Is Saturday Night Live an asset or a liability to the world of film?
Most SNL cast members enter the experience excited and fresh from the top
Improv clubs only to exit into exhaustion and obscurity. The writing schedule
is brutal. Sketches are slammed out at an atrocious pace, and the majority
are shallow, tedious, repetitive and fail miserably.
Reviewed by Uri Lessing
Not coincidently, this evil institution has cursed us all with a slew of
dreadful films by SNL alumni. Does anyone remember A Night at
the Roxbury or Superstar? How about Its Pat? Well,
did anybody stand in line to buy tickets for Joe Dirt or Stuart
Saves his Family? Didnt think so.
The formula for these movies is simple: create a bizarre unrealistic character
(or use your overexposed character from SNL), throw in as many ridiculous
gags as you can, flash a few celebrity cameo faces here and there, and hope
to God that the audience laughs. However, there are a few gems. Waynes
World, Animal House and Caddyshack all earned the title
of cult classics and are famous for their quality and quantity of humor.
Now, Saturday Night Live alumni Will Farrell, with the help of former
SNL head writer Adam McKay, have created Anchorman, and its
a whole mess of comedy. The basic premise is that in San Diego, theres
a local newscaster named Ron Burgundy (Farrell) who feels threatened by
a new female anchorwoman (Christina Applegate) because shes a woman
and its the 70s.
Anchorman isnt going for credibility though because theres
a ton of unrelated gags that add a feeling of diffuseness to the movie.
Strange comic elements come and go. Rons dog knows Spanish and suffers
a bizarre fate. Ron plays the jazz flute while practically destroying a
nightclub. A burrito hits an angry motorcyclist. A violent medieval anchorman
brawl occurs. Theres also a pregnant panda bear, multiple distinct
celebrity cameos and linguistic jokes about what San Diego really
On the surface, there is no comedic cohesiveness. Yet somehow Will Farrell
manages to hold the whole mess together.
Ron Burgundy, like many of Farrells other characters is a Graham Cracker
disguised as crème brule. Burgundy has no concept about how pathetic
he really is, and Farrell carries it off with the same appeal as Steve Martins
wild and crazy guy. His comic timing and ensemble acting is impeccable.
While Anchorman is ridiculous, the film is also crammed with laughs
and is unpredictably entertaining. Keep an eye out for The Daily Shows
Steven Carell as the mentally challenged Brick Tamland. Every line from
Bricks mouth brought forth a torrent of laughter from the audience.
Anchorman is Will Farrells second success as a lead in a comedy. Lets
hope for many more. (PG-13) Rating: 3; Posted 7/9/04
Reviewed by Russ Simmons
As fantasies go, the legend of Camelot and the Knights of the Round
Table is as popular as they come. It has romance, mysticism and dramatic
resonance in spades.
In King Arthur, director Antoine Fuqua (Training Day) and
screenwriter David Franzoni (Gladiator) have decided to strip away
those elements in favor of a gritty, more realistic speculation about
the earliest days of British independence from Roman rule. Its too
bad that they didnt find something equally compelling to replace
the romance, mysticism and dramatic resonance theyve eliminated.
Clive Owen (Croupier) portrays Arthur, one of many young Brits forced
into servitude by their Roman occupiers. He and his knights
must serve as warriors for fifteen years before they will be granted their
With their conscription nearing its end, Arthur and his knights yearn
for lives of their own. Even though theyve met their obligation,
the nasty Romans (who are planning to abandon their outpost on this barbaric
island) force them into one more mission.
Theyre sent to rescue a Roman family from a remote northern outpost.
Problem is, this area is north of a massive wall that separates them from
the vengeful natives, not to mention a hoard of murderous Saxons who are
beginning an invasion. In other words, their mission is impossible.
Perhaps that should be enough of a plot to ensure a gripping action film,
and the movie does have a lot of bloody battle sequences. Problem is,
we have little reason to root for anyone. These guys arent given
any reason to fight (other than sheer survival) until the story comes
to a close.
Some of the famous characters are on hand, including Merlin (Stephan Dillane),
who is now a rebel leader, and Lancelot (Ioan Gruffudd), who is no longer
French in this version. Guinevere (Keira Knightly from Pirates of the
Caribbean) is reduced to a minor supporting role as a woman rescued
from a dungeon. She does, however, strap on a leather thong and kick some
Saxon butt when shes given a chance.
The script makes some fleeting references to Arthurs own Christianity
and his struggle with the atrocities that he sees the Romans commit in
the name of Christ. This intriguing plot string is, sad to say, never
developed. Whats left is a lengthy excuse to put together some adequately
photographed battle scenes.
