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In this episode: Mission: Impossible 2 | Gladiator | The Big Kahuna |
Hamlet | THX and Food Code
GLORY HALLELUJAH! I've made some headway! Four movies in four days! Now that's the old Steve I used to know. Buckle yourself in while I whisk you away on a critical feast, featuring everything from modern action thriller to Shakespeare.
 

 

Okay, okay, okay. This ain't no perfect movie. But boy, was it fun! I'm a fan of the first Mission: Impossible, which means I think the people who bitched because its plot was too confusing probably don't know how to use a chair. The first Mission was filled with big, eye-popping action pieces. The thing with Tom hanging from the wire, of course, is now classically ingrained in our pop-culture psyche. And as improbable as it was, the whole helicopter and bullet train scene was great to watch.

Compared to M:I-2, M:I-1 is a stoic piece of cinema. While M:I-2 has nothing to rival the scope of the helicopter-train-tunnel scene, it does have its share of smaller spectacles, each hyper-choreographed and shot with multi-speed fluidity. This is M:I as seen through the eyes of John Woo, the Hong Kong wacko who was able to take the shake-your-head premise of Face/Off and make it succeed. We're talking slo-mo action, whooshing cameras, hokey symbolism, Cirque de Soleil-esque feats of human physicality, and wicked awesome car (and motorcycle!) chases.

There are holes in this movie. (Skip this parenthetical sentence to miss a spoiler, but how is it, for instance, Tommy boy just happened to have a mask and voice print circuit for Hugh, Sean's henchman, on that island?) But in the Fantastic Realm of Mr. Woo, it doesn't really matter. It helps that the writing, by Robert Towne (from a story by, of all people, Star Trek hacks Ronald D. Moore and Brannon Braga), is solid and intelligent. Sure, there're clichés—a disk has to be stolen and Tom has to save humanity—but in this case, WHO CARES? We just wanna see Tom kick some ass, John Woo Style. And he does. Oh, my, yes, he does.

I want to make special mention of Thandie Newton. I would love to make a joke about her being a new flavor of chewy fruit and cake, but I won't, one because I was impressed by her acting, and two, it'd not be funny. Thandie's character is stronger and more three-dimensional than the usual action damsel, and what's not there in the writing Thandie puts there with her very expressive and exotically gorgeous face. I actually believed her as a character—as much as I can believe any character in this movie.

This flick is absolutely worth seeing if you're into action movies. It won't sit with you long and you won't die to see it again afterward, but you'll have a great time while you're watching. I'm stealing this insight from Owen Gleiberman, the critic at Entertainment Weekly, but if the James Bond movies were more like this, they'd be a lot better off.

 

 

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GLADIATOR

I was surprisingly into this movie. I say surprisingly because I heard lots of mediocre things about it, that it doesn't click or that something's missing. Well, I found myself truly rivited the entire time.

Most solid in Gladiator is the acting. And talk about acting! The high drama of the story is well executed by the fine, fine thespians without making the movie topple into a melodramatic heap. Russell Crowe is perfect as Maximus, agilely portraying his despair, anger, and violence along with his gentleness, kindness, and modesty. He's great. I wasn't sure if I liked Joaquin Phoenix as Commodus, the mean Emperor. But I think I do now. He was very effective. He's got a British accent that seemed on most of the time, though I'll bet someone who actually speaks the tongue would say he was all over the dialectal map. Oh, well. He was campiest of them all without being obviously so. Connie Nielsen was very good as Commodus' sister, Lucilla. She had to balance between fear and cool facade, and did that so nicely I wasn't sure at first which persona was real. Oliver Reed, who died during shooting, was quite a presence on the screen as Proximo, the buyer of slaves and trainer of gladiators. Richard Harris was amazing, of course, as Marcus Aurelius. And then there's Derek Jacobi. Oh, he's astounding. He could recite shampoo ingredients and make them sing. ("Beware the ides of ammonium lauryl sulfate, the wrath of methylchloroisothiazolinone!") Watching him on the screen was a joy to behold, really. I'm not kidding. What was even better was knowing he played the Emperor Claudius in the BBC mini series of so long ago, I, Claudius. That was a brilliant show, and to connect Derek back to a Roman saga thus is choice casting.

The story is, on the surface, your run-of-the-mill riches to rags to vengeance saga (The Fugitive, anyone?). And the history is a bit suspect. But the passion put into the movie by those involved sweeps most of that away. The film looked gorgeous, too. The CG Rome was at once impressive and not. The detail was fantastic, but the realism was off. Rome often looked fake, too sharp and clear. And the colors changed sometimes from shot to shot.

Ridley Scott has been foundering in the water for a long time now, and while this is not a perfect comeback, it certainly better than anything he's done recently. He's got vision. And I don't just say that because I like Blade Runner!

 

 

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THE BIG KAHUNA

I really liked this movie. After being kicked in the face by Tom Cruise and slashed through the gut by Russell Crowe, I got to sit back and let my wounds heal over the soothing sound of three men talking. That's really all The Big Kahuna is, and it makes sense once you know this came from a play called Hospitality Suite. Watching the excellent cast was the soothing bandage for my action-damaged soul.

The movie is set in a hospitality suite (TA DA!) at a hotel in Wichita, Kansas. Three men are there to sell industrial lubricants to conferencegoers, and the suite is the place to do the schmoozing. On occasion, we get a glimpse of the world beyond the room, but mostly we're trapped there with Larry (Kevin Spacey), Phil (Danny DeVito), and Bob (Peter Facinelli) as they talk, argue, joke, and generally carry on. There are lots of monologues and lots of personal revelations. The best part of the movie is discovering the characters. The writing (by Roger Rueff) is really good, and the acting mesmerizing. The Big Kahuna isn't really award material, but it deserves applause for being both talky and entertaining.

