The Score

The basic plot is simple: Nick (Robert De Niro) is an aging thief who wants to get out of the business, but his longtime fence, Max (Marlon Brando), leans on him, convincing him to do one last job – steal a scepter worth $30 million dollars. The problemr Nick must work with Jack (Edward Norton), a young thief who’s “undercover” as a janitor in the building where the scepter is being stored. Complications ensue, and the characters clash. There’s not much in the way of surprises along the way – the thieves have to acquire computer codes, which turns into an elaborate exchange in a public place, and of course, there’s an obligatory and predictable double-cross at the end.

Where I think the movie succeeds is that it creates tension effectively without an excess of danger or violence. No one dies in the film. A couple of folks get beaten up, and a gun is fired 2 or 3 times (as warning shots). There’s an explosion to blow a safe open, and that’s about it for “action.” The tension comes from the presence of the actors, and that’s an impressive feat. De Niro does his now well-worn “aging tough guy” shtick, but no one really does it better, and his chemistry drives the whole film. Norton’s character, unfortunately, is little more than a variation on his (admittedly excellent) work in “Primal Fear.” As part of his “undercover” work, he pretends to be mentally handicapped, and he shifts back and forth between that and his “true” personality effortlessly.

Although De Niro and Norton are strong performers, they dominate the movie to such a degree that other actors don’t make much of an impression. Brando has little more to do than sit there and nod as De Niro delivers his several “but the kid’s a loose cannon!” type speeches, although he gets some nice digs in. Truly wasted is Angela Bassett, as De Niro’s girlfriend, who wants him to get out of the “business.” She shows up in about 4 scenes in the entire film, and I kept waiting for something to happen with her, but nothing does. In fact, none of the supporting performers (except one actor who plays a computer hacker) make any permanent impression whatsoever.

Finally, I want to briefly address the thing that scared me most going in. The film is directed by Frank Oz, whose filmography consists mostly of very good, but very light comedies. As dark as he’s gotten is “Dark Crystal” and “Little Shop of Horrors.” He pulls the film off with admirable aplomb, especially considering how dark the film is (lots of it takes places in sewers, basements, and dark hallways.) I hope this is his first step toward branching out as a filmmaker.

To sum up: “The Score” is a decent flick – not a spectacular one, but it’s nonetheless worth seeing, and it’s certainly a pleasant respite from a movie season that’s (at least thus far) been far more about big movies with flashy explosions and cool special effects than it has been about smaller films with strong performances from great actors.

Rating: B
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Stanley Kubrick’s Napoleon

Having seen the masterpiece that is “AI,” I went inquiring for other un-produced works by my favorite Director Stanley Kubrick. I had heard some time ago that Mr. Kubrick had planned to make a film based on the life of Napoleon. The project, as many of his did, had consumed him for years on end before he was forced to abandon it. Contacting some friends with vast resources, I landed my nicotine stained hands on a copy of a screenplay of “Napoleon” authored by Stanley Kubrick. The script was once located on the Internet but is no longer available at the request of the Kubrick family.

The script, dated September 29, 1969, runs 148 pages and follows the life of General Napoleon Bonaparte. Kubrick credits nearly 500 books on the life of the general as his historical education. Kubrick’s touches are all over the script. It is certainly the grandest project he ever took on. The large production costs the film might have incurred are the main reason the studios shut it down. A number of large battle sequences are elegantly described and detailed. My film loving heart wonders what kind combat sequences he would have painted. Certainly, it would have looked nothing like “The Patriot,” coming from the same general period. The meat of the script is in the relationship between Napoleon and his wife Josephine. I felt a felting glance of the kind of interrelationship tangle Kubrick later wove into “Eyes Wide Shut.” The scenes involving the two are well written and reveal the heart of Napoleon’s character.

Kubrick’s artistic touch is seen throughout the scripts. Along with the grandiose battle scenes, Kubrick seems to be dreaming of great sets to shoot as he writes his script. There is an intoxicating bedroom design of Josephine’s that consists of a bedroom entirely covered in mirrors. Kubrick stages a number of love scenes in here and in one case adds a very Kubrickian note at the end of one: MAXIMUM EROTICA.

