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AUGUST 1999 | VOL. 3, NO. 8



CURRENT

FEATURES
Eyes Wide Shut
American Pie

ALSO THIS MONTH
Run Lola Run

LAST MONTH
The Hollywood Formula?

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Short Takes
Grading from A-F

AMERICAN PIE (R):
While slightly immature and crude, this year's boundary stretching toilet humor comedy does have its moments - though not as many as last summer's "There's Something About Mary". Centered around a done-before plot of four high school senior who pledge to lose their virginity at the prom, "American Pie" tackles everything in high school's magnified culture including sexual exploration, jock stereotypes, fragile insecurities and even the recklessness of self-gratification.

While director Paul Weitz too often relies on the obvious, and cliched, humor, he includes enough unexpected surprises to make the film worthwhile. The apple pie scene from which the title stems is irreverent yet pointed, mocking the hyped up teen sex drive. Equally as risqué, an internet filming scheme gone awry provides the perfect backdrop for the conflicting inadequacies and desires of the main characters. B+

THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (R):
With nonnegotiable skill, the filmmakers put forth a picture that demands horror be understood on the most primitive level: not the pretense of blood and gore and death, but rather the creation of an unacceptable, insurmountable fear that even death itself can not suspend. [More]
A-

THE PHANTOM MENACE (PG):
Star Wars Episode I suffers from less-than-enthusiastic acting and a pointless story, but still manages to set the stage for the rest of the series. [More]
A-

- Kevin Ridolfi, Laura Dave



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  Eyes Wide Shut

 
EYES WIDE SHUT
Rating: B-

Starring Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, Madison Eginton, Jackie Sawris, Marie Richardson, Rade Serbedzija. Directed by Stanley Kubrick. Rated R. Running Time: 153 minutes.

Nicole Kidman


TIM CLIFTON

Stanley Kubrick's swan song work is a curious blend of star actors giving solid performances, voyeurism, and dream - almost fugue like - imagery. "Eyes Wide Shut" is a platypus of a movie - a strange and bizarre combination that is at times riveting and exasperating. Movie goers expecting a "typical" Cruise vehicle, whatever that is, will be disappointed. This film is an oddity in the sense that no one except Kubrick made films like this, and so we will never see the likes of it again (Kubrick died in March of this year). Much like the contradictions that float through Kubrick's films, this one has commercial stars and an art house mentality.

The object of desire in this movie is Bill Hartford (Tom Cruise), a medical doctor. And there's a neat little conceit here too, working on Cruise's movie star status, because the audience is also a voyeur, much like all the characters in the film are an audience to Cruise as a sexual object. Cruise is constantly projected upon by strangers, men and women coveting his looks. And at first, he appears to be oblivious to it.

The story is precipitated by an argument between Hartford and his wife Alice (Nicole Kidman) when they are stoned. Kidman is restless and talks about an imagined affair which throws Cruise into a fit of jealousy. The apparent success and tranquility of their marriage is suddenly unstable and fraught with doubt. Cruise is happily married but is almost repressive at the same time, holding down sexual fantasies that threaten their commitment and fidelity.

So Cruise departs on a nighttime excursion that makes you think, at one time or another, might be real, imagined, or a dream. He gains entrance to a sexual masquerade party where he witnesses a smorgasbord of debauchery. This is also the source of some controversy because of the digitally introduced figures to mask sexual acts to achieve the desired R rating. This alteration is frustrating because we don't get to see what the Cruise character is experiencing. Again, he is a voyeur only, never a participant. There is the intimation of danger when he is discovered, and this is where the movie is its most interesting - the sense that things are going on behind the scenes, that danger lurks, that perhaps he has set something in motion that will lead to disaster.

Unfortunately, it turns out only to be Cruise's overactive imagination, and all the perceived threats can be easily explained (including a death!), he reconciles with his wife, and that, essentially is the film. And, simply, this is the basic problem here, there is no story and the too long passages and plodding pace are enervating. There is no payoff for the audience, the story has no teeth. And like most Kubrick movies, it isn't obviously about the thing you think it is (or should be) about. And sex, in particular, has always been the object of jokes in Kubrick films. From copulating aircraft in "Dr. Strangelove" to a comedy rape scene in "A Clockwork Orange".

This movie plays on contradictions. The title alone evokes thoughts of dreaming and wakefulness, fugue and alertness, safety and danger, the subconscious and voluntary control and this is the heart of the conflict in the movie. The contradictions are often subtle. Cruise at one point reads a newspaper with a headline that reads "Lucky To Be Alive" while Mozart's Requiem Mass plays in the background. But what is the message? That life is unpredictable, unknowable? Life is what you make it? Maybe the point is that we, as the audience, decide what path to take. While an interesting concept, it doesn't make for an involving movie going experience.

Cruise and Kidman are very effective in this film, and the anguish in their relationship is well done, but they seem imprisoned by the lack of plot and unusually grainy film (maybe I just saw a bad print). This film also doesn't have the normal satirical bite one sees in Kubrick's best work. It makes you think that if Kubrick had made this film twenty years ago it would have been much more intense and dangerous.

Kubrick hasn't made a great film since "A Clockwork Orange" in 1971. Since then, he has been going out to pasture creatively - films that have wonderful passages or moments are buried in usually static, antiseptic, or cliché situations. For example, while the first half of "Full Metal Jacket" is intense and overpowering, the transition to Vietnam is routine, cliché and non-revelatory. "The Shining" just proved that Kubrick couldn't make a horror film. And "Barry Lyndon", while beautifully shot, didn't have a strong enough lead actor to pull it off.

Kubrick was at his best when putting together the tension between different objects, visuals and sound; and finding a new way to make an expression. One excellent moment in "The Shining" is when Shelly Duvall discovers that her husband, played by Jack Nicholson, is crazy - and it isn't the axe welding scene. It's when Duvall looks at the novel that her husband has supposedly been working on for months. She leafs vainly through hundreds of sheets of paper that just read, over and over, "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy." It manages to be scary and funny at the same time, and is the kind of intelligent revealing of a story point of which Kubrick was a master. Kubrick also came up with the one marriage of visuals and music that ad people still rip off in car ads, even to this day: the use of waltz music and technology, as seen in the trip to the moon in "2001".

If you want to see Kubrick in top form, check out "Paths of Glory", "The Killing", "Dr. Strangelove", "2001: A Space Odyssey", or "A Clockwork Orange". These are the iconoclastic films that built Kubrick's enormous reputation. His later films have flashes of brilliance but don't measure up to his early work.

And perhaps that is the last thing to say, that Kubrick was at the end of his career, a man who set a very high bar as a director and technician for so many years, who made films as a craftsman on his own time schedule and rules. You have to take it all in: the unconventional plots, the wonderful visual imagery, the contradictions, the at times simultaneously scintillating and dead dialog. You often come out of his films marveling at his genius on the one hand and wishing that you had been able to whisper suggestions to him on the other.




TIM CLIFTON is Renaissance Online Magazine's staff movie reviewer.



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