Issue #09/90, May 11 - 25, 2000  smlogo.gif

Krazy Kevin's Kino Korner

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Put(t)in' on the Shitz

By Krazy Kino Kevin McElwee

Now that Russia has finally experienced "the first democratic transfer of power in its 1,000-year history," it is perhaps a fitting tribute to the newly official Vladimir Putin Presidency that Moscow’s cinemas currently offer the city’s viewers a greater diversity of inferior film than ever before–including everything from pure garbage universally recognized as such to some of the past year’s more absurdly overrated masterpieces of mediocrity. With so much new crap to sift through, I’ll be needing every ounce of trailer-interpreting strength I can muster–not to mention an unprecedented degree of restraint in the sphere of uncharacteristically sitting on one’s (that is, my) prose.

Meanwhile, as the hapless viewer, you will likely find your requirements to be rather less demanding: a waterproof receptacle slightly more capacious than usual (one permitting temporary sealing being a none-too-bad idea, either) owing to the greater probability of vomiting occurring in prolonged bouts, and maybe a double layer of diapering for any toddler and/or elderly dependents you may see fit to invite along. If ever there was a time to be a precognizant or senile moviegoer in Moscow–or simply one suffering from a coinciding lack of taste and overabundance of free time–it truly is the present.

Take Michael Mann’s THE INSIDER, for instance: although far from being entirely without merit, it does strike me as the kind of film best enjoyed by viewers whose vital bodily functions are terminally dependent on
life support (say what you will about the occasionally overpowering stench of urine they bring with them–I for one really appreciate these guys’ boundless self control when it comes to refraining from unnecessary fidgeting and asking inane questions like, "What did he just say?"). Most notably, although based on actual events surrounding a controversial and groundbreaking investigative report by the influential evening news program 60 Minutes, The Insider clocks in at a markedly sluggish 160 minutes.

It also doesn’t help that the bulk of these many minutes is devoted to rigorously demonstrating the startling thesis that Big Tobacco is pure E-V-I-L and (unlike other corporate sectors, apparently) will go to just about any length imaginable–such as filing frivolous lawsuits to discourage unfavorable press coverage or threatening potential whistleblowers with financial ruin, public disgrace, and even physical violence–in order to conceal its products’ less PR-friendly traits. As a purely personal matter, I especially dislike seeing such a disproportionate share of this semi-unwarranted blame heaped on Brown & Williamson, maker of "Kool" cigarettes, probably the single greatest brand name in the history of marketing.

Some other major problems, readily apparent without delving too deeply below the surface: (1) The inexplicable cult of Russell Crowe, now commonly touted as a "chameleon-like" actor simply for putting on extra weight and spectacles so as to resemble ex-Russian PM Sergei Stepashin (look for still more of the same sycophancy with the premiere next week of Ridley Scott’s Gladiator, featuring Crowe’s "Protean" return to tough-guy form). (2) Mann has simply appropriated many of the formal elements (everything from the structure and pacing on down to the hokey flourishes of the quasi-New Age score) from his much sillier, but ultimately more successful Heat, clumsily misapplying them to a completely different kind of story. (This is maybe not so surprising when you recall that Mann is best known as the creator of Miami Vice–the show that, in addition to championing heinous affronts to good taste like the no-sock, no-collar pastel-colored suit look and Don Johnson, provided a primetime TV outlet for the misplaced acting ambitions of baldie rockers such as Phil Collins and Glenn Frey in exchange for placement of their embarrassing late-period solo releases… which itself was a seminal early development in the now omnipotent cross-celebritization trend that would eventually lead to an unfortunate revival of the Fresh Prince’s floundering hip-hop career, practically all of Madonna’s awful film roles, and even those panel discussion shows like VH1’s The List where recycled sitcom hams such as Ted Danson sit around with their current costars deciding, say, who’s the greatest R&B singer ever, all in this supposedly democratic fashion that is no less oligarchic or farcical than the U.S. presidential elections). (3a) Hallie Kate Eisenberg. (3b) Diane Venora.

If for some reason you’re still set on seeing The Insider and need some reasons to justify the endeavor, I suppose there’s Al Pacino performing at damn-near his scenery-chewing best as 60 Minutes producer Lowell Bergman and Christopher Plummer’s startlingly convincing imitation of the iconic Mike Wallace. Unless you really are some dopey optimist, however, you should give serious thought to skipping this one.

