In the 1950s Senator Joe McCarthy began a witch hunt in Washington and Hollywood to cleanse the nation of "commie sympathizers." No one dared stand up to him for fear of being targeted themselves until journalist Edward R. Murrow (David Strathairn) did an expose of the senator on his television program See It Now. In doing so he risked himself the livelihoods of the reporters working for him and the reputation of CBS. The network stood behind him although very reluctantly and Morrow swayed public opinion--a landmark moment in broadcast journalism.
David Strathairn is wonderfully subtle as the legendary Murrow from small nervous facial tics as he prepares to go live on the night of his controversial broadcast to his barely concealed contempt for the puff pieces he has to do like an interview with Liberace. Patricia Clarkson and Robert Downey Jr. also do nice work as a married couple who hide their relationship since it's against company policy but their characters--and indeed all of the characters--are all very thinly sketched. The meatiest supporting role belongs to Ray Wise (Laura Palmer's crazy dad on Twin Peaks) as CBS news anchorman Don Hollenbeck who is barely hanging on after being labeled a "pinko" in the right-wing press. George Clooney as Murrow's producer Fred Friendly is low-key but still deftly funny. A number of supporting players like Tate Donovan don't have much of a chance to stand out. McCarthy himself is presented only in archival footage.
George Clooney in his second outing behind the camera is clearly going for a documentary type of feel resulting in out-of-focus shots and quick pans that often land on nothing at all. Dramatic scenes are interspersed with so much unedited archival footage that after a while it does feel like you're watching a documentary although a documentary would likely have provided more context. For some reason a jazz singer (Diane Reeves) is frequently seen performing in a studio at CBS or at a club that Murrow's staff all frequents. The musical interludes are lovely but ultimately rather pointless. You have to respect Clooney's wanting to tell this story and to tell it an unadorned non-Hollywoodized kind of way that Murrow himself would likely have approved since he didn't approve of mere "entertainment." But except in a few rare moments the film remains more of a dry history lesson than a movie in its own right.
The Crusades were a series of religious wars in which the Christians tried to reclaim Jerusalem from the Muslims who had conquered the Middle East in the 7th century. With the battle cry of "God wills it! " thousands of Europeans answered the call and were able to retake the fabled Holy City in the 11th century. Kingdom of Heaven begins in 1186 between the Second and Third Crusades. A fragile peace prevails mostly through the efforts of Jerusalem's enlightened Christian king Baldwin IV (Edward Norton) and the military restraint of the legendary Muslim leader Saladin (Ghassan Massoud). But it's difficult to maintain the peace. There are extremists within the Christian brigades--known as the Knights Templar--who want to wipe every Muslim off the face of the Earth. On top of that King Baldwin's health is failing. Once he's gone war is sure to follow. If ever there was a need for a hero this is the time. Enter the young French blacksmith Balian (Orlando Bloom) who is in deep despair over the loss of his family. He joins the Crusades after the father he never knew Godfrey (Liam Neeson) comes back from Jerusalem and convinces him it's a quest worth fighting for. As Godfrey passes his sword to his son he also passes on that sacred knightly oath: to protect the helpless safeguard the peace and work toward harmony between religions and cultures so that a kingdom of heaven can flourish on earth. No pressure or anything though.
Orlando Bloom carries his first major motion picture very well easily handling the chores of being such a gallant conscientious and morally upstanding knight. As Balian the Troy costar plays the gamut. He broods over his lost wife and child has father-son epiphanies upholds his knightly duties on a regular basis falls in love with a beautiful but troubled princess and finally bravely defends the Holy City from the encroaching Muslim army thus becoming a legend. Not bad for a day's work eh? There are even times especially toward the end when Balian is standing before the denizens of Jerusalem urging them to fight when you swear you can see a little of Bloom's The Lord of the Rings alter-elf Legolas creep in. The supporting cast also does an adequate job painting a picture of some trying times. Chief among them: Jeremy Irons as King Baldwin's right-hand man Tiberias; Marton Csokas (The Bourne Supremacy) as the evil leader of the Knights Templar; Massoud as the great warrior Saladin; and lovely Eva Green (The Dreamers) as Princess Sibylla King Baldwin's sister who captures our hero's heart but makes some bad choices with dire consequences.
