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Analyze This

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Analyze This could have been a terrifically horrible movie. It also could have been really really funny. It was definitely neither, with a slant toward better than I thought it would be. Robert DeNiro plays (get this kids!) a mobster. The catch is, for once, something is making him anxious about the mob life. This is the comedy part. Billy Crystal is (get this kids!) a mildly neurotic smart guy who this time is a therapist. Enter the anxious mobster, add in the surprisingly aged Lisa Kudrow as the wildly miscast fiancee of Crystal, and you have mild wackiness. Did I mention that whoever thought Kudrow and Crystal would make a cute, believable, or even funny couple were probably the same geniuses who cast John Laroquette and Kirstie Alley in Houseguest. Brrrrrr!

I’ll tell you now, some of the best jokes are in the preview. Some others are there, but they don’t make the movie sing. It is amusing, though. This review probably seems to be contradicting itself quite a bit, and I gotta tell you, it’s because the movie does as well. At once it is a hair’s-breadth away from being really funny, but then also it can be pretty blatantly obvious. When the mobsters are doing that vicious stuff they are famous for, however, the violence and scary gangster stuff doesn’t hold back. I felt that some of the “bad guy” action was pretty heavy for a tinkly light comedy. My viewing companions liked it more than I did, but perhaps I just wasn’t ready to accept DeNiro in a comedy, even as a self-parody. I always tend to enjoy actors who can make fun of themselves, but DeNiro seems a little unwilling still. The real gems of the movie were the supporting cast. Mostly mobsters from a hundred mob movies, they seem to actually be having fun mocking the genre. This movie is not a parody of the mob genre – and maybe it could have been instead of basically a parody of the What About Bob? genre. Now it’s basically What About Guido?.

Without really giving anything away, I have to say that one scene where DeNiro breaks down and cries is the least believable scene in the movie (and there are plenty to choose from). Mr. Method, Mr. Be The Character, sobbing, well, it *seemed* funny. And not in the right way. Instead it actually feels forced and faked – and everything else DeNiro brings to Analyze This feels really genuine. Billy Crystal’s whiny, poorly boundaried psychiatrist seems pretty low on resources and definitely is low on the qualities I would look for in a shrink – it’s a wonder he can have that incredible house in the woods, what with his low-rent clients and his shoddy caretaking skills. Plenty goes unexplained in the movie as well, but overall it is mildly entertaining and perfect for a rainy day in. I did laugh out loud at a few moments, but it says a lot that I cannot recall a single one.

A word of praise for Chazz Palminteri, who captured my heart as a dumb mobster in Oscar, and is not given the space to be as funny here but still gives me that blank, blinking palooka that I know had to have lost some mileage on the cutting room floor. If you are tired of the usual DeNiro schtick, it actually is kind of entertaining to see him good-naturedly making fun of basically most of his career-making roles.

MPAA Rating R -language, a scene of sexuality &some violence
Release date 9/8/99
Time in minutes 106
Director Harold Ramis
Studio Warner Brothers

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The 13th Warrior

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Having heard that director John McTiernan had made this movie (titled after the book on which its based, Eaters of the Dead) about 400 years ago; that it had been languishing in post-production so long that McTiernan had time to whip out The Thomas Crown Affair in its entirety in the meantime – I was a tad apprehensive when I plunked down in my seat. The exposition of the film is confusing, as if it had been edited by the crude, 11th century weapons wielded by the proud Norsemen in whose company our hero, Antonio Banderas, falls. He is Ahmahd ibn Eyeliner, and he gets tossed in as the 13th Warrior (natch) with some Norse guys and he, like we in the audience, are not sure why. Fortunately, he is so cunning, he can turn their language and his into English just by listening, and the rest of the movie picks up after that. Author Michael Crichton is listed as director along with McTiernan, and therein may lie the problem.

13th Warrior is no Braveheart, although it had aspirations to be so. It is filled with old-old-age bravery and action, the kind that made you realize what self centered wimps we all are today – these guys make smoke jumpers look like Marian the Librarian. A nice touch is that Banderas isn’t Mel Gibson – he is right along with us, being smaller and weaker (but not ineffective or stupid), being frightened and queasy. All these other guys (notably Norse God Anders T. Andersen and the red haired guy too) have cojones of titanium, biceps of adamantium, and bravery-centers (an organ we have since Darwinized out of our bodies) of bouillon. I was impressed by the action sequences (McTiernan is best known perhaps for Die Hard, Predator, Hunt for Red October – he knows a thing or two about tone) but I was more impressed by the *idea* of the action sequences. These warriors basically have no self-induced motivation but honor driving them to do incredibly risky, dangerous, heroic, scary things. Wow! And because the actors playing these warriors did a great job overcoming their dialogue by being impossibly burly and good natured, I cared about their welfare. As they are in peril or in battle the majority of the film, it was pretty exciting.

