BMW’S ”The Hire” Series

Episode One: Ambush
Director: John Frankenheimer

Much like the first episode of Twilight Zone: The Movie, this installment sucks. I’m a big Frankenheimer fan, and I’m just a little too aware that John, like many directors from the old school, is much more concerned with the actual mechanics of directing than any of the complete filmmaking protocols. The fatal flaw of all short films is that you only have a few short moments of exposition before you must fast-forward into a full-blown climax and resolution. Ambush’s concept is simple: dudes in ski masks try and hijack the BMW, and in the process, snaking 2 million dollars of diamonds from the passenger. Of course, it’s not that simple. “Ambush” starts right in the middle, with no real beginning, and disappoints with a sloppy climax and a completely dull ending. The car chase work in this segment is lackluster, mainly due to static camera blocking and lack of rocket launchers (see Frankenheimer’s “Ronin”). Additionally, I am a big, big believer in scoring/sound mixing, and this piece’s lack of proper music and timing just blows it for me. I’ll give a few bonus points for Thomas Seigel’s pretty night photography, too, but ultimately, the segment fails because Frankenheimer forgets that this is a short film… rather, he’s just making a five-minute motion picture, and it doesn’t come through.

GRADE: C

Episode Two: Chosen
Director: Ang Lee

Ang Lee is a master of vision, and often, execution. Directing for any medium to be recorded and edited, in and of itself, requires a mastery of dozens of different skills, including management, motivation, technical expertise, etc. etc. In the process, sometimes a director can lose track of the hats that he is wearing. Lee forgets here that there is more to a short than the vision, and as a result, the flow of this piece is somewhat damaged. Chosen depicts our faithful driver transporting a young boy to safety, but as with any piece of storytelling, there is a hurdle to overcome. Here, faceless bad guys chase down the boy for no apparent reason. Instead of going action-sequencey with it, though, Lee borrows a page from countryman John Woo (Editor’s Note: Ang is Taiwanese, while Woo is Chinese, so technically they aren’t countrymen per se, dearest Savant.), and shows a car-chase-ballet set to a classical score. Most amusing. In the end, there’s a nice weird twist, but the goddamn thing just isn’t believable. Once more, we are watching a short film, not a five-minute motion picture.

GRADE: B-

Episode Three: The Follow
Director: Wong Kar-Wai (aka WKW)

I haven’t seen any of Wong Kar-Wai’s shit, but based on the air that surrounds his name, I’m going to assure he’s pretty good. His segment, The Follow, boasts some of the nicest cinematography, atmosphere, and general setting and tone of this series. What’s it aboutr I’m not really sure. Our driver gets to follow some georgeous chick in a BMW, watching her every move. The cast is nice in this one, too, boasting Forrest Whitaker and Mickey Rourke, but the story is artsy and convoluted. The images and mood set by WKW are the real star of this piece, with no small thanks to DP Harris Savides (Fincher’s The Game). Some of the shots linger a bit too long, and again, where’s the storyr It’s there, but only if you look, and the whole point of good cinema is that you shouldn’t have to look, unless there’s more beneath the surface. That statement, dear friends, requires a surface to begin with.

GRADE: B

Episode Four: Star
Director: Guy Ritchie

Okay, Guy Ritchie is married to Madonna, who takes the spotlight in this piece. It’s good to see that both of them have a great sense of humor. Ritchie is an obviously talented director, and noting that I haven’t been the biggest fan of his work in the past, I will be grading him harder because he comes from a background in commercial and music-video-style directing. He knows this ground, he knows how to make a short film. (Aren’t commercials exactly thatr) With that tougher grading curve in mind, Ritchie’s Star still passes with flying colors, and is easily the best (and most fun) of the four shorts reviewed here. Madonna plays the unnamed Star, who is compared in the opening sequences to a famous part of the female anatomy. Unbeknownst (is that a wordr) to her, she’s about to go on the ride of her life, as our driver appears to have inhaled a little too much nitrous for this segment. The effects work is amazing (although obvious if you know how it’s done) and the choice of camera angles and soundtrack is utterly perfect… do note that I’ve been pissed at (this) Guy before because he has a tendency to overdo it, but he’s actually somewhat… restrained… if such things are possible. This segment is fast, funny, and most importantly, complete. It’s a true short film and it’s fucking hilarious.

