Tag Archives: Nicole Kidman

To Die For (1995, Gus Van Sant)

To Die For’s got one of those effortlessly smooth but obviously intricate narrative structures. Screenwriter Buck Henry is adapting a novel, which author Joyce Maynard structured with many different first person accounts. Van Sant and Henry and editor Curtiss Clayton keep the sense of different perspectives—including some interview sessions where someone is obviously making a documentary, maybe not even necessarily the same documentary between interviewees—but the film’s never actually first person. There’s always a narrative distance. Because To Die For only shows so much of its characters. They’re all still mysteries at the end. The film’s got a very definite, very dark sense of humor and it’s never clear just how much Van Sant and Henry are bending reality.

For example, Tim Hopper and Michael Rispoli’s almost entirely dialogue-free police detectives. They’re absurdly intense, emphasis on the absurd. Only Van Sant never plays them for laughs. They cut through the film, their absurd unreality somehow realer than what’s been going on in the film.

To Die For is about cable access weatherperson Nicole Kidman seducing a teenage boy (Joaquin Phoenix) to kill her husband (Matt Dillon). The first act of the movie covers the basic setup and then how Kidman and Dillon got together and how their families clash. Dillon’s Italian, Kidman’s a WASP. It’s quite wonderfully never clear what attracted Kidman to Dillon. Apparently she really did “go wild” for him, but then he got in the way of her career. In addition to her nightly weather duties, Kidman’s making a documentary about local teenagers, including Phoenix. Once Dillon decides it’s time for Kidman to start popping out babies—he gave her a year—well, Kidman starts having sex (apparently a lot of sex, which isn’t initially clear and adds a bunch of layers to things in hindsight) with Phoenix, the end plan being getting Phoenix to kill Dillon.

The film almost entirely shows Kidman’s planning the murder from Phoenix and Alison Folland’s perspectives. Folland is one of the other teenagers in the documentary. Kidman’s documentary, not the pseudo-documentary narrative device. Casey Affleck is the third kid. Folland just wants a friend, Phoenix is in love, Affleck is an ass. They’re all poor, all neglected or abused, all dumb. Affleck gets assigned the project (by Henry, who cameos as their school teacher), but Folland and Phoenix sign up. They’re the only two in the class who don’t see Kidman is a little too much. There’s something clearly off about her.

Unfortunately for everyone involved, that off is she’s an undiagnosed sociopath, something no one suspects—including her—because her parents have spoiled her for so long. Their pampering of Kidman hid it, which the film momentarily and brilliantly addresses when Kidman freaks out dad Kurtwood Smith, who until then seems like it’s completely aware of her peculiar personality. Kidman’s obsessed with wanting to be a newscaster, which motivates every action until she realizes she doesn’t have to be a newscaster to be famous. It’s another of the film’s awesome little character development moments, when Van Sant and Henry reveal they’ve been discreetly layering in an arc, using the pseudo-documentary structure to give it some extra kick. Sometimes for humor (not laughs, humor), sometimes just because.

There are seven concurrent narrative layers. They all take place sometime after the events. There’s Illeana Douglas (as Dillon’s sister who always knew Kidman was bad news); she’s being interview for a documentary. There’s Phoenix in prison. There’s Folland not in prison. Then there’s the parents on a daytime talk show—just the straight talk show footage—Smith and Holland Taylor as Kidman’s parents, Dan Hedaya and Maria Tucci as Dillon’s. Susan Traylor plays Kidman’s sister, who never has anything to say but always has this knowing look. There’s Wayne Knight as Kidman’s boss at the TV station. Then there are the flashbacks. And, finally, there’s Kidman narrating to the camera.

Only she’s not confessing so her material is very different. The reality she presents is very different from what we see transpire. Maybe it’s never clear with Taylor, but Smith seems to know Kidman’s guilty.

Listing the best performances in the film is basically just like listing the cast. Kidman and Phoenix are both phenomenal. And even though they have a bunch of scenes together and Kidman’s manipulating him and Phoenix is bewitched, their character arcs are entirely separate and so are their performances. They don’t have “chemistry” because it’s not possible for them to have it in those conditions. Folland’s great. Douglas is great. Knight’s great. Smith’s great. Affleck, Dillon, Hedaya, Taylor, Tucci; they’re all good. They just can’t compare. They don’t get the material, though there’s always this implicit material. Like Traylor’s looks, whatever they mean.

Good photography from Eric Alan Edwards, good production design from Missy Stewart, perfectly matched Danny Elfman score (it’s a constant, emotive, supportive but never ambitious score). To Die For’s technicals excel. Everything about it excels, especially Kidman, especially Phoenix, especially Van Sant, and especially Henry.

