Cinema Psycho

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Archive for December, 2004

The Aviator

Posted by CinemaPsycho on December 31, 2004

Directed by Martin Scorsese/Screenplay by John Logan/starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Cate Blanchett, Kate Beckinsale, John C. Reilly, Alec Baldwin, Alan Alda/Miramax – Warner Bros.

Howard Hughes becomes a pioneer in the worlds of aviation and filmmaking, but is brought down by his own obsessions and neuroses.

I’ll just come out and say it: this is a great film. The Aviator is the kind of film that other films want to be when they grow up.

Howard Hughes lived the kind of life that legends are made of. The guy was like Bill Clinton, James Cameron and Neil Armstrong rolled into one. He achieved some pretty incredible things in his lifetime, but sadly he’s remembered mostly for a crippling case of what we now call Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, which led him to do some amazingly odd things.

To its credit, The Aviator covers both segments of his life. We see him conquer Hollywood by making Hell’s Angels, the 1930 airplane movie which took him three years and several million of his own dollars to shoot. Hughes was considered a foolhardy, unrealistic megalomaniac for this alone, but ultimately the gamble paid off. While it’s largely forgotten now, Hell’s Angels was a huge hit in theaters and is considered one of the most innovative films of the era.

He also romances a truckload of starlets, from witty, classy Katherine Hepburn (Blanchett) to va-va-voom gorgeous Ava Gardner (Beckinsale) and pretty much everyone in between. Now that’s an accomplishment. Oh yeah, he also designed and flew airplanes and started TWA Airlines. Not to mention running RKO Studios, which the film really doesn’t cover but it’s worth mentioning anyway. Type A personality doesn’t even begin to describe him.

Unfortunately, he also suffered from mental illness, especially an obsession with germs that led him to make unusual demands on himself and those around him. He would go to great lengths to avoid touching doorknobs, for example, yet he didn’t seem to have a problem with having sex with every woman he laid eyes on. Funny how that works.

In his later years, Hughes would become a notorious recluse, locking himself away in his home for years at a time. While the film doesn’t really cover those years, we do see him during a protracted spell in which he shut himself in his screening room and wouldn’t come out. It’s pretty creepy at times, yet it’s also incredibly sad.

One of the things I hated about the overrated As Good as It Gets was that Nicholson’s character never really acted like he had OCD. It seemed like he was just using that as an excuse to behave like a flaming asshole. I happen to know a little bit about OCD, and I wasn’t convinced for a second that he suffered from it. If you were to tell me that he suffered from a raging ego, combined with an extreme personality disorder that made him incredibly unlikable, THAT I would believe. But generally, OCD doesn’t turn you into a loudmouth dick. It wouldn’t surprise me to discover that James L. Brooks didn’t do a single bit of research on the subject, or that he really didn’t understand what it actually means to have OCD.

No such problem here. DiCaprio is absolutely riveting as Hughes, pulling off every side of this fascinating character with what seems like effortless grace. It’s no surprise that he’s got the charm and likability to play the roguish, womanizing, ambitious side of Hughes. But he’s downright incredible at displaying Hughes’ quirks as well as his psychological anguish. He never overplays it, always showing you just enough. Let’s face it – if you didn’t believe him as Hughes, the whole movie would collapse. He carries this film like a champion. It amazes me that some people still think the kid can’t act. Seriously, watch Gilbert Grape, Catch Me if You Can and then this, and then tell me DiCaprio can’t act. It’s time he got his due as the best of his generation. When he’s on fire, no one can even touch him.

It’s a good thing too, because a lesser actor would’ve let Cate Blanchett steal the movie right from under him. I don’t know who had the genius idea to cast her as Hepburn, but that person deserves a kiss on the mouth from the hot actress/actor of their choice. She’s pretty damn amazing. I honestly can’t think of anyone else who could’ve played this role without coming off like a bad standup comic. From her very first scene, you never doubt her. Not for a second does her performance seem too exaggerated or cartoonish. She and DiCaprio have remarkable chemistry as well – who would’ve thought? These two exceedingly odd characters are absolutely convincing as the loves of each other’s lives, and that couldn’t have happened without great performances.

What’s really fascinating about the film’s portrayal of Hughes is that it doesn’t play like your conventional biopic. One would expect it to come off like an E! True Hollywood Story – “he was riding high, but then his fatal flaw was revealed”. Whereas most movies would portray Hughes as merely a victim of his own psychological difficulties, The Aviator shows that his strengths and weaknesses derived from the same pathology. The incredible drive that led him to his admirable achievements came from the same place as his bizarre obsession with cleanliness and unrelenting phobia of germs. He obviously had a very unusual mind, and the film argues that one probably wouldn’t have happened without the other. For better and for worse, Hughes couldn’t NOT do what he did. His “greatness” and his “craziness” were two sides of the same coin.

