The director of Mona Lisa, The Crying Game and The End of the Affair (let's for a moment forget Interview With the Vampire) has teamed up with the star of The Prince of Tides and Affliction to update Jean Pierre Melville's 1955 French New Wave classic, Bob Le Flambeur. Talk about a vicious cycle; here's a movie that's an homage to a film heralding the New Wave, which in itself was inspired by the American gangster and film noir classics of the '40s and '50s. One can get dizzy from all of this derivative folly.
But not with Jordan and Nolte, who have a sure grip on everything as they chart the life of the lovable loser of a gambler Bob, whose had good and bad luck batting his addictions to drugs and gambling (which feel like one in the same here). And, in the grand old style of the heist movie, Bob is presented with one last chance for the Big Score, and dives head first into the scheme fully aware of the consequences. As he groans to the heist's pitchman, Raoul (Gerard Darmon), "I'm out of dope, I'm out of luck, and I'm tempted. I don't want to wind up in a home." C'est la vie.
Whereas Melville used Bob Le Flambeur to celebrate the cool of Montmarte's nightlife -- with its neon signs blurred by so much cigarette smoke -- Jordan updates the story by moving everything to Monte Carlo and its contemporary polyglot of expatriate Americans, fortune-seeking Brits and refugees from eastern Europe and the Middle East. If you didn't know any better, you'd think you'd stumbled into a municipal version of Rick's American Cafe.
Philip Seymour Hoffman is a prisoner of a different sort in Todd Louiso's clunky though sometimes endearing Love Liza. Hoffman's a lost soul, all right, but his only demon is grief; his wife has killed herself and left nothing behind but unreachable memories and a suicide note. Hoffman, one of the greatest young actors going, has almost always struck a note of mischief in his work, but here must become uncomfortably numb. It's a tough trick, but if anyone can do it, chubby old Hoffman can.
Louiso deserves credit for taking a different take on grief and loss here, gamely avoiding Big Scenes and buckets of tears, but sometimes it feels like the film's biggest strength is also its biggest weakness. The fault may lie in the script, penned by Hoffman's brother Gordy, who trades in sentimentalism for desolation. Everywhere Wilson, the widower, looks, he is being robbed and abandoned -- of material possessions, of feeling, of direction. He cannot bring himself to open the letter, which of course brings with a mystery whose solving can never satisfy, so he crawls inside the fumes of a gas-soaked rag for comfort.
Kathy Bates wrings what she can out her role as Wilson's mother-in-law, who's much more ready to grieve and confront her issues than Wilson is. In all, Love Liza is like grief itself: numbing, clunky and ill-fitting. Maybe that's why it's sometimes a tough row to hoe.
A decidedly more upbeat vibe can be found in Martyn Atkins' 2001 IMAX film, ALL ACCESS: Front Row. Backstage. Live!, which tries to give a no-holds-barred view of some of popular music's biggest stars in all the settings of the film's title.
Atkins bites off more than he can chew considering his the sheer number of artists featured: Sting, George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic (with Mary J. Blige), Kid Rock, Sheryl Crow, Macy Gray, B.B. King and Trey Anastasio with The Roots, Carlos Santana and Rob Thomas, Al Green and the Dave Matthews Band, and Moby. Despite rock-critic big shot Anthony DeCurtis conducting interviews, virtually none of the artists have anything refreshing to say.
And Atkins maybe realized what all of us probably already knew: there's not a whole of visual splendor in watching beer-gutted roadies folding up chairs, or sweeping up trash. The fun here, as always, is in the music itself, and here Atkins' camera is at its best up close and personal or with panning overhead shots -- even if a bit cliched with tossed-in time-lapse sequences or mirror-image moments. Surprisingly, the highlights come watching Kid Rock making his entrance, and King and Anastasio playfully trading guitar leads with The Roots serving as laid-back middlemen. Consider it a kinder, gentler and cooler way to celebrate Jazz Fest.