items tagged with dramas
Written By: Mike Schulz
I loved Baz Luhrmann’s musical Moulin Rouge, but what I adore even more than the film itself are works like it – artistically divisive movies that give you no choice but to love or hate them.
Read More About "Moulin Rouge" Provokes Passionate Response: Also, "Pearl Harbor" And "What's The Worst That Could Happen?"...
Written By: Mike Schulz
BRIDGET JONES'S DIARY
A terrific leading character can atone for a lot of wrongs in a film, and there might be no better proof of that thesis than Bridget Jones's Diary, Sharon Maguire's adaptation of Helen Fielding's incredibly popular novel. Our heroine, a 32-year-old British woman who works a dead-end publishing job, is a completely realistic type we almost never see in movies: a chain-smoking, wine-slurping, slightly overweight, unsatisfied-in-relationships flirt who wants desperately to better herself but doesn't have the motivation or discipline to do so. Flawed as she is, she's intensely endearing, and as perfectly played by Renée Zellweger, she's a magically comic creation, even more wonderful than Zellweger's previous incarnations of Dorothy Boyd and Nurse Betty. That the moviemakers spend the film's running length putting her in one humiliating situation after another, and that she's trapped in a predictable love triangle between a cad and a sweetie, aren't to be held against her; Bridget Jones, and Zellweger herself, triumph over their circumstances, creating a totally enjoyable cinematic work, flaws and all.
Read More About Zellweger Shines (Again) In “Diary”: “Bridget Jones’S Diary,” “Blow,” And “Josie & The Pussycats”...
Written By: Mike Schulz
The Brothers, the comedy-drama debut from writer-director Gary Hardwick, is a good-and-bad movie in which the good parts far surpass the bad, and that alone makes it one of the finer movies of the year.
Dealing with the exploits of four long-term pals and their relationships with the women in their lives, the film has an exuberance and wit that helps you glide over its clichés, and it’s the rare male-oriented movie that gives its women plenty of breathing room. There’s nothing revelatory in either its plotting or its execution – at this early stage, Hardwick is a better writer than director – but it’s undeniably enjoyable; those who by nature bypass movies with African-American casts will truly be missing out.
At the start of the film, confirmed bachelor Terry (Shemar Moore) announces his impending wedding, which makes the others in his circle question their own lives and romantic entanglements. Jackson (Morris Chestnut), a successful pediatrician, wants to develop a deeper commitment with his girlfriend, Denise (Gabrielle Union), but is hindered by a revealed secret from her past; Derrick (D.L. Hughley), moderately happy in his own marriage to Sheila (Tamala Jones), can’t get past her reluctance to engage in oral sex; lothario Brian (Bill Bellamy), high on booze and a succession of ladyfriends, finds commitment a joke and is (comically) punished for his refusal to grow up. Needless to say, The Brothers is more character-driven than story-driven, and given the strong parade of characters Hardwick has created, that’s just fine for this debut feature.
Which is not to say that Hardwick has created original characters. Brian is a particularly weak link, his comic exploits predictable and formulaic, and Bellamy is, in general, more stand-up than actor; you catch him performing throughout the picture and it dulls your interest in him. But many of the film’s actors transcend the obviousness of their roles – Hughley gets away with his borderline offensive subplot through sheer charisma – and one of them, Morris Chestnut, does even more that; he anchors the film with an impressive combination of understatement, humor, and sexiness. Chestnut has been a terrific presence in movies like Boys N the Hood and The Best Man, but The Brothers might finally be the one that makes him a star.
Best of all, and most surprising for a film entitled The Brothers, is the strong impact made by the female cast members. Gabrielle Union is enormously appealing – her role in last fall’s Bring It On didn’t hint at this kind of womanly strength and vulnerability – and we’re also treated to the wonderful Marla Gibbs and the especially vibrant Jenifer Lewis. In films of this type, where men are slow to pick up on their own failings but more than ready to find them in others, we’re used to seeing a series of putting-men-in-their-place diatribes; The Brothers doesn’t shirk from this heady, predictable responsibility, but Hardwick writes some truly hysterical diatribes, and Lewis is a true live wire when delivering them. The movie never really amounts to much, but it actually does say a few things about how people live in this day and age, and does so while remaining spirited and funny. In a movie year that’s shaping up to be even worse than the last – Lord help us – The Brothers is welcome relief.