Cool score, too, Jerry Goldsmith. Just go here and see how many mediocre films (and TV, since 1948) he saved from being utter rubbish with his music: http://us.imdb.com/Name?Goldsmith,+Jerry. I’d like to point out notable not-rubbish movies like Aliens and Poltergeist and Air Force One and LA Confidential.

So, let’s see, we have a handsome charismatic star with whom we identify because of his weaknesses, we have elaborate and battle scenes set to stupendous music, and we have some big-trousered Men of the North swinging 50 lb swords about – why is this movie only a matinee? I’m not sure. I enjoyed watching it, and I think most people will (unless they are squeamish at the sight of filth or blood), but at the same time, it seemed to be missing some elemental piece that would make it awesome. I am certain, in my bones, that that piece is lying on the floor of some cutting room somewhere out there, some vital moment caught on film with that incredible primeval British Columbia, I mean, er, Scandinavia looming impressively in the background. Maybe it was somewhere in the lengthy multilingual sequences that dragged on, with Omar Sharif gamely translating as the chatter goes from Norse to Greek to Arabic. You’d think it would be as amusing as the various Japanese translations of American advertising slogans – Microsoft’s “If you don’t know where you want to go, we’ll make sure you get taken.” – then at the end, Omar could show up and say, “No, no my friend, you were only supposed to hold their cup for them while they chose the 13th Warrior!” – that would be funny.

MPAA Rating R for bloody battles and carnage.
Release date 8/27/99
Time in minutes 102
Director John McTiernan
Studio Touchstone Pictures

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The Muse

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Attentive subscribers may note that I was supposed to have seen this movie some time ago, but it turned out that a comedy of errors in southern California rendered that press screening an impossibility – and tonight is the first chance I had to see it. Companion-free, I steeled myself to actually have to remember facts about the movie with no help. One thing I can say, as a fan of Albert Brooks, is that I wish a similar comedy of errors had happened to him on the way to his agent – or that he had struck a muse of his own. I did laugh out loud at some witty asides and little jokes (the couch from Saving Private Ryan?) but overall I found the antics of this film to be a tad tiresome. I’m sorry, Albert – I *love* Defending Your Life and I *adore* Mother! But whence his muse from then!

Albert Brooks’ character needs a muse and he finds one in Sharon Stone, at her most inexplicable. Except for her innate glamour and savvy, carved into her physiognomy like a frieze on a Greek temple, the role could have been played by anyone. Andie MacDowell, whom many of my friends dislike on screen but who has never seriously bothered me, came off wooden and uninteresting. Brooks himself, normally amusing in his self-deprecation and his unique brand of “am I crazy here” reactions to the world around him, seems strained. It saddened me to see this. Stone is no Olivia Newton-John in Xanadu type Muse, with magic tricks and ethereal glow; but neither does she seem anything but a flaky fraud, no matter what her origin. It feels false, it feels hollow, and despite some entertaining cameos, it just feels wrong. I hate to pan it, Brooks is normally such a reliable face to look for – it is ironic that the thing his character in The Muse is most accused of, losing his edge, is what seems to be happening here. And it’s not like Alanis Morrisette’s song “Ironic” being ironic because there is no actual irony in it. It’s ironic in that it is prescient and kind of damning in this case. And Jeff Bridges playing tennis is the biggest laugh of the movie.

Albert Brooks, not unlike Stephen King, writes about writers writing; and he writes in a way that most screenwriters have long since given up – with long scenes about thinking, and elaborate reactions and so forth – he’s very heady, this Brooks fellow. The only reason he can get away with it is because he captures frustration that goes beyond that of the profession he is frustrated by; he captures life and he captures absurdities deftly. Rent Mother and get some candy, you’ll see what I mean. It also helps he was paired with Debbie Reynolds on that one. Sharon Stone has proved herself to me as an actress (Casino) but she does nothing to add to her oeuvre of “no no, see *this* Sharon Stone movie, it will change your mind” work. Movies about Hollywood and its pre-production machinations don’t seem to be well-received by even the more intellectual hoi polloi. Everyone likes movies about what happens on the set – overheard body mike conversations, take after take after take, bloopers, you name it – but even though *I* care about how a film gets into development, it isn’t very compelling filmmaking material.