As is to be expected, Kevin steals the show. Well, almost. Kevin's character is the loudmouth of the group, so it's to be expected, but Kevin's an actor's actor, so he works brilliantly off his two co-stars and gives them the room they need to shine on their own. He also adds a palpable depth to Larry in the same way he did with Lester in American Beauty or even Lloyd in The Ref. And he's just friggin' funny.

Peter's Bob is the young newcomer, fresh and innocent and unspoiled. Too much, in fact, as Larry and Phil discover. Peter is very good, being a moldable lump most of the time but becoming strong and immovable when his beliefs are challenged. Bob is a lamb who will, in time, become the wolf that Larry is. You can see that in Peter's eyes.

Danny's Phil completes the salesman cycle; If Bob is the new guy and Larry is in his prime, Phil is at the end. Literally everything in Phil's life is, as he sees it, at an end. But we're not talking Willy Loman here. Danny plays Phil quietly, questioning and unsure in a closed-off way. Despite this quietness and self-doubt, though, he holds the power in the trio. A short man with quiet power. Very nice.

There's nothing earth-shattering revealed by these three in The Big Kahuna, but I did like a lot of the insights, especially regarding Bob's religiousness. Skip ahead if you don't want to know this, but watching Larry twist Bob's belief from something spiritual and pure into nothing more than another tool for marketing was fascinating.

You can certainly wait to rent this movie, but go support it in the theater if you can. It's thoroughly enjoyable.

 

 

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HAMLET

Yes, this is the one with Ethan Hawke. And if, as they say, brevity is the soul of wit... Oh, forget it. Who am I kidding? I won't be brief! I'll just try and fail.

This Hamlet is set in modern-day New York City, and it works very well. The language is all Shakespeare's, but the setting is all corporations and post-modern artiness and upper-crusty society. Denmark is now the Denmark Corporation, a very good metaphor for a country. When the characters need to go to France or England, it makes sense because that is the nature of a modern corporation, with its employees being located all over the world. The "king" as a CEO also works, though it's more of a stretch. Hamlet himself hangs out with chums from school and the seedy NYC lowlifes Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. He walks around with an old Pixelvision movie camera, capturing images that he replays over and over in his apartment. It all fits very well.

Here are some more fun examples, which you can skip if you want to be surprised. Hamlet's father's ghost (Sam Shepard) is first seen by a security guard in the basement of the Denmark Corporation building. The building is called Ellsinore Tower. Ophelia's (Julia Stiles) madness scene plays out in the spiraling atrium of the Guggenheim. Instead of a play, Hamlet presents a video art piece he's edited together from videos he's rented from Blockbuster. The "To be or not to be" soliloquy takes place in said Blockbuster. The execution message Rosencrantz (Steve Zahn) and Guildenstern (Dechen Thurman) carry is on a PowerBook.

Fun.

Ethan is okay as Hamlet, but he's too dull. I got bored watching him yammer on. He doesn't suck, he's just too one-note. I know this is a comment on the unemotional youth of the day, but it makes for boring stuff. I was most impressed by Liev Schreiber, who plays Laertes. Instead of fitting emotion to the words, you could see him getting his emotion FROM the words, making his acting incredibly believable. You may not expect me to say this, but I also really liked Kyle MacLachlan as Claudius. (Major BTW: Derek Jacobi played this Claudius, too! It was in Kenneth Branagh's 1996 Hamlet! Oh, the conmnections...) Kyle was very good. Bill Murray didn't make the words flow, but he did create a very amusing, protective father of Polonius. His advice-spouting scene with Liev was great. Also very good were Diane Verona as Gertrude and Sam as the ghost.

It may be because the script was cut so much, or it may be because the setting and modern bent of the characters were so cold and gray, but the drama didn't smack me. I was seeing something fresh visually and watching how very clever director Michael Almereyda was at putting Hamlet into Y2K NYC, but I was not moved. It would be easy to blame Ethan's low-key performance, but really, a lot of the drama just swirls around Hamlet and is not about Hamlet himself. No, the lack of oomph comes from the coldness of the art direction and stiffness of the society the play's been transported into. This is an interesting and very fun and sometimes brilliant adaptation, but it's not a Hamlet to keep in a cedar box and pull out every winter to relive fond memories.

 

I was so happy... In front of Gladiator and M:I-2, I got to see the now not-so-new new THX trailer. It is so big it hurts. At M:I-2, the audience clapped, cheered, and yelled their appreciation. Now if I can only get it on DVD for my home!


Once again, I want to thank you all for supporting Food Code. David and I are happy that it's moving up the list. Eventually, I'm hoping you'll all get to see a more watchable version of the movie sometime down the road. In the meantime, keep clicking on it! We have just over a week!

[NOTE: The the contest is over, and iCAST has gone out of business. Typical. However, visit Food Code online, where you can find out where/how/why to see it. —3/14/01]

 
 

—Steve

6/1/00

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©2000 Steven Lekowicz except
Mission: Impossible 2 artwork ©2000 Paramount Pictures
Gladiator picture ©2000 DreamWorks LLC and Universal Studios
The Big Kahuna picture ©2000 Lions Gate Entertainment
Hamlet artwork ©2000 Miramax