Archive for June 2001

AI: Artificial Intelligence

June 29, 2001


There’s one moment early in A.I., Steven Spielberg’s lavish, long-awaited fantasy, that promises a far more complex experience than we end up getting. David (Haley Joel Osment), a “mecha” (robot) designed to act as a child, is having dinner with his adoptive “parents” (Frances O’Connor and Sam Robards). Actually, David is only pretending to have dinner, since he can’t eat. Anyway, Monica, the mother, has a long strand of food dangling from her mouth — the sort of thing a kid would laugh at — so David lets out a raucous simulation of a laugh, scaring the hell out of both “parents.” Then they laugh uneasily at him. Then he laughs some more. Then they all laugh some more. Then, finally, they just stare at each other.

This brief, wordless sequence, with its barely repressed hysteria popping out like a switchblade, sends a ripple of equally uneasy laughter through the audience; it says, very economically, pretty much everything A.I. has to say. The rest of the movie, even before the disastrous triple non-ending, features some of the most elaborate bumbling I’ve ever seen from a great filmmaker. And Spielberg is great, or, rather, he once was. No longer content to be an ingenious entertainer, he now wants to improve us; his movies have become the equivalents of the latest Oprah Book Club selection — each story is picked according to its potential for uplift.

What Spielberg doesn’t, or can’t, recognize is that this story has no such potential. A.I. began life as a 1969 short story by Brian Aldiss. For years, the late Stanley Kubrick wanted to turn the story into a movie; he consulted Spielberg on the visual effects he wanted to use for it, and even suggested Spielberg direct it and he himself produce it. After Kubrick’s death, his estate offered the project to Spielberg, who takes sole screenplay credit, working from a “screen story” by Ian Watson. To put it mildly, what Spielberg has done with the material is not what Kubrick might have done with it, though the fact remains that Kubrick spent years trying to find a cinematic way into the story and couldn’t. What made Spielberg think he could? He can’t, either.

William Hurt appears at the beginning, as a robot-engineering guru named Professor Hobby (very subtle). We’re in the future; the ice caps have melted, submerging the coastal cities and drowning millions, and mechas have been created to take care of some of the tasks humans used to do. Apparently, they’re only available to the elite who can afford them; the movie doesn’t get much into the middle-class or working-class response to the mechas, or their resentment at being replaced by them — though this is alluded to in a dark-carnival scene of violence, set at the “Flesh Fair,” where malfunctioning robots are shot out of cannons or drenched with acid for the amusement of hooting mobs of lowbrows.

So, is artificial intelligence good or bad? Kubrick would have concluded that any robotic intelligence designed and controlled by fallible humans is bound to break down eventually (see HAL 9000). Spielberg, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to know or care. But back to Professor Hobby, who speaks about the need to build a mecha capable of love. Such a creation, he reasons, will be perfect for couples who cannot have (or have lost) a real child. Someone brings up the question of what happens when a loving mecha is thrown in with people who cannot love it in return; Professor Hobby is stuck for an answer, and so is the movie, which in any case doesn’t linger very long on the question.

When David is brought home to his human “parents” — whose genetic son is cryogenically frozen until doctors can find a cure for whatever’s wrong with him — we’re meant to find David a bit creepy (an overused word in reviews of A.I., but it fits). We identify with the bafflement and, eventually, the horror felt by the parents as they watch this simulacrum interact with their real son, Martin (Jake Thomas), who has been cured and brought home. Martin is sportive and sadistic towards David; sometimes he seems to think it’s cool to have a mecha for an adopted brother, other times he seems to find the very idea of David — and of being replaced by him, even if only temporarily — offensive.

In any event, most of this is forgotten once Monica, frightened by one mishap too many, takes David to a remote, woodsy area and abandons him. This, I think, is where the movie first seriously goes astray: Spielberg abandons a cool, contemplative premise in favor of masochistic longing — he leaves his own movie out in an emotional nowhere to fend for itself, and it’s not a pretty sight. In a cruelly overextended scene, David weeps and begs his cherished mother to take him back. If done differently, the moment could resonate across many fields of experience in the audience, but Spielberg oversells it, just as he goes on to oversell everything else in the movie.

