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Laurel Canyon
Yet More Proof that Only the Very Lame Play Travel Scrabble

Wrt./Dir. Lisa Cholodenko
Str. Frances McDormand, Christian Bale, Kate Beckinsale, Alessandro Nivola
Opens March 7th

So it's that season again. For the last three months we've been embroiled in the passion and grandiosity of the Oscar season, but as the fateful day approaches when all will be laid bare and not one shocking underdog will arise as the cinematic champion of 2002 we are exposed to Oscar's ugly stepsister, let's call her Velma. The Velma's are all the movies that just didn't quite make the Oscar cut. They're dramatic, and heartfelt and well acted and beautifully written, and artfully directed (or at least two of those five), but they just didn't make it Perhaps they were too dramatic, or over-the-top artful, or just plain boring. Whatever it was, the studios knew they couldn't compete with the serious contenders, and so opted to show them a few months later, amidst the Valentine's Day romantic comedies, and the impending slurries of spring-break-jock-sex-fests. The Velmas are the only things out there that are good for those of you that have already seen all the 'best' movies from last year.

Now, not all Velmas are doomed though. Fargo for example is the movie equivalent of the tale of The Ugly Duckling. Fargo came out in March of 1996, the dead-zone of movie, everyone loved it, but everyone knew it was doomed. Then it walked away with two very impressive Oscars (original screenplay and actress, Francis McDormand) and a host of nomination (best picture, best director, etc). So I guess not all is lost for the Laurel Canyons and the Spiders and such. Just don't hold your breath.

Free Williamsburg
Film Archive


Laurel Canyon

Ordinary Sinner
Dark Blue
The Quiet American


Hell House
Good Housekeeping
Roger Dodger
Spirited Away
Punch-Drunk Love
Bowling For Columbine
Scarlet Diva
Full Frontal
Sex and Lucia
The Powerpuff Girls Movie
Read My Lips (Sur Mes Levres)
The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys
Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones
Human Nature
Shot in the Heart
Jim Brown: All American
Stolen Summer
Ram Dass: Fierce Grace

All that being said Laurel Canyon has very quickly jumped out into the forefront of the movies for this year, led by one of the tightest ensemble performances I've seen in a decade, and with superb writing and seamless directing, this movie out strips a fair number of the 'best' pictures from last year.

So why, you ask, was it not released in December? Well, my young chap, Laurel Canyon falls short only in that it moves rather slowly and explores a subject that is so simple on the surface and so familiar to us all that it comes across as almost boring. This is not really a short coming, mind you, there is a depth to Laurel Canyon, and a brilliance to its method of revealing that depth that boggles the mind. But this is why the movie was cast out among the Velmas. While it is exquisitely made and acted, it doesn't have a hell of a lot of appeal. Well… there are a couple of scenes with Kate Beckinsale and Francis McDormand sort of getting it on (how in the hell can Francis McDormand still be sexy!? I don't get it, she is so damned hot!), and you do get to see Christian Bale doing laps in a very tight bathing suit, so it's not all purely cerebral. However, the movie is slow and deliberate and meditative. No one considers suicide, no one kills their husband, no one tries to take back the streets of New York City from Daniel Day Lewis (winner of most absurd moustache). Laurel Canyon just didn't make the cut. But it is definitely well worth the trip.

The Ratings

Three Dames Judy Dench for acting

If the acting in Laurel Canyon weren't as amazing as it is, this movie would be awful. It goes beyond being simply character driven -- the movie is directed entirely by how each of its characters interacts. And if every one of those interactions weren't perfectly done the entire affair would fall flat.

Two very hot boys

So there's Christian Bale, of course, and I know you're all like "Oh My God! Is he like the hottest thing in the whole world or what?" But there's also this other British guy, Alessandro Nivola, whose not that hot, but damn is he sexy; in the way that a beefy car mechanic whose read Tolstoy is sexy. Actually there's lots of general all around sexy behavior going on throughout this thing. Did I mention that Kate Beckensale does a strip tease?

One Michael J. Fox

At first Laurel Canyon reads a little too much like a rehash of an old Family Ties episode. Uppity working-world son collides with his hippie life-loving mother, and antics arise, and craziness ensues. It was funny in the eighties, now it's eerily depressing. Although there's a lot more pot in Laurel Canyon that there ever was in Family Ties.

Three hipsters, lost in L.A.

There's a lot more going for this movie than there is going against it. And it's very nice to see that Christian Bale has managed to escape from Reign Of Fire career intact. Just go see it, dammit.

--B.C. Edwards
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[email protected] | March 2003 | Issue 36
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