give any personality to the killer. Even his kissing scene in a gay bar is cold.
Sidney Portier is virtually without presence in the film. He could have phoned in his performance.
The story, updated to the fast pace of the 90's, is a whirlwind of international travel as the Jackal covers his tracks and sets his nefarious plans in motion. I got confused as he jumped from one country to another, eventually not caring what country he happened to be in. I just wanted him to light somewhere.
There is also a bit of deception in just who the Jackal's target is to be. The problem is, I thought the final target would have been a better choice early on in the film, so there is no shock or surprise when the switch happens.
Other things, such as the glossing over of the technologies of the deceptions - makeup, false ID, the Jackal's smuggling a BIG gun into the country - and the heavy handed manner of the story setup (30 highly trained Euro-cops screw up an arrest involving three, count them, three, Russian mobsters in a bar), resulting in a Russian mafia feud against the US, lacks the intelligence of both the original film and its original source. The screenplay does recreate several of the individual scenes from the '73 film, sometimes with flair, mostly with F/X.
Technically, "The Jackal" shows its megabuck budget, with lots of the money spent on flashy effects and locations. One thing you have to say about Hollywood filmmakers - they're good at spending money.
Having recently watched "The Day of the Jackal," again, I have to say, I much prefer the older film. Even with its fresh blush of newness, :The Jackal" pales in comparison to its predecessor, but provides slick entertainment nonetheless and I give it a B-.
I'll be giving a different perspective on "The Jackal" from Robin as I've never seen "The Day of the Jackal," the Fred Zinnemann film whose screenplay adaptation is creditted as the source material for the 1997 version's screenplay (and pointedly not the Frederick Forsythe novel). It's also noteworthy that Zinnemann fought to keep the new version from reusing the original film's title, and won.
That said, I enjoyed "The Jackal" although it does suffer from use of action thriller cliches (particularly in the groan-inducing ending where the bad guy just has to come back for one last shot after he's supposedly dead) and a less compelling story background than the original (we're dealing more with terrorism and less with politics here).
Scottish director Michael Caton-Jones ("Rob Roy") employed an international backdrop for his thriller, shooting on location in Montreal, Washington DC, Virginia, the Carolinas, Chicago, London, Helsinki and Moscow. The film looks terrific except for two shots during the film's climax which look jarringly like bluescreen shots.
Bruce Willis is the Jackal, a gun for hire so notorious the FBI isn't even certain he actually exists. Willis has more disguises here than Val Kilmer did in "The Saint," and they're more effective as well. Willis has little dialogue, but creates his character(s) through physical acting and his trademark wry sneer. (He also gets a great smooch scene in a gay bar.)
Richard Gere is Declan Mulqueen, an IRA terrorist employed by the FBI to help track the Jackal - he's one of the only people on earth who can identify him and he bears a grudge - the Jackal shot his pregnant lover, causing them to lose their baby. Gere speaks with such a credible Irish accent that I stopped thinking about him as the actor and found myself only watching Mulqueen.
Diane Venora gives the richest performance in the cast as Major Valentina Koslova, a Russian career officer aiding the FBI. Despite her scarred face and tough as nails demeanor, Mulqueen is drawn to her, perhaps because she resembles his former lover Isabella. Watching Venora slowly warm up to Mulqueen is one of the film's best elements.
Sidney Poiter barely registers as FBI Deputy Director Preston. French actress Mathilda May is Isabella, a character which may have been better portrayed offscreen (not necessarily the actress' fault).
There are several high points in "The Jackal." Willis' preparations for his hit, from timing himself washing a false white coating off a blue van to dealing with young dude Lamont over the design for a gun mount to accepting an illegal gun shipment as an overweight Canadian to setting up a gay man for inside Government access are all intriguing and nicely intercut with the pursuers' storyline. When the stories finally intersect at a Chicago yacht club, the tension mounts nicely, as it also does leading up to the Jackal's hit. The low points include a sequence painfully reminiscent of "Patriot Games" at Isabella's Virginia home (I kept expecting Harrison Ford to walk around a corner), and the final banal showdown in a subway station. The personal animosity between the Jackal and Mulqueen is turned into a jibe that Mulqueen can't protect his women from the Jackal - this conceit doesn't work well either.
