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South by Southwest review:
by Parca Mortem

The first night of South by Southwest 2000 at the Paramount theatre could be described as "hippie night".  Just check the two entries.

Steal this Movie!:

Directed by: Robert Greenwald (Xanadu, Hear no Evil)
Starring: Vincent D'Onofrio, Janeanne Garofalo, Kevin Pollack (End of Days, Usual Suspects), Jeane Tripplehorn (Basic Instinct, Very Bad Things), and Kevin Corrigan, among others.

This very entertaining flick is a biopic of 60s-70s activist (and FBI enemy) Abbie Hoffman.  As happens with most movie biopics, it ignores all of the childhood  aspects of Hoffman or what made him be the way he was, and just jumps in when he was starting to create chaos.  Something like "Abbie Hoffman's greatest hits".  The film really starts 2/3 the way in, with a paranoid Hoffman in the late 70s hiring a magazine reporter to write his bio, and it goes into a Citizen Kane approach, with the reporter interviewing the people in Hoffman's life, and getting the facts in a chronological order.  Really, in the first 1/3 of the film it is more about the social revolution in the 60s in general, and then it starts closing in on Hoffman himself, slowly.  Then after those 2/3, when we are familiar with the characters, the film abandons that format and just follows the story, and let's us understand Abbie Hoffman better, in a quiter way.

Vincent D'Onofrio is excellent as Abbie Hoffman.  His performance here ranks with those that he did in Full Metal Jacket and Ed Wood.  He's relaxed, he's hyperactive, he's depressed, he's suicidal, he's confused, he's a jerk, he's a lovable guy, he has his head straight, he's needy, he's paranoid, he's drugged out, and has many other changes, while still keeping an accent.  He really slips into the character.  He deserves some kind of acting award, but probably will not get it.  By the way, he's also one of the executive producers of this indie.  Janeane Garofalo (who will be in town for several forums and for another film of hers, The Independent) probably gets one of the best roles of her career so far, and becomes the charming yet confused, aggressive, and intelligent Mrs. Anita Hoffman (although she oddly resembles Minnie Driver at times).  She lives up to the challenge, very well.  Other recognizable faces are Kevin Pollack as Hoffman's lawyer, and Jeanne Tripplehorn as Abbie's girlfriend when he went underground to escape drug charges.  They do what they are supposed to do, instead of playing their trademark performances.

As for the film itself, it is hyperkinetic.  It jumps from one wild shot to another to another to another, while running through a lot of events and giving them the appropriate energy.  You can feel the revolution.  It also provides the right mood to make it as hilarious as it is, with the odd acts that Hoffman does, and his battles with the FBI.  The downside is that this speed prevents most of the scenes from being fully developed.  You wish they would have played something out longer, let it develop.  Gandhi this ain't; it's more like The People vs. Larry Flynt lite.  However, not all is comedy, and when they focus more on Hoffman's underground years and his subsequent self-discovery, it slows down a bit and the drama kicks in.  All of it is still interesting, though.  Hoffman basically realizes that he wasn't anything else other than a powerful activist; that's his call.   One thing that had the audience talking about was the soundtrack.  Other than the Jimi Hendrix rendition of the US national anthem, it is not your tired typical 60s-made-for-TV-movie soundtrack, and it turns out well.  Finally, the film does a good job of delivering punches to the establishment that was trying to keep Hoffman down, regardless of how truthful or not this film may be.  Robert Greenwald can finally claim a good movie in his director resume.

Oh, by the way, in case you don't know, the title is a take on Hoffman's book: "Steal this Book!"

7 out of 10.

Grass:

Directed by: Ron Mann (Comic Book Confidential, Poetry in Motion)
Narrated by: Woody Harrelson

This Canadian documentary by Ron Mann finally made its debut in the US, here in Austin ("a marihuana enthusiast city", as Mann described), after playing in Canada and Berlin, to good receptions.  The ironic thing is that it is a film about the US, and its government's pointless fight against marihuana.  Mann creates a collage of sounds, movie clips (it even starts out with an "educational film" introduction), ad clips (look for Sony Bono), TV clips, and newspaper clips, added to some computer generated charts that present several accurate statistics in an entertaining yet painful way.  Woody Harrelson (who else?) narrates, with quite a cool voice I must add.  It chronicles weed in the US since its introduction into the US some 100 years ago, and follows a timeline, decade by decade, of the government's fight against the "deadly" narcotic, even when all the commissioned studies pointed that marihuana was not as dangerous as they were saying.  The result is one of the most hilarious things I have seen in quite a while, yet unfortunately one of the darkest, as it is describing reality.  Seriously, this could be material for a great satire, if it were not so true. I must note that it never advocates marihuana use; it just condems the multi-billion war against it.  It's an educational experience, actually.  I say you go watch it.  The clip featuring Reagan attacking marihuana because it harms your memory is worth the price alone.

