MOVIES: Apr 05, AU Edition

But two other offerings this month prove that heroin and histrionic overacting aren’t
photo_18.jpgBe Cool
Release: March 10, 2005
Rated: PG
4 stars

I hate sequels.” That’s John Travolta’s first line in this sequel to Get Shorty. So immediately Be Cool lets audiences know it’s not taking itself too seriously. I felt like I was in on the joke, and the joke is so good the sequel is better than the original.Ten years ago in Get Shorty, John Travolta’s character, Chili Palmer, was a hip gangster trying to make it in the movie industry. Now, in Be Cool, he’s trying to muscle his way into the music business. There’s a young starlet trying to get her big break, nasty music moguls and the Russian mob. You know – the usual. But in Be Cool the plot isn’t as important as the all-star ensemble cast.
Now I need to come clean about something: when I was a younger I wanted to marry John Travolta. He’s just so, well, cool. Granted, I had to forgive him for Michael and Battlefield Earth, but when he was in Grease and Pulp Fiction he made my knees weak. And he’s back to his coolest as Chili Palmer in Be Cool. He’s suave, he’s sexy, and he’s unflappable. Matter of fact, I still want to marry him.
Then there’s Vince Vaughn’s stand-out role as Raji, a white-bread music rep who wants to be a “playa”. It’s hysterical to see such a honky white character like Raji spouting hip-hop lines like, “that sh*t was tight, gangsta!” It’s so wrong it’s right.

Uma Thurman is the weak link in the movie. She plays Edie, the sexy CEO of a failing indie record label and Chili’s love interest. Uma is beautiful but, alas, she can’t act. She really should be used as a supporting actress rather than a lead.
On the other hand, one of the best castings is WWF’s The Rock as Raji’s gay bodyguard. He’s constantly taking the piss out of himself – even slagging off his signature wrestling glower (one raised
eyebrow). His comedic timing is spot on and my favourite scene involves him reciting a monologue from teen cheerleading movie Bring It On. The Rock rocks.
But wait: there’s more. Cedric the Entertainer plays Sin LaSalle, an upper-middle-class music producer who’s not afraid to use muscle to get his songs played. Andre Benjamin (who most people would know as Andre 3000 of Outkast) makes a fabulous acting debut as Dabu, a dim but trigger-happy gangster. Harvey Keitel is a music company executive with no rhythm. Danny DeVito has a cameo with Anna Nicole Smith that is cringe-worthy but funny. Aerosmith’s Steve Tyler plays himself and is a natural.
Think Pulp Fiction with less violence, more gags and an equally funky soundtrack. Cool.

photo_09.jpgBeing Julia
Released: March 17, 2005
Rated: M
2 stars

In Being Julia, all the world’s a stage and Annette Benning’s over-acting on it. Now don’t get me wrong: I loved Annette in American Beauty and The Grifters. I know she’s won a swag of awards for this film. But really… she’s trying so hard in Being Julia that she makes Jim Carey look subtle.
The problem is Annette’s character is so damn repellent. Julia Lambert is an ageing diva of the London stage in the 1930s. She’s at the peak of her career yet she’s bored. So she’s prone to histrionics. It’s hard to care for a woman who decides the spark she needs is to have an affair with a younger man but then is devastated when she finds out not only is her husband cheating on her but her lover is too. She’s either melodramatic, egocentric, overbearing or overwrought with nothing in between. Her manic laughter grates even more when hideous wailing follows it as the spotlight travels past her.
The support roles in the film are more refined. Jeremy Irons is restrained as her long-suffering husband and manager Michael Gosselyn. Miriam Margolyes is fabulous and funny as theatre owner Dolly, a frustrated lesbian desperate to bed her lead actress. And I had to side with Juliet Stevenson who plays Julia’s straight talking yet likeable dresser, Evie.
Basically everyone is more likeable than Julia.
I can understand comparisons between Being Julia and All About Eve. Both lead characters are egotistical actresses who blur their public and private lives. But the comparisons should only remind you why All About Eve is a classic and Being Julia will be a $2 weekly DVD in a flash of an eye.

MFOG.jpgMaria Full of Grace
Released: March 26, 2005
Rated: M
4 stars

Maria Full of Grace is a spinach film. That is, you know it’s good for you but you don’t really like it. The story revolves around a seventeen-year-old Colombian girl who thinks the only way to escape her miserable life is to become a drug mule. The film is a drama that feels more like a documentary. It’s shot with a sometimes-nauseating handheld camera style making the entire film feel grainy, dirty and real.
The lead role is played by astonishing newcomer Catalina Sandino Moreno and, basically, she is Maria. I believed she’s desperate to escape her demeaning job of de-thorning roses at a flower farm where she earns about $2000 a year. I believed she’s feisty and intelligent. I believed her downtrodden family and friends stifle her. And I believed she’d swallow heroin for a round trip to New York and an easy five grand.
But it’s not easy. That’s the point. This film does nothing to glamorize drug smuggling. The drug dealers aren’t sexy, powerful ‘bling bling’ characters; they are slack-jawed mouth-breathers who are as bored with their jobs as Maria was with the roses.
The scene where Maria swallows the heroin pellets will test the strongest gag reflex. They are about the size of a thumb, coated in Vaseline and washed down with some clear soup. When Maria got down her first pellet, I gagged. By the time she had swallowed 62, I nearly passed out.
The film is shot in Spanish with English sub-titles but there is so little dialogue you could watch it with the sound down. The emotions and fears that cross Maria’s face speak volumes. It’s a basic story of survival.
First time director and writer Joshua Marston has captured the ugliness of drug smuggling with grace.
You’ll feel uncomfortable watching Maria Full of Heroin.