Friday, August 22, 2003

Gigli / 1/2* (2003)

If life has been difficult for director/writer Martin Brest in the recent years, then there are plenty of reasons to see why. Once considered one of Hollywood's most promising filmmakers, he quickly developed a notoriety for making the most ambitious bad movies of his day, big-budgeted stinkers that featured big-name actors reciting amateurish dialogue from screenplays that rambled on and on without any sense of direction or purpose. His last and most damning endeavor of all, the overlong and pretentious dud "Meet Joe Black," not only exercised that declining general perception of his talent as a moviemaker, but reinvigorated the tradition of the bad movie itself, too, setting a benchmark for all those beyond who could waste millions of dollars and countless frames of celluloid as they were tossing turds onto unsuspecting moviegoers. Many have lived up to that precedent, others have surpassed it—but being the first prominent figure to do such a thing is a feat that shouldn't go ignored, and Brest maintains that reputation even when his peers aim higher and land much lower than he has. He is a modern Ed Wood with a much larger bank account.

Grind / ** (2003)

They say it takes a certain knowledge of a subject to truly empathize a movie based on it, but I'm guessing it will take more than that to show any sort of genuine interest in a movie like "Grind." With this rugged excursion into the world of skateboarders and their constant uphill battle into making it as professionals, one must not simply have basic affection for the sport itself, but patience with the film's other elements as well, like a story that takes nearly forever to actually get off the ground and characters who don't begin to reveal themselves until long after the adventure is underway. Much like the ramp that serves as a platform for these kinds of extreme sports participators, this is the kind of movie that is in an uphill battle with itself before it finally finds the courage to soar. By that point, we're not exactly bored or too exhausted to care, but the thrill factor is decidedly thinned and our interest is too minuscule to warrant an enthusiastic reaction.

Lucia Lucia / **1/2 (2003)

The movie narrator is expected to be nothing if not consistent with the audience's perception of events, but unless that person is the kind that takes material seriously, viewers will often run the risk of falling into traps or blindly following false pretenses. In "The Opposite of Sex," a movie about a girl who begins to understand life by reassessing the twisted way she lives it, Christina Ricci played such a person, a girl whose cynical demeanor made it impossible for us to accept her version of the events at face value, as she spouted on about irony and fabricated scenarios so that certain events played out without clear distinction to the viewer. In that picture, nothing was necessarily as it seemed, and yet every manipulative impulse was relevant to the characterization, as it allowed the person in question to be seen in a light separate from what other characters could see. In endeavors like this, the one who is telling the story can offer a lot more dimension if he or she comes equipped with their own arsenal of insecurities and personality flaws; that way, they can reveal themselves to the audience in a way that they couldn't ordinarily do by simply participating in the plot.

Open Range / *** (2003)

It doesn't take much of an investigation to see why movie westerns died out following John Wayne's demise. Without the charisma and the energy that the Duke pumped into it during his 60-year career, the genre lost its only source of redemption, inevitably exposing it as the cliché-ridden world of limited ideas that it had become in the years since its inception. Of course, no one bothered to argue about those traits in old Hollywood because the concept of being formulaic was still too primitive for anyone to really care. But when Wayne passed on in the late 70s, so did the wall shielding the eyes from the truth. Like the documentary, a western is only as good as the one who carries you through it, and there is no denying that few (if any) could compare to the way in which Wayne kept fans of the films interested and caring, at least towards the end when the concept grew tired.