It’s not overstating the case to call Scorsese one of the master storytellers, and throughout the film’s 170-minute running time we feel like we’re in the capable hands of one of the greats. Like so much of his best work, The Aviator feels jet-propelled (appropriately enough), like it’s running on an engine that just refuses to slow down. His re-creation of Old Hollywood is just too loving and rapturous not to be enjoyed, and even in the film’s quietest moments, it’s nothing less than riveting, spellbinding entertainment. It’s a fascinating story told with unimaginable skill – what more do you want?

As much as I love Scorsese’s work in general, I wasn’t too big a fan of his “personal epic”, Gangs of New York. I liked and admired parts of it, but to me it seemed like the point was lost somehow. I didn’t feel like the story was relevant to anyone who doesn’t care about New York history the way he obviously does. The Aviator may be less personal to him, but every frame of it feels alive and necessary. We walk out knowing exactly why we should care about Howard Hughes, and why he was such an important and misunderstood figure in American history. The facts may not be exactly as they were in reality, but what’s important is that it’s a well-drawn portrait of a man who was well worth learning more about.

I make no predictions, but if Marty wins the Oscar this year, it may in fact be for his body of work. But this time he’ll deserve it.

**** 12/31/04

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2004: The Year That Wouldn’t Die

Posted by CinemaPsycho on December 30, 2004

This is the time of year when virtually all of the media outlets release their annual lists, recaps and “best-ofs”. The virtual shutdown of the entertainment industry during the holiday season necessitates these articles and programs, because there’s virtually nothing else to write or talk about.

However, I’m not going to do that. Why? Because I think it’s stupid, uncreative and redundant. Not to mention the fact that nobody really cares.

Honestly, do we really need the “highlights” of the past year to be repeated ad nauseum? Is anyone really thrilled about being constantly reminded of such non-events as Janet Jackson’s nipple or the NBA brawl? Didn’t we suffer enough when these lame excuses for newsworthy content were put on a seemingly endless media loop for months? Is anyone else starting to feel like Alex in A Clockwork Orange, stuck in that chair with his eyes pried open?

I don’t understand this need to regurgitate the so-called “big stories” of the year just because that year happens to be ending. We all know what happened in 2004. We were there. We lived through it. The election was last month, for cryin’ out loud. Enough already. Please.

All of the film-related articles are saying the same obvious thing: Mel Gibson and Michael Moore’s movies made a shitload of money this year. Gibson’s movie appealed to religious people, while Moore’s movie appealed to liberals. Turns out, there are a lot of each group in this country. Duh. Is there some kind of journalism award for telling people what they already know?

Guess what, a lot of big-budget Hollywood blockbusters made a ton of money this year, while a few smaller indie films broke from the pack and became cult favorites! Wow, what a shocking revelation! Are you on the edge of your seat yet? How about this – all of these films, big and small, had huge marketing campaigns behind them! Try to keep yourself from having a coronary! This doesn’t happen every year…oh, wait a minute…

Oh, and by the way, movie stars made a lot of dough in 2004 as well. Generally the ones who demand the biggest paychecks, even if their movies bomb. Of course if they were in a hit film or even two this year, their price actually went up! Go figure. A few relative unknowns actually broke through and became stars, at least for now. Some of them will probably last a good while. The others will wind up making straight-to-video movies in a few years’ time. Maybe they’ll do a TV show and make a comeback. After rehab, of course. Fascinating, isn’t it? I can’t think of any other year when this was true…except for every other year.

Yeah, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas made a few hundred million too. They’re right up there with Oprah, who has more money than 99% of the world’s population, and she gives out maybe 1% of that to make herself look compassionate. Ain’t life grand?

Seriously though…there truly is nothing new under the sun. If anyone’s surprised by any of this showbiz crap, may I suggest some serious psychotherapy? Not the kind you read on this site. I’m talking electroshock.

The same goes for critics’ Top 10 lists. They all put them out, and we all read them. And we all know that they’re completely arbitrary indications of that particular person’s own taste, and nothing more. Pretending otherwise is pure folly.

Will I put mine up on the site? Of course I will. You better believe it! But I make them up every year purely for my own amusement. I don’t pretend that it signifies anything more than a simple list of the movies I liked the most and meant the most to me personally. Or that anyone really cares about it other than myself. My list will probably be different than everyone else’s on Earth. Even if someone picks the same 10 movies that I do, they most likely will be in a different order. Which is perfectly fine. You’ll probably make up your own list, which will greatly differ from mine. In fact, I encourage you to do so. It’s fun.

