“My Life Without Me”
by Andrew Siddons
I have a crush on Sarah Polley. I attribute my crush on the lead actress of “My Life Without Me” (Sony Pictures Classics) to several factors, among them her subtle beauty and her quirky Canadian accent. I remember her fondly from Terry Gilliam’s “The Adventures of Baron Munchausen” as a cute sparkplug of a girl whose youthful presence called for attention. She is still cute here, and remains youthful 15 years later as a 23-year-old mother named Ann. Her cuteness however, is ironic, considering the subject matter of the film.
Ann lives in a trailer in her mother’s backyard with her husband and two young daughters, to whom she gave birth when she was a mere teenager. She works nights as a janitor at a local university, and has been diagnosed with a terminal, inoperable form of cancer that is taking over her abdomen. Given only two or three months to live, Ann, with a remarkable amount of composure, makes a list of things she wants to do before she dies, including making “goodbye” tapes for her loved ones, seeing her incarcerated father one last time and experiencing another man besides her husband.
At this point in the review, you may realize why “cute” is a strange way to characterize someone in these circumstances. Ann goes through her final days with an astonishing amount of control and composure; she rarely falters while managing to keep her illness from her loved ones. She shows no inner conflict because she has accepted her fate and is determined to fulfill her desires before the end. Because of this, her character emits lots of love and humor.
The movie also features strong supporting characters, including Deborah Harry (“Blondie”) as Ann’s mother, Mark Ruffalo as Ann’s new love interest, and Amanda Plummer as Ann’s food-obsessed co-worker.
Spanish director Isabel Coixet gets good performances from her actors, and her use of frequent facial close ups and short takes helps add character to each of their performances.
Some might say Polley brings such a tragic character to the screen inappropriately, and that is really up to the viewer, but in this reviewer’s opinion, such a tactic creates an interesting take on how a person might face death.
by Maura Judkis
A title like “Intolerable Cruelty” (Universal Pictures) is a delight to movie critics – it has the possibility to be self-fulfilling. After all, if the movie is terrible, the headlines practically write themselves: “Clooney, Zeta-Jones Movie Cruel & Intolerable!” Unfortunately, a headline like this would be misleading – the film was surprisingly witty and exceeded expectations.
America’s favorite bachelor, George Clooney (“Oceans Eleven”), stars as Miles Massey, an arrogant and successful divorce attorney to the rich and famous. Massey seems to have it all – an immaculate court record, an incredible amount of wealth, a legal document named after him (the ironclad “Massey Prenuptial Agreement”) and a dazzlingly white smile. He soon meets his match in Marilyn Rexroth (Catherine Zeta-Jones, “Chicago”), the soon-to-be ex-wife of Massey’s client, Rex Rexroth (Edward Hermann, “Nixon”), and a gold-digger after her husband’s estate.
Massey’s prowess prevents Rexroth from profiting from her broken marriage, leaving her penniless and bent upon vengeance – not against her husband, but rather, against his lawyer. A classic battle of the sexes ensues as Marilyn marries and divorces, always staying a step ahead of Miles despite his blatant attraction to her.
As a romantic comedy, the film is best when it offers more comedy and less romance. The casting is hilariously superb – no actor could play the grandiose Massey better than Clooney. Other standout roles include Cedric the Entertainer as an infidelity investigator and Billy Bob Thornton as a millionaire oil tycoon. Zeta-Jones is perfect as the sassy man-eater – but really, isn’t she always the sassy man-eater? It has certainly seemed that way lately, so her role in “Intolerable Cruelty” must have been simple for her. Rexroth channels the actress’ roles as Velma Kelly in “Chicago” and Gwen Harrison in “America’s Sweethearts.”
Of course, to satisfy the requirements of the romantic comedy genre, the ending must be an uplifting one, and this is to the film’s detriment. The reconciliation was quite a disappointment; it would have been far more entertaining to see Rexroth sued for all she was worth and kicked to the curb by Massey, rather than watching true love prevail for the millionth time. In the end, the film’s lesson is made clear: One may win in court, the other may court to win, but all is fair in love and war, especially if there is no pre-nuptial agreement.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”
by Jeff Frost
He’s as big as a bear. He carries a bloodied chainsaw. If he catches you, your skin becomes his outfit. Yes, that’s right. Leatherface has returned, or rather, has been remade.
“The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” (New Line Cinema) begins when five mildly horny, mildly high teenagers pick up a distressed hitchhiker on a dirt road. One gigantic bullet hole later, the group finds itself at the mercy of a family of sadistic inbred locals. Isolated from the rest of the world, the rednecks have turned their country home into a torture chamber and catacomb of mangled, mutilated trespassers. One by one, the teens, led by “7th Heaven” alum Jessica Biel (and her white tank top), meet the ugliest branch of the family tree – the chainsaw-wielding Leatherface (Andrew Bryniarski). Thus begins, and ends, the teens’ fabled idyllic summer afternoon.
This film is a remake of Tobe Hooper’s 1974 cult classic. How does it compare? I cannot say, for shame. This version of the film, however, is, at the very least, extremely gory. Though blood and guts at times appear to override anything else, director Marcus Nispel does not let the film go without some intense moments. Most notably, scenes such as the one in which Leatherface chases Andy (Mike Vogel) through drying bed sheets and then continues on to “salt cure” some meat of his own caused a wild audience reaction.
The acting, however, is the film’s biggest downfall. Though the actors seem to have mastered the gaping jaws that are necessary, they seem to fail in every other aspect. Leatherface is creepy but fails to reach a certain amount of fear-inspiring evil.
All in all, “Massacre” is nothing short of entertaining. Despite its lackluster performances and tired dialogue, it has its share of menacing moments, and many scenes that will make you wince, squirm and never want to go to Texas.
by Jason Mogavero
“Runaway Jury” (20th Century Fox) follows the story of Nicholas Easter (John Cusack), a seemingly average Joe who is called to jury duty in a civil case against a major gun manufacturer. Easter, along with his fellow jurors, is under the close scrutiny of Rankin Fitch (Gene Hackman), a consultant hired by the gun manufacturer to ensure the verdict swings in their favor. Easter, of course, is not what he appears to be; he is an insider with his own agenda, aided on the outside by Marlee (Rachel Weisz).
What ensues is a delicate game of manipulation, with all parties balancing their strong intentions with careful actions. Cusack, Weisz and Hackman all put in fine work. The script didn’t afford Dustin Hoffman’s defense attorney much, and Hoffman’s Louisiana accent was painfully bad at times, but Hoffman held his own.
The film’s tagline is “Trials are too important to be decided by juries,” and the actors’ actions make this all too clear. All the players use the civic judicial system as a smokescreen to conceal their true motivations and interests. The principals are so entangled in their orchestrations and maneuvers that the gun manufacturer’s culpability is not even considered. Only the film’s ending, which provides an unforeseen twist, provides a reason other than money for these characters’ actions.
The always-underrated Jeremy Piven plays Hackman’s equal on the defense side with a quiet intelligence and focus. Dylan McDermott appears as the office worker whose murder is the focus of the trial.
Nevertheless, “Runaway Jury” is not without its flaws as Gary Fleder’s direction seems to force-feed. The film’s soundtrack and editing also have all the subtlety of a rhinoceros. All things considered, “Runaway Jury” is a good film that could have been more.
This article appeared in the October 16, 2003 issue of the Hatchet.