Mann was in the audience, and talked about the film with the audience, answering questions, including my own.  He looks like a regular guy, except for his clown-like haircut and his already grey hair (the guy is barely 40 years old).  Some interesting details are that it cost him about $1 m. to make just because of all the rights he had to pay to use the clips and the songs, that he watched 300 hours of anti-marihuana flicks, that it took him 5 years to make, and that very few people (even so-called "advocates" of marihuana) wanted anything to do with the film.  Mann also says that he's scared of giving the documentary such a wide release in the US because of the sedition act (he fears being called a foreign terrorist of some sort).  Almost as interesting as the documentary itself...



And now to second night of South by Southwest 2000.  This time I fortunately did not have to deal with watching around Harry Knowles fat and hair and the website critics that wanted to suck up to him.  Another improvement was that the idiots at the Paramount at last divided the lines properly, and didn't have to wait in the wrong line for 40 minutes only to be sent to the end of the 'right' line, like happened to me on the opening night.  Anyway, a whole lot of more movies were shown, although all of them with more release dates.  I wanted to watch the new version of Hamlet, but was too tired and hungry to do so, and the line was too long.  The same happened with Shafted!.  Anyway, I did get to watch the following two films, one of which is the best I have seen in a couple of months.

8½ Women
Directed and Written by: Peter Greenaway.
Starring: John Standing (The Eagle has Landed, Mrs Dalloway), Matthew Delamere (Shadowlands), Vivian Wu (The Pillow Book, A Bright Shining Lie, Heaven & Earth), Toni Colette (The Sixth Sense, Velvet Goldmine, Clockwatchers), Amanda Plummer (Pulp Fiction, So I Married an Axe Murderer), Polly Walker (Emma, Patriot Games), Annie Shizuka Inoh, Kirina Mano, and others.
Genre: Comedy

Here we move into one of my specialties: bizarre films.  This one is the latest from the nutty Peter Greenaway, who had the film in competition at last year's Cannes film festival.  It made its US premiere last night.  Now, if you've seen one Peter Greenaway film (except, perhaps, for The Falls) you probably now how most will turn out: an odd sexual fantasy/examination where several taboos are broken, men are shown to believe to be powerful but be really at the mercy of women, and a lot of numbers and lists are involved.  This is not an exception.  The plot goes something like this: an old rich man (Standing) who owns several casinos is distraught when his wife suddenly dies.  He never really cared for her, yet depended on her.  His son (Delamere, who looks like an odd mix between Matthew Broderick and Brendan Fraser), who operates the chain of gambling parlors in Japan, flies over to his mansion to console him.  In doing so, they get to discover each other a bit more.  It turns out that both are heavy narcisists, particularly the son, Storey, who is also sex-obsessed.  One night, to console his father, Storey sleeps in the same bed as him, hugging him, only that naked (the only way he likes to sleep).  Storey then takes his father, Philip, to the movies, where they watch Fellini's , while they very loudly discuss sex and other aspects of life.  While watching the film over and over again, Philip wonders how did Fellini get all those beautiful women in his film, and if the only reason he did the film was to get in bed with all of them.  All of the events result in discussion of Philip's sex life, which had been very boring, and strictly monogamous.  Then Storey takes Philip to Japan, where, to pay off debts, a group of Japanese men surrender a young attractive woman named Simato (Inoh) who had been gambling like crazy in their parlors.  Storey takes her in as a sort of personal hooker, but, following an earthquake that Storey had conjured and disspelled (unexplicably), Philip, Simato, and Storey have a 3-way.  Then another night, while at a kabuki play, they pick up a young geisha (Mano) who was distressed because she didn't feel woman-like.  Suddenly father and son start collecting a group of women to live with them at their mansion in Italy and satisfy their diverse pleasures.  They wind up collecting: a woman with a neck brace who loved a horse way too much; a woman who had children all the time just because she enjoyed it; a nymphomaniac; a hard working androgenous woman whom Philip transforms into a nun-like being (which she develops beyond the limit); a woman whom knew them from a long time ago who dressed in the deceased wife's hats and which may be trying to poison them; their extremely efficient secretary from Japan (Wu); and a 1/2 woman, which I will leave you to figure out who or what it is (its revealed in the ending).  Add to that a horse, a pig, and the housekeepers. Of course, as things progress, things get stranger, Philip becomes a sex-maniac, Storey becomes rather jealous of his father, and eventually it all gets out of wack and the women carry their roles too far, and it all breaks down.