It’s gang busters.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Gus Van Sant; screenplay by Buck Henry, based on the novel by Joyce Maynard; director of photography, Eric Alan Edwards; edited by Curtiss Clayton; production designer, Missy Stewart; music by Danny Elfman; produced by Laura Ziskin; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Nicole Kidman (Suzanne Stone), Joaquin Phoenix (Jimmy Emmett), Alison Folland (Lydia Mertz), Casey Affleck (Russel Hines), Illeana Douglas (Janice Maretto), Wayne Knight (Ed Grant), Kurtwood Smith (Earl Stone), Holland Taylor (Carol Stone), Dan Hedaya (Joe Maretto), Maria Tucci (Angela Maretto), Susan Traylor (Faye Stone), Tim Hopper (Mike Warden), Michael Rispoli (Ben DeLuca), Gerry Quigley (George), Buck Henry (Mr. H. Finlaysson), and Matt Dillon (Larry Maretto).


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Aquaman (2018, James Wan)

Just because you can get Patrick Wilson to say “Call me, Oceanmaster!” over and over again with a straight face doesn’t necessarily mean you should have Patrick Wilson say “Call me, Oceanmaster!” over and over again.

Unless director James Wan was just trying to get my wife to laugh uproariously. Every time. Because every time it’s so absurdly dumb the only reasonable response is to laugh. Uproariously.

Kind of like Yahya Abdul-Mateen II’s B-villain. Not only is Abdul-Mateen terrible, not only is the writing of the character risible, his arc is one of a buffoon. He’s Elmer Fudd. Not even with a pseudo-tragic storyline does he get any depth. He’s just Elmer Fudd with some pseudo-tragedy.

Abdul-Mateen probably gives the worst performance. His only serious competition is Nicole Kidman, who plays Aqua-mom. She’s supposed to be the next queen of Atlantis but runs away to Maine and shacks up with Temeura Morrison, as Aqua-dad. Their abbreviated love affair–which tries to make up for the actors abject lack of chemistry with hilarious CGI de-aging on Morrison–results in Momoa. Well, not Momoa yet, but a series of bad kid actors playing Aqua-boy. Eventually it’s Momoa.

He narrates the opening. Poorly, but it’s poorly written. Wilson’s exposition about why he wants to be called “Oceanmaster” is actually better written than a lot of the film’s exposition. The only person who manages to get Aquaman’s expository dialogue out with any success is Amber Heard. She’s Momoa’s love interest and a princess of Atlantis who wants to stop Wilson from waging war on the surface world. Even though he’s probably right? Though Atlantis seems like a barbaric place. Ancient Rome with technology. Kind of. The movie doesn’t spend a lot of time there. Just enough for a CGI chase sequence involving undersea vehicles.

The CGI is impressive though. A lot of Aquaman‘s CGI is impressive. Not the de-aging stuff. Or when it’s for the action scenes involving the actors; Wan directs fight scenes like it’s a video game on fast forward. At once point he does first person shooter, at another he toggles between two characters’ simultaneous action scenes. The latter is very nearly effective, if it weren’t so poorly photographed. At some point–very early on–in Aquaman, it becomes clear cinematographer Don Burgess and Wan don’t care at all about the lighting matching when they’re shooting the actors on green screen. The composites are universally terrible. It usually doesn’t affect the action too much, except when Aquaman is in its Indiana Jones phase with Momoa and Heard globe-trotting to find an ancient super-powered trident.

Wait, I was actually complimenting the CGI, wasn’t I? Yeah, the extreme long shots with the undersea action–all CGI, obviously–looks great. Wan does those shots well. He doesn’t so establishing shots well and he doesn’t acknowledge any physicality–like, really, what does cinematographer Burgess do on this movie, he doesn’t even stop Wan from shooting through where a wall ought to be–but the undersea CGI stuff can be cool. And competent, which is a nice change from when there are the lousy composites or the crappy action scenes or the writing.

Momoa can’t really lead a movie, but it doesn’t matter because David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick and Will Beall’s script is so bad no one could lead Aquaman. Momoa’s fine. What are you going to do with this script. The romantic stuff between him and Heard is absurd, but who cares. It’s nowhere near as bad as, I don’t know, Abdul-Mateen or Kidman and Morrison and, well, you’re rooting for Amber Heard. She works hard in this movie, trying to carry Momoa both in character and as an actor in scenes. Heard pretends her character in Aquaman is serious, which no one else in the movie does… except maybe Willem Dafoe (only because you can never tell if he’s being tongue-in-cheek) and Dolph Lundgren. Lundgren’s Heard’s father and Wilson’s war ally. He’s not good–it’s a crap role–but he takes it seriously.

