27 November 2007

Taylor, Lennon, and Company.

The attack on and death of Sean Taylor continues to stun the world, earning top real estates in newspapers such as the Miami Herald, online news sites from BBC.com to washingtonpost.com, and news broadcasts from your local six o'clock broadcast to PTI and SportsCenter.

Just as chilling is the fact that this attack is only the latest in what could be determined a rather frightening trend. And I'm not even talking about Michael Vick.

The break-in incident reported in Taylor's home eight days ago is mentioned in nearly every article on yesterday's shooting. But don't forget that on Jan. 1 of this year, Darrent Williams, cornerback for the Broncos, was killed in a drive-by shooting in Denver. Bryan Pata, a defensive lineman at U. Miami (ironically enough, Taylor's alma matter) was shot and killed a few miles from Taylor's home.

Thirty years ago, politicians and musicians (Kennedy, Kennedy, King, and Lennon) were the ones getting gunned down in their homes or the vicinities thereof, or in hotels, or in the streets. Ten ago, musicians like Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G. were still getting shot in the streets, but teens and young children in schools became the new genre of victims. Now we've come to include athletes in the mix as well.

It's a bit frightening to consider what the next trend might be.

18 November 2007

The Amazing Mrs. Edwards

I wonder that more people don't marvel at the wonder that is Julie Andrews. Has the woman ever done anything that didn't turn out to be pure gold? Even 'The Princess Diaries' are enjoyable, albeit predictable, but still thoroughly charming.

Not every woman can recover from a botched throat surgery with the grace and resilience of the amazing Mrs. Blake Edwards, especially when such a woman made her career on her singing talents. But Julie Andrews continues to make movies and redefine her career.

And so, I'm taking just a quick moment to pay a small tribute to Julie Andrews. 'Cause she's just that damn cool.

17 November 2007

'Catherine the Great' on DVD

Of all the terrible made-for-TV movies out there, this one might take the cake.

Catherine the Great, empress of Russia, had a life that was anything but dull, but this bio-pic from 1995 bores to tears. Though it seems to take scant fewer poetic licenses than Josef von Sternberg's 1934 masterpiece 'The Scarlet Empress,' any comparison between the two would be the height of hubris. Von Sternberg could make tension crackle in black and white with the use of candles, one blond face, and a strategically-placed banister; this film, though it continues longer into Catherine's reign than 'Scarlet Empress' did, can't make even a spark from this fiery woman. Whereas one wishes that 'Scarlet Empress' would go on and on, this film moves slowly and doesn't end soon enough.

Catherine Zeta-Jones made this film three years before her break-out role in 'The Mask of Zorro,' and while she does show a moderate amount of potential in the role here, she is nowhere near as charismatic as her Mona Lisa smile on the cover of this DVD would make her seem. Clearly in the middle of her transition from stage actress to film actress, she delivers her lines without Jeanne Moreau, known to some as the Grande Dame from the first three minutes of 'Ever After,' shows more backbone in five minutes of her performance as Tsarina Elizabeth, another of Russia's female rulers, than the entire 93 minutes of Zeta-Jones' performance. Elizabeth's lover Razumovsky is played by Omar Sharif, who is understated and humble in his role, and nowhere near as spectacular as we all know he can be.

Surely the story of Catherine the Great is worthy of better treatment than this.

10 November 2007

Beatles Fame - 'Across The Universe'

Julie Taymor’s new film “Across The Universe” (Columbia & Revolution, 131 min.) paints a picture of a world without the members of the Fab Four ... almost. The group is gone, but the music remains, covered by a gang of friends who float in and out of the lives of two characters named (brace yourself now) Jude and Lucy as they blunder their way through the decade’s dose of sex, drugs, and rock & roll, and healthy side of “revolution.”

It’s hard to tell exactly what Taymor hoped to achieve with the film. If the answer is another example of beautiful lighting and cinematography, then “Across the Universe” would be a success. If she hoped to give viewers a headache by using more colors than a pris
m reflects light, once again the woman succeeds. If she wanted to demonstrate yet another example of her skill as a puppeteer (as if, after directing “Frida” and Broadway’s “The Lion King,” we needed it,) then she did an impressive, though perhaps poorly conceived, job. But if she wished to tell a story that seamlessly blends with the 31 Beatles songs she selected to accompany them, she has fallen short of her usual level of perfectionism.

