I can't believe this piece of junk is getting such high grades here. I've liked Jason Statham a lot as a sidekick in The Italian Job and especially as the hero in The Transporter (No. 2 even more than No. 1) and as a baddie in Cellular, which helped the B-movie to a rousing comeback in the last year. But although the premise was promising, "Crank" stank in a big way: The action was directed poorly and is absolutely no fun to look at, the dialogues and situations didn't have one ounce of wit, and the characters were so unsympathetic that I wished everyone was dead MUCH sooner - including Statham. Everything in the movie is so hopeless that you do not even have to point to Amy Smart, who gives a terribly misguided performance in a role for which she must have had her brains removed (or disabled) temporarily. And please don't bother to convince me that much of it should be considered ironic - moronic is much closer to it. What a waste!
I had the pleasure and privilege of seeing Mike Figgis' original cut at the Munich Filmfestival, and liked it a lot. To be honest, I had liked the version that came out in 1993, although I had heard rumors of re-shoots and Figgis not having final cut - and although there were some ridiculous scenes in it. Figgis' version is more believable, albeit darker, but that does make sense, since it is about a manic depressive. Richard Gere is pretty impressive, and it is one of the few times that he's still good when he's doing his free-wheeling high-wire act. But the saddest part about "Mr. Jones" not being recognized for its great moments is the understated performance of Lena Olin, who is almost as good as in "The Unbearable Lightness of Being" (1988) and in the second season of "Alias".
There's one thing about "Mr. Jones" that's better than the movie itself: the story behind the film. Figgis has incredible stories to tell about the production of the movie and we can only hope that one day he'll share them with us in detail in a book, because it says a lot about Hollywood and its inability to cope with non-mainstream themes.
In a rather disappointing fortnight, Quand J'étais Chanteur" was the nicest discovery at the Cannes film festival: a simple story, beautifully told and acted. A middle-aged, overweight and worn-out ballroom singer (Gérard Depardieu, in his best role since "Cyrano de Bergerac" in 1990) falls in love with a tormented woman half his age. And although both know that more than a brief affair is almost impossible, there's is a chemistry between them that has become rare in movies. The unknown director Xavier Giannoli displays a phenomenal sense for atmosphere and is clever enough not to spell everything out. You might actually feel that you can breathe more freely during this movie - and certainly afterwards. Merveilleux!
My first reaction to this engrossing, thrilling, gutsy AND witty drama about ghetto life in Rio de Janeiro was: WOW! What a movie. It takes you for an unrivaled trip to the youth ghetto of Rio, the so-called "City of God". We follow the lives of some kids, who grow up in the late 60's - most of them don't live to experience the 80's. The only, or let's say: the fastest way to get out of these dumps are violence and drugs. Using violence and pushing drugs. You better not mess that order up, or you're done. While debutant Fernando Meirelles shows the incidents in ultra-realistic (and therefore mind-numbingly brutal) fashion, he nevertheless achieves great art by splicing up the story, going from the present to the past, using newest technology wisely, speeding up the tempo with great ease, but also slowing down whenever he has to and showing the ability to be tender. He teases the audience with hints about things to come, and when he gets back to those things, he always delivers in a big way. The film has about a dozen important characters, and it's amazing how Meirelles not only manages to introduce them with style, but also keeps track of them so that we always know who we are dealing with.
Since there is nothing I could compare this film to, I'd like to say that it comes close to Scorsese's "GoodFellas". Ok, that is a totally different world, but it's just that Meirelles uses a similar approach: He doesn't feel superior to the people he's showing, and he doesn't judge them. He shows them and their actions, counting on the intelligence of the audience to understand the motifs, the short-comings and the needs of the characters on its own. Most importantly: He shows us violence in a way that is not cool. It hurts seeing those kids throw away their lives by falling to the way of the gun.
So far, this is the biggest, most welcome surprise of the year. Let's just hope that the sometimes over-anxious marketing department of Miramax, which bought the film in Cannes, will be sensible enough not to over-hype "City of God".
Much better than Epi I, a Galaxy away from "Empire"
After the jar-jarred "Phantom Menace", the fifth "Star Wars"-installment is a huge step in the right direction, but still a long way from "The Empire Strikes Back". "Attack of the Clones" has lots of action, but it's never really moving in any way. It has lots of visual effects and perhaps the most sophisticated sound effects ever, but the love for details shown in these departments is sadly missed when it comes to characters and story. That's nothing really new with the "Star Wars"-movies, but it's sad in this case, where beauty and greatness could have been easy to achieve. Part of the reason for that is the shallowness of Hayden Christensen, who doesn't have enough to offer in order to let us believe he's suffering - let alone the ability of sharing his turmoil. Natalie Portman is way over Christensen's head when it comes to acting, and it would have required a really good actor like Tobey Maguire to make those love scenes work.
