Volume 76, Number 11 | August 2 - 8, 2006

Koch On Film

By Ed Koch

“Shadowboxer” (-)
Although this interesting film held my attention, in the end I found it ridiculous.

Stephen Holden’s New York Times review was intriguing. He wrote: “Like “Monster’s Ball,” “Shadowboxer” explores the heavy psychological baggage handed from fathers to sons, in this case a legacy of murder perpetuated by men who grew up admiring their fathers’ skill and confidence with firearms and eventually played copycat.” And, “the intensity of Rose and Mikey’s passion goes way beyond conventional Hollywood sex, and the fact that it is interracial and intergenerational (Ms. Mirren is 22 years older than Mr. Gooding) lends it an extra transgressive kick. I haven’t seen a black man and a white woman make love like this in an American movie since Ellen Barkin and Laurence Fishburne tore at each other in “Bad Company” in 1995.”

Holden’s review led me to believe that the theater would be packed on opening night. It was near empty. Those who stayed away probably read the Daily News review that referred to “Shadowboxer” as a “hilariously preposterous thriller.”

Rose (Helen Mirren) and her lover stepson, Mikey (Cuba Gooding, Jr.) are regularly hired by mobster Clayton (Stephen Dorff) to murder people. In one scene, Clayton is shown sodomizing a minion with a jagged pool stick who apparently had a sexual relationship with Clayton’s wife, Vickie (Vanessa Ferlito). Rose and Mikey are hired to murder Vickie, but when Vickie goes into labor, Rose decides to save her and raise the baby who comes to think of Mikey as his father.

The choreographed, James Bond-like actions of Rose and Mikey give the film a veneer of sophistication. Another sophisticated aspect includes the intimate relationship between Mikey, a black man, and Rose, a white woman 20 or more years his senior.

Helen Mirren, who received great reviews for her role in the television series “Prime Suspect,” is equally as good in this film, and Cuba Gooding, Jr. gives a fine performance as well. In the end, however, it is all rubbish, and I left the theater wondering why they wasted so much talent on veneer.

“Changing Times” (+)
Two grand stars, Catherine Deneuve and Gerard Depardieu, dominate this film, but their fellow actors do a fine job as well. Most important, the script is stunning.

The story takes place in Tangier, Morocco, from which Spain and Gibraltar can be seen across the strait. Radio personality, Cecile (Catherine Deneuve), who is in her 50s, is married to Nathan (Gilbert Melki) a doctor perhaps 20 years younger. Antoine (Gerard Depardieu), a wealthy real estate developer, has come to Tangier to pursue Cecile, his first love of thirty-odd years ago. Cecile and Nathan’s son, Sami (Malik Zidi), arrives in Tangier with his Arab girlfriend, Nadia (Lubna Azabal), and her nine-year-old son, Said (Jabir Elomri). Nadia is searching for her identical twin sister (also played by Azabal) who mysteriously tries to avoid her.

The script contains a half-dozen interesting subplots involving promiscuity on the part of Nathan, bisexuality involving Sami, Islamic Orthodoxy involving one of the twins, and a turn to a form of voodoo in the hope of casting a spell on one of the principals.

The New York Times critic, Stephen Holden, gave the film a superb review. He wrote: “In “Changing Times,” Mr. Techine, the great French director, is near the peak of his form. Weaving a half dozen subplots, he creates a set of variations on the theme of divided sensibilities tugging one another into states of perpetual unrest and possible happiness.” And, “Much of the movie’s charm lies in its sheer vitality. Mr. Techine loves people and life, and every scene is filled with light, music, activity and a sensuous appreciation of landscape.”
I am sometimes disappointed by favorably reviewed films, but in this case I completely agree with The Times review. The film is well worth seeing. (In French and Arabic, with English subtitles.)

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