The Children’s Fantasy Trilogy in Less than 25 Lines

This is from a review of The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, on Daniel’s Critical Corner:

Generic Kid’s Fantasy Movie

Little Girl:  “What a pretty rainbow”.

Goat-Head Creature:  “Yes, and such a nice day as well” !

Little Girl:  “What a magical land” !


Generic Kid’s Fantasy Movie Part 2 

Little Girl:  “It’s raining.”

Goat-Head Creature:  “There is evil afoot.”

Little Girl:  “And the bad sorcerer killed Puppy-Face” !

Goat-Head Creature:  “Awww… He was so cute” !

Little Girl:  “He was actually more than just cute . He 
                    represented the plight of starving animals
around the world” !!!


 Generic Kid’s Fantasy Movie Part 3 (The Final Chapter)

Goat-Head Creature:  “What the heck happened to you” ?

Little Girl:  “What do you mean” ?

Goat-Head Creature:  “You are like what, 40 years old now,
                        and still wearing pigtails” ?

Little Girl:  “You have been possessed by the evil one  
                     like all of the others.  Now you must DIE” !!!

Goat-Head Creature:  “Nooooooo” !

(The little girl stabs Goat-Head Creature with the “Dagger of Truth”.
His blood splatters onto the camera.  As it drips off, we see the
 rainbow again from the first film, but this time with a new clarity).

The End.  Ha Ha !  (I’m sure you get my drift…)

Thanks, Dan.  That made me laugh.

Film Review: The Crying Game (1992)


    Much has been written and said about Neil Jordan’s The Crying Game since its debut in 1992. Most people seem to recall it as “the movie with the chick who was really a dude.” Let me say now that yes, there is a character, Dil (Jaye Davidson), who is a very attractive girl on the outside but is, biologically speaking, most definitely male. Let me also say that THIS IS NOT THE ONLY REASON TO SEE THIS MOVIE. The Crying Game is a story of love, suspense, intrigue and violence set in Britain and Ireland primarily concerning the life of Fergus, a.k.a. Jimmy (Stephen Rea), a repentant IRA soldier looking for answers. The fact that his girlfriend has a penis is no small thing (har, har), but it’s not the only thing either.
     Neil Jordan (Interview With the Vampire, The Brave One) has built a career on exploring marginalized identities, whether it’s the transvestite hairdresser in The Crying Game, the morally conflicted vampire in Interview With the Vampire, or the righteous vigilante in the new The Brave One. Fergus is such a character. We see him first as a dedicated member of the IRA, assigned to watch over Jody (Forrest Whitaker), a British soldier held captive. Over a few days, he befriends Jody, displaying his truly kind nature. A thrilling sequence of events gives Fergus the sudden opportunity, and sad, urgent motivation, to disappear and sever all ties to the IRA. He moves to London, changes his name to “Jimmy,” and encounters Dil, a beautiful nightclub singer/hairdresser and one-time lover to Jody. Jimmy pursues Dil and falls in love with her, only to find that she hold some serious secrets. Jimmy has secrets of his own, and his past with the IRA comes back to haunt him in the form of the vicious and brutal Jude (Miranda Richardson.)
    It is difficult to categorize this film. It is, I suppose, a thriller, but certainly not of the same family as Lethal Weapon. It is a romance, but one so tragically doomed as to be of Shakespearean proportions. The drama is thick, but Jordan controls the tone and keeps the acting from becoming melodrama. Stephen Rea’s performance brings to mind a sort of Irish Humphrey Bogart. He tells lies in a way that would fool a polygraph; he seems to believe his own lies, or at least he doesn’t care that he’s lying. Slowly, though, we see him start to lose his grip on his cool demeanor as he begins to accept his love for Dil. Newcomer Jaye Davidson is nothing short of extraordinary in this role. As I watched, I found it hard to believe that he was acting at all. Forrest Whitaker is fearsome and loveable as Jody, and Jim Broadbent perfectly plays Col, the cute, wise old bartender.
    Perhaps more than in any of his other films, Neil Jordan asks in The Crying Game whether one’s true nature determines one’s actions. There is a very Shakespearean quality to his storytelling; his characters try to heed the command “To thine own self be true” but how can they manage it under such extreme circumstances? When can they be honest, and what do they do when they find themselves lying? What does this mean when they hurt or try to protect those they love? All of this very serious drama and passion, mixed in with some seamlessly integrated gunfights, explosions, and even a little comedy, makes for one of the best films of the 1990s.