In retrospect I am glad that I had had so many mishaps on my way to the theatre before; I laughed all day that day and had a great time, overall, despite my minor disappointment at missing my first press screening. I would have hated to have sullied such a fine mood with such a glum film. I would like to visit that aquarium in Long Beach – it looked cool.

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 8//27/99
Time in minutes 122
Director Albert Brooks
Studio USA Films

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My apologies to my faithful readers – I knocked myself out trying to see this before I went on vacation and plain old didn’t get around to writing the review. That should be a demerit, I should think, for the value of the filmgoing experience. But I do have to say that I had a great time watching this film. I should say that most of the people who saw Bowfinger with me were people who were either avid filmgoers or (it should be “and”) burgeoning independent filmmakers themselves. Well, come on, I do live in Austin! Anyway, we all enjoyed the heck out of this movie, but it is very possible that some of the amusing little bits that rang so true with us, might be missed by many. I am not meaning to imply that people are dumb if they don’t work on a movie once or twice, and with the ready availability of behind the scenes specials, documentaries in DVD supplementary materials, and tell-all entertainment magazines, maybe it’s not such a specialized world as it used to be. I cannot say for certain.

Despite what the previews may lead you to believe, the bespectacled Eddie Murphy (Jiff) is not the star of this movie; indeed, he is a minor aspect. I am not sure why they felt compelled to ruin a good deal of the humor from that segment by showing it all in the preview – but perhaps they worry that Steve Martin and Hollywood machinations is not enough of a draw. Martin (who also wrote the screenplay, and that should be enough to make you go) loves Los Angeles and Hollywood but he also recognizes its inherent absurdity – this film would be a nice bookend with LA Story. Bowfinger is the character he plays, and he plays him with relentless mockery, to my personal delight. Jamie Kennedy (Scream 1 & 2) is his friend and crew member, and they set out to make a movie, and hilarity ensues. The situations are ludicrous, but the execution is hilarious. The rounding up of crew, the setting up of shots, egos and sexual manipulation and a sly dig at Scientology all make it into the final cut.

Director Frank Oz has by and large turned out some solid work including The Dark Crystal, Little Shop of Horrors, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, and In and Out – but the masses just don’t seem to warm to his brand of genius. Hmm. The Curse of the Muppets, or is it just symptomatic of the anti-intellectual bender our gold old US of A is going through. Either way, Oz is not too concerned with spelling it out for his audience, so it’s even more delightful to recognize a joke as it flies by. The guerrilla filmmaking had us all howling and clapping, and having fun.

If you have a friend who is all into movies and how they are made and Hollywood politics, drag him or her along, it will definitely help. Eddie Murphy plays two characters in the film, one being a sly parody of himself. Perhaps Steve Martin is doing a sly parody of who he most fears he will become (after the Out of Towners…). It’s very amusing and clever but the insideness of it may be a big turnoff to some. And no, you see way more of Heather Graham’s bubs in other movies than you do here, sorry guys. She is actually a little wasted in this movie, not unlike how she was wasted in Austin Powers, which is a shame. She should be more picky and do less nudity (sorry guys) because she’s actually really good!

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 8/13/99
Time in minutes 97
Director Frank Oz
Studio Universal Pictures

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The Iron Giant

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Forget anything I said about Inspector Gadget – I was so desperate for entertainment that I culled more out of it than it deserved (though I still did laugh out loud!) – but The Iron Giant is a truly good movie. Really – I have witnesses. I was dubious going in – despite some stunning shots in the preview, (think the lady and the truck silhouetted at the edge of a cliff as the robot blasts upward past her) I remember that Warner Brothers “treated” us to Quest for Camelot, Anastasia, and the hateful Space Jam . Apparently, they have cleaned up shop (sorry, Heart of Texas Animation!) and they even bought a computer or two! Iron Giant has a lot of computer animation in it and it’s about as well-integrated as Aladdin’s (I mean, Disney still rules the world, unless Dreamworks…) BUT it’s totally beautiful. Nice character design, good acting (by that I don’t just mean the voices – also the visual acting as drawn by the character animators), and very nice layout. The backgrounds are very simple – small coastal town, 1957, shops, woods, the usual – but nicely done. Multiplane animation (you know, the stuff innovated by Disney circa Pinocchio) and cool depth of focus, nice colors, nice integration of what is animated and what is background. (Think Scooby Doo and the one flat, outlined piece of bush that you know will have something jump out of it – bad integration). It looks awesome – and the first Cinerina reader to get me a poster of the movie gets a prize!*

