SCARY MOVIE - DISNEY'S THE KID
SUNSHINE - JESUS' SON - TRIXIE
The Wayans Brothers ("I'm Gonna Get You Sucka, TV's "In Living Color") go the way of the Zucker Brothers ("Airplane") with their parody of recent teen scream flicks "Scream" "Scream 2" and "I Know What You Did Last Summer" with the ironically titled "Scary Movie" ("Scream's" original title).
Laura's review of 'Scary Movie':
Not since "Kentucky Fried Movie" (written by the Zucker Brothers, directed by John Landis) in 1977, has a parody flick been so gleefully vulgar. "Scary Movie" pushes the limits of the R rating even further than last year's "South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut." It's also pretty funny in the Zuckers' tradition - if one joke falls flat, two or three more will come along rapid fire that work.
The story most closely follows the plot of the original "Scream," with Carmen Elektra gamely appearing in the infamous first scene (her character's appropriately named Drew), being tormented by the Edvard Munch masked killer over the telephone as she makes popcorn. Within minutes, the Wayans have established good will by larking on the likes of Dennis Rodman, Jiffy Pop, and teen flick T&A.
Cut to seven friends. Cindy and Bobby (nudge, nudge) are the Neve Campbell/Jennifer Love Hewitt, Skeet Ulrich standins with virginal Cindy leading on the always enthusiastic Bobby. Regina Hall ("Love and Basketball") is Brenda, a "Clueless" standin and girlfriend of the sexual identity-challenged Ray (Shawn Wayans, getting one of the best laughs early on while asking for fashion advice). Greg's (Lochlyn Munro) obnoxiousness teamed with girlfriend Buffy's (Shannon Elizabeth, "American Pie") beauty queen dreams recall the "Last Summer" couple played by Ryan Philipe and Sarah Michelle Gellar. Marlan Wayans is Shorty, a stoner who tries to remind the others how a black man can survive a horror flick.
Just by the character's name (Gail Hailstrom), it's easy to guess who SNL'er Cheri Oteri is spoofing, although she only gets to shine in the Wayan's refreshing brief (and therefore more effective) "Blair Witch" reference. Hilariously over-the-top, to the point of near cruelty, is their handling of "Scream's" Dewey (played in those films by David Arquette) as Doofy, although actor Dave Sheridan gets to redeem Arquette's name in an amusing coda.
David L. Lander (TV's "Laverne & Shirley") has a cameo as Principal Squiggy (take that, Henry Winkler!) and Jayne Trcka gets the loudest howl as the girls' gym coach, Miss Mann.
Along the way, the Wayans have a ball with the "Scream" killer and his mask, particularly in a scene where he gets stoned off an aquarium bong set up by Shorty and his pals after receiving an invite that spoofs a popular TV ad. The essential mask changes shape to fit the mood, such as the killer's befuddlement at some of his victim's utter stupidity.
It's a credit to the Wayans (Keenen Ivory directs and cowrote with Shawn, and Marlon as well as Buddy Johnson, Phil Beauman, Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer) that even cultural references which seem already overmined for parody still come off well in their hands.
It's tight, it's outrageous and it's definitely not for small kids. "Scary Movie" will have audiences screaming - in either laughter or in surprise at the lengths the filmmakers go to gross people out.
Robin's review of 'Scary Movie':
"Airplane" collides with the Wayans brothers' "In Living Color" as helmer Keenen Ivory Wayans leads his ensemble cast of family and friends in the spoof that spoofs the spoofs, "Scary Movie."
From its hilarious ode to "Scream" beginning to its "The Usual Suspects" sendoff ending, "Scary Movie" takes no prisoners and bars no holds. Strongly influenced by the zany, machine-gun paced humor of the Zucker brothers, the screenplay, with a bevy of credited writers including many of the Wayans family, hits the comic bull's-eye more often than not. The raunchy nature of a lot of the gags caused screams - mostly of laughter, but sometimes, of shock - at the screening we attended. Shock value is definitely an important aspect of the humor here, but it is certainly not the only humor.
