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Mulan

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I realize a lot of people out there don’t go see “cartoons” thinking they’re for kids, but anyone reading this who still thinks that in the New Disney Renaissance has obviously not been keeping up. (Side note: All those Bugs Bunny cartoons are for adults too) After The Lion King, Disney pumped out the embarrassingly vapid and honkified Pocahontas, and then the unfairly lambasted Hunchback of Notre Dame and Hercules gave all the appearances that Disney was losing its touch. Without going into a diatribe about the virtues of Hercules and Hunchback (see old reviews), I want to say to you now – Mulan is really excellent.

My only gripe is the obnoxious perma-bend to commercialism that Disney feels it needs in order to keep its world-famous animation department going – the hideous pop-radio-ready song. Mulan’s greatest crime is attempting – at the VERY end – to insert this into an otherwise beautiful, elegant classic. It’s only a couple of minutes, though, and by then Mulan has won you over.

Ming-Na Wen (of ER and The Single Guy, oh and the Joy Luck Club) voices Mulan, a legendary Chinese character who saves China to defend her family’s honor. In this era of Riot Grrrls and Girl Power, she’s timely, but she also still believably exists in the strict patriarchal society of ancient China. She doesn’t do her own singing, but Lea Salonga vocally matches her nicely. The vocal cast is kind of bizarre – B.D. Wong and Harvey Fierstein and Eddie Murphy, Miguel Ferrer (as chilling Shan-Yu, leader of the Huns), Pat Morita, and George Takei, among others. B.D. Wong’s singing is taken care of by Donny Osmond. Yes, that Donny Osmond. But he’s not a little bit country or a little bit rock and roll – he sounds great – all that Technicolor Dreamcoat stuff, you know.

The songs are by Matthew “Breaka My Stride” Wilder, (who sings Ling) and score by Jerry Goldsmith, and it’s nice, pleasant, exciting when it needs to be, but not remarkable. Alan Menken is still the reigning king of toe-tapping Disney musicals. I was pleased that there was a minimum of precious sidekick character comedy relief moments – most of the comedy is handled by the human characters. Mushu the little dragon guardian (Eddie Murphy), whose exaggerated ethnicity is jarringly out of place in Hun-plagued China, but he is not as abrasive as one would expect.

The biggest joy of Mulan is the animation. A picky anime fan friend of mine appreciated the smoothness and the flow, which I deemed a great compliment coming from a Disney detractor. I loved the graceful lines, the amazing vistas and the judicious use of airbrushing. The computer generated stuff is obvious just in that there is no way it was done by hand, but it blends elegantly. Elegant is the word I would use for the whole movie – woo, and I did a few paragraphs ago – how sloppy of me! You may have seen a shot from the preview where her face is reflected in a sword and the sword is moving – you can see tiny details like a reflection dancing over moving metal, wispy cherry blossoms and cloud-covered mountains – oooh it’s very pretty! The last 3rd of the movie is all huge Ben-Hur scale visuals – wow!!!

It’s sweeping and epic and entertaining and it’s actually a full 90 minutes, packed with plot and action. Sheng, the captain of her soldiers, is WOOF hunky while Mulan is slim, androgynous, but never unfeminine inside.

MPAA Rating G
Release date 6/29/98
Time in minutes 87
Director Tony Bancroft, Barry Cook
Studio Walt Disney

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Wilde

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I don’t tend to see a lot of biopics, but generally they set a tone and stand by it – director Brian Gilbert does no such thing, and I think it made this story of the rise and fall of Oscar Wilde even more interesting. Stephen Fry, of Peter’s Friends and Cold Comfort Farm, and more, is wonderful as Wilde. He manages to pull off the gentility and the distress and the longing that defined Wilde’s life and the discovery of his homosexuality with amazing flair. Fry is really always very very good (even in Spice World!) but this role is really demanding. From revered and loving husband to humiliated prisoner, Fry is fully there and he’s just great. What I mean by an inconsistent tone, I mean that the audience sits back and watches – merry times are handled merrily, grave times handled gravely, with no concern about audience opinion. This is not a bad thing.

Jude Law fans (all 6 of us) will be sad to see how unlikeable Law’s role is as Lord Alfred, aka Bosie. It’s kind of shocking how the American youth and beauty culture is so (unintentionally?) slyly played with in Wilde – Americans automatically favor the lovely, but that gets turned terribly on its ear. Another standout is the character Robbie Ross, played by Michael Sheen (no relation) – he is really marvelous.