Overall, though, the good outweights the bad and "The Jackal" mostly delivers the thrills it aims to.
Beginning with the haunting voiceover "the summer I killed my father I was ten years old...," "Eve's Bayou" tells the story of the secrets of the Batiste family through the eyes of the young Eve (Jurnee Smollet).
Eve is the middle child of Louis and Roz Batiste (Samuel L. Jackson and Lynn Whitfield), a wealthy Louisanna doctor and his beautiful wife on the verge of marital breakdown because of the charming doctor's infidelities. Fourteen year old Cicely (Meagan Good) adores her father and rebels against her mother while Eve stays the middle ground and picks on their younger brother. As Eve's eyes are opened about her beloved pere, she turns to voodoo priestess Elzora (Diahann Carroll) with a horrific plan for vengeance which sets off a tragic chain of events.
Writer-director-actress Kasi Lemmons (she was Jodie Foster's roommate in "The Silence of the Lambs") directorial debut is an impressively assured one, evoking a romantically idyllic existence for the upper middle class Black Batiste family in a mysteriously Spanish moss-draped small town in a Louisanna bayou in the early 1960's.
The film opens at a lavish family party at the Batiste's large Southern manse. Everyone seems warmly connected until two events hint at underlying problems. Young Eve is hurt when her father chooses only her older sister to dance. She retreats to the carriage house and falls asleep, only to be awaked by her father and Matty Mereaux having a passionate tryst. Although her father comforts her on both counts and asks her not to speak of the latter incident, Eve confides in her sister Cicely, who explains away what Eve has seen.
The women in the story have a strength in sisterhood as well as mysticism (Eve is obviously inheritting her Aunt Mozelle's psychic abilities). When Aunt Mozelle tells Eve the story of how she lost her first husband, Eve watches the event unfold in the mirror behind Mozelle, who quietly joins the action in the other dimension - a beautifully handled scene.
The precocious Eve follows her father on his medical house calls and begins to suspect that his long hours away from home are due to more than professional reasons. She can't help but blurt her suspicions to her mother, whose hurt causes her to confide in Mozelle. Roz decides to have her fortune told by Elzora (Diahann Carroll in a wickedly sly performance) at the town market. Elzora recognizes the woman's unhappiness and tells her that she will be happy again in three years and 'to look to her children.' Roz decides to keep her three children housebound to protect them, resulting in frustration on the kids' part. Cicely rebels, running away into town during a storm and reappearing after a trip to the beauty parlor where she's been transformed into her mother's image. Roz is unhinged when she observes the strangely loving way her daughter waits up for and greets her father and forbids the girl to do so again. Roz' attempt to do the same results in a loud and angry fight. Cicely slips downstairs to comfort her father and we see several interpretations of the encounter in Rashomon-like flashbacks. The one related to Eve by Cicely will be the catalyst of the film's tragic climax.
Samuel L. Jackson plays Louis skillfully so that we always have sympathy for the charming character even as his actions are tearing his family apart. The gorgeous Lynn Whitfield shows a complex range of emotions cross over her face - she uses her thinly arched eyebrows to many different effects. Debbi Morgan is a standout as the sensual and caring Mozelle, trying to deflect another tragedy in her brother's family while bearing up under those that have burdened her own life. Curtis Vondie Hall (Kasi Lemmon's husband) is endearingly strange as the long-maned artist in search of his runaway wife who Mozelle dares to find love with again. Jurnee Smollett ("Jack") is a natural as the overly adult Eve. Smollett is tasked with carrying the film and she never fails to handle the job.
Production values belie the film's small budget. Cinematographer Amy Vincent captures the beauty of the bayou while still suggesting its underlying dankness. Terence Blanchard has written a beautifully complementary score. Production design always suggest Southern Gothic, even though the film was mostly shot in LA.