GRADE: A

Once again, I would like to issue my challenge to that pussy David Fincher to let me put my talents up against these washed up pansy fucks. I can do this shit much better at a tenth the cost. You up to my challenge, Daveyr I doubt it, because you know I would OWN YOUR BASEBALL CAP AND DOWN JACKET WEARING PUNK ASS!!! Fuck you!

Rating: B
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Sexy Beast

So far the Summer Movie Season of 2001 has been abysmal. I mean truly awful. Putrid. Abhorrent. Wretched. Instead of the multiplex, I go to the zoo because the monkey shit there makes my eyes sting less than the crap Hollywood dumps on us each weekend. No, I didn’t see “Pearl Harbor.” I didn’t see “Tomb Raider” or “Swordfish.” (Editor’s Note: Sadly, I did see Swordfish. Pray that Dominic Sena is never allowed to expose another frame of celluloid again.) I didn’t because I am of the opinion that when one pays nine bucks to an exhibitor (pronounced: extortionist) one should get something in return. Something more interesting than a brief silhouette of one of Angie’s tats, or two seconds of Halle’s tats, or three goddamn hours of Josh Hartnett’s tats. Jesus Christ, when I want soft core I’ll go to victoriasecret.com. And when I want an engaging emotional experience I usually end in front of the monkey cage at the zoo. But I prefer going to the movies because the popcorn is better.

So my interest was piqued when I heard those mouth-breathing pansies on National Public Radio exclaiming the virtues of “Sexy Beast.” Ray Winstone is great, they said. Ben Kingsley is a revelation. The movie has a solid script backed up by witty directorial touches. Finally a movie that aims for all three organs: the brain, heart and dick. While “Sexy Beast” doesn’t score the hat trick, it does go two for three which isn’t just laudable in this day and age–it’s fucking miraculous. Kingsley plays a guy named Don Logan who I swore was based on my mother. He’s short, mean and says “cunt” a lot. But then I saw Benny do something not even dear old mom could do. He sits completely still, but appears to be in motion. How the hell does he do thatr Sitting in a chair, just looking at somebody and you’d swear he’s going a 100mph. That’s how much energy Kingsley brings to the role. He’ll never be thought of as just Gandhi again and if he doesn’t get a Best Supporting Actor nomination well, that should be the final straw to shut up those fuckwits who still think the Oscars mean anything. Did I say Best Supporting Actorr Oh, yeah, that’s because this movie is Ray Winstone’s. He plays a big, fat retired gangster named Gal who’s enjoying his Spanish villa and ex-porn star wife. He spends most of his days sunning himself near his beloved pool and icing down his balls. Gal’s life is disrupted when Don comes to town to recruit Gal to assist him a safe deposit heist. Gal insists that he is retired, but Don won’t take “no” for an answer. After this movie, Winstone will never be thought of as bastard patriarch from “The War Zone.” He’s like a teddy bear: cuddly, shy and decent. There is more passion and love in the relationship between him and his wife than in a career of J Lo movies and Winstone accomplishes this with one single line reading.

Now, “Sexy Beast” is gong to get compared to the work of Guy Ritchie because it has a bunch of colorful and occasionally funny British-speaking criminals doing colorful occasionally funny British crimes under colorful occasionally funny camera work. There’s one big, big difference, though. Jonathan Glaser, the director of “Sexy Beast,” plays for keeps. His characters aren’t cartoons. They have unfulfilled dreams, emotional wants. They go on journeys and by film’s end are different human beings. The violence in the movie matters. It has consequences. When someone gets shot with a shotgun you see it and it hurts. For these reasons alone “Sexy Beast” is superior to “Snatch” or “LS&2SB.”