Since those emotional scenes do not work the way one hoped for, the cross cutting between Anakin's story and Obi Wan's adventures doesn't have the zip of the crosscutting in "Empire Strikes Back", where you had Leia and Han Solo fooling around on one level, and Yoda teaching Luke on the other. That worked really wonderful. Then again, "Empire" still is the only great "Star Wars"-movie, and therefore I start to wonder whether that film was a "mistake".
David Lynch still has made more beautiful than bad films, but his batting average is dropping dramatically. With "Mulholland Drive" he has managed to shoot a clunker that's so bad, you can't even have fun mocking its badness. Lynch was never great in storytelling, but his films had a compelling, addictive quality to them. It's not that there's no recognizable logic in the plot of a young actress coming to Hollywood and being put in the middle of a strange case of mistaken identities - it's that you never fall into the surreal, dreamlike atmosphere "Blue Velvet", "Wild at Heart", "Eraserhead", even "Dune" and "Lost Highway" had. Even more shocking is the horrible acting, pacing and lighting of the film, which give "MD" an amateurish look and feel. There's one scene, in which a supposedly professional criminal messes up a job. First of all he takes too long to get rid of his principal victim - who therefore has time enough to give what is quite probably the worst performance you've ever seen in a film by a respected director. Then the killer has to get rid of two bystanders, and the quality of the jokes is up there at the level of "Police Academy 7". Thanks a lot, indeed.
In comparison to "Mulholland Drive" Lynch's dumb movie version of "Twin Peaks" seems like a masterpiece. That's how bad "MD" is.
A funny, witty, original mixture of biting, gross-out AND subtle humor, of satire and romance. And yet the film also has a great sense for tenderness. Eddie Murphy is simply hilarious. (The thought of him being dubbed gives you the shivers!) Of all the NEW films shown in Cannes this was the best.
As someone who did not cherish "The Silence of the Lambs" as much as the rest of the world (it's a good and important movie, but not a great one), I was nevertheless very much looking forward to "Hannibal". After "Silence", Anthony Hopkins had become one of THE actors of the 90's (along with Kevin Spacey); with "Gladiator", Ridley Scott had finally risen to the heights of "Blade Runner" again; and the prospect of seeing Julianne Moore as Clarice Starling filled my heart with joy.
Therefore the result was all the more shocking - and really not because of the grossness of some scenes. As with so many horror movies, the gorier the scenes the less shocking the effect. Blood feasts like "Dawn of the Dead" and "Man Eater" are still hard to top, and "Silence" had certainly proven that you do not need blood and guts to drive the audience crazy.
Therefore, what is really disturbing about "Hannibal" is the fact, that it is so surprisingly boring. Part of it certainly has to do with the fact that there is almost nothing new to the relationship between Hannibal and Clarice. And although I'm convinced that Julianne Moore is the better actress in comparison to Jodie Foster, she didn't bring anything interesting to her role. She's almost sleepwalking through the movie, sometimes with a gun in her hand, but psychologically there's almost nothing going on. (Compare that to the intensity of her pharmacy-scene in "Magnolia", and you know what I was hoping for.) I'm sad to say that Jodie Foster was right in her decision not to come back.
Even sadder is the development of Dr. Lecter: He's become the hero, but does it make sense to have the audience root for a psychopath? In that respect, "Silence" was really brilliant, because you were terrified of Lecter, but you were also fascinated by him. It was a bizarre thing: You hoped to see him again in order to be terrified of him. You just never knew what to expect from him. In "Hannibal", Lecter has been degraded to a conventional horror figure, just short of Freddy Krueger, tossing out oneliners as if he was reborn as the evil brother of James Bond or the hyper-intelligent uncle of Arnold Schwarzenegger, a circus manager in charge of a freak show.
Only therefore it's fitting that his counterpart is Mason Verger, the mousy-looking cripple who never becomes a real character. You don't feel his pain or his anguish, just think about the grueling make-up sessions Gary Oldman certainly had to endure. (All the more puzzling is the clearness of his voice - shouldn't we have more trouble understanding him?) Scott & Co. have made the horrible mistake of leaving out Verger's sister - one of the more involving subplots of the novel. This way, the Verger storyline is totally one-dimensional and you can't wait for someone to feed this creature to the pigs.
Now any hope that the film might at least be great to look at (like almost every other Ridley-Scott-movie) is destroyed early on, during the first shoot-out, which mutilates the action into bits and pieces, and you don't get a sense of the scenery. Just as every action scene in "Gladiator" was masterfully choreographed with a sense for visual poetry, the action in "Hannibal" looks murky and uninspired. (And there's definitely too much music throughout the movie.)
