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Nashville Scene Pulp Affliction

"Go" is likable, but it's too Tarantino for its own good

By Donna Bowman, Noel Murray, and Jim Ridley

APRIL 19, 1999:  Go is a movie of the Tarantino Age, and it's well aware of its lineage. Its structure is clearly borrowed from Pulp Fiction, with three distinct storylines that overlap in time and incident. Its characters tell profanity-laden anecdotes about their sex lives, discuss "Family Circus," and play pop-culture games like "Dead Celebrities." All of Go's inhabitants are descendants of the slacker gangster-wannabes who get a visit from Vincent and Jules in the scenes that bracket Pulp Fiction--kids dabbling at the edges of the criminal lifestyle.

A movie that so openly embraces the Tarantino influence invites comparison with its godfather, and in that respect Go comes up short, although it's fairly brisk and entertaining on its own. Writer John August and director Doug Liman invest no emotional significance in their characters or stories, utilizing them as props for the "creative" elements of moviemaking--tricks with time, deadpan laughs, drug-inspired visuals. That's fine as long as the sensation lasts. But as the credits roll, anyone who's ever seen what passes for film-school product these days will recognize the true genre of Go--it's an audition for a bigger budget.

When it becomes obvious that nothing really intriguing is going to happen onscreen during these indie-style ensemble pictures, one strategy is to study their young, hip casts and look for flashes of future potential. Sarah Polley, in the role of Ronna, a supermarket cashier playing drug dealer for one night, stands out in Go's first segment. Ronna is at ground zero in the Hollywood survival wars, gaunt, desperate, suspicious, and reckless. Polley plays her without histrionics, even when she's cornered in a police sting or trapped by the dealer she cheated.

Taye Diggs, the island hunk from How Stella Got Her Groove Back, shows cool courage under fire in the second story, which recounts an ill-fated guys' night out in Vegas. He's got it together at some self-assured level beyond the stereotypical suave-black-man role that has been written for him. And in the third act, which ventures into weird, Todd Solondz middle-class territory, Jay Mohr and Scott Wolf act up a storm with an endless repertoire of confused looks. Even when the drugs, depravity, and movie-ish coincidences weigh Go down, there's solace to be found in the big-screen talents of its cast, many of whom are TV-trained.

But for Doug Liman, who got this Columbia gig on the strength of his debut independent film Swingers, the message isn't so comforting. Go lacks the sweetness, the character-driven wit, and the warm human energy of Swingers, shooting instead for a generic brand of faux-verit toughness. This suggests that Liman doesn't bring much of a point of view to the screenplays he's handed, and that the writers of his films are largely responsible for the tone. So if you're looking for the next Swingers--and who isn't?--give Jon Favreau a call. Doug Liman is too busy courting the studio moneymen.

--Donna Bowman


Setting a fictional story against the backdrop of well-known historical events can be a tawdry dramatic device. You often end up with people saying things like, "I've got tickets to the World Series, but some kid named Don Larsen is pitching for the Yankees, so I don't think I'll go," or "Honey, I'm off for my trip aboard The Titanic!" It's too easy to judge characters based upon what we know about the times in which they lived, and tougher to show history from a fresh perspective.

So credit the new film A Walk on the Moon for this: It takes us to a time and place so specific that it may qualify as unique. Set in August of 1969 (the month of the moonwalk referenced in the title), the story follows a New York City family on its annual summer vacation at an upstate woodland camp for Jewish families. Diane Lane plays a young matriarch, Pearl Kantrowitz, a woman in her early 30s dealing with a stifling family life and a rebellious 14-year-old daughter, played by Anna Paquin.

It's rare to see the turbulent '60s through the eyes of a woman tied down by family, but still young enough to want to taste the decade's new freedoms. That rarity is compounded by the film's distinctly ethnic locale. Even though A Walk on the Moon indulges Paquin's groan-inducing line, "There's a concert I want to go to just up the road...it was going to be at Woodstock but they moved it," the many reminiscences about the community of transplanted Brooklynites almost make up for the historical telegraphing.