Copyright © 2007 Ivan Velasco, Jr.

Film Review: The Commitments (1991)


     Director Alan Parker (Fame) has again taken a tale of struggle and set it to music. This time the story comes from Irish writer Roddy Doyle’s Barrytown series, set in working-class Northside Dublin circa the early 1990s. Jimmy Rabbitte (Robert Arkins) dreams of becoming the leader of a band that plays 50s and 60s American Soul music, no easy task for white Irish kids raised on U2 and Sinead O’Connor. He justifies his mission by telling his recruited hopefuls that the “Irish are the blacks of Europe. And Dubliners are the blacks of Ireland. And the Northside Dubliners are the blacks of Dublin.” The new band members accept this mission statement grudgingly at first, but their working-class origins afford them a previously unseen connection to the songs of Aretha Franklin and Wilson Pickett. Before long, we see them comically boasting that they are indeed black and proud.
     The group is a volatile crew of Irish working-class youngsters, some gathered from an amusing American Idol-esque session of ridiculous auditions. Their lead singer is Deco (Andrew Strong), an impressively boorish bus conductor. Bernie (Bronagh Gallagher), with her overburdened mother and too many siblings, reluctantly agrees to become one of their three backup singers. The quirkiest member of the band is Joey “The Lips” Fagan (Johnny Murphy), a mysterious 45-year-old trumpet player. His stories and frequent references to his buddy The Lord God make him a possible inspiration for Mad Stephen the Irish fighter in Braveheart.
     Perhaps the most interesting character in the movie is Northside Dublin itself. Parker and cinematographer Gale Tattersall (The Jack Bull, “House M.D.”) render the streets, cinderblock buildings, clotheslines and dingy staircases of this world with tremendous familiarity, as if we had grown up in these very neighborhoods. There is one especially amusing and skillfully crafted scene involving a boy intent on taking a horse up the elevator of a run-down apartment building. The scene works both as a funny throwaway gag and as a very sober illustration of the absurdity that accompanies poverty.
     Colm Meaney provides a pleasing performance as the Elvis worshipping J. Rabbitte Sr., and Johnny Murphy is brilliant as Joey the Lips. For the most part, however, the film showcases the actors’ formidable musical talents rather than their considerable lack of acting skills. This is perhaps forgivable, however, because Jimmy’s quest to elevate the depressed Irish working-class with the music of Marvin Gaye and Otis Redding stands up on the movie’s soundtrack alone. This is tremendous music. Andrew Strong, at only 16 years of age, sings with a phenomenal Joe Cocker/Van Morrison voice. The backup singers blossom into sultry soul “chanteuses” for Aretha Franklin’s “Chain of Fools.”
     In the end, we see the results of Jimmy’s attempted musical revolution. Was it a dream or an obsession? What’s the difference? For a band and bandleader who have worked as hard as they have, where has their hope, persistence, and faith taken them? Parker answers most of these questions in a somewhat obvious, heavy-handed manner. Later films such as Peter Cattaneo’s The Full Monty do a better job of showing us the triumph of hope over working-class hopelessness through music. There is food for thought here, but it may have already been eaten up by the time the final credits roll by. As a musical experience, it’s a wonderful movie. See it for Andrew Strong’s singing alone. As a motion picture, however, I think it misses the mark. The final accomplishment is sometimes exciting but overall a bit dullish. See this film if you’re in the mood for some great music, and for the quirky comedy, but don’t expect great acting.

Copyright © 2007 Ivan Velasco, Jr.


