LOVE AND BASKETBALL - AMERICAN PSYCHO
KEEPING THE FAITH - JOE GOULD'S SECRET
THE COLOR OF PARADISE - WHERE THE MONEY IS


LOVE AND BASKETBALL

"All's fair in love and basketball" is the tagline used by newcomer director/writer Gina Prince-Bythewood in her debut film, a modern parable of romance and sports. Monica (Sanaa Lathan) and Quincy (Omar Epps) have been best friends since they were kids. Both are passionate over the game of basketball and each is heading to an exciting destiny the sport can offer its best. But, their dedication to the game comes in direct conflict with the love that has grown between them over the years in "Love and Basketball."

Robin's review of 'Love And Basketball':
Helmer Prince-Bythewood has combined her little tale of romance with a slick look into the game of basketball with a whole new perspective. Boldly moving into territory that has been men's-only, until now, she uses the sport as a microcosm of life. All the hopes and fear, joy and sadness, victory and defeat are all portrayed in concentrated form in the game.

Embedded in this life metaphor is a strong statement promoting true equality of the sexes. The basketball court may be the first place where woman will be able to compete against men as equals. The rise of the WNBA over the past few years shows that the passion and dedication for the sport are not the reserve of men. Women now have an outlet to show their equality. It's only a matter of time before women enter the male pro sports arena and it is quite likely that b-ball will be the sport that breaks tradition.

The main reason the film's helmer is able to pull off this modern parable is up-and-coming young actress Sanaa Lathan. The young woman worked hard for a long while to be able to play the sport convincingly and with conviction. Her Monica is as driven by the game as any guy, including friend and boyfriend Quincy (Epps). She is used to being the best at what she does, but when she goes to college and plays for the prestigious USC women's basketball program, she learns important life lessons, like humility and honor. Lathan gives a tremendously physical performance and shows a lot of talent. She is one to watch.

Omar Epps is OK as the equally ambitious and talented Quincy. The kid has the moves to make it to the pros, but is suddenly thrust into the adult world when he learns that his father, Zeke (Dennis Haysbert), a former NBA star, is hit with a paternity suit. Zeke goes from idol to goat in Quincy's eyes, forcing the younger man to make some very unwise life decisions. Epps gives a solid perf, but is overshadowed at times by his costar, Lathan.

The supporting cast is populated by a fine group of veteran actors. Alfre Woodard plays Monica's mom, Camille, and fleshes out the role beyond the routinely written part of the supportive mother. Haysbert gets a chance to stretch as his character ceases, for Quincy, to be his father and friend and to become the betrayer of the boy and his mother (Debbi Morgan). The actor conveys the pain he feels when his son turns his back on him. Christine Dunford ("Ulee's Gold") gives a notable performance in a small role as USC Coach Davis, who helps drive Monica to her full potential, as both a player and a person. Kyla Pratt and Glenndon Chatman, as the young Monica and Quincy, get a chance to develop the characters in an amusing "romance" between the two youngsters that starts with a carefully timed first kiss. It is a sweet and heartfelt scene and the kids do a great job.

The original story is simply drawn and doesn't try to take on too much extra baggage. Writer Prince-Bythewood focuses on the two key elements - the romance and the game. The romantic side is less intriguing than the game action, but even the game pushes into the romance with a little strip basketball, early on, and an expected one-on-one match between Monica and Quincy at the film's climax. The director helps keep the writing tight with energetic camera movement, good pacing and, especially during the game sequences, solid editing.

"Love and Basketball" is a good debut for a new filmmaking talent. It also serves as a showcase for Sanaa Lathan. The combo of romance and sport will make this a good selection as a date flick, too. It is also makes a statement on equal rights for men and woman on the playing field and in life - and doesn't preach about it. Thanks to Spike Lee's production company for giving a talented newcomer a good start. I give it a B.

Laura's review of 'Love And Basketball':
When Monica Wright's family moves to a new neighborhood, she hides her long hair under a baseball cap and approaches some boys to join their basketball game. Quincy McCall scoffs when they see she's a girl, but soon he's had to push her to the ground to keep her from winning. The love that blooms at eleven is challenged again and again by a sport, but as Monica so aptly says, 'All's fair in love and basketball.'

Told in four quarters spanning 1981 through 1989, "Love and Basketball" may not cover new ground, but it throws unique spins and always charms. Star-in-the-making Sanaa Lathan ("The Best Man") grounds the film with her strong resolve and screenwriter Gina Prince-Bythewood slam dunks her directorial debut.

The first quarter establishes not only the two principals, but their families. Quincy's dad (Dennis Haysbert, "Love Field") is a pro player for the Clippers who wants to see his son receive the education he bypassed. Monica's mom (Alfre Woodard) is a housewife who can't connect with her daughter's passion for basketball. The two kids (Glenndon Chatman and Kyla Pratt) grow up in upper middle class comfort with bedroom windows that face each other across a strip of well manicured lawn.

Cut to high school (where Omar Epps and Lathan take over) and Quincy and Monica both still play basketball, although Quincy gets glory and fast women while Monica struggles for a place on USC's team. Monica clearly has feelings for Quincy, but he doesn't notice her as a woman any more. A high school dance, some makeup and a borrowed beau change all that, however, and the two become lovers.

