According to my sources, Judas Kiss was not given theatrical release in the USofA but went straight to television. If so, USAmerican cinema audiences missed out on a treat. This is one of the better and more literate post-Tarantino crime melodramas, firmly set in the film noir tradition.
The McGuffin is the kidnap of a Gates-like mogul-nerd and the concomitant killing of a politician's wife. Out point of view switches between the kidnap gang and the cops tracking them down. The latter are played, with some relish, by Emma Thompson (the FBI) and Alan Rickman (New Orleans PD). The former reuses her Primary Colors accent while the latter strains at the right southron drawl. But they are a fun couple, he with his Eeyore-ish manner turned up high and she being all smart clothes with Jim Thompson book attached.
The kidnappers and much younger and hipper, a weird assortment of ex-television featured players and international actors. They speak the language of the modern outlaw, scripted in this instance by the South American writer Sebastian Gutierrez, who also directs the piece.
There are the usual satisfying twists in the plot, although the major plot device is pretty well telegraphed to those familiar with the trappings of the modern noir thriller. Still it is an interesting trip and one well worth taking. Given the barrenness of most mainstream thrillers, like the latest MI, for example, this lower budget and carefully scripted film is a genuine pleasure and a real surprise.
A Rabbi, a priest and a scientologist walk into a bar ...
Well almost. At the start of Keeping the Faith, a priest (Edward Norton) walks into an Irish bar tended by an Indian (subcontinental not American) and starts a story that involves a rabbi (Ben Stiller) and a woman played by prominent scientologist Jenna Elfman.
This is billed as a romantic comedy and I was more than a little put off by the promotion of it. Added to that were recommendations from diverse sources including Ian "Nicho" Nicholls (on the Eidolist) and my father.
So, when one wet evening we hied off to essay it, it was without great hope. The result was far from disappointing. While the movie has more than a few obvious problems (see Ben Stiller particularly), it is a genuinely funny movie. A comedy where there are actual belly laughs and a fair number of really amusing scenes. And one which gives decent parts to good actors like Eli Wallach and Anne Bancroft.
I have some troubles with Jenna Elfman, particularly her evangelical behaviour at awards ceremonies, but her Dharma is a good comic creation in a sitcom setting and in Keeping the Faith she shows that she can carry a movie as well. Her character is the central plank of the comedy and her performance keeps the story moving forward. Edward Norton is less a comic but his combination actor/director turn here is effective. I wonder as to the extent that Milos Forman, here in a cameo as Norton's clerical superior, assisted the tyro director in the making of the movie.
The script is good, handling the changing timeframe and use of flashbacks with some aplomb. As I said, a very good movie. Now if only someone would explain to me the Ben Stiller phenomenon and why he keeps getting work or can be believed in a role in which he is supposed to be attractive.
Movie adaptations of comics (or comic books as the Americans so redundantly refer to them) are fraught with problems. Successful adaptations are incredibly rare. X Men may be very close to such a success, and largely because it is one of the few attempts at literate scripting of the comics metier.
For those late to the symposium on modern popular culture, X Men is a series of popular comics, published by Marvel and developed by Stan Lee, in which super-powered mutants, led by a wheelchair-bound mentor, fight for good and humanity against a range of evil super-powered mutants. The comics, as I recall from the few I read, had a strange mix of humour (largely irony), brightly colored images and fast-moving stories. The movie captures most of that although the humour is less obvious.
Here the point of view character is the alienated Wolverine, a mutant whose body has been surgically altered but whose main ability is his recuperative powers. He and a teenage mutant, Rogue, are recruited by Xavier (the wheelchair guy) in his battle with Magneto, the evil mutant leader. If there is one thing the movie is not short on it is plot. In fact a fair percentage of the movie is taken up with plot developments and plot explications - almost as if they are setting you up for a number of sequels. Couldn't be!
Their allies in the goodies camp include Storm and Cyclops, mutants with standard issue superpowers (control of weather and a laser eye flash, respectively). Their opponents are a little more interesting, by and large, especially the shape-changing Mystique and the incredibly lingual Toad.
I won't go into the intricacies of the plot but it brings all parties together for some you-beaut battles towards the end, as you'd expect. But there is much less violence in this movie than is normal for the sort of actioner aimed at the late teen demographic.
The movie was part written and directed by Bryan Singer, the auteur responsible for The Usual Suspects and you can see that his style is stamped on much of the movie. The stand-out performance is Hugh Jackman's Wolverine, who is given much more depth than is expected in this style of movie. Anna Paquin is Rogue and she's pretty good too. You'd expect Patrick Stewart (Xavier) and Ian McKellen (Magneto) to be excellent, and they are. There is even a good performance from Famke Janssen who proves that being a Bond girl is not, necessarily, the kiss of death.
This is worth seeing.
... Sometimes It Rains
Somewhere or other there is a great American football movie waiting to be made. North Dallas Forty is the closest I've seen and it's pretty damned good. Any Given Sunday, Oliver Stone's latest overstatement doesn't get close to NDF despite another great performance by Al Pacino.
Pacino is the great movie actor of his generation, shading de Niro in my view, and it's hard to think of a bad performance from him. Tony D'Amato, the coach of the Miami Sharks, is his latest creation, and he again invests the character with the passion and intelligence you'd expect. It's sad that this performance is let down by the cliched story and over-stressed presentation of it.
Stone avoids subtlety. But here he also demonstrates that he has no timing nor sense of the rhythm of a movie. His use of jump-cuts, hand-held camera and irrelevant images is so off-putting that it gets in the way of any enjoyment. And there is no logic in the last reel conversions of either the previously obstreperous quarterback (at least Nick Nolte's character in NDF stayed true to his beliefs) or Cameron Diaz' avaricious owner.
In between there are some interesting action scenes, some low-level exposes of the nasty, brutish and short career options of NFL players (only, for what I assume are legal reasons, there's no reference to the NFL or any of its trademarks in the film) and a couple of good performances, including ex-Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor as an aging linebacker, Matthew Modine as a doctor with some residual conscience and Randy Quaid as the established quarterback.
This is not a bad movie but it is clearly an Oliver Stone movie.
[Note: Information about the movies mentioned, including cast and crew lists and all sorts of trivia, is available at the Internet Movie Database (IMDb).]
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Last updated: 31 December 2001