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the Hours
starring: Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore, Nicole Kidman

by david    January 13, 2003

The conceit of the Hours is twofold:

  1. It consists of three stories, each taking place simultaneously, each decades apart. The first story is in 1920s in London, where Virginia Woolf (Nicole Kidman), battling a depression which has caused her to attempt suicide multiple times, is writing Mrs. Dalloway. The second is a story of a 1950s housewife (Julianne Moore) who is reading Mrs. Dalloway as she struggles to overcome a deep, overwhelming depression. The third is the story of an eternal hostess (Meryl Streep) -- often referred to by her friends as "Mrs. Dalloway" -- who is planning a party for her friend (Ed Harris), a poet dying from AIDS.
  2. It makes Nicole Kidman ugly (through the magic of prosthetics), assuming that, behind her dazzling beauty, she's a good actress.
Amazingly, the movie succeeds in both fronts, and in every other way a movie can succeed (except in box office success, I suppose). The beauty of the intertwined stories is mesmerizing. Each of the three actresses (especially Moore) is marvelous -- it turns out that Kidman, despite an enormous plastic nose, is a fine actress indeed. The supporting cast, including Harris, Claire Daines, Jeff Daniels and Michael C. Reilly, is also extremely tight. The writing and direction are spare and light, and the editing (for, I believe, it is really editing which makes a movie like this work) is magic.

This is a must-see movie, and one of my possible predictions for Best Picture. It won't win, of course -- that honor will go to the horrible Gangs of New York -- but it, along with maybe two or three others, really deserve to win. Plus, if Julianne Moore doesn't get a Best Actress award this year (between this and Far From Heaven) something is definitely wrong with the world.

Gangs of New York
starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Cameron Diaz, Daniel Day-Lewis

by david    January 13, 2003

Gangs of New York is a piece of shit. There. I've said it. You're going to see the movie anyway -- it's too big to miss, I guess -- and it will probably win Best Picture, because the Academy too often has their collective heads in their asses. But it is an enormous, steaming pile of horseshit, and I'll fight any man who says otherwise (provided, of course, he promises not to hit me in the face).

Here's the deal: art -- any art -- is about making decisions and committing to them. What to keep, what to cut, what direction to move in -- it's true of painting, writing, acting and, I'd wager, any other art form. And the problem is, Scorcese has just refused to make any decisions here, trying to make a movie about everything, leaving his actors trying to blow themselves up to fill too big an empty space, making them looking like asses in the end, and ultimately creating a movie about nothing. This film has been called "epic" and "sprawling," and I'd agree with those labels (but not in a good way), and add a few of my own: "scattered," "random," "meandering" and "purposeless."

Thing is, there are the sparks of interesting movies in here. For instance, do you know anything about the New York draft riots during the Civil War, which were so violent and widespread the Army had to be brought in to quash them? Me neither. Did you know that, during the Civil War, able-bodied immigrants, right after stepping off the boat, were given a gun and a uniform and shipped off to fight the war? Me neither. Both subjects could make compelling movies in their own right, yet there is so much junk, just so very much stuff crammed into this film, that those stories, and many, many others, are brought to the front and then swept away beneath the crushing wheels of this mega-movie. Wanna know about dirty politics in the early history of NYC? We're gonna tell you ... oh, no ... wait .. I guess not -- on to the next subject. The size of this movie is absurd and, as a result, you just can't care about anything that is happening. Director, editors and screenwriters alike should be ashamed.

As for the acting, well... Cameron Diaz, for all her charm and beauty, is terrible. DiCaprio does his level best, but this movie calls for a kind of leading man that can make gold out of manure, and DiCaprio just isn't that guy. Daniel Day-Lewis, one of the best actors working now and probably ever, is so over-the-top I was embarrassed for him. It's like he was daring someone, anyone, to tell him to pull it back.

    I'm gonna have a limp in this scene, and only this scene, and nobody can stop me. Go ahead -- someone try to stop me!

    What? I'm barely paying attention because I'm so in love with myself.

    Alrighty then.

Anyway, the whole thing just reeks. I laughed at some particularly absurd moments, and got very angry when this particularly interesting character was killed, or that interesting almost-plot-point was passed-over, but mostly I just didn't fucking care. For three long-ass hours, I just did not give two shits.

Like I said, you'll probably end up seeing this movie. But when that two hour mark comes, and you are clawing your own eyes out to escape this beast, know that my heart goes out to you.

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