Wednesday, May 10, 2006


Rent is the 2005 movie based on the very successful Broadway play. You might not have seen it, but if you haven't heard of it, you've been living in an American Idol-dominated cave. Okay, let's say you're still stumped. Recognize these lyrics?

Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes. Five hundred twenty-five thousand moments so dear. Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes. How do you measure, measure a year?

In daylights, in sunsets, in midnights, in cups of coffee. In inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife. In five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes. How do you measure a year in the life? How about love? How about love? Measure in love....seasons of love.

Yep. THAT musical.

I saw Rent on the stage in Los Angeles, and my friends had to wake me up so that we could go home. I just didn't get it. I thought I'd try the movie to give it another try. Chris Columbus, he who made the first Harry Potter movie, should make sense of this.

Well, it's still boring. But at least this version makes sense, and the screen allows the camera to take us places the stage never could. What helps is the incredibly talented cast. Colmbus and his fellow producers didn't make the mistake of going for the youngest, rawest talent they could find, the type of actor you would think would fit in a musical La Boheme, but instead went for veterans of the genre, those who can act, can sing, and can prove it.

Unfortunately, the songs still stop the action whenever it gets going. They are imminently not hummable, except for Seasons of Love (which we printed for you up above). There is one song, one exchange between lesbian lovers Maureen and Joanne (actresses Idina Metzel and Tracie Thoms), "Take Me or Leave Me," which is funny, touching, sensual, downright real. And a song that actually moved the plot along.

While Jesse L. Martin's beautific voice could make us listen to a reading of the New York City phone book, he's actually singing from, well, something similar to a phonebook. But it's so neat to see him in something other than the sterile Law and Order.

So, what do we have? We have brilliant actors who double as singers and a plot that makes sense but is depressing and a little thin, a story about Bohemians in the East Village struggling with poverty, love and AIDS, and the impact such an epidemic has on us. But in the end what we're given is not enough to make us look past a genre that has seen better years and still seems dated, a genre that demands good music and good musicians to succeed.

I suspect that the appeal of Rent the stage play was a generational thing, which is why I didn't get it -- it was a younger crowd, they didn't dance all around the room like in Rodgers and Hammerstein's Oklahoma! and the themes reflected today, or at least how today was several years ago. But while Oklahoma! is certainly dated in how it's presented, the music is still superior, moved the story along, and told volumes about the people in the west. Even though Rent the movie lifted the appeal of the actors to fill in that generational gap, it still couldn't do anything about the music and the pace of the piece. And I would assume that the film no longer appeals to the young crowd that liked it so much because (1) the actors are older, and (2) America has moved on to other tragedies to sing about. Thumb's down.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006


In what movie in 2005 did these actors appear?

Keira Knightley
Mickey Rourke
Delroy Lindo
Dabney Coleman
Lucy Liu
Jacqueline Bisset
Mena Suvari
Christopher Walken

The answer: a smallish movie called Domino, a Tony Scott-directed film about a real-life bounty hunter. It’s based on her life, which ended, oddly enough, in 2005 at the age of 35. Or at least it’s loosely based. The film titles give it away when in large white letters appears: “Sort of.”

What a cast! You can imagine, then, that not all of these actors appears for any large amount of time, and that’s true, but they quickly chew whatever scenery they can. And we get to go along for the ride.

The film bookends the action by an interview of Domino by Lucy Liu’s FBI investigator. The voiceover by our heroine tells us that she could go up the river for a long time if she says the wrong thing, or isn’t believed if she tells the truth.

The action within concerns her start as a bounty hunter, and tells it amusingly. We see her respond to the ad, pay her $99 for the chance to learn how to become a bounty hunter, listen to an inspired speech by the erudite Delroy Lindo (whose character is based on a real bail-bondsman who was Domino’s boss and served as a technical advisor on the film). They take a break, take the money, and sneak out of the transom in the bathroom. She catches up to them, they like her verve, and take her on a bust to try her out. The rest is history.

She’s gutsy, that’s for sure. She doesn’t seem to care for anyone except for her goldfish. She has father issues, mother issues, people issues. She gives as good as she gets, and is continually surprising. And all of that comes across in this film. Oh, and by the way, the real Domino Harvey is the daughter of British actor Laurence Harvey.

Notable back-ups for her action include Mickey Rourke, who just keeps getting better in the second era of his career. Mickey plays Ed Moseby, whose character is based on, you guessed it, a real-life bounty hunter, Domino’s partner. Mickey’s character is a toned-down Marv from Sin City, and just as fascinating. Beat up, rode hard, put up wet…..and that just makes you want to get to know him better.

Domino is stylistically hard to follow, lots of whitewash and filters, and a side plot concerning Mo’Nique and the DMV in the middle in which you momentarily get lost. But it all comes together; it all works.

Damn violent, though. Watch out for flying limbs. But it’s done in almost comic fashion, if you can even imagine that.

Strange movie. Even stranger that I will give a thumb’s up for it.