"Scary Movie" takes on the task of making a parody of the film that re-established the horror spoof as a genre, "Scream." At the start, we see Drew Decker (Carmen Electra), a beautiful high school student with a flatulence problem, being stalked a la Drew Barrymore in the original - but with slapstick hilarious, not tongue-in-cheek witty, results. Electra shows one hell of a good sense of humor in capitalizing on her voluptuousness in the film's extended opening before the title. The film goes on to poke fun at "Scream" from beginning to end.
"Scary Movie," though, is not just a spoof on "Scream." As you watch, the sizable ensemble cast move on to make fun of a bunch of horror flicks like "I know What You Did Last Summer," "The Sixth Sense," and "The Blair Witch Project." The parodies are almost universally over the top as the comedian-actors slap you along side the head with their nasty, in your face gags. And horror movies aren't the only ones that are used for the fun of it. "The Matrix" gets its nod, as does the aforementioned "The Usual Suspects." But, they don't stop there as they move on to all sorts of teen cliches, with no sacred cow un-skewered. Gays, virgins, handicapped people, retarded people, straight people, stoners, beauty queens, transvestites, weird sex practices, snot, movie goers, fat people, pubic hair, penises, dildos and more are fodder for the many gags. It's surprising how many of them work, too.
The big cast got the chance to adlib and put their own spin on their characters. The free flow of imaginative humor is evident here as the actors give their own personalities to their roles. You can match the characters to their counterparts in the films being spoofed. Marlon Wayans as the constantly stoned Shorty, is like the Randy character in "Scream." He knows everything about horror movies and what you shouldn't do - split up, go into a dark room alone, answer the phone - but is too wasted to be of any help. Newcomer Anna Faris makes her debut as the central character, Cindy Campbell, putting a good-natured spin on the dour Neve Campbell role in the original. Regina Hall ("Love and Basketball") plays the girlfriend to the sexually uncertain Ray (Shawn Wayans), the BMOC football player who likes to take showers with his teammates and has Brenda dress up in his football pads and helmet. Hall is outstanding when she gets to be the movie-goer-from-hell and a film critic's worst nightmare. The other players - Dave Sheridan as town simpleton Doofy, Shannon Elizabeth as high school sex kitten Buffy, Cheri Oteri as the cutthroat TV reporter Gail Hailstorm, and the rest - also help make the humor happen.
The behind the camera work befits the efforts of those in front of it with costuming, by Darryle Johnson ("The Wood"), matching the tone of the films being spoofed. The same goes for the production design by Robb Wilson King ("Rush Hour") and photography by Francis Kenny ("Harriet the Spy").
To tell you about all the gags, puns, funny bits and shocks of "Scary Movie" would be to deprive you of the pleasure of having it all come as a nice surprise. But, be forewarned, the "R" rating for this film is completely warranted for the raunch factor. Some think that an "NC-17" rating would be more suitable. I go with the hard "R" and it is very hard. Parents beware of taking younger teens and below to this one. I give it a giggling B.
Russ Duritz (Bruce Willis) is fast approaching his 40th birthday. He's a successful image consultant, makes a lot of money, and has an expensive home and a fancy car. But, he's a loser when it comes to the things that count in life - a family, friends, and people who care. Russ is at an emotional crossroads and, though he doesn't realize it, needs help. A pudgy 8-year old boy named Rusty (Spencer Breslin) arrives on his doorstep. When Russ realizes that Rusty is himself, 32-years ago, he makes a start on the road to personal redemption in "Disney's The Kid."
Robin's review of 'Disney's The Kid':
It gives me a chill when I see a movie title include the name of the company that made it. When I saw the title of "Disney's The Kid," I knew that the family entertainment giant was trying a little misdirection, as if to say, "Pay no attention to this movie. Just look who made it! That's the important thing." It isn't. The story is the important thing and "The Kid" lacks a good one.