I knew almost nothing about Oscar Wilde going into the theatre, and I feel I have met him now. I admire the one play of his I have seen or read, the Importance of Being Ernest, and contrasting his light, verbose comedies with the actuality of his life is a sweet piece of subtext. His wife, Constance, (Jennifer Ehle), I would have liked to see more of, but she is peripheral to the film just as she was peripheral to Wilde’s true inner life.

The film spans a great many years in Wilde’s life, which is only really traceable through costume and the ages of his children. At times it seems to whisk along without really delving into anything, but it does not feel superficial. I must warn the inevitable homophobes out there, the love scenes can be a little much for your intolerant hearts. I thought they were very sweet and honest, but I am sure the frat contingency (and that is SUCH the demographic Wilde is shooting for!) will shuffle uncomfortably in their seats.

It’s a very interesting movie, and I recommend it highly – it would be a lovely evening to see a Wilde play as well as the film, and think about what it cost Oscar to commit those words to paper and to live the life he lived. I am grateful that he was not lost to literature, as he fears in the film.

MPAA Rating R for strong sexuality and language.
Release date 6/29/98
Time in minutes 115
Director Brian Gilbert
Studio Sony Pictures Classics

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X Files : Fight the Future

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Sundays at 9, 8 Central.

“That’s not a rating!” my readers cry out. “That’s when the show is on.” Exactly my point, my friends, exactly. With 60 million dollars, all I ask for my hard earned $6.75 is to get something more than I get on the show – either in plot revelation, character development, special effects, SOMETHING. I was disappointed. One of my party was not a viewer of the show, and he found the movie compelling. I have watched sporadically for about 2 years, and I fell asleep 3 times. Once during a chase scene.

It starts out well, with some amusing banter meant to introduce the characters to any X virgins, and I looked forward to a Star Trek: The Movie style inside joke fest laced with plot. Nope! I hoped for expensive stuff, and I got seven helicopters and some non-Vancouver locations, but basically nothing else. Chris Carter has been promising questions answered, characters developed – but after carefully absorbing the last 3 episodes of the series, nothing from those episodes was even addressed. No Mimi Rogers character, no followup, just some new stuff introduced and left untied, just like an average episode. No sewn-eyed freaky people, no Krychek – what the hell am I sitting here in this theatre, I could be seeing Clockwatchers!

So, I guess if you are a fan, you should go, because I’m sure in the grand scheme of things people who miss this special 2 1/2 hr episode will miss some important information if they miss the movie. The biggest laugh I got was the four of us simultaneously squeaking “I made this” when the Ten Thirteen logo came up, and when my seatmate asked if I would explain the plot as the movie went along. I would also like to (sarcastically) thank Hollywood for again making Texas look like a crappy, flat, vile place where you can see Dallas from Amarillo.

HERE IS THE PART THAT GIVES AWAY PLOT. I am forgoing my rule for this movie – so stop now if you actually expect to be surprised by the film. I am trying to be oblique here, just in case you can’t help it.
OK, an average episode, one hour, crammed with interesting stuff. This movie, not even crammed with an hour’s worth. Realism blown out of the window – why would agents be blamed for a terrorist’s actions? How could all this stuff occur and no one see it – reconnaissance planes, entomologists, seismologists, neighbors? Then the amazing derivativeness of the 3rd reel – after the impressive amount of innovation in the series, how can they rip off so many movies in such a short period of time. The show is not holy to me by any stretch, but I had hoped that the limitations imposed by the small screen would be eliminated by a bigger budget, bigger scope, bigger medium. No such luck.

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 6/19/98
Time in minutes 117
Director Rob Bowman
Studio 20th Century Fox

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Six Days, Seven Nights

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Director Ivan Reitman is known for making really great movies (Ghostbusters, Dave) and really dreadful movies (Junior, Father’s Day), but basically he’s as good as his script. With one of Hollywood’s most prominent leading hunks and one of Hollywood’s most prominent leading lesbians, Reitman just needed the palette to paint them with. Fortunately for all of us in the audience, by and large, Michael Browning’s script is old school classic screwball adventure romance.

To dispense with the must-answer question, Anne Heche is a sultry heterosexual character, and her chemistry with Harrison Ford is really great. ‘Nuff said. Ford and Heche have one of those old-school Cary Grant character-driven movie kind of relationships, bickering, witty banter, and finally, a genuine affection born out of more than just sexual tension or trauma. It’s totally refreshing. Much as I have enjoyed some movie couples in the past year or so, these two really built something in the 2 hrs they had me in the theatre.

