Faithful summer viewers, however, braved the mediocrity and made their way to ticket counters across America to sift through the dreck of this average cinematic season. Some films were a pleasant surprise. Some films were anything but. And some-well some were just entertaining. And now, without further ado, The Student brings you its overview on a few sections of this ultra-hyped tinseltown spectrum.
Yes, we realize that many of you skipped on this pop musical because it looked blatantly ridiculous and cheesy. Madonna songs and can-can girls? Don’t thumb your noses just yet. “Moulin Rouge!” showcased the most imaginative and vibrant filmmaking of the summer, courtesy of Australian maverick Baz Luhrmann (“William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet”). Starving artist Ewan MacGregor pursues tuberculosis-afflicted siren Nicole Kidman in this Victorian-era Parisian love story as generic, sentimental and dated as love itself. But MacGregor and Kidman realize that the only way to play this kind of stock material is to go balls-out-to raise a fist for “love, compassion, and valour,” and, goddamnit, really mean it! This movie realizes its own campiness and somehow manages to transcend it. The fantastic set design, including a giant bejeweled elephant and a fairy-tale Paris streetscape, frames elaborately choreographed and costumed musical medleys shot in hypercharged MTV fashion. A gender-bending rendition of “Like a Virgin” will change your feelings about the song forever. “Moulin Rouge” is filmmaking without the net: a bit daft, but exhilarating.
While “Moulin Rouge” transcended its genre (the musical) by mixing and matching disparate elements, Frank Oz’s “The Score” offered an almost equal, if not more humble, pleasure-genre flick (the crime caper) done faithfully and with meticulous professionalism. The cast-Robert De Niro as a veteran burglar returning for “one last job,” Edward Norton as his brash rookie partner, and Marlon Brando as a debt-ridden crime bosscomprises the most gifted actors of three generations. While these roles are not exactly challenging, it’s hard, even as a critic, to watch De Niro and Brando engage in witty repartee and feel anything less than grateful. The climactic heist is a tour de force of drawn-out suspense and clever technical details (if you want to know what water pressure has to do with safecracking, this is your movie). Final note: bravo for setting the story in Montreal! Hollywood has ignored this amazing city for far too long.
Another summer flick touting both big names and a big budget, the film stars John Cusack, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Julia Roberts and Billy Crystal, among others. This endeavor presents somewhat of an unusual case: it has not just one, but a veritable cornucopia of seasoned actors, well-versed in the self-flagellating folly of romantic comedy, and it still managed to leave much to be desired. The script, derivative as it was (we’re sure) expensive, rendered Cusack’s usually riveting sarcasm pathetic, Zeta-Jones’ charm frigid, and Julia Roberts … well, Roberts’ character just seemed to try to coast by on sympathy: her sister’s a bitch, she used to be fat, she’s addicted to carbs; modern-down-to-earth-average-woman (in a not-so-average body) dilemmas ad nauseam.
There are, however, some gems sparkling from within the rubble; this film’s redeeming factors are in the little things. Billy Crystal makes an appearance as an endearing Hollywood PR guru who needs to learn a few tricks to impress his money-grubbing jackass of a superior (played by Stanley Tucci), and Christopher Walken, as brilliant as he is creepy, has a hysterical cameo as an eccentric director. Cusack even manages to turn gloriously small one-liners into intelligently comedic moments, with my favorite part of the movie coming when he simply looks incredulously at Zeta-Jones and pronounces: “you’re the devil.”
Billed as a gritty, racially charged “teen movie,” “Crazy/Beautiful” was highly redeeming despite its marketing pitch. Although the ads for the film exploit Kirsten Dunst’s previously gathered sex appeal, there is nothing sexy about this movie. It is, instead, a brutally honest representation of life as a rich, disaffected and ungrateful teenager (Dunst).
The movie offers a compelling depiction of a loving, ambitious boy, set back by circumstance (Jay Hernandez). It isn’t brilliant, it isn’t earth-shattering or even highly innovative, but it isn’t a typical teen movie either.
Director John Stockwell succeeds at his presentation of the sheer ridiculousness of the driving situation behind the film: Dunst is a monetarily rich but spiritually anorexic teenager living not so much in the prison of her posh California home, but rather in her own self-loathing mindset. She’s hateful of others, too, and needlessly so. The audience is not made to sympathize where they should not: she is, in a word, a brat. Dunst doesn’t make this role glamorous-to do so would be a mistake. She pulls off the slacker-chic (or should we just level with you and say she’s grimy?) surprisingly well for someone whose previous roles include beauty queens, suburban Lolitas and peppy cheerleaders.
Kudos also go to Hernandez for his heartwrenching portrayal of Carlos, the struggling child of two Mexican immigrants whose yellow-brick road of discipline and drive falls in clear danger of succumbing to Dunst’s destructive charms.
Finally, we have “Legally Blonde,” one of the summer’s funniest and most facetious offerings. Reese Witherspoon, who seems to have replaced “Clueless” darling Alicia Silverstone as Hollywood’s favorite “brainy bimbo,” traipses in style through a usually swift-witted (though at times tiresome) satire. This film is punctuated with a plethora of sequins, more pink than a Pepto-Bismol commercial, and a disturbingly calm chihuahua which seems to be more of a fashion accessory than an actual pet.
Witherspoon’s character, Elle Woods, seems at first glance to be nothing but an empty-headed live version of Malibu Barbie. Closer examination, however, leaves us not only with a well-manicured avenger of falsely accused fitness gurus but with a loveable heroine whom you can’t help but identify with, no matter how ridiculous the situation. Despite her flawless exterior, Witherspoon’s character isn’t perfect-which renders her all the more likeable in the eyes of studio audiences everywhere.
She longs after a worthless Wasp,, Warner Huntington III (Matthew Davis) who dumped her for his old prep-school girlfriend (Selma Blair); she suffers endless ridicule at the hands of her haughty peers at Harvard; and she has to take a seat in the proverbial dunce corner on the first day of class when her teacher calls on her and finds her unprepared.
This problematic build-up makes Witherspoon’s triumph all the more satisfying. It’s not just Elle Woods whose situation improves, either: the inept manicurist (Jennifer Coolidge) finally finds love, fitness queen and plot catalyst Brooke Taylor-Windham (Ali Larter) finally finds justice, and the audience will inevitably find cinematic satisfaction-leaving better than they did when they walked in, surely a big step up from leaving with just the usual empty popcorn boxes and mysterious goo on the soles of your shoes.