April 29, 2004
Ask Mr. Movie Man
Faced with a bewildering plethora of new movie releases this Golden Week, self-indulgent Metropolis film critic Don Morton interviews himself.
Originally published on metropolis.co.jp on April 2004
Q: Good. Neither am I. Seen any good movies lately?
A: Ask better questions.
Q: No need to get snippy. OK, as they say in emergency rooms, “worst first.”
A: That would have to be Gigli (rhymes with “really”), winner of six Razzies this year.
Q: What’s a Razzie?
A: The Golden Raspberries are the counterpart to the Oscars, awarded to the worst pictures of the year.
Q: And Gigli got…
A: Six. Worst picture, worst actor and actress (Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez), worst screen couple, worst director and worst screenplay (both Martin Brest). The only movies to ever get more Razzies (seven) were Battlefield Earth and Showgirls. This is not good company to be in. There is absolutely no reason to see this horribly scripted, poorly acted, preposterous film.
Q: Have you seen it?
A: No, but I can’t wait.
Q: Let’s move on up. Next worse?
A: View from the Top, starring an overpaid Gwyneth Paltrow as an aspiring airline cabin attendant. It’s the kind of movie we film types watch through to the very end just to see if it will get worse. Even Mike Myers, as a cross-eyed stew-school instructor, fails to elicit any laughs.
Q: Anything else we should definitely avoid?
A: Lessee… I would stay clear of The Haunted Mansion and Le Divorce.
Q: And this would be why?
A: The former is an insultingly lame ghost flick from Disney, based once again on a Disneyland attraction, that attempts to repeat the success of Pirates of the Caribbean. But all it does is prove that Eddie Murphy’s long downhill slide as a funnyman has not stopped, or even slowed. And the latter is a wandering, overwritten romantic comedy/drama from, of all people, Merchant/Ivory, that takes what I’m sure the makers consider to be a wry look at the French and the Americans.
Q: Any good book adaptations?
A: I had to admire Cold Mountain, which many had deemed “unfilmable.”
Q: So Nicole and Jude made it work?
A: No, they were just pretty good. But what kept me watching was the talented supporting cast (including Philip Seymour Hoffman, Eileen Atkins and Natalie Portman) and the interesting side plots. And Renée Zellweger lifts it up a notch. Conversely, what sinks the otherwise engaging The Missing, starring Cate Blanchett and Tommy Lee Jones, is the not-so-interesting, wandering side plots. Go figure.
Q: Bad adaptations?
A: Well, I read almost half of Under the Tuscan Sun before I got tired of stories about Italian cooking and house renovation, and I never detected any trace of a plot, but the film has apparently transplanted one. Can this still be called an adaptation?
Q: Beats me. Anything good about it?
A: Nice scenery; it’s Tuscany, after all. Diane Lane.
Q: How about movies starring any of those six wonderful kids from Friends?
A: (Winces) Actually, Jennifer Aniston is pretty good in The Good Girl, an evocative character study of a woman disillusioned with her life.
Q: How about fantasies?
A: Two if you don’t count Kill Bill: Vol 2.
Q: And they would be?
A: Peter Pan and Big Fish.
Q: Like the Disney classic animated Peter Pan?
A: No, it’s live-action and a little truer to the source material.
Q: J.M. Barrie.
A: I’ll provide the answers here. It’s darker and has a kind of sad sophistication. The child actors do a good job, and Jason Isaacs is good as Hook (and dad).
Q: Good for kids?
A: Sure. Parents, too.
Q: And Big Fish?
A: A Tim Burton flick about a man trying to make sense of his dying father’s lifelong penchant for telling tall tales. The father is played by Albert Finney, and by Ewan McGregor in flashback.
Q: Would you recommend it?
A: It’s as uneven as a roller coaster, and some sequences don’t work so well, but it’s ultimately rewarding.
Q: Any skin flicks coming up?
A: Dirty old man.
Q: I’m not so old.
A: There’s Calendar Girls.
Q: Sounds promising
A: Not in the way you’re thinking. It’s about a group of middle-aged British women who all pose for a nude calendar.
A: For a cancer charity.