Since the filmmakers decided to excise whats great about the legend,
King Arthur simply cant cut it. (PG-13) Rating: 2; Posted
Reviewed by Uri Lessing
Director Richard Linklater is the master of capturing feelings. Many
of his films are as clear as memories and create a beautiful sense of
introspection within the viewer. Never dull, his films entertain while
creating a lasting impression afterwards. His latest movie, Before
Sunset, is no exception and might be his simplest and most remarkable
creation to date.
This film is a sequel to Linklaters Before Sunrise (1995).
That film was all about a French graduate student named Celine (Julie
Delpy) and an American student named Jesse. (Ethan Hawke) They meet on
a train traveling between Budapest and Vienna, fall in love, explore Vienna,
and agree to meet again at the Vienna train station in six months, leaving
the viewer to speculate whether or not they would keep the meeting.
Nine years later we are given an answer. One of the two did not show up.
Jesse, now an author, has written a romantic best seller based upon the
encounter nine years ago, and he is signing copies in a small bookshop
in France. When Celine shows up, they share some awkward words and decide
to talk over a cup of coffee. Together, they explore Paris, talk about
the past and present, and discuss their lives. Theres a deadline
to their time together though, because Jesses flight back to the
states leaves at sunset.
Unlike the first film, Before Sunset takes place in real time.
This was a brave and exceptional choice because it allows the viewer to
observe every word of Jesse and Celines conversation and take every
step of their journey. The shots are long and simple, and Paris, at times,
becomes just as important a character as the two lovers. Ethan Hawke and
Julie Delpy deliver two flawless performances. Both effortlessly pick
up their past characters again and their performances weave together delightfully.
Before Sunset impeccably captures the nature of conversation. The
dialogue captivates without ever feeling forced or cinematic as both characters
comes to grips with their feelings of frustration and love. When we first
met Jesse and Celine they were at the commencement of their adult lives.
Now time and their own choices have pulled them far away from experiencing
anything like they did in Vienna. The viewer feels their struggle to recapture
the past and the burden from the weight of time.
The film closes with a entrancing final moment and a second cliffhanger
to replace the first one. One is left with the hope that this in not the
last film about Jesse and Celine. Linklater, Delpy and Hawke have created
a masterpiece that gracefully captures mourning for the past. Before
Sunset is a significant and astonishing work. (R) Rating: 5; Posted
Reviewed by Liz Sweeney
Just a few weeks before the second Iraq war, American-Egyptian filmmaker
Jehane Noujaim (startup.com) went to Qatar and was able to get
access to the inner sanctum of the Al-Jazeera network as well as U.S.
Central Command. With the war as the backdrop, Noujaim documents a telling
story of serious journalism that delivers a wake up call to a culture
that has abandoned news for infotainment.
Prior to the war, few Americans could name the most popular news network
in the Arab world. Since having learned its name from controversial footage
of Iraqi civilian casualties and American POWs, American criticism of
Al-Jazeera has been high. The U.S. government accused Al Jazeera of reporting
Iraqi propaganda at the same time Saddams regime warned that Al
Jazeera would be banned from broadcasting if they continued showing American
propaganda. Unlike the polemic Fahrenheit 911, Control Room
follows events as they unfold and allows viewers to draw their own conclusions.
The prominent characters in Control Room are articulate, independent
thinkers, and each displays some disarming incongruities. Samir Khader,
a senior producer, gets steamed over a Western expert guest, who espouses
a sympathetic Arab viewpoint, but is too obviously partisan.
Hes a nut! He has no credibility! Khader fumes.
Hassan Ibrahim, a Sudanese journalist, was a classmate of Osama Bin Laden
in Saudi Arabia, attended American universities and headed the BBC Arab
News service before joining Al-Jazeera. He vehemently and cynically opposes
the war, but expresses optimism for a good outcome. We witness an easy
kind-heartedness towards natural adversary Marine Lt. Josh Rushing who
is with the CentCom press office. Although at times embarrassingly naïve,
Rushings open-minded arguments with Al-Jazeera journalists provide
exceptional lessons in sincere discourse.
Some scenes are more salient now than when the film was made. It is impossible
not to cringe as President Bush announces, I expect our prisoners
to be treated humanely. Just like we treat theirs humanely. Donald
Rumsfeld insists that liars will be caught, and there is caustic
discussion about the concept of Shock and Awe. The tragic
and still unexplained killing of an Al-Jazeera journalist reporting from
an Iraq rooftop is a troubling symbol of this wars high degree of
The notion of objectivity in the media is a slippery one. The historic
embedding of journalists, the New York Times mea culpa over its
WMD coverage, the surge in distinctly partisan media outlets, along with
persistent media conglomeration, have eroded Americans confidence
in home-produced news. Control Room only reinforces that perception.
