Saturday, April 30, 2005

Kingdom of Heaven (2005)

Directed By: Ridley Scott
Written By: William Monahan
Starring: Orlando Bloom, Liam Neeson, Eva Green, Jeremy Irons, and Edward Norton.
Synopsis: A young blacksmith turns out to be next in line to be lord of something in some hot, sandy metaphor for modern-day Iraq. He rides down to rule his people fairly and honestly and not to steal their oil for his own evil capitalist purposes. Unfortuately for him, he has to fight a bunch of battle against those wicked Moslems, who turn out to be not so wicked at all, leaving him and everyone else to wonder why he should bother.

Before I start reviewing the actual story of Kingdom of Heaven, I want to give it at least five big compliments. Director Ridley Scott has really achieved something here, and I want to congratulate him on it:

1. No one has ever made any war film on such a large, epic scale as Kingdom. That's worthy of congratulations - no battle footage has ever been on so grand and awe-inspiring, never before has anyone seen a two-hundred thousand man army beat the tar out of another two-hundred thousand man army out on some desert plain. It pushes beyond Lord of The Rings and Troy and into new territory - hey, notice how many of these films star Orlando Bloom? His name on a film guarantees that it probably cost more than 100 million to make. In my book, that's not a bad thing; we need more of these sort of films populating the early summer months, it eases the pain brought on by House of Wax and Monster-In-Law.

2. The acting done in the film is pretty solid for a epic historical movie - this is normally the sort of film where good actors look like bad actors, and bad actors also look like bad actors. But Irons, Norton, and Neeson are all excellent, and Bloom is... well, Orlando Bloom, again (see review in Ned Kelly). However, he's added an extra level of passion and depth to his pretty-boy-kills-baddies bit. It's not heart-wrenching or jaw-dropping, but it's not bad. Plus, he bulked up twenty pounds for the flick, and the extra effort shows - he doesn't look completely out of place as a blacksmith this time (yes, he's a blacksmith again). Eva Green (The Dreamers) is excellent as Sibylla, though it's a completely thankless role: the princess of Jerusalem who falls for Bloom instantly despite already being married to Guy de Lusignan (Marton Csokas), a one-note evil dude with his eyes on the throne and no interest in his wife. Bloom and Green get it on almost instantly, which is okay because:
a) Cinema Morality Rule #34: It's not cheating if the husband doesn't really care about the wife because he's too busy being evil.
b) Cinema Morality Rule #13: It's not cheating if the main character protests at first that it might be wrong, and therefore they shouldn't do it.
c) Cinema Morality Rule #1: It's not cheating if the main character, like, totally loves her.

3. John Mathieson's cinematography for the film is absolutely breathtaking. I mean, it looks simply stunning. Mathieson and Scott have done excellent work before - Gladiator, Matchstick Men - and Kingdom, coming right at the heels of last year's Phantom of the Opera, shows that he's just about on the top of his game.

Okay, I'm running low on compliments, so:
4. After Alexander last Christmas, we were all starved for a decent historical epic with some good fight scenes. Thanks. You've tided me over for a bit.

5. At least at the end of this film, the viewer says, "You know what that film reminded me? Gladiator was a really good movie. I should watch that again." Whereas at the end of... Monster-In-Law, a viewer notes "Hey, you know what else sucked? Everything else Jennifer Lopez has ever been in. I think I'll never watch a movie again as long as I live." So, you see, Kingdom is really a great film in that regard - it's given us some option other than Jennifer Lopez and Paris Hilton this weekend. That's worth a lot.

Okay, now that I've been nice, I've got to start ripping on Monahan, who wrote Kingdom and deserves a good talking to. In fact, he's getting one now.

Dear William,

I recently saw you major opus Kingdom of Heaven, and thought I'd drop you a line. You see, William, you've clearly got a lot to explain.

Alright, you wrote a long war movie in which you never take a side. How can you expect this to work? Your main character, Balian, comes in to lead the Crusaders against those crazy infidels, the Moslems. But he doesn't really want to fight the Moslems. Neither does anyone else who isn't a crazy religious zealot. So Balian spends the whole movie asking "Can't we all just get along?" And everyone else answers, "No, dammit, let's kill us some infidels!" as if the Crusades were some redneck hunting trip for religious symbols, which your screenplay tries very hard to convince us that they were.

I mean, seriously, Bill - you have the entire forces of the Crusaders riding out to meet the entire forces of the Moslems, and nobody cares, not even you - which is why we cut away and never see the battle. And the whole time we're really just hoping that everyone just gets together and talks and sorts things out. And in the final, climactic battle, with all the cool siege engines, and flaming balls launched from trebuchets, and boiling oil poured from the battlements, the audience is sitting there wondering, "so, when are they going to get together and and apologize so that they don't have to fight anymore?"

Bill, you mystify me. Haven't you ever seen a war movie? And I understand that you're opposed to war - that's very clear from this film. I also understand that you're opposed to the war on Iraq - that too, is also pretty clear, since it spends a good deal of time cluttering up your story about the Crusades. I even think that it's helpful that you tried to show us what a terrible thing the Crusades really were. But did you really have to make it so ham-handed that nobody cared at all about the battle? Isn't there a better way to do things?

