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Overall Rating

Awesome: 6.25%
Worth A Look: 35.42%
Pretty Bad: 2.08%
Total Crap: 4.17%

5 reviews, 18 user ratings

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by Erik Childress

"Andrew Niccol is the Sci-Fi Director We SHOULD Be Praising!"
4 stars

Sometimes in our culture, we become so enraptured by a single phenomenon that we forget everything and everyone else in the world. Shark attacks, kidnappings, murder investigations and Anthrax all become the story of the week until the media gets tired of it and has to latch onto something more shocking and eye-popping. Gossip columnists then try to make like actual journalists finding out the hard facts of which celebrity is dating who and who was in town to eat lunch. It also happens within the actual creative community when one filmmaker heaps the overhyped praise while a better architect of ideas outclasses him in a quieter corner. The new film Simone touches upon all these ideas and only helps to prove my point at the perfect time.

The latest cause celebre in the film world is M. Night Shyalaman who burst onto the scene with a surprise ending known as The Sixth Sense. Since then he’s directed the Bruce Willis superhero metaphor, Unbreakable, and the recent Mel Gibson kinda-about-aliens thriller, Signs. There’s another filmmaker named Andrew Niccol. He’s written three films and directed two of them, all rooted in sci-fi ideas and all of them far superior to the work of Shyalaman whose concepts are far larger than his execution. The first was the overlooked Gattaca, with Ethan Hawke as a less-than-superior human trying to gain advancement in a world dominated by strands of DNA. The second was the brilliant Jim Carrey vehicle, The Truman Show, about a man who discovers his life is a 24-hour television show and his attempts to break out of it.

The third is Simone which stars Al Pacino as Viktor Taransky, a struggling Hollywood director approaching the hard fact that his latest project is about to be shut down because of his leading lady’s (Winona Ryder in a small, but terrific performance) “creative differences” and subsequent walkoff of the film. With his studio head ex-wife (Catherine Keener) threatening to dump his deal, a freakish miracle walks onto the set and into his life. Hank Aleno (Elias Koteas) wants to help Viktor by offering him the necessary software to create a digital actress. With an inoperable tumor in his eye from sitting too close to the computer screen 24-7, Hank leaves “Simulation One” to Viktor in his will and nine months later, a star is born.

Simone (SIMulation ONE) has all the necessary attributes of the most beautiful women ever to grace the silver screen and all the talent that Viktor can provide her. Even with his initial ignorance to computers, this holy grail of programs allows him at the touch of a button to alter her movements, insert her into any frame necessary and say what’s on his mind through her perfect lips. Despite Viktor giving her a Garbo complex, Simone becomes an instant sensation in the public. Taransky’s plan – give Simone another starring part and then expose the fraud she actually is, in turn exposing the public’s fascination for something that isn’t real. “Our ability to manufacture fraud has exceeded our ability to detect it,” Viktor so poetically states.

Simone may seem like just another exaggerated amalgam of the politics of Hollywood and the public’s fascination with celebrities, but every exaggeration comes from some truth no matter how small. Just last year, the extinction of flesh-and-blood actors become a debate with the release of the computer generated Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, an animated project about as close to the real thing as been accomplished thus far. Here the debate is furthered about whether or not the audience would care if an actor is real or not. If we were none the wiser, would it make the least bit of difference?

Niccol juggles all these elements successfully, building up some big laughs until it seems destined for the land of screwball similar to Steve Martin’s terrific Bowfinger. (The actors are told they can never communicate or act in the same scene as Simone.) But he pulls back from the social and insider satire to focus on Pacino’s Taransky and his love/hate relationship with his creation, a bond that ultimately becomes unexpectedly touching and pays off with a wonderfully ambiguous emotion that begs the question – “Who is controlling who?”

Pacino balances his performance between the quiet and the manic. Not as quiet as in this year’s Insomnia and not quite as manic as in Heat or The Devil’s Advocate. Just right. He gets ample support from Keener, typecast as yet another heartless executive (who may just find her heart), Jay Mohr (Jerry Maguire) as a pontifical actor, Pruitt Taylor Vince (Heavy) and Jason Schwartzman (Rushmore) as tabloid reporters looking to expose Simone because they feel its their job and right and Evan Rachel Wood (TV’s Once and Again) as the daughter that loves and believes in him.

