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September 03, 2002 - Image 11

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 2002-09-03

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The Michigan Daily - Tuesday, September 3, 2002 - 11A

'My Big Fat Greek Wedding' a
welcome change of cinema pace

By Ryan Blay
Daily TV/New Media Editor

When Toula meets Ian Miller (John
Corbett, "Sex and the City"), an

Anyone who's grown up in a attractive En
large family, especially
one of eastern Euro- a
pean descent, knows
that family means ***k
never having a moment
alone. This is the life in MY BIG FAT
which Toula Portokalos GREEK WEDDING
(Nia Vardalos, who
also wrote the story) At State Theater
grows up in the charm- IFC Films
ing comedy, "My Big
Fat Greek Wedding." nervous. Th
Toula's family owns Dancing to overcome

nglish teacher, she's smit-
ten. They fall in love,
much to the dismay of
her father. After all, if
he's not Greek, he's not
worthy of his daughter.
The task of bringing
the stubborn father up
to date with her culture,
not to mention dealing
with Ian's ultra-WASPy
parents, makes Toula
e culture clash isn't easy

Fourth M. Nikht Shyamalan flick
doles out summer scares and thrills

Zorba's, a Greek Restaurant, where
she works, as expected. Her father is a
zealous patriot for Greece, with a
Greek flag on his garage, statues on
the lawn, everything but the actual
Parthanon. Like all true comedic
patriarchs, he is really subservient to
his wife, Maria, a bit more under-
standing to Toula's tension between
her Greek heritage and American

The charm lies in the description
of growing up in Toula's world. An
ugly duckling as a child, she gains
independence by taking computer
courses at college - another idea of
which her father disapproved. From
her quiet transformation into a
mature Greek-American (heck, any
ethnicity could be inserted) to her
insanely large family (who else

Courtesy of IFC Films
Just married. In Greek.
could say that their family includes
N'Sync's Joey Fatone and multiple
Nicks?), Toula's world is nothing
less than frantic.
Vardalos was discovered by Rita
Wilson, and steered toward Tom
Hanks, serving as producer. Thus
far, the $5 million comedy has
pulled in over $80 million thanks to
word of mouth sales and has become
the independent film hit of the sum-
mer. With a magnificent cast and a
wonderfully comic story, Vardalos
and company have managed to
instill a little bit of clean ethnic fun
into this summer's film choices.

By Luke Smith
Daily Arts Editor
Often heralded as the new Steven
Spielberg, director M. Night Shya-
malan weighs in with his extrater-
restrial thriller "Signs." Right now,

church and the roads aren't paved, but
gravel. Hess, a former minister, abdi-
cated his ministry in the Episcopalian
church after the death of his wife.
When a mysterious crop circle
pops up in Hess' cornfields, the who-
dunit surfaces as hastily as the circles

no one is doling out
more cinematic chills
and thrills than Shya-
malan, and "Signs,"
even more than "The
Sixth Sense," asks
viewers to check their
spirituality at the
Shyamalan is dubi-
ously aware of how to
scare America out of hei

At Showcase and
Quality 16

are formed. Graham, a
disbeliever and cynic,
passes the formations off
as prank, but when crop
circles begin to amass
throughout the world and
lights hover over cities,
he is forced to confront
his own spirituality. It is
a spirituality that, in a
decisive scene between


pants; "The Sixth Sense" made me
spill popcorn in the aisle and
despite commercial breaks, scared
me nearly as much when it was
aired on network television earlier
this year. More than a mere sus-
pense director, Shyamalan's fright-
eners find common ground, not only
with Philadelphia (where all of his
films take place, or in surrounding
areas), but more importantly, with
human nature.
For some reason the American
public, myself included, let M. Night
Shyamalan get away with the ridicu-
lous. "The Sixth Sense" managed not
only to convince us that ghosts were
real, and that wunderkind Haley Joel
Osment could see them and quasi-
communicate with them, but Shya-
malan twisted the plot before our
very eyes, even turning Bruce Willis
into a ghost.
Willis and Shyamalan teamed up
again in the drastically underrated
"Unbreakable," and convinced us that
Willis' Philadelphia security guard
was impossible to harm, with a vul-
nerability only to water. It was a
superhero film completely misunder-
stood by both press and public, who
expected another "Sixth Sense."
Instead they were treated to the first
hour of "Spider-Man" (a man coping
with the discovery of his own super-
heroism), lushly captured over a cou-
ple hours.
In both cases, Shyamalan drives
the intensity of a film to its breaking
point, (although granted, completely
differently in "Unbreakable" as
opposed to "Sixth Sense") and then
fizzled the films out in a moment of
viewer-expected intrinsic thought.
This forced interaction with his
films, allowing Shyamalan to ask
questions about spirituality, ques-
tion our beliefs and expectations -
"Signs" is no exception.
Graham Hess (Mel Gibson), his
two children, Morgan (Rory Culkin)
and Bo (Abigail Breslin) and his
brother Merrill (Joaquin Phoenix)
live in the middle of nowhere some-
where outside of Philadelphia. It is a
world where life moves a little slow-
er, the families always show up for

