for each other: (l-r) Kutcher and Peet in A Lot Like
Lot Like Love
by Nigel Cole
Psst! Somebody better let Hollywood in on the secret that
it has, seemingly unwittingly, given the green light to a
string of flicks that depict relationships and romance in
a slightly more serious, somewhat nostalgic and not-infantile
manner. To wit: Hitch, which had the nice distinction
of showing sophisticated grown-ups at work and play;
The Upside of Anger, which never let its incredibly
complex protagonists get cute or unbelievable; and now, A
Lot Like Love, which gives us a credible modern love story.
The main couple share an innocence and awkwardness that speaks
more to too many budding relationships than does, say, the
boring mannerisms of dueling lovers in a Woody Allen film.
When Oliver (Ashton Kutcher) first meets Emily (Amanda Peet),
he’s a gawky postgrad working on his “big plan,” which has
him establishing a successful Internet business, buying a
home and meeting the woman of his dreams within six years.
On the other hand, she, with her spiky hair, tattoos and combat
boots, appears more interested in keeping things arms’ length—albeit
only after a tryst in an airplane lavatory. Time passes, and
serendipity brings the two together again, only to be interrupted
by distance and, well, Oliver’s plan. If anything, Oliver
is perhaps a little too traditional in his quest to
have all his “ducks in a line,” as he oft notes, before getting
down to the business of living; Emily, who struggles unconvincingly
as an actress before turning to photography, seems blissfully
(we never get a sense of financial hardship) devoid of any
The movie, written by Colin Patrick Lynch, follows Oliver
and Emily through seven years of on-again/off-again situations,
most of which are funny yet peppered with a sense of longing.
It helps that the audience feels enormous empathy for the
two characters, in part because of the genial performances
of the players, but also because the longings do seem so real.
As Emily’s friends enter into happy marriages and motherhood,
she ambles around the perimeters of their lives, photographing
their showers and birthday parties. (Like Hitch, this
is one of the few movies out there that depict characters
with rich friendships, not just work or significant other,
as an integral part of their lives.) Peet beautifully, subtly
conveys the idea that this independent career woman and former
party girl might, just might, be missing something deeper
in life, something that is personified in Oliver. The movie
also does a nice job of showing the emotional journeys that
Oliver and Emily take to find their ways back to the other,
especially as how each needs to become more like how the other
was perceived at their first meeting. It seems so old- fashioned
to say that you really end up rooting for this couple, but,
there it is.
clowning: Chow in Kung Fu Hustle.
Fun Pow Movietime
by Stephen Chow
Critics and urban hipsters are falling all over themselves
praising Kung Fu Hustle, a delirious blend of Hong
Kong action clichés, classic-cartoon violence, silent-movie
slapstick and a dreamy, ahistorical 1930s China. And well
they should, as Stephen Chow’s Kung Fu Hustle is a
The film opens with a violent tour de force, as one group
of gangsters tear up a police station, and then another, better-dressed
group of ax-wielding thugs tear up the streets—and then go
into a long, elaborate disco routine.
This sets up the main action. Sing (Chow) wants to be a gangster
in the worst way, and, in the attempt proves to be the worst
gangster in China. He attempts to hassle the poor denizens
of aptly named Pig Sty Alley, but they prove to be formidable.
His bumbling leads to the involvement of the ax-loving gangsters,
and all bloody hell breaks loose.
What follows is a beautifully constructed story, brought to
life with verve, humor and extremely silly levels of cartoon
violence. For 99 minutes—the perfect length for this kind
of film, just like Kill Bill Vol. 1—you can barely
catch your breath in between laughs.
Yuen Wo-ping (surprise) did the action choreography, and he
deserves props for not being afraid to make fun of himself,
or people he’s previously worked for—like the Wachowski brothers,
for instance, whose Matrix trilogy gets a puckish skewering.
There’s an epic fight scene between the mystical hero and
a throng of black suit-clad gangsters that both mocks and
improves on the playground battle between Neo and the army
of Agent Smiths in The Matrix Reloaded. Also, the whole
notion of “The One” is treated with a sly sense of humor that
twists the Christlike Keanu Reeves character into something
more, well, Eastern.
