…and the quest to see everything

Posts tagged “1999

Re-Casting American Beauty


Cover of "American Beauty (Widescreen Edi...

Cover of American Beauty (Widescreen Edition)

I know Bryan Cranston’s cooler and that I’m ruining a Drive reunion – that movie still sucks, by the way! – but head over to Entertainment Maven to see my picks to cast if I was doing a table read or remake of American Beauty.


Any Given Sunday


From my childhood third world perspective, looking through a keyhole into the widely disseminated First World pop culture, sports were the furthest thing. But I have a sneaking suspicion, that Oliver Stone‘s portrayal of the public and private lives of a football team in Any Given Sunday feel inaccurately cartoonish. For the pats decade, there has been a different quarterbacks who would host SNL once every four years and another one who would announce his blindly conservative views. And mind my traces of nerdy, anti-jock prejudices but anyone who gets to college through a sports scholarship should never be in front of a microphone ever.

That said, I don’t remember the late 90’s with the memory of men Willie Beamen (Jamie Foxx). He starts out as a nervous last resort on this movie’s football team, the symbolically named Miami Sharks, replacing quarterback Jack ‘Cap’ Rooney (Dennis Quaid), the latter feeling varying degrees of pressure from his coach Tony D’Amato (Al Pacino) and his wife to play on, has taken it to himself to swallow his pride and make way for the new blood.

Then becoming its unlikely rising star, and it’s inevitable that this new fame, the fake friends that go with them and the endorsements get to his unprepared head. For some reason, he would be allowed to embarrass himself through a nationally broadcast sports channel and a rap music video. The movie also gives us access to his semi-private life, with his stupid crass boring ass parties and such. It was as if Stone was conflating that decade’s football stars with those in basketball, like actor Michael Jordan, rapper Shaquille O’Neal and model Lebron James. Beaman is the cringe-inducing manifestation of the black masculine ego, Stone’s inadvertent racial, gendered caricature. I’m not saying that this movie’s racist but if someone told me that it was, I wouldn’t object to his or her opinion.

Knowing that characters within the Sharks are less surprisingly coarse, what interests Stone are stories with trashy narcissists who have no business in becoming figureheads of America’s institutions, whether they be political, financial or athletic, but they end up doing so because of luck and some talent. Timing is important to them, entering these systems in dire times, and their presence within their new worlds make these institutions more precarious, the same way the Sharks’ standing within the NFL is vulnerable. Speaking of talent, I can’t fully discredit Stone’s anti-heroes or villains no matter what they do or how they get to the top, Clay Shaw is well-connected and an efficient taskmaster, Gordon Gekko knowing stocks at the back of his cranium. Of course after vomiting spells and surprisingly, Tony coaching, Beamen can magically pass the football to the other side.

It also helps to know who’s on scriptwriting duties. Helping Stone out is John Logan, responsible for the expanisve, ambitious, masculine and violent A-list vehicles like The Last Samurai, Sweeney Todd and the Oscar-winning Gladiator and Daniel Pyne, whose work in Fracture and the TV series “Miami Vice” bring equal amounts of flash and contemporary grit to this movie.

Back to Stone’s characters, if the ‘trashy’ character is a secondary protagonist like Beamen, there comes a more major character who has to make us less cynical and make us believe that the Sharks and football are holy institutions with integrity and rules. That’s what Tony is for. Pacino amazes here, as we can hear his vocal restraint even when he’s yelling at his players and calling them ‘an embarrassment.’ He has a good rapport with the other actors playing athletes, guiding these characters individually especially in times of need, like injuries, ego deficiencies and the like.

There’s also owner-by-nepotism Christina Pagliacci (Cameron Diaz). Both are conflictophiles, Tony and her respectively representing old and new ways of handling a sports team, both of them being right in their own ways. There’s a short yet innately caricature-like moment when Diaz is sitting on her desk, “Thinker” pose and all. She’s absent in chunks of the movie and neither is she perfect, especially in verbal clashing with a commanding presence like Pacino, but she’s aware of the pressures that faces her character.