Of course, the environment also makes for some weirdly discordant moments, especially when the movie becomes less of an evocative period piece and more of a weepy melodrama. The plot thickens when Lane is distracted by a traveling blouse salesman, a brooding hippie played by Viggo Mortensen, while Paquin is exploring her flowering womanhood with the help of a handy boychik. The tales of lost innocence and abandoned dreams collide at the aforementioned three days of peace, love, and music, where Paquin finds her mom writhing topless in Mortensen's arms. This leads to a series of heartfelt dialogues, while Uncle Morty walks by in flip-flops and the camp loudspeaker announces that "the knish man is on the premises."

This is both the oddity and the wonder of A Walk on the Moon--the little surprises that alternately delight and befuddle, as though the film could just as easily have been a farce, or a satire. Less whimsical is the film's faintly misogynistic tone. Lane's cuckolded husband--the fine, upright Liev Schreiber--is so noble and endearing that it makes Lane's fling seem callous and senseless. (The general drippiness of Mortensen's character doesn't help.)

Who dropped the ball here? The likely culprit would be first-time filmmaker Tony Goldwyn, but novice screenwriter Pamela Gray may also be to blame for selling out her gender and leaving Lane without any decent speeches to explain her stirrings. Wherever the fault lies, A Walk on the Moon's many mysteries and shadings are gradually washed away, drenched in flop sweat and crocodile tears. What should've been a film about two women's sexual and political awakenings becomes, instead, Schreiber's tale--"the girl that screwed me over." Now, there's a story that, for better or worse, is timeless.

--Noel Murray

Dance the night away

Tango, the new movie by veteran Spanish director Carlos Saura, was nominated for a best foreign film Oscar this year, but don't hold that against it. Visually ravishing and smartly composed, Saura's picture about the making of a tango movie is at once an exciting dance film, an aging director's poignant glance back at his career, a playful look at the process of getting a movie made, and a fond meditation on the theme of collaboration.

Saura's stand-in, the middle-aged director Mario Suarez (the charismatic Miguel Angel Sola), has lost his wife (Cecilia Narova) to another lover on the eve of his latest project, a tribute to the struggles of the Argentine people told through the moves of the sensuous, elegantly formal tango. Given the go-ahead by his backers, including a shady Argentine gangster, Suarez assembles a team of dancers and craftsmen on a huge soundstage bedecked with scrims and screens. At first the creative process is slow, but the director's imagination is sparked when he falls for a fiery young dancer, Elena (Mia Maestro). Trouble is, she's the mistress of his underworld backer.

As Suarez projects his visions--first onto the soundstage's screens, then onto ours--Saura plays sleight-of-hand tricks with mirrors, with fantasy sequences, with cameras that turn their gaze to the audience. As the rehearsals progress, the movie develops before our eyes, and the cleverly varied dance numbers advance both the plot and the characters' onscreen relationships. The movie's constant delight is in its various forms of creative partnership: the entwined bodies of lovers and dancers; the friendships of Suarez and his crew; the familiar glances among the seasoned players in a tango orchestra, who respond to one another's cues like longtime spouses.

Tango itself is an inspired collaboration among equal partners: Saura, his cast and choreographers, and especially composer Lalo Schifrin and master cinematographer Vittorio Storaro. As Saura returns to the passions of his early-'80s dance-musical trilogy (which includes the 1983 film Carmen), the Buenos Aires-born Schifrin responds with a delicate, angular score that's a far cry from his brassy American cop-movie soundtracks. And Storaro works magic, whether heightening emotion through sumptuous lighting and thematic use of color (e.g. a smoldering dance of jealousy bathed in green), or allowing a dancer's undulating silhouette to command a wide screen full of empty space. The cinematographer even gets to revisit his early triumphs with Bernardo Bertolucci, including Stefania Sandrelli and Dominique Sanda's sizzling duet from The Conformist.

Of course, having the guy who shot Last Tango in Paris on hand adds plenty of thematic and cinematic resonance, especially to a story about a middle-aged man's consuming love for a young woman. Sometimes Saura overindulges in these movie-fed games, as in the self-satisfied trick ending and a didactic penchant for explaining his method. But if you're looking for a wallow in visual enchantment and pleasures both basic and exotic--color, motion, music, glamour, romance--Tango is sheer sensual overload.

--Jim Ridley

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