queue de grâce rolls on. day one was free of catastrophe, but i have an uneasy feeling about this...
first in line was kevin reynolds' adaptation of alexandre dumas' the count of monte cristo (2002).
"my subtlety and restraint, have you seen it? i would have sworn i left it right over there."
all things being equal, it is a fair adaptation. it's much better than i had anticipated, my only previous exposure to kevin reynolds having been a couple of insipid kevin costner vehicles. guy pearce, uncharacteristically, provided the biggest hurdle for me in this one. i understand he is the villain but it's a shame to resort to such overplaying to put the point across. and, dear lord, poor luis guzman. i love the guy but in this thing he is a walking anachronism. he couldn't have taken me out of the film any more if he had reached through the screen and grabbed me by the shirt. every time he opens his mouth we might as well be on the set of boogie nights 2: the scarlet pimp-ernel. it's the one major flaw that seems to fly right in the face of the most important thing that the film gets right, and that thing is that it makes few concessions to a modern audience's sensibilities. i admire how much it plays things right down the second republic line. it doesn't resort to a lot of ridiculous CGI. it doesn't attempt to update the film in some way so the 18-25 year olds will shell out for a ticket. it's a grave mistake people often make, not realizing (or not caring) that these things only make a film eventually look dated, even more dated than by basing it on a book written in 1844. this film sidesteps those problems altogether, thankfully. i would imagine guzman's casting is just unfortunate, not a ploy, otherwise you would have seen a much more marketable face in the role. the screenplay may take a number of liberties with dumas' novel but never with the intention of modernizing it. some good work from the location scouts goes a long way in maintaining the mid-nineteenth century feeling as well.
the true ace up the film's sleeve is jim caviezel's earnestness, his righteousness. it's easy to believe in him. the film plays it in pretty broad strokes, but what you see in his eyes burns right through that. his holy innocence and his unyielding fervor in his quest for retribution are two sides of the same satisfying coin. i have only seen him in the passion of the christ (2004), otherwise, but he seems to have the market cornered when it comes to brilliant and resolute purity. seems like typecasting might be an issue. how many times can you play jesus? richard harris provides a nice turn as his fellow prisoner and mentor in the château d'if. overall, a good, not great, bit of swashbuckling action adventure.
i knew it was too good to be true, though. now the heavy lifting begins with nicholas hytner's center stage (2000).
"life is no rehearsal", the tagline says. this film follows the lives and loves of a group of young dancers chosen to attend the prestigious american ballet academy in new york. life may be no rehearsal, but maybe life could shell out for an acting coach once in a while.
i am a sucker for processes. if you can show me how something works, how it's put together, you have my attention. rehearsal, collaboration, creation, performance - i'm game. these sequences in the film are fine - interesting if you like the creative process, probably great if you love dance/ballet. i enjoy watching people put in their 10000 hours. i like the dedication to craft. i like to see artistic ideas clash and combine. when these characters are working in rehearsal studios or onstage, it can be captivating. the cast, largely professional dancers, are skilled and athletic. personally, i prefer the ballet sequences to the more overblown production number-type things, but it's all very well choreographed and executed.
then there's the other hour of the movie, which is wretched. there is not one character that is introduced in this thing whose fate you are unsure of five minutes after you meet them. stock characters, incredibly lazy writing. paint by numbers, primary colors all the way:
chubby (in the world of ballet this means 115 lbs.), vaguely ethnic girl who gets the boot - check
token black guy - check
token gay guy - check, and a bargain for payroll as he is also the token black guy.
tough-talking diva from the street with a bad attitude - check
stern teacher with a heart of gold - check
ice princess overachiever who is troubled on the inside - check
shrewish stage mom living vicariously through her daughter - check
the boy who really understands and supports you and will wait until you're through being mistreated by that jerk - check
and on and on. i am always surprised that studios don't have to work harder to earn your money. they count on, and exploit, your short attention span and princess dreams. it was called fame (1980), and a hundred other names besides, stretching back to the beginning of filmdom. i know it's made for young people, but young people can grasp more complexity than this. and i know films like this are primarily a vehicle to display the dancing or singing or whatever else it is that these kids do but don't you find the presentation ridiculous? why don't you demand a better story in between? in this day and age, you can just go to youtube and watch endless drum battles/dance competitions/vocal tryouts/et cetera. you don't have to have your intelligence insulted on either side of it to enjoy the art, a fact that outs all of you people that claim "oh, i just watch it for the competitive parts". plainly, you're liars. reality television has exposed you all. you also watch it for the poorly scripted, poorly acted "drama", but i'll be damned if i know what it nourishes in you. if the dance is really what moves you, why aren't you just watching a ballet? if you need soap opera with your dance try the red shoes (1948) instead. final verdict - ballet should be choreographed, not story arc. as actors, they are spectacular dancers.
but, taking a lesson from those plucky kids, i shall prevail. i won't let this get me down. i will come back swinging on day three. damn it, i've gotta dance! or write. or something. talk to you tomorrow.