(By the way, you can expect to see my list on the site in late Jan. or early Feb. You see, because I live between the two coasts like most people in this country, I don’t get to see many of the year’s best films until the following year. These are Oscar-bait movies that open in the major cities at the end of year to qualify for Oscar consideration, but only gradually roll out to us yokels in January or even February. But I still consider them to be films of that particular year, not of the following year. In some cases, I don’t get to see them at all in theaters. Right now there are a ton of films out that would probably make my list if I got to see them, but I can’t until they reach “a theater near me”. But Feb. 1 is my cutoff date, so any films that don’t make it here by then…too fucking bad.)

I guess I’ve just never understood this need people have to define everything by the year or even decade it was released. Whether it’s movies, music or even TV, I feel like everything comes from a natural, progressive flow. It’s not like everyone in the entertainment industry gets together and says, “here’s what we’re going to do for the next 10 years.” You never hear people talk about literature that way, like “oh, that Dickens is so 1800’s” or “Norman Mailer is so five decades ago!”

That’s why these “decade” shows that run on VH-1 and other networks constantly, like “I Love the ‘90s” really annoy me. Why do we have to label everything by date? As someone who enjoys films and music from various decades, it baffles me that people want to categorize their entertainment choices by how many years ago a work was produced, like counting the rings of a tree stump. Nothing is “dated” if it’s GOOD. I wasn’t alive when the Beatles made most of their music – that didn’t make me like it any less when I first heard it. I first saw Romero’s Dawn of the Dead in 1996 (I know, I was a bit late to that party) and it blew me away. It was just as relevant to me then as it was to the people that saw it when it was first released. The worth of a work of art isn’t determined by misguided nostalgia for the decade in which it was produced – it’s determined by how GOOD it is when you first see, hear or experience it.

Besides, anyone who really thinks they can “define a decade” by pointing out a few things that were made during it is either incredibly superficial or insane. If you really think you can sum up the ‘80’s by saying “Molly Ringwald, Miami Vice, leg warmers, Flock of Seagulls, Rubik’s Cube”, then you obviously didn’t live through that time. (By the way, VH-1, play some fucking videos already.)

In a few years’ time, probably before we know it, shows like these will be “looking back” at 2004. They’ll cover all the big media events, talk about a few hit movies and mention who sold the most CDs. What they’ll probably completely miss is what it felt like to LIVE through this year. That’s a subject too wide-ranging and all encompassing to fit into a stupid TV show. But they’ll attempt it anyway, and fail miserably.

I could sit here and type tons of stuff about all the things I liked and disliked in the year gone by. But you know what, I’d just be another asshole telling you what was good and what was bad. Who needs that? We all lived through 2004 – you don’t need me or anyone else to tell you what happened. (And I won’t try to disguise my opinions as phony “Awards” either, like “The Sellout Award For Most Shameless Actor Goes to” – that’s become just as tiresome as all the other bullshit lists and recaps. Unless you’re giving out an actual award, complete with gold statuette, don’t call it a fucking award, OK?)

So do me, and yourselves, a big favor. When you look back on this year, think about the things that meant the most to YOU. Think about the movies you loved, the bands that rocked your ass, even the TV shows that you liked. Don’t worry about whether or not anyone else felt the same way. Think about the great books you read, even if they weren’t written this year. Don’t let the media tell you what was good this year. Remember the things that YOU cared about, that were most important to YOU. Don’t go by someone else’s list. Make up your own, and be proud of everything that’s on it, no matter how cheesy or “uncool” it may be. What we love is part of what makes us who we are. If something affected you in some small way, made you laugh or cry or both, that’s an important thing. That’s what it’s really all about.

And don’t think about Paris Hilton or Donald Trump. Ever again.

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Blessed (DVD)

Posted by CinemaPsycho on December 22, 2004

Directed by Simon Fellows/Screenplay by Jayson Rothwell/starring Heather Graham, James Purefoy, Fionnula Flanagan, Stella Stevens, Andy Serkis, David Hemmings/DEJ Productions

An American woman living in London discovers that the fertility clinic she’s using to get pregnant is not what it seems to be.

Sometimes you take a chance on a movie and it turns out to be surprisingly good, and you want to tell everyone about it. Other times, you get a movie like Blessed.

Blessed is not a horribly bad movie. It’s just not a particularly good one. If you’re looking for something scary and disturbing, you’d be better off watching the news.