Taymor, who co-wrote the film’s story, made a conscious decision to let the songs push the story, and the film suffers for that decision. The love story of Jude and Lucy should tie the other elements of the film together but it simply isn’t strong enough for the task. Almost nothing is done to further the plot in a cohesive or logical way. Several story lines are added only so Taymor could use particular songs. The puppet sequence in a circus tent set to “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite” is such a cringe-worthy plot point, not for lack of talent, but of necessity. By the time you see a Greek Orthodox priest and Salma Hayek dancing in a hospital full of Vietnam War vets, the viewer has lost the ability to be surprised at – or care about – anything more the film has to offer.

The actors double as singers in the film, and while several of them show talent, they direct attention more to the new (and sometimes misguided) interpretations of the songs: “I Want To Hold Your Hand” as a love ballad from one cheerleader to another, “I Want You” sung by an Uncle Sam poster to members of the draft, and “I Am The Walrus” sung by Bono at what is meant to be a book-signing. Too many fleeting characters clog up the screen, story, and songs before disappearing as suddenly and as inexplicably as they arrived, usually to the audience’s disappointment. Conversely, too many characters you wish were fleeting stick around to the point of annoyance.

The numerous elements of the film – puppetry, music, color, what could laughingly be called plot – seem thrown together with little purpose, and they never live up to the promise Joe Cocker (who plays a bum, a pimp, and a “mad hippie” in the same four-and-a-half minute sequence) makes to “come together.” Sorry, Taymor, but it appears that the only people who can make a successful movie erected around Beatles songs are the Beatles. Like the song says, just let it be.

“Across The Universe” (2007)
Columbia Pictures, Revolution Studios
Directed by: Julie Taymor
Starring: Jim Sturgess, Evan Rachel Wood, Joe Anderson
Soundtrack available on Interscope Records

07 November 2007

La Femme Delpy

Julie Delpy’s latest film ‘2 Days in Paris’ has her name written all over it - literally. Delpy made her first feature-length directorial debut at feature length with this film, and also wrote, produced, edited, composed the music and provided still photography for it, and holds her ground on each count. If Delpy could have played every role, she probably would have, but then the viewer would have missed out on the hilarious performances and interactions of the other actors. But if she ever turns the film into a one-woman play, it’d definitely be worth seeing.

The plot seems exactly what the title suggests: Marion (Delpy) and her boyfriend Jack (played by real-life ex Adam Goldberg) spend two days in Paris with Marion’s parents (played by Delpy’s parents), her sister, and several ex-boyfriends. But the cultural differences that spring from seemingly nowhere complicate the comfortable two-year relationship, exposing the parts of themselves that they’ve kept hidden from each other.

The cultural oppositions between American (Jack) and French (Marion) are two obvious differences in the film (evidenced by location and sometimes by language – the film is in English and French, sometimes with subtitles and sometimes without), but other opposites spring up and force the couple to search for common ground. This exploration begins in the credits, where Marion’s voice-over describes her relationship with her boyfriend as they journey by train, and the landscape view from the train changes to match each phrase: “some ups, some downs, but mostly in betweens.” The delicate charm and humor of this short sequence set the tone for the rest of the film, though the end results aren’t always so simple or easy.

The film has numerous parallels to reality that can be distracting to an informed viewer. Marion, a photographer, has a birth defect on her retinas; Delpy, also a photographer, has commented publicly on her inability to judge distance and depth. Marion’s father operates an art gallery; all the artwork for that scene was done by Delpy’s father, Albert. The camerawork feels more like a documentary than a commercial film, and Delpy chose family and friends for many roles. With too many similarities to be dismissed as mere coincidence, one wonders what else in the film was stolen from reality, and it sometimes detracts from the enjoyment of an otherwise delightful film that ranges from egotistic to easygoing, from laugh-out-loud hysterical to utterly serious.