SOMEONE LIKE YOU
It just figures. You wait patiently for the gorgeous and talented Ashley Judd to get out of her action-stud-muffinette phase (in turkeys like Kiss the Girls, Eye of the Beholder, and the reprehensible Double Jeopardy) and land the lead in a romantic comedy; she finally does, and it winds up being the witless and charmless piece of piffle Someone Like You. If you’ve never before felt the head-swimming rush of déjà vu, I heartily recommend catching the film; even if you haven’t yet seen it, you’ve seen it. (You probably remember the title, too. With the exception of the Bernard Slade adaptation Romantic Comedy, has there ever been a film of this type with a less inspired moniker?) Not that it matters, but here’s the lowdown this time around: Judd plays the talent-booker for a TV talk show who, after one failed relationship too many, comes to the shocking realization that men are pigs. Or rather, she learns after reading a rather dubious-sounding newspaper article that men are bulls. And women are cows. And bulls, you see, never mate with the same cow twice. And that explains why men and women can never successfully cohabitate.
But guess what? (You’re ahead of me already, aren’t you?) She meets a bull (Hugh Jackman) who’s rude and chauvinistic and a user of women, but who’s kinda cute, and who might just be perfect for ... oh, who the hell cares? As I’ve underlined countless times in my reviews of countless goofy romantic comedies: Setup is nothing, chemistry is all. And in Someone Like You, the leads ain’t got it. Jackman appears to be trying; he plays his macho-blowhard-with-the-gooey-center well enough (although his dry wit was a lot more fun as Wolverine in X-Men) and gives Judd appropriate smolder. But with crummy lines to deliver and nothing but a flighty dipstick to play, Judd comes across as desperate and graceless; she could be channeling Sandra Bullock in her lesser movies, and God knows that the one we have is enough. Despite how strenuously the script works at making them the ideal couple, the concept never gels, and director Tony Goldwyn, who made a lovely debut with A Walk on the Moon, has nothing fresh to bring to either the material of the performers. Even as pure throwaway entertainment, the movie is a dud.
Among the supporting players, Ellen Barkin and Marisa Tomei are pure stereotype – Barkin all phony TV sleaze and Tomei stuck with second-rate wisecracks and “heart.” (Message to Marcia Gay Harden: Congratulations, but beware – look what’s happened to Tomei less than a decade after her Best Supporting Actress win.) And as for Greg Kinnear, who plays Someone Like You’s token good-guy-who-turns-into-the-bad-guy, give it a rest. You may have perfected the wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing grin, but you perfected it about 10 films ago. Nowadays, when you make your first appearance onscreen, we know you’re going to be a bastard.
Written By: Mike Schulz
I remember a time, not so long ago, when I actually looked forward to movie trailers. Getting the chance to see what certain performers and directors had coming up next, witnessing the artfulness of the preview itself, which has to build anticipation with three minutes of footage, experiencing that happy rush when an entire audience simultaneously reacts to a trailer with a feeling of, “I can’t wait to see that” — I ate it all up.
And there are still a few that manage to do their jobs terrifically well — the current previews for the Lord of the Rings trilogy and Pearl Harbor look appropriately grand and stirring (the Pearl Harbor trailer is just about perfect, in a shameless Titanic-y way, until the words “from Jerry Bruckheimer and Michael Bay” appear ... an omen of bum jokes, sticky romance, and witless plotting to come), and for my money, all you need are a few seconds of Morgan Freeman speaking with his astonishing blend of authority and compassion to be somewhat stoked about the Kiss the Girls follow-up, Along Came a Spider.
But it appears that more and more trailers are forgoing mystique and subtlety for the chance to either give away every element in the plot — romantic comedies, like What Women Want and The Wedding Planner, are especially guilty of this — or lead you to expect something you’re not going to get, like the pratfall-filled trailer for the quietly humane comedy Keeping the Faith, or the wacky-crooks-in-polyester preview for the new 3000 Miles to Graceland. This particular trailer would have you anticipating a rollicking, farcical robbery flick; what you actually get is what might result if Peckinpah directed Blue Hawaii. Yes, it concerns a group of cons who plan a big-time casino heist during an Elvis convention, and yes, it allows Kurt Russell to, all too briefly, encore his justly celebrated impersonation from the 1979 tele-movie Elvis. But the movie itself is frenetically violent and lazily plotted — it tries for the pumped-up trickiness that screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie brought to The Usual Suspects and The Way of the Gun, but fails on almost every level — and director Damien Lichtenstein aims for John Woo-style slo-mo staging, but seems to have no gift for it (and his attempts at comic violence are merely sickly). The movie descends into just one ultra-loud, generic shooting spree after another; at the screening I saw, I felt pity for the elderly couple who left halfway through, saying “I didn’t expect that.”