Momoa doesn’t take his part seriously, which is a good move since his whole character arc relies on something the movie doesn’t clearly inform the audience about even though they should’ve known about it from the beginning. Wilson either. They’re half-brothers fighting for the throne. They ought to have some chemistry.

They have zilch. Partially because Wan doesn’t direct them for it, partially because the script really wants to subject the audience to Abdul-Mateen.

Rupert Gregson-Williams’s music occasionally gets really loud and cartoonishly action-y. It’s at those moments Aquaman ostensibly has its most potential for outlandish action. Wan never delivers. Not even during his CGI chase scenes, which are abbreviated, or his “elaborate” fight scenes. Aquaman runs almost two and a half hours, has a present action of a few days, yet is almost entirely in summary. Sure, Johnson-McGoldrick and Beall write godawful scenes, but Wan doesn’t do anything to slow that pace.

When Gregson-Williams’s score isn’t writing checks the movie can’t cash, it’s pretty tepid and generic. Still has more personality than Burgess’s photography. Aquaman does better underwater; Bill Brzeski’s production design goes to pot whenever the action surfaces. Though, again, it’s where Burgess’s photography is worst. So it’s a lose-lose.

Could Aquaman be worse? Undoubtedly. Should Aquaman be better? Sure? There’s no reason it ought to be so bad. Or so dumb. Or predictable. Or so obvious.

Though, again, if it weren’t so obvious, could Momoa lead the picture….

But it definitely shouldn’t be so bad. It shouldn’t be so technically inept. Its actors–save Kidman–deserve a script better than what Johnson-McGoldrick and Beall contribute; you wouldn’t play with your action figures with their dialogue. It’s too plastic.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by James Wan; screenplay by David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick and Will Beall, based on a story by Geoff Johns, Wan, and Beall and the DC Comics character created by Mort Weisinger and Paul Norris; director of photography, Don Burgess; edited by Kirk M. Morri; music by Rupert Gregson-Williams; production designer, Bill Brzeski; produced by Peter Safran and Rob Cowan; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Jason Momoa (Arthur), Amber Heard (Mera), Patrick Wilson (King Orm), Willem Dafoe (Vulko), Yahya Abdul-Mateen II (Manta), Temuera Morrison (Tom Curry), Dolph Lundgren (King Nereus), and Nicole Kidman (Atlanna).


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Bewitched (2005, Nora Ephron)

If there’s anything more horrific than Will Ferrell trying to be a straightedge romantic leading man, Bewitched makes one forget about it. Director Ephron is either completely blind to the complete misfire she’s directing or she just didn’t care. Seeing as she and sister Delia Ephron wrote the script, one has to suspect she actually thought she had something. Some of her direction–straight out of Technicolor musicals–allows supports the idea she thought Bewitched was good work.

She’s very, very wrong.

She also apparently told Nicole Kidman to try to sound like Marilyn Monroe, which is hilarious since Kidman can’t even keep her Australian accent hidden. One wonders if she can walk and chew gum.

There are good things about Bewitched, however. Heather Burns is great in a small part, Shirley Maclaine’s hilarious, John Lindley’s photography is competent.

None of these good things make up for Ephron seemingly telling Ferrell to ad-lib scenes and then choosing his worst takes for the final cut. If the insipid selections in the film–a lot of Bewitched seems like Ferrell’s mocking himself–are the best Ferrell came up with… I can’t even imagine the worst ones.

For such a high concept–witch Kidman stars in a relaunched “Bewitched” series–the Ephron sisters don’t come up with anything good. It should be a no brainer, but they can’t even figure out the concept has to play out im real time.

Particularly terrible are Kristin Chenoweth and Jason Schwartzman. Especially Schwartzman.

It’s heinous.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Nora Ephron; screenplay by Nora Ephron and Delia Ephron, based on the television show created by Sol Saks; director of photography, John Lindley; edited by Tia Nolan; music by George Fention; production designer, Neil Spisak; produced by Douglas Wick, Lucy Fisher, Nora Ephron and Penny Marshall; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Nicole Kidman (Isabel Bigelow), Will Ferrell (Jack Wyatt), Shirley MacLaine (Iris Smythson), Michael Caine (Nigel Bigelow), Jason Schwartzman (Ritchie), Kristin Chenoweth (Maria Kelly), Heather Burns (Nina), Jim Turner (Larry), Stephen Colbert (Stu Robison), David Alan Grier (Jim Fields), Michael Badalucco (Joey Props), Carole Shelley (Aunt Clara), Katie Finneran (Sheila Wyatt) and Steve Carell (Uncle Arthur).


