5 Stars Movies

In the Mood for Love

Elegant. Gorgeous. Sophisticated. And that’s just Maggie Cheung; the movie is nice to look at, too.

3 Stars Movies

Bad Santa utterly wallows in its bah-humbug tone

This from the director of Crumb and Ghost World?

The big pleasure of Terry Zwigoff’s Bad Santa is definitely that it utterly wallows in a bah-humbug tone, a welcome tonic to the seemingly perpetual holiday season. I write this in June, and I’m afraid to so much as blink, lest the plastic Santas and X-mas lights materialize in the nanosecond my eyes are closed.

Billy Bob Thornton is gleefully repugnant as the comman Willie, making little or no attempt to make his character sympathetic. And yet he is somehow attractive, shown entertaining numerous one-night stands, and ultimately connecting with a decent woman (if alcoholic and a little crazy). After all, the viewer is reminded that Willie is played by the man that married Angelina Jolie, so there is clearly something there.

Glimpses of humanity do peek through, if colored by his terrible personality and backstory. For example, when the Thurman (Brett Kelly) denigrates himself, Willie explodes in profanity, extorting him not to think about himself that way.

Willie’s partner Marcus (Tony Cox) initially seems similarly roguish, in fact the wit and brains of the duo. In a reversal that fatally breaks the comic tone of the film, he is revealed as a cruelly callous criminal psychopath when he outright murders Gin (Bernie Mac). So that makes Willie more sympathetic by subtraction — only because he doesn’t murder, and proves himself at least somewhat capable of forming friendships.

Unexpected and ultimately short-fused is the eventual turn towards the sappy and sentimental. Bad Santa‘s happy ending, partly told through voiceover) betrays the tone of the movie and even leads me to suspect some post-production tinkering.

2 Stars Movies

John Woo’s Paycheck isn’t fun, weird, or subversive enough for a Philip K. Dick tale

When it comes to action cinema maestros like John Woo — I can enjoy the the hyped-up action and weirdness of something like Face/Off, but find that the extreme violence and gunplay can sometimes cross the line from escapism into being inhumane. Paycheck, scoring a mere PG-13 from the MPAA, is less violent than most of Woo’s others, but also unfortunately less weird or even fun.

It’s also not as smart or subversive as a Philip K. Dick adaptation ought to be. I think Minority Report is the first so far to capture what made Dick’s tales so timeless and relevant.

Uma Thurman, following her star turn as the Kung-Fu action cinema goddess in Kill Bill, plays backup love interest to Ben Affleck, who himself is no great shakes here. He was funny and self-deprecating when recently hosting Saturday Night Live, if a little juvenile. His 90’s goatee-wearing, ironic geek guy in Chasing Amy was actually quite realistic. Even his Daredevil hinted at the suffering and isolation in the midst of all the superhero silliness (there’s a chilling scene where we see him return home after a night of crime-busting, where he painfully strips off his protective uniform to reveal more than a few bruises and scars, and then blithely chews a handful of pain-killers straight). But he doesn’t read as a convincing engineer in Paycheck, and his good looks and physique directly contradict dialog in the film that describes him as just a regular guy, and not a secret agent action hero.


The House of Yes feels stagebound

Theater and film, as media, differ in as many ways as they overlap. Just as with adapting a novel to a movie, there is no simple translation from one media to another — a play takes place from a fixed vantage point, there is no editing, and no digital/optical photographic effects.

Perhaps the most extreme example I can think of where a play has been fully reimagined as a movie is Julie Taymor’s Titus. On the other end of the spectrum is Glengarry Glen Ross, where the film makes no drastic divergence from the play, and in fact the largest change is just more words. And in still more rare cases, an original movie only feels like it was derived from a play, and is the better for it, like Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs.

But to me, Mark Waters’ The House of Yes retains so much of its origins as a play that it’s difficult to see the advantage of translation to film. It still feels stagebound.

Unfortunately, the DVD picture quality was heinous. The bulk of the action takes place by candlelight, and the poorly compressed video cannot cope. You don’t have to be a home theater expert to clearly see the smudgy digital artifacts.

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