Supporting cast includes Aaron Eckhart as an offensive coach impatiently waiting under Tony’s wing, Ann Margaret as Christina’s alcoholic, chagrined and emotionally abandoned mother Margaret and LL Cool J as an endorsement hungry player resentful, like everyone else, of Willie’s refusal to follow the playbook.

The rest of it I’m not a big fan of. Stone’s indulgent camerawork were effective in his earlier movies. He tries to use the same techniques to capture the game’s frenzy but it doesn’t work, especially with adding the aggressive, multi-genre popular music. Scenes of football games portrayed with pathetic fallacy, either with glaring, desert-evoking multiple spotlights or the rain and mud, either weather condition showing every anguished sinew of the athletes despite all that padding. That and the flashbacks were needlessly fetishistic. The more subtle the better. And of course, Charlton Heston appears some commissioner who says about Christine that ‘she’ll eat her young,’ reinforcing the movie’s xenophobic streak in thinking that a woman could be in power is if she’s evil. Please.


Julianne on “An Ideal Husband”


Julianne Moore is one of Hollywood’s most versatile actresses but there are arguably three performances where she could be interchangeable with Madonna. The first and most obvious is as Charley in A Single Man. The second being Maude Lebowski although of course we’ll assume that the singer doesn’t have the same comic timing as Moore does. The third is the twice divorced Laura Chevely in An Idea Husband, a dramedy set in London during the Gilded Age. Madonna has the alabaster complexion back in 1999 but Moore had the curly red hair, ringlets and a luminescent yet cleavage-revealing golden gown, looking like an older yet polished Morisot muse. But when she slithers beside Lord Arthur Goring (Rupert Everett, at one time Madonna’s best friend), opens her mouth and unleashes her laced sexuality, it makes my mind go ‘Madge….’

An Ideal Husband is Oscar Wilde territory – petty, bourgeois, yet more lighthearted than a few other works I’ve skimmed. Laura used to believe in concepts like love but she only concerns herself now with acquiring husbands for power or destroying the enemies who get in her way. She threatens Arthur, wanting marriage from him or else she will reveal the contents of a scandalous letter! Her other option would be destroying Sir Robert Chilton’s (Jeremy Northam) integrity, a Member of the Parliament, by convincing him to approve of a scene. Meanwhile the lives of headstrong Mabel Chilton (Minnie Driver), Robert’s sister, and the shy Lady Gertrude (Cate Blanchett), more worthier wives than Laura can ever make, hang in the balance.

Moore’s casting, along with Blanchett’s, makes the film merely three-fifths British. Everyone’s accents, including Moore’s affected and sassy rendition, are passable but there’s something in the movie that takes away from its authentic locality. Maybe I’ve seen most of these actors play North Americans too many times and in better movies. Or that they seem to belong somewhere else.

Getting neither man, Laura plants the letter, leaves London’s boulevards and hopes her work is done. Unfortunately, she leaves us withe the rest of the sappy, romantic characters and I turn into a Grinch.


Guilty Pleasure: Analyze This


‘I love Billy Crystal, I want him to host the Oscars,’ so you say but when I hear his name I think, snarkily, like I do with my best friend’s ex-boyfriends. ‘Like really, him?’ National treasure statuses go in waves and I got introduced to him and his work during a hiatus of said status. Others have experienced him during When Harry Met Sally… or now when he upstaged whoever was hosting the Oscars – I have an interesting story of how I missed that glorious moment, by the way. I, however, lump him within middle-aged comedians dominating HBO with dated comedies of the late 1990’s. Tim Allen. Tom Arnold. It’s sad, I know, but he did star as Dr. Ben Sobel in the Harold Ramis directed movie Analyze This.

