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Alex Grant Reviews

Normally I avoid films that due to overhype have swiftly become "events" rather than mere movies. I have never seen APOCALYPSE NOW, THE SOUND OF MUSIC,or PEARL HARBOR. Nor do I intend to see them.

Martin Scorsese’s GANGS OF NEW YORK has been the victim of extensive and destructive gossip about its production and its release problems. Yet it is everything you would anticipate from Scorsese, who like Steven Speilberg, will always be a Peter Pan - never able to fully mature and achieve the artistic adulthood and thematic grace that constantly elude both men. GANGS is spectacular, brutal and self- indulgent. Not as overblown and pointless as either CAPE FEAR or CASINO but a wannabe epic movie that falls short of greatness, despite boasting all of the trappings of the vastly ambitious studio- recreated panoply and pageant of "living history". It is vigorously acted and has many parallels in its religious symbolism to Coppola’s THE GODFATHER. Basically it recreates a pagan Holy Trinity – Father (figure) Daniel Day Lewis’s "William ‘Bill The Butcher’ Cutting/ Son Leonardo de Caprio’s ‘Amsterdam’ Vallon / Liam Neeson ,murdered Father to Amsterdam and constantly present as a Holy Ghost spectral figure.

Peter Jackson’s sequel to FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING is too strenuously sub-Shakespearean and too deliberately tragic in tone and aspiration. Yet it benefits from an extraordinary performance from Viggo Mortensen as ‘Aragorn’ the weary warrior at the end of his tether. Mortensen is soft-spoken, genteel and melancholy. His ‘parfait’ knight-errant impersonation lends a gravity to the hectic sword-and-sorcery antics of the strenuously exertive cast. No follow-up film could ever hope to match the majesty and the scale of FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING. Especially a broken backed narrative – three parties separated in pursuit of the same goal – like THE TWO TOWERS is burdened with. And we have to endure far too much of ‘Gollum/Smeagle’ and of those lugubrious walking and talking trees ‘The Ents’. The film is too readily distracted up cul-de-sacs and false trails. Far too exotically picaresque for its own good.

PIERCE BROSNAN The Irish actor has produced this 'Blarney' set in Ireland in 1953, and if the events so liltingly depicted in EVELYN were not verifiable as actuality nobody would believe in such a fairytale. It is the kind of movie – uplifting and inspirational – that many alleged film ‘critics’/ ‘reviewers’ in North America cannot come to terms with at all.
That is such ink-stained wretches as Ray Conlogue in his GLOBE & MAIL notice on Dec. 13,2002 are unwilling to admit to an iota of sentimentality or ‘sappiness’ just as this coterie of low-lives are never able to admit being gullible in their responses to horror or the occult in the movies. Their greatest fear these so-called critics flaunt is that they be perceived as suckers to the siren- song of movies that relish honestly earned sentiment and no less honestly earned shivers.

EVELYN is without a doubt a music-hall version of a period in Irish history wherein the collusions between the Irish State and the Catholic Church led to birth parents having their kids wrested from them literally by main force if they were indigent however briefly or however innocently. A family could only be recognized as such if it befitted the model of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus.- The Nuclear Family so-called. Single Dads were anathema to the powers-that-be and were to be turned into pariahs excluded from the overbearing and cruelly avuncular patriarchy set up by Church and State for its own esoteric purposes. And regrettably we all know today of the evils of molesting and rape the rampant plague of physical and emotional abuses - of those least able to defend themselves from predators and sadists in cassocks and wimples.