College years shake things up again. When Quincy must face his father's lie and mom's (Debbi Morgan) betrayal in the wake of a paternity suit, Monica makes a fateful decision to respect her coach's curfew, leaving Quincy alone at a needy moment. He strikes out with ever-available women while she pursues a professional career in Europe, where womens' basketball is a respected sport.

While the love story goes through its expected paces, it's unusual to see a romantic pair compete in the same sport, albeit one that offers its gender completely different opportunities. The young protagonists offer a modern revision to the expectations of their respective parents, while the senior characters are intelligent enough to see what's good about their offsprings' choices are learn from them.

Sanaa Lathan (who never played ball before accepting this role) is terrific as the focussed Monica whose aggressive on the court yet passive in romance. This young actress is a force to be reckonned with on screen. Omar Epps pales in comparison. He's OK, but physically doesn't convince as a pro basketball player (it doesn't help that screen dad Haysbert is a head taller than him). Alfre Woodard is touching as a put-upon housewife who believes her daughter is ashamed of her conventional existence. Debbi Morgan and Harry J. Lennix make less of an impression as Quincy's mom and Monica's dad, although Regina Hall ("The Best Man") has presence as Monica's older, more conventionally feminine, sister. Also good are Christine Dunford ("Ulee's Gold") as Monica's tough college coach and Erika Ringor as a rival player.

Brightly shot by Reynaldo Villalobos ("Return to Paradise"), "Love and Basketball" showcases a Black environment refreshingly far from urban hoods. The diverse soundtrack features everything from Al Green and Me'Shell Ndegeocello to a Kate Bush cover by Maxwell. B


AMERICAN PSYCHO

After a long and torturish route to the screen which saw it pass through the hands of David Cronenburg, Oliver Stone and the post-Titanic Leonardo DiCaprio, cowriter/director Mary Harron ("I Shot Andy Warhol") and Christian Bale, her original casting choice for uber-yuppie serial killer Patrick Bateman, have arrived in the adaptation of one of the most reviled novels in history, "American Psycho."

Laura's review of 'American Psycho':
When it was published back in 1994, I read Bret Easton Ellis' novel alternating between whoops of gleeful laughter and disbelieving horror. How could anyone bring this novel, with its passages of violent, sadistic pornography, to the screen? Mary Harron has accomplished the unthinkable, sharpening and focusing the book's satire and only hinting at the depravity, without losing its bite. Her sure-handed direction, skillful adaptation (with Guinevere Turner, who also costars as Elizabeth), and a truly killer performance from Christian Bale make "American Psycho" one of the biggest surprises of the season.

Patrick Bateman is a Wall Street broker in mergers and acquisitions (or 'murders and executions', as he amusingly tells an unfortunate model) at the height of 1980s greed and excess. Bateman travels with a pack of suits who get together for the sole purpose of upstaging each other. They thrill to copping a reservation at the hottest eatery and having the fanciest Manhatten address. But only Patrick is provoked into a murderous rage when his new business card is upstaged by one that is almost identical, except for the addition of a watermark.

The owner of that card, Bateman's nemesis Paul Allen (Jared Leto), is invited to lunch (and disparages Patrick's choice) and encouraged to drink too much before he's deposited in one of Bateman's black designer chairs surrounded by meticulously taped sections of Sunday's Style section. Bateman dons a clear plastic raincoat, grabs an axe, and treats Allen to a critique of Huey Lewis and the News before dismembering him. The scene is hilarious, although other attacks turn darker and more nightmarish (oddly those in which he quits before actually killing are the most disturbing).

Patrick is dogged by a Columbo-ish detective (Willem Dafoe) looking into Allen's disappearance, but continues to use both Allen's identity and apartment ('I panicked when I entered Paul's apartment. It overlooks Central Park and is obviously more expensive than my own.') for his further escapades. While Patrick tells us straightaway that his only emotions are greed and disgust, he's obviously fighting his own inner demons (most significantly when he manages to get his sweet secretary Jean (Chloe Sevigny) out of harm's way). The fringes of his circle begin to mistake him for other people (and amusingly, usually dismiss Bateman as a weak and insignificant person) and the entire identity of the Patrick Bateman we've been presented with is put under question.

Christian Bale gives the year's first noteworthy performance by a lead actor in his darkly comic, controlled take on Bateman. He carries an air of delight quoting the likes of Ed Gein and Ted Bundy to his bewildered colleagues, completely not comprehending that Gein's image of a woman's head on a stick isn't exactly PC. His modulated Rod Serling-like delivery barely wavers when he's enraged at being one-upped while his madcap song and dance routine while slaughtering Paul oneups Malcom McDowell's "Singing in the Rain" rape in "A Clockwork Orange." Physically, Bale has scultped his body into that of a Greek God in order to portray the vanity of a man who starts each day with 1,000 crunches and a closetful of expensive skin care products.

Support is solid. Reese Witherspoon ("Election") is Evelyn, Patrick's clueless, shallow fiance. Samantha Mathis ("Broken Arrow") is Courtney, Evelyn's best friend and Bateman's drug and alcohol stupored mistress. Chloe Sevigny is Jean, the eager to please secretary in love with her boss (who is pointedly never seen actually working). Guineve Turner is Patrick's hard-partying cousin Elizabeth who engages in a threesome that ends up a solo act. Most impressive is stage actress Cara Seymour, a sad streetwalker Bateman dubs Christie who's the only one who recognizes him for what he is. It's to their credit that Justin Theroux, Matt Ross and Bill Sage are interchangeable as Patrick's colleagues - the foursome who practice synchronized platinum card tossing when 'reasonable' restaurant checks in excess of $500 are presented.

