About Us

Contact Us


March 10, 2003

Keith Keener's

Positive Movie Reviews

Positive Movie Oscar Outlook, Part 2

Part 1 of Keith Keener's Positive Movie Oscar Outlook must have struck a cord. I received an outpouring of mail, most of it people expressing agreement with my support of President Bush and the War on Evil. In fact, the question most people asked me is, "Besides flying the American flag and participating in hate crimes, how can I show my support for the President?"

Actually, most of the so-called "hate crimes" you're talking about are directed at terrorists, so they're really motivated by love for America. It's time to start calling them "love crimes." Actually, now that I think of it, "crimes" doesn't really best capture this. Maybe "making love." Though I think that one's taken.

Since you've asked, though, the best thing you can do is to start boycotting right now. France refuses to go along with America on our pre-emptive retaliation at Iraq, so I say, start boycotting French wine, French cheese, etc. I live in Wisconsin, so I don't even eat French cheese (why would I, with good old Wisconsin fried cheese curds all around?) or drink French wine (again, with Wollersheim Winery located in Prairie du Sac, Wisconsin, I don't need to import). I can't stop eating French fries, so like many Americans, I'm calling them "Freedom fries." And there's also "freedom toast."

We should also be boycotting Turkish stuff, because of the way that Turkey has treated us. President Bush generously offered Turkey something like 90 billion dollars in aid, plus U.S. special forces to use in fighting the Armenian menace. He then pledged to remove, by executive order, the word "Armenia" from American dictionaries, which he has already whittled down to just about 600 words in previous presidential decrees. Come to think of it, he already took "whittle" out of U.S. dictionaries, so I have to rewrite that sentence or start using British English, whatever the heck that is. Anyway, I don't think I can boycott any Turkish things, so I am trying to think of a good way to rename "Turkish taffy," which is that country's most important cultural legacy. They're also really mad about the popularity of My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

Anyway, the upshot of this is, if you see someone wearing a beret or a fez, I suggest that you make love. Or commit a love crime, whichever you think is the better way to say this.

Sorry for the long intro, but it sort of ties into Part 2 of the Positive Movie Oscar Outlook. As you know, I'm covering four of the five movies nominated for Best Picture, leaving out Lord of the Rings which I think will be disqualified as soon as someone notices that it's been illegally nominated two years in a row. Hello? Academy? In Part I, I reviewed Chicago and Daredevil. Today, I review The Hours and Cradle 2 the Grave, both of which were made in places other than France and Turkey.

The Hours is nothing short of a masterpiece. It absolutely flies in the face of all expectations and challenges our very understanding of movies. For example, you know how in most movies, something happens? Well, The Hours bravely looks us in the eye (actually, "looking" implies more action than actually takes place, so think more metaforically) and says, "I'm not just any movie." This is the most powerful and emotional film of this or any other year. It puts the "moving" in "moving picture," while also taking the "motion" out of "motion picture."

The Hours links three stories. In the year 1615, the great English writer Virginia Wolfowitz (Nicole Kidman) is writing a powerful masterpiece called Mrs. Dalloway. In the 1950s, a bored housewife (Julianne Moore) is raising a complete wimp of a son. And in 2001, a lesbian (Meryl Streep) is trying to express her love for a gay man. In a way, all three stories are about what happens to women when they are bad wives and or mothers, and it's a strongly moral movie for that reason.

But the real connection is that Virginia's novel destroys all of their lives, offering a cautionary tale to women who would become writers. It's not just you that you're destroying when you step out of the kitchen and into the study; it's women later on down the line too. The 1950s housewife reads Mrs. Dalloway and is destroyed by it; the lesbian gets called "Mrs. Dalloway," and is destroyed just by hearing the words. It's sort of like a virus. Called Destruction by Women.

A lot of The Hours is really about the torture of being a brilliant artist, which is something that Michael Cunningham III (who wrote the novel The Hours) and David Hare (who wrote the screenplay) understand all too well. Like Shake Speare in Love and American Beauty, this sure-to-be-an-Oscar-winner recognizes just how hard and lonely it is to be smarter and more talented than the lumpy proletariat all around you. Throughout the movie, which I understood perfectly, I felt drawn in, that I too was smarter and more superior than the people sitting in the multiplex next door, watching Kangaroo Jack, which takes place in Turkey and is about a stupid animal.

In the absence of action, motion, and activity, how does The Hours let us know what's important? Highly skilled director Stephen Daldry keeps cuing certain images -- flowers, cooking, drowning -- to show that all of these women have something in common. Oh, and the screenplay also includes some narration to help us understand this difficult point. Also, whenever something dramatic happens, Daldry cues the Philip Glass music, which is softly undulating and based primarily on two notes. It's just as effective here as it was in The Truman Show. I could listen to Philip Glass forever, and because his pieces never really end, I know that he'd be happy to oblige.