With "Eve's Bayou," Kasi Lemmons's debut feature is a solid, if somewhat heavy-handed, Southern Gothic tale, steeped in mysticism, of the women of a small Louisiana bayou town in the early 60's. Lemmons, who wrote and directed this effort, combines an interesting story of family and magic, with some very good acting, in a visually atmospheric setting.
Director of photography Amy Vincent ("Gridlock'd") provides a lush treatment of the bayou country, creating a sultry look, with liberal use of Spanish moss, that well represents the Tennessee Williams-like backdrop Lemmons strives for. There is a sensual air to the film that, if you've ever been to Louisiana, rings very true.
The all African-American cast present a look at life in the Gulf country of the South without bringing attention to the singular race of all the players. It has more a sense of a rural community that happens to be black, rather than a black community. A nice finesse by Lemmons.
The cast, led by the wonderful Samuel L. Jackson, provide varied performances from good to fair. Jackson is the film's anchoring performance. His Louis Batiste may be a philandering womanizer, but he is a complex man, too. He loves his wife deeply - "she's the most beautiful woman I ever met" - and cares about his family, too. But, the carnal attention of other women in town is too much for him to resist.
10-year-old Jurnee Smollett, as Eve, is an unusual, and pleasing, mix of budding maturity and youthful wonder as she deals with her father's infidelity and the rending effect it has on her family.
Debbi Morgan, as Eve's voodoo practicing Aunt Mozelle, is a striking presence in the film. She is a sort of tragic figure herself, as you find out she has lost three husbands in a surprisingly short time. (A sidebar story has a mysterious stranger, played by Lemmons' husband Vondie Curtis Hall, challenging Moselle's "curse," and offering her the hope of happiness.)
The rest of the cast is not notable. Lynn Whitfield, as the cheated on wife of Louis, is beautiful, but has nothing to do except suffer her husband's wanderings. Dianne Carroll, as the witch Elzora, is tantalizing, but is little more than a peripheral character, at best. Others are just background.
One story element, the voodoo witchcraft, is carried throughout the story and the final tragedy may be perceived as mystical. In fact, the confrontation that ends in Louis' death is pure human emotion, with one man flaunting his influence over another man's wife. Louis goads the cuckolded husband just one step too far, without magic playing a part in the final showdown.
Technical aspects of the film, such as imaginative use of flashbacks, and the noted photography, give the film a professional look and feel.
I give "Eve's Bayou" a B.
THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO LITTLE
Iowa Blockbuster video clerk Wallace Ritchie (Bill Murray) flies to London on his birthday to visit his unsuspecting brother James (Peter Gallagher) just as James is gearing up to land an important German account during a dinner party at his home. James, desperate to lose his buffoonish bro for the evening, decides to send him to the "Theater of Life," a participatory theater experience which begins via instructions taken at a public London phone booth. Faster than you can say 'switched suitcases,' Murray's given a real spy's instructions and is off on a wild adventure in "The Man Who Knew Too Little."
There's really only one reason to see "The Man Who Knew Too Little," and that's Bill Murray. He's hilarious as a clueless American who comes across as a super suave spy because he believes everything that's happening around him is make believe. When he sees a dead body, he tries to fake out the 'actor' by saying "here - catch this!" in front of the jaw-dropped femme fatale (Joanne Whalley) he's on the run with. Threaten him with torture and he'll laugh in your face. Pursue him in a vehicle and be treated to one of the funniest car chases on celluloid. Insist that he join a Russian dance troupe to entertain a UN delegation and he dances with wild abandon.
Unfortunately, nothing else about the film can hold a candle to Murray. The supporting cast is weak, particularly Peter Gallagher's overplaying as brother James. Only Alfred Molina ("Boogie Nights") manages to elicit a few chuckles as 'the butcher,' a Russian adversary thrown Murray's way.
Director Jon Amiel ("Copycat," "Sommersby") has shown far more mastery over his material in the past than he does here. The screenplay, by Robert Farrar and Howard Franklin, is adapted from Farrar's unpublished novel "Watch That Man," the operative word being unpublished. It's one of those stories that exist merely to provide skits for its lead to waltz through, not to make sense or be engaging in its own right.