Not to say “Sexy Beast” is perfect, however. It only runs 90 minutes, but it’s a long 90 minutes. Mostly because there’s a lot of screen time devoted to the actors looking out just off camera. The clever comedy and stylistic fireworks are few and far between and the last third of the movie (the heist and its aftermath) doesn’t hold very much suspense nor make a lot of sense. In the end “Sexy Beast” engages the soul and mind, but lacks the bells and whistles to service the cock. Maybe tats do count for something. But that’s okay. It was well worth the $5 I handed over to the extortionists. Only one movie in the last six months has been a ten-spot and that’s “Memento.” And if you haven’t seen that yet then, seriously, what the fuck are you doing reading thisr

Rating: B+
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O

To do a plot recap, which you should all know anyway since it’s fucking Shakespeare, Odin (Mikhi Phifer) is the star basketball player for his high school team. When he is named MVP of the team by Coach Duke (Martin Sheen), he chooses Michael Cassio (Andrew Keegan) to share the award with him rather then Hugo (Josh Hartnett), which sends Hugo in to a rage against Odin and leads to his planning the downfall of Odin and his girlfriend Desi (Julia Stiles) and everyone else around them.

A large portion of what sets this movie apart from all the other Shakespeare adaptations that have been for teens lately is that it is not taking one of the Bard’s lightweight comedies, but one of this greatest tragedies in Othello and it treats the source material exactly as it should be. Of course, the reason this film was pushed back was because of the fact that teenagers are killed in the end, and mostly by gunfire. As I said with a person after the movie was over and we were discussing it, the only people who will be offended by these scenes are the same ones who will never truly understand what it is that causes these situations in real life. I can only hope that they will realize what this movie is partly attempting to say about the way teenagers can feel isolated and as if they have no way to turn anymore when they are left without any friends.

As for the technical elements of the film, Tim Blake Nelson has shown me with this film that not only is he a great actor, but he is also a tremendous director. There are moments in the film where it is just simple small quiet interludes that he inserts that make emotional statements in ways that no spoken word could ever come close to. His staging of the basketball scenes for the film are stunning in how well they keep the action moving while also allowing some beauty of the poetry of the motion of the players extremely obvious. Overall, the film is beautiful to look at and perfectly shot in every instance.

The writing of the film, by Brad Kaaya with his first script, is splendid with a few exceptions. For the most part, his characters and their motivations are very well scripted out, except with Hugo. In Shakespeare’s play, Iago refuses to discuss all that he does at the end of the play, which makes him all the more mysterious and perfectly written as a character. Hugo explains a little too much for my taste in the end why he did everything that he did, though he never does so to the rest of the characters in the film. I guess I just wanted the original ending a little too much, but I am happy with what Kaaya did with his own situation of writing a film that had to work for modern movie audiences.

The acting of the film was note perfect for all of the roles. Phifer did the slow erosion of a tragic hero exactly right in all of his scenes as the film progressed. Stiles handled the vulnerability and strength that Desi has to have at the same time just as any great Shakespearean actress would have. Martin Sheen was, well, Martin Sheen. He’s just a great actor. Josh Hartnett actually surprised me with how deceptively evil he was throughout the film, just as any great Iago would have to be. I refuse to see Pearl Harbor until video, but if he acts half as good in that film as he does in this one, then it will probably be a very solid performance. All of the other small supporting actors nail their parts just as they should based on the personalities that Shakespeare gave the characters and that Kaaya carried over to the film.

After the feature, there was a scheduled Q&A with Tim Blake Nelson about the film. Brad Kaaya was also in attendance at the premiere and Nelson invited him up to stage for the Q&A as well. The first question was what the entire story was about what had happened with Miramax and the releasing of the film, which I covered in the introduction to this review. I got the second question of the session, which was if either Kaaya or Nelson would be willing to make another movie for Miramax after all that they had been put through with this film (it should be noted that the Dimension logo was still in front of the print of the film which was screened at the premiere). Nelson and Kaaya hemmed and hawed a bit in response, with Nelson eventually telling me that if he knew me better, he’d quickly give me an answer to that question, but based on the situation we were in, he couldn’t really answer it. Kaaya said that he was working on another film for Miramax, so I don’t think he’s holding much of a grudge against the company. A few more questions came around mostly about the story and the process of writing the film, with a particularly interesting question being which scene was the hardest for Nelson to shoot. He said that he had thought the basketball scenes would be the hardest, but what he wound up doing was using a technique very similar to Terrence Malick’s from The Thin Red Line with the battle scenes in that movie to shoot the basketball scenes, which made them very easy to shoot. I got the final question of the evening, in which I asked him about how he selected the music for the film (which was all excellent and well selected). He stated that going in to the film, he knew nothing about rap music, so during post-production he listened to about a thousand rap songs, and then the soundtrack label came onboard and almost all of the songs he had picked went out the window. He also said that the score of the film, written by Jeff Danna, was done with all Elizabethan ear instruments, which gave it a very rustic feel which was very fitting for the film. Finally, to bridge the gap between the rap music and the original score, he used the “Ave Maria” from the 19th century opera Othello, which fit perfectly at the film’s climax.