A viewer might assume that the stage is being set for a fable in the tradition of A Clockwork Orange, which thirty years ago was already parodying this sort of woe-is-me trauma (in the scenes wherein Malcolm McDowell, post-Ludivico, returns home and is rejected, beaten and nearly killed). Spielberg has something different in mind, though: a series of disjointed adventures that smack dangerously of the frantic exertions in his Hook. David meets up with a sex robot named Gigolo Joe (Jude Law), who has been framed for the murder of one of his female clients. Joe’s backstory seems pointless except to explain why he’s on the lam and to provide yet another instance of human mistreatment of mechas. We’re meant to feel, helplessly, that this just isn’t fair. To paraphrase John Lennon, mechas are the n—–s of the world, used up and then torn apart. This sounds like Kubrick in rare form, but Spielberg’s tone is way off. The tenor of the movie is oddly resentful: these worthless, compassionless humans don’t deserve the service of the very beings they’ve built. Humans are seen as crude, incompetent gods sending their creations into squalor. Kubrick might have chuckled icily at the hubris of man playing God; Spielberg stamps his foot and says it just isn’t right.

Together, David and Joe narrowly escape the Flesh Fair (a disturbing sequence until Spielberg apparently decides he’s gone far enough and makes the screaming crowd have a sudden change of heart towards David) and wander around Rouge City, a sort of Ralph Bakshi carnal wonderland complete with open female mouths swallowing the highways that lead into the city. Spielberg blows a chance to show how Joe might thrive in a place like this; Jude Law, bounding into the movie with a phallic energy that recalls McDowell’s in Clockwork, is mostly thrown away for his troubles (Spielberg treats him like a mecha). Joe doesn’t really belong to this story as Spielberg is telling it, anyway; he’s being imposed onto the material — he can be yanked out at any time without harming the narrative. After some dawdling, the two wind up in a sort of informational kiosk, speaking with a digital guru named Dr. Know, with the voice of Robin Williams. Like an earlier vocal cameo by Chris Rock as a minstrelly-looking mecha who gets shot through a propeller at the Flesh Fair, Williams’ Einstein shtick takes you out of the movie — you start wondering if Billy Crystal or Whoopi Goldberg will turn up as well.

Brian Aldiss’ original story “Supertoys Last All Summer Long,” reissued in a collection of the same name along with two follow-up stories Aldiss wrote 30 years later, is much more haunting; anything chilling in A.I. — other than film-specific inventions like the Flesh Fair — derives pretty much from Aldiss. The two sequel stories, particularly the middle one “Supertoys When Winter Comes,” take the premise of David and his fuzzy-bear robot friend Teddy into even darker territory: for instance, in the middle tale, David flips out and dissects Teddy to prove that he and Teddy are real, and goes on a rampage that results in the death of his mother figure. If A.I. had given us a David who desperately, futilely seeks the love of his mommy — who can’t return his love because she’s dead — some of the metaphysical gassing in the final half hour might have had more of a point.

As it is, David is just a sweet little “boy” who’s hardwired to love his mother (once she has “imprinted” him with a few random words); when he encounters the tale of Pinocchio and the Blue Fairy who could turn the puppet into a real boy, he adds that to his pull-down menu of obsessions, and the movie becomes about how he yearns to become “real” so that his mother will love him. Spielberg seems as obsessed with Pinocchio as his little hero is. To be fair, Kubrick was the one who insisted on keeping the Blue Fairy stuff in the movie, much to the bemusement of Aldiss, who notes in his foreword to his collection that “I tried to persuade Stanley that he should create a great modern myth to rival Dr. Strangelove and 2001, and to avoid fairy tale.” Kubrick didn’t take this perfectly sound advice, and neither did Spielberg.

David winds up in Professor Hobby’s headquarters, where he confronts irrefutable proof that he really is a robot, though you’d think he would’ve figured that out by now. In Aldiss’ stories, David is in denial about his mecha nature throughout; in the movie, things happen to him that obviously separate him from humans, such as malfunctioning when he tries to eat spinach. (Is this Spielberg’s joke on kids who won’t eat their spinach? Or a free-floating Popeye reference?) But when David encounters another David, he flies into a rage and bashes the other David’s head clean off — Kubrick popping up again, maybe: even a perfect little mecha can be made bestial and violent by human passions. Spielberg, though, films this atrocity — we’ve seen that David can feel pain, so we assume this other David can, too — entirely neutrally, as if it were a necessary step on the hero’s mythic path. Are we not supposed to care about the second David’s destruction because he’s just a robot? If so, why were we prompted to care about the robots at the Flesh Fair? Or, for that matter, about the David we’ve been watching?

