Friday, June 18, 2004

THE TERMINAL: Welcome to Steven Spielberg's new era of filmmaking, the fantastic true or loosely-based-on-true story, infused with the legendary director's enthusiasm for whatever project in which he attaches himself. This is the story of Viktor Navorski (Tom Hanks), who is loosely based on some guy who has been living at the Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris for awhile now, a man who comes from a war-torn country (fictitious Khrakosia) that the U.S. cannot recognize and hence creates a legal void by which he must stay at the airport. Of course, the foreigner must cope with a strange people, a strange language, and up-and-coming security chief Frank Dixon (Stanley Tucci). Catherine Zeta-Jones comes in as a romantic interest and with all the conflicts that entails. So, since this is a movie about survival, Spielberg focuses on the things that make Navorski an endearing character--his ability to figure out how to make money, his interest in construction work (or building things from whatever is around), his ability to adapt, to learn. And surrounded by him are some other airport "misfits" played by Diego Luna (Y TU MAMA TAMBIEN), Chi McBride ("Boston Public"), and Wes Anderson regular Kumar Pallana. Hanks is probably at his very best here, a role that's as memorable as Forrest Gump, and without all of the "isms." Zeta-Jones, who may be the most beautiful woman on the planet (she's certainly the hottest mobile phone spokesperson), is good in a fairly limited role (she's basically just another episode in Navorski's struggle, and Spielberg wisely treats it that way). Director Steven Spielberg can make drywall entertaining (which he does). This is the 19th full-length feature I've seen (I haven't even seen THE COLOR PURPLE!) from him, not counting the uncredited helming of POLTERGEIST (Tobe Hooper got the credit), or the one section of the TWILIGHT ZONE movie, and gets to the point where you can't rank his films anymore because when a new one comes out, it generally has to compete against JAWS, E.T., the INDIANA JONES trilogy, CLOSE ENCOUNTERS, SCHINDLER'S LIST, JURASSIC PARK, etc. And that's simply unfair. THE TERMINAL is just about, but not quite, as fun as CATCH ME IF YOU CAN, which I enjoyed highly, and in this new era of Spielberg, in a fairly new category, that puts it in good company. Here's a little sidenote: while watching this I was reminded at times of THE TRUMAN SHOW (not the plot, but the feel of certain scenes) and found out that the screenwriter of that movie is none other than executive producer Andrew Niccol (who also wrote and directed GATTACA).

DODGEBALL: A TRUE UNDERDOG STORY: The beginning of this movie gave me some high hopes, with greasy Ben Stiller, in a role as different from any he's played lately (which is always the loveable loser) advertises Globo-Gym, enthusiastically insulting non-members while at the same time trying to get them to join. There's some inspired, funny stuff here, and then the movie turns into what reminded me a little bit of BASEketball. The sport itself isn't all that funny, even though there are some fairly funny hits--there's only so much you can do with that. Stiller's Globo-Gym is trying to take over Vince Vaughn's Average Joe Gym, which they will be able to do if Vaughn can't come up with $50,000. Only in the movies, a dodgeball tournament with a cash prize of $50,000 is ready to be played, and the Average Joes make up a team of people who would have no chance in hell of winning any sport. Vince Vaughn is the guy playing straight-man here, the role Stiller usually has. There's really no need to wonder what would have happened if they had switched roles, because they are fine as they are, it just falls to convention after awhile--if anything, Stiller's greaseball character should have gotten more play, and less insultingly (the bad guy in present comedies always has some sort of sexual perversion). I will give the movie good marks for putting Gary Cole and Jason Bateman in as commentators for ESPN 8 (The Ocho) the network broadcasting the tourney. Cole is always funny, but the revamped Bateman (who is in the hilarious "Arrested Development") offers some great gems you'll have to keep your ears open for. Overall, you keep wishing Vaughn was more funny (as you know he can be from SWINGERS, MADE, and OLD SCHOOL--it's clearly a script problem), that maybe the plot were different (the we-have-to-make-money-through-oddball-means-to-save-our-business routine), and that the dodgeball scenes could have used some extra life. It's a wasted effort.


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