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by Greg Muskewitz

For sure, having cancer and going through chemotherapy isn’t all bad. There are, after all, a few small benisons that have come along with it. In theory, the “positive,” as I am to presently call it, derives from a negative: at this point in time, my movie-viewing has become extremely erratic. Whether the adjustment and recuperation time will lessen with each treatment is yet to be determined. Then again, with a considerable amount of what I am missing, or perhaps it would be more accurate to describe as what I am being saved from, the question becomes do I want the space in between my viewing habits to tighten?

This is the space of cinema, not comics, and the notion of an issue per movie is too prodigal.

For sure, having cancer and going through chemotherapy isn’t all bad. There are, after all, a few small benisons that have come along with it. In theory, the “positive,” as I am to presently call it, derives from a negative: at this point in time, my movie-viewing has become extremely erratic. Whether the adjustment and recuperation time will lessen with each treatment is yet to be determined. Then again, with a considerable amount of what I am missing, or perhaps it would be more accurate to describe as what I am being saved from, the question becomes do I want the space in between my viewing habits to tighten? In just the first four months of this year, I have been spared from the likes of Just Married, Kangaroo Jack, National Security, Darkness Falls, Biker Boyz, Final Destination 2, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, The Jungle Book 2, Old School, Cradle 2 the Grave, The Hunted, Boat Trip, A View from the Top, A Man Apart, What a Girl Wants, Bulletproof Monk, Chasing Papi and Malibu’s Most Wanted. (Knowing that I missed those, that I have an airtight alibi, makes the time I wasted on Confessions of a Dangerous Mind and Anger Management seem all that more venial.) On the other hand, to speak briefly of my anticipations, it has already cost me — at least until video release, which is not quite the same thing — the chances to see Love Liza, He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not, Lost in La Mancha, Till Human Voices Wake Us and Divine Intervention, to say nothing of the revivals of Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Quai des Orfèvres and Jean-Pierre Melville’s Le Cercle Rouge, as well as press screenings this week for Raising Victor Vargas and The Man without a Past. And still, that doesn’t leave room for any “discoveries” I may have encountered along the way. In any case, the greater feeling, or relief, speaks in bulk.

So in the meantime, this is all I’ve had time for. But to answer my above-mentioned, self-posed question, the answer is yes; for all the trash I typically wade through, there is nothing to replace the emptiness of regularly have the potential for greatness, however unlikely, on a weekly or daily basis, ne’er forgetting the transitory pleasures of simple entertainment.

X2: X-Men United. A shortcut title, a shortcut movie. A not too-hot-on-the-heels three-years-after sequel to the mostly solid comic book movie X-Men, Bryan Singer again returns to direct from the pages of the mutants, an evolved human regular mankind is all too frightened to accept. (Some might call it mutophobia, this time more likened to homosexuality than the link the first tried to forge with Jewish persecution; Mother — just learning her teen offspring is a mutant — to son: “We still love you. But I feel like it’s my fault.”) Steps are saved in the previously established characters (Professor X, Wolverine, Jean Grey, Storm, Rogue, Magneto, Mystique, et al.) with only a halfhearted effort to develop anything new with Wolverine’s origins (the comic would have never dealt with it, nor provided so many answers, so soon), the connection that brings the few new introductions into this issue. Yes, the roles of Iceman (Iceboy?) and Pyro (a new actor filling in) are furthered from the cameos of the first, but the main introduction is that of Alan Cumming as Kurt Wagner/Nightcrawler, in typical Cumming extravagance and cutsie-pootsieness. (This round’s cameo, Colossus, hardly counts for anything.) Instead, the force of evil that necessitates the good and evil mutants to team-up (tag teams already?) is a non-mutant general and his defect mutant son, and as far as I’m concerned — although my half-dozen select X-Men comics don’t qualify me as an expert — are two wholly new creations with no provenance in the comic. The towel-in-the-ring appearance, and destruction, of Deathstrike, doesn’t even deserve note. In a roundabout way, it strikes me as extremely lazy to muster up two wimpy new creations rather than browsing the rogue’s gallery of possibilities for a serious foe, a worthy contender. And who says this installment must connect so directly to the first? This is the space of cinema, not comics, and the notion of an issue per movie is too prodigal; a movie acts as the enclosure of a three- or four-part series. The new James Bond doesn’t pick up on the faultline of the last. The special effects are just as solid and well-done, most notably the two blue mutants and their abilities, though the effects lack the awe, and ultimately the accomplishment of the adventure, from the first. On other new horizons, Storm has lost her “tribal” accent, Rogue has lost her southern accent, Jean Grey has a new hairstyle, and James Marsden and Anna Paquin have become even more unctuous — if that’s possible, even for a comic book movie.

With Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, Famke Janssen, Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry, Brian Cox, Shawn Ashmore, Aaron Stanford and Kelly Hu.

Rivers and Tides. A veritable “art” film, a documentary on Andy Goldsworthy, an artist specializing in organic art, the construction of organic art in nature, and often nature’s act of naturally taking it back. Goldsworthy, a Scot, travels around making his pieces for both himself and those commissioned, by creating sculpture-like objects in nature, from nature — i.e., an annular, self-contained and held formation of slabs of rock, building what looks like an egg, or as he calls it, a seed. And he does these anywhere: on the shore (where it will get swallowed by the tide, not necessarily affected), by the side of the road, in his pastures (where the cows can get a back-rub). Some of the smaller objet d’arts are more easily taken back in by nature — the zigzagging ice sculpture twisting in and out of a jutting rock (melting away); small hollow wood pieces quilted together, hanging from a tree (broken by the wind); a dome of tree branches and twiggy items (carried away by the tide). (The zigzags show up most often; “There are these obsessive forms in nature you can’t get rid of.”) And you can feel his frustration when something doesn’t stack up as planned; twice in a row as he begins his “seed,” the slabs collapse, the sand sinks, the approaching tide not helping to bide time. (He yells at the director to help him fetch rocks rather than film.) The pieces are staggeringly beautiful as well as filmed with staggering beauty. The visuals speak for themselves (and often better than the artist, attempting to put into words what is ineffable), gorgeously filmed by editor/director Thomas Riedelsheimer: unnatural occurrences provided by nature’s own ingredients. Riedelsheimer constructs staunch compositions, using a photographer’s eye as good as Goldsworthy’s, of which truly focus on the art and the artist’s persistence and creativity. Certain experiments not only appeal to the eye, but the imagination, almost in a way like, “Hey, I can do that, too,” while other artistic expressions clearly display Goldsworthy’s dexterity — and patience — as an artist. And the visual display, here and there with the apropos accompaniment of time condensed shots (to illustrate the self-deterioration and erosion) acts as a true “special effect.”

Te Amo. The additional title, or suggested translation given is (Made in Chile), clearly making out where the product came from, but not clueing the audience into the fact that it’s slang, like te quiero, for “I love you.” But in other matters, this generic summer vacation tale has four youthful delinquents setting up a pied-a-terre in an abandoned, dilapidated house, to help escape their own daily troubles and secretos. In no significant order: bad relations with an older sibling, a “disappeared” family member, drug abuse, and the topper — an absent, single mother (“I used to live in New York until the great divorce, the war between the North and the South. Guess who was the casualty?”) and a maid who has long mollycoddled the boy with sex. The movie is narrated (in English and Spanish) by the last-described, Samuel Moskowicz (Adrían Castilla, son of the director Sergio) — possibly a tribute to the movie’s producer, Segismundo Moskowicz? — often in an overdose of self-reflexivity, bolstered by the usage of a video camera, every movie’s helpful tool to further desecrate any perception of the form. It’s annoying, haphazard, lazy, scattered, skuzzy, unkempt, distracting. Much like the characters it films. Te Amo’s subjects and subject matter are all cliché, been there, done that — “the summer that changed all” — doused in an obstreperous presumptuousness that is just as abusive and exploitative to its audience as it is about its characters. Most of the actors, doubtfully professionals, manage to embrace the brassy and breezy nature of the hedonistic lifestyle, maintaining an involuntary charmlessness. The only exception is the chipmunk-faced, poofy-haired Daniela Ropert, whose performance inadvertently upstages the others, not just in her strong projection in front of the camera, her calm naturalness, but her character is also the only one to truly exhibit a wake-up call and subsequent arc. Part one in six or seven of the Film Forward series being offered by Madstone, consisting of festival titles without any distribution in sight.

Written by Castilla the senior. With Tamara Acosta, Joshua Walker and Cristián Campos.