You’ll notice my compliment to the script was tempered by a “by and large,” and I don’t recommend the movie at full price. The main impediments the movie faces is demanding too much of the world we live in – there are some modern pirates and a MacGyver/A-Team kind of construction sequence that just seems a bit much – but they are enjoyable none the less. Best of all are our leads, though, and the great, snippy dialogue. It’s fun. The age difference is dealt with in the script and it’s OK, really.

Ford is at least 400 years old and he has still got it. I know he wants to get out of leading man into character work, but damn, Harry, you fly your own planes (for real) and you can still pull of fgoing shirtless. Heche has her highbeams on the whole movie (oh! turkey’s ready!) and she is working that sleeveless tropical charm and sexy woman-surviving angle. Yeah, sure, her eyeshadow is perfect at all times, but at least it’s the natural look. Heche grows from whiny helpless tourist into a useful member of a team, and Ford softens into a more sympathetic guy. Back “home” at Macatea, their significant others divert us with their own funny dance. On Gilligan’s Isle, the sexual tension starts and grows, a nice, easy slow burn but it’s palpable and totally viscerally believable.

Reportedly the shoot was a blast for all concerned, and it comes off on the actors – we have a great time because they are. Seems like lately, actors (Demi Moore more than anyone) don’t feel like they are really working unless they are miserable, and we can see it. Ick. But anyway, I dug it. I didn’t even take all that many notes because it was such a fun ride. It stretches plausibility at times, but its OK. It’s the movies. It’s Hollywood back when starlets wore cat-eye glasses and leopard coats, and the men still opened the car door for them. It’s a good date movie.

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 6/17/98
Time in minutes 101
Director Ivan Reitman
Studio Buena Vista Pictures

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Can't Hardly Wait

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Understand, I am in my mid-late 20’s, a child of the 80’s in its purest distilled form. I fear the huge jeans and the tattoos and the piercing going on in today’s 3rd grade classroom. Dawson’s Creek is….well, jeez. So even as I feared this movie, something in the preview called me. It was the ghost of 16 Candles, the voice of Ferris Bueller, the what-the-f*&k attitude of Risky Business, the inter-clique fishbowl of The Breakfast Club, the star crossed romance of Valley Girl, the conformity pressure of Pretty in Pink, the devil-may care school of filmmaking displayed in Better Off Dead. And that, my friends, is a good thing. It doesn’t plagiarize, it doesn’t retread – it’s definitely got the new cliques of today, the issues, the wardrobe, but it takes the spirit of the 2nd teen movie renaissance (after the one in the early 60’s which frankly scares the crap out of me) and revives it.

I totally loved this movie. My group was aged 28-33, and we laughed, roared, bust a gut laughing, the whole movie. The other audience members, fingering their shiny new driver’s licenses, were silent. I don’t get it. I loved everyone in the movie, every word was great, the story was cool, the acting was truly phenomenal (even Jennifer Love Hewitt and her breasts were OK). Standout performance was Seth Green, as the hip hop boy Kenny. He was in Can’t Buy Me Love, which I have not seen, but now I will. He was exceptional. Seriously. I saw him loping on screen with his honky homies and I rolled my eyes, thinking, here’s the weird comic relief, but his performance was nuanced and real and just fabulous. Just go see it!

Ethan Embry, our ostensible male lead, loves Jennifer Love Hewitt – of course we want them to get together but doubt they will. But what a sweet journey. His yearning for her is neither hackneyed nor blind, and she has actual worthiness for his attention (unlike Blair from Pretty in Pink!). Look out John Cusack, a new Lloyd Dobler is rolling down the block! Embry was The Bass Player in That Thing You Do and the charming Squirrel in Dancer TX – I am a big fan!!!!! Two other Dancer boys are in this movie – can you spot them? Charlie Korsmo is the requisite geek who penetrates the cool party – his scenes are a RIOT. Peter Facinelli channels early, Porsche-stealing Tom Cruise effortlessly. You’d never guess it, really, but the whole movie was just a total gas! I am going to own it. Come over and watch it!*

Writer/directors Harry Elfont and Deborah Kaplan (of the Brady movies, surprisingly decent films in and of themselves) have really got a sense of youth and the weirdness of the interactions in the most charged time of a person’s life. Remember how in touch John Hughes used to be? This is them. They have got it. The saddest part is that they had to cut a bunch of stuff, even an entire character, to squeak down from an R rating to a PG-13 – a real shame. I hope they release a “director’s cut” when the DVD comes out. What I have noticed, talking to people who have seen it, is that it seems more geared toward “my” generation than the one it’s about – I know these kids today wearing 4″ inflatable sandals have no idea who Yaz is! So the music keeps my friends from getting alienated, but the people are all real. I totally loved it, every bit – there’s a scene with Seth Green and Lauren Ambrose (who is she? she’s great!) that is just…oh man, I hate my rule of not giving anything away. But it’s very natural and good and real. And it’s comforting to think that the high schoolers of today aren’t as different as I thought they were, just because they can fit a Buick in their pants.