Production, art and costume design by Gideon Ponte, Andrew Stearn and Isis Mussenden capture 1980's superficiality, particularly in Bateman's Kubrikian black and white apartment and sleek Ceruti business suits. It's all beautifully captured by Andrzej Sekula's cinematography by way of Architectural Digest and Gourmet magazines (the opening credits feature bright red drops splashing against white - a dessert with raspberry sauce being constructed). The soundtrack is peppered with mindless 80s pop like "Hip 2 Be Square" and "Sussudio."

Harron and Turner's screenplay adaptation is razor sharp, keeping the best of Ellis' work, such as his skewering of nouvelle cuisine (swordfish meatloaf with onion marmalade!). Some have been confused by the film's ending, but Bateman's collapsing identity is indicative of the false pretentions bearing down all around him.

A-

Robin's review of 'American Psycho':
Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale) is a Young Turk on Wall Street in the 80's. Image is everything for Patrick and his business cohorts, high-powered go-getters whose main concerns are how they look, where they eat, how classy their business cards are, and where they live. Appearance is everything, even if it borders on obsession. For Patrick, full-blown obsession is a way of life and it unleashes an abnormal rage when he has been bested in matters of taste. This rage leads the aggressive 27-year old to begin a steady downward spiral of insanity that culminates in an incredible murder spree in the controversial film, "American Psycho."

The novel that bears the film's title came out about ten years ago to decidedly mixed reviews. The graphic, nasty descriptions of violence and mayhem put off some readers, while others reacted with glee to dark humor and wit of the lifestyle accounts of Patrick and his cronies. The film went into development not long after the book came out, but the brutal violence of the tome proved to be problematic in bringing the story to the big screen. If the carnage of the book were brought, in detail, to the film, an NC-17 rating and its stigma would have meant the end of the project. Fortunately, helmer Mary Harron ("I Shot Andy Warhol") was offered the challenge of both adapting the novel for the screen and directing the effort. The result is a dark comedy that uses the backdrop of murder to tell the tale of Patrick's decent into insanity.

Right from the start, there is an edgy humor as we see the world through Patrick's snobby, affected mind. His daily ablutions are a litany of designer products from shampoo to face mask described in almost worshipful tones. In one scene, the young high rollers - they specialize in "murders and assassination" (mergers and acquisitions) to make their copious bucks - try to one-up each other as they display the latest in business card chic. The exchange is handled with good nature by all, except for Patrick, who is inwardly outraged when an inferior colleague outclasses him.

Patrick's dark obsessions are unknowingly fueled by his work mates as they each try to outdo the others by getting reservations at the swankest, most trendy restaurants at the last minute. These young Masters of the Universe do not acknowledge those lesser creatures around them, treating anyone but their peers with derision, even contempt. Patrick takes this focused snobbery and crosses a line, killing a homeless man and his dog in a fast, brutal assault. This shocking mayhem segues into the meat (no pun intended) of the story as Patrick uses his new found liberation to eliminate his long time professional foe, Paul Allen (Jared Leto). The murder of the unwitting Allen sets the stage for some of the darkest humor to come to the screen in a while, as Patrick sets up his opponent for a violent demise using a shiny new wood axe. The scene is a brilliant combination of an outrageous Patrick, who moves like a dancer in the sublimely designed set, as he prepares to kill his unwary victim to the tune of Huey Lewis's "It's Hip to Be Square."

Patrick's murderous streak is also accompanied by a carnal lust that has him using his wealth and handsome looks to buy or seduce women to his sexual bidding. His rough treatment of his sex victims, including a hooker he calls Christie (Cara Seymour), allow him the narcissistic pleasure of watching himself in the mirror as he simultaneously copulates and admires his incredibly buff physique. The sexual carnage that Patrick thrives on also crosses into his murderous life as he satisfies both of his ghoulish and monstrous cravings.

Christian Bale, as Patrick, gives the best performance of his career as he portrays a modern urban monster who preys, without fear of discovery, on his victims. Bale embodies all of the characteristics that make Patrick the complex, violent and ruthless movie monster that scares and amuses you at the same time. The actor gives a controlled perf of a person who is out of control and unsuspected by anyone. The utter joy that Patrick shows for his clothing, his food, his wine is as obsessive as his attention to detail in his murders. Bale obviously worked hard, both physically and mentally, and honed his character to a keen edginess that I hope will not be overlooked come year's end.

The supporting cast that surround Patrick is large, talented and, without overshadowing the star, flesh out the characters that interact, unknowingly, with the serial killer. Chloe Sevigny, as Patrick's loyal secretary Jean, provides the humanity to the flick as she falls for her boss and, nearly, becomes one of his victim's. She is, quite literally, saved by the bell. Willem Dafoe appears, throughout the film, as a private eye investigating the disappearance of Paul Allen. Reese Witherspoon is suitably bratty as the spoiled-rich-kid and Patrick's "fiancee" Evelyn. The rest all help keep Bale center stage and, while none are outstanding, they all lend weight to their characters.

Production designer Gideon Ponte gives a terrific look to the film, with a hard, ultramodern design that lends sterility to Patrick's personal killing field. Elegant costuming by Isis Mussenden gives Bale and his pals a chic, classy look. Andrzej Sekula provides the crisp visuals to the photography. The music selected - Phil Collins, Robert Palmer and Hughie Lewis, among others - perfectly captures the 80's musical tastes.

