Volume 16 • Issue 33 | January 16 - 22, 2004


Koch on Film

By, Ed Koch

“Millennium Mambo” (-)
This film received some rave reviews. New York Post reviewer, V.A. Musetto, wrote, “A stunner from Taiwanese filmmaker Hou-Hsiao-hsien…beautifully filmed, wonderfully acted…This is THE movie to see for the new year.” Phil Hall of FilmThreat.com wrote, “This extraordinary work of cinematic art is among the most sublime, compelling and beautifully crafted films to grace the big screen.”

In my view, it’s a stinker. The plot goes nowhere, and the film never raises any tension or emotion. It takes place in Taipei and involves a bar hostess, Vicky (Shu Qi), who lives with her abusive boyfriend, Hao-Hao (Tuan Chun-hao). The violence is conveyed by dialogue rather than visually. Over a ten-year period, she leaves him and returns several times. After their last incident, Vicki seeks help from the bar owner, Jack (Kao Jack), who is clearly connected with organized crime. Again, we are shown nothing but surmise this fact from the dialogue. Jack leaves for Japan in the middle of the night. Why? We never really learn. At Jack’s invitation, Vicki goes to Japan to see him but never meets up with him. Why? Who knows and who cares?

The director, Hou Hsiao-hsien, believes that less is more and that includes lighting the screen with a 60 watt bulb. All in all, it was a terrible experience. The movie is in Mandarin with English subtitles.

“Cold Mountain” (+)
Surely worth seeing, but not the blockbuster it is hyped to be. The acting of Nicole Kidman and Jude Law is ordinary, but they are so extraordinarily beautiful and handsome that their ordinary performances will be overlooked by most, including me. On the other hand, Renee Zellweger with her hillbilly twang is given high marks for her acting by most critics. I won’t naysay them, but a Sarah Bernhardt she is not.

The film takes place in the south shortly before secession and war are declared, and the locales are beautiful. Ada (Nicole Kidman) is the daughter of Rev. Monroe (Donald Sutherland) in the town of Cold Mountain. He dies precipitously. A local boy, Inman (Jude Law), falls in love with Ada. The day he goes off to join the Confederate Army, he declares his love to Ada who accepts it with a kiss.

The war scenes depict the enormous death rate and overall suffering. We are privy to depraved killings and rapes committed by contingents from both the North and South. Inman deserts and begins his trek back to Cold Mountain. He finally reaches Cold Mountain, and the lovers are reunited. The final denouement is unexpected.

I can’t recall a single line of dialogue from “Cold Mountain,” even though I just saw it a few days ago. This movie is no “Gone With the Wind,” starring Vivian Lee and Clark Gable, but as Rhett Butler said to Scarlett O’Hara nearly 65 years ago, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.” It’s worth seeing.

“Monster” (-)
The acting of Charlize Theron in this film is described by almost every critic as a tour de force, and it is. So why I am giving this superbly acted movie a negative rating? I have mentioned on a number of occasions that the primary factor for me in rating a film is whether or not I derived pleasure from the script and the performances. If I do, it matters not what others say about the bad lighting, soap-opera script, etc. If I can in clear conscience recommend to friends that it is worth their taking two hours out of their day to see a film, I will give it a plus. Otherwise, and in this case, I cannot.

The movie is based on a true story. It depicts the life of serial-killer Aileen Wuornos (Charlize Theron) who early on in life became an alcoholic and a prostitute. She takes up with Selby Wall (Christina Ricci), a lonely girl living at home with her parents who has lesbian fantasies. Beaten on one occasion by a trick, Aileen shoots him and the others who pick her up on the highway for sex. The script has no highs or lows - it’s car sex and murder all year long.

Theron’s intentional weight gain, makeup and dental prosthesis have totally transformed her usual beautiful appearance. Instead of being enthralled by those changes, however, I was sickened and bored because of the repetitious aspect of her role.

Those solely interested in acting, particularly a tour de force, should see this film. Those interested in watching an interesting show, should stay home and watch “Sex and the City” or “The Sopranos” on HBO.

- Ed Koch


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