After the Q&A, I went up and shook Nelson’s hand, and thanked him for making a great film. He is a great speaker, and the Q&A was very good as was the film. I’m glad that Lion’s Gate is finally allowing this film to be released and I hope that people give it a chance rather than just ripping it because it happens to have rap music and trys to tell a Shakespearean story. I highly recommend that people seek it out and give it that chance.

Rating: A
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Shrek

The film stars Mike Myers as the title character (a role originally created for the late Chris Farley), a green ogre who enjoys his solitude living in a swamp. His privacy is disturbed by a donkey (Eddie Murphy who has escaped the “resettlement plans” of Lord Farquaad (John Lithgow). Lord Farquaad doesn’t apparently like fairy tale creatures and he sends them all to live in Shrek’s swamp. This leads Shrek to make a deal with Farquaad to get his swamp back in exchange for rescuing a Princess (Cameron Diaz) protected by a dragon.

Part Fractured Fairy Tale, the movie seems to borrow a sense of irreverent humor that was a trademark of the late Jay Ward’s work. This humor is used to skewer all things Disney, from their parks, to the formulaic nature of their movies, to their use of songs, to Michael Eisner himself (Farquaad bears a striking resemblance to Mr. Eisner). Yet this all works, and is held together because of the heartfelt nature of the story.

The 3D animation here is gorgeous and fairly realistic. While the human characters don’t look completely human, they do look as good if not better than the Pixar humans shown to date. But even with that, the style of animation fits well with the tone of the movie.

The voice talents are top notch, and with the exception of Mr. Murphy, never seem to be too over the top. In fact, Mr. Murphy’s character is your standard wisecracking sidekick that normally becomes rather annoying in these types of movies. Fortunately that doesn’t happen here.

The film even has a twist to the standard “The spell is broken and they lived happily ever after ending” that has raised the ire of feminists in the past. It is a great message to send people away with.

Keep an eye out for some of my favorite scenes involving a Dating Game parody, Disney Theme Park lines, the “Muffin Man”, the “park rules”, and the donkey’s “new friend”.

A tremendous effort and a worthy follow-up to last summer’s Dreamworks success, “Chicken Run!”

Rating: A
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Snatch

The comic tale of a diamond heist gone wrong fails to live up to the standard of it’s predecessor, this does not mean however that it does not have it’s moments. What makes “Snatch” stand out most from “Lock Stock” is the fact that major Hollywood star Brad Pitt not only plays one of the main characters but not one of the American characters. Brad Pitt plays Micky “One Punch” O’Neil an Irish Gypsy who loves his mam. Although his performance is somewhat disorientating, you can’t help thinking “That’s Brad Pitt”, he still manages to come across convincing.

Pitt’s performance though is not the one that shines in this gangland caper. Instead narrator from “Lock Stock,” Alan Ford, puts in the most believably scary performance (since Dennis Hopper’s Uncle Frank) as Brick Top a pig farming, illegal boxing promoter. Looking like an old Harry Palmer he is undoubtedly the star of “Snatch.”

The language and slang may be difficult for anyone north of Watford let alone US viewers, but if you like an authentically set film with entertaining characters and one liners then you will not be disappointed.

This reviewer hopes that Ritchie will attempt more serious thrillers in future just to see if he can do it but for now he is not disappointed with what he has achieved so far.

Rating: B
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