"If only I knew what I know now when I was growing up...." Everyone has said this to himself or herself at least once and probably many times over the years. It's an interesting premise, like time travel, and one that is ripe with possibilities. Unfortunately, the screenplay by Audrey Wells ("Guinevere") doesn't capitalize on the idea. Basically, the story for "The Kid" is about a pretty unlikable character, Russ, who happens to be very good at what he does. His consultation business is lucrative and his clients are happy with his efforts, but nobody likes the man. Even his loyal assistant, Janet (Lily Tomlin), seems to tolerate the taciturn, often rude, style that defines Russ.
When Russ's alter ego, Rusty, arrives on the scene, there is no explanation, aside from some vague magical incidents that don't explain anything. The boy just appears out of the blue with a toy airplane, which Russ believes is his from 32 years ago. Matching birthmarks and scars, the pair realizes that they are the same person, but separated by decades. From here on in, it's a matter of who helps whom. Rusty sees his future life as, "I'm 40, I don't fly jets and I don't have a dog. I'm a loser!" Russ sees his past life as something to be forgotten. This odd little couple must come to grips with their life crises and turn to each other for help. Russ shows Rusty how to defend himself against bullies, while Rusty teaches Russ the importance of nurturing the kid within.
Bruce Willis seems to have made a career choice to star in film with kids. "Mercury Rising" and "The Sixth Sense" come to mind with the former a thriller, the later a horror flick, and both starring a little boy, too. "The Kid" is a comedy, but no one apparently told Willis that his latest is supposed to be funny as he gives a humorless performance as Russ. Compounding Willis's wooden perf is the unendearing one by little Spencer Breslin as Rusty. The kid schleps around and endlessly complains of not having a dog (and you know where that's going to go. As you do with just about everything in the movie.) Young Breslin doesn't have the personality or charm to make you like him. In the end, you don't care about either Russ or Rusty.
The supporting cast is lightweight in number and the players are allowed to be symbols only. Emily Mortimer, as Russ's assistant Amy, is the obvious love interest in the film, though why she would deign to be seen in the company of her rude boss is a question I asked more than once. The script covers this by having Amy declare to Russ, "I [sometimes] see the kid in you." I'm glad she does, because I never did. Nonetheless, Mortimer is pretty and perky in the role. Jean Smart gets some mileage as a middle-aged southern belle who relocates to LA as a news anchor. Her Deirdre becomes Russ's muse and advisor, basically telling him the obvious - let the inner kid out.
The production, led by helmer John Turteltaub, is straightforward. There is little to take note of as the team behind the camera goes through the motions of capturing the action. There's not a lot of passion in front of or behind the camera.
When I first saw the trailers for "Disney's The Kid," I was less than enthusiastic about seeing it. Now, having been there, I find my instincts were correct. Save your money (or, go see "Chicken Run" instead). I give it a D+.
Laura's review of 'Disney's The Kid':
Bruce Willis once again braves sharing the screen with a child (and TWO dogs, including a handicapped one!) in "Disney's the Kid." He's Russ Duritz, an image consultant with a long-suffering assistant (Lily Tomlin) who buffers him from his father and an employee, Amy (Emily Mortimer, "Love's Labour's Lost") who keeps having her hopes of finding his good side dashed.
We witness a day in the life of Russ, where he treats people rudely (although the script, by Audrey Wells ("Guinevere"), needed some real toughening up in this regard) and engineers a media moment with a bunch of kids recruited at a baseball game to save a dishonorable client. Amy protests (script problems again - why would she work for this guy if she constantly rejects his methods?) and Russ redeems himself by tossing the video. Of course, he then has to spoil the good will he's generated by shoving her childlike enthusiasm for a perfect moon back in her face.
Then things get really weird when it appears a little kid is breaking into his highly secure LA home. (And, oh yeah, he's been buzzed by a bright red biplane, too.) A toy plane is left on Russ' doorstep and then he catches the kid, who claims the plane because his name, Rusty, is painted on the bottom. Turns out - surprise - that this is Russ' plane and he's just been introduced to himself as a child.