My only problem with the film is the ambiguous ending where everything you had been told is brought in to question. This, I guess, is the same as the book, so I can't fault scripters Harron and Guinevere Turner. But, the ending falls apart as it presents the question to the viewer: Is it whole thing fact or fantasy? At that point, I didn't want to be asked the question. Despite this one flaw, I give "American Psycho" my own gleeful B+.


KEEPING THE FAITH

Father Brian Kilkenny Finn (Edward Norton) and Rabbi Jake Schram (Ben Stiller) have been best friends since they were kids growing up in New York City. They used to have another friend, Anna Reilly (Jenna Elfman), who moved away with her family to California when the three kids were 13-years old. Brian and Jake have attained a type of celebrity status in their neighborhood, doing their bit for the community and garnering the title, The God Squad. The pair have always missed Anna since she left them, when one day, out of the blue, she calls Brian to tell him she is coming back to the Big Apple for a visit. Anna's arrival sparks an unusual romantic triangle arise in Edward Norton's directorial debut, "Keeping the Faith"

Robin's review of 'Keeping The Faith':
This modern story of young professionals in New York owes its roots to some of the classic romantic comedies of the 30's, like George Cukor's "The Philadelphia Story," which had the talents of the three then-rising stars, Katherine Hepburn, Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart. Now, helmer/producer/star Edward Norton updates the ever-popular romantic triangle comedy with a twist.

Brian and Jake both have always had a crush on the pretty, smart Anna. When she leaves with her family for California, the duo go off to follow their religious callings - Brian to priesthood in the Catholic Church and Jake to the life of a rabbi. Though of different faiths, they have remained fast friends and work closely together to help the community that they love. Each has faced hard times when first introduced to their respective congregations, dealing with dwindling attendance and a general drift, by their public, away from religion. The young clerics faces the dilemma square on and bring new life and fresh ideas to their respective faiths, increasing weekly turnout to standing room only capacities with their blend of sermon and comedy.

Everything is going fine except for a minor problem for Jake. He is single and a rabbi in a community heaped with eligible Jewish women who would love to land a catch as good as Jake. He just wants to avoid the whole matchmaking scene - he calls the mothers of the available single women the Kosher Nostra. But, he knows he has to start dating the eligible singles if he wants the chance to become "a made rabbi" and take over the synagogue from his mentor, Rabbi Lewis (Eli Wallach). The dating ritual is played for slapstick effect a la "There's Something About Mary," with Jake facing one date-from-hell with a pushy princess, and another with a pretty TV news personality, Rachel Rose (Lisa Edelstein). It's all just background, though, when Jake sees Anna and finds his schoolboy crush has fleshed out into full-blown love.

Brian isn't immune to the arrows of Cupid, either. His choice to become a priest, and celibate, has never been a cause for concern - until Anna comes back on the scene. At first, Father Brian seems to be OK with her return, but he, too, falls back to the puppy love he felt for Anna years before. Brian, not knowing that a spark has rekindled between his two friends, convinces himself that he is ready to throw his priesthood aside for the vivacious Anna.

Anna is just happy to be with her childhood friends again and sees nothing wrong as she falls in love with Jake. As the romance blossoms between them, Jake is concerned that they should keep the relationship a secret, especially since the conservative members of his synagogue may not accept the gentile Anna into their fold. She is also unaware that Brian has been building up the courage to admit his love for her. The whole thing is straight out of the screwball romantic comedies of the 30's.

Supporting cast is crewed by a collection of veteran actors who help lift the background characters to the level of real people. Anne Bancroft gives one of her better performances in recent years as the loving and very Jewish mother to Jake, Ruth Schram. Bancroft plays the Kosher mom shtick to perfection as she kvetches about the single status of her son and dreams of him marrying the beautiful Rachel, envisioning Tom Brokaw as a guest at the weeding. Eli Wallach and director Milos Forman make nice little splashes in their roles as the senior clerics who have taken the boys under their spiritual wings. Brian George is a Sikh/Catholic/Muslim-with-Jewish-in-laws bartender who lends the drunk and despondent Brian an ear as the priest tells the bar keep his tale of woe. George is amusing and effective in a tiny role.

My only real criticism of "Keeping the Faith" is its two plus hour run time. This tale of a modern, off-beat romantic triangle should have been paced a lot more tightly than it is. This light-hearted comedy could easily have had nearly 30 minutes trimmed to make it a better film. Instead, there is too much film to sustain the comedy, despite the efforts of all involved. I found myself checking the time repeatedly and hoping things would wrap up a lot more quickly than it does. Epic dramas can be two hours or more. For light comedy, brevity is better. What could have been a great comedy is just a good one. I give "Keeping the Faith" a B.

Laura's review of 'Keeping The Faith':
Rabbi Jake Schram (Ben Stiller) and Father Brian Finn (Edward Norton) have been best friends since their childhood. They're currently a pair of dynamic clerics who love to shake up their congregations, planning a combined Catholic/Jewish senior center in NYC. They're also both about to fall head over heels in love when their third childhood Musketeer, Anna Reilly (Jenna Elfman), whom they haven't seen in twenty years, blows into town on business.