Just a suggestion, Bill. Good luck on Tripoli and Jurassic Park IV. I sincerely hope that they both don't suck.


Kingdom of Heaven gets three stars out of a possible five, because I could only think of three legitimate compliments, and - Cinema Morality Rule #74: there's no way you can give a film more than three stars if you can only think of three good things about it.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Fever Pitch (2005)

Directed By: Bobby and Peter Farrelly
Written By: Babaloo Mandel and Lowell Ganz (are those great names or what?) based it off the Nick Hornby novel.
Starring: Jimmy Fallon, Drew Barrymore, several actors who look vaguely familiar, and Johnny Damon. I am probably one of about seven people who look at that list and go "I bet that'll be good!"
Synopsis: Fallon is obsessed with the Red Sox. Barrymore is obsessed with her work. Hijinks ensue.

I write this review as a Red Sox fan. I make no apologies for this, and here's why: upon checking the IMDB boards about this movie, I discovered a number of Yankees fans griping about the film, which they have not seen yet and have no plans to see it anytime in the future. The overall feeling you get from the post is that of sour grapes - you guys already won the series, how come you get to have this romantic comedy about it, too? That's right, the Yankees fans are jealous. They're jealous 'cause we have it all.

Amazing how the tables turn, eh? When was the last time that you saw a romantic comedy that didn't take place in New York? They all do. They all feature opening sequences of helicopter shots of Manhattan with some cheerful Harry Connick Jr. song playing while the main titles flash by. Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan in You've Got Mail. Sandra Bullock and Bill Pullman in While You Were Sleeping.* Robert De Niro and Jodie Foster in Taxi Driver. The list goes on.

Fever Pitch starts out with scenic shots of Beantown, but instead of some wandering Randy Newman song, it's "Dirty Water" by the Standells. "I'm gonna tell you a big, bad story, baby," croons Dick Dodd with lecherous vocals. "Aw, it's all about my town." And it is. The Farrelly brothers (Dumb and Dumber, There's Something About Mary, Stuck on You, etc.), grew up as Red Sox fans, and Fever Pitch is as much a sappy Valentine to Sox fans as it is a romantic comedy. It features cameos by Jim Rice, Dennis Eckerseley, Jason Varitek, Johnny Damon, Kevin Millar, etc. It even features Jessamy Finet, one of the fans from last year's Still We Believe Red Sox documentary as one of Fallon's Fenway family. Barrymore and Fallon join in as all the fans sing along to Neil Diamond's "Sweet Caroline." There's even the Dropkick Murphy's anthem "Tessie," their cover of an old Broadway tune that helped rally the 1903 Boston Pilgrims, and became a rallying cry for Red Sox Nation. It seems a bit of fitting, post-championship exuberance, a celebration of all things Red Sox.

And at the center of it is Fallon, surprisingly solid in his first real major studio release (let's all ignore Taxi, shall we?). The story goes like this: Fallon, an obsessed Red Sox fan, has a pair of season-tickets, just behind the Red Sox dugout, bequeathed to him by his late uncle. He's attended every home game in that seat for the past eleven years. He has a framed print of Tony Conigliaro that he crosses himself in front of every morning. Nothing comes between him and his Red Sox. And then one day, he meets Barrymore, successful, driven executive who has no idea what she's getting into.

I'll leave it there, so I won't ruin whatever suprise the ending might have for you - it's a romantic comedy, after all - but I will say this: if you have any love for the Red Sox at all, go see this movie. It's everything you love about Boston, the Red Sox, being a Sox fan, and beating the Yankees, all rolled up into one beautiful hour and half love story. And then there's that other love story that's going on, too.

Critics will rip this movie to pieces - after all, half of them live in New York, and the other half pretend they do. Let them. They hate this movie for reasons they cannot understand, because this movie perfectly encapsulates that sense of wonder that Red Sox Nation feels. They'll rip into Fallon and Barrymore's performances, they'll rant about how the Farrelly brothers have lost their touch (because of course, they were such fans back when they were making Dumb and Dumber), they'll call it mediocre and predictable and trite and unfunny. And it's all because for once - they want what we've got. Doesn't it feel good?

Rating: Separating myself from my Sox affections, the film's a better-than-average romantic comedy - but not much better. It gets to take the advanced math classes but it cheats off the girl who sits in front. It's not the Farrelly brother's best piece of work, but it's their deepest. I mean, name one earlier Farrelly work that has character development. I thought so.

An astute reader later noted that While You Were Sleeping actually takes place in Chicago. I watched the film a few months later, and realized how obvious that is. A lot of the film revolves around an "L" train. Everyone knows New York doesn't have an "L" train. Otherwise, it would have been in a romantic comedy by now. Ironically, I did research Taxi Driver to make sure that it was in New York, but I don't think anyone noticed that Taxi Driver is quite obviously not a romantic comedy. Taxi Driver is that Scorsese film where De Niro is a mentally unstable Vietnam vet, the one that John Hinckley blamed after he shot Reagan because he said Jodie Foster made him do it after he watched the flick fifteen times... nothing? No recollection at all? Oh, never mind.