Sunday, February 26, 2006

Movie Review: The Famine Within

Release Date: 1/90
Running Time: 0:55
Rated: NR (nudity)
Cast: Rebecca Jenkins (voice)

Director: Katherine Gilday
Producer: Katherine Gilday
Screenplay: Katherine Gilday
Music: Russell Walker
Studios: Kandor Productions Ltd., High Road Productions Ltd.

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After scraping its way through the 1990 Toronto Festival of Festivals and the Sydney Film Festival, Katherine Gilday’s The Famine Within has endured a rather bleak afterlife. Currently unavailable on any store/rental shelf and apparently only available on the Filmaker’s Library website (for a whopping purchase price of $295 and a hefty rental fee of $75), The Famine Within is a Canadian documentary that contains a mint of informing statistics that all pre and post-pubescent women should hear. However, maybe a fifty-five minute round of interviews punctuated with cheesy 80’s music and corny runway walks is not the most suitable and most influential forum to inform.

The Famine Within depicts how media advertising has created a Barbie doll stereotype to serve as an unrealistic ideal to all women. In fact, one modeling-agency executive states, that out of a group of 40,000 female applicants, only four possessed the “potential” to become a supermodel. This impractical pressure to be increasingly skinny has pressed women, sociologically and psychologically, to diet feverishly and even be driven to anorexia nervosa and/or bulimia. The film’s countless interrogations of the obese, the starved, and the qualified professionals clarify any misconceptions of this statement.

After sitting through interview upon interview – with intermittent statistics – the film’s narration simply reads like a college thesis on the subject matter. Yet, even though this thesis may appear to be well-developed, with its terse running-time, The Famine Within only scratches the surface of what could have been said.

Although, when The Famine Within has something to say, it says it without any shame or restraint. “I’d rather be dead than fat,” claims one victim of multiple eating disorders, while a Jungian psychologist asserts that the archetypal associations with a non-fit female are “passivity, ineptitude, and weakness.” The film also urges on the importance of the realizations that weighing scales should not rule a woman’s self-esteem and that body-size should not determine a woman’s worth. Additionally, what The Famine Within has to say about a woman’s natural biology is intriguing; women are made for fat storage to assist in menstruation and childbearing. Yet, ironically, even though women typically provide nourishment (through breastfeeding and/or cooking), they view their own indulgence in sustenance as sinful.

All-in-all, The Famine Within is an honest film that comes up a trifle too impassive. Hopefully, Gilday’s truncated work will serve as a muse to those inspired by the topic, and with any luck, a better resolution (than the film’s orgy shower scene) and more of a dramatic punch will result; because sadly, the issues raised by The Famine Within are just as pertinent today as they were in 1990, if not more. (**1/2 out of ****)

© Copyright Brandon Valentine 2006

Monday, February 13, 2006

Movie Review: Eating (1990)

U.S. Release Date: 11/90
Running Time: 1:50
Rated: NR (Language, partial nudity)
Cast: Lisa Richards, Mary Crosby, Marlena Giovi, Nelly Alard, Frances Bergen, Gwen Welles, Marina Gregory

Director: Henry Jaglom
Producer: Judith Wolinsky
Screenplay: Henry Jaglom
Studio: International Rainbow Pictures

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Some claim that a Henry Jaglom film is “as close to capturing contemporary reality itself.” However, with Eating’s unceasing psychosis towards food and its inane plot development (during the film’s final third), Jaglom forcefully creates conflict instead of allowing it to evolve on its own. While Eating may be, as its subtitle states, “A Very Serious Comedy about Women & Food,” at long last, it is also very tedious, feigned, and bland.

Thirty-eight women of various ages converge at a Southern California home to celebrate the 30th birthday of Kate (Mary Crosby), the 40th birthday of Helene (Lisa Richards), and the 50th birthday of Sadie (Marlena Giovi). However, the party soon becomes the grand stage for Helene’s French houseguest, Martine (Nelly Alard), to film her documentary on “American women.” Meanwhile, Helene’s mother (Frances Burgen) tries to convince each woman that they are perfect in their own right, and Helene’s friend, Sophie (Gwen Welles), attempts to create unnecessary drama.

