Leo in Paradise: The Horror!
Whining about fame, Leonardo DiCaprio grouses repeatedly in print that his career is taken seriously only by rampaging hordes of teenage girls. The Beach may be just the movie that proves he has nothing further to worry about. Suffering through this pretentious, interminable fiasco while grown men snored on all sides, it occurred to me that if adults don’t have a clue what it’s about, how could it possibly keep teenage space cadets awake? The Beach is the kind of literary rubbish that makes you trace the patterns in the carpet while you’re supposed to be watching the screen.
Although nothing of any consequence ever happens here, Leo narrates as though he’s setting up the autobiography of Marcel Proust. “My name is Richard,” are his opening words. “What else do you need to know?” A great deal, as it turns out. Richard is an American dropout ready to keep his eyes open and suck in new experiences. “Never resist the unfamiliar,” he says, drinking snake blood. After wandering the alleys of Bangkok with the shortest hair of his career, Leo checks into what looks like the same roach-infested hotel room Claire Danes occupied in Brokedown Palace . When a weirdo in the next cubicle named Daffy slashes his wrists and leaves behind a map to a secret island, the games begin.
Accompanied by an attractive but vapid French couple, Richard travels 500 miles by train, swims shark-infested waters, leaps from the top of a waterfall and finally reaches paradise, which turns out to be located in the middle of a marijuana jungle guarded by drug lords with machine guns. Somewhere on the other side of the ganja fields lies a commune of hippie escapees from civilization who have seen Lord of the Flies too many times. They grow orchids, spear fish, play soccer, build huts from bamboo and follow the orders of a leader who looks like a Zoroastrian zombie from Venus, played by the seriously bizarre Tilda Swinton.
Eventually there is trouble in paradise. You can live without dentists, maternity wards, mouthwash and a craving for ice cream, but what about sex? Like Adam in the Garden of Eden, Leo discovers his lethargic libido and falls for another man’s girl. An emergency trip back to the mainland for supplies produces a shopping list that brings out the worst in everybody, and it’s pretty funny watching Leo trying to drag toothpaste, AAA batteries, a bottle of vodka and a case of tampons back to the wilderness. From here, the movie goes mad, loses ground and never recovers as Leo goes native, stealing from the savage drug guards one of those Aunt Jemima head scarves worn in Hollywood jungle movies about heroin fields in South America. Then he believes he’s living in a video game, giving director Danny Boyle a chance to bore the audience to death with the kind of digitally generated chaos that worked better for him in Trainspotting .
It’s all downhill from there. Disillusioned antiheroes are passé, Leo’s smug performance shows signs that he’s beginning to believe his own Titanic P.R., and nothing about The Beach makes a lick of sense. Narrative skills are sadly nonexistent in John Hodge’s script, although I’m told the novel by Alex Garland is a great favorite among twentysomething males who hate computers and feel alienated by technology. It probably also helps to smoke a lot of dope. Enough of it is consumed here to make you believe you’re engaged to Veronica Lake. The only reason I can fathom why anyone would waste years on a movie this dumb is the frequent-flier miles.
Gun Shy Stinks
Gun Shy is a movie about crime and loose bowels, and I’m not kidding. Incompetently directed and amateurishly written by Eric Blakeney, this dolorous mess stars Liam Neeson, a fine actor stumbling through a halfhearted attempt to be a movie star without a compass. And Sandra Bullock, who, in flop after flop, is barely hanging onto her own career, with nails bitten desperately down to the quick.