Go see it.

*Invitation not valid in most states.

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 6/12/98
Time in minutes 101
Director Harry Elfont and Deborah Kaplan
Studio Columbia Pictures

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The Truman Show

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I need to start this review differently. The movie that started me doing this review bit, the movie that made me sit down and say, “please trust me, see this movie even if you don’t want to,” was Liar Liar. March 23, 1997, I implored a couple dozen friends to see Jim Carrey in a way they may not have before, and I still hold that it is the best textbook movie to see Jim Carrey do what he is famous for without it distracting from the movie – indeed, every movement serves the film’s premise. Now, having seen the Truman Show, I again reach out to my gentle readers (125 email subscribers and 2 websites) and say, please, give Jim a chance. I know it’s a good movie when I want to write a term paper on it – and I’m not in school!

Unless you have been under a rock, you have seen all the expectation-raising hype surrounding this, the “film of the year,” and you have probably heard that it is a departure from Carrey’s usual broad comedy. My expectations were high – “Dazzle me now!” I thought, as I took my seat. At a sparse 100 minutes, The Truman show had to cram a lot in to be “movie of the year.” I, personally, was not disappointed. The conceit of the movie is that 30-yr. old Truman Burbank (Carrey) has been, unbeknownst to him, the star of a live worldwide broadcast of his life from before he was born. Everything around him is fiction and the show’s creator/producer/director, Christof (Ed Harris) makes it all happen. Ed is great, end of story.

I already know some people are saying, “Well, look how Jim is acting, he’s all game-show hosty.” Nature vs. Nurture here. Someone raised by people who auditioned to be his acquaintances, who push him into poses for product placement and constantly play to cameras unseen by him, that someone is going to have a showy flair about him because he will have been supported in that kind of telegenic behavior. Surrounded by a fakeness masquerading as real, Truman will be reality (all he knows, all any of us know, is our own perception of reality) unwittingly masquerading as show business. The concept is intriguing, and it brings up lots of big and little what-ifs: How do you deal with his sexual partners, since they are acting and he is really feeling? What if he wants to take a trip? What if he talks to the wrong person, someone who’s not SAG-eligible? Lots of questions have been popping in my head as I eagerly anticipated the show. A great majority of them were answered – yet there is no patness to the film, no bland flat set up and knock down of information.

The screenplay, which, did I mention, I love, is by Andrew Niccol, who wrote another script I love, Gattaca. Peter Weir, director of The Year of Living Dangerously and Witness, is no stranger to humanity and the sort of meta-life that people who are not what they seem have to live. The people in Truman’s life live there full time, but it’s a job. They are on stage 24 hrs a day, and Truman is just living his life. Eventually, the seams were bound to crack a little, and so they do. It’s really grand. The grand scope alone of this kind of production (leading in the ratings the world over – hopefully with a time delay in Japan so they don’t just watch him sleep all day) is fascinating, and totally beautifully executed. I just jotted down items I didn’t want to forget, like a Free Truman rally (out in the Real World). This movie is COOL. Even moments of personal reflection are opportunities to dissolve to flashback footage. Mmmm!

A personal rant: The production design on this movie is the best I have seen in….like forever. Maybe since Silence of the Lambs – well, OK, and Gattaca, but with LOTS more detail. Hollywood, I am talking to you: HIRE DENNIS GASSNER. Dennis, I am talking to you: HIRE ME. He has a palette of plaid, which may be some elaborate backstage joke, but it’s great. The little things, all the Travel Agency posters dissuading travel, the delicious little knickknacks all memorializing a fictional world and completely de-emphasizing the real world beyond. It’s a parageographical paradise. The lighting is terrific – it’s full-bodied and network TV sitcom-lit somehow but totally natural looking. Naturally Truman does not have a camera crew following him around with silks and bounce cards and stuff but the camera angles take care of that – plus of course, the world’s a soundstage, with electronically controlled lights – just beef up the sun to his west and take the glare off his south side. Did I mention the production design/art direction/set dressing rocks? I am going to see it again just to look at everything I missed. I LOVE it. Perfect irony – the fallen “star” (a 2K fresnel) was Sirius. When you see it, you will get it.