At this point, we’re hovering around the two-hour mark, but Spielberg isn’t anywhere near finished with us yet. Joe goes out of the picture rather abruptly and absurdly, leaving behind a gnomic announcement: “I am. I was.” (Between this and Tom Hanks’ “Earn this,” Spielberg seems to have cornered the market on quasi-profound catchphrases. Djimon Hounsou’s “Give us free” also would not be out of place here.) David goes underwater — we’re in Manhattan now, where the Statue of Liberty is submerged up to its torch — and ends up at Coney Island, where he parks himself in front of an old plaster Blue Fairy and waits. And waits.

“Two thousand years passed,” narrator Ben Kingsley informs us — what? — and now we’re into a post-humanity Ice Age, where super-advanced mechas who look like shimmering Giacometti sculptures are trying to recreate the human race by digging around in the ice for human DNA. David awakes, reasserts his desire to be loved by his mother, and is given his mother, revived for only one day so that he can finally hear her say that she loves him. (Is this Spielberg delivering a message to the parents in the audience — “Tell your kids you love them before it’s too late”?) This may be the first solipsistic epic since 2001, but it has none of that film’s wonder or mystery — Spielberg collapses into spasms of exposition, suffocating the uncanny with verbiage, and one’s boredom and exasperation may turn into anger. It’s as if Spielberg were trying to ape the Kubrick of Eyes Wide Shut, who allowed Sydney Pollack to drone on and on about what the past half hour’s events didn’t mean (in retrospect, the Pollack speech is pretty funny, though — it tweaks our desire to see the mystery cleared up).

This is probably Spielberg’s worst film since Hook, perhaps even worse than that other misguided fairy-tale revamp, since this one had the potential to be so much more. Haley Joel Osment tries very hard to be everything that this difficult role requires, but, unavoidably, his performance becomes more conventional and dull when David is on his own, with no one except other mechas to play off of; everything else in the movie dulls out, too. Spielberg appears to have latched onto the Pinocchio material, and all the rowdy adventures it made possible, as an escape hatch from the deeply uncomfortable scenes of David and his uncomprehending human family. Brian Aldiss knew what Spielberg, and Kubrick before him, didn’t: that the story of Pinocchio is a too-easy parallel with this material, and that it throws out everything that might have made this film complex, specific, original. The movie goes outward when its nature — its wiring as programmed by Aldiss — demands that it turn inward. (Eventually it does turn inward, but in an extremely literalized, disappearing-up-its-own-ass way.) If Spielberg had stayed home with the mecha and his family, and explored the implications of an inhuman boy showing more humanity than his human parents and sibling, he might’ve had a classic. What he has delivered is the scattered wreckage of a good idea — a mechanical thing clogged with emotional spinach.

Lara Croft: Tomb Raider

June 15, 2001

The video-game movie adaptation is a peculiarly degraded subgenre, with a pedigree that includes Double Dragon, Super Mario Bros., Street Fighter, and two Mortal Kombat films. I haven’t seen any of the earlier ones, but it’s hard to believe they could’ve been worse than Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. Even by video-game-movie standards, this is an arrogantly, almost smugly empty and incoherent mess. Couldn’t this have been a surprise? Couldn’t it have been smarter and more fun than we expected? Is this really what Hollywood thinks we want, or is it what they want us to want?

Angelina Jolie swings into action, both guns blazing, her prosthetic breasts refusing to budge (in some scenes they appear to be lopsided). She doesn’t make the mistake of taking Lara Croft seriously, but she doesn’t commit herself either — at times she comes perilously close to Uma Thurman’s arch, I’m-too-smart-for-this-shit performance in The Avengers. Jolie is too smart for it, and though physically she’s a good match for Lara, she just doesn’t have pulp heroism in her soul. The way she delivers some of her lines, if you didn’t know she was the hero, you might think Jolie was playing a femme fatale who’s about to pull a double-cross.

Can I, without sounding stupid, point out that the plot makes no sense? (Of course it makes no sense, comes the answer; that’s the point.) It has something to do with the Illuminati (I think I heard this pronounced two different ways in the film), who seek to control time itself by joining two pieces of a sacred triangle during the alignment of the planets. It’s up to Lara, with the posthumous help of her father (Jon Voight), to stop the Illuminati and — I just noticed my toe is itching. Sorry. You see how easily I can be distracted from the “story.” It was worse during the movie.

