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Fallen Angels, Mr. Jealousy, Mulan.

By Ray Pride, Ellen Fox

JUNE 22, 1998: 

Fallen Angels

While watching "Fallen Angels," Wong Kar-Wai's 1995 film that followed "Chungking Express," for a second time, I was less taken with it than last year's "Happy Together." But in the week since, the components that seemed provisional and merely experimental have congealed as spectacular loneliness, a vision of night as limitless gulf. There are scenes in this minimalist Hong Kong pop opera with the expected agreeable Wong shaggy-dog character, and the almost exclusive use of wide-angle lenses adds a dramatic level of disorientation. Like most of Wong's work, much of the story, drawn from leftover storylines from "Chungking Express," requires voice-over to provide any kind of cohesion to its absurd tales of a female fixer in love with her hitman she's never met, and a second strand about a mute-by-choice young man who harangues passersby in the night market and an insecure woman who stalks him. But forget story - Wong has. Relish instead the warm feeling that comes from the grimy, subtropical murk and the splendid chaos, the camera's tender caress of full red lips or embrace of a jet of cigarette smoke above a jukebox. Many great stills followed by a final shot of perfection: all has led to this transient happy moment, this coupling, this glimpse of a violently vertical city by night from the back of a motorcycle traveling at top speed. (Ray Pride)


Mr. Jealousy

Noah Baumbach's second feature, "Mr. Jealousy," is less successful than his unusually sly post-collegiate comedy "Kicking and Screaming," yet its story of ultra-chatty New York pals past thirty who can't get their romantic lives in order is never less than charming. The central story is Lester's, played by Eric Stoltz in his familiar laid-back manner; his jealousy toward his diffident new girlfriend Ramona (Annabella Sciorra) motors the plot. Baumbach's narration atop his amalgam of screwball comedy, Woody Allen- and Seinfeld-isms masks a number of pacing problems, yet when Lester gets his greatest rival, we see what the movie might have been. When sulky, snarky Chris Eigeman, from Whit Stillman's movies (including the current "Last Days of Disco") and "Kicking," appears as Dashiell, a zeitgeisty novelist, you suddenly wonder what knack of finance kept Baumbach from casting Eigeman and Stoltz in opposite roles. Eigeman knows how to underplay a joke or elongate a punchline's punch. "That's something I learned from Whit," Eigeman says in his rapid cadence. "He instilled the notion of having the confidence to hide the joke. Don't lay the joke out there; it won't be reacted to as well. No one will have discovered it. Hide it a little , screw around with it a little. It's a blessing until I get traditional comedy scripts and it's a very bad fit. I go and do what I do and hope to bring a little personality to it and they get this stunned look in their eyes like, 'What the hell is he doing?'" So what kind of scripts did Eigeman see after his debut in Stillman's "Metropolitan"? "The overly erudite preppy guy who can wear a tuxedo and maybe drink a martini that something really bad is going to happen to and we're going to root for the bad thing, we're going to cheer where he gets tortured ruthlessly and finally killed. Y'know, that's not the long game of career building. I have no interest in being the young Tony Randall, even though he's a great actor. Hollywood never knew what to do with him. So I'll play fewer cards." Commercials have kept Eigeman afloat. "I'm grateful to Pacific Bell, oddly enough, for being their spokesperson for two years. To have a public utility saying, 'No, no, we think he's funny, he's not just abrasive,' well, that's great. People find me abrasive. But I believe in bringing something to the table. Y'know?" (Ray Pride)


Mulan

Directed by Barry Cook and Tony Bancroft. As a little girl, I might not have had much patience for Disney's latest batch of good intentions, the animated legend of a girl named Mulan - a Chinese Joan of Arc - who bobs her hair and dons military garb to defend her homeland against hordes of marauding Huns. But kids nowadays are a lot more hip, with female basketball stars being such super role models, so perhaps they'll be as enthralled as I was by this Claire Danes-ish heroine, who in the patently didactic first scene fails at being a marriageable cherry blossom. But even if Snow White's come a long way, baby, the fact remains: it's tough to jazz up an Asian land war, especially one waged against nightmare-inducing green-gray-faced hulks. The tunes are weak, less rollicking than just plain rock 'n' roll, and don't measure up to Disney show stoppers like "Under the Sea." A couple laughs come courtesy of the world's absolutely cutest little black-eyed cricket and a sassy, pint-sized dragon whose Eddie Murphy-ish antics I initially found offensive until I recognized the voice of Murphy himself. But if "Mulan" flounders a bit on the children's front, it thoroughly won me over as an adult. Appealing slightly more to the head than to the heart, "Mulan"'s inspiration owes less to Brothers Grimm than to Shakespearean gender-fucks and the modern fetish for little ass-kicking Japanimated fighter-girls. Particularly daring is the way our cross-dressing heroine wins the admiration of her hunky captain as a man, and there's always the delicious threat of discovery. The film's biggest triumph of animation isn't the silkscreen-inspired decors of salmon and turquoise, the poetry of the Asian-styled backdrops, or even the breathless vision of the computerized hordes rolling like locusts over a snowy mountainside. It's the way Mulan's silky black curtain of hair swoops and swings with the genuine heaviness of real Asian hair. Whether she's doing a little "Pillow Book"-ish writing on the body or slipping away from a skinny-dip gone sour, Mulan's precisely the kind of cartoon-girl that will leave grown-up boys sighing. (Ellen Fox)


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