Brokeback Mountain

Heath Ledger and Michelle Williams star in "Brokeback Mountain."

Focus Features
Published: Thursday, January 5, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 4, 2006 at 10:13 p.m.
When Jack and Ennis kiss in "Brokeback Mountain," it's so violent and needy, you can't tell if they're expressing affection or beating each other up. In a way, it is both.
"Brokeback Mountain" is set in Wyoming, beginning in 1963, and, like all of director Ang Lee's films, it could be titled "Sense and Sensibility," because it's about the internal war that results when characters can't wrap their heads around what their hearts need.
Cowboys Ennis (Heath Ledger) and Jack (Jake Gyllenhaal) "ain't queer," as they both say, but their affection takes them by surprise.
Based on Annie Proulx's short story, the movie takes place over two decades during which lots changes in the men's lives - both of them marry, have kids, change jobs - but their love remains as solid as Brokeback Mountain, where they met. This spare, beautiful movie covers a lot of ground, but Lee does unusual things with time. "Brokeback Mountain" seems to slow down for their occasional reunions, to show that the men linger over every second they share.
The tragedy, of course, is that these two men find a rare gift, but their own prejudices and the prejudices of their world keep them from accepting it.
If "Brokeback Mountain" were just about that love story, which culminates in the year's loveliest metaphor, it would be a great, impeccably acted movie. But "Brokeback" also recognizes that when you're afraid to be yourself, it damages every relationship you have.
Like the couples in "The Way We Were" or "Romeo and Juliet" or "Casablanca," Jake and Ennis crave the simplest possible thing: love. And, like all those other characters, they live in a world too complicated to let them have it.
- Chris Hewitt St. Paul Pioneer Press

Breakfast on Pluto

Cross-dressing and the Irish Troubles don't mix well in Neil Jordan's cloying, fanciful "Breakfast on Pluto." Twittering birds get their own subtitles, and the twittering main character quickly wears out his welcome.
Cillian Murphy minces through nearly every frame of this overlong adaptation of Patrick McCabe's novel. He plays a "Candide"-like innocent who wanders through 1960s and '70s Ireland and England in search of silly dresses and the mother who left him as a baby on the church doorstep.
Calling himself "Kitten," this foster child is too unconventional for small-town life near the border of Northern Ireland.
He leaves his band of outcast friends for London and has a series of picaresque adventures that teach him nothing. Stephen Rea, Liam Neeson, Brendan Gleeson and Bryan Ferry play some of the oddballs he meets.
Murphy is one strange-looking dude. In "Breakfast on Pluto," he's prettily dolled up and speaks in a hoarse, flirtatious whisper, yet Kitten never looks remotely like a woman.
If Rea's mournful, hound-dog face was in every square inch of this movie instead of in one "chapter" as a gentleman magician, this "Breakfast" would have been more of a meal.
- Jami Bernard New York Daily News


I must confess that I watched the opening scenes of "Casanova" with some trepidation. A movie that begins with a man in a billowy linen shirt writing with a quill pen by candlelight, accompanied by a plummy voice-over.
Imagine my surprise, then, when "Casanova" turned out to be not a bewigged white elephant, but rather a lively, sly and altogether charming farce.
Casanova is a man of mystery, known to his fellow Venetians by reputation rather than by face. Moviegoers will recognize him, of course, as Heath Ledger, the mumbling ranch hand from "Brokeback Mountain," and Ledger's status as the pansexual art-house heartthrob of the season will only be enhanced by this nimble performance. Whereas Donald Sutherland, in "Fellini's Casanova" back in 1976, played the man as a louche, melancholy degenerate, Ledger's version is more carefree and less complicated. He speaks softly, squares his shoulders, and the bodices pretty much rip themselves.
Director Lasse Hallstrom is brisk and efficient, and his visual gags are engineered with sly understatement. And while the film is appropriately sexy, it is rarely vulgar or prurient.
What is on screen is a delightful respite from awards-season seriousness - a feather film, you might say, that actually tickles.
- A.O. Scott The New York Times

