SHANGHAI NOON - HAMLET (2000)
ROAD TRIP - SMALL TIME CROOKS
THE VIRGIN SUICIDES - BOSSA NOVA
Beautiful Imperial Chinese Princess Pei-Pei (Lucy Liu) has been kidnapped from The Forbidden City and spirited to the Wild West of Nevada and held, quite literally, for an emperor's ransom. Loyal Imperial Guard Chon Wang (Jackie Chan) comes to America to rescue his princess and enlists the help of an incompetent train robber, a beautiful Indian maiden and horse with his own distinctive personality in the martial arts western, "Shanghai Noon."
Robin's review of 'Shanghai Noon':
The great Jackie Chan has been an international action/martial arts star for many years. He has made some mildly successful forays into mainstream American flicks with "Rumble in the Bronx" and "Mr. Nice Guy," but finally achieved popular notices, here, with the hugely popular "Rush Hour." In the latter film, Chan was basically a hired gun earning a paycheck for his time. With "Shanghai Noon," the action star takes a more involved hand as executive producer, giving Chan a vested interest in the film. It shows.
The routine plot tells the story of the kidnapping of the beautiful princess. The ever-loyal Chon begs to join the expedition to America to free the daughter of his liege lord, the emperor, only to be separated from the group of rescuers following a botched train robbery by the Roy O'Bannon (Owen Wilson) gang. Chon and Roy set up an uneasy alliance as they join their meager forces to save the princess. We've been here before with this oft-told tale. The good news is that the mix of martial arts and western genres, with a liberal dose of the watchable talents of Jackie Chan, brings "Shanghai Noon" to a cut about what it might have been.
Jackie is starting to show his age on his face, but the graceful demeanor he has always lent to his action films is still there. Once again, Chan battles his foes with his bare hands or whatever materials that comes to his agile fingers - in one extended fight scene, Chon takes on a bevy of bad-ass, heavily armed outlaws with only a hunk of rope and a horseshoe. As a matter of fact, the whole film is peppered with numerous fight scenes where Chon takes on outlaws, crooked lawmen, wild Indians and the evil leader of the kidnappers, Lo Fong (Roger Yuan). These fights are the highlight of "Shanghai Noon" (sounds like "High Noon," get it?), but the good-natured feeling of the movie also help to bring it along as good summer entertainment.
Owen Wilson gives a goofy, surfer-dude type of performance as Roy O'Bannon. Roy has a high opinion of his abilities, seeing himself as charming, capable outlaw. Unfortunately, he is also a rotten shot and can't hit the side of a barn. Together, Chon and Roy become a naive version of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid - there is even a brilliantly composed send up to the classic outlaw flick when Chon and Roy burst out for what they believe is their final showdown with the bad guys. Imitation is the highest form of flattery, they say, and "Shanghai Noon" flatters the hell out of the genre. Supporting cast is colorful without really getting the opportunity to flesh things out much. Lucy Liu is low-key as the beautiful and kind Princess Pei-Pei.
The original screenplay by Alfred Gough and Miles Millar ("Letal Weapon 4") is really by-the-numbers formula and breaks no new grounds in storytelling. The routine yarn has been done many times before in a variety of different ways. Here, the screenwriters put a little twist on the saving the damsel in distress tale by adding the East meets West/fish out of water aspect to the story. This all works because of the likable personalities of Chan and Wilson. The framework of the story is sufficient for the flick, but won't get any award nods.
Newcomer helmer, Tom Dey, does a competent job of mustering his actors, writers and technicians in creating a flashy, fast-paced (mostly) western/eastern comedy that holds good production values. Having Jackie Chan's capable martial arts talents involved in this mix helps to keep the humor level high and the fight scenes exciting.
As expected in a Jackie Chan movie, be prepared to sit through the outtake reel at the end of the film. I give "Shanghai Noon" a B.
Laura's review of 'Shanghai Noon':
Finally, the great Hong Kong action star Jackie Chan gets a big budget Hollywood commercial film to showcase his talents. While he was enjoyable in "Rush Hour," he often got pushed aside by the grandstanding of Chris Tucker. Here, he's paired with the mellow and amusing Owen Wilson ("The Haunting," Bottle Rocket"), who, as Roy O'Bannon, provides the yang to Chan's ying. (It also helps that Chan acted as executive producer on this film, giving him more control over the project.)