A still worse (if not necessarily more pretentious) movie is GIRL, INTERRUPTED, the heavily Winona Ryder-backed adaptation of Susanna Kaysen’s memoir. Apparently aspiring to be a chick-flick version of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, this one’s actually more on the psychological level of Forrest Gump. And quite stupendously,
almost every one of the pre-adult asylum-dweller characters manages to be even less sympathetic than Sylvia Plath at her most obnoxiously pampered worst.

As for performances, everybody knows that Winona Ryder has been an empty husk of an ex-teen sensation at least since Reality Bites. Angelina Jolie may have the won best supporting actress Oscar for her portrayal of the waywardly charismatic Randle McMurphy type, but even her most lustful male fans will tell you the triumph was largely undeserved. As if that isn’t enough, Whoopi Goldberg is lurking about as the Nurse Ratched type–in this case, the slightly more touchy-feelie "Valerie."

The 2001-inspired MISSION TO MARS is, like 1998’s goofy Snake Eyes, yet another recent film by Brian De Palma that appears to have been released scarcely before editing had gotten under way. Thus, for every brief scene intimating the dazzling visual and dramatic flair of De Palma’s best work from the past, you get at least two or three others so incoherent as to defy plausibility.

Add to that a cast combining the uniquely annoying presences of Gary Sinise, Tim Robbins, and Don Cheadle. On any given day of shooting, each of these gentlemen is fully capable of single-handedly ruining just about any movie you could think to put him in. Sinise does it to you with a disconcertingly bland style of overacting, while Robbins at his worst tends toward the precise opposite–cloyingly earnest performances with unrealized pretensions of understated maturity. Cheadle, meanwhile, somehow manages to embody the two paradoxes simultaneously, a dubious accomplishment that’s not nearly as astonishing as the man’s implausible success in Hollywood. Teamed together in the same film (as futuristic astronauts, no less), the three constitute a dark thespian force that few directors could overcome.

Poor De Palma never had a chance. After all, he’ll be turning 60 years old in just a few months, and the overall impression of his past few films strongly suggests the initial stages of an age-related neurological breakdown. This is a lamentable development, to be sure, but sentimental hero-worship is still no reason to sit through crap like Mission to Mars.

I f the only thing you happen to notice about MICKEY BLUE EYES is the name of the director (Kelly Makin), you might make the connection with Kids in the Hall: Brain Candy and, therefore, become somewhat optimistic. You would be quite wrong, I’m afraid. A gimmicky Mafia comedy in the manner of Married to the Mob or The Freshman, Mickey Blue Eyes not only stars Hugh Grant as the unsuspecting outsider, but a number of scenes were even directed (on an uncredited basis) by Grant, along with some other guy named Carl Gottlieb who has written some of the worst films of the past two decades (look up his resume for yourself if you’re really clueless). James Caan is the token Godfather veteran who is made to spoof his signature role, which is more pointless than it is depressing.

Really, there’s only one piece of information you need to remember about Mickey Blue Eyes–it has led more than one critic to shower Analyze This with heaps of comparative praise.

B ut wait, it gets worse. Diane Keaton has directed a movie (not necessarily a bad thing in itself) called HANGING UP in which she, Meg Ryan (starting to get bad), and Friends’ Lisa Kudrow (getting much worse) star as a trio of sisters brought together by the impending death of their curmudgeonly father. But the really tough part to stomach is this: the film’s screenplay is by Nora Ephron and her sister Delia (the same team that produced the wholly evil Michael), based on Delia’s book, which in turn is based on the death of their (along with other sister Amy, who is also now trying her hand at screenplays) own father, Henry Ephron, who–you guessed it–was also a writer of goddamn screenplays, frequently working in tandem with wife (and the girls’ mother), Phoebe.

So there you have it: a fricking familial dynasty of Hollywood writers dating all the way back to 1944, and without so much as a single decent film in the bunch.

B ringing up the rear (which is really saying something, considering what comes above) is SCREAM 3, supposedly the final installment in Wes Craven’s post-modern teen-slasher series that I trust needs no introduction. The fairly clever original movie has yielded a pair of sequels whose ever-diminishing quality has successfully mimicked the typical path of sequels in the genre the series is supposedly parodying. Was this diminishing quality an intentionally crafted part of Scream’s meta-irony, or is it merely reflective of a lazy filmmaker resting on his laurels? But if the former is true, isn’t it just a preemptive cop-out?

More importantly, does anyone not currently "working on a screenplay" even care anymore? I certainly hope not.

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