Monday, April 25, 2005

Spare Us Bruce Almighty!

I was very curious about Bruce Almighty, although I never know what to expect from a Jim Carrey movie. I loved him in The Truman Show, and Liar, Liar, but The Cable Guy set my teeth on edge, and I'm not a fan of The Mask.

Carrey was not bad in Bruce Almighty, but he wasn't good enough to save a big nothing of a script. The fact that the premise was really interesting makes it even sadder that the script went nowhere. Jennifer Anderson seemed weirdly off-kilter as the girlfriend; the script didn't make use of her comic talents.

Tom Shadyak's direction didn't help the plot, either. He directed Carrey in Liar, Liar and Ace Ventura and in fairness, it may be that someone who liked both of those films might take a kinder view of Bruce Almighty.

The most entertaining performance in the film was Morgan Freeman's low-key God. He held his own against Carrey's gyrations with commanding stillness, and with humor that in lesser hands would not have fared so well. While Aniston looked as if she wondered how she'd wandered into the set, and how she might escape it, Freeman seemed privately amused by all the nonsense. When I punched up his entry on the IMDB database, I was happy to see that he has several other films in the pipeline, as of this writing.

Freeman's performance made me think about God in the movies. George Burns played the part in 1977's Oh, God!. With Carl Reiner directing and Larry Gelbart writing, it is no surprise that Burns' was a Jewish God, with a distinct Borscht Belt flavor. It was hard not to like that God, but for shock value, nothing quite compares to Alanis Morissette's God in Dogma. God according to Morgan Freeman is different still: he does not suffer fools, but he has a sense of humor and a patient air of having seen it all before. He's less amused with himself than Burns' God, and less alarming than Morissette's.

While watching Bruce Almighty hardly qualified as time in hell, watching the credits roll gave me a feeling of relief that I imagine for an ascension from purgatory. Thumb's down!

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Sin City

It's hard to describe exactly what Sin City, the movie, is. It's halfway graphic novel, half live action. With an animated background. It's a larger-than-life canvas with violence and sex and cruelty. But what I really think it is, is brilliant.

We watch the denizens of Basin City as they go about their mayhem. Rather than merely watch, however, we plunge into this polluted hole with them, caught up in the fast action and even quicker lines. Each segment is connected by threads that assume we can catch up if we just use our brains.

If you're a sensitive feminist, get over it. Men in Sin City are allowed to get older (just about the age of creator/artist Frank Miller, as it works out), craggy, cruel maybe but mostly kind-hearted -- or at least our heroes are. The men who surround the good guys are the evilest of bad men, and deserve whatever shellacking and dismemberment they get. The women? Sometimes they're there just to make up the pretty wallpaper. Sometimes they're there to show us how evil can look really nice and tempting. Sometimes the women show us what the men fight for, or what they think they're fighting for.

Thank God for the voiceovers. These men don't talk about their feelings. But they have them, and they have reasons for killing. Or at least in Frank Miller's town they do.

The men are fascinating to watch. Marv is played by Mickey Rourke, or at least I think he is. It's hard to see the actor. Mickey inhabits Marv, and throws him up on the screen with great abandon, his head huge and encased in a giant prosthetic. Marv is a simple guy with an ugly mug but a sense of righteousness for those who were kind to him, and he'll be damned if someone hurts the woman he loves. Even if he just met her last night. Following him on his story seems like an honor, a badge of courage for the rest of us who wouldn't last 10 seconds in that horrible bar he inhabits, let alone his world. Bruce Willis is perfect as a detective within one hour of retirement -- just seconds, it seems, from ending a frustrating career when he finds a case he can't let go.

And even the bad guys are watchable. Benicia del Toro defies the two-dimensional trap as Shellie's apologetic stalker with an anger management problem.

The men are fascinating. The women are throwaways. But this is a man's story, and women are Frank Miller's fantasies.

But everyone has a backstory. That's one of the many fascinating ideas behind Sin City. We may not know the backstory, but there are hints. A two-dimensional figure suddenly becomes three- and maybe even more.

The violence is cartoonish in ways, yet visceral in others. Blood is white, yellow....rarely red. We have endless punching, decapitation, cutting off limbs, stabbing, a way to die, you'll see it here. Not for the squeamish. Yet there's a certain sensibility about the violence, a retribution built in. While there's no fairness implied in this dirty city, our heroes make their own justice, make you buy into their way of dealing with the dirt they find.

I would never live in Basin City. But a movie that gives me a glimpse -- no, allows me to live in it, breathe its polluted air -- is a miracle. Thumb's up for Sin City, way up.

Beauty Shop - Queen Latifah, Baby!

It ain't pretty - there's no real plot to speak of, no action, a lotta loose ends. It ain't fine theatre. But Beauty Shop is an entertaining movie.

Gina is a hairstylist who gets tired of being pushed around by Beverly Hills hair apparent Jorge (Hor-hay), played with arrogant panache by Kevin Bacon, and opens her own beauty parlor. Okay, that's the gist of the story, and that happens in the first five minutes. The rest of the movie is how she melds a bunch of ne'er-do-well, bickering hairstylists into a happenin' place for a do.

Latifah is the star (and the producer) of this flick, and she's controlled here, a calm center to the melee' around her. Some great casting helps a lot -- Bacon, Alfre Woodard as an older stylist who just has to have the last say, and a bunch of young actors who, one guesses, are allowed to show their talent in this actionless but over-the-top, dialogue-filled movie. This movie exists and thrives just on personality alone. And at the heart of this personality parade is Queen Latifah, large of mind, body and voice. She seems a bit slimmed down for this role, but she's still larger-than-life in more ways than one.

And there's some great dialogue. The writers knew how to pace what story there is, and spreckle some colorful white-black exchanges in between. I didn't need an interpteter to figure out what was going on, something which other black comedies should offer, and yet I had the feeling I had been dropped in the middle of an authentic black scene, albeit a G-rated one.

I noticed a lot of kids in the audience who were just plain bored in the beginning. Get away from the sparkling witty jive talk and they went back to chatting with each other. But by the middle of the movie things quieted down as they seemed to be hooked by the side stories of family and how people of disparate backgrounds find common ground. And just maybe they'll pick up the subtle hints of how women want to be treated, and how to talk decently to each other.

Thumb's up to Latifah's latest, a movie that doesn't seem to obey most of the rules for situational comedy but hits the right tone.