The Londoner Niccol’s only misstep is failing to recognize that we are a country not unanimous in our forgiveness. I can buy how a group of pretentious Hollywood insiders would believe they are seeing art as a woman is degraded on screen (in a very funny scene), but not how the public would continue to support a star who speaks her mind. Like the gossip media that frequently (and sadly) mirrors our own curiosity, celebrities are not treated as human beings but some otherworldly force that appear out-of-reach to the common man. We feel honored to be in their presence and disappointed when they turn out to be jerks and not the “nice, regular guys/gals” that we hoped could be our friend.

In many ways the film is a veiled counterpart to the life of Princess Diana, a woman famous for primarily being famous. We barely knew her except what the media told us of her. She was very private and only appeared when cameras caught up with her at public appearances and niceties she performed. Then when she died, everyone wept, a song was rewritten and she got twice the press for her funeral than did Mother Teresa (who died on the same day) who was twice her age and did a hundred times the charity without the money of a Royal marriage behind her. Di sure was photogenic though wasn’t she? If she were alive today, you could almost guarantee she’d be offered a reality TV show and we would be spared the likes of Anna Nicole Smith. The point being that celebrities aren’t just created in the computer. They are invented in the press and into our minds and then when everyone gets bored of them, we tear them down and start searching for the next big thing, beauty required and talent optional.

Simone is a creation that does have it all – comedy, brains, ideas, beauty and discussion. You don’t have to be logged into the Hollywood scene to enjoy the film as it’s as much about us as the industry. Upon leaving the theater you will think about the character of Simone and wonder when, if ever, you will see her again. Just as the fictional actress overcomes its creator and outweighs his own popularity, hopefully you will also remember the name of Andrew Niccol. He’s not the next big thing. He’s already here with the talent tenfold to M. Night Shyalaman, the overrated flash-in-the-pan created in the media as the heir to some throne that has yet to be relinquished. Just remember that because you are told someone is the top of the world, it could only mean that there aren’t enough cameras for someone more talented on the same plain.

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originally posted: 08/23/02 09:11:10
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User Comments

8/17/08 mr.mike It was surprisingly bearable - until the "murder" subplot does it in. 3 stars
8/01/04 gonda,joyce anne m. a virtual reality movie 5 stars
7/29/04 khei santos cool! unbelievable, great movie 4 stars
1/24/04 Elena A whimsical, almost goofy plot with some holes but still very engaging and overall, magical 4 stars
1/09/04 Zaharin Hamid aka The Movie Samseng Great movie. I love Al Pacino. Evan Rachel Wood is HOT! 5 stars
12/21/03 Matt Really, truly great with spot-on satire. 5 stars
10/21/03 Charles Tatum Smart satire completely mismarketed by New Line 4 stars
10/14/03 Erik Van Sant I have seen the face of pure shit...and it is Simone. Un-fucking-watchable. 1 stars
9/30/03 malcolm beautifully shot; galactically hokey 3 stars
7/28/03 francis Didn't make it past the first 20 minutes. Not funny! 2 stars
3/10/03 Matt Thiel I was actually yelling at the screen. Hey Niccol, you have talent, what the hell happened? 1 stars
3/08/03 Andrew Carden Average Dramedy Is Saved By Pacino's Serious Performance. 3 stars
11/21/02 Reini Urban Interesting topic and cast. But quite not enough. 3 stars
10/09/02 LIEZL GREAT 3 stars
10/03/02 Heidi Ho Al Pacino makes remarkable recovery after languishing Sleepless Far North Of Seattle 4 stars
8/25/02 rue the whirl great ideas, but the execution fell flat. i loved "gattaca" by the way 3 stars
8/23/02 wintermute Someday, Niccol will start giving more than a cursory examination of his ideas. 3 stars
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  23-Aug-2002 (PG-13)



Directed by
  Andrew Niccol

Written by
  Andrew Niccol

  Al Pacino
  Rachel Roberts
  Catherine Keener
  Jay Mohr
  Winona Ryder
  Jason Schwartzman

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