The director here is one Simon West. Lara’s training robot, programmed to attack Lara and keep her in fighting trim, is also named Simon; both Simons run roughshod over this movie, hardwired for destruction. West has previously given us Con Air, which treated the audience like idiots, and The General’s Daughter, which treated the audience like complete idiots. West has advanced even more — Tomb Raider treats the audience like complete and utter idiots. When a character says “Tempus fugit,” there’s a cut to Lara, who helpfully says “Time flies.” I love that. What if Simon West had directed Silence of the Lambs? When Lecter says “Quid pro quo,” would West have had Clarice say “Something for something”?

Rather heartwarmingly, West continues to prove that a director with no talent for action whatsoever can get work as an action-movie director. The many shootouts spit at us in split-second bites. A major sequence features an attack by stone monkeys, who disintegrate obligingly when shot or even nudged assertively. Watching Lara poof her way through these non-terrifying creatures, I wondered why West didn’t go all the way and have the monkeys made out of wet Kleenex. Really, if you were designing guardians for a tomb, wouldn’t you make them out of hardier stuff — iron, enchanted spackle, anything?

Objections to Tomb Raider are perfectly beside the point because Tomb Raider is perfectly beside the point. Even when Lara is reunited with her long-lost father briefly near the end, and even though we are watching a real-life father-daughter acting duo here, there’s no spark whatsoever. Jon Voight, once capable of Midnight Cowboy and Coming Home, is stuck in this summer crap with his daughter; he has to stand there and trade lines with her, avoiding the sight of her fake boobs. The movie, if nothing else, made me respect Jon Voight as a father. He must really love Angelina to agree to jump into this pool of stupidity with her, so that maybe she wouldn’t feel so alone among the stone monkeys and shootouts. Watching the scene between them, I didn’t hear what was actually said; what I heard was “Dad, did I sign up for a turkey here?” “Yes, honey, you did, but I still love you.”

Sexy Beast

June 13, 2001

sexybeastThe title suggests a cheap European horror movie from the ’60s, but Sexy Beast is meant to signify anything that’s both alluring and frighteninga life of crime, say, or a malevolent acquaintance who knew you when. This slight-seeming but trim and absorbing British import deepens in your head the more you chew it over later; it’s about the friction of opposing personalities and lifestyles, it’s about the noir theme of never escaping the past, but mainly it’s about Ben Kingsley grabbing the movie in his jaws like a pit bull and gnawing till it screams.

Kingsley is Don Logan, a Cockney tough guy who wants a former associate, Gary “Gal” Dove (Ray Winstone), to come out of his sun-dappled retirement from crime (Gal lives in a Spanish villa, tanning himself by the pool) and come back for One Last Big Job. Gal is soft; Don couldn’t be harder — he’s like a cross between a bullet and a penis, a baldheaded force of nature driving his will into Gal like a hammer pounding a nail into a pillow. Kingsley’s East End Mephistopheles performance, which has gotten universal raves, is a little one-note, to be sure — but then, try to think of a memorable, iconic performance that isn’t.

Gal, given subtle flesh and blood by Winstone, is comfortable where he is. He enjoys having his lazy days by the pool, his nights going out to eat with his ex-porn-star wife DeeDee (Amanda Redman), his gangster crony Aight (the late Cavan Kendall), and Aight’s girlfriend Jenny (Julianne White). The movie, directed by Jonathan Glazer (a video veteran making his feature debut) from a tight script by Louis Mellis and David Scinto, wastes hardly any time on the heist itself — an absurd underwater affair recalling Small Time Crooks — and doesn’t even bother to show us the planning for it. All of that is beside the point, and we’ve seen it before. What we haven’t seen is the tension between Gal, who says “No” to the job, and Don, who knows what to do when he hears “no”: bark until it becomes “yes.”

Glazer isn’t of the “Hey Look Ma, I’m a Director” camp; his cinematographer Ivan Bird gives us gorgeous wide compositions either full of primary colors or completely devoid of them. Visually, Glazer makes us understand how much Gal has to lose and why he was so glad to leave his past behind. The scenes set back in London are wet and depressing. Spain is full of sun and good music and good food; London is crawling with hard-drinking mobsters just above gutter level, among them a higher-up named Teddy (Ian McShane), who sets the plot in motion when he attends an orgy and finds out about a vulnerable bank next to a steam club.

