July 11, 2000

“The Perfect Storm,” “The Patriot,”
“The Passion of Ayn Rand,”
“RKO 281,” & “Savior”


        Neither “The Patriot” nor “The Perfect Storm” had to be bad movies -- they’re both true events and both inherently very dramatic.  So what went wrong?
        First of all, “The Perfect Storm” is improperly structured.  They rush through their act one, far too over-eager to get to the storm, and basically blow their chance at any suspense -- nevertheless, this is still the best part of the movie.  Nevertheless, the characterizations are so perfunctory that I never cared whether any of the crew lived or died.  Also, there are several subplots that are exasperatingly unnecessary, like Karen Allen in a sailboat and a news weatherman whose entire purpose in the film is to ultimately intone the words, “This is The Perfect Storm.” 
        So then act two, the storm, goes on for way too long.  For nearly two hours people that are difficult to recognize are washed overboard in the dark with the noise of the storm so completely deafening that little of the dialog can be heard, then they are saved or not saved by use of gaffing hooks.  Each of these rescues is clearly supposed to be a big audience moment, and we are given appropriate time to cheer, except that the audience I saw it with in Oregon sat mute every single time.
        Act three is, of course, way too short and basically handled in one scene in a church with a bunch of women crying.  Since every female part was utterly thankless anyway, it was merciful to get through it quickly.
        But worse than the poor structure is the crew’s severely lame motivation, which is: their fish will spoil if they don’t sail straight into the worst storm they’ve ever heard about in their lives.  It may even be true, but the way it’s handled made me not give a shit about anyone aboard.  These guys are sitting in calm sunny waters and decide to intentionally sail straight into the storm that kills them -- well then, who cares?  If the storm caught them by mistake, like it did Karen Allen in the sailboat, that’s a whole different story.  But if the filmmaker’s intention is to play an anti-hero story they need a lot more characterization than George Clooney’s character just doesn’t catch as many fish as he once did.

        “The Patriot” isn’t about patriotism at all, it’s about revenge, and revenge is a tree that grows no limbs -- if you kill a guy’s kid it isn’t going to make him much madder killing more of his kids.  It is also clearly and obviously “Braveheart” set in 1776 America.  Well, “Braveheart” bored the piss out of me and “The Patriot” managed to do the same thing.  It all wouldn’t have been so bad if, an hour before the end, when Mel and the evil, bug-eyed, Snidely Whiplash British dragoon come face to face, one of them managed to kill the other and that was that.  But of course they don’t.  So now we’re stuck sitting through an extraneous hour worth of bloodshed as Mel uses a tomahawk to split red-coats’ heads open.
        Director Roland Emmrich, who brought us “Godzilla,” shoots all the battle scenes exactly the same way, meaning every other shot is in slow-motion, which is such a painful cliché at this point that I can barely watch it.  I don’t know about you, but to me slo-mo just makes all of the bullet hits look ultra-fake.
        Luckily, Caleb Deschanel’s photography is, as usual, gorgeous, so there’s at least something to look at.
        During the first hour of “The Patriot” I thought to myself, “This is better than ‘The Perfect Storm’.”  By the third hour, with my ass on fire, I thought, “This isn’t as good as ‘The Perfect Storm’ simply because ‘The Perfect Storm’ is shorter.”

        “The Passion of Ayn Rand” is a made-for-Showtime cable movie, which I used to not take seriously and not even put on the master list of films I’ve seen.  However, I now consider them as real as any other movies, since the best films I’ve seen in the past couple of years have been either made-for-Showtime or HBO, specifically: “Elvis Meets Nixon” and “Don King: Only in America”.  “Ayn Rand” isn’t nearly as good as these other two, but there’s a heck of a lot more to think about here than any recent theatrical films.  Anyway, if in “The Patriot,” patriotism is confused with revenge; in “The Passion of Ayn Rand,” passion is confused with humping.  Helen Mirren, who plays Ayn Rand, used to be known for her nude scenes and sex scenes, having begun her career in Michael Powell’s “Age of Consent,” an early, adult nudie picture, and went on to do “Caligula,” which was supposed to be the first legitimate porno film.  Ms. Mirren gives a world-weary performance with a Boris & Natasha Russian accent as she and Eric Stoltz, playing Nathaniel Brandon, her number one fan, hump on every flat surface available in the 1940s and 50s as their respective spouses, Peter Fonda and Julie Delpy, look on and painfully tolerate it so that they too can be considered modern and open-minded.  What we are led to believe is that Ayn Rand needed a good hard daily fucking to get “Atlas Shrugged” out of her and since her husband Peter Fonda wasn’t up to it, she used Nathaniel Brandon for her purpose, as he used her to his purpose.  It all makes sense, but sadly there isn’t much passion on display, and montages of humping just don’t cut it for me.

        “RKO 281” is one of the better movies about making movies.  Since most films about filmmaking are awful, that this depiction of the making of “Citizen Kane” seems factually correct and shows the process clearly makes it quite good.  Liv Schrieber makes a creditable Orson Welles and John Malkovich makes a spunky, if miniature, Herman Mankiewicz.  The story is presented in a slightly ominous, apocryphal way, as though “Citizen Kane” destroyed both RKO and Welles, forgetting that they both made another picture together right away.  I mean, let’s face it, for RKO to get a Best Picture Oscar nomination and the film won Best Screenplay, that’s a lot for the littlest major studio.  I also think that the great cinematographer Gregg Toland is given a slightly short shrift in the film.  When Orson Welles asks for a lower angle at one point and Toland wipes his sweaty brow in exasperation, saying, “We can’t go any lower, Orson, we’re on the stage floor now” and Welles intensely replies, “Then dig a hole in the stage floor!” I’ll just bet it was more like this: Welles looking at the scene and asking Toland, “Can we go even lower than the stage floor?” and Toland replying with a grin, “Sure we can, watch this” and quickly getting in a guy with a jack-hammer to pound a hole in the floor.  I think that no matter what Welles asked for, Toland gave it to him, which is indeed properly represented in their first meeting.  James Cromwell is very good as William Randolph Hearst, but Melanie Griffith seemed particularly humorless in her portrayal of the rather wacky Marion Davies.

        “Savior” This is the best film I’ve seen in a while.  It was produced by Oliver Stone, clearly wasn’t all that cheap, stars Dennis Quaid and Nastasha Kinski (for one scene), and I don’t think it got released at all.  I’d never heard a thing about it before seeing it in the TV Guide, looking it up in Leonard Maltin’s book, then seeing it on TV.  Nevertheless, this is a real movie about brutal issues that actually upset me.  Oddly, my biggest gripe would be that it’s too short at 103 minutes.  It needed the full 120 minutes, and the extra 17 minutes should have all gone into act one.  We’ve hardly gotten to know Dennis Quaid, who is some sort of security guy for the American embassy in France, when suddenly his wife and son are killed in a terrorist bombing.  He is speaking with the security and military officers at the embassy, who assure him they’ll track down the terrorists.  Quaid dispassionately remarks, “Go into any Mosque.”  I must tell you that is the toughest line I’ve heard in anything in recent days.  I won’t tell you what comes next, but a lot of it is shocking, and I don’t think I’m all that easily shocked.  “Savior” is directed by Peter Antonijevic, whoever he may be, in a totally straight-forward fashion that I found refreshingly clear and understandable.



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