he and Merrill, divides the world into
two types of people, those who
believe in coincidence and those who
believe in signs.
Relatively quickly, perhaps too
quickly, the film dispatches with the
"who" is behind the crop circles, and
moves on to praying the question,
"will Graham rediscover his faith,
learn to love again and live com-
pletely?" The answer, midway into
the film, amidst a truly horrifying
mass of thudding and screaming and
shaking and trembling, becomes
crystal clear.
It is in the almost clairvoyant obvi-
ousness of the film's resolution where
Shyamalan slips his work away from
being a masterpiece, and relegating
it to simply being a great film. Con-
founding his characters with spiritu-
ality, their own apprehensions
perhaps an extension of the direc-
tor's own apprehensions, Shyamalan
turns "Signs" into a what-could have
been, rather than a what-is.
While he clouds the possible bril-
liance of his film with his puzzling
spiritual inquiries, Shyamalan knows
how to extract great performances
from his actors. Mel Gibson is pitch-
perfect as Graham Hess, a breath of
fresh air from an actor who has been
too caught up in remaking "Brave-
heart" for his own good.
Also refreshing is seeing Joaquin
Phoenix in a role which we can actu-

ally like his character, rather than
just admire his acting skills (think
Emperor Commodus in "Gladiator"
and the Abbe du Coulmier in
"Quills"). Shyamalan gets the most
out of his child actors, and there is
certainly something to be said for
harvesting performances from chil-
dren (take that Mr. Lucas!) Morgan
and Bo Hess only serve to augment
the film. Rory Culkin's childlike
wonder at the prospect of invasion
brings a handful of light moments in
the film, which turns viciously dark
when the lights go out. Bo Hess
plays foil to Morgan, but reminds
more of Drew Barrymore a la "E.T."
Her innocence is as refreshing as
Culkin's bright-eyed interest in
The film is frightening, flat-out
tremble-scary for the first three-
quarters. Everything is reduced to a
glimpse of a couple fingers, and
when Shyamalan forces our imagi-
nation into action, the chills run
deep - deeper than when Hess and
his family come face to face with the
horror that kept a theater full of eyes
cowering and squinting. It is anti-cli-
matic to say the least. One is forced
to wonder, if viewers had never con-
fronted the Earth invaders, and they
had came and left in the same horri-
fying turn of events, would that have
made the film better? It would have
forced Shyamalan to stretch his end-
ing beyond the too-neat conclusion.
Despite its flaws, Shyamalan's
"Signs" is doubtlessly an accom-
plished piece of film. While not
nearly as impressive as his master-
work "Unbreakable," it is without a
doubt scarier than "The Sixth
Sense." The characters are believ-
able, and the ending, while it weighs
in a bit heavy on the side of
schmaltz, won't cause any gags, in
fact it will cause a few sighs,
because after the terror-storm that
Shyamalan flies through with
"Signs," maybe what the audience
needs is to sigh, and take a breath,
chances are Shyamalan has stolen it
from their lungs, again.

Snipes takes ring with Rhames

By Ryan Blay
Daily TV/New Media Editor
What would have happened had a
camera crew followed Mike Tyson
around as he sulked in prison,
stripped of his boxing title, essential-
ly bankrupt and accused of rape? The
end result may have been something
like "Undisputed," an outstanding
new film that transcends the "sports
movie" genre to allow its actors a
chance to act.
Ving Rhames ("Pulp Fiction") is
Tyson, I mean, George "Iceman"
Chambers, the undisputed heavy-
weight champion of the 'world.
Accused of rape (perhaps falsely),
Chambers is shipped off to Sweetwa-
ter Prison in the middle of the Mojave
Desert. He doesn't make many
friends in Sweetwater by trying to
establish his authority and violating
the tense peace among the prisoners.
While Chambers' manager orders
him to keep on good behavior so he
can get out of prison - and bank-
ruptcy - by fighting again in a cou-
ple of years, the cranky Chambers has
other ideas. He has no intention of
letting the guards or prisoners con-
fuse him for a soft man.
Enter Mendy Ripstein ("Colum-

Snipes, "New Jack
City") was a promising
boxer until he caught
his wife cheating and
beat her lover to death.
with a lethal weapon:.
his fists. In prison for
ten years, he has beaten
every huge man sent to
topple him. Bottom
line: Chambers fights

At Showc

bo"), an elderly prisoner with connec-
tions. He stands to make a lot of
money by pitting Chambers against
Monroe Hutchens, the undefeated
champion of Sweetwater's boxing
tournament. Hutchens (Wesley

inmate creates. To do this without
boring the average moviegoer anxious
to see Snipes and Rhames slug it out
Without giving away the ending,
the boxing is shot beautifully, avoid-
ing the absurd montages
of the "Rocky" series,
wherein boxers would
slug each other for hours
without a knockdown.
'UTED Realism suffices for
ase and Hill, both in the sweet
y 16 science and the buildup
nax to the showdown.
With a fine supporting
ensemble including Wes
Studi ("Heat") and Jon Seda ("Homi-
cide," "Oz") as fellow prisoners, the
acting comes as a fine surprise in the
midst of rather lackluster August and
September releases. Rhames has
already established himself as a credi-
ble presence, but Snipes' perform-
ance, especially after the dud that was
"Blade II," comes out of nowhere.
"Undisputed" will likely disappear
without much notice in a couple of
weeks, not raking in a great deal of
money. But the worthy performances
of Snipes and Rhames make this film
well worth seeing before summer
officially ends.

Monroe, Chambers gets free, Monroe
gets cash and the prison (and the
audience) gets to see one hell of an
unsanctioned boxing match.
Director Walter Hill ("48 Hrs.")
had. a daunting task he ably per-
formed: creating a film meshing the
fast-paced, hip-hop flow of boxing
(not to mention the rap work of Mas-
ter P) and the slow life of maximum-
security prison. He had to establish a
plot via flashbacks, CNN-style inter-
views with the alleged victim, and
dialogue between Chambers and the
warden, fearful of the publicity and
trouble that a high-profile celebrity


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