"Keeping the Faith" is a collaboration between Yale college buddies producer/screenwriter Stuart Blumberg and producer/director/star Edward Norton (both in their behind the scenes filmic debuts). If a comedy about a Rabbi and priest sounds like every stale joke you've ever heard, guess again - the love triangle angle is a wild jolt that (mostly) works.

Let's get the problems out of the way first. At 131 minutes, this film is a bit long for a romantic comedy. Another serious problem is that you (or at least I) want Anna to end up with the old chum she doesn't end up with, although the screenplay at least tries to back itself out of that conundrum. She's also supposed to be a business whiz kid who works 100 hours a week, yet she has plenty of time to hang with her old buds.

Quibbling aside, this is funny stuff. Jake and Brian are introduced as 'The God Squad,' hipster, shade-wearing, streetwise paters. Brian throws pop quizzes into his sermons ('Who can tell me what the seven deadly sins are? Come on people, it was a popular film starring Brad Pitt!'), while Jake shakes things up by bringing a Gospel choir into temple. They're religious leaders as standup comics.

Both Brian and Jake have elder mentors. Father Havel (director Milos Forman) supports Brian with wisdom and humor while Rabbi Lewis (Eli Wallach) casts a more critical eye on flashy Jake.

Jake's bachelorhood is bait for every Jewish mother at synagogue (the 'kosher nostra,' not least of which is his own mom (Anne Bancroft)), and he politely endures one fixup after another.

Anna, described by her mates in childhood as 'a cross between Johnny Quest and Tatum O'Neal in "Foxes",' knocks them both out of their socks the minute she greets them at the airport. The friendship picks up (a little too) immediately where it let off and soon Anna's questioning Brian's celibacy and critiquing Jake's dates, all the while being a fiendish flirt. When Jake insists that Brian and Anna accompany him on a date with a local celebrity, playacting as a couple themselves, the green eyed monster arises (as foreshadowed when Jake frets that Anna called Brian, rather than him, to announce her visit).

Director Norton has an admirable first work on his resume. This is a crowd pleaser that's sure to endure. Stiller's a known comic entity and he doesn't disappoint here while Norton puts just the right spin on Brian, a sweet, devoutly dedicated man thrown into a once in a lifetime tailspin. Jenna Elfman's never looked better and her breezy delivery meshes nicely with her costars'. Fine support is provided by Bancroft, Ron Rifkin, Wallach, Forman, and Holland Taylor as a hopeful Jewish mom.

The film makes full use of its NYC locations and is given a bright, sunny look by cinematographer Anastas Michos ("Man on the Moon"). While writer Blumberg maybe attempts to cover too much ground, his details are rich and his subplots develop his characters. A bookending bit featuring Brian in his cups talking to an Indian owner of an Irish bar is clever.

B


JOE GOULD'S SECRET

In the 1940's, New Yorker writer Joseph Mitchell (Stanley Tucci) stumbled upon his most famous subject, Joe Gould (Ian Holm), a bohemian street person claiming to be writing "An Oral History of the World" based on 20,000 conversations in dozens of composition notebooks. Gould was befriended by many famous artists, such as e.e.cummings, who also supported him by donating to the Joe Gould Fund. Only Mitchell, however, knew his secret, which he uncovered after Gould's death in his last published piece, "Joe Gould's Secret."


Laura's review of 'Joe Gould's Secret':
While Mitchell and The New Yorker receptionist Sarah (Celia Weston, "Snow Falling on Cedars") initially attempted to discourage Gould's frequent and aggressive visits, they, along with scores of others, eventually gave way to his unique charm. Mitchell had the advantage of being able to see Gould through others' eyes while researching his initial article, "Professor Seagull" (Gould claimed an ability to interpret the language of seagulls whom he often mimicked). There was Alice Neel (Susan Sarandon), a bohemian artist who painted Joe's portrait as an exhibitionist with three penises. Gallery Owner Vivian Marquie (Patricia Clarkson, "High Art") fronted for a benefactress that kept Joe in a boarding house room for years. Francis McCrudden (Allan Corduner, "Topsy Turvy"), head of the Raven Poetry Society, endured Joe's crashing of his meetings but refused to let him join until Mitchell's articles made him a local celebrity.

Tucci plays Mitchell as a reserved Southern gentleman who remains unflustered while being exposed to the dirt and odor of homelessness and the wild antics of bohemian artists. Tucci is very much the observer here, his audiences' eyes, allowing Ian Holm's flashy performance to dominate the screen. Holm captures Gould in all his contradictions - clarity and madness, openness and evasiveness, aggressiveness and hurtful withdrawal. He swipes ketchup bottles to generously supplement the free meals he's given in local dives, is always on the lookout for his next drink, and dives onstage to proclaim 'In the winter I'm a Budhist, but in the summer I'm a nudist!'

Of the supporting cast, Susan Sarandon as the decent Alice Neel who bathes Joe's sore encrusted legs in her bathtub and Celia Weston as the harried receptionist stand out. Hope Davis is wan and mousy as Mitchell's photo journalist wife, Corduner mostly raves as McCrudden in a theatrical performance and Clarkson is quietly elegant as Marquie. Steve Martin appears in a small cameo.

Tucci and his cinematographer Maryse Alberti ("Velvet Goldmine") and production designer Andrew Jackness have done a nice job of recreating 1940's Greenwich Village, using real locations whenever possible. Howard Rodman's screenplay, based on Mitchell's two articles, does an effective job of guiding his two subjects to an ironically similar end. The film as a whole, however, lacks punch and meanders to its melancholy conclusion. Tucci's film has taken on the characteristics of his quiet observer rather than the spark of his titular character.