This British production is yet another take on the progressively silly “She’s having Satan’s baby” subgenre, which of course began with Polanski’s classic Rosemary’s Baby. Blessed attempts to update the premise by using modern science to deliver said spawn of Lucifer (never mind that we just saw this same basic idea with Godsend), but winds up simply rehashing the same themes and much of the story elements that were already done much more effectively in Rosemary.

Our heroine Samantha (Graham) is an American married to a British guy (Purefoy), and their attempts to knock her up have been in vain. Why she needed to be American, I couldn’t really tell you, since it has no bearing on the story whatsoever (other than it gave them an excuse to cast a relatively well-known Hollywood actress in the lead). In fact, the whole movie is kind of vague when it comes to little details like place and time; it took me quite some time to figure out exactly when and where these events were supposed to be taking place. Maybe I’m dense, but I’ve seen enough movies that I can usually catch on to these things fairly quickly. They don’t go out of their way to explain much in this movie, which actually may have been for the best.

Anyway, they discover this fertility clinic way out in BFE (in this case, the E stands for England) that’s supposed to be the best in the country. In order to get treatment there, they have to stay at this remote complex of houses near the woods. Why this doesn’t immediately set off warning bells, I’m not sure. I’m no expert on how fertility clinics usually work, but I don’t imagine people normally have to move in. I could be wrong. So because there wouldn’t be a movie otherwise, they pack up and move.

Problem is, there’s a dude running around in a monk’s outfit (complete with a hood that’s supposed to make him “scary”) attacking and killing the pregnant women in the complex. If this were the main storyline, it might actually be a novel twist on this whole tired genre – Rosemary meets Jason! – but it’s not. In fact no one seems to notice that the latest victim is even gone, except for Samantha, who was the last person to see her alive (except the killer, obviously) but conveniently didn’t see her get murdered. So not much is made of this either.
The victim lived in the house across the street from Samantha and her husband, so for some reason the real estate agent (Stevens) talks them into moving into the house. No, there’s no reason for this either. And it’s never explained why this place even needs someone to “sell” the houses, when everyone staying there is going to the fertility clinic!

After about an hour of Samantha going to treatments, making friends with fellow residents and arguing with her increasingly snippy husband, the plot FINALLY kicks into gear with the introduction of an Italian priest (Serkis). Serkis, best known for playing Gollum in the LOTR trilogy, is British and plays this character with a clipped accent that reminds one of the bad dubbing on the American versions of Argento films. No one seems to know what an Italian priest is doing hanging around this place, and strangely enough, no one seems to care. Even Samantha is only mildly curious. She gets a little creeped out when he warns her away from the clinic, but being a silly American girl she’s incapable of putting two and two together. (That’s sarcasm, folks.)

I won’t give away what happens from there, just in case you’re as foolish as I was to rent this thing, but suffice it to say that it gets increasingly ridiculous, leading up to a climax that can only be described as “batshit-crazy”.

In the meantime, the script seems to try to copy Rosemary’s Baby whenever possible. Besides the obvious demon-child theme, there’s a big conspiracy among residents of an isolated community; there’s the suspicious friend (Flannagan) who gets disposed of to keep said conspiracy going; there’s the husband who becomes more and more of a distant asshole as the story progresses; and there’s the elderly doctor/authority figure (Hemmings) who may not have the heroine’s best interests at heart. Just in case you don’t grasp the “homage”, there’s an extremely obvious visual reference that practically screams at you, “we’re doing Rosemary’s Baby! Get it, get it?”

Well, Blessed is certainly no Rosemary’s Baby. I’ve seen Polanski’s classic several times over the years, and what I love about it is this ominous sense that Rosemary’s entire world is gradually closing in on her. At the beginning, her own religious beliefs are in question, and by the end she’s so shocked and confused that she doesn’t know what to do except…give in. This feeling is bolstered by Mia Farrow’s fantastic performance as a terrified, naïve waif. But that film is such an ingeniously brilliant product of its time. It tells us so much about the time and place in which it was made, and for me it’s right up there with the great horror films of all time.

Blessed, on the other hand, has nothing to say about anything. Not for a second do we get even a trace of that same paranoid, unhinged atmosphere that Polanski conjured so brilliantly. We never feel that Samantha is in any real danger, or that she might be imagining the whole thing, or that she’s gotten in way over her head. We don’t even feel annoyed by her inability to comprehend that something sinister might actually be going on. The movie never makes us care that much. Graham is a competent enough actress, and she’s certainly fetching as always (even while fake-pregnant), but she doesn’t have the necessary depth to make us feel for Samantha. We’re just kind of mildly interested, at best. We’re sympathetic, but we don’t really care.
Purefoy is even less interesting as her self-absorbed husband, whose radical personality changes seem abrupt and overdone. In keeping with the movie’s overall sense of unfocused vagueness, his mood shifts are just odd and inappropriate logically. Because after all, if you were in on a conspiracy, you wouldn’t want to act differently than normal, right? That would naturally draw suspicion, which you obviously don’t want. So that makes no sense. Plus Purefoy reminded me of a British Thomas Jane every second he was on screen, down to the same mannerisms. I have no problem with Jane, but the eerie resemblance was distracting and annoying.