Kubrick’s talent was not in the writing department for most of his career. He often worked tirelessly with co-writers, exchanging drafts, rewrites and ideas. This script bears only his name and shows it in many places. The dialogue is often very weak and Napoleon’s rise to fame is accomplished too swiftly. This leads to a very slow and confusing start to the film as characters and quick set pieces dance in and out of the script. Yet, by the beginning of the films 2nd act I was engaged. Napoleon’s letters to his wife were the main cause of this. It is here that we really begin to learn about the man who is so successful on the battlefield.

However it is the strength of Kubrick’s visualizations that really caught my attention. His detail of battle strategies and there executions are flawless.

At the script’s conclusion Kubrick has provided seven pages of detailed production notes. They include some interesting tidbits: his intention to shoot 1.3 minutes of film per day, over a half a year in five different countries. Kubrick’s attention to detail can be seen as he takes extra care to describe the various uniforms of the many armies in the film. He apparently went as far as to meet with representatives from Romania and Italy to discuss using their military as extras. He also details firms in New York that can produce uniforms for the movie at a reduced price, since he does not see the logic in renting uniforms for such an extended shoot. (The studio must have loved this).

As for the all-important casting of the title role, Kubrick plainly states he would not like to see a leading Hollywood star play the role. He states:, “I want an actor between 20-35 who has the good looks of the younger Napoleon and who can be aged and made up to look like the older Napoleon. He should be able to convey the restless energy, the callousness, the inflexible will… also (his) tremendous charm.”

All this reveals the extreme care Kubrick took to this project. At the end of the script is detailed a number of steps he took in pre-production. It appears the film was very close to actually going to the full production stage. Everything from the lenses he needed to the films Art Director seem to be in place according to the Production Notes. So what happenedr

Since Kubrick led a very withdrawn life not much is known about him and his projects. We do know however that he went on to film “A Clockwork Orange” in 1970 and release the acclaimed film in 1971. So somewhere in-between the dating of the screenplay, September 1969, and soon there after his interests changed. What he did produce consequently can certainly raise few objections. (Editor’s note: Michel Ciment’s long out of print 1980 book Kubrick goes into some detail about a number of aborted Kubrick projects, including details from several interviews Ciment had with Kubrick which are printed in the book. I had to spend a pretty penny to acquire a copy for my own collection.)

The details that are available make the case plain; the vast production which Napoleon would have become simply hobbled the project. Yet, Kubrick never gave it up, continuing on planning to make the film until the time of his death. Napoleon was Kubrick’s hero and he never let die his desire to produce the film. He was one who could not live with failure and the non-production of “Napoleon” has gone down as one of the great tragedies of cinematic history.

I have learned however that Warner Brothers is planning to produce the film based on Kubrick’s script. Details are sketchy and no director has been announced yet. However the Internet is a vast and wonderful place and I have learned of rumors that Ridley Scott is interested in the script. Almost no details exist yet to confirm or deny this rumor, but it certainly is an interesting one.

It is apparent however that Warner Brothers is moving ahead with production on Napoleon and a number of other Kubrick projects including “The Aryan Papers” and Foucault’s “Pendulum.” The success of “AI” and the intense interest in Kubrick are obvious reasons for this. However part of me wishes to see Kubrick’s work remain as is, a piece of tragic forgotten majesty scrawled on paper. Then again if there anything as chilling and marvelous as “AI,” I might give that a second thought.

Ridley Scott doing Kubrick… oh, man. I don’t know if the masses would be able to handle that. I know it’s something I would rush out to see. “Napoleon” needs a fearless filmmaker, and in my humble opinion, Ridley Scott is the only current filmmaker who could pull it off with any modicum of success.

The ever elusive Mr. X wanted to add something into the mix about the Napoleon story. How hot has this project becomer Ridley Scott isn’t the only one taking a long hard look. Seems none other than Brian DePalma sees this to be the one film which can get his moribund career back on track after twenty years of crap, and may be trying to buy the rights to the screenplay directly from the Kubrick family.

That is just so wrong.

Rating: A
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Scary Movie 2

With seven writers attached to this screenplay, you would seriously hope they could come up with something funny… and they did. From ripping off movies to TV shows and commercials, to just about everything else, you’d think they would eventually run out of material; nope. Okay, so I admit there were some parts I didn’t understand. Then there were also parts that simply weren’t funny at all. Either because they tried too hard for the joke, or the bit was just played out.

For example: Chris Elliott’s character proceeds to screw a turkey. Now, we all obviously know where that’s from. In another part, two characters race around in wheelchairs similar to the motorcycle scene from “MI:2.” Boring. On a happier note, rip offs which I thought were great were the Nike basketball commercial and the whole intro to the movie using “The Exorcist.” James Woods is just brilliant.