(Not Rated) Rating: 4; Posted 7/9/04
Reviewed by Uri Lessing
Every decade has a film that encourages young people to break free from
societys talons and rebel. Films like Rebel Without a Cause
in the 50s and Easy Rider in the 60s encouraged the
younger generation to look seriously at the older generation and question
their choices. The 70s brought One Flew Over the Cuckoos
Nest, a manifesto against institutions; in the 80s it was The
Breakfast Club and Ferris Buellers Day Off, not
the most brilliant films ever produced, but still examinations of how
teenagers are alienated by their environment. The 90s began with
a bang with the poorly named Pump Up the Volume, an interesting
and fierce film about injustice and dissatisfaction in the younger generation.
Now, as we enter the fifth year of this nameless decade, we are in desperate
need of a film that tells the young people of today that they do not need
to accept adults views of the world. One has to wonder if Sleepover
is as close as this new decade is going to get.
At first glance Sleepover looks like a bad episode of The
Babysitters Club. The film follows four girls celebrating
the last day of eighth grade with a slumber party. Things get serious
as a group of snooty girls challenge them to a scavenger hunt. When they
go to high school, the winner of the hunt gets to sit by a fountain for
lunch and losers have to eat by a dumpster. Make no mistake about it.
These four girls are rebels! Granted, they rebel in a rich-suburban-14-year-old-girl
sort of way. Still, during the course of Sleepover, they become
For the sake of the cool spot, the head adolescent Julie (Alexa
Vega) breaks so many rules she would have made Abby Hoffman proud. How
many 14-year-old girls do you know who would set up a blind date with
a grown-up over the Internet? (Yeah, I found this creepy too) During the
course of the evening Julie shares a drink with their 8th grade reading
teacher at an adult club, steals and drives an electric car, becomes a
voyeur by spying on a boy undressing, defaces a security car and causes
bodily injury to a security officer. She even reduced her college-aged
brother to a cross-dressing servant.
The spoils of their rebellion are plenty: Two of the girls end up with
boyfriends. Julie (in an ironic twist) ends up with a brand new locking
doorknob, and all four girls climb a rung in the social ladder. The adults
are oblivious to the chaos because they are either stupid or unmindful.
Most of the audience did not share my vision of Sleepover as a
call to rebellion. The young people in the audience giggled, and in contrast,
most of the adults looked like they wanted to be somewhere else. One performance,
however, cracked everyone up. Evan Peters as Russell, a crazy skateboarding
eighth grader, steals every scene he is in, and I hope we see more of
this charismatic kid.
Lets hope that a better, smarter, more rebellious film comes along
soon because Sleepover just doesnt belong in the same category
as Rebel Without a Cause. (PG) Rating: 2; Posted 7/9/04
Reviewed by Liz Sweeney
IMAX films are often both spectacular and hokey. Space Station
is no exception.
While the most exotic of all shooting locations provides a big Wow!
element, there is still evidence of cornball. The most entertaining filming
is done by astronauts showing scenes of mundane daily life and hamming
before the camera; at times its not far from a home movie.
Space Station feels like an educational field trip; the content
is simple, apolitical and palatable to general audiences. There is nothing
controversial here, which is not surprising given that Lockheed Martin
and NASA were the projects underwriters. The voice-over is provided
by a boyishly enthusiastic Tom Cruise, whose narration sometimes sounds
like a public relations exercise, and is often at odds with the remarkable
The International Space Station (ISS) is an orbiting research lab. It
represents the cooperation of sixteen countries, although we mostly see
only Russian and American efforts in the film. In one poignant sequence,
an astronaut comments on Earth viewed from space being unmarked by national
borders. We follow the progress of pieces being constructed and tested
in a variety of locations. We see astronauts in training using virtual
reality devices and deep-sea exercises that simulate weightlessness. We
see three rockets lift off spectacularly, and the vibrations rumble the
theatre seats. We see a jet pack in use, but its anticlimactic;
the shot is of barely discernable forward motion. We also see what sections
of the lab look like installed on the ISS, but theyre mostly tucked
away from sight and the details are sketchy. Any information about the
specifics of the experiments has been left out.
Still, seeing the images of the ISS is worth the ticket price. The stillness
of the station poised in the nothingness of space is eerie. In a case
of truth being stranger than fiction, the incredible visuals seem more
like a sci-fi film than a documentary. In the end though, it is the work
and daily life of astronauts in zero gravity that is the most compelling.
Its the stuff of childhood aspirations.
The International Space Station is actually only 220 miles above the Earth.
As British astronomer Sir Fred Hoyle once observed, Space isnt
remote at all. Its only an hours drive away if your car could
go straight upwards. (Not Rated) Rating: 3; Posted 7/9/04