March 12, 2004

Secret Window

Secret WindowStarring: Johnny Depp, John Turturro, Maria Bello, Charles S. Dutton, Timothy Hutton, Sweeney Todd, and Montreal as my hometown. Directed by David Koepp
MPAA says: PG-13 for violence/terror, sexual content and language
Running time: 97 minutes
Release date: March 12, 2004

It wriggles and contorts as it drags its way to an ending, and Johnny Depp pours everything he can into his character, but the film hasn't got a clue about being a mystery.

The critic didn't enjoy her outside food, and was cranky, and then misplaced her notes on this movie, and then decided it wasn't worth rewatching, in spite of Johnny Depp. Skip it. I wish I had.

Posted by OutsideFood at 01:52 PM | Comments (0)

March 11, 2004

Hidalgo revisited

Newsflash: Hidalgo not documentary!

Reviews and articles are popping up revealing the horror that Hidalgo, it turns out, is mostly fictional. An adventure movie, that is clearly just broadly drawn action and fantasy, made up its story! Shocked! I am shocked, I tell you!

I stand by my review.

Which film were these critics watching that they thought they were seeing pure historical fact? When was "make believe" outlawed at the movies? The insult seems to be not so much that Disney added a "based on a true story" tagline, but a terror of Arab culture. No matter how much actor Omar Sharif commends the film for giving him a role that is not "old Arab man," critics insist his character is stereotypically evil, that all the Bedouin characters are evil. Never mind that there are many different characters, no more or less stock than any of the non-Arab characters: "bad guy," "bad guy's faceless minions," "loyal guy," "arrogant guy who turns out to be quite nice," "wimpy guy," "besotted-by-love guy." Never mind that some of the most wicked characters are American and British. Never mind that the movie makes a point of clear references to, if not its literal source material, the source of its spirit—turn-of-the-century tall tales of Cowboys, far-off adventure, British explorers, Arabian princes. Has fantasy been outlawed... or only certain types of fantasy, that touches on touchy subjects?

I wonder: Could Raiders of the Lost Ark have been released in today's atmosphere?

Posted by OutsideFood at 01:44 PM | Comments (46)

March 10, 2004

From the Wardrobe

As threatened on Awards Night, I've put the Ngila Dickson costume for sale on ebay, auction starting tomorrow (Thursday March 11th). I think I'm finally over the sentimental attachment to it, and am trying not to develop a new ROTK-based attachment to having something so pretty that was created by the same designer. When I'm filthy rich (from writing film reviews, of course), I'll buy a pretty costume from The Lord of the Rings itself, and feel all better.

Posted by OutsideFood at 04:45 PM | Comments (1)

March 06, 2004

Starsky & Hutch

Everything Old is Old, Still

Starsky & Hutch posterStarsky & Hutch
starring: Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Snoop Dogg, Fred Williamson, Vince Vaughn, Juliette Lewis, Jason Bateman, Carmen Electra, Amy Smart (she of The Butterfly Effect), George Kee Cheung, polyester, curly perms, and platform shoes.
directed by: Todd Phillips; written by Phillips and a team of four other guys, based on characters created by William Blinn.
running time: 101 minutes
MPAA says: PG-13 for drug content, sexual situations, partial nudity, language and some violence.
release date: March 5, 2004

"You shouldn't do this because it's so incredibly lame!" says Hutch (Owen Wilson). He's commenting on a disco-dance competition, but he'd might as well be commenting on the movie.

Starsky (Ben Stiller), an uptight straight-arrow with chips on both his shoulders, is partnered for the first time with Hutch (Wilson), a playboy with loose ethics. They attempt to foil a drug kingpin (Vince Vaughn) with the help of superfly street boss Huggy Bear (Snoop Dogg). Ben Stiller screws up his face nice and tight to be Starsky and keeps it that way, even when he's presumably showing a sudden emotion, and Owen Wilson plays Owen Wilson. Snoop Dogg is resplendent in his funkadelic couture, which makes up for a lack of actual acting as he dutifully recites his lines. Vince Vaughn fits heart and soul into his polyester villain, and the supporting cast (Fred Williamson as the captain, Jason Bateman as the villain's sidekick) are alternately '70s strident and '70s bland; perfect fits. Will Ferrell, in a cameo, somehow makes an outrageous character brilliantly understated.