The tale (written by Alfred Gough and Miles Millar, "Lethal Weapon 4"), although unoriginal, provides the structure for East meets West clashing, humor, damsel in distress, more humor and plenty of gun slinging, train robbing and martial arts. Chon Weng (pronounced by Roy as 'John Wayne - that's no name for a cowboy') is an Imperial Guard in China's Forbidden City who volunteers for a trip to Carson City to save Princess Pei Pei (Lucy Liu, "Payback") from kidnappers. The audience is shown that Pei Pei left willingly, but was betrayed and put into the hands of Lo Fong (Roger Yuan, "Lethal Weapon 4"), who's using his own people as slave railroad workers.
Unfortunately, Weng immediately runs into O'Bannon's gang as they attempt to rob his train of the golden Chinese ransom. The clueless O'Bannon is faced with a 'new guy,' Wallace (Walton Goggins), who advertises his own agend by shooting Weng's uncle (O'Bannon may be a train robber, but he doesn't steal from ladies and doesn't kill people). While Weng has reason to hate O'Bannon, after a series of misadventures the two end up as partners, and then, outlaws.
Chan's skills are shown off by fighting with Indians armed only with the landscape and defeating a sherriff's posse armed with a rope and a horseshoe. His comedic talents are well used with his interactions with a rather unique horse and playing drinking games while bathing with Roy in a brothel. Wilson spins Roy as a dim witted surfer dude with few morals but quiet, Eastern-type philosophies. These guys comprise about the whole show, with character actor Xander Berkeley ("Air Force One") having some villainous fun as Marshall van Cleef. Liu looks right for her role and is appropriately regal and compassionate. Newcomer model-turned-actress Brandon Merrill is rather stiff as Falling Leaves, the Indian wife acquired by Weng in another amusing set piece.
While the film clocks in at 110 minutes, director Tom Dey (in his feature debut) keeps the action from lagging by bouncing us from one set to another. Some jokes, such as townsfolk who mistake the Chinese for Jews, fall flat, but on the whole, "Shanghai Noon" is a fun time at the flicks.
Adapted by director Michael Almereyda ("Nadja") for the year 2000, this "Hamlet" features a wealthy Denmark Corporation facing off against a Fortinbras beaming from the front page of USA Today. Ophelia snaps pictures of daisies and columbines while the Ghost of Hamlet's father haunts Denmark Corp's security cameras. A Budhist monk conjectures on what it is 'to be' on television before Hamlet asks himself in the aisles of a Blockbuster. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern drink in discos and fly coach. Yet Shakespeare's words, while editted, remain unchanged.
Laura's review of 'Hamlet':
Almereyda's "Hamlet" is a weird hybrid that's too intent on its own modernization trickeries for its own good. What good is it for Claudius (Kyle MacLachlan) to announce his marriage to Gertrude (Diane Venora) at a press conference if she continues to address him as 'my Lord?'
Almereyda makes another, albeit less fatal, mistake by casting Ethan Hawke as the Danish prince. While he isn't as bland as his last outing ("Snow Falling on Cedars"), he doesn't bring much to the role either. Of course, most of the cast is adrift in this oddball, from the usually adroit Bill Murray (Polonius) to the woefully unutilized Steve Zahn (Rosencrantz). Worst of all is Sam Shepard, whose hissing line delivery as Hamlet's murdered father obscures Shakespeare's language rather than elucidates it.
There are some unlikely surprises, however. Liev Schrieber makes for a passionate Laertes and Julia Stiles, who's played modern Shakespear to a fashion before in "10 Things I Hate About You" is a convincing Ophelia, more interesting certainly than Kate Winslet's take in Branaugh's 1996 version. Also good is Karl Geary ("Nadja") as watchman Horatio. Paul Bartel makes a cameo as Osric and Casey Affleck is creditted for a newspaper photo as Fortinbras. I didn't even notice Jeffrey Wright was the gravedigger, because alas, there was no Yorick.
