From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Media Watch: Oscar-nominated ‘Crouching Tiger’ offers rich visuals; plus, a visit to the video store

by Father Tom Caswell, for the Inland Register

(From the March 22, 2001 edition of the Inland Register)

Every now and then a reader will suggest that I review more videos that are now available to rent. Recently I saw a video that has been out for several months. Its name is Return to Me and is found in “romantic comedy” section.

Another plus for older viewers is that it is in the tradition of romantic comedies of the 1930s and 1940s. It has the feel of a Tracy and Hepburn comedy. Also, I can almost guarantee you will laugh out loud.

Bob Rutland (David Duchovny) is married to a doctor at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago who seeks to build a new section of the zoo for her favorite gorilla, Sidney. Bob and his wife Elizabeth are deeply in love. After a benefit party for the new project, a terrible car accident results in the death of Elizabeth. Her heart is passed on to the next available recipient, who is Grace Briggs (Minnie Driver), a 30-year-old waitress at an Irish-Italian restaurant in Chicago.

Rutland is shattered by the death of his wife. Depressed and discouraged, he does everything in his power as an architect to see that his wife’s dream comes to fruition.

Meanwhile, Briggs begins a new life. But she fears the scars where the surgery took place will turn off any man she might fall in love with. She lives in an almost idyllic Norman Rockwell setting with an extended family of characters. Her closest family member is Grandpa, played by Carroll O’Connor. Everyone is trying to set her up with a possible future husband.

A year or so later Rutland’s friend Charlie is also trying to provide blind dates for his still-grieving co-worker. Most of the attempts end in humorous disaster. But one night — you guessed it: the attempted hook-up takes place at O’Reilly’s Italian Restaurant. The waitress is none other than Briggs, who is immediately attracted to Rutland. As they meet, Rutland’s blind date is particularity obnoxious about ordering bottled water that cannot come from Switzerland. Waitress Briggs’ handling of the situation is hilarious. She gets even with the woman by dumping the water out of a bottle of Italian water and filling the empty bottle with tap water. The rude customer waxes eloquently how her Italian water is perfect.

Leaving his cellular phone at the restaurant, Rutland comes back to begin a relationship with Briggs and all of her extended family. For many, this courting section of the movie will prove irresistible. Whether it is bowling or a visit to the zoo, Briggs and Rutland slowly fall in love.

The climax of the film, which involves Briggs leaving the country, centers on the realization that her new heart was the heart of Rutland’s first wife, Elizabeth. The plot may sound a bit hokey. However, it works like a charm. Between laughter and tears many a viewer will enjoy the fable-like story of Return to Me.

The ensemble cast, which includes Robert Loggia, James Belushi, and Bonnie Hunt (who also directed) is outstanding. The one cast member who grated was Carroll O’Connor. He played the Irish grandfather role way over-the-top. But don’t let this one weakness stop you from seeing this delightful movie.

Be ready to fast forward at the beginning of the film. There are four commercials on the videotape, including one for a dish washing detergent plus seven movie related commercials. This viewer says “Stop!” This is too much.

Return to Me is rated PG. The James Belushi character uses colorful language.

*****

Standing in line for Sony Pictures Classics’ Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, I heard a young couple ask if the film had subtitles. The ticket seller responded that it did have subtitles and as a result the couple decided to go see Saving Silverman. My guess is they would have been very happy with Crouching Tiger.

Many Americans do not like subtitles. However, Ang Lee’s monumental Chinese film is inherently a visual film. You could completely ignore the plot and still totally enjoy the eye-popping splendor of this Academy Award-nominated film. It is actually nominated for Best Picture and Best Foreign Language film, plus eight other categories.

The first 20 minutes or so of Crouching Tiger set up an Eastern version of an Arthurian legend combined with romance and martial arts. So it does help to read a few subtitles if you want to go with the story. However, after about a half-hour or so the incredible martial arts sequences begin and keep getting better until the movie dramatically finishes.

To be honest, I’m not sure I have ever been to a real martial-arts film. This film expands the genre to a ballet-like experience of the possibilities of human physical movement. This movie is made for people not drawn to a martial-arts film, just as those in the know about this style of film will likewise find this movie an extraordinary experience.

Chow Yun-Fat, who recently appeared in Anna and the King, is a warrior in 19th-century China. His compatriot and eventual love is Michelle Yeoh. Chow has decided to give up a sacred sword. The sword is later stolen and the result is a conflict between the two principals and a stunning young actress by the name of Zhang Ziyi.

The absolute delight of the movie is its action sequences, which were choreographed by Yuen Wo-Ping, who also did The Matrix. Gravity seems to disappear as we see warrior women and knights and bandits lyrically dance across roofs to the tops of giant trees.

The stand-out scenery of China is memorable. Tim Yip gives us incredible art direction as Peter Pau supplies picture-postcard scenes with rich cinematography.

But it is director Ang Lee who must be given the credit for taking on a movie which stretches the possibility of what we can see on film. Time and time again I couldn’t help but wonder how a sequence was filmed. At the same time that thought did not distract from the romance and wonder of the film.

In all honesty it would not be hard for a comic writer on the old Carol Burnett Show or today’s Saturday Night Live to do a laugh-filled spoof of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Be that as it may, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon in my book is the best film of the year. And this is one year that I’ve been able to see all five nominees.

My final note is that this film is definitely one that should be seen if possible on the large movie screen. It will lose much of its visual power on video.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned). There is martial-arts violence and some sexuality.

(Father Caswell is pastor of St. Rose of Lima Parish, Cheney, and Ecumenical Relations Officer for the Diocese of Spokane.)


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