B-

Robin's review of 'Joe Gould's Secret':
Stanley Tucci made a pretty fair splash a few years ago with his 1996 directing debut, "The Big Night." That film, with its melancholy tale and fine ensemble cast, gave the actor/writer/director a solid calling card for his next effort. Unfortunately, Tucci suffered a severe sophomore slump with his second film, the not-very-funny period comedy, "The Impostors." Now, the filmmaker hopes to revive his initial success with his latest film, starring Ian Holm as the title character in "Joe Gould's Secret.

Based on the New Yorker magazine articles by Joe Mitchell, "Professor Seagull" in 1942 and "Joe Gould's Secret" in 1964, the screenplay is by Howard A. Rodman. It tells the tale, from the perspective of Mitchell, of a chance encounter with one of the true characters of Depression-era New York City - Joe Gould. Joe was a bohemian, an intellectual and a real eccentric who made the claim that he was developing a massive tome called, "An Oral History of the World." Mitchell was intrigued by the older homeless man and brought him a degree of fame with the "Professor Seagull" article. (The name stems form Gould's claimed ability to talk to seagulls.) Mitchell tried to help Gould get his manuscript published, but the old street urchin was more interested in putting the touch on Mitchell and using the reporter for his own meager gain. Mitchell never saw the completed "Oral History," but the author did learn Joe Gould's secret.

Tucci provides a mildly interesting yarn about an unusual character with Joe Gould. The helmer builds a nice looking period piece and shows much more than a passing influence by that other New York City devotee, Woody Allen. Tucci structures the look of his films in much the same way as Allen had in the past, using the same kind of simple titling and dialogue-intensive scenes that are an Allen trademark. Tucci also has a similar fondness for the period music that flows through his films.

The main draw to "Joe Gould's Secret" is a manic and amusing performance by Ian Holm. The veteran actor plays the eccentric Gould with a hyperactive flair as the character constantly solicits his friends and acquaintances for contributions to the "Joe Gould Fund" as a means to feed and shelter himself. Joe's outrageous and flamboyant actions amuse some people - he crashes a poetry reading, to cadge some food and wine, and gives his own reading: "In the winter I am a Buddhist, in the summer I am a nudist!" - and repels others with his overbearing demeanor and slovenly manner. Holm's perf puts me very much in mind of a similar character portrayed by Joe Pesci in the 1994 film "With Honors." The similarities may be coincidental, but I could not get the earlier Pesci performance out of my mind as I watched Holm's Joe Gould.

Tucci, right or wrong, plays his Joe Mitchell character more as an observer in his investigation of Gould than as a participant. This may have been done to allow Holm to showcase his perf over the rest, but it feels more like a one-man show. Others in the cast provide a nice set of background characters that help, a little, to flesh things out. Susan Sarandon does a good turn as artist Alice Neel, who rendered a nude portrait of the older man, depicting him with multiple sex organs, and was one of his real friends. Patricia Clarkson is convincing as Gould's friend and patron Vivian Marquie. Hope Davis ("Next Stop Wonderland") is wasted as Therese Mitchell, the wife of the writer. Steve Martin makes a cameo appearance as publisher Charlie Duell, but the comedian's presence just draws attention to itself without helping with the story.

I won't tell you the secret of "Joe Gould's Secret," in case you have a real craving to find out for yourself. Suffice it to say that the real Joe Gould, as depicted by the filmmakers, is more an enigma than a historian for the common man. As such, we, the viewers, are never drawn closer than arm's length to the man and the movie. I give it a C+.


THE COLOR OF PARADISE

Iranian director/screenwriter Majid Majidi made a splash in the US on the art house circuit a couple of years ago with his Academy Award-nominated foreign language film, "The Children of Heaven." That fine work propelled him to international acclaim as the brightest star of the tiny Iranian film industry. Now, Majidi solidifies his position with his sublimely constructed film, "The Color of Paradise."

Robin's review of 'The Color Of Paradise':
8-year old Mohammad (Mohsen Ramezani) is an intelligent, perceptive and resourceful little boy who works hard in school and wants nothing more to spend his summer with his widowed father Hashem (Hossein Mahjub), his beloved Granny (Salime Feizi) and his two sisters. There is only one problem: Mohammad is blind since birth and a considerable burden on his father. Hashem wants to remarry but can't because of the social stigma of having a handicapped child. When he tries to court a potential bride, her father rejects Hashem because of Mohammad.

The rejection tears Hashem apart as he struggles between loyalty to his loving son and the chance for a life without the burden of the boy. The underlying inner struggle provides the drama of the story and is straightforward in the telling. Husseim loves his son, but it pains him to watch the sightless boy. The father is so wrapped up in his own pain and need that he doesn't see just how much "sight" Mohammad actually possesses.

Mohammad is a remarkable, smart child who has learned to use his other senses in place of vision. During the course of the story, the boy calls upon his senses of hearing and touch to develop his own form of sight. One truly beautiful scene, early in the film has Mohammad sitting outside of his school, waiting for his tardy father to come fetch him. As the boy waits patiently, he hears the sound of a young bird in distress. Listening to the bird's cries, he uses his hands, gently feeling over the ground inch by inch, to find the fledgling. He then, again using his heightened hearing, locates the baby's nest, plunks the bird in his pocket and carefully climbs the tree and places his cargo safely in the nest. The intensity of this and other scenes in the movie deftly show that Mohammad is not really handicapped, he just can't see.