While MacLachlan's sleek black limo cutting through the densely high-rised streets of New York provides visual flair and Hamlet's production of a video titled "The Mousetrap" provides humor (his father's treachery told via cut together snippets of silent slapstick and badly lit porno flicks), this "Hamlet" just lacks soul. Just what does seeing Laurence Olivier's 1948 black and white movie version play out in the background lend to this one? It's just smoke and mirrors parading as cutting edge independent filmmaking.
For young single guys, there are rules for cheating on your significant other. It's not cheating if you have sex in a different area code; or, if you're too wasted to remember; or, if you're with two people at the same time, they cancel each other out. But, it is cheating if you do it on videotape and someone sends that tape to your girlfriend. This is the dilemma facing Josh (Breckin Meyer), who has to make the 1800-mile journey from Ithaca, NY to Austin, TX, with his college buddies in tow, to save his lifelong romance and fulfill the college ritual of the "Road Trip."
Robin's review of 'Road Trip':
In the goofy tradition of the seminal college comedy "Animal House," producer Ivan Reitman reclaims the same ground taken with his 1978 film. This time, Reitman brings the politically correct sensibilities of the Millennium to the genre in an amiable little comedy that begins with Josh facing a dilemma. The young college student, away from home for the first time, is steadfastly trying to maintain a long-distance relationship with his childhood girlfriend, Tiffany (Rachel Blanchard). But, the temptations of college life, especially in the guise of pretty Beth (Amy Smart), are too much for Josh to handle and he succumbs to the lure of love (or, is that lust?).
The free-spirited Beth convinces Josh that it would be sexy to videotape their mutual seduction. Being a guy, Josh readily agrees, not realizing that fate is about to take a hand in things. The tape, through circumstance, ends up in the mail, winging its way to Tiffany. When Josh realizes the gross mistake, he and his buddies E.L. (Seann William Scott) and Rubin (Paulo Costanzo) recruit geeky Kyle (DJ Qualls) and his automobile for the long journey to Austin and, maybe, salvation. The episodic road trip takes the quartet through a dozen states and a bevy of trials and tribulations (like blowing up Kyle's car). The physical journey, as one would guess, is also a spiritual one, as each boy finds something new within himself.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, uh, college, professional student Barry (Tom Green) - seven years at the University of Ithaca and still going strong - volunteers to baby sit Rubin's pet boa constrictor, Mitch. Barry, a sick-minded individual, is obsessed with feeding a live mouse to Mitch and get the chance to watch the "event." This portion of the movie is really only sidebar to the story, but helps to moderate things as Barry provides the slapstick comic relief. His attempts to get the constrictor to eat are ignored, even when he tries to teach by doing, taking the whole mouse in his own mouth to show Mitch how it's done. Barry is also the narrator of the story, so his perspective, especially when concerning feminine nudity, always comes to the top.
Documentary filmmaker Todd Phillips, who won the Grand Jury Prize at the 1998 Sundance Film Festival for his documentary film "Frat House," makes his major feature debut as director and co-writer of "Road Trip." He and newcomer Scot Armstrong craft a script that intends to reinvent the teen road movie. Unlike the rowdy, sometimes raunchy, "Animal House," "Road Trip" takes a kinder and gentler road. It lacks the misogyny of the older film, with the female characters held in a positive light. The woman can be as aggressive, if not more so, as the men. Beth, in particular, is given her own story line as she falls for Josh, gets angry (and acts upon it) when she feels used, and, finally, selflessly helps him out of a jam that could end his school career. Friendship and romance are high on the film's subject list. Positive is the word I'd use to describe the tone of "Road Trip."
The kids all do a good job. Breckin Meyer ("Go"), as the harried Josh, is a likable bloke. You understand why his friends would make the long trek with him. DJ Qualls, as the put upon Kyle, gets the chance to put the most arc on his character's development as he goes from a passive dweeb to a kid who rebels against the bullying of his father (Fred Ward) and stands up for himself. Amy Smart, as the pretty Beth, is a good, girl role model and helps open the film up as a date flick instead of just a guy movie. Tom Green, working on his own mostly, gets the bulk of the slapstick and gross out laughs, giving his part the manic, twisted humor that he shows in his MTV persona.