About the only good things in this film are the scenes in Florence, but maybe that's because Inspector Pazzi (the touching Giancarlo Giannini) is the only real character of the movie, the only person that conveys hints of thoughts and feelings. The rest is a disaster, including the all too obvious casting choice of Ray Liotta as Starling's simply slimy nemesis Paul Krendler. And last but not least: Where the hell was Scott Glenn? His small role in "Silence", where he played Starling's superior, was so vital to the balance of the story. And he was even more important in "Hannibal", the novel. Well, I guess that's what makeing "Hannibal", the movie, so bad: They left out all the good things - and dwelled on the bad stuff.
This is one of the few cases in which a sequel really adds something to the first film without taking something away from it. With uncompromising harshness Frankenheimer plunges into the black hole that comes with loss of self-control and self-respect, and it is stunning to witness Gene Hackman's performance as his Popeye Doyle is being forced into drug addiction himself. Now if only more people could see how important FC II is in completing the first picture! Together they form one of the most potent, stylish and yes: horrifying double-features imaginable.
For a while, "Unbreakable" seems to be a worthy successor to "The Sixth Sense": It is thrilling to follow the development of Bruce Willis's character - and although the slow pacing starts to give the film a feeling of self-importance, I was looking forward to the climax of the story. But the last reel is a turn-off - as is the twist ending. SPOILER ALERT Whereas "The Sixth Sense" got a whole new dimension with the revelation of Willis's death WITHOUT destroying anything that had happened before, the supposedly dramatic ending of "Unbreakable" just felt banal.
The year 2000 has had its share of wonderful films (Erin B., Gladiator, Space Cowboys, Wonder Boys, Les Glaneurs et La Glaneuse, Im Juli), but this is the one for the ages: A mesmerizing, seemingly cold, but truly emotional, beautifully acted, crafted and directed work of magic. Now let's hope that Academy voters have eyes to see - despite having to read the subtitles.
Clint has done it again. Just when you thought there couldn't possibly be anything left for him to surprise us with, he comes along along with this wonderfully relaxed space disaster comedy, the film the dreadful "Armageddon" had tried to be but never ever came close to being. In fact, "Space Cowboys" plays somewhat like a sequel to Philip Kaufman's glorious space opera "The Right Stuff", which so far had been the only great space western. With the laid back, relaxing "Space Cowboys", Eastwood has started the new millennium just like he ended the last one: with a great piece of work. Considering the fact that he was the man of the 60's (with the spaghetti westerns), the man of the 70's (with films like "Dirty Harry", "The Beguiled", "Play Misty for Me" and the fabulous, hugely underrated "Gauntlet") AND the man of the 90's (with masterpieces like "Unforgiven", "A Perfect World", "The Bridges of Madison County", as well as the undeservedly neglected "Rookie", "True Crime" and "Absolute Power"), Clint seems to be destined to become the man of the 2000's, as well.
A Miracle: A romantic comedy from Germany that works!!
It's almost a miracle: This German film tries to seduce its viewers, and it succeeds! It tells the rather simple story of a young, intelligent man (Moritz Bleibtreu) who doesn't realize that the woman of his dreams (a dread-locked Christiane Paul) is right next to him. Instead he takes on an odyssey from Hamburg, Germany, to Istanbul, Turkey, crossing foreign and often enough hostile grounds (Bavaria, Austria, Yugoslavia, Romania, Bulgaria) to get there in time. Right from the beginning the film feels trustworthy - and it gets better all the time. The film is funny, romantic, yet always on the brink of being melodramatic with a glimpse of tragedy here and there. It's an irresistible combination that Germans almost never achieve. (And maybe they wouldn't have done it even with this script - director Fatih Akin is from Turkey!) Bleibtreu, who had a wonderful bit-part as a dumb, tarantinesque killer in "Knockin' on Heaven's door" is very appealing here, but it is the tall and beautiful Christiane Paul (from "Das Leben ist eine Baustelle"/Life is under construction), who delivers the emotional knockout punches. She's plain and simple gorgeous, a revelation to those of haven't had the pleasure of seeing her so far.
If only the hero had gone to the movies once in his life!
It's a brave thing to enter Corleone-land after "The Godfather", "GoodFellas" and "The Sopranos". But it's pretty dumb to act as if none of these cornerstones of movie- and yes: human history ever existed. And while it was great to see director James Gray diving into the almost unknown russian-american crime scene in the fascinating "Little Odessa" (1994), it is boring and most of the time plain unbelievable to witness ex-con Leo (Mark Wahlberg) trusting a sleazy and over-the-top Joaquin Phoenix - murder, mistrust and treason are the uninspired consequences, when the cops as well as the mob are trying to hunt Leo down, because Little-League-mob boss Frank (James Caan) wants to get to Leo before the police does. Too bad the only thing that comes to mind is: If Leo had only once been to the movies in his life, he would have known he was talking to Sonny Corleone - and had run away as soon as he could.