Reviewed by Jason Aaron
Pitch Black was a relatively small scale, low budget sci fi/horror
film released in 2000 that starred an up-and-coming young Vin Diesel as
Riddick, an angry, alien outlaw and space-age version of Conan the Barbarian.
In the four years since then, Diesel has blossomed into a huge star, so
of course this sequel to Pitch Black is a lavish, big budget blockbuster
that bears little resemblance to the original, other than the fact that
they're both innovative, stylish and enjoyable as hell.
Diesel's Riddick is the mother of all anti-heroes: a perpetually pissed-off,
thoroughly unstoppable killing machine with massive biceps, shaved head
and a shiny set of eyes that see in the dark. In Pitch Black, Riddick
had to save a group of stranded travelers from a whole planet-full of
vicious, nocturnal monsters in the midst of a total eclipse. In the sequel,
the stakes are raised, of course, so this time it turns out that Riddick
is the only one who can save the whole universe. Unfortunately, all Riddick
wants is to be left alone. Lucky for the universe that he has a soft spot
for cute kids.
The plot here is pretty simple. It's basically "Get Riddick!"
The merciless planet-smashing army of Necromongers, a group of greedy,
persistent mercenaries and the good guys, led by Judi Dench's ghostly
white witch, Aereon: They all want to get their hands on Riddick for one
reason or the other.
Writer/director David Twohy keeps the film moving along at a lightning
pace. There are chases, knife fights, gun battles, a gritty prison escape
and special effects galore as Riddick kills his way across the galaxy,
from a frozen ice world to a prison planet with a 700-degree sunrise.
He's never really concerned about doing what's right but still manages
to somehow get it done anyway.
Thankfully, Twohy spares us any sanguine romance. The female lead (played
by Alexa Davalos) is more interested in trading murder techniques with
Riddick than in swapping spit. This is balls-to-the-wall, break-neck action
from start to finish, with enough Philip K. Dick-esque mumbo-jumbo thrown
in to please the hardcore tech nerds.
As the newest, biggest action star on the block, Diesel has been compared
to the past title holders like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone.
It's true, he does have Governor Arnie's muscles and the Italian Stallion's
limited vocabulary. But Diesel is far more charismatic, witty, daring
and, dare I say, intelligent than those two has-beens. For years, when
asked in interviews what actress he most wanted to work with, instead
of listing any number of fresh, young hotties Diesel would name veteran
English actress Dench. And on top of that, did Rambo or the Terminator
ever kill anyone with a teacup like Riddick does? I rest my case.
If you haven't seen Pitch Black, don't worry; it's not required
viewing in order to enjoy The Chronicles of Riddick. Though it
is still worth checking out, as is Below, the creepy submarine drama Twohy
made in 2002. Far less convoluted and far more kinetic than last year's
Matrix sequels, The Chronicles of Riddick also boasts about
as cool an ending as a movie like this could ever hope to have.
The Schwarzenegger-esque one liners are a little tired at times, but Twohy
and Diesel still pack The Chronicles of Riddick with enough excitement,
laughter and visual flair for ten summer blockbusters. (PG-13) Rating:
4; Posted 6/11/04
Reviewed by Uri Lessing
Many filmmakers devote their careers to broadening and expanding the
different types of narratives we see. New perspectives and ideas are constantly
being brought to the screen. However, it is rare to find a filmmaker that
attempts to change the narrative structure itself. Over the past 24 years,
Jim Jarmusch has developed a minimalist technique that shows little regard
for common narrative structure.
His films do not rely on emotional fluctuation to drive the action. In
fact, his films tend to stay on the same even keel. Jarmuschs filmmaking
relies on realism, and trusts the audience to be actively thinking and
making connections as they view his works.
His films affect audience members differently: Some people leave the theater
fascinated and engaged while others, put off by Jarmuschs structure,
leave angry, disgusted and with a sense that the emperor is not wearing
any clothes. Make no mistake about it, Jarmuschs work is filled
with meaning and insight.
Jarmuschs latest film, Coffee and Cigarettes, is a collection
of eleven short films that he has filmed over the past 18 years. The first
episode, commissioned by Saturday Night Live, is a quick encounter
as Steven Wright and Roberto Benigni discuss non-sequiturs over coffee
and cigarettes. The others were filmed at different times with six of
the shorts shot in 2002.
There appear to be rules and guidelines that unify the episodes. The steadfast
rules are that every encounter is filmed in black and white, there are
no more than three characters. Coffee (or another hot beverage) and smokes
must be displayed at some point in the conversation. There are no extras
on screen during the encounter. The table remains isolated from other
customers at the restaurant. With one exception, each scene begins with
one person arriving and ends with one person leaving.
The guidelines appear to be that celebrities are encouraged to play themselves
(Cate Blanchett follows this guideline and breaks it simultaneously).
Characters are encouraged to click their glasses and conversations often
involve misunderstanding, offense and awkward tension. Humor and failure
permeate the scenes.
But what does Jarmusch want us to learn?
Coffee and Cigarettes is not about learning anything. There are
no obvious life lessons. Instead, he wants us to think about how, as time
goes by, our conversations and encounters are becoming more and more uncomfortable.
Coffee and Cigarettes are two comforts designed to put us at ease,
so why are these encounters so awkward? Two friends who havent seen
each other awkwardly argue whether or not one of them has a problem. Actor
Alfred Molina attempts to connect with fellow actor Steve Coogan only
to be belittled again and again until a phone call turns the tables. Cate
Blanchett meets with a non-famous cousin who both adores and despises
her. Rappers GZA and RZA find an insane Bill Murray waiting tables (in
an homage to Andy Kaufman). Tom Waits and Iggy Pop, musicians who admire
each other, find themselves inadvertently offending each other again and
again. These encounters usually end with someone fleeing the table at
the first opportunity. Has our world become so complex that simple conversation
has become a chore?