"Disney's the Kid" is an odd hybrid of a movie - the Disney inserted in the title implies a kids' film, but it's really a midlife crisis flick mixed with some fantastical time travel elements (the pilot plus multi-generational male bonding aspect recalls Mel Gibson's "Forever Young"). Unfortunately the story never seems to get out of the concept phase and Turteltaub's ("Phenomenon," "Instinct") direction is bland, but the cast can't be faulted. Willis generously lets his costars shine, even as his character is undone by writing that can't live up to its convictions (Russ doesn't seem unhappy with his lot until he's made aware that he should be). Young Spencer Breslin (TV commercials) is a solid foil, never playing for the sap factor and able to pull off his disdain for 'a dogless, chickless guy' as being a loser (he also does a pretty good job with the 'Holy smokes' signature line he must say repeatedly).
Support really shines in this centerless film with Lily Tomlin's Janet leading the pack in a naturally comic performance as the power behind the throne. Jean Smart (a vet of screenwriter Wells' "Guinevere") exudes warmth in a small but pivotal role of a new LA news anchor who gets free advice from the early, begrudging Russ in order to pop up later and return the favor more generously. Emily Mortimer finally establishes herself with a character that actually has a personality (her performances in "Scream 3" and "Love's Labour's Lost" hardly being memorable). She holds her own against both Willis and Breslin with adroit charm.
"Disney's the Kid" continues to waste its potential with an overly sappy, overly 'happily ever after' ending that would actually make life almost not worth living for the two different-aged Russes if any of these pedestrian filmmakers stopped to think about it.
An alcoholic elixer known as "A Taste of Sunshine" brings wealth and social standing to the Jewish family Sonnenschein (German for sunshine) under the helm of Emmanuelle (David De Keyser, "Yentl"). Ralph Fiennes plays his son Ignatz as well as two subsequent generations as the family is buffetted through almost a century of turbulent Hungarian history.
Laura's review of 'Sunshine':
Director Istvan Szabo ("Mephisto") cowrote this epic with famed playwright Israel Horovitz ("Growing Up Jewish") which takes its family through the end of a monarchy, the subsequent decline into fascism (and the Holocaust) and the reactionary institution of communism. Ignatz makes his father proud by studying law and becoming a judge loyal to the crown, while his brother Gustave (James Frain, "Where the Heart Is") becomes a doctor of more liberal politics. Then there's Valerie (Jennifer Ehle, daughter of Rosemary Harris who takes on the role as the character ages), the orphaned daughter of Emmanuel's brother whom Emmanuel adopts and raises as his own. The sexual spark between Valerie and Ignatz causes grief to their parents while making Gustave jealous, but it will not be denied and the two marry. However, Valerie's political leanings are aligned with Gustave's and eventually she leaves one brother for the other. Ignatz also changes his family name to the more Hungarian (and less Jewish) Sors (which means destiny) at the suggestion of the chief justice and Valerie and Gustave follow suit, much to their parents' sadness.
Valerie and Ignatz's son Adam (Fiennes again) lives a life of priviledge and becomes a national hero as a fencing champion, even winning Olympic Gold. He too has women problems as his sister-in-law Greta (Rachel Weisz, "The Mummy") bullies him into an affair ('We're a lucky family - everyone loves everybody else,' Adam comments wryly.). When the Nazi regime rises and rules governing Jewishness are heard on the radio, the Sonnenscheins/Sors family qualify for special standing due to war medals and that Olympic gold, but the family still ends up in the death camps, which only Adam's son Ivan (Fiennes) and his grandmother Valerie (Harris by this point) survive.
Ivan becomes a pawn of the communist movement, although he has a good man, Andor Knorr, as a mentor. Like his father and grandfather before him, Ivan has a messy love life, becoming embroiled in an affair with the wife (Deborah Kara Unger, "The Game") of a high ranking official. When the communist party begins to turn in upon itslef and Knorr is targetted, Ivan is forced to condemn his old friend.
The story is always interesting, yet is harmed by its willingness to stoop to soap opera level. Even more serious of a flaw is that each generation played by Fiennes is essentially a weak, comprised man overpowered by the women who love him. The three hour film seems too short in that scenes are abbreviated while we barrel into the next one in order to cram all the events in. The film plays like a six hour miniseries that's been editted for theatrical release.