Helmer/writer Majadi proves, with "The Color of Paradise," that he has a world-class vision for filmmaking. His story is a parable that could have been drawn from the Bible in its simplicity. Within this simple story, though, is a complexity of thought and emotion that stimulates the mind in unexpected ways. The depiction of Mohammad's daily life steadily builds up the idea that the boy is truly remarkable in his ability to overcome his handicap. He shows his intelligence and sensitivity as he uses his hands to "look" at things. When he greets his sister, after being away at school, he feels her face. "You've gotten big!" he exclaims as he looks her over in his own way. This and other scenes help build the perception that little Mohammad is special in many ways, that he is "touched by the hand of God."

Complementing this simple, enthralling story is a visual look that rivals the best of western filmmakers. Mujadi with his director of photography, Mohammad Davoodi, and set/costume designer, Asghar Nezhadeimani, utilize a vivid palette of colors in showing things like the beauty of a gently windblown field of wild flowers and the quiet ritual of dying fabrics in brilliant colors. The stylistic intensity of these images puts me in mind of the great Chinese director Zhang Yimou's beautiful films, "Ju Dou" and "Raise the Red Lantern."

The little boy who plays Mohammad is quite remarkable in his own right. Not once during the film did I even think I was watching an actor. Young Mohsen Ramezani gives an intensity of concentration that is much like the boy he is playing. Hossein Mahjub, as Mohammad's dad, gives such angst to his performance that just a look at the man shows the inner suffering and turmoil he lives with. You can understand his desperate loneliness and forlorn hopelessness as he sees his dreams shattered because of his son. The dramatic climax of the film concentrates the father's inner struggle as he is forced to make a life and death decision about his son. Other cast is minimal, though Salime Feizi, as Mohammad's loving Granny, shows her devotion to the boy and is the one who truly understands his gift.

Even if you hate sub-titled films, if you are a true movie lover, do yourself a favor and see "The Color of Paradise." It's one of the best films so far this year and the most worthwhile 90 minutes I've spent in the theater in quite some time. I give it an A.

Laura's review of 'The Color Of Paradise':
Iranian cinema frequently utilizes children in tales simple on the surface to tell deceptively complex parables. Writer/director Majid Majidi, whose Academy Award nominated "Children of Heaven" is the highest grossing Iranian film released in the United States, presents another masterwork with "The Color of Paradise." ("The Color of Paradise" was also submitted by Iran for 1999 Foreign Language Film consideration, yet failed to garner a nomination. This is a category not unlike Documentary Feature which the Academy often treats shabbily.)

Mohammad (Mohsen Ramezani) is an 8 year old blind boy who has more than compensated for his lack of sight. He can read and write. He can locate a baby bird, protect it from a cat, and return it to its nest. He appreciates the beauty of the world. Most of all, he's full of love for his family, particularly his beloved Granny (Salime Feizi).

His father (Hossein Mahjub), however, considers Mohammad a trial sent by God. Having lost his wife, Hashem is in the process of wooing another, but believes Mohammad's existence will hurt his chances. Hashem first tries to get the Tehran boarding school for the blind keep the boy for the summer (and arrives hours late after all the other children are gone) and then arranges for him to apprentice with a blind carpenter (Morteza Fatemi). Hashem's treatment of Mohammad cause a severe rift between him and his mother, who leaves home in protest only to fall ill upon her return. Granny understands that it is Hashem, not Mohammad, who lacks sight.

Majidi's film is visually spectacular. The film's credits run over complete blackness while we hear schoolchildren identifying cassette tapes before we're given images of the school, its surroundings and Tehran. When father and son near the end of their long journey home, the countryside that greats them is spectacular. Mohammad begins to whoop and his sisters stop in their tracks beaming like cherubs. Granny, Hanyeh (Elham Sharim) and Bahareh (Farahnaz Safari) bring Mohammad into fields ablaze with red, yellow and purple blossoms which they harvest to dye wool.

Majidi's beautiful film uses images to portray human characteristics. Mohammad helps that baby bird and later Granny returns a flapping fish to deeper water, yet Hashem walks by an overturned turtle. The carpenter lives in an oasis of flowering trees and a duckpond and signifies Mohammad's true place at the hand of God, a theme Majidi returns to at the end of his film. When Hashem is startled while shaving by a river, his mirror is broken, fracturing his reflection in two. Father and son's journeys through frightening forest, strongly reminiscent of Cocteau's "Beauty and the Beast," punctuate Hashem's spiritual journey.

"The Color of Paradise" is a masterwork and Mohsen Ramezani will break your heart.

A


WHERE THE MONEY IS

The horrible title is the end of a quote from real-life robber Willie Sutton when an interviewer asked him "Why do you rob banks?" This terribly misguided movie isn't about him, though, it's about fictional bank robber Henry (Paul Newman) who fakes a stroke to escape from prison and recoup his loot. When he's brought to a nursing home, his nurse Carol (Linda Fiorentino) is wise to him and wants to become a bank robber too, much to husband Wayne's (Dermot Mulroney) consternation.