Full disclosure: I enjoyed Addams' Family Values and A Very Brady Sequel—and I'd never watched more than a couple of reruns of the original Brady series. I thought Zoolander was vile. This may help you calibrate when I say: this remake doesn't fly as well as Starsky's hill-leaping car.

It's not that Starsky & Hutch is a bad movie. It's such a perfect mimicry, in dialogue and plot and filming and incidental music, and in some cases acting style, and it has so little commentary within it that would not have been found in the original series, the movie is very nearly superfluous. You would have as much fun, and would get as many laughs at the expense of the '70s, simply watching the original show. All the '70s television creatures turn out, from the bland to the bizarre, from afro-wearing little latchkey kids in striped t-shirts to glossily painted cheerleaders to a cigarette in every hand. There's little new except a broadening of the characters and the addition of a few subtle jokes about New Coke and a few unsubtle, slapstick scenes that wouldn't have passed for original Starsky & Hutch. The problem, in fact, is that this movie has everything that makes the original amusing today along with everything that makes a '70s television episode a bit of a dull dud in places, while failing to spark any hint of chemistry between the leads—so it's lacking the one factor that might make it more than a brainless exercise in sitting still until the end credits roll.

The credits, by the way, briefly roll over a handful of bloopers and some mockups of well-known shots from the series.

That disco scene did accomplish one thing: Never before have I been so glad not to have been an adult during the '70s.

Hey! But what about subtext? For all that Wilson & Stiller are touted as a great comedy duo, they don't precisely sparkle together here. Anything worrisome has been safely separated out so that the lads are briefly the victims of someone else's peccadilloes; all appropriately embarrassing to the poor fellows. I hurt my eyes straining to see anything else in their stilted interaction but two guys doing shtick.

To See or Not to See: Watch the Nick at Nite or TVLand schedules for reruns of the original. It's bound to happen.

Astute Reader asks: What if I don't have cable, and I just want a laugh? My reply: I just didn't think it was funny enough to spend the money on and the time to sit through. It doesn't do much more than your average network sitcom can do, but if you're a fan of either of the leads, you might enjoy simply watching them on the screen. If you're a huge Starsky & Hutch fan you might want to see it just to compare. Otherwise, stay home and watch television, or spend your movie money on something else.

Outside Food: I saw this at the Alamo Drafthouse Village, where they serve such yummy inside food I actually get my vittles there. I had the Chicken Pesto, which was so much more interesting than the movie I sometimes forgot to pay attention to the screen, so enrapt was I in delicate strips of cheese layered over basil and succulent tomatoes. Ah!

Previews: Alamo Drafthouse showed previews for its upcoming anime screenings and two retro trailers: Fuzz, starring Burt Reynolds and Racquel Welch in a movie not too much different than the one we were there to see, and SuperFuzz, about a superhero cop. Both presumably meant to be humour, but it's hard to tell, in the '70s. Oh, and an announcement that the original Huggy Bear will be making an appearance at the Drafthouse later in the spring. Mindboggling.

Posted by OutsideFood at 07:24 PM | Comments (50)

March 05, 2004

Hidalgo

Hidalgo poster A Boy And His Horse

Hidalgo
starring: Viggo Mortensen, Omar Sharif, Zuleikha Robinson, Louise Lombard, Adam Alexi-Malle, Saïd Taghmaoui's pointy beard, Silas Carson's baffled expression, Harsh Nayyar, Floyd Red Crow Westerman, Peter Mensah as the Salah character, a little bit of C. Thomas Howell, and a dash of Malcolm McDowell. Oh, and T.J. the horse, of course.
directed by Joe Johnston. Written by John Fusco.
running time: 136 minutes
MPAA says: PG-13 for adventure violence and some mild innuendo.
Release date: March 5, 2004
Seen at: a Coke Products Theatre (The Regal Gateway 16 in Austin)

Hidalgo, based on the life of Frank T. Hopkins and starring Viggo Mortensen, may not be the movie you expect. It's a dime-novel, cowboy adventure with serial-movie action; there's romance and evil and conspiracies and betrayal, and quicksand. It's the world as seen through Buffalo Bill Cody's wild tales. But it is also a story about bloodlines and proud people and an ancient heritage of faith. Not necessarily the ones you may think it's about.