There are some standout performances, chiefly Jennifer Ehle ("Wilde," "Bedrooms and Hallways") who resembles a young Meryl Streep in both looks and talent. Her strong character is never compromised as she searches for truth and beauty in life. Rosemary Harris picks up the reins admirably, but the film suffers when Ehle leaves the screen. (A far less smooth transition is achieved when John Neville ("The Adventures of Baron von Munchausen") takes over for Frain, whom he resembles not in the slightest).
Also exceptional is David De Keyser as Emmanuel, the good father whose children perplex and try him while also filling him with pride. Miriam Margolyes ("The Age of Innocence") gives another great turn as his embittered wife Rose who loves her own sons over her niece and resents a similar cousin who once tempted her own husband. Fiennes himself is solid, creating three distinct characters whose bloodlines demand they still resemble each other, but his performance is passionless. William Hurt stands out as the decent Knorr, remaining honorable as he's besmirched by his own party. Rachel Weisz is appropriately hiss-worthy as Adam's selfish lover while Molly Parker ("Kissed") is bland as his wife. Kara Unger is good as a woman whose sexual appetites override her sense.
The film looks stunning, with cinematography by Lajos Koltai ("Mother") utilizing a marvelous color scheme. The first hour of the film is bathed in golds and ambers, reflecting the "Taste of Sunshine" upon which the family is based, as well as nostalgia for a lost age. The subsequent two hours begin with the blinding whites of the fencing sport, which evolves into the reds of Communism and sickly greens of institutionism - the three colors of the oft-seen Hungarian flag. Koltai also makes great use of his Budapest locations and leaves the audience with some memorable images, such as Valerie sitting in a courtyard filled with yellow flowers or Adam, left hanging from a tree in a Nazi death camp encased in ice.
Robin's review of 'Sunshine':
Ralph Fiennes stars as father, son and grandson in the multi-generation drama by veteran Hungarian filmmaker Istvan Szabo ("Mephisto," "Colonel Redl") in the epic family film, "Sunshine." The story is told by grandson Ivan Sonnenschein (which translates to the "Sunshine" of the title) and begins the tale of how Great-great-grandfather Emmanuelle built his fortune using a secret family recipe for a marvelous elixir called "A Taste of Sunshine." However, his sons Ignatz (Fiennes) and Gustav (James Frain) refuse to follow in his footsteps and seek more intellectual pursuits - Ignatz becomes a judge, while Gustav pursued a career in medicine.
The family fable focuses on the ambitious Ignatz Sonnenschein as he abandons his Jewish heritage in favor of advancing himself in the Hungarian Empire's judicial system. His father is aghast when Ignatz changes his name to the more Christian sounding Sors and announces his amorous intentions for his cousin (almost a sister) Valerie. Ignatz's loyalty is to his emperor, not to his family, and he forsakes his Jewish past for personal advancement. His conservatism backfires, though, as the Europe is thrust into the throes of The Great War and beyond. When Communism rears its ugly head, Ignatz falls from grace with the ruling regime and becomes a mere pawn in his country's political upheaval.
As Ignatz fades from the picture, his son, Adam (Fiennes), develops into an outstanding athlete. He continues his father's denial of their Jewish faith, converting to Catholicism in order to compete on the restricted national fencing team. When he wins the gold medal at the 1936 Munich Olympics, his future in the again conservative regime seems assured. Then, with the rise of the Nazis to power in Europe, anti-Semitism rages and the Jewish Laws are issued. Adam steadfastly maintains that his exemptions - converted Catholic and national hero - protect him and his family from the fate awaiting Europe's Jews. In shock, Adam and his son, Ivan, are shipped to a concentration camp where Adam's demands that he is exempt and should be released end, literally, in his chilling death.