It’s bad enough that the movie is a bummer, and that it wastes the talents of the leads and a crew that includes Christian Slater, Courteney Cox, David Arquette, Kevin Pollak, and Thomas Haden Church; if you’ve seen the film’s previews, you’ll realize that they were intentionally deceptive about Graceland’s tone, and that can really anger you. (And yes, I do realize that harping on a film because of what it's trailers indicate is unfair, but with or without previews, 3000 Miles to Graceland would still suck.) That’s part of the reason many of us seek out smaller, specialty films on video and DVD; I think it’s safe to say that almost all movies benefit from not having their previews shoved down your throat. So, in lieu of anything good opening at the cineplex in the past few weeks, and particularly if you haven’t yet caught Traffic, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, or O Brother, Where Art Thou? (and shame, shame if you haven’t yet), here are three recent video releases that deserve your attention:
The Virgin Suicides: Sofia Coppola was a national joke when she appeared in her dad’s The Godfather Part III in 1990, but her abilities might have just been misapplied — on the basis of this debut feature, she may be a helluva director. Bringing Jeffrey Eugenides’ beloved novel about the deaths of five sisters in the mid-1970s to the screen, Coppola displays a keen gift for romanticism and dread. Through impeccable staging and beautiful imagery, she creates a whole, hazy world where nothing is easily explained, least of all the suicides of the title, and everything is mysterious and oddly erotic: it’s the cinematic equivalent of falling in love for the first time, and being terrified of it. James Woods and Kathleen Turner are brilliantly cast against type, playing the girls’ ineffectual father and subtly domineering mother, and as the most confused daughter, the radiant Kirsten Dunst is a revelation — as the very epitome of teen sensuality, she fills her role with curiosity, confidence, and heartbreak; it’s a thrilling performance. It’s sometimes a tough film to endure because you really don’t want the inevitable to occur, but it’s a rich, exhilirating, and in the end, emotionally devastating piece of work. Brava, Ms. Coppola.
Saving Grace: Shame on me for missing this lovely little oddball when it made a brief appearance on area screens last fall. Brenda Blethyn plays a recent widow who resorts to growing and selling pot to save her estate, with her estate’s caretaker (Craig Ferguson, who co-wrote the script) taking care of the business end — until Blethyn’s character takes over that, too. What could easily have been a one-joke affair becomes a real kick through sheer charm, detail, and the inspired interplay between the leads — Ferguson has a delightfully naturalistic deadpan, and Blethyn tones down her usual boisterousness (she was wonderful in Secrets and Lies, but has become increasingly mannered in works such as Little Voice and RKO 281) and comes through with a shaded, touching, and highly comic portrayal. The finale disappoints and the visuals are barely adequate, yet it retains a sweet sensibility and oozes likability; it’s the perfect curl-up-on-the-couch-with-a-movie movie.
The Eyes of Tammy Faye: A documentary about the notorious religious personality, and as entertainingly over-the-top, silly, and sincere as the woman herself. You know you’re not in for the usual docu-drama when the narrator is RuPaul and the film’s individual segments are introduced by hand puppets; though the film details Tammy Faye’s numerous trials and tribulations, they’re held in check by the cheekiness of the presentation, and what’s incredible is that the film never comes across as mean-spirited or judgmental. Lord knows Tammy Faye has had a rough time, particularly in the press, over the last two decades, but filmmakers Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato walk such a fine line between the grotesque and the good-natured that you feel neither abject pity nor mockery for their subject, and when Tammy Faye makes a late-career comeback towards the film’s end, you might find yourself fighting back a tear or two. Supremely enjoyable throughout, The Eyes of Tammy Faye is worth catching even if you have little interest in the woman herself, and maybe especially if you have little interest.
Written By: Mike Schulz
Sean Penn is one of the few dependably downbeat figures in American film, and those who like their dramas moody, atmospheric, and richly detailed will get some initial pleasure with The Pledge, Mr. Penn’s third directorial outing.
Read More About It Must Be January: Collapsing Drama ("The Pledge"), ClichéD Gothic ("The Gift"), And Tired Teen Farce ("Sugar & Spice")...
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