In case you haven’t gleaned this by now, logic is not this movie’s strong suit. I mean, a Satanic fertility clinic? What the hell? Don’t these places have to be certified by some kind of board before they can open for business? Don’t the people running it have to be checked out? I mean, seriously, let’s think about this for a second. Did Satan show up and jerk off into a vial so Rollergirl could be impregnated with his demon-spawn? What kind of porn does Satan watch in that little room? Are all of the employees in on this deal, or is it just the doctors? How much does Satan pay these people? I mean, Jesus, imagine the malpractice suit…

Despite all of this, Blessed is not a terrible piece of work. It’s decently acted (for the most part) and well shot. It’s never unwatchable, just sort of lamely mediocre. It might have made for an OK network-TV Movie of the Week, back in the days when they actually made those on a regular basis. However, I can’t actually think of any good reasons to rent it, either. If you’re looking for a good recent British horror film to rent, I’d recommend Close Your Eyes (excellent), Deathwatch (also featuring Serkis), The Bunker or even The Hole (see previous review, it’s more of a thriller though). If you’ve seen all of those… well, I still wouldn’t recommend Blessed. And I rented the damn thing too; I didn’t get a free screener like some people do. So take my word for it.

One final note: veteran British actor Hemmings (Blow Up) apparently died during filming of this movie, which explains his character’s disappearance from the last third of the movie. He was much acclaimed and well respected, and it’s too bad his final film had to be so lame. But at least he didn’t have to see it.

** 12/22/04

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Closer

Posted by CinemaPsycho on December 21, 2004

Directed by Mike Nichols/Screenplay by Patrick Marber, based on his play/starring Julia Roberts, Jude Law, Natalie Portman, Clive Owen/Columbia Pictures

Two couples meet and proceed to fuck up each others’ lives.

I often hear someone say that the latest horror movie is “the scariest thing I’ve ever seen” and I have to wonder how emotionally mature they are. As much as I enjoy horror films, they don’t really scare me much anymore. You want to know what scares me? Neil LaBute films. Seriously, watching vicious assholes verbally eviscerate each other for sport really freaks me out, much more than a mongoloid in a hockey mask or a little Japanese girl with supernatural powers ever could. The idea that people like Rachel Weisz’ character in The Shape of Things – a soulless, manipulative she-demon from Hell itself – actually exist in the real world? THAT gives me nightmares. Jason Patric’s pro-anal-rape speech in Your Friends and Neighbors? That’s some truly scary shit. I’d rather meet Freddy Krueger in a dark alley at midnight than any of those people.

Where horror films are essentially about the inevitability of death, these “relationship dramas” are about the inevitability of severe, unrelenting pain in life. On that level, at least, Closer is a truly frightening white-knuckle rollercoaster ride that will rip out your heart and urinate on it. But nobody dies or is even wounded – physically, anyway. The weapons here are all words, and the scars they leave are the kinds that don’t go away with the passage of time.

It might be easy to be fooled by the opening scenes, in which young singles Dan (Law) and Alice (Portman) get together in a typically pseudo-romantic “meet-cute” contrived situation worthy of a Nora Ephron movie. As idyllic as it seems, things turn ugly when they both meet Anna (Roberts), whom Dan is instantly attracted to in spite of the fact that he’s dating Natalie Portman. Then things take a turn for the perverse when Anna meets Larry (Owen) after a chat-room practical joke played by Dan goes awry. Anna and Larry are eventually married, but Dan can’t stay away from her. Soon Dan and Anna decide to leave their significant others to be together, and that’s when everything turns to shit.

A lesser director would have likely played out this scenario as a simple revenge story, or even worse, as a bring-your-Kleenex weepie suitable for the Lifetime network. Nichols trusts the material and the actors and, as any half-decent critic will tell you, combines the emotional wallop of the hysterical (and I don’t mean funny) arguing couples in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf with the shocking sexual frankness of Carnal Knowledge. (I realize there should be a question mark after Woolf, but my Word program won’t let me do that without starting a new sentence. Thanks anyway.) The result is a film that’s not so much “entertaining” as it is blistering and bruising to the audience. If you walk out feeling like you’ve been punched in the gut, that’s exactly what was intended.