A final note about The Hours. Nicole Kidman is the odds-on favorite for "Best Actress" this year, and her 16 minutes in the movie clearly merit this. In TheNew York Times, Stephen Holden correctly noted that she gives a very "brave" performance, which it is, in that her character is both unattractive and intelligent. Two years ago, Best Actress was Julia Roberts, and last year it was Hallie Berry. If Nicole Kidman wins this year, I predict that the trajectory (another word that is no longer in American dictionaries) will continue, and that Denise Richards will win next year, and Asia Carrera the year after that.

Oh, why is it called The Hours? The movie takes only 2 hours, but it brilliantly feels like the 22 hours it would take to read the novel, so it reminds viewers how much time they saved by waiting for the movie version. I can't wait for Rob Reiner to release his version of Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections, starring Kevin Spacey and Reese Witherspoon.

There are weird parallels between The Hours and Cradle 2 the Grave. One of them is the appearance of rapper DMZ, who is a longtime Philip Glass collaborator. But the most important is that like The Hours, Cradle 2 the Grave focuses on overlapping stories that are mysteriously connected. In the beginning of the film, DMZ and his crew are breaking into a building to steal a special set of diamonds. Meanwhile, a Taiwanese police officer (Jet Li) is looking for some very special diamonds. We don't learn until three minutes into the film that they're actually the same diamonds! What the he....Gotcha!

Cradle 2 the Grave, though, is a different type of Oscar contender. Made by the same team that did Jet Li's last movie Kiss of the Dragon, this is an in-your-face action epic that somehow manages to titillate even as it desensitizes. The brilliant screenplay even manages to use Jet Li's awkward way with English to create one of the most thrilling tag lines ever for a hero. When the villain (Mark Dacascos) tells Jet "I'm going to kick your ass," Jet Li responds, "You can kick my ass when you pry it out of my cold dead fingers." This distracts the native English-speaking villain long enough that Jet Li can throw a four-foot long steel rod through his eyeball, swivel him around it like an airplane propeller for a minute, and then throw him into a crocodile-filled pit of flaming gasoline and bionuclear waste material. Wait, I didn't mean to give away the ending. That's not really the important part, though. So really, I didn't ruin it for you.

It's nice to see Jet Li return to his roots. A few years ago, he made his thrilling debut in Romeo Is Going To Die, starring opposite Aaliyah, a popular artist in urban (read: not Wisconsin; I had no idea who she was) circles. They were so good with one another that I wonder why they're no longer doing movies together. Anyway, after a brief foray with people who aren't R&B stars, Jet Li returns to work with DMZ, the brilliant rapper. Actually, DMZ's part was originally supposed to be played by R. Kelly, but it turns out there's a nine-year-old girl in the movie, and the producers for some reason picked DMZ to replace Mr. Kelly.

The plot is too complicated to recount here, but basically the cop and the thieves both want the diamonds, which are stolen by another set of thieves, who are then killed off by some other thieves who realize that the diamonds are actually a new kind of superweapon that Taiwan developed in order to disarm themselves. The movie, however, manages to keep the stories so perfectly parallel that each of the heroes has a special villain to face (Gabrielle Union must fight Kelly Hu, Jet Li must fight Dacascos, and DMZ must fight some sort of fat guy).

These fights are staged hypnotically and brilliantly to send a message: deep down, we're not so different, whites, blacks, and people from the Far East. In fact, during the fights, it is impossible to tell who is who. Most impressive is DMZ. He spends so much time on his rap career and weightlifting (he is impressive buff), that it's a wonder that he found time for all the acting classes that really help him bring his character, DMZ the Thief, to life. Fortunately, the hyperkinetic fight scenes allowed him to take it easy on the fight training, though I think at one moment I may have actually seen him throw a punch. Jet Li, as he always does, manages to craft a thoughtful performance as a cop who is probably thinking a lot more than he is letting on.

One more reason to see Cradle 2 the Grave is the fact that Mark Dacascos's other movies are French. He was a critical part of two French martial arts masterpieces, Brotherhood of the Wolf and Amelie. But if we're boycotting French things, it's important to watch his American movies instead. And this one, made by a Polish director with a largely Chinese cast, comes reasonably close to fitting that bill.

So which one is better, The Hours or Cradle 2 the Grave? I pointed out in my review of American Beauty that my favorite TV show in history is Martial Law, which starred the beautiful and talented Kelly Hu (who was also so great in King Scorpion). You may think I'm a midwestern fuddy-duddy, but you know what? For me, loyalty matters.

I predict that there will be Oscar 2 the Jet for Cradle 2 the Grave. But Nicole Kidman will have The Hours to rub Tom Cruise's face in the fact that she got the Best Acting Oscar first.

On a scale of four or five stars, I give The Hours and Cradle 2 the Grave a combined score of 16.5 stars.

Earlier Positive Movie Reviews can be found at home.earthlink.net/~dleheny