I admit I am not a big Woody Allen fan, but I enjoyed some of his earlier and recent films, such as last year's Match Point, which was also unlike anything he had done before. With Scoop, Allen stays in London, instead of New York, but settles comfortably back into his familiar style, including a major role for himself.
Sandra (Johansson) is an American journalism student vacationing in London. While participating at magician Splendini's (Allen) performance, the ghost of reporter Joe Strombel (McShane) appears before her. Apparently he's gotten a fantastic tip beyond the grave, indicating that Peter Lymen (Jackman), Lord Lymen's son, is the serial killer known as the Tarot Card Killer who has murdered a number of prostitutes around the city. He urges Sandra to investigate and expose the biggest story of her life.
With the help of her high society friends and Splendini (Sid Waterman in real life), Sandra manages to get close to Peter, posing as a naive actress named Jade Spence. Despite her suspicion, Sandra falls in love with Peter and becomes confused. The clues she finds point to Peter as the killer, but she can't believe such a charming, loving, extremely wealthy bloke could ever kill. Sid thinks otherwise and urges Sandra to be careful as her relationship with Peter becomes deeper and more dangerous.
Johansson (Match Point) once again plays a pretty, naive American girl. After her interesting portrayal as a temptress in Allen's Match Point, her performance here just seems phoned in and artificial, not to mention typecast. As usual, Allen (Hollywood Ending) plays himself, a neurotic, babbling, witty-in-an-irritating-way simpleton who's coerced into unlikely situations. He has some great lines, but his presence becomes grating after a while.
Jackman (X-Men: The Last Stand) gets to play a charming, privileged English gentleman and he aces it. Deep down you know you can't really trust the guy -- he's just too good to be true. However, I am not getting a lot of chemistry between him and Johansson, and that makes their romance rather forced. McShane (Deadwood) also has a fun time playing a dead guy obsessed with the story of his (after) life.
Written by Allen (Match Point), the story requires a huge suspension of disbelief. The supernatural nature of Joe Strombel's ghost sets the tone of the film early on. At times, it seems that Allen didn't really know whether he's making a comedy or a mystery. His own character's incessant babbling is amusing to a point; after a while, it becomes self-indulging, and I can't help but think, what does it have to do with the plot? In fact, part of the story involving Sid, especially near the end, could possibly have been cut out.
Scoop is a letdown in every way after the taut and psychological Match Point, with which we had a case study of how wonderful a writer-director can be if he would simply become transparent and fade into the background. However, with Scoop, Allen is everywhere, and the self-gratifying aspect of the film becomes a nuisance after a while. Granted, there is a certain whimsical aspect of the film that has the trademarked Woody Allen charm and wit. The dialogue is cute and lovely at times. But the plot is thin and predictable, the characters superficial, and the direction unfocused. The editing is choppy and there are minor characters that don't serve any purpose. I only ask: Is this the same writer-director who gave us Match Point last year?
Perhaps it's not fair to Allen. Perhaps we should simply consider this film for what it is, and stop comparing it with his other works. In that case, Scoop is an adequate entertainment. And here's the scoop: this is one of Allen's more juvenile undertakings, and that's not necessarily a bad thing, if we know not to have high expectations.
Stars: Scarlett Johansson, Hugh Jackman, Woody Allen, Ian McShane, Charles Dance
Director: Woody Allen
Writer: Woody Allen
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some sexual content
Running Time: 96 minutes
Script – 6
Performance – 7
Direction – 6
Cinematography – 7
Editing – 5
Production – 7
Total – 6.1 out of 10
© 2006 Ray Wong
The Hollywood playing field is littered with superheroes. While Wolverine and Superman duke it out for the title of the "Coolest Guy-in-Tights," G-Girl of My Super Ex-Girlfiend sneaks up on them to claim "The Nuttiest, Campiest Anti-Hero" of the summer.
Matt Saunders (Wilson) is an average nice guy working at design firm. Despite his good-natureness, he seems to always attract mentally-unstable women. When he meets a sexy gallery curator, Jenny Johnson (Thurman), a short fling turns into a steady relationship, even though Matt's intuition tells him that Jenny is another total nut-job.
Little does Matt know that Jenny is the alter-ego of the superhero, G-Girl. While G-Girl is very good at saving the day for everyone else, Jenny can't save herself from being needy, jealous, and neurotic about her relationship with Matt. When Matt discovers that Jenny is G-Girl, the initial excitement quickly wears off as Jenny becomes suspicious of Matt's feelings for his colleague, Hannah (Faris). Matt decides to break up with Jenny, but G-Girl promises that he will be "very, very sorry."
Thurman (The Producers) is deliciously wacky as Jenny/G-Girl. Obviously gorgeous, Thurman has great comic timing and handles the dual natures (heroic vs. needy, confident vs. vulnerable, mean vs. sweet) of the character with flair. She seems to have as much fun as Johnny Depp did playing Captain Jack Sparrow in that little pirate movie. Luke Wilson (The Family Stone) is charming as the straight man. Slightly pudgy, Wilson exudes certain awkwardness and naiveté that make his character very likable.
