The film follows the journey of the title character (Kirsten Dunst) the winsome sweet-natured teenage archduchess of Austria who is dispatched by her family in the late 1700s into a politically advantageous marriage to Louis XVI (Jason Schwartzman) the future king of France. While the trappings of the royal palace at Versailles are as extravagant and glamorous as any traditional historical biopic the heart of the film is Marie Antoinette’s smaller more emotional world as she struggles to fit in with the puzzling customs and often-stern judgment of a foreign court. She must also fulfill her duty to her own nation—namely producing an heir to safeguard their political status a task that proves increasingly frustrating as she romances her maddeningly reticent new husband. Much like any modern young woman in our era of airhead heiresses she initially soothes her angst by indulging in excessive shopping sprees wild parties and flirtations with a hunky war hero. But she also eases into her role on the throne only to find that her starving angry peasant subjects have taken a harsh view of the gossip surrounding her profligate behavior as they mount the French Revolution. As a child actress who worked steadily into her teens and early twenties Dunst has always been a fresh sunny presence on screen in popcorn films like Bring It On but who could also reveal an ability to access darker corners as she did in her debut performance in Interview with the Vampire and in Sofia Coppola’s directorial debut The Virgin Suicides. But after her breakthrough role in 2002’s Spider-Man most of Dunst’s subsequent efforts seem to have be chosen more to build her Hollywood stardom than challenge her acting skills and perhaps unchallenged she delivers performances more competent than compelling. Marie Antoinette is a welcome return to a more complicated and conflicted role and she rises to the challenge admirably with her most appealing and most affecting turn to date. Utterly capturing the queen’s evolution from naïf to sophisticate gaining wisdom and maturity from her youthful frustrations and overindulgences Dunst makes Marie’s plight utterly relatable and imbues virtually every scene of the film with a watchability that outdoes even the luxe production design. In only her third—and most ambitious—film writer-director Sofia Coppola continues on her hot streak. Already one of the most atmospheric and subtle helmers working in Hollywood she not only marries her modern dreamlike style to the opulent visuals of a historical drama she effectively redefines Marie Antoinette in a way that any alienated over-her-head teen of today could appreciate while also showing just why the population at large might have considered her a monster. As Coppola is the quiet introspective daughter of a revered famously over-the-top filmmaker she too was thrust into a sophisticated world at an early age and was with her much-panned acting turn in The Godfather Part III certainly misunderstood by the public if not reviled. One is tempted to think a certain reliability applies to her success with her story. But her assured skills as a filmmaker are what really make Marie soar—even her experimental touches such as the use of anachronistic music on the soundtrack (the Strokes Bow Wow Wow New Order and others appear alongside Vivaldi). It make perfect sense in context the kind of tunes a disaffected adolescent might play in her bedroom while wondering why no one understands them. That’s just the icing; the rest of Marie’s delectable cake is well worth eating.
Idi Amin was the ruthless dictator of the African nation of Uganda throughout much of the 1970s. He was ultimately blamed for thousands upon thousands of deaths (some estimates place the death toll in the hundreds of thousands) during his tenure. The Last King of Scotland is a fictionalized version of Amin’s (Forest Whitaker) reign of terror. Giddy after graduating from med school in Scotland Nicholas Garrigan (James McAvoy) randomly picks Uganda to be his first post-college destination. When he gets there the locals are abuzz after the new leader has been sworn in and vows to right all that is wrong with the country. After a chance encounter with Amin Garrigan bears witness to his dichotomous personalities as the ruler goes from threatening to charming on a whim. Amin is so taken with the young doctor--and vice versa--that he invites Garrigan to become his personal physician. A doctor-patient relationship leads to close friendship and before long Garrigan is the very center of the dictator’s inner circle. And not long thereafter he learns that there is no worse place to be. For over 20 years now we’ve all bore witness to Whitaker’s mastery of acting. His choices have been eclectic and his performances consistently great but it’s always been a case of “And oh Forest Whitaker’s great too.” Until now. Whitaker makes what can only be described as an earthquake of an entrance. It’s clear in the movie when Amin will first appear and yet the actor still manages to catch us off-guard. Amin’s manic personalities are child’s play for Whitaker but he never has fun with it which is where other actors might have gone overboard. He is now leading the race for the Best Actor Oscar too. Not that the supporting players are too shabby though. McAvoy's (The Chronicles of Narnia) Garrigan is actually the heart of the story allowing for more screen time than Whitaker and the Scotsman soaks up every second. He sticks out like a sore thumb in the film but not only because he’s from the opposite side of the earth; it’s because McAvoy the actor makes sure to react differently to everything. In addition former X-File-r Gillian Anderson turns in a solid if short apperance--and you’ll be surprised how amazingly hot she is! Kerry Washington (Mr. and Mrs. Smith) as one of Amin’s countless neglected ex-wives is superb as well.