When one of the women initiates a conversation, she begins by paying another woman a compliment, and then, almost immediately, she shifts gears and emphasizes her own bodily imperfections. Having women incessantly complain about their body-image is a considerable turnoff, and having this presented in a cinematic format, results in the subject at hand becoming all too stale a little too quick. Eating is not as bad as grinding teeth, but it is painfully close; the griping and whining occur ad nauseam.

Mid-move one of the film’s characters quotes, “Twenty to thirty years ago, sex was the secret subject of women; now, it’s food.” Yet, with a horde of women seemingly discussing nothing but food, it seems as though the cat has already been left out of the bag. Yes, there are a few insights on abortion (from a pro-choice point-of-view), bulimia, and sex, but none are substantial enough to leave a lasting impression. Sorry, but a film that shares musings as stirring as the doldrums on fat, food, sex, hair, “sagging tits,” men, and weight, just isn’t my cup of tea. (*1/2 out of ****)

© Copyright Brandon Valentine 2006

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Movie Review: Capote

U.S. Release Date: 9/30/05 (limited)
Running Time: 1:54
Rated: R (Profanity, violence)
Cast: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener, Clifton Collins Jr., Chris Cooper, Bruce Greenwood, Bob Balaban, Amy Ryan, Mark Pellegrino, Allie Mickelson

Director: Bennett Miller
Producers: Caroline Baron, Michael Ohoven, William Vince
Screenplay: Dan Futterman, based on the book by Gerald Clarke
Music: Mychael Danna
Studio: Sony Pictures Classics

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Single-handedly, Capote can be set apart from In Cold Blood by its earnest depiction of an author who loves only himself and his writing. While Truman Capote has been labeled one of America’s finest authors, through this motion-picture exploration, we learn that his self-absorption in the source material resulted in him rotting from the inside out. Written by Dan Futterman, based on the book by Gerald Clarke, Capote is a deep character study – highlighted by a virtuoso lead – that rocks you to the core.

The film begins in 1959, when Truman Capote (Philip Seymour Hoffman) spies an article concerning a senseless murder of a family of four in Halcomb, Kansas. After gaining approval from his editor (Bob Balaban), Capote decides to travel to Halcomb with his female friend, Nelle Harper Lee (Catherine Keener), who is in the process of publishing her book To Kill a Mockingbird. Once in Kansas, Capote sets out to investigate the effects of the murders on the town and write an article for The New Yorker magazine on the subject matter. Yet, after Capote speaks with the town police chief (Chris Cooper) and the two killers Perry Smith (Clifton Collins Jr.) and Dick Hickock (Mark Pellegrino), he decides to write a “non-fiction novel,” entitled In Cold Blood, on his research.

Over the next few years of interviewing and writing, Capote bonds with Perry and begins to feel pity for him. Capote’s partner, Jack Dunphy (Bruce Greenwood), becomes suspicious of their relationship, but Capote reassures that their relationship is strictly professional. After initially offering to assist Perry and Dick in their attempts to appeal, Capote becomes lax in wanting to help the pair and seeks closure in their eventual hangings.

Without Philip Seymour Hoffman, Capote would not be near the same. His eccentric and effeminate portrayal of the author is borderline brilliant and carries the overall production. Hoffman has gone long overdue for any official recognition of his abilities; view his prior work in any P. T. Anderson film to confirm how underrated of an actor he is. Beyond any shadow of a doubt, P.S.H. earned his Best Actor statue for 2005.