Murray's as funny here as he's been in such Murray vehicles as "Stripes" and "Caddyshack," but the shennanigans grow tired and my eyes were glazing over by the last act. Oh yeah - there's also a coda to set up a sequel.
THE WINGS OF THE DOVE
In the third Henry James' adaptation to come to the screen in the past year, "The Wings of the Dove" stars Helena Bonham Carter ("A Room With a View") as Kate Croy, a young woman whose parental missteps have beholden her to her wealthy Aunt Maude (Charlotte Rampling) in order to make a good match in turn of the century London. Unfortunately Kate loves journalist Merton Densher (Linus Roache of "Priest"), but she's too sensible to marry him on his own terms.
Seemingly fortuitously, Kate meets a young American heiress, Millie Theale, who she becomes great friends with. Millie invites both Kate and Merton, who Kate insists is a 'family friend' to Venice, and when Kate realizes Millie is smitten with Merton, and that Millie is dying, she sets a horrible plan into action.
"The Wings of the Dove" is the third Henry James adaptation that explores the twin themes of the relationship between love/marriage and money and young American women abroad. While both "The Portrait of a Lady" and "Washington Square" are firmly rooted in a time gone by, director Ian Softley ("Backbeat") and his cast have given a decidedly modern twist to "The Wings of the Dove."
Helena Bonham Carter, always so believable in period costume, is surprisingly up to date as Kate Croy. She smokes cigarettes, deals with a drug addicted father, and prefers the company of a group of radical journalists to the aristrocracy her aunt is pushing her towards. She also has a refreshing attitude about sex, which is first displayed when she drags Millie to the men's section of a bookstore in order to check out some erotic illustrations. Her older world counterpoint is Alison Elliott's dying American heiress Millie, who has a companion, Susan (Elizabeth McGovern, also doubling as a symbolic Death figure), and whose style of dress and hair suggests a more romantic era.
Kate's suitors also project two different times. Linus Roache is the journalist of the downtrodden with no qualms about asking for Kate's hand in marriage even though he can't provide her aunt's lifestyle. Alex Jennings is the alcoholic Lord Mark, who lusts for Kate but needs an injection of cash she can't provide in order to maintain his idle existence in his ancestral mansion.
The locations also underscore this duality, with a bustling London, shot in realistic blues and greys entering the industrial age while the film's second half is shot in the golden hues of a gloriously romantic Venice filled with historical art treasures.
The central trio first cross paths at a London exhibition of Klimpt's provocative art, where Kate, recognizing Millie's attraction to Merton, draws them both in front of a reclining nude which will later be echoed by Kate herself. When Merton doesn't pick up on Kate's idea, she's forced to vocalize it to him at a Venice cafe - from that point on, we know these characters are doomed. All three actors make it entirely believable that they care strongly for each other, even as they plot against one another. Bonham Carter and Elliott are particularly effective as a woman whose practicality won't allow her to throw caution to the winds and a woman whose imminent death gives her the freedom to do just that.
"The Wings of the Dove" is a beautiful production and terrific adaptation of a complex tale.
"The Wings of the Dove" is a technically beautiful effort by Iain Softley, who previously directed the energetic Backbeat," that is a showcase, both for acting and visage, of Helena Bonham Carter. Softley, combining convincing period settings and costume, sets the stage for this melodramatic tale of unrequited love and emotional self-sacrifice in a visually stunning manner.
The story, adapted from the Henry James period novel, takes the better part of the film to actually get down to Kate's plan of joining Martin and Millie (who is dying of a cancer), so Martin can inherit her Yankee wealth (and, ensure Kate's much sought after financial security). The bulk of the story involves a slow, steady build as Kate desperately plots to be with the man she loves without having to return to the poverty of her youth.