Even if these sword-and-armor epics are all blending together you've got to give props to the directors who make them. These films are massive undertakings and Kingdom of
Heaven with the expert Ridley Scott at the helm is no exception. The Oscar-winning director of course has had his fair share of recreating history first with the classic Gladiator and then with the contemporary Black Hawk Down. But in recreating the Crusades Scott faces his toughest challenge to date and takes on the responsibility very seriously. He is painstakingly meticulous with details even as he is building a 12th-century Jerusalem or corralling 2 000 heavily costumed extras for the colossal climactic battle sequences. And it is always a good thing when a historical film can teach you something you may not have known like what the heck the Crusades were really all about. No Kingdom's biggest obstacle is timing. While it certainly has more substance than Alexander it is not nearly as intense and stirring as The Lord of the Rings trilogy or the granddaddy of them all Braveheart. Too many of its ilk has come before and the concept has unfortunately worn thin.
August 29, 2003 11:06am EST
Jeepers Creepers which was released in 2001 established some basic facts about the winged monster the most important being that it eats every 23rd spring for 23 days. This sequel however is not set in 2024 but on the last of the 23 days and parallels the events of the first film on the dreaded East 9 Highway in Poho County: On the same stretch of road a bus carrying high school students returning home from a championship game become stranded when two tires on the vehicle blow out. It's not an accident but the work of the Creeper (Jonathan Breck) who then returns to the crippled bus to feast on its passengers. After the driver and coaches get picked off the kids like savory sardines in a tin box are left to fend for themselves. The only clue they have as to what's going on is through cheerleader Minxie (Nicki Lynn Aycox) who has a dream in which Darry (Justin Long)--the lead character from the first film--warns her of the Creepers intentions. The group's only salvation is a local farmer (Ray Wise) looking to avenge his son's demise at the hands of the Creeper. Fraught with fright flick clichés Jeepers Creepers 2 is not as intelligent as the first and the elements that made the original so compelling--the suspense drama and the emotional investment in its characters--are definitely lacking in this sequel.
Jeepers Creepers 2 follows a busload of basketball players and cheerleaders as well as a farmer and his son in a concurrent storyline. The problem is there are so many characters here that none of them ever get a chance to fully develop. As the film opens attention is focused on Jack Taggert (Ray Wise) as the Creeper snatches his son in a cornfield. As an actor with great range Wise best known for his stint as Leland Palmer in David Lynch's cult series Twin Peaks isn't taken full advantage of here. He's bitter about the loss of his son but the movie gets that across to the audience by intermittently showing Wise's character frantically crafting a giant spear gun. But because the film doesn't devote enough time to the character we don't share his hatred for the Creeper. Breck reprises his role here as the winged beast and if the film spawns into a successful horror movie franchise could gain cult stardom as the Creeper. Because the Creeper is more prominent than in the first film Breck gets a chance to play with the character a little more and even infuses a bit of personality into the monster. The cast of teenage characters including Aycox Lena Caldwell and Garikayi Mutambirwa all give respectable performances but sadly get lost in the mix and never become anything more than disposable targets.