OK back to you normal people. The short narrative (and I read about scenes that I guess got cut – even some from the television previews) has amazing scope – great economy of writing and use of showing not telling. Go Andrew! Director of Photography Peter Biziou had quite a challenge capturing real world footage (a whole bar dedicated to Trumania), TV show footage as seen by the audience, and then “on set” photography which lets us the film audience just be invisible ciphers on the set of the Truman Show. We can see the awkward asides that Truman’s wife, played by Laura Linney, gives to her unseen audience. We can cut back to what they are supposed to see. Plus we can get a good idea of what it must be like to work at Disneyworld. My favorite shot is the extras, holding a freeze in 1st position, all hidden earpieces waiting for the Big Cue.

Now Jim. Jim proved he had serious acting chops before he was Ace Ventura, in the Fox TV movie Doing Time on Maple Drive. He could be dark in The Cable Guy, all warm and full of heart in Liar Liar, and of course, friggin hilarious. Even if we laughed at his antics alone with a bowl of vanilla mellorine and told no one of our secret glee, we laughed. It’s OK to admit it. Carrey here has to carry a film in a way he hasn’t before – he’s a man who believes he is losing his mind, and acts accordingly, but he’s led a brutally controlled, restricted life, and even yet still he has been subversively rewarded by his entire environment for being show-worthy. It’s really quite a complicated character that Jim has to inhabit, and I think he did a bang-up job. Being a celebrity and how it changes your day to day contacts and sense of self and anonymity and so on probably prepares one for the majority of the requirements of this role, but at the same time, we can never know the fish in a bowl feeling without knowing there is a bowl. Celebrity sneaks up on no one in life, but it did on Truman. What a great friggin movie.

Go see it right now.

MPAA Rating PG
Release date 6/5/98
Time in minutes 104
Director Peter Weir
Studio Paramount Pictures

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Dirty Work

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The reason I say dollar movie OR cable is that the previews tacked on to this, Bob Saget’s directorial debut, are really great. I am very excited about everything coming out except the movie that follows the previews. Are you really shocked? I was a little surprised at how little I enjoyed this movie – it had funny parts, but it was not a funny movie. But Norm MacDonald is funny, I thought. So, sauntering across the lobby without a ticket, I slipped into the sparsely populated theatre with my partner in crime, and settled in to another post-Lorne Michaels mishap. Apparently, any SNL vet is required to use at least 3 fellow alumni in his movies, under pain of turnaround. Why cable? Why not avoid at all costs? I don’t know, a weakness.

Now, over the past 25+ years that SNL veterans have entered the cinema firmament, many have churned out some respectable product, as we all know. Many have not. A friend of mine recently added one film to my memory banks which I found to be substandard in the same way that Dirty Work was, which is a good germ of an idea, taken through the system quickly, and spit out the other end all tacked together. Dirty Work has two friends opening a revenge for hire business, which sounds like a really funny movie, but even the good idea gets lost in the random spurts of an actually semi-convoluted (for a movie like this one) plot line.

Now, I have loved movies that throw random silliness at you – Monty Python has made the practice into a high art form, but the randomness must be interesting and/or serve the story in some way. Dennis Miller, also a master at pulling disassociativeness out of his butt, manages to tie his stuff all together and make it a post-modern bit of irony. Ben Stiller (safe from Lorne’s reaching claw) can take an image we have long forgotten and jab us with it and make us giggle. These men are not involved in this movie. Dirty Work merely annoys and confuses. A comedy, or any movie, must adhere to the rules of the universe it presents us with – even the Weekend at Bernie’s movies are more consistent (and, frankly, better staged) – and Dirty Work is a pure hack job. All arc leaps and unrelated images thrown together – maybe the set crew was cracking up, maybe it’s all an elaborate inside joke. But throwaway humor has only one end.

Bob Saget, clearly ruined by years of Mary Kate and Ashley, not to mention America’s Most Painful Videos, operates his set clumsily, interprets his script weakly, and generally makes a mess out of a molehill. It is painful to watch people who I know are funny (anyone you recognize from TV, even Chris Farley, exhibits pain here) muddle through a paycheck. Jack Warden, a respectable comic actor, grumps his way through an embarrassing litany of impotence jokes and a weird irrelevant parentage sub plot. Norm MacDonald helped write the script, I am sad to say, and the incisive bitterness for which I love him so has been replaced by a series of prostitute jokes. Well not jokes per se, just vociferous repetitions of the words “prostitute” and “whore.” I don’t get it!

