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Reviews for the Week of 1/25:





Rated PG-13 | 81 mins


Which way did ‘dey go?”

     Masturbatory moviemaking has always been around, but each year, it becomes more and more prevalent in the medium of film. Recently, we’ve seen it done in a cool manner (Kill Bill) and we’ve seen it done in a not-so-cool manner (Something’s Gotta Give). The director of Torque, Joseph Kahn, is a first-timer. However, he clearly arouses himself like a professional. It’s too bad the audience couldn’t have some fun while watching him do it, as we can with Q.T.’s work. In this movie, bikers pee off cliffs, bikers lick themselves, and bikers fight in weird sorts of dementedly ironic ways. Despite this, the movie only carries a PG-13 rating, because as long as Kahn does it with himself, it’s perfectly okay by the MPAA. I’m not sure what Torque wants to be exactly, and I’m not sure if it’s supposed to be taken seriously or not, but it’s so over-the-top and laughably bad, I almost admired it.

     Plot-wise, Torque is lacking substance, but I don’t think that many of its viewers will be expecting anything more than it provides in the department. There’s a biker gang who hates another biker gang who hates another biker gang. Or, at least, I think that’s how it goes. Then there are some drugs, bike parts, and rivalries involved in a cheesy mystery that Kahn would like to be able to call twisty, which is set up later in the film. In between all the gaps that this leaves, we get a few ruthless stunts, predictable chases, and funny expressions and one-liners. Oh, and then there’s the pierced biker chick, who, by the end of the movie, begins to really freak you out. Am I forgetting anything? Right, how could I forget that? There’s nothing to forget in the first place.

     The buzz surrounding Torque is the honest-to-god truth. It’s stupid, poorly acted, and terribly written. Still, I’m not exactly sure that it doesn’t want to be bad. I wouldn’t go so far as to call Torque a parody of biker movies, but it clearly likes to kid with its audience.

     Take, for example, supporting actor Ice Cube’s performance. Half of me loves his work, and takes it as a hysterically wondrous mocking of stupidly serious flicks with lame-brained motorcyclists. The other half thinks that it is a pitiful part of one of those stupidly serious flicks with lame-brained motorcyclists. This doesn’t much matter, though. We have a good time watching Torque, and an even better one making fun of it. Clocking in at just eighty-two minutes, it’s a completely tolerable and somewhat refreshing, dopey January release.


Cold Mountain




Rated R | 155 mins


     There’s always a movie each year that opens up to one of the best beginnings in film’s history, but then ends up being disappointing. And I don’t mean for you to take that lightly, either. Cold Mountain starts with dynamite, a gigantic blast of success on the parts of director Anthony Minghella and cast members Nicole Kidman and Jude Law, whose natural chemistry overflows the screen in a sensuous and touching, graceful manner. The greatness of the picture continues on for almost an hour and a half, captivating us with the genuine emotions of love, war, and confliction, in a brutal and uncertain time. However, when Minghella brings a few more characters into the mix, the experience becomes more rough and unpolished than it should be. Cold Mountain is the 2003 equivalent of Martin Scrosese’s Gangs of New York, which was released around the same time in 2002. Both films startle and baffle us with epic premises and visceral plots, but they stumble into unsatisfying conclusions, failing to recognize how great they could’ve been. The two are still very good movies, however. This one certainly deserves to be watched by many.

     The characters here aren’t as deep as the tale in which they embody, but being the talented man that he is, Minghella is able to cover this up, with his illusive storytelling abilities.

     Kidman plays Ada Monroe, a young woman who moves from Charleston, West Virginia to Cold Mountain, North Carolina soon before the breakout of the Civil War. There, she falls in love with Inman (Jude Law), and the two only begin to develop a relationship, even though it’s evident that the sparks between them are flying high. However, when the War Between the States does commence, Inman, like all the other Southern males, must go and fight. Through the many hardships, Ada sends him letters, constantly expressing her passion towards him. When he becomes injured in the war, and the sweet southern voice of the woman aiding him begins to read a piece of his mail from his lover, slowly transferring into Ada’s herself, it becomes apparent to him that he should try return home. Even though it may be chocked full of melodramatic, hallmark Hollywood moments up to this point in time, Cold Mountain is one hell of an exhilarating picture.

     But, of course, Minghella must maintain an epic feel, and this is where he goes wrong. Since he still has some empty space to fill up before his film reaches a conclusion, he throws some dry material into the mix, making the movie feel more like an experimental concoction than an accomplished piece of art.

     So what does he decide to add in to kill some time? A comedic relief—by the name of Ruby Thewes (Renée Zellweger)—the character from hell. Along with Ruby comes her father and his posse, whose personalities are almost as generic as hers. In fact, they negatively influence the ending of the film in such a prominent way, it’s hard to deny that their creation was nothing short of a devastating mistake.

     I suppose you could call Zellweger brilliant, because, somehow, she keeps a character who should’ve ruined the movie from doing so. Her co-stars’ work often comes off as better because the quality of their roles is much purer, but she’s the real star of the film. The one thing that Ruby taught me during this film was that an actor’s performance has a greater impact on the end result of a film than the written personality that they capture. Good roles are hard to come by, but great acting is what should really be remembered. If I was solely grading the script of Cold Mountain, I’d rate it about two buckets. Instead, I give the movie three. This, alone, proves that it’s been brought to life in good hands.