Desmond Doyle’s wife deserted him one Christmas-time to settle in Australia with her fancy-man, leaving the unemployed painter and decorator – played by Mr.Brosnan – with their two sons and their daughter Evelyn. The Minister of Education instructed that the Doyle children be dispatched to either a priest-ridden Industrial School for boys or to a nun-infested convent for girls.
Desmond had a weakness for the bottle and strove to make ends meet by singing in bars in Dublin accompanied by his fiddle playing Dad. Not the most salubrious environment for the wretchedly abused ‘head’ of the Doyle Clan of Dublin. Painstakingly Desmond recruited an unholy trinity of lawyers to fight his case in the Supreme Court by invoking parents’ rights as written-in-stone in the Irish Constitution per se.
Three Oirish boyos actors Stephen Rea as a solicitor Aidan Quinn as a barrister and Alan Bates as a retired expert in jurisprudence have a whale of a time playing slightly burlesqued types from the Oirish play book of ‘colourful characters’. Their enjoyment is entirely infectious Three legal-eagle Stooges on a roll, a roll crammed with thickly sliced ham !
The wee girl Evelyn herself is entirely winning. Now 58 years old Evelyn Doyle wrote the radio/tv script so expertly translated for the silver screen by Paul Pender. Young Sophie Vavasseur as the titular character is pluperfect. Again were EVELYN not a true story and a story of triumph over immense odds it would be scoffed at thoroughly and even laughed off of the screen. Director Bruce Beresford has wisely opted for a larger than life delicately Blarnified burlesque of everyday ‘kitchen-sink melodrama. In so doing Beresford has made a warm witty and winsome work of charming kitsch de luxe.

Confessions of a Dangerous Mind Year: 2002 Genre: Action, drama, comedy
Directed by: George Clooney
Written by: Chuck Barris, Charlie Kaufman Company: Miramax
Starring: Sam Rockwell, Drew Barrymore, George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Fred Savage, Linda Tomassone, Rutger Hauer, Brad Pitt, Steve Adams, Krista Allen, Shaun Balbar, Carlo Berardinucci, Maria Bertrand, Sara Brookshire, Michael Cera, Bill Corday

Actor-producer George Clooney¹s directorial debut based upon the disputed autobiography of TV l.c.d. (lowest-common-denominator) producer Chuck ŒGong Show¹ Barris¹ is a very auspicious debut film akin to the best entries among the nightmarish/daydreamish oeuvre of surrealist David Lynch. It forcibly reminded me of Lynch¹s MULHOLLAND DRIVE:- an oneiric movie from which you longed to wake up yet craved to await the ending of, no matter how catastrophic this might turn out to be. Whether or not the Œreal¹ Charles Barris was a hitman for the CIA his ŒGong Show¹related trips, as a chaperone to the lucky contest winning couples, overseas masking his nefarious deeds in Finland, East Germany and Mexico is irrelevant. We witness Barris¹ days and nights as he Œrecollects¹ them after doing a Howard Hughesian recluse trip holed up in a cockroach hotel looking like Robinson Crusoe all hirsute and naked and washed-up on a desert island of his own manufacture. Briskly, and with unerringly cheerful vulgarity director Clooney - who also take the role of CIA recruiter ŒJim Byrd¹, sporting a hellacious fake moustachio ­ sets the scene in the Fifties and Sixties and elicits bravura performances from his leading ladies. Julia Roberts as a modern-day Mata Hari and Drew Barrymore as a love-child bohemian sweetie, Chuckie B.¹s loyal little wifey.