Oh it’s sad but I guess I am not surprised. Not even disappointed per se, just exceedingly bummed. I don’t care if you see it, just don’t contribute any money to the studio, please. Stop Saget’s career in the DGA while you can.

I hate being mean to a first-time director, but it just seems wrong that someone given a good budget (and, to be fair, some really excellent stunt men) would fritter it away in such a manner as this. I suppose I could not do a better job, but that is beside the point, isn’t it? I am here to protect your delicate sensibilities and your precious paychecks.

*This was originally rated Dollar Movie, which fell between Catch it on HBO and Catch the Network Premiere.

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 6/5/98
Time in minutes 81
Director Bob Saget
Studio MGM

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Last Days of Disco

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I am sorry to say this, but this movie is just not at all what it should have been. Written and directed by Whit Stillman (Barcelona, Metropolis) this tale is loosely based on the fall of Studio 54, the famously decadent nightclub that defined the Disco Mystique, if I can use such a phrase without being shot. It’s not 54, nor is it even all that disco, or all that mystical.

I was hugely disappointed in the period aspects of the film. OK, the early 1980’s were not even 20 years ago, yet the costumes look like vague approximations of a long-ago time period – like a poor high school doing The Crucible wearing ANYTHING made before the advent of the zipper. I don’t like to rag, but the togs were first of all unflattering (which could be interpreted as a Choice) and second of all practically modern. And I don’t even mean this pseudo-70’s comeback kind of modern polluting the malls these days – I mean like real clothes. The hair is all pretty modern too – not a feathering in sight, no big curls, no frizz, no crimp, no nothing remotely anything. Yes, Disco is not New Wave, but Kate Beckinsale (looking porcelain and more perfect than any 1998 Revlon ad) has a really Friends-friendly ‘do. The guys have pretty cute, regular haircuts. It’s shameful. Sarah Edward’s costumes are even cruel to some actors.

The club. A den of iniquity, a meat market drug addled party palace that’s just impossible to get into. OR The Hard Rock Cafe with some people wearing silver body paint and masquerade costumes. Everyone is conversing at living room volume despite the pumping rhythm of the O Jays. The peak of the sexual revolution is expressed by gay and straight people dancing at the same club! Horrors! It’s well lit, and about as scary as Disney’s Pleasure Island. Not fantastic and decadent but kind of lame, while still upbeat. For one brief, random shot, the club actually looked like a disco – even my moviegoing companion noticed that was the only spot.

A giganto ensemble cast of characters who don’t use each other’s name enough may be realistic but it’s hard to follow – and in true Hollywood style, no one has a defined character until they hook up with someone. Chloe Sevigny slumps her way through the women’s perspective (really obviously written by a man) with an annoyingly wafflish character who is only NOT annoying right when everyone says she is being so. Robert Sean Leonard and Jennifer Beals have small parts but do great. Too bad they couldn’t have replaced some of the other folk. Beals, to her credit, actually looks perfectly Disco. Some of my friends will recognize Matt Keeslar (who I lovingly refer to as Box Office Poison – he needs a new agent) in an oddly against-type role, and he really almost gets to do something with it. He’s involved with my two favorite speeches in the movie (re: Lady and the Tramp, and Disco) and he’s magically delicious. His character is a total tool, however, so be prepared. If you wanna see him naked, rent Run of the Country. Beckinsale is a bitch, totally see through and not as witty as the previews would lead you to believe. It’s all very muddled and strange and then it’s over, felled by a weird sting.

It’s kind of interesting, and poor Keeslar really is worth watching, as are a couple of the supporting players, trudging gamely through Stillman’s labored writing. The ideas are good, the actors are doing their best, but the energy just doesn’t translate. Everyone is depressed before the end of disco, dragged down by egos they don’t exhibit. But I was unsatisfied by the whole affair. Rent it – rent it for Matt.

