Sunday, April 24, 2005

Sin City

In Robert Rodriguez’ stylish and noirish Sin City, the audience is introduced to a host of sleazy characters – strippers, hookers, rogue cops, cannibals, pedophiles, corrupt politicians – all driven by a maniacal desire of vengeance arising from an outburst of rage to avenge the loss of an object of desire (affection and love cannot be completely equated with how the characters persuasions are melded because all of them seems so dysfunctional to fully appreciate this.)

This is a three-part story all linked by the stripper Nancy (Jessica Alba). As a young girl, Nancy is rescued by the cop Hartigan (Bruce Willis) from the evil hands of Roark (Nick Stahl). The story then jumps to Marv (Mickey Rourke) trying to avenge the murder of his lover Goldie (Jaime King) and it ends with the astonishing battle between the hookers of old town and the mob over the severed head of the rogue cop Jackie Boy/Rafferty (Benicio Del Toro).

Based on Frank Miller’s graphic novels, the movie successfully captures the spirit of its source by presenting it in a dour black and white color and occasionally infusing it with brutish colors of red, yellow and gold to put significance to the particular character in focus.

Beyond the superb photography, the movie also benefits from a reasonably violent yet terrific screenplay.

There is, however, one nagging question that I may have missed in sorting out the stories. After Marv has killed Kevin (Elijah Wood), he goes to Nancy’s flat and leaves the shaken Wendy (Jamie King in a dual role) to recover, Nancy acts so normally when later on it is implied that this takes place after she is rescued once again by Hartigan from the resurrected Roark.

Still, the movie is a visual feast. The physical violence is creatively neutralized by the artistic use of sounds, shadows and grey colors. Quentin Tarantino guest-directed a segment of the finale when the level of violence is amped to its goriest highs.

Without expectation of any redemptive values, Sin City is pulp fiction at its finest. It very effectively cast a confusing focus on the larger representation of the city and its inhabitants to the present-day real society which inarguably is littered with the same cast of seedy characters all lurking in the created shadows of glorified existence but are ready to lunge and kill at a moment’s desire.

Fever Pitch

Fever Pitch is pitch-perfect! Hooray to Jimmy Fallon for finally finding the right vehicle for his comedic gift.

Fallon is Ben, the schoolteacher who falls in love with Lindsey, a mega-workaholic financial analyst, whose passion in life is to crunch numbers in various degrees of stressed conditions. How they meet and fall in love - gradual, sincere and inspired, make for a funny yet thoughtful and thoroughly affecting romance.

Based on Nick Hornby’s book (he also wrote High Fidelity), Fever Pitch is the story of Ben (Jimmy Fallon) whose passion for the Boston Red Sox stretches to fanatical obsession thus inadvertently getting in the way of his love life until he meets Lindsey Meeks. And Lindsey, whose preoccupation with her work have virtually held her stuck to her office chair, welcomed Ben’s entry to her life as a wonderful break until she realizes that something is seriously not normal with Ben.

When asked what his priorities in life are, Ben puts Red Sox over and above everything else; his bedroom is like a souvenir shop on Fenway Park.

The conflicts that arise from the blossoming romance are sensibly written and logically presented. The sometimes funny, sometimes dispiriting series of breakups and making ups are not tiring however because you are rooting for love to conquer their seeming differences and allow the lovers to eventually realize how much they mean to each other: that no work or red sox can and should get in the way of that.

This Farrelly Brothers romantic comedy is a big departure from the usual grossed-out and politically incorrect comedies they are more popularly known for although there is no denying that this is their movie: the usual cast of colorful supporting characters who have a fair share of screen time and dialogue people this movie as well as the refreshing and distinctive use of old songs in the soundtrack.

They also had the luck of filming this movie during the victorious 2004 season of the Red Sox. They may have changed a couple of finale sequences to accomodate the turn of events during the season but luckily for them the rapturous and massive euphoria of the championship as captured in the climax added several dimension to the small victory of love that magically gave Ben’s life a whole new purpose outside of Fenway Park.

And, so, thus Fever Pitch, a well-written and wonderfully acted film, ends in triumph for both the cursed Red Sox and the never-again loveless Ben.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Beauty Shop

Could it be that Queen Latifah's stardom has reached its highpoint with 2002's Chicago? One can't help but consider this thought when the quality of her film choices have been on a downhill slide since with films like the average Bringing down the House, the disappointing Taxi and her latest Beauty Shop.