I really admired Closer, though it’s not quite a perfect film. It occasionally feels stagey and artificial, which is inevitable due to the fact that it’s an adaptation of a play. But Nichols’s sure hand keeps that feeling at bay for the most part, staying so focused on the characters that we often don’t notice any problems in transferring the material from one medium to another. It’s jarring when a false note is hit, but it doesn’t keep you from enjoying the piece as a whole (if “enjoying” is really the proper description).

It certainly doesn’t hurt that all four of the actors here are at the top of their game. Law proves exactly why he’s in every other movie that comes out these days (OK, that’s an exaggeration, but it sure feels like it) – he balances Dan’s surefooted swagger with a disarming vulnerability. Owen gives the ruthless Larry a ferociousness that’s downright mesmerizing at times (if only he could’ve done the same with King Arthur). Natalie Portman – wow. Holy shit, she’s amazing. I don’t want to give away too much about her character, because it would spoil some crucial plot points later in the film, but man alive, she eats this movie for lunch. She not only hit a home run, she broke the goddamn bat. Seriously. If you don’t believe that Queen Amidala could possibly give a performance so alive and intense…well, you obviously haven’t seen this movie yet. I hate to be one of those “Oscar-predicting” people, but it’d be criminal if she doesn’t at least get a nomination out of this. Alice is one of those roles that make you completely re-evaluate an actor’s career and changes your perceptions of them irrevocably. (Then again, I still haven’t seen Garden State, so maybe this is old news, but holy Christ, Portman can really act. Believe it.)

That brings us to Julia Roberts. Unlike some people, I really don’t have a problem with her as a performer. A lot of the films she chooses to do don’t really interest me that much, and I usually wind up seeing them on video or cable at some point and kinda shrugging my shoulders about them. Like most big-name movie stars, she usually plays a variation of herself (or at least of her public image) and does it reasonably well. She rarely gets to act, and doesn’t really need to (Erin Brockovich was obviously a notable exception). Having said that, I think she kicks ass here. Nothing about her performance as Anna says “typical Julia Roberts fluff piece”. She’s playing a real character here, one with weaknesses and vulnerabilities as well as strengths, and she does so extremely well. She gives the kind of performance that I certainly didn’t expect from “Julia Roberts”, and I think she has to be commended for that. Plus, if you’ve ever wanted to hear “America’s Sweetheart” delivering lines with language that would normally be reserved for hardcore porn films, you’re in luck.

The few minor problems I have with the film seem to be inherent in the material itself. I never quite understood why Dan and Anna were so hopelessly drawn to each other – but I think that’s a problem with the writing, not with either actor’s performance. They played the characters perfectly as written, there just seems to be a gap in place of something that would really explain the attraction. They never seem right for each other at all, which maybe was the point. And without giving too much away, at about the halfway point one character makes a choice that I didn’t quite believe anyone on Earth would logically make. It just seems forced and contrived, something that happens only so the next thing can happen, and then the next and so on. But you know what? People do stupid, selfish things like that all the time. Usually they themselves couldn’t tell you why. Life rarely makes that kind of sense.
Maybe that’s the whole point of the film. Some would probably say so. But I think there’s more going on here than that. Ultimately, each of these characters is trapped in their own personal hell because of who they choose to love. Each of them does selfish and hurtful things because of it, and each of them is hurt in kind. No one is completely invulnerable, no matter how much they like to pretend otherwise. They’re all fucked up, and they get more fucked up as the movie goes on.

Unlike LaBute’s characters, they’re not being purposely mean-spirited towards each other (with one exception I can’t give away). They’re merely acting on their emotions rather than their minds. They’re doing what they know how to do, and each of them thinks it’s the right thing for their own reasons. If they tear each other apart in the process, it’s only because they don’t know any better. It’s a pretty sad commentary on modern relationships that the whole thing becomes a “game” that is ultimately won by the person who plays the dirtiest. But there isn’t really any joy in the victory either. It’s all just part of the process, a fact of everyday life.

Then there’s the theme of “the truth”, which each character demands of their partner at some point, then can’t deal with once it comes out. They insist on honesty without being capable of delivering it themselves. And the process of extracting that truth becomes too painful for each of them to bear. Closer proves once and for all that maybe sometimes the actual truth shouldn’t be known, that maybe a lie we can live with is better than a fact that we can’t. The need to know can be more damaging than the answer itself. And some secrets desperately need to be kept.

I’ve heard people ask rhetorically why they should sit through this movie. Why should we care about these “pretty people” and their problems? I asked myself the same question before I saw the film. Ultimately, I can’t tell you why you should care. That’s not my job. I can only tell you that you will, because the film is that good. For some of us, it will be a bracing, cathartic experience. For others, it will be a slog through other people’s dirty laundry. Your call.