MPAA Rating R -some sexuality and drugs.
Release date 5/29/98
Time in minutes 113
Director Whit Stillman
Studio Gramercy Pictures

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Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas

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Uh…half a kilo

To tell the truth, I saw this movie over a week ago – I just haven’t been able to decide how I felt about it. On one hand, I have never taken a hallucinogenic, so I am pretty sure I missed something pretty important (and yet, I have missed nothing but near-death experiences, apparently). On another hand, I can’t imagine anyone more suited to taking another person’s autobiographical relation of an unreal experience and making it real than director Terry Gilliam. Terry, you may recall, gave us Brazil, 12 Monkeys, and a slew of other enduring image bombardments. On yet another hand (a twisting, gore-stained hallucination of a third hand), the movie really goes nowhere. Of course we don’t expect a standard narrative with exposition, conflict, change, denouement, or what have you, in a situation like this – but at the same time, acting, production values, and sheer spectacle can only take you so far watching a movie.

At no point was I bored, disinterested, or even all that alienated. One person I saw it with thought the novelty wore off and it went 30 minutes too long. Johnny Depp, as usual, is just great. I don’t know anything about Hunter S. Thompson, but I do know Depp, and I believe I was in those hotel rooms with Thompson. Depp bravely goes bald, bowlegged, and way skinny, as Benecio Del Toro goes hugely paunchy. By shedding their original sexy guy images, Del Toro and Depp gave us some serious acting. I was terrified by the constant peril Dr. Gonzo and Thompson put themselves in, and yet drawn to it, like an accident scene. I cannot recommend chemical enhancement before viewing the movie – it would be a disservice to the work of the production staff to foil their attempts at creating a seriously trippy flick.

It seems almost redundant to take hallucinogens in Las Vegas, but I’m telling you, nothing could be scarier than the alterna-Circus Circus that they built for the film. And I mean nothing. Even sober. If anyone out there has seen the sideshow themed CD Rom that The Residents put out, just paste in Depp and tilt the angle a bit and you have an idea of what *some* of the movie is like. Then add another obscure bit of Peter Jackson work, Meet The Feebles, and you have a vague notion of what this movie is like. (I mean no disservice to director of photography Nicola Pecorini or production designer Alex McDovell) To add to the surrealism (for the audience), Fear and Loathing is chock full of wacky random cameos – not like the überhip “look at me I’m a cameo” of most movies, but people I don’t think have ever worked with Gilliam, Depp, or Del Toro before. Like Mark “Can you believe how hunky I am at this advanced age” Harmon. Yeah, you know, the guy from Summer School.

I was a tad disappointed in the soundtrack – it seemed like they used every song you would expect in a drug related movie set in 1971. Yep, they used the one you are thinking of right now. Yeah, yeah, that one too. But at the same time, every song *was* perfect. And, hey, there’s a reason they are classics of the brown-acid set. On top of it all, it wasn’t a painful soundtrack-pushing exercise in Forrest-Gumpistic commercialism. So it added nothing to the experience except a conscious awareness that it was a movie. But maybe that was the point – so Thompson fans, sitting in a mescaline and ether haze in the audience, can discern the film from their own chemically induced entertainment. But what do I know of these things?

The script, of course, was mostly from Hunter’s writing in the moment, with of course shooting instructions stuck in – but I find it hard to believe anyone on distilled human adrenaline could possibly have the presence of mind to notate everything that happened. But the events are great and wild and alarming and entertaining. Isn’t that what you want? A great line, referring to our protagonists: They are “God’s prototypes, not intended for mass production.” I am told by a friend who saw the movie with me that they stuck faithfully to the book, so for those of you out there for which that is an issue, rest easy.

So if this is your cup of tea, spend some cash, grab a tub of corn, and enjoy. But if you would rather sit through your 7th viewing of Titanic *just in case* Leo makes it out alive this time, skip this movie altogether.

MPAA Rating R-pervasive extreme drug use, strong language, brief nudity.
Release date 5/22/98
Time in minutes 119
Director Terry Gilliam
Studio Universal Pictures

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Cinerina

Godzilla (1998)

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Do I have to tell you this movie was all hype and precious little delivery? Was anyone fooled by the 7-DAY-LONG weekend to fudge the opening weekend grosses and opening on as many screens as possible before word of mouth brought the Green One down like a ton of….well, like a ton of mutated lizard?

To be fair, in the Godzilla continuum, this is better than most, if only for having somewhat better effects and an honestly cool looking lizard…oh, if only we saw the whole guy sooner than an hour into the movie. Money shot? There is none.