The vocal talent is hauntingly familiar but not distractingly familiar as in Prince of Egypt. The boy is apparently a real boy, not an adult woman, and it really makes a difference. The Giant himself is gorgeous (go online and check out the bank they sell at the Warner Bros. store – coool!) and despite having a metal face with only rotating iris/eyelids and a ventriloquist dummy jaw, he is very expressive, very real. My group was alone in the theatre ( about 10 of us) within a week of opening night – please go see this movie! Please spend your hard earned dollar and watch this good story, with a solid, funny script, no condescension, only one briefly over-pedantic moment (but it’s excusable), and some really nice animation. Nice angles, good movement, really very nice looking. Still some trademark WB herky jerkiness but it’s fine, really. The sounds of the Giant moving, the voice it has, the echoing metal reality of all its sound…sweet.

I don’t actually know if this is based on a pre-existing story – it seems like it would be – but it’s definitely not some Boy And His Dog Who Is Metal and From Space. It’s got heart and comedy and the whole bit! And yes, several of us shed real tears (not all chicks, either!) – it’s a good freakin’ movie! No pandering, no goofy anachronistic jokes (though there are some sly, weren’t-we-foolish in the 50’s winks at the nuclear scare and other cultural anomalies), and best of all, visual humor that isn’t fart-driven. YES I loved South Park – but I go see SP to see farts – I go see Iron Giant for something different. That is the key. People don’t go to Muppet movies any more because they aren’t edgy – well, if the Muppets suddenly had a rapping character, they would lose what made them enchanting in the first place. What does this have to do with Iron Giant? Everything! The same things that made the innocent purity of, say, Lady and the Tramp endure – timeless comedy, human interaction, and situational difficulty – is what Iron Giant has in spades. In this sense, it harks back to the classic days of animation (read: Jungle Book, L& T, Bugs Bunny cartoons) when the movie didn’t have to reference the immediate present to hold its audience enthralled. Sure, if you didn’t know who Superman was, you would be a little lost – and Iron Giant would scare the pants off someone in the Middle Ages – but timelessness in the 20th century is all we need to put our hearts in the palm of the huge metal guy’s hand and trust that he will entertain us. You will get a good bang for your buck, my friend.

And now, my traditional (though, I admit, more venomous than usual) railing against people who think cartoon movies (aka animated features) are stupid just because they are drawn instead of live action: Do you like computer effects? They are no more live action than ink on celluloid (or whatever) – but you’ll go see them, won’t you? Do you like a good story? I mean, reading, television, however you get it? Some of the best movies lately have come out as light projected through paint instead of light projected through photographs – mature storylines, good performances, lots and lots of craft and work and care. Animated movies take so much attention to detail (often lost while trying to shoot an explosion in downtown NYC) that they actually come out better than these other movies where editing kills a good idea. Animated movies are one of the few genres left allowed to be musicals (Iron Giant isn’t) – people refuse to go to musicals yet rave about shows (Austin Powers, Drew Carey show) who include big splashy musical numbers. If you think you are too grownup to see an animated movie, you’re missing out, big time. Every time I review an excellent animated movie, I beg you people to go see this one, just this once. You’re only as old as you feel – and if you can’t enjoy the beauty of a well-crafted movie because the heart of a bullied fourth grader beats in your chest (“Oh lookit the baby gonna see a cartooooon!”), you’re aging at an accelerated rate. And it doesn’t make you mature. We ten were kids with adult minds having a wonderful time and you missed it. Go see it!

* prize may vary depending on geographical region of winner; still stands!

MPAA Rating PG
Release date 8/6/99
Time in minutes 87
Director Brad Bird
Studio Warner Bros

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The Sixth Sense

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Have you ever eaten a really delicious, tailor-made to your taste meal, enough so you are satisfied but not so much that you feel gorged or a little nauseated? The Sixth Sense is such a meal. Bruce Willis finally beats the hair/acting ratio and proves he is no slouch in the concerned dad-figure everyman role. Toni Collette again proves that she is simply divine, an utter pro, and a dialect master. Olivia Williams gets to be something more than pretty; as does Donnie Wahlberg (I didn’t recognize him!).