Talking about gross out humor, there is enough to make any healthy teenage boy gag as nasty things are done to French toast, mice, snakes and the guys themselves. But, the humor is always good natured and non-violent - well, they do try to leap a car over a ravine, with explosive results, but no one gets hurt. Even the gratuitous sex isn't gratuitous.
Ivan Reitman is shooting for the success of "Animal House," but probably won't mind if he garners the bucks of last year's "American Pie." He, and the filmmakers, take aim at the youth demographic market and hit it dead on. I give "Road Trip" a B-.
Woody Allen is Ray, an ex-con dishwasher (formerly known as 'the brain' although clearly this must have been sarcasm) who dreams of one last bank job when he spies a well situated pizza parlor for rent. He convinces his manicurist wife Frenchy (Tracey Ullman) to front the operation and invest their $6K nest egg while he and his two partners attempt to tunnel through to the bank. It's Frenchy's Sunset Cookies that put them in the dough, though, in "Small Time Crooks."
Laura's review of 'Small Time Crooks':
"Small Time Crooks" opens reassuringly like a Woody Allen movie with the same white fonted credits over a plain black background (and long time producer Jean Doumanian's last appearance). However, over the course of the film's establishing twenty or so minutes, any Woody Allen fan will be in pain wondering if the writer/director has completely lost his grip. This rehashed schtick is so painfully unfunny, not even the comic genius of Tracey Ullman can save it. Then comic genius emeritus Elaine May, as Frenchy's astoundingly dim cousin Mae, enters the picture and things begin to look up.
Has the profilic Allen finally run out of ideas? Just last year, we saw Albert Brooks fail at breadwinning while his wife Andie MacDowell went on to fortune baking cookies in "The Muse." Allen and his interchangeable (and poorly used) sidekicks get lost tunnelling to the bank, after their first attempt results in a water main gusher and finally break into a dress shop where they're greeted by a pistol-drawn policeman. Luckyily for them, he's a fan of Frenchy's baked goods and offers to team up in a franchise operation that begets Sunset Farms.
Is Allen going to amuse us with his gang-that-couldn't-rob-straight running a huge corporation? No. Now Frenchy decides she wants to be a patron of the arts and invites NY high society to their fabulously tacky penthouse where Ray entertains them with Polish jokes. When Frenchy overhears her guests dissing them, she hires art dealer David (Hugh Grant) to give them a crash course in class. Grant's obviously only in it for the money, Frenchy's becoming smitten and Ray is bored to tears, driving him into companionship with Mae.
This is without a doubt the most shapeless screenplay Allen's ever written. The entire exercise seems slapped together so he and his pals can have some fun making a movie. The old Allen manages to peek through several times in the film's midsection, but even then, its often due to the presence (and writing???) of May that any genuine humor is evoked (she's priceless while acting as Ray's lookout at a party, spouting off about the weather to an admirer). As for Allen himself, his wardrobe, which consists of the likes of marine blue suits paired with kiwi shirts, is frequently funnier than he is.
Allen's assembled a top notch cast, but, besides himself, only Ullman, Grant and May get any noteworthy screen time. Jon Lovitz and Michael Rapaport appear in a few scenes early on and then are forgotten. Elaine Stritch is a society matron (and Ray's intended last mark) in one party scene. Fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi ("Unzipped") is barely recognizable as a harried caterer trying to dissuade Frenchy from her finger bowl obsession (she wins).
Allen again teams with cinematographer Fei Zhao ("Sweet and Lowdown," "Raise the Red Lantern"), but even his beloved Manhatten seems a little tired this time around. Set decoration and costume design are top notch. Allen has a strong knack for choosing music for his films and this one at least sounds like an Allen film.
"Small Time Crooks" is small time Allen, worthwhile only for fans to see a wonderful comic teaming with Elaine May.
Sofia Coppola makes here screen debut as the director/writer of "The Virgin Suicides," a cautionary tale set in the 70's that delves into the pressures of growing up in Gross Point, Michigan. The tale revolves around the daughters of the middleclass Lisbon family, five beautiful girls who are heading for a major crisis when the youngest, Cecilia (Hanna Hall), tries to slash her wrists. The scandal of the attempt may have put some of the town's adults off, but the act attracts the attention of teenage boys, making all the Lisbon girls the topic of conversation at school. But, that first attempt is the springboard for devastating evens that are soon to come.