Pardon me if I cannot remember all of the names or which actress played which character.  In fact, you probably will not either.  Heck, the characters themselves had trouble remembering which was which (a self-spoof by Greenaway).  Not that it really matters, though.  Greenaway was more interested in sexual confusion, so I guess that was his way of confusing us.  Greenaway also adds some other peculiar touches to the film.  For example, it is broken down into 4 acts, at the beginning of which are displayed scene descriptions (as those in a script) which are not on the screen long enough for anyone to be able to read more than half of it.  And a lot of numbers are displayed here and there, particularly the number 8 ½.

However, beyond being extremely odd, the film is not that entertaining.  Its first 30-40 minutes are, but then it begins to fall down.  Still, there are odd shots here and there that make you chuckle, and the dialogue is so screwed up that most of the time it is hilarious.  But it all boils down to just being an odd sexual fantasy with not much to offer.  And personally, I was turned off by the son-father incest themes and images, and the multiple times that John Standing was completely naked and the cameraman made sure that it would capture all of him, including his penis.  In a lot of scenes people were nude just for the sake of being nude, not even for erotic purposes.  And you just get tired of the whole exercise.  Quite frankly, most of the latter part reminded me of European soft-core porno comedy series from the 80s, only without the eroticism.  The only things that will keep you awake are the odd characters, the odd dialogue, and the odd twists.  Not really worth your time.

5 or 6 out of 10.

Noriega: God's Favorite
Directed by: Roger Spottiswoode (Tomorrow Never Dies)
Starring: Bob Hoskins
Written by: Lawrence Wright
Genre: Comedy/Drama

Now THIS one is one to watch out for.  Unfortunately, it will not be hitting a theatre near you.  Instead it will be playing on cable TV, on Showtime, sometime in April.  Bob Hoskins turns in a fantastic performance as Manuel 'Tony' Noriega, dictator of Panama in the 80s, also a multi-religion, drunk, bisexual, philandering, corrupt, delusional, paranoid, lying megalomaniac with a scarred face.  The hilarious film mixes fact and fiction and recreates the last 4 years of Noriega's rule, as well as an accurate view into Latin American politics and society.  Unfortunately I no longer have the time to discuss this one today, as I have to head off the the festival once again.  But I recommend that you definitely watch this one.   By the way, this was originally a project of Oliver Stone to star Al Pacino with ten times the budget for which this was made, which fell due to Stone's own delusions.

8 out of 10


I came back from yet another day at the SXSW movie festival.  This time I was not able to get into "The Big Kahuna", which sold out, or better said, got filled up with 600 people with badges and passes, and they weren't able to sell any tickets.  Luckily, there are other dates.  Anyway, I was able to attend the screening of "The Independent", to which attended stars Jerry Stiller, Janeane Garofalo (both of which are about the size of my leg!), Ginger Lynn Allen, and a drunk Max Perlich (who tripped and fell when he came on stage), and director Stephen Kessler.  The film is absolutely hilarious.  Imagine a cross between "This is Spinal Tap" and "Ed Wood".
 

The Independent

Directed by: Stephen Kessler (Vegas Vacation)
Starring: Jerry Stiller, Janeane Garofalo, Max Perlich (Gummo, Truth or Consequences, N.M., Drugstore Cowboy), among many others.
Written by: Kessler and Mike Wilkins

This mockumentary is about a Cormanesque B-movie director named Morty Fineman, a guy who made 400+ films, from the navy sex health ed video The Simplex Complex (based on Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal ) to such titles as Heil Titler (I actually have a postcard of that one), S-E-X: That Spells Sex, The Eco-Angels, Christ for the Defense (Jesus as a lawyer), The Man With Two Things, The French (They Are a Funny Race), Mondo World, Saturday Night Fever Blister, I See London,I See France, The Whole Story of America (the most expensive independent film ever at the time), Acupuncture Academy II: Pointy,Pointy,Pointy, Amateur Faces of Death, Blackout (released in Europe as Noir), Boy Eats Girl, 33 1/3 Sexual Revolutions, Bald Justice (one of Ron Howard's favorites), and some films with Fred 'The Hammer' Williamson. (heck, check out the entire list at http://www.fineman.com )

