Attentive readers of the Kino Korner know just how seriously I take my duty to inspect the cinematic garbage that Hollywood seems fit to export to our little neck of the global community, but there are some movies (animated features from Disney and/or Don Bluth, for example) that I simply cannot commune with if I am to maintain any semblance of sanity. A Thousand Acres is such a movie. It would perhaps be sufficient to state that the director is someone named Jocelyn Morehouse, whose sparse list of previous credits includes something about making an American quilt. And that's just the beginning.A Thousand Acres also happens to be based on a Jane Smiley novel that is a hokey, present-day adaptation of Shakespeare's King Lear. If ever there was a name more alarming than "Jocelyn Morehouse," it is "Jane Smiley," a diabolical moniker that approaches "Will Self" levels of mawkish bad taste. But while Mr. Self is at least a part-time heroin addict, which necessarily limits his middlebrow cultural appeal, Ms. Smiley is wholesome enough to be catalogued as a "genius" [!] by illiterate film critics who own extensive libraries of unexamined contemporary literary fiction. Moreover, Smiley's "genius" is apparently so imposing that these same critics, without exception, refer to Morehouse's film as a faulty reworking that pales in comparison to the source novel. As for me, I prefer to blame the presumed failure of Morehouse's ill-advised adaptation of what itself must certainly be an ill-advised
If all that still isn't enough to scare you off, know this: the trio of feuding sisters is played by Jessica Lange, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Jennifer Jason Leigh. I can barely remember the last time even one of those tarts was in a movie that didn't suck (Fast Times at Ridgemont High, probably), let alone all three of them at the same time. Keith Carradine even gets to tag along, in what must be his biggest break since Madonna's "Material Girl" video. Do yourselves a favor and steer clear, folks. Your intestines will thank you.
I thought that by simply skipping A Thousand Acres in its entirety I would have cleverly avoided most of the potential psychic discomfort this time around. Boy was I wrong--because The Siege is now playing. This is a
But this isn't the only new ground broken in The Siege, not by a long shot. For one thing, the movie takes anti-towelhead propaganda to previously unseen limits, going so far as to characterize Islam and its prayer rituals--via transparently manipulative viewpoint and an ominous quasi-Arabic musical score--as inherently evil and anti-American, which in this day and age in Hollywood is basically the same goddam thing. Take the early scene in which the camera zooms out from a tight shot of an old bearded Muslim chanting atop a minaret to reveal that--holy shit!--the sneaky bastard is uttering his Christian-baby-blood-drinking mantras deep in the heart of Brooklyn! Who let that mosque past immigration anyway?
Lack of respect for one of the world's most practiced religions aside, this movie does perform something of a useful public service in its way. On the one hand, it helps to remind those Arabs who would be appalled by its underlying message that Americans can never be trusted under any circumstances. Meanwhile,
And neither can Denzel Washington, who in less than a decade has gone from being "the most promising black actor of his generation" to just another schmuck who never gets offered any good roles and so will be forced to play out his career in one professionally made but pointless film after another. For instance, if for some reason The Firm were remade today with a black lead, you can bet your ass that Denzel would play the Tom Cruise part. I don't know, maybe it was one Spike Lee joint too many. Whatever the reasons behind his fall, Denzel is now the kind of actor who play characters that have pictures of US Attorney General Janet Reno hanging in their offices. This may not be as bad as Madeline Albright, but it's damn close.
There were plenty of other things about this movie that I found objectionable. For example: The apparent successful continuation of the movie career of that dippy ethnic cab-driver fellow from "Wings." The mysterious skinny FBI agent who's always calling Denzel with confidential information is named after the leading manufacturer of tremolos for electric guitars, Floyd Rose. (I'm not sure why this is a bad thing; it just is.) The CIA's Palestinian informant; I had numerous problems with this guy. (1) He wears one of those disgusting little chin beards. (2) His presumably CIA-funded apartment in Brooklyn has an outrageous view and is even larger than that place on "Friends." (3) He appears to be physically attracted to the hideous, leather-faced Annette Bening, who is doubly detestable for being a washed-up idealistic Middle East expat who likes to muse aloud about all the Arabs she boned back in the day. (4) I'm no weed propagandist, but the scene in which he is passed a joint but never quite smokes the thing before the camera was beyond lame.
Needless to say, the movie was also patently ludicrous and made no fucking sense--which would be irrelevant criticism were it not for the above complaints and if the thing was at all entertaining. Unfortunately, The Siege was just about the most unpleasant two hours I've ever spent in a movie theater, so the gaping plot holes were like the antimatter icing on what turned out to be a thoroughly revolting cake. None of this should come as a surprise when you consider that director Edward Zwick is the fellow who was responsible for Legends of the Fall.
Nevertheless, there is a certain undeniable charm about a movie that shows this many whiny Americans (including Annette Bening) being murdered in such painful, psychologically unsettling ways. I think perhaps a 10-minute Greatest Skills version showing only the gruesome death sequences (windbreakered senior citizens on exploding bus, uppity armless theatergoers, etc.) is in order.
Our last feature this time around is a complete throwaway of a movie, but at least there's nothing particularly disgusting about it. A thoroughly generic hybrid of Hong Kong action slapstick and just about every major LA cop-n-buddy flick of the last decade or so (Beverly Hills Cop, Lethal Weapon, etc.), Rush Hour has Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker forging a reluctant partnership to resolve whatever recycled plot conflict the overworked screenwriters managed to come up with (something to do with the Chinese consul's daughters being kidnapped by Hong Kong gangsters, I think). Along the way, Chan and Tucker find they have a great deal more in common than they would have guessed at first, each learns some valuable lessons from the other, and the rest pretty much writes itself. Tucker cracks wise and has some annoying dance routines, while Chan does that thing where he's always kicking the gun away from the bad guy but never managing to pick it up himself. It's all enjoyable and inoffensive enough for what it is, as long as nobody tries to hard to do any serious acting. It's also fun to see the thoroughly unpleasant British villain guy die at the end.