While Bonham Carter is superb (she is on my short list, right now, for best actress), the chemistry between her and Alison Elliott's Millie Theale is even better. When on the screen together, there is an aura of warmth, love and trust, even as Kate connives to get Millie and Martin together for his (and her) own future good. Bonham Carter is stunning as the beautiful, but dependent, Kate. With her classically exquisite looks (plus, she wears period costumes better than anyone) and her nuanced performance, I'm looking at "Wings" as her breakthrough film.
Elliott's Millie is a tragic figure, though with an ethereal beauty and inner warmth that makes her, convincingly, someone who can love, intensely, and deserve to be loved. She plays well against Bonham Carter and less well against Linus Roache's Martin.
When Bonham Carter is out of the picture, the film loses its edge as it depends on the chemistry between Elliot Roache to carry it forth. Elliot is fine as the lovely, dying American, but there is no real spark between her and Martin. Roache is not what I would call an object of desire, playing the bland proletariat intellectual competently but not passionately.
The locations used - London and Venice - are perfect for the story. London is cold and austere, suiting the mood of the first half of the story. When the action turns to Venice, a sultriness exudes in both the romance and the atmosphere.
Peripheral story threads, like Kate's devotion to her opium-addled father, go nowhere or simply fall by the wayside. Michael Gambon, as the drug-addicted dad looked too darn healthy to be the victim of the ravages of the opiate. Aside from showing Kate's connection to her poor roots, Gambon is wasted.
The motivations of Kate's Aunt Maude (Charlotte Rampling) start off with her ruling the younger woman with an iron fist, with the implication that she is trying to make up for her poverty-ridden sister's death by trying to save her niece. This passion, by Maude, is palpable, almost harsh, in the beginning of the film, but this dissipates to nothing as the story progresses.
Henry James, I really believe, is the nom-de-plume for a woman author. The stories he writes are, strongly, from the woman's viewpoint. In "The Wings of the Dove," men are an incidental inclusion, being, principally in the form of journalist Martin, the object of the women's desire.
Make no mistake about it, "The Wings of the Dove" is a chick-flick, but Helena Bonham Carter is a pleasure to watch. It's an excellent date movie for you guys who want to make points. I give it a B+.
SICK: THE LIFE AND DEATH OF BOB FLANAGAN, SUPERMASOCHIST
Documentarian Kirby Dick, interested in making a film about dying, followed performance artist, masochist and cystic fibrosis sufferer Bob Flanagan and his partner and dominatrix Sheree Rose from 1994 until Flanagan's death in 1996. His film, while shocking and flinch inducing, is an incredible telling of one man's most unusual, and ultimately inspiring, journey to death.
"Sick," a 1997 Sundance and Los Angeles Independent Film Festival winner, is a very controversial film. Be forewarned that this film contains footage of masochist acts taken to the extreme, including a notorious sequence where Flanagan nails his penis to a board. We're also 'treated' to footage from NIN's underground "Broken" video, where Flanagan is featured as a torture victim. This film is obviously for a specialized audience, but those with strong stomachs will be rewarded by this document of a man choosing to face death in his own unique way.
Flanagan, for all his sick pursuits, projects warmth and humor (as well as irritability and petulance). His written performance pieces are in your face, but also funny. A sequence where he's visited by a 17-year old girl suffering the same disease along with her mother via the Make A Wish Foundation is almost surreal - if it wasn't true it would be too bizarre to be believed!
Flanagan's partner, Sheree Rose, was initially reluctant to be filmed, but by the end was sharing her own private tapes with the filmmaker. In one strained sequence, Flanagan refuses to cooperate with his lover's demands and she retorts "If you loved me, you'd submit." The S&M relationship becomes more complex as Flanagan's illness progresses.
"Sick" is strangely compelling. Although Flanagan is a man most people would never expect to encounter or know in their daily lives, his death takes an emotional toll on the viewer as his spirit overcomes it.
"Sick: The Life and Death of Bob Flanagan, Super Masochist" is a provocative and moving chronicle of the life, work, and, finally, death of Bob Flanagan, an internationally acclaimed performance artist and writer born with Cystic Fibrosis whose graphic S&M presentations explore his illness, pain, sexuality, love and death.