But the star of this movie, besides it’s deliciously original idea and Tak Fujimoto’s meaty visualization of it, is the kid, who should by this time next year be known as Oscar Winner Haley Joel Osment. This small, understated prince of the looooong uninterrupted take is fantastic. He and Collette (who plays his mother) have these long, music-free, cut-free scenes, and they both nail it, it’s a joy to behold. I saw the spooky previews just like everyone else, and he whispers a lot in it. I was worried I would be watching a one-note Willy – but instead, I got a kid who totally really sees dead people. He is scared of them, scared of what other people think, scared of disappointing his mom, he is shy and tormented and conscientious and…to paraphrase someone else: Is it too late to cast this kid as Annakin Skywalker? Osment should be raking in the bucks right now, and the accolades. He’s apparently been working since he was six (according to the Internet Movie Database, he’s 11 and has been in 15 movies, TV movies, and TV shows. I’ll rent them all! He was totally awesome. Totally sucked in was I.

So, back to the story. You know from the preview that Oscar bait here sees ghosts. And Bruce Willis shows up and talks to him about it. What you don’t know is how cool everything is largely because the script is strong (director M. Night Shyamalan), the acting is top notch, and these wonderful things distract you from what is *really* going on. I compare this movie to one of my all-time highly revered favorites, Dead Again, wherein a gripping and beautifully told story is capped off by a brilliant and non-vital secondary cool factor which it takes the whole movie to realize. My companion had already seen Sixth Sense and accompanied me to ensure that I would see it and see it soon – life intervenes, occasionally – and noted that it holds up perfectly well on a second viewing, and, like Dead Again, improves with more knowledge. Woof! I loved it!

Shyamalan might have written this movie just for the kid; he wrote Stuart Little too, which I know I will see because it’s an old favorite but I was kind of already primed to hate. I was actually ready to dislike this movie because I thought the preview had used up all its money shots. Pure folly! But the dialogue is carefully constructed, the boy is brilliant, he’s a pro, even if the script turned out to be Casper the Feckless Ghost he would still be worth paying money to see. The cinematographer is my second favorite in the industry (behind Roger Deakins), Tak Fujimoto, who did Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Philadelphia, and another of my all-time favorite movies, Silence of the Lambs. Watch the shopping cart scene, the uninterrupted takes between rooms. Like Lambs and Philadelphia, Fujimoto knows how to just capture what an actor is doing and let them give it to us, rather than forcing it down our throats like Stephen Goldblatt (Batman Forever). Beautifully done, all those involved. Kudos to casting as well for the school kids and the dead people. Oh yeah and kick ass ending too! Hoo-ee!

I’ll be seeing this one again and I fully intend to pay full price a second time.

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 8/6/99
Time in minutes 107
Director M. Night Shyamalan
Studio Hollywood Pictures

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Mystery Men

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As is the trend this summer, I have not read the original source material from which this movie was based. I can’t imagine that I would want to, now – Mr. Furious limned by anyone other than Ben Stiller would be wrong; anyone but William H. Macy giving voice to The Shoveler would be criminal; and any other interpretation of the Blue Raja than Hank Azaria’s would set me to crying. Mystery Men is one cheeky, clever movie, with plenty of silliness and lots of great gags and basically, some of the best comedic minds of our decade running around getting to be comic book characters of wanna-be superheroes. How can you beat that? The management of the Nice Theatre In Town (The Gateway) had shoved Mystery Men down in a little puppet theatre at the edge of the building – one screen! Needless to say, midway through opening day they moved it to a larger screen – the audience was there and we were rarin’ to go!!! I was pleased but not surprised to see such a good turnout – it’s always so much more fun with a large, enthusiastic audience. And we laughed and we laughed!

Oscar nominee Greg Kinnear is perfect as the smarmy sell-out superhero that our sub-par heroes need to save. Multiple (?) Oscar nominee William H. Macy is one of this band. Multiple Emmy nominee and possible Oscar nominee Ben Stiller is another; Janeane Garafalo another; shunned television genius Paul Reubens is yet another. They go up against Oscar winner Geoffrey Rush as the hilariously named Casanova Frankenstein in a fantastically designed Champion City. Homage to all forms of comics and comic-based movies and sci fi extravaganzas abound: Champion City is part Gotham City, part Metropolis, and part the bleak multicultural sprawl of Blade Runner’s city. Mystery Men is packed with peanuts and really satisfies.