Anyway, the mockumentary gives us the history of Fineman (Stiller), while following him around in the present, where he cannot finance a single film, has the bank about to buy all his films at $8 the pound, cannot get any attention from producers, and just saw his latest film get lost while completing it (after he accidentally euthanizes a star).  He gets his daughter Paloma (Garofalo) to step in as his producer and manager, despite family bickering.  He eventually gets one shot at making a film when a 63-victims serial killer is arrested and offers him the exclusive rights to his story... as long as it is a musical.  He also gets an offer to appear at a retrospective in a small town in Nevada... the main business of which is legalized prostitution (the mayor is played by porn star Ginger Lynn Allen).  And things only get more complicated.

Along the way we get fake interviews with Roger Corman, Ted Demme, Ron Howard, and many other directors.  In the cast we get in small roles or in interviews as well the likes of Johnny Rotten, Ben Stiller (in the ultimate "Free Willy" parody) and the entire cast of his show, Bob Oedenkerk, Jonathan Katz, Andy Dick, Ethan Embry, Fred Williamson, and much, much more.  Each adds a lot of humor into it all.

Quite frankly, I haven't laughed this hard in a long time.  This movie actually knows how to satirize Hollywood, indpendent filmmaking, people who watch cult films, and B-movie making, while creating a character that we root for. Everyone working in the film is really into it, and treat the matter seriously, making it all the more hilarious.  I say that if this comes anywhere near where you live, forget all comedies that Hollywood is trying to dump on you, and go watch this instead.  You will thank me for it.

Rating: 8 out of 10.

An interesting note was that Kessler had the 1000+ audience shout at his agent by cell phone that he was fired (the agent said
that no one was going to watch his film here).



AT LAST, today, out of pure luck, I managed to get into a screening of the latest Kevin Spacey flick, "The Big Kahuna", after being in line for nearly an hour, and after getting turned away last Sunday when it sold out.  Had I arrived 15 minutes later today, I wouldn't have been able to watch it, which just shows you how big a star Spacey is now, or that at least his name is some kind of guarantee sticker on a film's ad.  It also shows you how little respect the organizers of this festival have for ordinary ticket buyers.  So, on to the film...

The Big Kahuna

Directed by: John Swanbeck
Starring: Kevin Spacey, Danny DeVito, and Peter Facinelli (Supernova, Can't Hardly WaitDancer, Texas, Pop. 81).
Written by: Roger Rueff, based on his play Hospitality Suite

This is pretty much the opposite experience of watching Mission to Mars, a film with a lot of special effects and great camerawork and excelent visuals, not to mention a big cast, yet the script is pretty much used toilet paper.  The Big Kahuna, on the other hand, is one of those minimalist movies that have been adapted from minimalist plays, in the vein of David Mamet's better known films, where a few men spout a lot of powerful dialogue at each other the entire 90 minutes, in one or two stages.  The men that we have here are 3 lubricants salesmen: Larry (Spacey), a cynic jerk with a big mouth, a bad temper, and a lot of ambition, experience, and intelligence; Phil (DeVito), a seasoned man at the end of the road and who may have bipolar depression, but whom is the wisest and most coolheaded of the trio; and Bob (Facinelli), a very young, nervous, child-like, inexperienced marketing rep, whom is also a fanatic Baptist.  Larry and Phil are partners from way back, and Bob is the new kid they got assigned.  They are at a business convention at a hotel in Wichita, Kansas. Their quest is to land a big deal, particularly from one certain businessman that they do not know, their 'great kahuna', as Larry refers to him.

So they arrange a party at their hotel room, in hopes of getting that client.  To their dismay the client never comes.  After a lot of bickering, they discover that Bob had accidentally met the client somewhere in the party under another name, and had not only established a good friendship with him, but was also invited to a private party later on.  So, after a lot of arguing, it is decided that Bob go and hook the client.  However... will Bob screw up?

New director John Swanbeck decides to keep the story at 3 characters, even when more people come into the scene.  He plays with the camera and lighting a bit so as to help us tell this apart from a taped play.  He also offers us glimpses of some of the things that happen between scenes, shot in slow motion but with music or noise blocking out what the characters say.  The plot isn't really what is of interest here, but the characters and their interaction, not to mention their dialogue when things don't go as they want to (similar to, say, Glengary Glen Ross).  So basically this is a sport of actors throwing dialogue at each other as best as they can, or at least Spacey and DeVito doing so while Facinelli looks confused (which is what he is apparently required to do).  Fortunately, the dialogue is quite good and entertaining.  The topics discussed go through friendship, Christianity (relax, no preaching to the crowd here; the film punches fundies more than anything), the hypocrite world of business, bartending, fidelity, real human interaction, and the meaning of life.