Photographed in a bizarre colour scheme like a bad acid-trip dream of American culture at its most hedonistic and crummily corny CONFESSIONS is a laugh-out-loud valedictory to truly bad taste combining the rancid hokiness of John Waters¹ diseased world-view with the more penetrating visual and aural insights of David Lynch¹s off-the-wall inner -workings as filmmaker and visionary. The most subtle and the most impressive aspect of CONFESSIONS is the brilliant mood-swings from Hippie Era free-love frantic antics to cold-blooded Cold War terrorist tactics. Barris is a Twentieth Century ŒJekyll & Hyde¹ split personality an entertainer AND a CIA operative obeying his masters on a killing spree though he suffers the torments of Hell due to this dire split in his Œcharacter¹: Show-biz vs. Espionage. If Barris really was a spy under the cover of his Œpopulist¹image as TV prodigy wellŠ really is stranger than fiction, let me tell you. . It¹s like discovering that Liberace was a U.S. Goodwill Ambassador and Œmole¹ within the KGB - as well as an Œouted¹ gay icon. Or that Rock Hudson was Second Assassin on the Hilly Knoll on November 22nd, 1963 in Dallas: the fateful day that JFK was rushed to his ŒAppointment in Samarra¹ - to quote John O¹Hara an author who could have done justice to this yarn on the printed page were he first to take a crash course in the wacky world of Kurt Vonnegut. And add a soupcon of Jerry Lewis( a.k.a. Joseph Levitch) the Jewish American schlub and schnook ( and schlemiel !! ).. Literary cinematic surreal and reveling in the paranoia of the Kruschev/Castro/Mao Tse Tung era CONFESSIONS is quite unique and not by any means accessible to all and sundry unless you lived through these years of global suspicions and Doomsday scenarios. Or you can respond to a tall tale based partially upon truth that b-b-b-boggles the imagination and t-t-t-titillates the fantasies locked inside you and I alike.

Joe Carnahan has re-tooled and refurbished the cop drama with NARC
The "gritty" street-level crime drama, typical of the Seventies’ top directors such as Sidney Lumet and William Friedkin ,has been energetically re-invented and renovated by writer-director Jo Carnahan with NARC. A "Rashomon" derivative, one that revels luxuriously in a multiplicity of unreliable narrators, NARC is a diabolically convoluted story of undercover drug squad cops in Detroit. Carnahan;s film-noir asks :"Just Who did What to Whom? And Why on earth did they do it?" Told primarily from the callous and utterly cynical perspectives, or ‘points –of view ‘ (POVs) of hard-core veteran narcs Capt. Henry Oak (Ray Liotta) and Sgt.Nick Tellis (Jason Patric) the film follows this hyperactive pair of dedicated lawmen as they struggle to disentangle the events that led to the death of a fellow undercover officer, a protegee of Oak’s whose cover may have been blown. Or had he succumbed body and soul to the drug culture ? His wife is a recovering addict it seems., rescued by Oak as a child from a pimping relative.

Oak is a very macho street bully , unforgiving and vindictive due to the loss of his young wife to cancer. He has a very strict moral code which is masked by his vicious brutality. Tellis is equally overwrought ( and no less struttingly supermacho ) with a wife and a son whose happiness takes a backseat to his crusade. Both men are covertly straining to create or to inculcate ‘family values’ in these lower-depths of a scummy society where the odds against such intimacies prevailing are very steep. Their personal agendas are very much hidden - even from themselves. Their daily grind pushes each officer into contact with truly dumb skanky dealers and pathetic ‘losers’ and users. The French call drugs ‘stupefiers’ .And they are correct to do so. Stupid people become even more infantile and grasping, once under the influence of controlled substances. They become so stupefied they forget the grave damage inexorably inflicted by gunplay, and, trigger-happy, these bugged-out bozos revel in blood-splattering mayhem. Just for the sheer hell of it.

NARC opens with a chilling scene of dire mayhem with Tellis pursuing a perp and in the process gunning down a pregnant bystander. This is not a film for the squeamish. It makes the memorable cop sagas of the ‘70s such as SERPICO , and THE FRENCH CONNECTION look like child’s play, mere kindergarten capers - slow, clumsy and fumbling the ball insistently. These were exceptional films dramatically but, just as Sergio Leone ‘re-invented’ the western, spaghetti-style, with his weirdly existential null-and-void A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS, Joe Carnahan has re-tooled and refurbished the cop drama with NARC. Lending heft and ‘soul’ (- fullness ) to the formulaic elements of the cop genre he takes the old school rudiments and sparks them into harrowing life-like ‘realism’.It’s a highly personal "inside dope" account of a moral maelstrom/’male-strom’.

Actor Ray Liotta produced NARC to rescue his floundering career and to aid and abet the faltering career of Patric. Together they play their roles pitch-perfectly. These two were born to be screen partners like Laurel and Hardy or Astaire and Rogers.

© Alex Grant 2003

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