Film Review: Barton Fink (1991)


     There is no doubt that Joel and Ethan Coen (Fargo; O Brother, Where Art Thou?) are extremely intelligent filmmakers. However, most of their films, although quirky or strange, are quite accessible at first viewing, and not to the detriment of the films’ depth and layering appreciable on subsequent viewings. Barton Fink is a departure from other Coen brothers movies in that, over the course of the picture, it becomes progressively less accessible. The effect is unhappily frustrating.
     In this film, playwright Barton Fink (John Turturro) rises quickly to fame when his production, a leftist story about the plight and nobility of the “common man,” hits big in 1941’s New York City. Barton fancies himself an intellectual who wants to “make a difference in the world” and thereby initially refuses to go out to cheap and uncultured Hollywood to write for the movies. Soon enough, however, he capitulates, succumbing to the allure of promised riches. Barton checks into the art-deco Hotel Earle, not a first-class establishment, but one that may keep him closer to the “common man.” More obvious than the décor in the lobby and spare rooms are the huge shafts of light that slant in through the windows. When “Chet!,” the friendly but somewhat eerie bellboy (Steve Buscemi) welcomes Mr. Fink to Los Angeles, it’s as if he’s welcoming him into the Twilight Zone.
     Loudmouth studio executive Jack Lipnick (Michael Lerner) hires Barton to write a simple B-picture wrestling flick, which Barton takes on with an intellectual’s obsessive neurosis. He’s never written a wrestling picture. He’s not familiar with the genre. How to begin? He has writer’s block. On the advice of amped-up producer Ben Geisler (Tony Shaloub), he consults famous writer W.P. Mayhew (John Mahoney.) Mayhew (modeled after William Faulkner) is not only a celebrated novelist and southern gentlemen, but also a gloriously undignified drunkard.
     Despite this motley array of acquaintances, Barton is alone in Los Angeles. He seems to be held captive by a truly bizarre hotel that quite literally melts around him. Studio executives, other writers, even the hotel elevator operator all seem to have a deficiency prohibiting them from relating to Barton at his level. He yearns to write about the “common man” but he exiles himself by dismissing everyone he encounters. His only friend is the graciously enigmatic Charlie Meadows (John Goodman). Charlie, who introduces himself as a traveling salesman, oozes “common man” in a very real sense. His belly hangs out, he sweats, even his infected ear drips. Charlie offers the answer to Barton’s lack of inspiration with his unending offers to tell him stories, but all Barton can do is wave him off and complain about being an intellectual subject to the tortuous “life of the mind.” We come to find that there is much more to Charlie, and perhaps Barton, than we may have expected.
     Through the beginning and middle of the movie, I was captivated and amused by Barton’s misadventures. The performances by John Turturro and John Goodman are outstanding. Turturro plays the self-absorbed, suffering intellectual in every word he utters, every gesture he makes. Goodman plays the most gracious, likeable guy in the universe and then turns it all on its head to dizzying effect. The interplay between the two actors is nothing short of classic. Judy Davis as Audrey, Mayhew’s “personal secretary,” Lerner, Mahoney, Shaloub, and Buscemi all offer performances worthy of mention. The cinematography of Roger Deakins (The Shawshank Redemption, Fargo) is gorgeous, telling us so much with light and shadows and with simple camera movements that we feel, as the viewer, like a character in the story.
     Barton Fink is loaded with symbolism, hidden meanings, and suggestion; there’s anti-Semitism, Nazism, homosexuality, Marxism, McCarthyism, elitism, all sorts of -isms. Was this film the Coen’s take on Dante’s Inferno, the Holocaust, the dangers of Hollywood, some combination thereof? The problem, I suspect, is not a lack of content, but the construction. Barton Fink has an ending that is so much more startlingly surreal than the rest of the film that it stops making sense, and therefore feels like no ending at all. Gary Marshall once said “Sometimes when you go out there, you find nobody’s out there with you.” The first time I saw Barton Fink, I felt like I had gone somewhere, but for the life of me I had no idea where I had gone.
     Barton Fink is a good movie that could have been a very good movie. I think that, unfortunately, the Coens may have succumbed to an overdose of what Jack Lipnick called “that Barton Fink feeling.” They may have set out to write a great story, but gotten so wrapped up in their own intellectualization of that story, that they forgot about you and me, the poor old common man.

Copyright © 2007 Ivan Velasco, Jr.