Don't expect Lawrence of Arabia. This movie makes no excuses for being filmed right through the wire-rimmed glasses of a late 19th century audience's desire for tales of exotic derring do, not so much Indiana Jones as Annie Oakley and a bit of Jules Verne. The film takes a risk in accepting a naive, stereotypical view of a world that never quite completely existed.

Be warned. Men fall. Horses die.

Horse People

I should admit, I was not one of those girls who was crazy over horses growing up. I did some riding as a kid and read all the requisite books (Black Beauty, A Horse Called Mystery, and so forth), but found horses only as interesting as any other animal (Born Free and Living Free did more for me). I must have more the pack/hunter mentality (wolves and dogs) than an understanding of and sympathy with the herd (yum, prey).

It's the desert, and the Bedouin culture, and, yes, Viggo Mortensen's long legs that made this movie a must-see on my opening-day calendar. Lawrence of Arabia is the inevitable comparison, and ranks high as one of my favourite films, and going in I expected something as cerebral from Hidalgo, something as cinematographically grand. Comparing it to that epic does Hidalgo a disservice. Once I let go of the false expectations, Hidalgo was very good—Raiders of the Lost Ark is another of my favourite movies (a near-perfect film, but we can argue that later). With Viggo's reputation for being a Thinking Man, my guess is critics were surprised to find him in an Indiana Jones movie. There is no deep examination here of the clash of European and African cultures, although the movie does have some interesting things to say about two similar cultures an ocean of sand and an ocean of sea apart. Hopkins' personality is as complexly layered as Indie's—which is to say, once you know a few details about him the sketch is complete. The ending made me sniffle, so it did something right.

Cast of Thousands (most with hooves)

The horse is a fine animal-actor, but its main contribution is to mug the camera from the same angle with the same horsey expression too many times (blame the director). I wouldn't say it carries the film, but it's nice to watch it run. It's a lovely horse: small and solid and individual. The Bedouin characters are mostly caricatures, like everyone else in the film: the noble guy, the weasel, the hapless guy with the look of perpetual fretfulness, the spunky girl, the villain with the hidden heart of gold; all of them stepped right out of a 19th-century engraving, and some of them with their own caricatured mental image of the cowboy. The British characters—Major Davenport and his young, beautiful, neglected wife Lady Anne (Malcolm McDowell in a sliver of a role and Louise Lombard), an encampment of soldiers guarding a well—have about as much depth as the real Frank Hopkins might have managed to give them while telling the story over drinks at a card table. But the costumes are sumptuous and the sets have just the right mood and just enough detail to pack the adventure around. The screen is edge-to-edge handsome men posing grandly and, as mentioned, the spunky girl (Zuleikha Robinson).

Our intro to Hopkins shows that he has run and won races before against effete stuffed-shirts on fancy horses, and that you can say anything you'd like about him, but don't insult his horse. After delivering the dispatch with orders that bring about the slaughter at Wounded Knee in December 1890, he slides into drinking and despair. We learn that his mother was Sioux, and her name for him was Blue Child; his name as an adult is Far Rider. Hopkins is as much a mustang as his horse, as much from a mixed line. He recognises the strength of this in Hidalgo, but in himself he finds it a weakness, something to be hidden.

Floyd Red Crow Westerman is Chief Eagle Horn, reduced to parody and caricature in the wild west show—idealised but reviled; the audience pelts him with food as he dutifully performs his act, and he humbles himself to bargain for help for his tribe from Buffalo Bill. The horse culture of the plains is disappearing; the wild mustangs have been herded up and will be destroyed because the Sioux cannot pay the exorbitant price on their heads demanded by the government. Hopkins does a lackluster job of translating and presenting the case—he has already given up. The representative (Adam Alexi-Malle) of Sheikh Riyadh (Omar Sharif) of the Bedouin, who claims to have the greatest long-distance endurance horse in the world, sees Hopkins' own less than spectacular horse act. Buffalo Bill's claims that this impure animal is the world's greatest endurance runner are clearly an insult. Either remove the title, or raise the stakes to enter the race to Damascus across the Ocean of Fire. Cody sees the potential for profit in the winner's prize. Hopkins sees himself and his horse as too tired and washed-up. Chief Eagle Horn and Annie Oakley and assorted friends from the show see one more race in both man and horse, and put up the stakes for him.