Closer is not an easy film to watch. In fact, it’s pretty brutal at times. It doesn’t hold back or pull punches like so many Hollywood films. For this, it will be more admired than it will be loved. But those qualities are exactly what make it well worth seeing. Just don’t bring your significant other along – unless you’re looking forward to a nice, long argument afterwards.

*** 1/2 12/21/04

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Blade: Trinity

Posted by CinemaPsycho on December 10, 2004

Directed and written by David S. Goyer/starring Wesley Snipes, Kris Kristofferson, Jessica Biel, Ryan Reynolds, Parker Posey, Dominic Purcell/New Line Cinema

Vampire hunter Blade teams up with a new group of slayers called the Nightstalkers to battle bloodsuckers including the one and only Dracula. You heard me.

There comes a point in any series of films where the possibilities are exhausted. Repetition sets in, and the characters and situations we once greatly enjoyed become dull and tiresome. Simply put, this phenomenon can be labeled “one sequel too many”. When this takes place, rest assured that whatever studio is involved will continue to churn out more and more sequels until they’re absolutely sure we’re really, really sick of them.

Blade: Trinity has just about reached that point of saturation. Although it’s not a total disaster, it proves that this series pretty much has nowhere else to go from here. That means we can probably expect three or four more of them within the next decade.

And this is coming from someone who greatly enjoyed the first two entries in the series. New Line, Marvel, Mr. Snipes…that’s enough. You’ve done all you can do with this character. Let’s hang it up now before it gets embarrassing.

Compared to most of the movies in the recent action/horror subgenre, Trinity is not a bad film at all. It just doesn’t live up to the high standards of the previous films. You never really feel like you’re seeing something you haven’t seen before. It plays more like a decent straight-to-video sequel than a big-budget franchise entry.

I think a large part of the problem is the hiring of Goyer as director. He’s written all three of the films, and normally I’m all for letting screenwriters direct. If anyone knows these movies inside and out, it’s Goyer. But the previous Blade movies had slick visual stylists in the driver’s seat, using all the tricks they had up their sleeves to propel the story along. Goyer seems content to merely repeat what the others did, without bringing anything new and interesting to the table. Trinity suffers as a result.

Every potentially striking visual seems cribbed from the previous Blade films. There’s the dark cinematography and sped-up editing from Stephen Norrington’s original. There’s the “ash” effects and alien-like creature mouths from Guillermo Del Toro’s awesome sequel. Goyer doesn’t add anything new, and everything feels like a pale imitation of what’s come before. Seriously, after seeing about 150 vampires get “turned to ash” by Blade and his compatriots (such a cool effect at the beginning of Blade 2), you just want to scream, “OK, what else you got?” How many times are we supposed to be impressed by the exact same effect? It just gets numbing, like the last hour of Matrix Revolutions. Enough already.

It doesn’t really help matters that most of the movie looks like it was shot in the same style as Charles Bronson’s ‘80’s movies for Cannon Films. Seriously, I think they used that same boat-hideout set in an old episode of Simon & Simon. Lame effects, cheap-looking sets, hazy photography – where’d all the damn money go?

The lack of visual coolness only serves to remind us how ridiculous the story is. Once again, Blade has to fight the vampires, who try to get rid of him so they can carry out their latest nefarious plot to take over the world…(yawn). This time the plan is to bring back the “original vampire” (did Goyer not see Underworld?) who is supposed to lead them towards a vampire holocaust. This would be Dracula – at least that’s “one of the names he’s known by”. Right, whatever. Coincidentally, the Nightstalkers are working on a serum to wipe out the vampires, which just happens to need Dracula’s blood in order to work. Good thing they resurrected him, huh?

Unfortunately, Dracula (played by Purcell) seems more interested in toying with Blade, saying nasty things to a little girl and generally preening like a Eurotrash douchebag than in actually leading a vampire Armageddon. OK, Dracula can take any human form – why would he choose a form that looks like Michael “Eddie and the Cruisers” Pare with slicked back hair dressed like one of the “wild and crazy guys” from early SNL? You know, if I could choose any form I wanted, I wouldn’t choose one from 1973. Maybe that’s just me. His real form is much cooler, though eerily reminiscent of Tim Curry’s creature from Legend. (There is one cool scene where he goes into a “Goth” clothing store, though one has to wonder why the mighty and powerful Dracula would even bother with these vampire-loving freaks. Hey, aren’t they kinda the target audience for a movie like this? Go ahead, bite the hand that feeds you. Please.)