Spacey is great as usual and pretty much carries the film on his shoulders, even though he plays the role that you'd expect to see Al Pacino doing.  DeVito is reliable as always.  As for Facinelli, his performance is different to what he's done before, although its the type of performance that you don't know if to call it good or bad, since his character seems to fit him a bit too well.  I guess I'd have to meet him in person before I can pass judgement on his acting skills.

All in all, an enjoyable little film, although not an incredibly outstanding one either.  Keep your expectations high, but don't expect the next Oscar nominee.

Rating: 8 out of 10.

Watch the trailer at  http://www.lionsgatefilms.com/asx_files/kahuna_trailer_56.asx

Shafted!
Directed by: Tom Putnam

A lot of people (mostly film students) got the wrong idea when they watched The Blair Witch Project; namely, that "Hey, I could have done this".  That film, improvised, cheap, and all, had a better concept and execution than 99% of student films, and was actually effective.  A lot claim they could have done it, but, trust me, few could have (if you don't trust me, watch their student shorts - just take along a barf bag).  However, THIS film is one that just about anyone could have made.  In fact, it looks like a bunch of drunken frat boys did it on their weekend off.  Not surprisingly, director Putnam looks like he just left a frat two years ago or so.  What we have here is a parody of blaxploitation films, mixed in with parodies of oriental B-movies, zombie flicks, super agent flicks, and well known films that adorn any campus dorm room with their posters (Taxi Driver, Apocalypse Now).  The ploy is that a recently released mental patient thinks he is John Shaft, after watching too many exploitation films.  To make things worse, he is puny and white.  Not only that, but he doesn't get the name right and calls himself John Shat.  Now, in good hands, this could have been the next Austin Powers.

Unfortunately, it is not like the Mike Myers film nor any of the better Zucker brothers flicks.  It's more in the line of several of the Fox Family Channel National Lampoon films of recent.  The reason is that Putnam did not have enough good material for a full film, and he did not know how to make it.  There is good material, however.  John Shat's institution is called "The Herman Villachieze School of Podiatry and Mental Institute".  He says "mothafucka" every other word.  He teams up with the sister of Japan's toughest cop, whom is dressed like her deceased brother to avenge him, only that all of her lines are out of sync.  They wind up by accident in a male strip club.  One of the bad guys, who is extremely gay, recruits a series of deadly killers which includes Gary Coleman (whom actually makes a cameo).  Clumsy, slow zombies are after Shat.  The henchmen of the bad guys and the heroes are all aware of the predictable stupid movies cliches such as that the bad guy explains an incredibly complex plan that makes little sense to the hero before killing him, and leaves his henchman to finish him off, which the hero will kill because he freed himself.  A 70s soundtrack plays.  Shat questions his sexuality.  The easy way that heroes are able to transport themselves throughout the city without having any cars is also spoofed.  And the type of film and editing involved is the same used in most cheap 70s flicks.  Sounds good, right?  Here's the problem: it's all STOOOOOOOOOOOOOPID.  One joke works, but the ten next make you groan (it's still a better rate than most movies, though).  None of the actors play their roles even semi-seriously as those in good spoofs do, but instead overact and clown around, pretty much as if they had hired a bunch of 5 year-olds in the leads.  And some jokes are used waaaaay beyond their potential.

On the fair side, it does get entertaining from time to time, and some jokes do have you laughing out loud.  However, please note that the guys who were seated next to me, who were the first in line and were standing there for over an hour, were the first to walkout of the theatre (then again, they had a large popcorn and a pitcher of beer that they left unpaid for).  And they were not alone.  A lot of people who made long, boring lines just left during the movie.  When the director asked at the end if anyone had any comments or questions, the only thing some guy said was "I'm drunk!"  I doubt anyone did not leave the theatre wondering how they could have done the film better.

To remind us how entertaining blaxploitation films get between the cheesy "drama" parts, a series of clips and trailers of varied blaxploitation flicks showed before this movie.  However, they achieved an effect contrary to what may have been intended.  You know something is wrong when a parody is only 1/10 as entertaining as the films it is lampooning.