Ivan (Fiennes) survives the camp and, as a young man, becomes a police investigator and embraces the Communist Cause as the savior for the survivors of the Holocaust and Hitler's deadly fascism. But, changing masters does not create the freedom that Ivan expected as the communist leaders, under the thumb of Josef Stalin, reprise the same brutal repression as Hitler's henchmen. Ivan, through the influences of his old grandma (Valerie, played in later years by Rosemary Harris) and aging uncle Gustav (John Neville), embraces his Hebrew past and rejects, even subverts, the communist oppression of the Hungarian people. The final straw for the young man is when he is ordered to interrogate and expose his friend and mentor, Andor Korr (William Hurt), bringing the family tale full circle.
"Sunshine" is an ambitious film that spans decades, with the concentration on Fiennes's several lives. The political and personal lives of each Sonnenschein lad are influenced by the whims of history as one regime replace another, each with a promise of a better life for its citizens. The promise is never kept, though, and the people are mere duckpins in the political game as conservative regime replaces liberal, then communist replaces fascist, ad infinitum. The political scope of the film is impressive in it span of time and detail. The upheavals that occur through Hungary's history are depicted with accuracy, starting with the decaying opulence of the Austria-Hungarian Empire of Franz Josef.
When World War One is thrust upon the countries of Europe, the political fabric is torn asunder and traditional ways are destroyed forever. Chaos takes control as followers of the left and right vie with each other to take control. Communism takes command of Russia, while the rise of the Nazis grips Germany and, eventually, the rest of the continent. Hungary sways first in one direction, then the other, as the left and right struggle to take over the government. This strife is shown in parallel as each of the Sonnenschein boys makes his mark on their individual generations, trying to garner favor from the powers that be.
While Ralph Fiennes is the nominal star of the film, it is really an ensemble effort with some outstanding performances. Fiennes puts a unique spin on each of his characters and does an impressive job of making each one different. It's a big creative challenge that the actor handles well enough, but there is a flatness that permeates all three perfs. More impressive is the pair of performances by the actresses who portray Valerie as, first, a young lady, and later, an old woman. Jennifer Ehle is cast as Valerie the younger who becomes the lover and wife of Ignatz. Ehle outshines Fiennes (and everyone else) in every scene she is in, coming across as smart, independent, confident and capable. Rosemary Harris, Ehle's real-life mother, plays Valerie in her twilight years and carries forth the strengths developed by the younger Val. These two ladies are the best things in "Sunshine."
The rest of the large cast provides the requisite depth to their respective roles, but are all so briefly presented that there isn't much time to develop each character. Of the others, William Hurt stands out as the honest and trusting Andor. He believes that his country is finally ready to care for its people, only to have his ideals smashed by the brutal oligarchy of the communists. His downfall also reps a significant turning point for Ivan.
There is depth in the screenplay by Szabo and Hungarian playwright Israel Horowitz and they have no trouble in filling the film's 180 minute run time with its three interlocking tales. But, 3 hours is a big investment of time for a moviegoer and Fiennes does not give a compelling enough performance to warrant the time for most. It's not the type of film I can "recommend" but I don't regret seeing it, either. It's an enigma.
Tech credits are first rate with Lajos Koltai providing the lush photography that helps carry the sought after period feel. Costume, by Pedro Moreno, and set design, by Attila Kovacs, recreate, nicely, the flow of Hungarian history over the last century. The score, by Maurice Jarre, suits the mood of the film.
I give "Sunshine" a B.
FH lives a life of doing drugs and committing petty crimes. He spend his days getting high, stealing and scamming, trying to get the quick buck to support his habit and that of a beautiful addict named Michelle (Samantha Morton). FH is also a compassionate guy who has an overwhelming need to help those around him, but he is a miserable failure as a savior. Redemption does come to our hero, though, when he lands a job at an assisted care facility and discovers the true depths of his compassion for his fellow man and the grace it holds for him in "Jesus' Son."
Robin's review of 'Jesus' Son':
Billy Crudup stars as FH, which is short for "nasty expletive that begins with an F" Head. FH is a kindly soul and a naif in the wilderness of life. He is also one that is easily led astray. He has a self-destructive passion that he exercises liberally with the use of drugs, committing crimes to support his bad habits. This passion is shared by Michelle, but for the young woman, becomes deadly. Michelle's death is a catalyst for FH, causing him to pursue his need to help others. FH's journey brings him to a number of life-affirming crossroads where the young man can see the wonders of life beneath the despair.