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THIS FILM IS ALSO DISCUSSED ON BASP | I MARRIED A WITCH (1942) / BEWITCHED (2005).

Australia (2008, Baz Luhrmann)

First, a message from my wife: Hugh Jackman is a hottie boom batty.

There, that public service announcement is out of the way.

Australia is actually not the worst modern three hour vanity project I’ve seen. Peter Jackson’s King Kong is much worse. Australia, mostly thanks to director Baz Luhrmann’s “Looney Tunes” influenced direction, is something of a unique film. It’s a lot like an imitation Disney cartoon–complete with Nicole Kidman’s outlandish outfits and frequent mugging at the camera in the first act and Jackman’s character not even having a name.

Luhrmann does a lot of his bad CG–enough it makes one wonder if the CG is supposed to look fake, I imagine it is–and he does his digital backdrops and he really tries for a modern Technicolor experience. Except with his four second shots, it’s hard to think of Australia, the reels of film, as an experience. The viewer certainly has one, but the film’s shockingly empty of any content.

It’s not a boring film, which is nice. At times, I was horrified with myself for sitting through it–the first fourth is full of atrocious moments–but as it neared the end, I realized it didn’t feel much like three hours. It isn’t endless torture, maybe because the beginning narration forecasts the eventual Japanese attack so it’s got to show up… presumably.

I’m not sure where in the running time the attack happens, but when it does, Australia ceases to be an inane retro-remake of They’re a Weird Mob (maybe trying to sum up a country in a filmed narrative isn’t good idea… I mean, if the Archers couldn’t do it, what chance does Baz really have) and instead becomes a remake of Pearl Harbor. Except with really awful CG and a ludicrous series of events pulling Jackman, Kidman and adopted son Brandon Walters all back together.

Walters is, besides Kidman, the perfect example of what’s wrong with Luhrmann. Walters plays a half-caste (half Aboriginal, half white). Baz casted him because the kid looks like a kewpie doll, not because he could act. I could see this kid stuck in a car window, looking soulfully out at me. Zero reason otherwise to cast the kid.

Jackman’s actually good for most of the film, even if Australia does introduce him based on the comparison between he and Clint Eastwood’s eyes. There’s the squint and the cowboy hat and maybe even some spaghetti western music. But he’s fine. Until he has to start delivering lines, in the last hour, Kidman said to him in the first twenty or thirty minutes. It’s painful to watch, really. But otherwise, it’s a decent performance. Also good is David Ngoombujarra as Jackman’s sidekick. He doesn’t have much to do, but when he does, he’s excellent. Jack Thompson, Barry Otto and Ursula Yovich are all fine too. Not good, but fine.

As for bad–well, I guess I’ll start with Ben Mendelsohn, because Luhrmann just wastes him in a lousy role. Kidman’s terrible, but in the same boring way Kidman’s usually terrible so it isn’t even interesting. But Luhrmann forces a bad performance out of David Wenham, something I didn’t think possible, with such bad writing. Wenham’s inhumanely evil character–in a film full of them–is a constant absurd eyesore. Bryan Brown’s also bad in a smaller role, but it’s a stunt casting kind of thing. It’s forgivable. The misuse of Wenham is not.

The film’s problem, besides Luhrmann’s cartoonish direction, is the script. It’s not any good, past being well-paced I suppose. It skips interesting things, focuses on boring ones and has lots of plot holes. Mandy Walker’s cinematography is good, in those four second shots, and David Hirschfelder’s music has some great moments.

I probably expected Australia to be better. I don’t know why. It’s clear from the first four minutes just what kind of mess Luhrmann has made… but it does improve throughout–the directing even. Just not Kidman and Wenham.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Baz Luhrmann; screenplay by Luhrmann, Stuart Beattie, Ronald Harwood and Richard Flanagan, based on a story by Lurhmann; director of photography, Mandy Walker; edited by Dody Dorn and Michael McCusker; music by David Hirschfelder; production designer, Catherine Martin; produced by G. Mac Brown, Catherine Knapman and Luhrmann; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Nicole Kidman (Lady Sarah Ashley), Hugh Jackman (Drover), Brandon Walters (Nullah), David Wenham (Neil Fletcher), Bryan Brown (King Carney), Jack Thompson (Kipling Flynn), David Gulpilil (King George), David Ngoombujarra (Magarri) and Jacek Koman (Ivan).


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