He plays a top secret agent of some unspecified origin who is so stressed out from the danger, torture, shootouts and near-death experiences of his job that he loses his nerves. (It’s dirty work; in a flashback, we learn that in his last assignment his face was stuffed into a pile of watermelons until he blacked out. It had a traumatizing effect on his colon.) She plays the gastroenterologist’s nurse he falls for while she’s giving him a barium enema. (I swear on my own colon these are the jokes, folks.) The labored plot has something to do with a money-laundering racket run by a yuppie stockbroker, a gay Colombian drug lord who wants to buy a condo, and a fat, hairy creep Mafia psycho who dreams of growing his own organic tomatoes (another obnoxious performance by the gruesome Oliver Platt). Joining this incomprehensible trio, the undercover cop loses his guts in more ways than one, and joins a male support group, while Ms. Bullock works on his flatulence and diarrhea.
“You like champagne?” “It gives me gas.” “We’ll drink it outside.” What is this obsession with fecal matter and fertilizer? On their first date, they roll around in a pile of cow manure, giggling uncontrollably.
Truly a movie that smells, Gun Shy is also a comedy that is never remotely funny, a James Bond sendup that is never clever enough to sustain interest, and a contrived collection of characters who are never believable. The final shootout between the crooked cops, the real crooks and the patients in the group therapy sessions has all of the convincing action turmoil of a Kids in the Hall skit because the audience has never figured out what the money-laundering cartel was about in the first place. Idiocy reigns supreme. Ms. Bullock produced this vile stew, giving herself little more to say than a lot of farting jokes. After the last Star Wars disaster, Mr. Neeson made a lot of noise about returning to serious and challenging roles, so the question looms: How did they talk him into this trash? It’s a question only his proctologist can answer.
Mardi Gras In Manhattan
The svelte, sobbing sophistication of Julie Wilson and the free-form, down-home calico noodling of Dixieland jazz do not automatically seem to be a dream match, but in her new cabaret act at the Algonquin, a festive free-for-all called Julie Wilson in Dixieland , euphoria reigns triumphant. With red, white and blue feather boas on top of and under the grand piano, the Oak Room looks like Independence Day on a turkey farm. And the merry, indefatigable cabaret legend uses them all-shifting moods and gears, lulling into neutral and driving the audience into a cheering frenzy.
Ms. Wilson is pulling out the stops on this occasion, exposing new sides of her vivacious talent and submerging a subdued midwinter Manhattan into the heart of Mardi Gras razzle-dazzle. Not since the days of Eddie Condon’s Dixieland jazz emporium have the saints come marching in with such a blast. She’s no less thrilling with a tambourine in her lace-gloved hands than she is with a gardenia in her hair. Singing of Rampart Street sugar daddies and Storyville’s bordello bawds, she tackles every kind of song on the New Orleans menu.
She shimmies. She shakes. She melts you like bayou honeysuckle. She’s got the clarinets and banjos and slide trombones from the Smith Street Society Jazz Band and the exuberant Mark Hummel lighting a match to the keyboard, and even sings “Ain’t She Sweet” with a lady tuba player. “Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans?” is not a query, it’s a sensual reminiscence best accompanied by a frosty mint julep from Pat O’Brien’s, and she lasciviously undulates her way through the naughty, X-rated lyrics to “I Ain’t Gonna Give Nobody None of My Jelly Roll” the way they do it down on Bourbon Street. She then movingly croons an exquisitely phrased combination of two Jimmy Van Heusen standards, “But Beautiful” and “I Thought About You” just to keep in touch with the legions of old fans who long for her ballads. Then she’s off and running again, dusting off all those red-hot-mama numbers like “Louisville Lou,” “Sadie Green” and “Hardhearted Hannah” that make you wonder where all of those great old broads are now.
A highlight of this eclectic, unusual and very entertaining musical evening is the ribald, hilariously acted and little known Fats Waller-Andy Razaf song “Find Out What They Like and How They Like It, and Give It to ‘Em Just That Way.” Good advice to girlfriends everywhere. From “Darktown Strutters’ Ball” to “Won’t You Come Home, Bill Bailey,” Julie Wilson investigates every nuance of the Dixieland style, captivating her audience and proving, once again, why her musical prowess is like a master class for performers and audience alike. Join her through March 4. Bring your own carnival beads.
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