Robin's review of 'The Virgin Suicides':
"Virgin Suicides" makes all the noises of a film that is supposed to open a window into the secret hearts and minds of America's adolescent population and show us what makes them tick. The intent is to open up the lives, and show the inner being, of the Lisbon girls and the boys who idolize them. When the youngest Lisbon sister, Cecilia (Hanna Hall) botches her first suicide attempt, she is sent to talk to a doctor, who asks the girl what can be so bad that she would want to kill herself. She answers, "You don't know what it's like to be a 13-year old girl." This statement should have set the stage for the rest of the film, but does not.
Cecilia eventually succeeds in her desire to die, leaving a depressed pallor to spread over her home, her sisters and the townsfolk. The surviving siblings - Lux (Kirsten Dunst), Bonnie (Chelse Swain), Mary (A.J. Cook) and Therese (Leslie Hayman) - are left to cope with the impact of their younger sister's death on themselves and those around them. The girls form a united front that, on the surface, appears to be a solace for them, but, in reality, ties them even more closely to the dead girl, to a tragic end.
Coppola's screenplay is not a stretch in structure or character development. There are some inklings of interest in the play, especially in the early minutes. Cecilia is the most compelling of the many characters as her angst at being a teen manifests itself in a cry for help with her first suicide attempt. This cry is heeded, temporarily, as the girl's mom and dad seek psychiatric help for her from a shrink (Danny DeVito). It's too little, too late for Cecilia and, at a party her parents have for the girls, she makes the desperate choice of death over life. I was sad to see Cecilia leave the scene, even though I understand that she is the catalyst for the other tragic events that will befall the rest of the sisters.
Once the focus leaves Cecilia, the rest of the film breaks down as it attempts to show the impact of the youngest Lisbon sister's death on her siblings, mother, father, and the town - especially the teenage boys who have held all the pretty sisters in awe. The story dovetails as it follows the next sister in line, Lux (Kirsten Dunst), as she attracts the school hunk, Trip Fontaine (Josh Hartnett), into a rocky relationship. This leads to an elaborate plan by several of the town's boys to get all the girls out on a date, a concept that their mother (Kathleen Turner) is fully against. This event ends with Lux being left, alone, in the cold light of dawn, after being used by Trip. This is next catalytic moment in the film as Lux begins to follow her own self-destructive past. The plurality of the title tells the rest.
Then there are the boys, and herein is a problem with the story. Four town boys, we find out, have developed a small cult that idolizes the sisters. They collect Lisbon sister memorabilia, like Cecilia's diary, and watch the girls, especially Lux, from afar with the aid of a telescope. This generic quartet, whose story is provided with a voice-over by Giovanni Ribisi, discuss the beauty of the girls, make up stories about them to tell their friends, and enter the first stages of voyeurism as they watch from afar. But, there is never any hook to get you to know the boys and why they are so interested in the Lisbon girls - besides the fact that they are all babes.
Of the actors, young Hanna Hall, as Cecilia, has the most presence of the five girls. I wanted to know more about Cecilia, even after her untimely demise. Kirsten Dunst, who actually has the most on-screen time as Lux, doesn't fill the character void created when Cecilia leaves the scene. Dunst fails to give any depth to her Lux, but this may be due to the sketchiness of her character and little dialog. The other three sisters have little to do and we are not permitted to get to know them beneath the surface.
James Woods, playing out-of-character, as the father of the girls, is subtle in his portrayal of a man who is lost in the sea of female hormones that floods his life. Ronald Lisbon teaches math at the high school his daughters attend, but, despite his intelligence, is a babe in the woods when it comes to understanding his girl's. Cecilia's death forces dad's inner defense mechanisms to kick in as he avoids the reality. Kathleen Turner's character, the mom, is a hard woman who has a core of religious zeal that prevents her from understanding her own daughters. She dictates her rules to them, but never gets close to any of her girls, maybe even being a cause in the suicides. The rest of the cast is populated with name actors, such as Scott Glenn, Danny DeVito and Michael Pare. None make a lasting impression.