Along the way of his metaphysical journey of both mind and geography, FH meets a myriad of colorful characters. When he goes to work in a hospital emergency room, he encounters Georgie (Jack Black, "High Fidelity"), a pill-pushing and pill-popping orderly with a crazed streak. He meets and treats a victim of domestic violence - a man walks in with a butcher knife jammed into his eye, but no one seems too worried about because "his vitals are normal and his sight is excellent." FH takes the miracles he sees as a chance of redemption for his careless ways. But before he can exercise his new devotion, he agrees to help a hang dog divorcee, Wayne (Denis Leary), in the vengeful act of destroying the suburban home he shared with his now-estranged wife. When the pair OD on heroin, only FH recovers and seeks the help and shelter of a support group.
He meets a half-paralyzed woman, Mira (Holly Hunter), in the rehab center and they begin a relationship. Mira has lost more husbands and lovers to the Grim Reaper than she can count, but, she can also dance and helps teach FH a few things about life and love. To further serve his desire to help people, having journeyed from Iowa to Chicago and, finally, to sunny Phoenix, he takes a job at Beverly Homes, an assisted care facility.
The plight of the elderly and handicapped residents of the home is hard for the sensitive FH to take, at first. He perseveres, though, and comes to understand the curative effect a farm touch or a kind word can bring to someone all alone. He even takes the task of writing the home's weekly newsletter, bringing a little more pleasure to the inmates' sheltered lives. FH attains a grace that makes him realize that he has found the fulfillment he has searched for all of his life.
Producer/co-writers Elizabeth Cuthrell and David Urrutia adapt the short story collection, Jesus' Son by Denis Johnson, into an episodic little yarn that follows the life and learning arc of an odd young man, but one who has an innocent, beguiling charm and naivete. As FH first attempts to help people, he doesn't have a very good track record, but succeeds in getting a little better at it through each vignette. The episodic nature of the film, as adapted from the necessarily episodic short stories, causes a problem of flow for the overall story. Much of the first hour of the tale involves FH and Michelle, but there is not emotional payback when that episode ends. The rest of the chapters are more rushed than need be with sometimes-perfunctory treatment given to the other stories.
Billy Crudup, while not giving an Oscar caliber performance, does a solid job of depicting the underlying sweet nature of FH. FH is a likable guy, not too bright, but with a good heart. He always tries to do the right thing, when his mind and morals aren't addled with drugs, so his desire for redemption for his sins is nicely tied up by the film's end. It's a good-natured performance and shows ability and skill by Crudup.
The "name" cast fares unevenly. Samantha Morton ("Sweet & Lowdown"), as Michelle, is pretty and needy, but too much time is spent on her chapter with FH, with little satisfaction for their story. Denis Leary seemed uncomfortable in his role as the troubled Wayne. Dennis Hopper as an asylum inmate under FH's care has little to do and his interlude is not compelling at all. Holly Hunter, as the handicapped Mira, puts a sound edge on her character and comes out as a positive influence on FH, despite her countless past encounters with death.
There is an unexpected surreal quality that permeates the film and it is not just due to the overt drug subculture depicted. Throughout the story, FH has visions, like a naked pregnant woman floating on air or seeing the heart of Christ beating in a gangster's breast. There is also an extended sequence in the last portion where FH becomes a peeping Tom. He begins a voyeuristic relationship with a young, Mennonite woman whom he heard singing one day as he passed her home. This is a bizarre, but oddly touching sequence that departs from the rest of the film and, at the same time, is an integral part of FH's final redemption and freedom of spirit.
Tech credits are straightforward, but not exemplary. Hired gun helmer Allison Maclean does a solid job with the adapted material and, with the production team, puts a unique spin and feel on each of the chapters. The uneven telling of the tales is what hurts "Jesus' Son," not the technical and artistic players.
A credible performance by Billy Crudup, supported by a cast of vets, makes "Jesus' Son" a cut above average, but just a little one, and I give it a C+.