Rainn Wilson (The Office) is the go-to guy to play Matt's weird and nerdy friend Vaughn. His brand of off-kilters serves the role well. Faris (Brokeback Mountain) is delightfully sweet as the object of Matt's affection. Sykes (Monster In-Law) has a small and unnecessary role as Matt's boss -- her part could be cut out completely and nothing would have been lost. Izzard (Ocean's Twelve), on the other hand, is a standout in his minor role as super-villain Professor Bedlam. His underplayed yet flamboyant characterization is hilarious.
Writer Payne is best known for this TV credits such as The Simpsons and Men Behaving Badly. The script, however, is sophomoric and obvious. From the very first scene, everything is explained and spelled out for the audience. There's really no subtlety or suspense. The plot is ridiculous and predictable. The dialogue is trite and silly. Relatively fast-paced, the story drags in places and could have used some cutting.
Surprisingly, despite all the flaws, the film works as a comedy. The ridiculous plot and the silly characters are very entertaining. There are many laugh-out-loud moments and at times, I find myself giggling like a school girl. The characters are very interesting and so is the story, and the actors have great chemistry with each other. Director Reitman (Six Days Seven Nights) is smart to maintain a tongue-in-cheek fluffiness throughout the film. When the filmmakers don't take themselves too seriously, the audiences are allowed to sit back, relax, and have a super good time.
Stars: Uma Thurman, Luke Wilson, Anna Faris, Rainn Wilson, Eddie Izzard, Wanda Sykes
Director: Ivan Reitman
Writer: Don Payne
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sexual content, brief nudity, crude humor and language
Running Time: 95 minutes
Script – 6
Performance – 7
Direction – 7
Cinematography – 7
Editing – 6
Production – 7
Total – 6.8 out of 10
Writer-director Linklater has a unique take on the world. His Waking Life, filmed with live actors and then painstakingly painted over, burst into the Hollywood scene with a funny, fresh, and trippy sense of weirdness. Adapted from Philip K. Dick's novel, A Scanner Darkly is strangely hypnotizing as well.
Freck (Cochrane) is a twitchy drug addict who thinks he has bugs crawling all over him, and he hangs out with his pothead friends including motor-mouthed techno-geek Barris (Downey), perpetual stoner Luckman (Harrelson), Arctor (Reeves) and his girlfriend Donna (Ryder). What he and his friends don't know is that one of them is an undercover agent, and that they're under constant surveillance by the "scanners."
That agent would be Arctor, known as "Fred" to his colleagues. Undercover agents like Arctor/Fred wear protective scramble-suits that disguise them by constantly shifting among thousands of physical identities (of all races, genders and ages). Even the agency doesn't know the true identities of these agents. They suspect that Arctor is the dealer they're looking for, and that Arctor is hooked on a highly addictive, amphetamine-like drug called Substance-D. As his brain functions are gradually destroyed by the drug, Arctor/Fred has a problem focusing on his job, which is to scan the surveillance and send it to his boss, Hank, for analysis. He has trouble distinguishing between his identities and realities. Meanwhile, Arctor's friends start to suspect they're being watched, and they get paranoid. Hilariously paranoid.
The actors all do good work here, even though they're "animated" by a process called rotoscoping. Reeves (The Lake House) is perfect for the role of Arctor: he is laid-back, confused, and he often seems lost in his surroundings. Downey (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang) is delightful and slightly irritating as Barris. He has some of the best lines in the movie and his quirky portrayal earns our kudos. Cochrane (Hart's War) turns in a wonderfully neurotic performance as Freck. Harrelson (A Prairie Home Companion) doesn't have much to do but handles his role as loopy Luckman with ease. Ryder (The Darwin Award) has a relatively minor but pivotal role as Donna, and she impresses.
The script by Linklater is confusing at the beginning. I understand the reason behind the confusing crosscutting and episodic storytelling, because the story calls for certain confusion and mystery; but it's still way too confusing, especially when Arctor switches back and forth between being Fred and Arctor, in and out of the agency, or under his scramble-suit. At times, I'd get lost in the plot and the editing early on and it'd take me a while to catch up. But once I do, and once the plot opens up and reveals itself, it becomes increasingly intriguing.
It's a talky film, as are many sci-fi classics. A few scenes stand out because of the dialogue and the realistic depiction of these characters and their relationships with each other. The sci-fi aspect of the film is fantastic, putting us right in that topsy-turvy future world. The clever twist near the end makes perfect sense. The ending, though, seems abrupt and unresolved, but I think it's appropriate for the story.
Linklater has a vision that is perfect for the materials of his choosing. The visual style of rotoscoping is stunning and works extremely well with Philip K. Dick's story. The constant shifting of the animation is trippy, and it brings us into a world that is neither real or fake. The story itself is thought-provoking without being obnoxious about its morals. There's no question that Dick was anti-drugs, the sentiment of which is made clear by the dedication during the end credits. However, the story also calls into question our anti-drug tactics, and the human quandaries that accompany them. While Linklater's vision might not be embraced by mainstream any time soon, I have no question that A Scanner Darkly will become a cult classic in no time.