O Fantasma. From Chile to Portugal. A world of differences, and yet, no better. A sexual peep show, at all times carrying on a few steps behind the central character, a horny, gay loner, by night a trash collector, and even later in the morning hours, a walking STD in search of pleasure. Opening scene: our loner, while wearing a latex suit and mask, buttfucks an anonymous male. Later on, getting head (seen most explicitly of all the encounters) from another anonymous male in a random bathroom. Next, beating off in the shower while choking himself with the hose. And then getting buttfucked by a co-worker. Still yet, breaking and entering into his prey’s house (an anonymous biker, never really seen until this point) and peeing on the floor, after previously dry-humping and molesting the parked motorcycle earlier, as well as masturbating in the shower with the prey’s discarded Speedo. Lastly, cavorting around in the latex suit, a reject X-Man, digging around a landfill and chasing a stray rabbit. So much of this would be worse than it really is if we could better see what was going on, as director João Pedro Rodrigues sees to it not only to predominantly film at night, but to keep all of the images poorly lit. To explicate by avoiding a jeremiad, it looks awful, consummately shoddy, the camerawork not only fails in projecting the picture, but the jumpy and jittery tracking of the phantom-by-night plays commensurately into the sloppy laziness. That is not, however, to say that I would have liked to see it any clearer, for as nettlesome as the image is, a pristine picture, properly lit with smooth tracking shots or SteadiCam movements, would have no overall affect on the movie and its structureless story, Rodrigues’ verdant and unpolished direction. Like the central figure, the structurelessness of plot and direction, lead directly into obscurity.

With Ricardo Meneses.

The Lizzie McGuire Movie. Quick to capitalize on one of its assets, now that the 65-episode cap of “Lizzie McGuire” has been fulfilled, Disney has turned around and popped out a pay-per-view version. Picking up where the show left off, the extension trails Lizzie and friend Gordo with graduation from middle school and a class trip to Rome. (The third friend, Miranda, has been mysteriously written out with the excuse that she’s in Mexico City.) In other words, a big screen adventure and a budget open up some new space in which to gambol. The threadbare plot in Rome has Lizzie meeting and falling for an Italian pop star, half of a former dyad, of whom she is a replica of the ex-member. (Only difference: one’s a blonde, the other’s a brunette.) While Gordo covers for her from the bulldog chaperone, Lizzie is being trained to perform in her double’s part, as the double. One of the problems that prevents The Lizzie McGuire Movie from working like its television counterpart is the extra space in which it has to roam. Lizzie’s world is no longer just that of home and school — already enough to ground the insecure goofball and her animated alter-ego — but now she’s out in the real world (well, a simplified, Disney-fied version of it), one that the lack of realism does not cover in all its broadness. A portion of her appeal is still there, but the ever-present fantasy elements are paramount, tilted and swayed from outside influences that pop the magic bubble of Lizzie’s inner-world, which is straying from the conspectus it tries to duplicate elsewhere. Another issue from TV show to movie (and, having young sisters, I am quite familiar with the show, and pleasantly enough entertained by it) is crucial in that established characters are ignored and missing. Sure, Gordo, Ethan and Kate have minimal roles, and even though the show and movie are titled for Lizzie, her solo effort does not fly alone — it’s a group effort. To throw that out is to throw out much of its charm, and in return for what? Hilary Duff to take on a double role and help launch her alternate singing career, a twinge of a variation on a more conservative and pop-youthy Madonna? And what kind of message is Disney emulating by Lizzie’s duplicity in sneaking off, her fraudulent behavior as “Isabella,” not only signing autographs in her name, but also willing to perform publicly as her? It merely takes a minor suggestion from her potential boyfriend before she goes running with it. (Italians can be slick, but not that slick, and the movie doesn’t portray them as anything but clodpates.) But I acquiesce; the actors do retain enough of their charisma for a mildly pleasant 90-minutes, perky and spry. And the kids (apparently, as well as some teens) who this is aimed for (see: naïve) will fittingly be satisfied, if for the wrong reasons, insomuch as the stretch it makes is not enough to snap the elasticity or break the mold. My sisters, notwithstanding their attention being asked for longer and without commercial interruption, enjoyed it with a minimum of questions. It would have been nicer if it could have better been in the spirit of the series. Though one can’t help but wonder what the director of Trick and the co-writers of There’s Something about Mary and Head Over Heels are doing with this Disney kid’s movie.

Directed by Jim Fall. With Adam Lamberg, Clayton Snyder, Ashlie Brillault, Jake Thomas, Robert Carradine, Hallie Todd, Yani Gellman, Carly Schroeder and Alex Borstein.

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originally posted: 05/02/03 23:36:11
last updated: 01/08/04 12:25:33
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