Q: Dropping everything for a good cause?
A: If you’re going to tell the jokes, I’m outta here.
Q: Sorry. So a kind of distaff The Full Monty?
A: Not at all. It’s a true story, and the charity is still pulling in money. Also, the calendar photos are shot in the film’s early scenes, and the rest of the film deals with the effects of sudden and unexpected fame.
Q: Who’s in it?
A: Helen Mirren and Julie Walters head up a superb cast.
Q: What about thrillers made by female directors from New Zealand?
A: You’re getting ahead of us. That would be In the Cut by Jane Campion.
Q: Worth a look?
A: Yes and no. The dark, threatening atmosphere is beautifully crafted, and Meg Ryan puts in a career-best performance.
Q: Is it thrilling?
A: That would be the “no” part. The suspense and action aspects are strictly off the shelf.
Q: Surely the Dawn of the Dead remake has a few more frights in it.
A: Hayull yes, it does. It may lack the goofy humor of the original 1978 George Romero gorefest, but it offers its own brand of chuckles, is well made, has a great cast headed up by Sarah Polley and Ving Rhames, and made me jump more than once. Bloody entertaining, above-average zombie flick.
Q: Everyone’s been waiting for Lost in Translation to be released in Japan. Some say it’s racist and stereotypes the Japanese. Is that true?
A: Not really. Sure, it makes fun of some aspects, but it’s more like Tokyo is a character in the movie, an alienating force. It could be Berlin or Bangkok.
Q: And Kill Bill: Vol. 2?
A: Kind of a surprise, actually. Less violent, more emotional. A lot of holes in the first are filled in, the actors act, there’s the dialogue that was lacking in the first, and some great underplayed humor. Taken together it’s fairly brilliant.
Q: As a non-practicing atheist…
A: I prefer “born-again pagan.”
Q: Yes. Well. Are there any overlong, hugely violent, misleading, anti-Semitic, sadistic religious films coming up made by self-righteous Australian actors-turned-director?
A: None come to mind.
Q: Oh, come on!
A: OK, you’ve just pretty well described The Passion of the Christ.
Q: Anything more to say about it?
A: Of course. But I’m not going to say it twice in the same issue. Turn to the film review section.
Q: Amen. Let’s lighten things up. Are there any comedies on the slate?
A: What makes you laugh?
Q: How about a mystical, magical body-swapping comedy about a mother and a daughter changing perspectives along with their bodies?
A: That kind of thing is usually pretty lame.
A: But Jamie Lee Curtis and Lindsay Lohan pull it off, helped immensely by a sharp script, in Freaky Friday.
Q: Fleaky Fliday?
A: Clever. The Japanese title is Fortune Cookie. It’s the kind of Disney movie I fully intended to not enjoy, but chuckled pretty constantly throughout.
Q: Anything starring Jack Black as a ne’er-do-well rock musician who pretends to be a substitute teacher in an exclusive elementary school to teach his class how to be a rock band?
A: You’re starting to irritate me.
Q: Just answer the question.
A: OK, that would be School of Rock. Black, if you’re having trouble remembering who he is, played the in-your-face clerk in the record store run by John Cusack in High Fidelity. This could be looked at as kind of an extension of that role, or at least of that attitude. Funny stuff. Black, by the way, is in real life (curious phrase) the lead vocalist for the rock group Tenacious D.
Q: I’m a fan of the Coen Brothers…
A: I know. Duh.
Q: Is their Intolerable Cruelty worth seeing?
A: Absolutely. It’s probably more mainstream than most of their work, but even mainstream stuff from these brothers is well ahead of most other movies out there.
Q: What’s it about?
A: George Clooney is a preening, ridiculously successful divorce lawyer who meets his match in a gorgeous, ridiculously successful gold-digger played by Catherine Zeta-Jones.
Q: Can’t miss. What’s the brothers’ next film?
A: The Ladykillers starring Tom Hanks, but that’s not a Golden Week release.
Q: I’ll be waiting with childlike anticipation. Well, that about wraps it up. Thanks greatly for your time.
A: My time is your time.
Q: You ever going to get a real job?