Oh, I get it, America and Canada loves him because he looks like a human Muppet, with smizing beady eyes and the way he opens his thin lips. It’s funny listening to his muffled voice when he gets high-pitched and irritated with Paul’s demanding ways. He also reaps as much as he can pose as a gangster in Paul Vitti’s (Robert de Niro) place.

With a cast including Lisa Kudrowas Ben’s long-suffering fiancée, Chazz Palminteri as a gangster rival and half of the people who have appeared in “The Sopranos,” Crystal gets sidelined, having to play the normal guy as he normally does. He doesn’t always hit a home run with some punch lines neither. However, I find myself surprised when I chuckle to some of the jokes that I didn’t catch the first or the second time I have seen this. He’s funny when he’s underplaying a punch line about himself as a psychiatrist. His brand of physical comedy more introverted than limb-y.

This movie also came out the same year when the aformentioned “The Sopranos” did, both coincidentally have plots about aging gangster types who deal with their emotional and psychiatric issues. Ben plays a psychiatrist who deals with the sexual ennui of the middle-aged until he lands on a goldmine by getting Paul as a patient. Wackiness and whacking – not off – ensues, chaos being an essential part of every generic comedy. Ben sees Paul merely as a patient but like every other comedy, the latter has boundary issues. Vitti has daddy issues but unearthing those psychological knots also mean that he can convince Ben to talk about his father too. In a way, they’re perfect for each other.

Crystal also gets upstaged and rightfully so by de Niro, who’s on his post-post-Scorsese era. The latter probably did this movie in the tail end of gangster revisionism or genre mash-ups that began a decade before. He gives the character exactly what it needs for a comedy – a childlike nature that makes him think that he beyond scrutiny. Unlike Crystal, de Niro barely if ever plays it down. In some of his scenes he’s angry. In one, he almost seems like he wants to give out a full-on Christopher Walken impersonation. He also uses his signature scrunchy frown in the greatest ways, in one scene transitioning to that to full histrionic crying about his daddy issues that he can’t function during a gangster gun fight.

And since we already brought up the ‘national treasure’ thing. He’s probably the only unscathed survivor of the great actors and actresses of the 1970’s, getting constant work that are equally hit and miss. But we’re also living in a world where Jack Nicholson stipulated in his contract that he can’t work with Lindsay Lohan in any circumstances yet de Niro is in a movie with Katherine Heigl, Jon Bon Jovi and Ashton Kutcher. I don’t like saying this phrase but how the mighty have fallen.


In praise of Mirren and Coughlan


You might know her as The Queen or as Supt. Jane Tennison whoever but I will always remember Helen Mirren in the first movie I’ve seen her in, playing the title role in Teaching Mrs. Tingle. She’s the stereotypical teacher from hell, 90’s bowl cut, angry American accent and all.

Some film geeks might herald 1999 as a banner year but it was also a part of that decade, seeing the release of many teen movies. We have the headlining adult in this film but where do we get the young stars to get my attention? Why television, of course! At the time Katie Holmes, also coming out with Disturbing Behavior, was then one of successful “Dawson’s Creek” alums. There was also “7th Heaven’s” Barry Watson.

ph. Dimension

But let me present you Marisa Coughlan. While Leigh Ann Watson (Holmes) and Luke Churner (Watson) are ‘going to school or home so they won’t look suspicious,’ they assign Jo Lynn Jordan (Coughlan) to Tingle watch. So ‘aspiring actress’ Jo reenacts famous scenes from classic movies, passing the time. At one point she has to pretend to be Tingle when the married Coach Wenchell (Jeffrey Tambor) comes over, Jo sounding more like Isabella Rosselini instead of Mirren. She has to wear Tingle’s clothes and perfume, coming too vulnerable and close to the dark side.