The opening bit — a boulder dislodges itself from a nearby hill and lands with drenching fanfare in Gal’s pool — is a bit too obvious a metaphor, but it puts us in a mood to receive the film’s theme: that there are some things (a boulder, Don Logan) you can’t plan for, that can dash your house of cards to ruins unless you rise to the occasion. Gal has a crane remove the boulder, but Don is not so easily extracted; he appears to be the criminal will incarnate, obscenely contemptuous of anything that does not advance the storyline in his head. He tries to chip away at Gal’s wife and friends. There’s a strong suggestion he resents Gal’s easy life — “Why should I let you be happy?” — and perhaps wishes it for himself, but knows his nature won’t allow it. He wants Gal back in the mud with him.

Sexy Beast gets in and out fast — at 88 minutes, it’s a model of concision in a summer of big-budget flab — and by focusing on a small story and the few people intimately involved, it cuts to the bone far more effectively than if it were a routine thriller that centered on the heist. Every directorial flick of the wrist is there for a reason (even Gal’s surreal nightmares of a gun-wielding rabbit monster), every character serves a purpose, and every Cockney-inflected obscenity (mostly issuing from Don) makes a point — it’s almost as if Gal wanted to escape the sound and language of crime, too. Most films these days are big things that deflate afterward. Here’s a small movie that expands.


June 8, 2001

After watching the dedicated but deadpan-silly scientists in Evolution as they face off against otherworldly critters, not to mention against bureaucratic fools who won’t take the scientists seriously, I was left with a deep and intense desire to revisit Ghostbusters. That 1984 summer classic, which like Evolution was directed by Ivan Reitman, works so beautifully after all these years, I think, because of its equal measure of irony and gee-whiz excitement — the former embodied by the jaded Bill Murray, the latter provided by costars/coscripters Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis, who exuded an intellectual, visceral passion for paranormal science. Also, it was funny (an entire generation still fondly recalls the Stay-Puft marshmellow man).

Part of the problem with Evolution — aside from the fact that it isn’t really very funny — is that it’s mostly jaded; there’s very little gee-whiz, almost no awe. The trio of scientists this time are biologist David Duchovny, geologist Orlando Jones, and epidemiologist Julianne Moore; non-scientist Seann William Scott, a doofus wannabe fireman, makes it a quartet (just as non-scientist Ernie Hudson rounded out Ghostbusters). In early scenes, when Duchovny and Jones discover a virulent form of alien biological crud that arrived here on a meteor, they’re mildly excited, mainly because of the promise of fortune and glory. They’re not overcome with scientific ecstasy the way Aykroyd and Ramis were; they’re two Bill Murrays.

The alien life form, it appears, can evolve at breakneck speed and split itself via mitosis into multiple organisms. The script, by Don Jakoby, David Diamond and David Weissman, tries on a little scientific gibberish for size but largely abandons it in favor of lukewarm one-liners and jokes about flatulence and anal probes. I don’t feel audiences have gotten that much stupider since the huge hit Ghostbusters in 1984; I think it’s more that screenwriters have gotten lazier. Evolution, much like Men in Black, is an indistinct string on which to hang gross-out alien gags. It hasn’t evolved from someone’s obsessive interest, the way Ghostbusters sprang from Dan Aykroyd’s fevered brow. And that, I promise, is the last comparison I will make to Reitman’s far superior paranormal comedy of 17 summers ago.

What’s left? Well, the laconic Duchovny and the funky Jones (who has yet to show his comedic stuff in a good movie) make a good, smart team. I’d like to see them together again, acting out a wittier script. Julianne Moore defines “good sport,” playing a dorkette whose major character trait is clumsiness; Seann William Scott, from American Pie, gets the movie’s most genuine laughs, particularly when he tries a hideous rendition of “You Are So Beautiful to Me” as a way to attract a huge flying bird-thing. (If the movie had any wit, it would’ve had the bird swoop over and capture Scott, lovestruck by his mating call.) Aykroyd — Dr. Ray Stantz himself — turns up as a governor apoplectic at the damage the aliens are doing to his beloved Arizona, and his presence is welcome but also saddening to those of us who remember … Oops, almost made another comparison.