A colleague complained about the first 20 minutes of the film—the
introduction to the Axe Gang—and I can see his point. From
one point of view, it’s a long bit of narrative misdirection
before the film settles into its main story. And yet, I think
it’s something more than that. The Axe Gang stand in for every
group of soulless, bloodthirsty killers glamorized in so many
recent films. Like the Crazy 88s of Kill Bill Vol. 1
(another Yuen Wo-ping choreography), the Axe Gang live by
their own code of bloody revenge. But nearly every other character
that follows in Kung Fu Hustle isn’t like that; however
skilled they may be, they know the consequences of violence.
Stephen Chow, for all his love of cartoon violence and bloody
silliness, wants to put the spirituality back into martial
arts flicks. This is the biggest surprise of all.
by Sydney Pollack
Sydney Pollack’s memorably taut 1975 thriller, Three Days
of the Condor, reflected the paranoia and mistrust of
authority that marked the Nixon years. In his sociopolitical
popcorn movie, The Firm, he mined the dark side of
the greed decade. For The Interpreter, Pollack is again
in sync, with a multinational intrigue set inside the United
Nations and wet-blanketed by the dour rhetoric of many a failed
peace process. Though the film is meant to be the height of
conscientious hit filmmaking, tastefully evoking 9/11 with
a climactic bombing, its angst-ridden central relationship
just drags on what could’ve been a ripping good thriller.
Nicole Kidman is the interpreter, Silvia Broome, who works
at the United Nations. A South African educated at the Sorbonne,
Silvia speaks an obscure African dialect, Ku, and has perfect
pitch. Alone after hours in the sound booth of the mic-filled
General Assembly, she overhears a conversation regarding an
assassination attempt on the murderous dictator of the (fictional)
African nation of Matobo. It’s her job to translate when the
dictator (Earl Cameron) arrives in New York to make a speech
to allay his critics.
After a day’s wait, Silvia reports her concerns to the U.N.,
and comes under the scrutiny of FBI agent Tobin Keller (Sean
Penn), who is supervising the dictator’s security. Tobin is
suspicious of Silvia and grills her relentlessly. She is expertly
evasive, but after narrowly escaping from an attempt on her
life (fortunately for this and many other thrillers, all New
York City apartments seem to have bathrooms with windows),
she warms up to him and reveals the top layer of her multilayered
life. Silvia has survived great tragedy and believes that
by working at the United Nations she is aiding the cause of
world peace. The plot piles on the emotional pressure, reaching
into Sylvia’s childhood, her first love and her post-Sorbonne
activism. She will have not one but two pivotal encounters
with men in power, whom she will confront with all the cold
fury of a spurned lover (made even more ludicrous by Kidman’s
annoying attempt at an Afrikaner accent).
Since Tobin has recently experienced a great tragedy himself
(he leaves his wedding ring in a whiskey glass, but it’s not
what you think), he warms up to Silvia and investigates her
even more diligently. Slightly overacting, Penn plays Tobin
as a tenacious hangdog who overuses his wan half-smile. They
have many philosophical exchanges, with Silvia standing on
the side of compassion and forgiveness, and Keller admitting
to a preference for vengeance. If Silvia’s possible involvement
in an obtuse conspiracy was meant to be suspenseful, the tension
must’ve gotten buried under all the baggage of her past life
Fortunately, Silvia and Tobin both have to work, and the security
details of “dignitary protection” are made to look like pretty
snappy stuff, especially when Tobin’s tart-tongued partner
(Catherine Keener) is around. Filmed on location in New York
City and within the actual United Nations, the film has a
realism that is hard to resist. But trying for a resonant,
Condor-like conclusion, Pollack tries too hard to personalize
the generational effects of ethnic violence, inflating a shallow
intrigue to ludicrous proportions. And by making Silvia the
repository for a whole country’s worth of anger and betrayal,
The Interpreter overreaches in nearly offensive fashion.