I'm not sure what target first time director Coppola hopes to hit with "The Virgin Suicides." The girls of the Lisbon family, with the one exception, are pretty enough, but there is nothing in the way of personality development for any except Cecilia. The boys give the film a point of view, but that perspective is too muddled to provide a proper focus to the proceedings. Concentration on either the writing or the direction, but not both, may have spawned a better film from first-timer Sofia C.
I give "The Virgin Suicides" a C.
Laura's review of 'The Virgin Suicides':
Written and directed by feature novice Sofia Coppola (from the novel by Jeffrey Eugenides), "The Virgin Suicides" scores hugely on getting its period (1975) details and the rites of transition into young womanhood right, but doesn't capture the correct tone in its final, climatic reels.
Told from the current perspective of a group of boys whose lives were permanently impacted by the five ethereal and ultimately tragic Lisbon sisters (Coppola chooses to use one narrator, Giovanni Ribisi, "Boiler Room"), "The Virgin Suicides" unfolds as a series of yellowed, faded images and memories, beginning when the youngest sister, Cecilia (Hanna Hall), is found in the bathtub with slit wrists ('Cecilia was the first to go,' intones Ribisi, letting us know up front what the girls' fate will be).
The sisters also include fourteen year old Lux (Kirsten Dunst, "Dick"), fifteen year old Bonnie (Chelse Swaine), sixteen year old Mary (A.J. Cook, resembling Uma Thurman) and seventeen year old Therese (Leslie Hayman) looking ideally like a group of pretty sisters from a strict Catholic home in the 1970s (note the religious names, except for renegade Lux, whose name reflects light). They're held in high esteem by the local boys not only for their beauty, but the inavailability their household rules demand. Mom (Kathleen Turner) is strictly religious and over-protective, while Math teacher dad (James Woods) is essentially clueless and adrift amid a sea of females.
When Cecelia's doctor (Danny Devito) advises her parents that she needs to socialize with boys her own age, the Lisbons set up the first and only teenage party their household will ever see. Dad thrills at the male company, failing to garner interest in his model airplanes while mom pours punch and the young people sit around stiffly. Cecelia requests permission to leave when she witnesses the boys condescend to a mentally handicapped guest and throws herself out of her bedroom window onto the spiked fence below. Out comes the local news and suicide awareness pamphlets (green, because they're cheery, but not too cheery) are handed out at high school.
Then high school heartthrob Trip Fontaine (Josh Hartnett), desired by every girl in school, falls for the inaccessible Lux and convinces Mr. Lisbon to approach Mrs. Lisbon with the idea of him and three fellow football players escorting the four sisters to the homecoming game. Buttricks patterns fly and a glorious night out provides unreal moments for another four boys (not the nerds who spy from across the street). The daring Lux, however, goes too far, drinking Peach schnapps and going all the way with Tripp on the football field well after curfew. Mrs. Lisbon quarantines all of her remaining daughters against the world. The neighborhood boys signal them, play records over the phone, and attempt to rescue them one fateful night.
The look of this film is exemplary, from its opening, 70's 'balloon script' titles complete with heart dotted i's and the five different pair of bronzed baby shoes that adorn a side table in the Lisbons' entranceway. The homecoming dance is a delight from the four pouffy dresses fashioned from the same insipid floral fabric to Tripp's red velvet tux and the cracking open of four plastic corsage boxes which sound like the glass-breaking of a Jewish wedding. Filmic dissolves and overlaid images harken back to techniques of the era. The girls' bedrooms are overstuffed with familiar teenage girly mementos.
Yet, when Lux begins having indiscriminate sex on the Lisbons' rooftop in rebellion against the sisters' internment, the film begins to lose its way. Mrs. Lisbon may be strict, but she's not even close to Carrie White's mom. The neighborhood geeks, from whose point of view we're supposed to be viewing these events, are never brought into clear focus - one is just like another. The same problem exists with the Lisbon sisters - aside from Lux, clearly the film's focal point, and Cecilia, the most interesting, the other three are just nice, obedient girls. Even Lux is two-dimensional, coquettish with the opposite sex and not much else.
The Lisbon sisters are supposed to represent a number of concepts (mystery, loss of innocense, etc.) but everythings's left too much to the imagination with the result that one never gets emotionally involved in what happens to these young people. It's telling that my favorite performance in the film was James Woods' rather helpless dad - important, but not a focal point. Still, kudos to him for trying something totally different, daring to be an outright nerd, and succeeding. Josh Harnett is also very good as the cock-of-the-walk Tripp.