I find one scene interesting, when Tingle finally makes Jo into believing that Leigh and Luke are having an affair behind her back and Jo readily believing anything she has to say. For argument’s purposes, Jo is being a bad actress in front of Tingle, saying the words ‘You’re lying’ so insipidly but the latter can’t see it. I don’t know how intentional this is on Coughlan’s part, or that writer-director Kevin Williamson can’t transition from one part of the scene to another, but I’ll call this subversion. Points for Miss Coughlan.


Drop Dead Gorgeous


I’ve seen some movies and fewer great ones in the past week but the word love is for Drop Dead Gorgeous. I don’t even know why because most critics think that it doesn’t deserve that word. It forces us to believe that the overdeveloped Denise Richards is the same age as the film’s star Kirsten Dunst. The equally overdeveloped Amy Adams makes her début here too and, as a cheerleader, is playing a personally relatable character, if you catch my drift. It also seems humiliating to watch Will Sasso‘s character be repeatedly called a ‘retard.’ That Amber Atkins’ (Dunst) tap dance number wasn’t as electrifying as it was the first time I saw it. And her ascent to the national beauty pageant is just as suspicious as Rebecca ‘Becky’ Ann Lehman’s  (Richards) win at the town-wide level, the latter competition of course rigged by Becky’s mother Gladys (Kirstie Alley). Of course Amber’s innocent but even the good girl never deserves the ‘great’  level that she achieves.

ph. New Line

But it’s still enjoyable to watch Dunst in her signature glee, making every movie of hers watchable. But her Amber also has a mean streak towards Becky and ever her own idol Diane Sawyer so she won’t seem insipid. Or Alley, at the time relegated to supporting work for the Olsen twins, comes with her venomous performance and over-the-top accent that of course, the rest of the female-dominated cast has. Tony winning talent like Allison Janney and Ellen Barkin also howl their way into the film, being featured in a movie that doesn’t deserve them, only to prove that they can go to the extreme without seeming smug. And this film was part of my ‘indie’ upbringing, one of those movies playing on cable in the early 2000’s. Richly nihilistic, mean-spirited, campy and excessive, it’s confident and defiant in its badness.


Brother: Cruel Intentions


ph. Columbia

Ladies and gentlemen, I present you Louise Fletcher in the film adaptation of “Les Liaisons Dangereuses” called Cruel Intentions. Yeah she’s in this movie, undeservedly provoking Sebastian Valmont’s (Ryan Phillipe) misanthropy, one of the fakest things in the film. The Oscar winner’s got at two scenes, least five lines and loses meatier parts of the film to Christine Baranski or Swoosie Kurtz. Her role is more symbolic, as her century-old estate is the setting for Sebastian, her favourite nephew to clandestinely seduce Kansas born Annette Hargrove (Reese Witherspoon). So yes, I haven’t forgotten that this movie is about the kids.

Yes, this movie asks us to make too many leaps of logic, as Roger Kumble‘s script makes the characters swear too much but oh, they’re private school educated, which accounts for all the witty comebacks. And that their Calvin Klein, minimalist chic makes the actors look like their real ages as opposed to their characters who are supposedly 17. Or that all the rich adolescents in 1999 had therapists and wore two layers during the summer or wore tighty whities or had invisible parents. And that they all suddenly looked younger by the time they wore their private school uniforms.

But I still prefer this over Dangerous Liaisons, since Christopher Hampton’s script is still more affected and mannered than this newer version. The chateaus of France became estates and penthouses inhabited by New York debutants, its gardens turned into Central Park. My generation has probably grown up to be slightly ashamed of loving Sarah Michelle Gellar‘s turn as Kathryn Merteuil, but she matches Philippe’s smugness with her raunchy side, fighting her sexual desire for him and chooses to destroy him instead. Besides, she’s probably the only actress who can dress like Audrey Hepburn and still doesn’t look insipid subvert her character’s mean streak. And Philippe makes Sebastian appeal to Annette instead of simply seducing her, their growing feelings towards each other being both a product of rich man’s cabin fever and that she can actually see sincerity and fragility pouring through, bringing in the change that both he and Kathryn were afraid of.