The Producers

The Broadway production of "The Producers," with Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick as Max Bialystock and Leo Bloom, was apparently such a sensational show that a great many people were willing to pay $100 to see it.
Judging from the success, they seem to have gotten their money's worth, which raises a fascinating question. Here is a movie version of the musical, with the same director (Susan Stroman), the same book and lyrics (Mel Brooks) and much of the same cast. Tickets cost a tenth or less of what the best seats did on Broadway, with the added value of Uma Thurman doing a Swedish accent in high heels and Will Ferrell as a nutty Nazi.
So why isn't this a bargain? Or to put it even more bluntly, how come the movie feels, in every sense, like a rip-off? Nobody expects the jokes to be fresh or the songs to be good. Some of the big laugh lines have been provoking groans since the first, nonmusical "Producers" movie way back in 1968.
So it may take a faithful rendering on-screen to reveal the real essence of "The Producers" in its musical incarnation - its vulgarity, its cynicism, its utter lack of taste, charm or wit.
No effort has been made to adjust the show to the scale of the movie screen. Lane rants and mugs with his characteristic energy and agility, but you wish he would modulate just the tiniest bit. Or failing that, that Broderick could dry off enough to function as an interesting foil, rather than as a flailing ninny.
Stroman, meanwhile, does not have the filmmaking instincts to match her deft, emphatic choreography. The close-ups may cause you to cower under your seat or reach for an umbrella to fend off the spray of saliva.
Thurman is the one bit of genuine radiance in this aggressively and pointlessly shiny, noisy spectacle. As Ulla, the long-stemmed receptionist, would-be actress and apple of Bloom's eye, she alone turns a tired joke into good, crazy fun.
- A.O. Scott The New York Times

El Crimen Perfecto

In this outrageous black comedy, Rafael Gonzalez (Guillermo Toledo) is a salesman in a Madrid department store. The womanizing Rafael is the king of the sales floor, where he claims to have been born. His fondest dream is to be made floor manager; when his rival, Don Antonio (Luis Varela), is named to the position, Rafael's world unravels.
During a scuffle in the women's dressing rooms, Don Antonio is accidentally killed, and Rafael makes the fatal decision to dispose of the body in secret. But as it turns out, the incident has been witnessed by Lourdes (Mnica Cervera), the homeliest sales assistant on the floor, who is secretly in love with Rafael. Soon she is blackmailing Rafael, and he's trapped in a cloying, claustrophobic marriage from which murder may be the only escape.
There are no heroes in "El Crimen Perfecto": Rafael and Lourdes are a callous, self-serving pair. This anti-romantic comedy also functions as a sly critique of consumerism, as the myriad temptations of the store sales floor come to symbolize the warped values of capitalist culture.
Toledo's performance as the shallow yet strangely sympathetic Rafael is a wonder of comic timing, while Cervera is unforgettable as Lourdes, the ugly duckling who becomes not a swan, but a monster. Varela, the veteran Spanish actor, has fun as the murder victim, who returns after death as a greenish, bodiless head to commiserate with his beleaguered killer.
Like the Ferris wheel in one of its climactic scenes, "El Crimen Perfecto" is a bright, gaudy and tremendously satisfying ride.
- Dana Stevens The New York Times

Wolf Creek

The vogue for retro-horror, particularly the stripped-down shivers of 1970's slasher flicks, continues apace in this nasty little piece of work from Australia. Written and directed with an eye toward Hollywood by the enterprising Greg McLean, "Wolf Creek" explains why traveling in the Outback without a couple of guns and a man-eating Rottweiler is never a good idea, especially when - like the three nitwits at the center of this creepfest - you're young, nubile and don't know the first thing about fixing cars.
Using a mixture of old-school hokum and new-school hucksterism ("based on true events" flashes at the start of the film), he keeps his storytelling tight and the plot admirably pared down.
Three young party people (played by Cassandra Magrath, Kestie Morassi and Nathan Phillips) break down far from civilization, whereupon they are rescued by a bushman (a fantastically effective John Jarratt) with a peculiar glottal giggle. As the bushman tows their car through the spooky night fog, the three young people work themselves into a contagious frenzy.
Alas, McLean's commitment to contemporary genre expectations turns out to be unwavering and what follows these imaginative night tremors is just the usual butchery. Lest we forget, this is a film that comes with the tagline, "The thrill is in the hunt."
- Manohla Dargis The New York Times

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