     It would be a crime if I didn’t mention the realism of the war scenes somewhere, also. The gruesomeness of the opening battle, in particular, is striking. Too many movies about the Civil War try to depict it as being a clean event. That material has a place on the History Channel, but not in multiplexes (with the exception of Gettysburg, which I consider to be one of the greatest war films of all-time). In a sense, the contrast between these gritty and accurate battle sequences, showcased in this film, and the somewhat superficial excess scenes, works to its advantage. Cold Mountain almost thrives upon its mistakes. It may have taken me writing this review to realize it, but this movie deserves a significant place in every moviegoer’s heart, even though it’s desperately imperfect. Whatever Cold Mountain’s flaws, we can accept and appreciate it. I can only hope that this will be enough for the majority of moviegoers.


The Station Agent




Rated R | 88 mins


     “It's funny how people see me and treat me, since I'm really just a simply, boring person,” says Finbar McBride (played by a wonderful Peter Dinklage). Born with dwarfism, his short stature has constantly made him the subject of society’s tasteless sense of humor, leaving him isolated from all but one person—his only friend—who owns the shop he works in. There, the two sell every model-train associated product in existence.

     In the opening scene of the film, Fin’s boss and companion dies as a result of heart failure, when working. Shortly afterwards, Fin is told that he has inherited an old train station depot. He decides to live in it, to both satisfy his love of the method of transportation and the budget in which he lives on. He makes his way out to the rural New Jersey community on foot, getting there in about a day’s time. There, he becomes acquainted with Joe (Bobby Cannavale), a talkative and friendly hotdog vendor, who sells items in front of his new home, and Olivia (Patricia Clarkson), a middle-aged woman who is still coping with divorcing her husband and losing her son. The dialogue exchanged between these three is magical; the evolution of their relationship feels humanely natural. From the very first frame of the flick until long past the last one, we sympathize with Fin, and believe that he’s just a normal guy, as he truly is. We, the audience, warm-heartedly welcome him, in the same fashion his two new friends do.

     When people poke fun of Fin, the audience realizes that he’s used to it. He has built up a wall between himself and the stereotypical population, to minimize explosions of his anger. Because we are aware of this, each time a rude comment is made about him, we almost feel sorry for the people making them, rather than Fin himself. They’ve merely fallen into the conformist attitude of society, which mindlessly detracts from their personalities.

     Writer/director Thomas McCarthy created this role for Dinklage, who is a dwarf in real life. Even though Dinklage admits to being less angered about different people’s unacceptable jokes regarding him, he has, in a sense, lived this role. His experience translates into the very greatness he captures in his work, leaving viewers amazed. Clarkson and Cannavale are also terrific; the former bringing out the feelings of sorrow of her character, and the latter with those of humor.

     The ending of the picture, which I will not divulge for your sake, is, in a word, miraculous. I chose to interpret it as upbeat, even though one could certainly say it’s quite pessimistic. But, the most important aspect of it is that it stresses the importance of friendship. The Station Agent is honest in every sense, and in order to appreciate it, we must accept and cherish every part of it, just the way it is—kind of like how we should with Fin himself.

     Every emotion that anyone has ever experienced on earth is somewhere in this movie’s contents, waiting to be discovered. It’s as poignant as reality—a jigsaw puzzle of desire, ecstasy, and despair—mystically captivating everyone who is willing to embrace it.

The Cooler




Rated R | 101 mins


     With one touch of the table, an unflinching presence, and a fearful gaze, the luck is gone, the winning streak down the toilet. The cooler strikes again. He has a suave and fateful grin almost; so serious, it’s outrageously comedic and sort of sorrowing, as well. This movie is profoundly hysterical and deeply moving in such an odd way, I couldn’t help but look at the screen in a manner I never had before. I was nervous and disturbed by the contents of the film, but still had a smirk on my face, despite that. The Cooler is uncomfortably hilarious, the kind of thing that you know how to react to, but don’t want to believe that you do. It’s a tremendous work and a not-so-tremendous work. It’s something that you only like because of the shock factor; a movie so snaky and wicked should be much appreciated any time it plays on a multiplex’s screen.

     Director Wayne Kramer takes us into the world of Bernie Lootz (William H. Macy), a cooler at an old-school style casino. It’s a “study” of how his wonderful ability to lose affects his personal life (or visa-versa). The story is simply meant to be experienced; I can’t even put my finger on why the whole thing comes across as so visceral, albeit utterly engaging.

     Part of it has got to be the supporting performances by Alec Baldwin, who plays Bernie’s boss, and Maria Bello, his newfound romance. The two’s work is so insanely contradictory, the fact that they’re in the same flick is almost wacky. Baldwin plays a man who’s violent and stern, the kind of guy you’d never want to find yourself associating with. Bello is more sentimental and helplessly independent in her role, thriving upon an undistinguished vulnerability. She’s my favorite in the film, capturing real feelings, within the contrived plot. Her work, ironically, blends into the picture well, though, making for much of its success. It’s inspiring to see her do something so indifferent in such a daring movie, bringing a beautiful sense of humanity to the material.

     If it’s unique ingeniousness you want, I can’t think of a better flick to attend. The creativity of The Cooler is what makes it the ideal picture that it is. The film is slowly expanding, and is now in most major markets; hopefully it will receive the warped success that it deserves.


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