Coffee and Cigarettes does not offer simple answers, but what is
does offer is a brilliant examination of the nature of the modern encounter.
The final encounter between Andy Warhol associate and poet Taylor Mead
and cult actor Bill Rice beautifully brings the film together. As we watch
the final scene where these two life veterans pretend their coffee is
champagne and listen to Mahlers I Lost Track of the World,
it ends this fascinating and beautiful exercise that will broaden your
mind while stretching the nature of film itself. (R) Rating: 5 ; Posted
Reviewed by Uri Lessing
Garfield, the movie, in now out in theaters! Who doesnt
love Garfield? Who doesnt enjoy watching or reading about a fat,
smart-alecky cat that enjoys eating lasagna? Who out there doesnt
quiver with excitement at the prospect of seeing Garfield push his best
canine friend Odie off of his favorite chair? Who out there lacks the
capacity for pleasure, watching Garfield outsmart the big dog across the
street or switching cat-food with human-food to the disgust of his owner;
the sweet and loveable push-over Jim?
Who doesnt love Garfield: Most people over the age of ten.
My four-year old son Gabriel, conversely, loves Garfield. He loved
Garfield even before he ever laid eyes on that orange fur ball.
He fell in love when I explained the premise. As I described Garfield
and the world he lives in, my son joyfully interrupted me with cries of,
And he talks too?
If you can read these words, you are not the target audience of this film.
There is not a single joke, jibe or subtle bit of humor designed for you
(except for maybe the shot of Garfield looking like one of those stick-up
toys we see on cars). There is more grown-up wit in an episode of PBSs
Dragon Tales. The human actors are as lifeless as the furniture,
and surprisingly, Bill Murrays performance as the voice of Garfield
sounds like reading. I suspect he put more effort into the Japanese commercials
in Lost in Translation.
As an adult viewer, you will find yourself the target of a massive amount
of product placement ranging from computers to crackers. The strongest
messages for adults are that we should purchase and consume mass quantities
of Pepperidge Farm Goldfish and dash off to Petco for all of our kittys
litter and chow needs.
Yet my cynical feelings towards Garfield have been lessened due
to Gabriels pure enjoyment of the film. He giggled and smiled, and
loved the silly harmless little tricks Garfield played on his friends.
He also understood the message that even though our friends get on our
nerves, life is no fun without them. Hearing my son giggling at Garfield
dancing around the living room with Odie, reminded me of the joy those
short, wide Garfield books by Jim Davis used to give me when I
was a boy.
And three days after seeing Garfield, he is still talking about
Unlike Shrek, this movie is not a movie for adults and kids to
enjoy together. Since the target audience is too young to go to the movies
by themselves, Im afraid youre stuck! However, Garfield
is a movie that allows us to enjoy our kids that much more, and resurrect
some of those lost childhood feelings.
Besides, its also a great excuse to cook some healthy lasagna afterwards!
(PG) Rating: 3; Posted 6/11/04
Reviewed by Russ Simmons
The 25th anniversary re-release of Monty Pythons Life of Brian
served as a bit of a rejoinder to the phenomenon called The Passion
of the Christ. The same satiric skepticism can be found in another
new film, a teen comedy from a first-time director.
Saved, like Life of Brian, is unlikely to be embraced by
Christian fundamentalists. In fact, one could argue that the entire evangelical
movement is the target of this films contempt.
Filmmaker Brian Dannelly and co-writer Michael Urban would probably disagree
with that assessment and claim that their movie is only meant as an assault
on hypocrisy. That would be a bit like saying, Im not ridiculing
just your taste.
Jena Malone (Cold Mountain) stars as Mary, a student at Eagle Mountain
Christian High School. She is one of the angels, a small clique
headed by the obnoxiously self-righteous Hilary Faye, played by singer
Mandy Moore (Chasing Liberty).
Marys boyfriend Dean (Chad Faust) confesses to her that he may be
gay. Believing that she has seen a vision in which Jesus encourages her
to have sex with Dean in order to save him, Mary becomes pregnant.
Feeling betrayed by Jesus, she loses her faith.
Learning of Marys transgressions, Hilary Faye wages an all-out offensive
to disgrace her. She manages to turn many of Marys former friends
against her, but unwittingly sends her into the hands of a group of like-minded
doubters. These include Hilary Fayes paraplegic brother Rowland,
played by Macaulay Culkin (Home Alone), his delinquent girlfriend
Cassandra (Eva Amurri from The Banger Sisters) the schools
token Jew, and Patrick (Patrick Fugit from Almost Famous), the
Marys mom, played by Mary-Louise Parker (Red Dragon) is too
busy carrying on an extramarital affair with Pastor Skip (Martin Donovan
from Agent Cody Banks) to be much help. Pastor Skip is also preoccupied
in his attempts to be perceived as hip by the student body. (He often
refers to Jesus as being phat.)
The script is well written and shows remarkably good aim when targeting
the aspects of Christianity it wishes to ridicule. It also is guilty of
stacking the deck, making sure that the characters who hold strong to
their faith are seen as naïve or foolish.
The cast is uniformly fine, with Moore particularly memorable as the scheming
Hilary Faye. (Those who became fans when Moore starred in the Christian
film A Walk to Remember will feel particularly betrayed.)
Clearly, Saved aims to mock fundamentalism...and it does so quite skillfully.
(PG-13) Rating: 3; Posted 6/11/04