"Sick..." is, simply, one of the most bizarrely fascinating documentary I've seen in years. Filmmaker Kirby Dick, a close friend of the subject, spent the last years of Flanagan's life getting closer to the man, his art and his perversion. Dick does this in graphic, absolutely wincing, detail as he follows the artist through his illness and performances - one of which consists of Flanagan nailing his penis to a board. Really.
Don't be turned off by the subject-matter. I sat through most of the film balled up in the fetal position because of the graphic masochism depicted, with certain scenes definitely eliciting full body flinches from me. But, the compelling nature and art of the man, Bob Flanagan, makes the leg crossing winces worth the effort.
Flanagan, who survived his disease until age 43, allowed Kirby Dick to film him and his dominant partner, Sheree Rose, for his last years, permitting the filmmaker to capture Flanagan's artistic exploration of masochism, sexuality and illness. The utter honesty of the man, and his comfortable relationship with the camera, makes him a fascinating subject to watch. Flanagan's death is one of the most moving sequences I've seen on any film at this level. I don't mind admitting that I had tears in my eyes as I watched the man finally give up his extraordinary life force.
"Sick: The Life and Death of Bob Flanagan, Super Masochist" may not be, to most, a compelling subject for an evening's movie entertainment. It is, however, a well crafted docu work about one of the most graphically interesting artists I have ever seen.
It may make you wince, but you'll definitely not be bored and I give "Sick..." an A-.
EYE OF GOD
"Eye of God," by first-time writer/director Tim Blake Nelson, is an attempt to create a Southern Gothic drama a la "Sling Blade." The story, about simple-but-nice Ainesly Dupree (Martha Plimpton) and her long distance romance with incarcerated felon Jack Stillings (Kevin Anderson), starts off in a confused mix of flashback/flashforward to introduce the sinister, dark aspects of the story. When you meet young Tom Spencer (Nick Stahl) all covered in blood, you know something bad has happened. Unfortunately, you have to sit through the rest of the movie to find out what it is.
"Eye of God" is one of the worst movies I've seen this year. The amateur screenplay is poor in its storytelling, with little to draw the viewer into the lives of the principle characters. The flashes back and forward are mostly confused, with the line between the transitions indistinct.
With the exception of Hal Holbrook's anchor performance as the kindly sheriff, there is little in the way of acting to recommend in "Eye of God." Martha Plimpton's Ainsely is a pathetic character, whose untimely end is sad, but doesn't evoke much sympathy. Kevin Anderson is suitably sleazy, but without real character. Nick Stahl, as the young witness to the heinous crime, barely speaks through the entire film, so his perf can'tt even be judged.
I have more complaints about "Eye of God" (I won't even mention the glass eye in the story), but the film isn't really worth the effort. I give it a D+.
First time writer/director Tim Blake Nelson presents his story as two woven together strands. In the first, Sheriff Rogers (Hal Holbrook) tries to interrogate local boy Tom (Nick Stahl "The Man Without a Face") who's been found wandering mutely covered in blood. In the second, which we learn is a flashback leading up to the first, Ainsley Dupres (Martha Plimptom "Beautiful Girls") anxiously awaits her pen pal Jack (Richard Anderson "A Thousand Acres"), who's just been released from prison for an undisclosed crime and has found God.
Ainsley quickly agrees to marry Jack and at first, all seems well. When she loses her job because the local burger joint she works at is closing, Jack declares that she will no longer leave the house unless he knows where she's going and trouble begins to loom.
Religious symbols abound in "Eye of God" which takes place in rural Kingfisher, Oklahoma. Strangely, the heroine of the piece, Ainsley, professes not to believe. What it all means is a mystery to me, however, as the film simply marches forward to its inevitable tragic conclusion.
This film has been compared to the Southern gothic "Slingblade," but that was a far superior film. "Eye of God" is simply a well made, small regional film that's managed to find national release. Tim Blake Nelson shows promise and has captured the essense of a small rural town, but his point isn't defined clearly enough.
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