Laura's review of 'Where The Money Is':
Ostensibly produced by Ridley Scott (among scores of others) because of its wonderful script (Topper Lilien and Carroll Cartwright), this woeful exercise has only two things going for it - it's wonderful leading man and is 89 minute running time (although even that is too long). Why is this film so poor? Scott recommended European director Marek Kanievska, whose most recent film was 1987's "Less Than Zero" and who now makes his living directing commercials for the Scott brothers' production company. The film's 89 minutes was clearly achieved by hacking the film down to the point where it could barely retain plot cohesion.

Newman's as good as possible as a man so self-disciplined he can trance himself into his stroke. Loud noises, pin pricks and even Fiorentino wiggling on his lap do not make him flinch. (So of course, Carol wheels him off a pier to get a reaction.) Fiorentino is OK, although this actress has never achieved the potential she's shown in such gems as "The Last Seduction." Carol's motivation is weak. Yes the film opens with a flashback showing her wild side, but her discontent is never established. Carol's marriage to Wayne appears not only stable, but still quite lusty. Mulroney plays Wayne as a studly guy content with life who's perplexed by Carol's actions but is easily swayed to go along with her planned caper. He's playing the dumb blonde role. If Carol wants to ditch Wayne for Henry, she sure goes about it the wrong way (until the script helps her out).

"Where the Money Is" is unoriginal and uninvolving, the cinematic equivalent of anesthesia. The filmmakers should have kept the action in the nursing home and had Carol side with the law in order to provide some cat and mouse play. Newman's still got the goods but it's no pleasure to watch him squander them. Let's just hope this isn't his last screen credit. D+

Robin's review of 'Where The Money Is':
When asked why he robbed banks, legendary holdup man Willie Sutton's answer was, "Because that's where the money is." Filmmaking mavens Ridley Scott and brother Tony are looking to find a bunch more money with star Paul Newman as aging bank robber Henry Manning. Henry fakes a stroke to get out of prison and into a nursing home where he hopes to make a break for it. One of the home's nurses, Carol Ann McKay (Linda Fiorentino), figures out the scam, but instead of turning the old thief in, she decides to try to reclaim some of the excitement of her former prom queen days. She convinces Henry to join her and her husband, Wayne (Dermot Mulroney), to perform one more big bank job in "Where the Money Is."

If "Where the Money Is" did not have Paul Newman associated with it, the flick would have fallen off the film-viewing map without so much as a whimper. Newman's involvement assures at least a modest box office interest, for it's first week, anyway. Unfortunately, even the great Paul Newman, who has established himself as the senior leading man over the past couple of decades with such films as "The Verdict" and "Nobody's Fool," could not save this thoroughly mediocre effort.

Henry has had a long, successful career robbing banks until a fateful mistake sends him to prison in his twilight years. Imprisoned for what could be the rest of his life, Manning invents a fake stroke that will get him out of prison and into a nice, comfy and easy to break out of nursing home. Nurse Carol, sensing that something about the criminal's illness is not quite right, tries to get him blow his cover, finally succeeding. Intrigued by Henry's life of crime, she sees him as her last chance to get some excitement into her and Wayne's humdrum life. She eventually succeeds in getting Henry to drop the facade of his fake illness, by almost drowning him in the process.

The second half of the film involves Henry, Carol and Wayne trying to find the perfect bank job to pull off. Henry, too smart to use the amateurs to try to rob a real bank, comes up with a plan that involves hijacking an empty armored car and simply collecting all the cash that the guards would normally be stopping for during their rounds. Things go fine for the little crew of criminals and they pull off the job with nary a hitch. It's only at this point, over three-quarters of the way through the movie, that any elements of danger are interjected into the film - Wayne's naove betrayal of his wife and Henry, and the bank robber's imminent return to prison. It's too little, too late.

The mundane script, by E. Max Frye, Topper Lillian and Carroll Cartwright, is perfunctory in the plot setup and character development as it builds up the story. Immediately, Carol and hubby Wayne are shown as a couple whose lives have drifted apart, with her working days and him at night. When Henry is introduced into their lives, the story takes on a hopeful note, for Carol, that there may be more to life than the mundane existence she and Wayne have. This is all well and good and there could have been something to build on with this aspect of the story. What takes, though, over is a silly little crime caper that looks good and feels false.

Paul Newman, even as a septuagenarian, still exudes sex appeal with his still handsome looks and a mischievous twinkle to his eyes. The actor makes the right decision playing Henry as a vibrant, clear thinking individual without attempting to introduce an out-of-place romance between him and his co-star Fiorentino, a la the Sean Connery/Catherine Zeta-Jones film, "Entrapment." Newman continues to maintain a strong on-screen presence after all of these decades. It's too bad he wastes himself here.

Linda Fiorentino and Dermot Mulroney do not lend anything to their roles as Carol and Wayne. Neither character is developed to a point where you can empathize with them. Fiorentino, who made a splash with her earlier films, like "Vision Quest" with Matthew Modine, does nothing to make the viewer like Carol. Mulroney is slowly becoming a second banana character actor playing, again, the weak husband role he gave in the 1996 film "The Trigger Effect." There is no other supporting cast to speak of.

"Where the Money Is" is a disappointment on a couple of levels - first, with it's routine, lackluster store and, second, with its waste of the talents of Newman. The actor can't have many more films left in him, so it's a shame that he attached himself to such a below average film. I give it a C-.


Next Show Previous Show

Home | Review and ratings archive | Top 10 | Video | Crew | Article | Links