I could go on detailing the movie's plot, but it would take some time. It's as picaresque as those serials, flying from one improbable adventure to the next, one romance to another, one stretch of impossible desert to another even more bleak and treacherous until you wonder how anyone at all can survive the crossing. The accompanying musical score is sweeping fun, easily forgettable but great while it lasts.

As stirring as the race is, as noble the dedication of human to equine and equine to human, it makes me a bit sad to think of people running that punishing, survival-of-the-fittest race for a thousand years. I've heard one reference now that much of the story is apocryphal. Sorting which details are true, which false, would only detract from the wild west tall-tale genre. It's fluff without being dumb, with all sorts of adventure and derring do and horses and fights and special effects storms and horses and romance and horses, and, toward the end of the race, a personal, private victory for the hero that may be too easy for critics to dismiss as "hokey." Oddly, overexposure to the dominant culture, the same tropes repeated again and again, is never considered hokey; yet references to a culture that has been used to provide romanticised entertainment will make some critics cringe. I'll leave out the details of the scene so you can decide on that for yourself, but it hinges on the two nomad cultures. There's a deeper, underlying meaning running here and through the entire film, as steadily and thunderously as a herd of wild horses. This part of the story remains in the mind long after the fun flick is over.

Neigh or Yay!: Horses, Viggo, adventure, bad guys, action, and massive dust storms make for a good Saturday afternoon. Bring extra water.

Outside Food: Hummous, tabbouleh, and warm pita bread from the Phoenicia Bakery, and extra Orangina for my horse.

Previews: A great amount—wait, correction for clarity: a large amount of product commercials and previews, most of them the same boring adverts from television, easy to ignore (if I weren't writing them all down) and nothing great about them. A misplaced Cat in the Hat kiddie featurette on how stamps are made narrated by the child actors with clips of Mike Myers and an advert for the DVD; an Army promo; a man gruesomely pinching himself raw over a Chevy truck; weird lawyers eating Eclipse mints; USA Network and TNT boosting series (my beloved Law & Order at forty feet high is still just the same old television commerical—how about something original for the cinema, folks?); Twix (no doubt available at the concession stand); the Coke ad with the possibly bulimic woman; and a Coke spot with the NASCAR guys still getting the most out of their popularity. Of course, the racers are plastered with all sorts of advertisements for other products. It's surreal; the Coke isn't even all that prominent, and the ad might as well be for the Home Depot.

Next a long delay before the actual previews. I'm famished. The house lights prevent my noshing. Can't tell if that low-bass rumble is from the next theatre or my empty stomach complaining.

The trailer for Disney's animated Home on the Range is, weirdly, the only PG-rated preview in the bunch. A happy Animal Farm collective are trying to avoid being sold off to a mega-rancher, who is no doubt intent on eating them in spite of their ability to sing and dance. Coming April 2.

Mean Girls: Lindsey Lohan as a kid moving from African homeschooling to a US public school, where she is invited to join the Heathers—er, the Plastics. In-fighting, sniping, life as usual for a perfect pretty girl pretending to be average.

Walking Tall: Inspired by a movie inspired by a true story. This time it stars the Rock, becoming an increasingly more polished actor as a war hero returning home to clean up his corrupt hometown and hit people and blow things up.

The Day After Tomorrow: Eerie flocks of birds fleeing in sky-blackening hordes. Freaked-out zoo animals. Polar ice caps melting, temperature inversion, tsunamis, and the government typically ignoring the danger until it's Too Late. Oh, and, based on the trailer, a cast as pale as the snow burying New York City, plus possibly one black homeless guy who may or may not get killed in an early scene. This is from Twentieth Century Fox and the creators of Independence Day, so expect huginormous special effects.

Around the World in 80 Days: Jackie Chan! Jackie Chan! That outbalances even a Disneyfication of a story. Phileas Fogg is somewhat less sinister than the original, a hapless inventor learning to find his courage. Jackie Chan gets to fight. And I may be hallucinating, but I think I saw the governor of California in a long curly wig.

Posted by OutsideFood at 04:23 PM | Comments (0)