When it was released in 2001 director Victor Salva's Jeepers Creepers grossed $37.9 million at the box office--commercial success for a small horror genre flick. It had a lot going for it especially compared to most slasher pics; a good story with an even more intriguing villain but its appeal rested in Salva's visual approach. The director used subtle effects to mount suspense including what he describes as a "Hitchcock reveal " where the audience is given details that the characters aren't like a shot of the Creeper in a car's rearview mirror. But in Jeepers Creepers 2 Salva overuses this effect and it becomes almost irritating. What's more the tension that came with delaying the Creepers reveal in the first film is now gone. Moviegoers see him in the first scene followed by longer glimpses with each exposure--and the more we see of him the less scary he becomes. This film does have a few things going for it one of them being Bennett Salvay's musical score. Salva does not drown the film in pyrotechnics and screeching sound effects but instead uses the musical compositions to convey the mood of the entire production. In one scene Salva provides the audience with a bird's-eye-view of the group of teens running to safety across a vast field and accompanied by the heightened score resemble a herd of wildebeest on the run. But while the film is visually interesting it ultimately fails to get the audience to care for its whole host of characters making their fate and the action inconsequential.
Based on a series of six Marvel Comics created by writer Stan Lee and artist Jack Kirby in 1962 The Hulk revolves around a scientist named Bruce Banner (Eric Bana) who following a laboratory snafu absorbs a normally deadly dose of gamma radiation. Bruce thinks he has escaped unscathed--until he gets mad ... real mad which causes him to turn into a huge rampaging green monster known as the Hulk. In order to make this 40-year-old gamma theory somewhat more believable for today's science-savvy moviegoers screenwriter James Schamus and his team decided to arm the script with a somewhat more convincing scientific rationale. The story follows Bruce's father David Banner (Nick Nolte) who as a young scientist conducted prohibited genetic experiments on himself thus changing his son's life before he was even out of the womb. While modernizing the scientific reasoning behind Bruce's transformation makes sense it's a pity it had to be done in such a heavy-handed way. By adding such an elaborate layer to the story The Hulk becomes more about Bruce and David's tormented past and any semblance of a plot is buried in melodramatic dialogue between the characters. The result is a comic book adaptation that is much too serious for its own genre.
Despite the theatrical discourse don't expect complex characters to emerge from The Hulk. Although Bana (Black Hawk Down) is a good choice for the lead of the nerdy scientist and reluctant hero his character is so busy pretending he doesn't have any problems that the audience never gets to see his emotional side. Bana's character grimaces convincingly as he represses his anger for example but he fails ever to open up on a personal level to his love interest in the film his co-worker Betty played by Jennifer Connelly (A Beautiful Mind). Betty is Bruce's old flame but the two are obviously still in love: she is obsessed with fixing whatever is broken about him. As the Hulk Bruce need only look at Betty once for his anger to subside and allow him to morph back into human form. They have weighty discussions about the significance of their dreams and Bruce's past yet they never seem to connect on any level. One of the film's best performances comes from Nolte (The Good Thief) in the role of Bruce's mad scientist father David. Almost Shakespearean at times Nolte--scraggly hair and all-- completely immerses himself in the role. The cast's performances however are muted by the general heaviness of this would-be actioner. Look for quick cameo appearances by Lou Ferrigno (from the 1970s TV series The Incredible Hulk) and Marvel legend Stan Lee.
For his follow-up to Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon Ang Lee has turned to bigger greener matters. The Hulk the director's visual effects-intense picture (with a little help from Industrial Light & Magic) is stunning and startlingly well done. The green beast's computer generated movements from his heaving chest to the single leaps that spring him well into a different zip code are convincingly real. Not only does the ground shake when this goliath lands but his momentum even throws him off balance at times sending his lumbering arms flailing. But while the CGI Hulk has been meticulously honed Lee's homage to the world of print comic books--using multiple screens to present concurrent storylines and alternate angles of the same scene--is off-putting: Rival researcher Glenn Talbot (Josh Lucas) suspiciously walks out of the lab Betty reacts in one panel Bruce sits back in another. The simultaneous screens don't necessarily show anything pertinent going on making the far and wide close and medium shots of the character's reactions a distraction rather than a helpful storytelling technique. But the most disconcerting thing about the film is that in its leap from the four-color paneled pages to the big screen it lost its wit.