Rating: 4 out of 10.


Hamlet

Directed and Adapted by: Michael Almereyda (Nadja, Twister -1988)
Starring: Ethan Hawke, Kyle MacLachlan (Dune, Blue Velvet, Showgirls), Julia Stiles (10 Things I Hate About You, The Devil's Own), Diane Venora  (The Insider, True Crime, Heat, F/X, Romeo+Juliet) , Bill Murray, Liev Schreiber (Scream trilogy, RKO 281, The Hurricane, Sphere), Karl Geary (Nadja), Sam Shepard (Steel Magnolias, Baby Boom, The Right Stuff, Paris,Texas),Steve Zahn (Happy,Texas, Crimson Tide, Reality Bites, Out of Sight, You've Got Mail, That Thing You Do!), Dechen Thurman (Uma's younger bro), Casey Affleck (Ben's younger bro, of 200 Cigarettes, Drowning Mona, To Die For), Jeffrey Wright (Basquiat), among others.
Based on Play Written by: Well, it sure wasn't Franklin W. Dixon!
 

There's one unspoken rule of modern theatre that has leaked into movies - more specifically, movies based on plays.  And that is that if you are doing a play that has been done half a zillion times, the director is obligated to screw around with the scenery, the set design, the camera - heck, the entire visuals and perhaps even the performances, in order to give a new interpretation of the play.  Sometimes this can be interesting, other times it can be crap.  When doing films about Shakespeare plays, what directors do is screw around with the time period (for the extreme, watch Titus).

So, here we have Hamlet, a play that has been translated to film over 50 times (half of them during the silent era alone!), not to mention another near 20 times on TV.  But, this one is actually different - again.  This one actually speaks in a British accent!  Oh, wait, scratch that, that was Robin Hood: Men in Tights.  No, the differences here are that 1) it is set entirely in modern New York, among snobs and within a multi-billionaire corporation, 2) at last one guy under the age of 30 plays Hamlet, and 3) the movie is less than 2 hours long (take that, Brannagh).   Michael Almereyda claimed that he wanted to do more of a visual collage to reinterpret the play.  Actually, this is a good idea.  You see, the whole fun, actually, is not watching a story that you have seen or read at least once (hopefully) and know how it is going to turn out.  The fun and the suspense fall on wondering how the heck is director Almereyda going to reinterpret or adapt the next scene.

So what DO we get?  Hamlet (Ethan Hawke) and Ophelia (Julia Stiles) are stereotypical Gen-Xers as portrayed on Mtv and TV commercials.  Furthermore, Hamlet is a film student - one of those stereotypical film students that obsessively record everything with their cameras like Wes Bently in American Beauty (when we all know that the people who most obsessively record everything are those annoying uncles of yours).  His father is the CEO and, uhm, "king" of the Denmark Co.  Claudius (a surpring Kyle MacLachlan) makes his announcement of his takeover by holding a press conference.  Claudius and Gertrude (Diane Venora) are ultra-rich socialites.  Rosencrantz (Steve Zahn) and Guildenstern (Dechen Thurman) are fratboy-like clubbers who dress up like metalheads.  Ophelia is also a photographer. Her father, Polonius (Bill Murray) is a kind and loving but overprotective father who happens to speak just like Bill Murray does in every day (Murray does bring in the freshest version of that character that I have ever seen), only that in Shakesperian language.  Horatio (Geary) has a motorcycle.  Instead of blades, guns are used.  Instead of making a play, Hamlet makes a movie.  Hamlet spends some of his time meditating while wandering through the aisles of Blockbuster.  Faxes, cell phones, recording bugs, computers, and answering machines are used to relay messages.  Limos substitute confessionary booths.  And so on.  I don't want to mention ALL of the changes and adaptations, because that would pretty much spoil the movie for you.  But you get the idea.

As for the actors, most seem to adapt the Shakespeare lines into their own way of speaking, which turns out quite fine.  A few do remain in the classic mode of performing Shakespeare, or sway from one method to the other.  MacLachlan is surprising, once again, turning in a darker and more sinister performance than I'm accostomed to see him do, and he does it well.  And Murray's performance is quite entertaining. But the ones who turn in the best performances are Verona (who already was part of Kevin Kline's TV version of the play ten years ago) and particularly Liev Schreiber, as Laertes.  The rest of the cast fares well, with a few exceptions.  Sam Shepard gives us a less creepy and more concerned ghost, with a fine performance, but never seems to be the father of Hamlet.  Julia Stiles doesn't do all that much with Ophelia, but, then again, Almereyda doesn't let her do that much.  The oddest performance, though, is from Ethan Hawke.  He does a good job at half of the moments, but the other half he sucks all the energy out of his character and makes him too weak, while he starts to nearly mumble in a almost monotone voice.  Quite frankly, I didn't really care that much what happened to his Hamlet.  I don't know if this was an intentional move by Almereyda, though.