HBO's Elizabeth I

Elizabeth I is a four-hour long HBO special, released in 2005, and it is amazing.

The benchmark for all things Elizabeth Regina, of course, is Glenda Jackson’s six-part miniseries, Elizabeth R, an incredible achievement that covers the entire reign of the Virgin Queen. You’ll pardon me, then, if I refer to this 1972 epic often.

Elizabeth I stars Helen Mirren, a not-so-obvious choice for Elizabeth, but one that won me over almost immediately. She’s commanding, she’s confident, and she changes and grows as time goes on throughout the four hours. She has to be able to face difficult decisions while we watch her form her opinion, and yet giggle like a schoolgirl in the face of her young suitor's advances, and believe she's still the queen. She manages all of this, and more.

There are two parts to the series, a series that starts when she's in her thirties and proceeds to her death. The first is mostly her affair with the Earl of Leicester, while the second deals with her affair with the Earl of Essex, Leicester’s stepnephew. You can see the obvious difference here: we will be taken behind the scenes, where we’ve never been taken before. Even Bette Davis’ version didn’t show us these scenes. While Elizabeth R tended toward the historical accuracy, and thus did not venture to guess the private conversations in her obviously close relationships, miniseries Elizabeth I has no such boundaries. And with modern taste as it is, it isn’t shocking these days to see Essex hurl himself upon the queen. Never fear, our Bess stays a virgin queen, and, even better, we sense why. And, although deceit has no excuse, we almost see why men like Leicester and Essex found other women more available.

The younger Elizabeth in Part One is one who needs a confidante, less confident but growing moreso each year of her reign, and the Earl of Leicester is her choice. Jeremy Irons is a bit older than one pictures Leicester in these years, but a fine choice nonetheless. He has the wimsy, the command of the language, that one would expect. My only criticism of the Jackson Elizabeth miniseries is that her Leicester was too much the clown. One suspects that Leicester, who was practiced in the art of court intrigue, was no jester. And so Irons is exactly the right mix of intellectual, emotional and physical.

I began to see this miniseries as the loves of Elizabeth, and nothing more, since it leaves out most of the political drama of her reign – except for a nicely drawn passage concerning Mary, Queen of Scots, as well as Elizabeth’s grappeling with the court's demand for her marriage – when the second part of the drama proved more satisfying in this area. We’re witness to a middle-aged fling with young, handsome Earl of Essex, but at the same time, we watch the beginning and rise of Robert Cecil, the man who will prove to be her best and trusted counsel in later years. It’s an intriguing counterpoint – Essex, who pulls at the heart, and Cecil, who commands her intellect. And the real treat is not just the writing, the depiction of the growth and maturity of these two real characters, one on the rise and one on the demise, but the acting of Hugh Dancy and Toby Jones, respectively, bring them alive to us. The series hits its greatest height with this acting triumvirate in the last portion of the series. They are astounding to watch, and we are saddened to watch it end.

Elizabeth I is less history than a tale of a bored and cautious queen’s emotions in her close relationships, and in these able hands it’s a joy to watch. Thumb’s up.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Aeon Flux

While my friends are waiting for me to review Mission Impossible III, I took a look at Aeon Flux, a film none of my friends will ever see.

Why are you watching this movie at all, I'm sure they're asking -- because it’s a Charlize Theron movie? No, I whimper defensively. I haven’t seen all of her movies. Just most of them, the good and the bad. I wanted to see if she could pull off female superhero decisively.

Good science fiction takes a normal world and makes a small change to that world, so that you can identify with the people and their values, and put yourself in that world and live it. In a world like Aeon Flux, which is based on an animated series, everything is reinvented on a major scale. And, inevitably, it’s a world we can’t understand, and can't wait to vacate.

The premise is reminiscent of The Matrix, in that someone’s been playing with our realities. In fact, our heroine, Aeon, resembles Trinity in looks and leather gear, except that Trinity had intensity and purpose in what she was doing. Aeon just looks confused.

The movie is visually stunning, especially in the beginning action sequences. The beginning scenes show Aeon and her band of rebels flying through the air, doing the stunts that only animated creatures could do before them -- well, that's kind of cool. But then the movie's pace just slows down until it's barely moving.

There is no heart to this movie, no human soul. Even if you did understand what the hell was going on, a complicated story within a simple sci-fi premise, you don’t care at all about the people involved. It’s a shame to see such fine actors as Charlize Theron, a deserving academy-award winning actress, and Marton Csokas, usually commanding in his films, pour themselves into paper-thin characterizations. The only person who is likely to even inspire an academy award nomination here is Charlize’s hairdresser, for Aeon's spiky black haircut, which clones the animated version exactly. No amount of leather is going to fill out Charlize’s Aeon Flux, a cartoon character who will stay that way throughout.

Guess I'd better amble over to M:i:3. I suspect it's better than this mishmash of futuristic hooey.

Thumb’s down for Aeon Flux.