Coppola's choice of music is to be commended. Everything is familiar to anyone who remembers that era, yet nothing is overt.
Coppola tackled tough material and almost got it - I'm looking forward to her next piece of work. In the meanwhile, "The Virgin Suicides" may not be perfect, but it's a film that can throw one back twenty-five years from a director who was just born when its events take place.
Free-spirited American Mary Ann Simpson (Irving) remains in Rio after the death of her Brazilian pilot husband who drowned in the waters she now swims in daily. Lawyer Pedro Paulo (Antonio Fagundes) is negotiating his tailor father's divorce while he watches his own wife splip into the arms of her Tai Chi instructor. These two perform a tentative romantic dance as the students of her English classes, members of his law office, and workers at his dad's tailor shop interweave, connect and break apart in "Bossa Nova."
Laura's review of 'Bossa Nova':
Brazilian director Bruno Barreto ("Four Days in September," "Carried Away") features the Bossa Nova music and Rio skyline of his homeland in a romantic present to his wife Amy Irving. While the Brazilian aspects of his valentine glow, things are touch and go for his characters.
Mary Ann is seemingly content with her single status. She swims at Ipanema every day and speaks to her dead husband at the ocean's floor. She teaches her class, has a famous soccer player, Acacio (Alexandre Borges) as a private student and is assisting another student, Nadine (Drica Moraes), with an Internet romance with Gary, a NYC artist. Pedro Paulo takes on a precocious intern Sharon (Giovanna Antonelli) whom he sends on an errand to his dad Juan (Alberto de Mendoza), where his half-brother Roberto (Pedro Cardoso) falls in love at first sight. Meanwhile Pedro's wife Tania (Debora Block) is gradually becoming disenchanted with the crude male habits of her lover (Kazuo Matsui).
When Pedro stops by Juan's shop, we learn that Juan has a sensuous relationship with fabric (it speaks to him) that Pedro never inheritted, while Roberto sings the praises of a piece of Campari colored cloth he wishes to make into a suit. As Pedro leaves the building, he spies Mary Ann getting into an elevator wearing that same color and is instantly smitten. He discovers her English class held on another floor and signs up and is soon tailoring a blouse for her with his own hands.
Acacio is about to make trouble for everyone, however. When his manager insists he learn vile English swears to use on the playing field, Acacio is turned on by Mary Ann talking dirty and makes a pass at her. Just as Pedro and Mary Ann's tentative romance begins, Pedro's presence is misinterpretted. Meanwhile Sharon comes on to Acacio in Pedro's law offices while Roberto's wooing goes unnoticed. Nadine engages travel agent Tania to visit New York, but Jay, who's not at all who he said he was, arrives in Rio first to broker Acacio's British soccer deal at Pedro's offices and hopefully connect with his email lover (who's also misrepresented herself as Miss Ipanema).
Amy Irving's performance in "Bossa Nova" is odd, making her truly seem like the alien she is among this cast of characters. While her sparring with Acacio works, there never really seems to be a true connection with Pedro. You can believe the longing in her eyes, but what she longs for doesn't ring true. Fagundes seems an odd choice for her romantic pairing, although scenes of him cutting blouse material resonate with emotion, both for his attraction for her and love of his father. Most empathetic among the cast is Cardoso, whose love sick Roberto is treated shabbily by the script, a truly disappointing aspect of "Bossa Nova." Secondary characters such as Sharon, Nadine, Jay/Trevor, and particularly Tania, seem to exist only to flesh out the plot's connective tissue.
I was surprised by how familiar many of the Bossa Nova standards were and the film successfully paces itself around its musical structure. Barreto presents Rio the way Woody Allen showcases New York - his love for the city is obvious and we only see the bright and shining aspects of it, none of the bleak underbelly.
Barreto's film has its moments, but it's wispy overall and rather forgettable. Ironically, I found Boston filmmaker Brad Anderson's use of Brazilian Bossa Nova music and the concept of saudade more effective in "Next Stop, Wonderland," which was shot in Boston, Massachusetts.
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