One complaint about the adaptation is that the graveyard scene was trimmed down to nothing (although, to be fair, most film versions omit or trim this scene, not to mention several stage versions I've seen), and Hamlet's famous "to be or not to be" is said only during suicidal videotapings early on.  However, one very odd related touch is that at one moment Hamlet is actually watching one of the older movie versions of Hamlet, the scene where that Hamlet is clutching a skull.  Don't ask... Another similar odd thing is that Hamlet watches trailers for True Crime, which has Diane Venora in the cast.

A question: Hey, why does every recent updated version of Shakespeare have to have Julia Stiles in the cast?  She was in 10 Things I Hate About You, which was an adaptation of The Taming of the Shrew, and she's in the soon to be released O, which is an updated version of Othello.  Typecasting, anyone?

Of course, if you are an extreme Shakespeare purist, the type that believes that his plays should only be done the traditional way (and starring Lawrence Olivier too, if possible), then you should stay away from this film.  If you don't mind adaptations as long as the dialogue is intact, then you may enjoy it.

Watch the trailer at:  http://ramhurl.film.com/smildemohurl.ram?file=screen/2000/clips/hamle.smi

Rating: 7 out of 10



Hey, one thing to complain about SXSW is the ridiculous rule that no tickets may be sold until 15 minutes to the film, which usually wind up being 10 minutes before the film.  This may suit theatres where an overwhelming amount of people with badges show up.  However, when making line for the second screening of Hamlet, due to the bad weather less than 50 persons with badges showed up.  They were all let in early.  However, the 70 of us waiting in line for tickets were just left to wait a half hour after the badge people were let in, during which only 5 more people with badges showed up.  Why?  Because of the stupid rules.  THIS is how you want to make a successful film festival?

And on to the last night of original offerings at the festival.  A couple of celebrities were still around.  Devon Sawa (currently starring in the cool horror flick Final Destination) was here to promote Around the Fire, which opens in the indie circle next week.  While in the one hour in the cold line for the film I managed to see Neil Young, who walked by me (and who has a more notorious bald spot nowadays), who was there to help out a documentary on himself.  He left with an entourage packed odd looking cars, and he drove his own.  However, most celebrities decided to go check out the music festival, although a lot of critics were still in lines to make up for their slacking off during the week (it turns out that I've watched more films this year than most critics covering the event).  Particularly packed was the last major event, a one-time-only screening of High Fidelity, despite no one involved with the film showed up ( Jack Black was in town to perform with Tenacious D, but mysteriously did not show up), and despite the unseasonable 43º F.  Anyway, I managed to get in, luckily, so on to the flick.

High Fidelity
Directed by: Stephen Frears (The Grifters, Dangerous Liaisons, Hero, The Van, Mary Reilly)
Starring: John Cusack, Iben Hjejle (Possessed, Mifune's Last Song - Dogme 3), Jack Black (Tenacious D, The Cable Guy, Mars Attacks!, Enemy of the State, Cradle Will Rock), Todd Louiso (8 Heads in a Duffel Bag, The Rock, Jerry Maguire, A Cool,Dry Place, the sitcom Phenom), Lisa Bonet (The Cosby Show, Angel Heart), Joan Cusack (In & Out, Toys, Addams Family Values, Broadcast News, Grosse Pointe Blank, Runaway Bride), Catherine Zeta-Jones (The Mask of Zorro, Entrapment, The Haunting), Lili Taylor (The Haunting, Ransom, Pecker, The Addiction, Short Cuts, every other indie film), Tim Robbins, Natasha Gregson Wagner (Two Girls and a Guy, Another Day in Paradise, Mind Ripper), Sarah Gilbert (Roseanne), among others.
Written by: D.V. DeVincentis (Grosse Pointe Blank), Scott Rosenberg (Con Air, Disturbing Behavior, Things to Do in Denver When You're Dead), Steve Pink (Grosse Pointe Blank), and John Cusack, based on Nick Hornby's novel.  The above names (except Hornby) also selected the music for the soundtrack.