In support, Catherine Keener, Clifton Collins Jr., and Chris Cooper all perform well, but none outshine Hoffman or really achieve anything nominee-worthy. On the other hand, with these fine supporting actors, Capote is centered on its characters’ interactions and behavior, not plot. That is what makes this film such a shooting-star among a dark night’s sky. Just when you think the film is about Truman Capote writing a book, it is about the inner turmoil that the narcissistic author goes through to change the face of non-fiction and write his life-defining and life-crippling opus. (***1/2 out of ****)

© Copyright Brandon Valentine 2006

Friday, February 03, 2006

Movie Review: Big Night

U.S. Release Date: 9/27/96 (limited)
Running Time: 1:49
Rated: R (Profanity)
Cast: Stanley Tucci, Tony Shalhoub, Minnie Driver, Isabella Rossellini, Ian Holm, Allison Janney, Marc Anthony, Campbell Scott

Directors: Campbell Scott and Stanley Tucci
Producer: Jonathan Filley
Screenplay: Joseph Tropiano and Stanley Tucci
Music: Gary DeMichele
Studio: The Samuel Goldwyn Company

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Big Night could easily be referred to as the Italian/American version of Babette’s Feast, considering numerous parallels are present. Not only does the film arc with a lavish meal in which all expenses are expunged, but it also matches the 1987 Danish/French feature in size and scope. With a pinch of poignancy and a dollop of comedy, Big Night is the perfect recipe for a warm, endearing evening filled with laughs, smiles, and feelings of satisfaction.

Two brothers, Primo (Tony Shalhoub) and Secondo (Stanley Tucci), are the co-owners of an authentic Italian restaurant called The Paradise. However, The Paradise isn’t the only Italian restaurant on the Jersey shore in the 1950’s. A sleek grotto across the street, called Pascal’s, presents itself as competition. The owner, Paschal (Ian Holm), operates under a “give the customer what they want” mentality, and unlike Primo and Secondo, Paschal knows how to pack in a crowd.

After being informed that the bank will foreclose on his business if a payment is not received by the end of the month, Secondo asks Pascal for assistance. While unable to provide any monetary support, Pascal tells Secondo that he will invite his good friend and jazz legend Louis Prima to The Paradise for dinner. Pascal promises that this will, in turn, increase business and profitability for the two brothers.

Meanwhile, in addition to encountering financial troubles, Secondo runs into trouble with his girlfriend, Phyllis (Minnie Driver). To boot, Primo finds it difficult to speak to his flower-girl love interest, Ann (Allison Janney). Nevertheless, both brothers hope that with all they have on the line, one big night – with a jazz legend in attendance – will be just the ticket they need to get back on their feet in more ways than one.

Three cheers for Stanley Tucci and Campbell Scott. Not only is their acting on-par with the rest of the ensemble cast, but their directing is also creditable—especially considering this film represents the first time for both men to sit in a director’s chair. Even with one-too-many unnecessary profanities and one poorly-shot scene that makes it blatantly obvious that Ian Holm has no clue how to tickle the ivories, Tucci and Scott have crafted a near-perfect, top-shelf food film.

Positively, it is Tony Shalhoub who steals the show with his spot-on accent and his side-splitting comedy. His description of Pascal’s cooking as “the rape of cuisine” and his labeling of a woman, who orders two starches as “a criminal,” are both unforgettable quotes. Yet, even amidst Shalhoub’s standout performance, Ian Holm still manages to entertain with his refreshingly hysterical role, despite his Italian accent being hit-or-miss. In addition, Minnie Driver, Isabella Rossellini, and Allison Janney are also notable in their respective roles.

All things considered, Big Night is as rich and sumptuous as any film in its genre. It is a picture that is best watched on a full stomach; otherwise, you are sure to salivate for the better part of the running-time. It is a dynamic and comedic ode to the ever-standing battle between art and commerce, and above all, it speaks volumes of the bonds of brotherly love.

With its magnificent closing scene, which depicts Secondo cooking breakfast for three in one beautiful unbroken 5:22 take, Big Night elevates its status to al dente. And, as Secondo informs Primo towards the opening of the film, “If you chop the garlic too fine, that is all you’ll taste.” In the case of Big Night, thank the heavens; the garlic is just right, and the result is a film you can bite into at any point and taste a vast array of effectual and sensational flavors. (***1/2 out of ****)

© Copyright Brandon Valentine 2006