by Tim Van Schmidt
Festival in Cannes **
A movie about the international movie culture. This thinly constructed “romance” by director Henry Jaglom uses the backdrop of the famous international film festival in Cannes to enhance the progress of various casual relationships. They include an aging French star and her ex-husband, a powerful agent attempting to manipulate an actress turned writer/director to complete a big deal and a starlet and a rising hustler. The dialogue in this movie seems offhand and the action is minimal with the occasional flashes of the glamorous side of the movie business coming from the festival footage itself. Zach Norman plays the most defined character- a fast talking hustler who changes with the breeze. The rest- Maximilian Schell, Anouk Aimee, Greta Scacchi and Ron Silver- act like they can’t believe they’re getting paid to do this. Slow, tedious and vacuous, this is a great example of why filmmakers shouldn’t make movies about filmmaking. 2001.
Alias Betty ***
A static, yet tension-filled psychological thriller. Famous novelist and single-mother Betty Fisher, played by Sandrine Kiberlain with pot boiling restraint, loses her son in an accident. Her crazy, irritating mother drives around the city, kidnaps a boy and presents him to Betty as her new son. Betty cannot help but struggle with what to do, especially since her reason has been weakened by the tragedy. Jose, the young boy, comes from a life where he is handed off to a variety of people by his wild, scheming mother, played with relish by Mathilde Seigner. He clings to Betty without protest and the longer she waits the harder it becomes to do the right thing legally. But this isn’t a movie about legality- it’s about the capacity of love. Its strength becomes compelling beyond rules and social constructs. (DVD, French with English subtitles,1 hr. 41 min., Wellspring 2001)
The Devil’s Backbone ****
An orphan of the Spanish Civil War becomes embroiled in the heightened action at the boy’s school he is delivered to at the end of the war. There’re gold ingots, political intrigue, a one-legged schoolmistress, murder, brutality and insistent ghosts all twisted together in a story not afraid of using poetry or surrealistic images to help create a creepy ambiance. The settings are richly detailed and there is an old-fashioned sense to the production that elevates it from the usual fare.
Directed by Guillermo del Toro…2001…106 min…featuring Marisa Paredes, Eduardo Noriega, Federico Luppi, Fernando Tielve, Inigo Garces, Irene Visedo, Junio Valverde.
Hard science and hard reality gives way to wild conjecture. The first mission to Mars crashes, leaving only enough supplies for a limited number of the survivors to live until a rescue mission arrives. A last-minute discovery leads to hope despite the otherwise harsh, unforgiving environment.
Directed by Maria Lidon…2001…95 min…featuring Vincent Gallo, Maria de Medeiros, Joaquim de Almeida, Maria Lidon, Danel Aser, Johnny Ramone.
Ghosts of Mars **
A female officer of the Martian Police relates the events that lead to the escape of a dangerous criminal- and the story is incredible. It seems that residents of the city where the bad man was being held had been possessed by the angry, blood thirsty spirits of a dead race of Martians and there was hell to pay for trying to complete the assignment. There’s also some hell to pay for watching this insincere romp.
Directed by John Carpenter…2001…98 min…featuring Natasha Henstridge, Ice Cube, Pam Grier, Jason Statham, Joanna Cassidy, Clea DuVall.
Vanilla Sky ****
“Vanilla Sky” progresses artfully by peeling back multiple layers of storyline and meaning to reveal a much different movie in the end than the beginning.
At the start, a handsome young publisher plays games with the wrong heart and ends up being badly disfigured in an accident. He becomes disfigured inside and out, until he finds some escape behind a specially designed prosthetic face- a mask- that allows him to function with some confidence. Unfortunately, he is also in prison for murder and a police psychologist is tasked with finding out what is behind the mask.
All that said, the movie goes way beyond those plot elements, tickling the brain at a point in a production where normally everything is put on autopilot towards an inevitable conclusion. Not here. “Vanilla Sky” challenges the viewer with an alternative view of reality after spending a lot of its time elsewhere.
I’ll say that actor Tom Cruise had me gritting my teeth over his everybody-loves-the-pretty-boy character with a mixture of annoyance at his arrogance and maybe a little jealousy. But Cruise takes on three times the acting chores by appearing in three different distinct forms in the production- impressive stuff in a stylish brain-teaser.
Directed by Cameron Crowe…2001…136 min…featuring Tom Cruise, Penélope Cruz, Cameron Diaz, Kurt Russell, Jason Lee, Noah Taylor, Tilda Swinton.