High Fidelity is this year's John Cusack semi-romantic comedy about 1/3-life crisis to be released in the March/April time.  However, this one is more similar to Singles than to Grosse Pointe Blank and Pushing Tin.  For starters, Cusack's character starts out the movie already depressed, and he's a loser with good luck and a bad hairdo, and younger than his more recent characters.  Secondly, he is constantly speaking at the camera, narrating the film.  However, like those two latter films, it is a light, enjoyable, funny, good (but not great) flick.

So, what is it about?  Cusack is Rob, a college kickout ex-DJ who is now a mostly vinyl record store owner/manager and who is being dumped by his current girlfriend, Laura (Iben Hjejle).  While he is trying to deal with it, he starts reminiscing about some of his previous girlfriends, or at least those that their dumping him affected him the most.  There's the first girl he kissed, in 7th grade.  There's the conservative girl in high school that he tried to get laid with first, to no luck.  There's Charlie, the incredibly attractive and smart vamp that he had in his college sophomore year (Catherine Zeta-Jones, who gives us her typical breast-but-no-nipple shot, and acts better than lately), who left him for some guy who was worth more than he was, in attraction and style.  Then (as if dating the cast of The Haunting) there's Sarah (Lili Taylor), the not-so-attractive but charming girl that he had after being dumped by Charlie, who had also been dumped and was more in his "league" of attractiveness.  The more he thinks about them and analyzes his romance life, the more he realizes how  Laura's dumping him affects him.

However, some more variables are introduced into the equation.  First, Laura starts dating this guy named Ian or Ray (nobody is sure what), whom is an airheaded macho Steven Seagal wannabe, and happens to be Rob's upstairs neighbor (and is played hilariously by Tim Robbins).  Also, Rob takes a liking to this talented and exotic-looking singer named Marie (a surprising Lisa Bonet).  And he has his and Laura's friend Liz (Joan Cusack) trying to get them back together, while both parties explain their side of the breakup.  While Rob sorts out his feelings, he is determined to find out why his previous girlfriends had broken up with him, so he revisits them to ask them.  Meanwhile, his relationship with Laura starts going up and down like a yo-yo, and so his feelings for her.

Actually, Rob is an interesting character.  He spends his days making top 5 lists of everything in his life, from top 5 breakups, to top 5 dream careers, to top 5 songs he'd like played at his funeral.  He spends his days at his apartment going over his gigantic vinyl record collection, or at his record store with his employees/buddies Barry (Jack Black) and Dick (Todd Louiso), arguing over pop music and obscure records.  Actually, Rob, Barry, and Dick are the type of annoying self-important assholes who think that because they've heard more records and now more about obscure bands, they have better knowledge and taste in music than everyone else.  You know, the type that you find in live music clubs and record stores trying to show off their knowledge while making fun of everyone else, who cite odd bands at any moment, and belittle anything that is popular now, yet may play a cheesy pop song at any moment themselves.  They also mix in some popular movie references when discussing some subjects, from Evil Dead 2 to Rocky.  Particularly annoying is Barry, who gets into fights with customers and can't seem to stop shouting, while he tries to start a career as a singer, despite not having any obvious talent, and is played by Black as if trying to imitate Randall in Clerks.  Dick is a more effiminate (but not gay) and quiet, shy character, and Rob is mostly friendly, and the smartest of the trio.

This may sound like boring material, but it is made quite entertaining by the hand of one-time Oscar nominated director Stephen Frears, who paces this right and does a good job mixing Rob's narration with the actions, and the present with Rob's flashbacks and projections (you HAVE to see a scene where Rob imagines beating up Tim Robbins to a bloody pulp with his friends).  This is quite a change of style by Frears, who seems to be chanelling Cameron Crowe.  Then again, Frears' filmography is so varied that anything goes.  Cusack also helps, delivering his trademark enjoyable performance (a charming but desperate guy), which fits in well with the film, like a glove.  The story may seem plotless but does build up, somehow.  And good laughs are plentiful, not to mention moments that make you smile.
 
A masterpiece it isn't; it doesn't scratch that deep, and has few moments that are extremely memorable, and some may get lost among some of the music references that construct the dialogue.  But you don't have to be a record-obsessed loser to sympathize with these characters, and you may be able to identify yourself somewhere along the discussion of relationships and pop culture.  A lot of Rob's observations are dead-on, as a matter of fact.  The crowd's reception was euphoric, as a matter of fact.  I think I'm probably the person who enjoyed it the least, and I still had a good time.

8 out of 10.

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