All in all, you want some laughs, you want to have a good time, you want to see most of the world made fun of, check out “Scary Movie 2.” Even being the poor white boy I am I still laughed throughout the whole thing.

Rating: A-
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A.I.

The beginning wasn’t so bad. In fact, it was probably the best part. Telling the story about AI robots and what they are about. AI robots don’t feel love. So David is created. The first AI child who can love. A family who is losing their son to some disease becomes the first test parents for David. As luck would have it, their real son’s disease magically goes away and he comes back home. David and the real son soon start a sibling rivalry. The mother then freaks out (for some unknown reason) cause she can’t handle the AI robot. She takes him out to the woods and leaves him. Nice.

The next two hours of the movie is David searching for the Blue Fairy from the fairy tale Pinocchio. He believes the story is real and that the Blue Fairy can make him into a real boy so his adoptive parents will love him. It’s fairly boring, with the exception for Jude Law’s character; an robot male gigolo. Although I didn’t like his character and thought it didn’t fit well with the rest of the movie, he gave a good performance.

Near the end David finds out the secret behind his creation in that he was simply a test robot for a new product. They are mass producing other David’s, as well as a female counterpart, for parents who are unable to have children of their own. David then freaks out and now is on an even stronger mission to find the Blue Fairy.

Something stupid ends up happening and we find out the entire thing was planned by aliens eons ago. Wait, did I miss something herer What the hell do aliens have to do with this movier Spielberg really pissed me off with this one. Having to dig up the aliens once more. That’s it. I’m done. Movies that have nothing to do with aliens that suddenly become movies that have to do with aliens piss me off.

Rating: D-
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The Princess and the Warrior

Sissi (Franka Potente) was developed well until a rather unusual situation regarding her “pleasuring” a patient at the mental ward made me somewhat noxious. This situation was even more revolting after certain facts became apparent later in the film. After that point she seemed to be a rather weak figure that I quickly lost interest in. She is continually drawn to Bodo (Benno Furmann) after he saves her life, even though he is abusive towards her after their initial encounter.

The initial lifesaving measure made by Bodo was rather coincidental. He is running from store employees who are giving chasing him, and suddenly he decides to hide under a truck in the middle of the road.This just happens to be the truck that Sissi was hit by and was underneath, why on earth would someone hide under a vehicle in the middle of the roadr Hiding under a potential moving vehicle is hardly a good idea. Even if he had noticed that it wasn’t going to be moving, why go under a vehicle that everyone is staring at if you are trying to elude your chasers.

“The Princess and the Warrior” reeked of coincidences, which were used over and over to tie up nearly every loose end. When used properly an occasional coincidence can add a great deal of intrigue and interest to the story, but when overused like they were in this movie it gets very old.

Perhaps if this movie had been directed by a slimy fuck like Rob Cohen, it could be seen as an accomplishment for the filmmaker. But Cohen didn’t direct it. Tom Tykwer did, and after his work in “Run Lola Run,” this is a disappointment. It was unable to hold my interest, and I found myself wishing for it to end sooner than later.

Rating: D
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The Fast and the Furious

I mean, how many times have we seen the old ‘undercover cop comes to like the guy he’s gotta bring in’ storyr Not only that, but “The Fast & The Furious” brings absolutely nothing new to that story. Except maybe flashier cars that go a hell of a lot faster than in the other films.

As for the acting, let’s just say there are no Oscar contenders here. But then, everybody knows that anyway! Vin Diesel does a great job of the tough but likeable bad guy role, while Michelle Rodriguez & Jordana Brewster both do decent jobs (despite having such flat characters) as Vin’s girlfriend and sister, respectively. On the other side of the coin, however, we have Paul Walker – a seeming graduate of the Keanu Reeve’s school of acting, or as I like to call it – sufficient lack of talent. I found his scenes to be almost painful to watch, particularly when Vin wasn’t there to save the day.

All in all “The Fast & The Furious” is what you make it. For some it will be an enjoyable action movie with fast cars, while for others it will be a mind-numbing exercise in stupidity. Just make sure you gauge it wisely. A great reference would be “Gone In 60 Seconds,” if you liked it, you should like “The Fast & The Furious,” if you don’t like it, well then definitely don’t lay you’re money down for this.

Prognosis: matinee or second run theater.

Rating: C-
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