Stars: Keanu Reeves, Robert Downey Jr., Woody Harrelson, Rory Cochrane, Winona Ryder
Director: Richard Linklater
Writers: Richard Linklater (based on novel by Philip K. Dick)
Distributor: Warner Independent
MPAA Rating: R for drug and sexual content, language, brief violent images
Running Time: 100 minutes
Script – 8
Performance – 7
Direction – 8
Animation – 9
Editing – 6
Production – 8
Total – 7.8 out of 10
The original Pirates of the Caribbean was such rollicking box office hit that Disney seized on the opportunity immediately to make it into a trilogy. The first of the back-to-back sequels arrives in theater this summer. While it's still a good romping fun, somehow it's bigger, louder, busier, and less interesting.
On their wedding day, Elizabeth Swann (Knightley) and William Turner (Bloom) are arrested by Culter Beckett (Hollander) on the charges of having helped Jack Sparrow (Depp) escape. In fact, what Beckett really wants is Jack's Sparrow's magical compass, so he can use it to find the key to Davy Jones' (Nighy) Dead Man's Chest. He sends William on a mission to find Capt. Sparrow. Meanwhile, Sparrow is trying to stay one step ahead of Davie Jones, who is trying to collect his soul.
OK, I won't even try to explain the plot. All of that is just an excuse for the characters to go places and do interesting things, which include an island inhabited by cannibals, the pirates on Tortuga, a creepy fortuneteller, grand ships (Sparrow's Black Pearl and Davy Jones' Dutchman), men who look like sea creatures, and a real sea monster that makes me think of sushi.
Depp (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) is back in fine form as Sparrow. One of the film's strengths is Depp's comic timing and entertaining portrayal of the peculiar pirate. He's neither a good guy or a bad guy, but one can't say he's not fascinating. Apparently, Elizabeth Swann thinks so, too, and Knightley (Pride & Prejudice) reprises that role with feistiness, guts and a dash of girly giggles. Compared to these two, Bloom (Elizabethtown) is rather bland as William Turner. He's brave and heroic and loyal and all that, but I just can't seem to really care about him.
The cast of old and new characters are fun to watch. Davenport (Libertine), Pryce (The New World) and Hollander (Pride & Prejudice) return as the trio of Englishmen: ex-Commodore Norrington, Gov. Weatherby Swann, and Cutley Beckett respectively. McNally (Phantom of the Opera), Arenberg (Charmed) and Crook (The Brothers Grimm) are back in full comic garb as Sparrow's crewmen Gibbs, Pintel and Ragetti. New to the series is Nighy (Underworld: Evolution) as Davy Jones. Nighy, who looks literally slimy with the help of CG effects, makes a great villain and counterpoint to the loopy Sparrow. Skarsgard (Exorcist: the Beginning) plays William's father, Bootstrap Bill, with a nice mix of creepiness, warmth and remorse. Harris (After the Sunset) fascinates as fortuneteller Tia Dalma.
The large cast, relatively frantic pace, and the multitude of locales and exotic adventures give the film the look and feel of a wild ride, which is appropriate considering the franchise is based on Disney's popular ride. However, while the first film was fresh and fun and easy to follow, the sequel is a convoluted potboiler. Writers Elliott and Rossio (The Legend of Zorro) overstuff the story with inane plot twists, inconsistencies and incomprehensible dialogue. Together with director Verbinski (The Weatherman), they go for the big, bold, and explosive. The result is a cornucopia of visual extravagance that is unfortunately mind-numbing and tedious, especially toward the end. It's rare that in the middle of high adventures I would look at my watch and ask myself, "When is this going to end?" At two hour and thirty minutes, the film is long and feels long. And the ending is all set up (for the third installment) without any resolution -- that really drives me crazy.
Those who enjoy big, wild-ride adventures might enjoy this sequel, despite its convoluted storytelling. The production looks expensive, the makeup and costume fantastic, and the locations gorgeous. Those who are in love with the characters such as Sparrow, Elizabeth, or William might be disappointed by the lack of depth. To me, Dead Man's Chest represents the same problems of many Hollywood sequels (and Back to the Future came to mind) -- it's bigger, louder, faster, but not particularly better.
Stars: Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley, Jack Davenport, Bill Nighy, Jonathan Pryce, Lee Arenberg, Mackenzie Crook, Kevin McNally, David Bailie, Stellan Skarsgard, Tom Hollander, Naomie Harris, Geoffrey Rush
Director: Gore Verbinski
Writers: Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio
Distributor: Buena Vista
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of adventure violence, frightening images
Running Time: 150 minutes
Script – 5
Performance – 7
Direction – 6
Cinematography – 7
Editing – 7
Production – 8
Total – 6.8 out of 10