The aliens, fashioned by an ace team including the KNB EFX trio, Phil Tippett (Jurassic Park), and crittermakers Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff Jr. (the last two Alien films), are certainly convincing as icky alien pestoids. What they aren’t, especially, is funny; they’re built more for horror than for comedy, and the climax gives us a massive, Lovecraftian shape that threatens to engulf Arizona but also, alas, has a rectum and flatulence problems (scenes like that make you think the movie should be called Devolution). Guess which “entry point” the heroes must choose to introduce their special pesticide. Guess what happens then. Guess what becomes of Duchovny and Moore, whose romantic attachment seems to develop entirely between scenes. And guess what DVD I’m going to watch in a few minutes.

Moulin Rouge

June 1, 2001

What to do with a movie like Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge? It demands to be taken on its own glitzy, stylized terms. It has been described as the love-it-or-hate-it movie of the season — much like last year’s equally bold (and far superior) musical Dancer in the Dark — but I didn’t love it or hate it; mostly I just stared at it in a trance of indifference, trying to stay awake. If you enjoyed Luhrmann’s other two shimmering pop artifacts — Strictly Ballroom and especially Romeo + Juliet — chances are you’ll fall in love with Moulin Rouge. If you like your films with a little less pizzazz and a little more substance, you’d do well to sit out this dance.

Luhrmann and co-writer Craig Pearce have constructed Moulin Rouge (which has nothing in particular to do with the 1952 John Huston film, except that it features Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, played a bit too avidly by John Leguizamo) not as a musical, exactly, but as a riff on The Musical. As in Pearl Harbor, everything in it is appropriated from somewhere else. For instance, here you have Christian (Ewan McGregor), a sensitive writer who loses his heart to dynamic courtesan Satine (Nicole Kidman). In a few ways, this could be called an uncredited remake of Cabaret, only without the troublesome Nazi milieu, except that it swipes from so many other sources that, ha-ha, no single creator has enough grounds for a lawsuit.

The “plot” is wafer-thin: Christian and Satine, who are working on some sort of show called Spectacular Spectacular, are frustrated in their affair by the attentions of a sneering duke (Richard Roxburgh) who wants Satine to himself. Rather stupidly, Christian and Satine craft their show as a veiled parallel to their own situation; also rather stupidly, the Duke takes forever to see the parallel even when someone in his presence, describing Christian’s fictitious counterpart, slips and says “starving writer” instead of “starving sitar player.”

It’s probably no use to attack Moulin Rouge on logical grounds. Luhrmann thinks in terms of fragments, moments, visual opportunities. Working with the boldly painting cinematographer Donald McAlpine, who has a rich sense of color and an unerring sense for how to frame an interesting composition, Luhrmann sabotages McAlpine’s work, more often than not, by being too restless in the editing room. I often say of editing-happy directors, “If you don’t like a shot, wait two seconds and it’ll change”; here it’s more like “If you like a shot, don’t get too attached to it, because in two seconds it’ll change.”

Christian and Satine often serenade each other, using snippets of modern-day rock love ballads, which I guess is supposed to make this turn-of-the-century romantic fable more relevant to the teenagers of the turn of this century. I almost never felt that the pop songs (including Elton John, the Beatles, David Bowie, and many others) worked for the movie, and in one case — when a group of men break into the chorus of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” — I found it embarrassing. Kidman and McGregor aren’t really singers; they sell their crooning more on attitude than on skill, and that goes for their overall performances, too. McGregor has the right look — brilliant eyes, brilliant teeth — for a big-movie-musical leading man, and Kidman is breathtaking in her many costume changes, but when they have to be still and communicate with each other it’s amateur hour (and, I hasten to add, they haven’t been amateurish elsewhere). They simply have no chemistry.

I wish I could support Moulin Rouge, because it’s certainly not timid (except, perhaps, for the choice of soundtrack tunes slavishly geared to teens) and there’s nothing else out there remotely like it. It’s the sort of overstuffed extravaganza that, if it works for you, really works for you, and if it doesn’t, really doesn’t. Talent and, yes, vision have gone into this project. Baz Luhrmann isn’t a hack; you feel he believes passionately in what he puts on the screen (much like Paul Thomas Anderson, another virtuoso who swings for the fence and misses), and some of the movie’s enraptured lack of irony is refreshing. Luhrmann is straining to achieve something new, original, different. He should’ve started with the script.