Laura's review of 'Jesus' Son':
Adapted from short stories by Denis Johnson, "Jesus' Son" is an episodic ramble of a film which chronicles the experiences of a drifter/junkie tagged with the name F*&$Head (Billy Crudup, "Without Limits") because everything he touches goes south.
FH meets up with Michelle (Samantha Morton, "Sweet and Lowdown"), a heroin addict who provides more surreal encounters with a cast of oddballs who do things like shoot one another by mistake in their doped out states of being. FH drifts downward with Michelle ('Oh Sweet Pea, come on and dance with me'), alternating between fights and tenderness, until she eventually ODs. Then FH continues to drift through emergency rooms (where he'll meet the infamous 'guy with a knife through his eye') and one rehab after another, until he eventually finds redemption working in a nursing home and spying on a blind Mennonite woman who sings hymns.
The large supporting cast features some good performances. Holly Hunter appears late and too little as woman whose boyfriends and multiple husbands keep dying on her. Denis Leary is another junkie ('all the good vibes happen when Wayne's around'). Jack Black ("High Fidelity") is Georgie, manic rehab nurse. A quiet Dennis Hopper is a rueful rehab patient.
While the film's bizarre moments, such as FH's companion saving a litter of bunnies by performing an on-the-spot road cesarean, are entertaining, and its more serious moments, such as witnessing a palsied man find out his wife is divorcing him, are moving, the pieces don't connect well into a well rounded whole. "Jesus' Son" earns most of its good will from Billy Crudup's likeable performance as a sort of holy fool.
Trixie Zurbo's (Emily Watson, "Cradle Will Rock") luck changes when she moves from Chicago to a gambling resort town and immediately lands a job as a security guard at a casino. This mixed metaphor madam knows that 'life is no bed of gravy,' but soon she's in the thick of a political sex scandal murder tied to Senator Drummond Avery (Nick Nolte) in Alan Rudolph's 'screwball noir' "Trixie."
Laura's review of 'Trixie':
Trixie immediately meets three people when she gets her new job. Ruby Pearli (Brittany Murphy, "Girl, Interrupted") is a sixteen year old unwed mother with movie star hair, eager to befriend Trixie. Kirk Stans (Nathan Lane, "Love's Labour's Lost") is an alcoholic lounge act who gives Trixie advice and greets her with 'How's Trix?' Dex Lang (Dermot Mulroney, "My Best Friend's Wedding") is the local ladies' man who immediately sets his sights on Trixie.
It's Dex that gets Trixie involved in scandal when he invites her onto his boss' boat and said boss arrives unexpectedly. Red Rafferty (Will Patton, "Gone in 60 Seconds") is a corrupt resort developer who's trying to win favor and entertain Senator Avery with Dawn Sloan (Rudolph vet Leslie Ann Warren), a strung out, washed up lounge singer. When Dawn disappears, Rex becomes concerned and Trixie puts herself on the 'case.'
According to the press notes, Rudolph wanted to 'have fun with the hardboiled detective genre.' Maybe the writer/director had fun, but I sure didn't. Trixie's clueless mutterings ('Yesterday I didn't get to say something that needs repeating.' 'I don't know whether I'm an aunt or an uncle.' 'You are not drinking yourself into Bolivia') sound amusing in print, but mostly play completely flat. Emily Watson has morphed herself into a gum snapping imbecile with an indistinguishable accent in this film, but then again, all the characters are clueless with the exception of Nathan Lane's Kirk. Lane is of some interest because he's smart and his motivations are murky. Nick Nolte's senator peppers all his conversations with anecdotes about other politicians' sex lives (apparently Nixon had a hot Hong Kong tour guide stashed away at Bebe Rebozzo's). The character may be pretty dim, but his disintegration in front of a horde of media is worth watching. Little else is.
Technically the film looks fine, with locations reminiscent of Twin Peaks territory (motels are called things like "Belle Vista" or "Grizzly Motel").
At one point Senator Avery declares 'You people are behaving like clowns. It's embarrassing.' Amen.
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