The movie is pretty much stolen (without much effort) by the Nightstalkers, a group of vampire hunters who seemingly come out of nowhere to help out Blade when his mentor Whistler (Kristofferson) dies on him (that’s hardly a spoiler, the guy dies in every damn Blade movie). They’re led by Whistler’s daughter “out of wedlock”, who we’ve never heard of before, and the fact that she’s his daughter doesn’t mean anything in the context of the movie, so why she had to be his daughter is a mystery. She could’ve been an orphan or a runaway he recruited off the streets for all it matters. A better question is, if Whistler had this backup team ready all along, why not let Blade in on it? What’s the point in keeping that a secret? Oh, because they’re merely a plot contrivance. Never mind.

Anyway, Whistler’s daughter is played by Jessica “hotness” Biel, upgrading a little from the Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake (don’t get me started). She’s actually quite impressive in the fight scenes, though we know virtually nothing about her character (not that this series has ever been strong on character development). Less impressive is her insistence on wearing an iPod during those fight scenes (guess the movie’s soundtrack wasn’t good enough for her, she had to create her own). Yeah, because when you’re fighting vampires, the last thing you want is to be able to hear them coming. Or unnecessary exclamations like “look out!” or “behind you!” She also happens to be handy with a bow and arrow, perfect for those close-combat situations. But rest assured, this skill will be exactly what is needed for the big climax.

Then there’s Hannibal King (Reynolds), who’s also a pretty impressive fighter, but whose real weapon is his mouth. He’s an ex-vampire who…oh, who cares. He’s the comic relief, and as much as I wanted to hate him, I have to admit the guy’s pretty damn funny here. To say that Biel and Reynolds steal the movie is giving them too much credit, since there’s practically nothing here worth stealing, and Snipes obviously doesn’t give much of a shit anymore. Reynolds gets to deliver the lines that Snipes would if Blade had any sense of humor, or any sense of anything. As cool as this character once was, the stoic act gets a little boring over the course of three movies. Biel and Reynolds may not be great actors, but they’re more interesting to watch than anything Snipes does in his wooden, taciturn performance. This stops being a Blade movie about halfway through and becomes a Nightstalkers movie, and sadly, you don’t really mind.

I particularly enjoyed watching Reynolds verbally tear into Parker Posey, who to put it bluntly, is just goddamn awful. She’s obscenely bad. Posey plays the current head of the vampire mafia as some kind of eternally bored, drugged-out Andy Warhol diva who drinks blood instead of snorting cocaine. It’s not as interesting as it sounds. She’s like the Jar-Jar Binks of the Blade series, and every frame with her in it is an abomination to mankind. How this character could ever become the leader of anything, much less a bunch of would-be badass vampires, is a complete mystery outside of a cosmic joke. It’s pretty sad to be outclassed by Stephen Dorff as a movie villain, but her screeching performance makes Dorff’s Deacon Frost in the original Blade look like brilliance approaching that of Brando in The Godfather. I don’t know what she was thinking when she made this movie, but she should have been replaced on the first day of shooting. I’ve liked her in a lot of movies, but she’s just stinking horrible here. Tara Reid could’ve done a better job in a stoned haze, that’s how terrible Parker Posey is in this movie.

There is, of course, a setup for another possible sequel, as well as a potential Nightstalkers spinoff that Goyer, Biel and Reynolds have talked about in the press. But frankly, I don’t know what else there is for any of these characters to do. Blade only exists to kill vampires. When watching him kill vampires becomes boring, it’s time to give it a rest. Eventually watching Biel and Reynolds kill vampires will get old too. None of the characters in this film do anything that makes you want to see any more of them. What else is there for us to see? Once you’ve resurrected Dracula, you’ve pretty much exhausted the possibilities. Christ, even Buffy the Vampire Slayer had more stuff going on in her life than these one-note characters. At one point Hannibal asks Blade, “you ever wonder what you would do if all the vampires were dead?” Blade apparently hasn’t given that possibility much thought, and neither has Goyer.

I guess I wouldn’t mind so much if Blade: Trinity had any sense of intensity, danger or excitement. As action-packed as it is, it never seems to fully kick into gear. There’s never that moment where you realize it’s going into “next level” territory, where Goyer kicks it up a notch or two the way Del Toro did with Blade 2. Not once was I surprised enough to go, “Holy shit, I can’t believe what I’m looking at here!” the way I did with that movie. Love it or hate it, Blade 2 definitely went bigger and shot for the moon. Trinity feels small and formulaic by comparison. It feels like a rehash, rather than a daring next step or even a logical progression. “More of the same” just doesn’t cut it anymore. Not horrible, but a genuine disappointment all the same.

** 12/10/04

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