The contrast between Last King's first and second half is as night-and-day as Amin's personalities. In the first half director Kevin MacDonald (Touching the Void) allows the story to simmer to the point of perfection; in the second half he gets sloppy as though in a rush to finish a different movie than the one he started. The ending also a mix of truth and fable (plucked from the highly acclaimed book by Giles Foden) quickly spirals towards its conclusion which is tough to watch for very different reasons. But prior to that--even at some points in the uneven second half--MacDonald paints a beautiful monster out of Amin. Maybe more importantly he paints a beautiful picture of African ambiance an indirect thank you to the Ugandan people that allowed unprecedented access to their country for the sake of Last King. Even with MacDonald's occasional blunders it's hard to deny the power of his film.
November 08, 2001 12:51pm EST
Hal (Jack Black) spends most of his time with his sleazy friend Mauricio (Jason Alexander) in nightclubs chasing women who basically look like supermodels. Ironic considering Hal and Mauricio are both unattractive and devoid of personalities. In one of the film's funnier moments Hal gets stuck in an elevator with self-help guru Anthony Robbins who hypnotizes the shallow fellow into seeing people's inner beauty rather than judging them purely on looks. Shortly after Hal falls for Rosemary (Gwyneth Paltrow) who he sees as skinny knockout rather than an obese woman. (Rosemary's inner beauty comes from being a Peace Corps volunteer who also helps out at the burn unit of the local hospital.) Annoyed that his best friend is dating a "rhino " Mauricio convinces Robbins to remove the spell so that he can have his old judgmental buddy back. Hal is then left to deal with seeing Rosemary for what she physically is and confront his feelings for her.
In Shallow Hal Paltrow (Bounce) makes a departure from her usual corseted roles and was convincing as the shy unconfident Rosemary. But most of the laughs come from seeing chairs collapse underneath Paltrow's supposed weight and getting a glimpse of her large purple thongs rather than her performance. The film also delivers many never before seen shots of Paltrow's crotch whether it's of her bending over in skimpy lavender lingerie or falling off a collapsed chair in a dress with her legs flailing. Either way we definitely see Paltrow in a different light. Black (Saving Silverman) is impressive playing the part of a guy who doesn't get that he's with someone obese. His confused reactions like when Rosemary's end of a canoe outweighs his are genuinely funny. Alexander (The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle) is equally amusing with his painted on hair but his character's neurosis parallel's Jerry Seinfeld's a little too much.
Directors Bobby and Peter Farrelly move away from their usual gross-out comedies like Dumb and Dumber and attempt a more heartfelt picture hoping to make people laugh and cry. Shallow Hal however does not succeed on either levels. The film is constantly driving home the point that it's wrong to judge people based on their looks but then derives most of the laughs from people's appearances. At one point Mauricio explains that Rosemary has "cankles " an anatomical appendage that happens when someone is so fat that their calves hang down over their ankles. Sure it's hysterical but are we supposed to laugh or become conscience-stricken? If it is at all possible to fuse politically incorrect humor and sensitivity it doesn't happen in this film. And while Paltrow has said she believes Shallow Hal will challenge the audience's perception of fat people it probably won't.