In Beauty Shop she plays Gina Norris, the sole black stylist in a salon owned by a an egotistical Frenchman conveniently named Jorge (expect a ho-hum "surprise" later); luckily, this character is essayed with amusing ease by Kevin Bacon. To call their relationship harmonious could be the biggest thing you can wish for in this movie. After one heated exchange Gina is forced to quit. With the prodding of a friend, she takes out a loan and starts her own... what else, beauty shop!

As what usually happens, Jorge's biggest clients follow Gina to her new shop thus leaving the poor Frenchman seething with envy...hmmm. Soon, Gina meets Djimon Hounsou's Joe (in a neighbor role that's almost a copy of his castaway character from In America) who provides her the obligatory love angle.

After these series of character introductions, the movie plods along uninterestingly until the weak climax and messed up conclusion finally sent the film gasping into its final credits.

Wanting in plot, this movie however offers some surprises that keeps the viewer somewhat entertained, albeit infrequently. The biggest surprise is Alicia Silverstone. She returns to big-screen acting with a sugary turn as Gina's white friend who tries so hard to fit into the black sisterhood of stylists she works with and ends up charming the only male stylist in the shop whom almost everyone is openly coveting.

Alfre Woodard plays the Maya Angelou-blurting stylist Ms. Josephine and here she shows how good a truly great actress can make out of a one-dimensional character she is playing. She is most enthralling every time she bursts into her poetic mode; methinks how unfair Hollywood can get when an extremely talented actress like her could end up playing supporting roles in an otherwise forgettable movie.

There really is a lot to want in this movie. Had the writers not preoccupied themselves with feminizing the successful Barbershop series and made a wholly original story, they could have given Latifah a better vehicle and consequently a decent-at least movie. She just can't carry a dead, uninspired story! I thought her turn in Taxi was her low point; this is lower!

It's not good when after watching the movie the moments that linger in your thoughts are those that annoys you the most. Take the case of this recurring radio announcer who is good but seems to be a last minute character addition designed to provide that needed warmth feeling of amazement at the end. There's this loud Catfish Rita character whose abrasive voice makes you squirm in your seat! And there is this... oh, spare me, please, and get me my own scissors!

Guess Who

The duo of Percy Jones and Simon Green make for an unusual pairing in Guess Who - an update of the classic social satire Guess who's coming to Dinner. This version takes the spin on the colors and race in reverse and the result is a fun-filled entertainment of comedic brilliance and ingenious casting.

Bernie Mac is Percy Jones. He is a proud black man preparing for the renewal of his vows with his wife of 25 years when he is confronted with the biggest test of his so-called black life.

Ashton Kutcher is Simon Green. He is a proud white guy preparing for his looming engagement with the love of his life - some black girl who happens to be the daughter of Percy - when he realizes that the girl he intends to marry have not told her parents about his color.

What ensues when the two main protagonists finally meet is a typical struggle of machismo between the father and the would-be son-in-law but what complicates the matter most is Percy's vehement rejection of Simon because of his color. In contrasting fashion, Simon takes Percy's objection to heart and launches his own counterattacks against the man by tying up lies into his stories and hiding some unsavory facts about his status just so he could please the implacable Percy.

Eventually the silent clashing blows up and it ends up threatening their respective relationships. How this is resolved make for one classic dance of tango never seen onscreen - in a comical way, that is - since the seductive and sensuous dance in Scent of a Woman.

Kutcher's and Mac's comedic skills explode on screen and every time they appear together the laughter just starts breaking uncontrollably. Kutcher has never been this good and he seems to possess the artistic dynamism of Tom Hanks who can do both drama and comedy with equal ease (his turn in The Butterfly Effect is a testimony to this). Mac is his usual good self and his comic timing certainly delivers the right punches, neither crude nor physical but inherently funny.

This comedy certainly is not to be taken seriously as a tool on racial criticism, but the filmmaker somehow manages to mix in some cautious messages and commentaries that a truly discerning viewer should be able to appreciate amidst all the laughter that this movie offers. But despite all those "essential" messages, this is still one very, very funny movie. - entertainment