Incompetence amongst the characters? Sure! Goofy inconsistencies with reality? Of course! But without all the camp of say, watching a giant turtle do high bar gymnastics. By the way, Ford, or whoever provided the cab for this movie, should stand to make a bundle. That is like, supercab. No airbags but totally safe. In my notes I wrote, “It’s nothing if it’s not loud.” I saw it on the best screen in town, with 21 of my closest acquaintances and about 8-10 strangers. LOUD HUGE BOOM YOW. This, I realized, was designed to distract me from the film. As my contacts shattered, I would be unable to see how poorly the CGI effects were matted. I would recognize the voices of all the main people but forget that they mostly come from TV and (with the exception of Broderick) can’t carry a feature, must less a feature starring an inconsistently massive/sorta massive/extra massive T-Rex, er, I mean, Gorilla-Whale. Oh, Hank Azaria and Harry Shearer, you guys finally got your raises on the Simpsons, don’t stoop to this. I just kept thinking about how Broderick and Azaria (who both got married during the shoot) could have been home with their beautiful blonde and brainy wives (or me) but instead would be remembered for…Godzilla.

For the cinematically inclined, you will appreciate how many shots were embarrassingly copied from Jurassic Park. “Please please think of that much better movie while you are watching this one!!”

Ever on the watch for shoddy on-set work (my personal pet peeve – if I were hired this crap would NEVER happen!), I’d like to point out the amazing rotating snow-globes, the hideous recycled insert shots, and the magical floating props, always just in reach no matter where the actor is. AND the astounding waterproof video equipment.

I don’t mind giving anything away – if you want to see Godzilla you will regardless of what anyone says, so here goes. They hire an expert (on worms?!) to advise them about this big old lizard that they have not identified as such, and then disregard the second intelligent thing he says in the movie and boot him. He is then made privy to all kinds of information by Jean Reno and well, that’s the good parts. The mayor is played by an actor playing Roger Ebert, I don’t get it – it’s hardly sly. Just dumb, really.

The very pretty Maria Pitillo, great at playing hyper-adorable women no man could ever be mad at, despite being blatantly sexually harassed and resorting to a sitcom scheme to win back her man’s heart, is supposed to be the smart and scrappy one.

I haven’t even gotten to Invasion of the Godzukis yet. They are trapped in a building, uh oh , they might escape into….an abandoned city. Big whoop, let em out. The biology is questionable, the behavior is questionable, and the matte work is even worse.

Now, the didactic part of the review. As most people know, Godzilla (Gojira) was created as a sort of cultural symbol of both the fear of nuclear devastation and the terrible “what if” fears of long-term nuclear usage. Godzilla has been both terrorizer and hero in the past movies, but always with those themes and lessons in mind. I can’t speak for Godzilla 1985 because I can’t recall it. Anyway, so we see this island being bombed by US and these poor sweet iguanas being nuked, helpless victims of mankind’s willy nilly destruction of their habitat, so we are kind of set up to sympathize with the beastie. Add one sweet little biologist concerned with mutations and other problems from nuclear testing, and this is shaping up to be a “Go, Zilla!” type flick. The poor critter (who, as creature design goes, does look pretty cool) swims halfway across the world looking for a safe place to hide and nest, and Matt from Melrose Place (Doug Savant) shoots at it mercilessly.

This continues until the poor beast dies a miserable death, its children killed before its eyes, and the sympathetic biologist and his lovely lady looking at it die painfully, as if that will comfort it. I don’t know. The humans in this film are such idiots that I’m thinking, give him Manhattan, it’s a toilet anyway!

Unlike Roland Emmerich’s and Dean Devlin’s previous effort, Independence Day, our “bad guy” is not a clearly malevolent creature purposefully trashing our planet, but rather a lonely parthenogenetic creation of our OWN MAKING looking for a safe place to hide. It just doesn’t work. Oh, and the jokes are by and large, not all that funny. Pitillo’s room at Azaria’s place (?) has the coolest lamp I have ever seen and that is what I took out of this movie. The set dressers had a great time on this flick and I applaud them trying to flesh out one-dimensional characters with interesting work. Woo hoo! It’s really tragic, because the majority of the performers here are above this kind of material EVERY WEEK ON THEIR RESPECTIVE TV SHOWS.

Humorous trivia: Shearer’s character name, Caiman, is an obscure and I think endangered type of crocodile with a slim wicked snout and a lot of teeth. Ha ha. Broderick’s last name Tatopoulos is the last name of the creature’s designer. Hoo ha. Oh and Azaria’s nickname is Animal – get it? Nature jokes.

I say dollar movie rather than recommending full avoidance because the critter is cool, the lamp is cool, and Doug Savant needs the exposure.

* This movie was originally rated Dollar Movie, which fell between Catch the Network Premiere and Catch it on HBO.

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 5/19/98
Time in minutes 139
Director Roland Emmerich
Studio Sony Pictures