First time director Kinka Usher played around with tone – the opening scene is a weird, City of Lost Children super surreal party at an old-folk’s home, but overall the movie is smooth and silly and fun and funny! She has a wowser of a cinematographer – Stephen Burum did Snake Eyes, Mission Impossible, The Shadow, War of the Roses, The Untouchables, Body Double, Something Wicked This Way Comes…I mean, this guy knows what he is doing! And it shows – lots of kooky comic booky angles which in a way seem kind of amateur until you realize how difficult they are and how they are not distorted or badly lit – the guy is a genius. Plus, you know, it’s based on the Dark Horse comic books so of course, you see these angles in the artwork. Kirk M. Petruccelli (also production designer for Blade, another comic book adapted to life with great success) built a gorgeous, wonderful Champion City – lots of cool details and really nice work. Modely-looking models, but so what? Maybe someone should give Kinka and Stephen and Kirk the next Batman movie so we don’t have to watch Joel Schumacher ruin that franchise any further.

Screenwriter Neil Cuthbert apparently has done this, Hocus Pocus, and a TV movie. You would never know it – the dialogue is so snappy I wonder if he just wrote a scene outline and let the SuperGenius cast work it out. They don’t even make fun of goofy comic speak (well, except when Mr. Furious is about to RAGE), it’s really amusing, natural funny talk. Plenty of great digs at the hysterical conventions of comic book herodom – you know, Clark Kent hiding behind his glasses, or Bruce Wayne chatting with Batman on the phone. There’s even some nice fart humor for the kids. And Tom Waits. Why are you at the computer, go see it now!

Ensemble comedy is best when it’s done with people familiar with the genre – Reubens is kind of a soloist (no pun intended) and Kel Mitchell (Invisible Boy) is the up-and-comer kid, but the rest of the team bicker together like old friends. It’s marvelous. For those of you who just don’t know, Hank Azaria is the one of my two future boyfriends in MM (besides Ben Stiller) who does a large variety of voices on the Simpsons – more voices than you think, probably. I love him! Helen Hunt, your forehead is too big! You have an Oscar – give me Hank! And, like no one says “whoa” like Keanu Reeves, no one can pull off “golly” like William H. Macy. Ben and Janeane, well, they are the perfect non-couple. It’s very very very funny, tongue-in-cheek but still an homage, like Airplane was an homage to disaster movies. Go see it! And then see Muppets From Space if it’s still playing!

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 8/6/99
Time in minutes 121
Director Kinka Usher
Studio Universal Pictures

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The Thomas Crown Affair (1999)

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I have not seen the original movie, OK, so don’t get on my case. I like cat burglar movies, I like movies about zillionaires who steal for the thrill, and I like cat and mouse games between attractive people. That said, I was moderately entertained by the storyline (I just don’t buy them as a couple or a couple-to-be or whatever), I was enormously entertained by how much I got to see Pierce Brosnan naked or shirtless (WOOF – he was and is my first pubescent crush), and I was pretty darn entertained by the plot. Rene Russo – kudos to a 40 yr. old lady looking so very prosperous and hot-bodied, but something about her face makes her look like a wild animal fighting to get out of a leather purse. It’s a shame. Ironically (to me), Faye Dunaway, another surgically enhanced alien life form, played the original girl chasing Crown, and she cameos as his psychiatrist. If not for her wispy gray hair, her skin is pulled so tight she only looks 5 years older than Rene Russo – which, I am sorry to say, is not a compliment to either of them.

Russo runs around way overdressed (gowns by Celine) and talking seductively to every single person she speaks with, be it Detective Denis Leary or Crown or even the pizza guy. She is set up to be a hot mama and she generally pulls it off but I keep waiting for her skull to leap out of her face. Otherwise, she looks *awesome* – I didn’t look that foxy at, well, at any age, dangit. Woof! The dance scene is very sheer and hot and what a great dress (with a slip, say)! Then the love scenes are actually so affectionate and playful it breaks the mood – no longer are these two people superhuman coolness machines mating in a frenzy of recognized peerage – now they are fun cool people who happen to have a servant bring them their morning coffee after playing giggle and tickle all night. It’s kooky. Russo seems positively smug to be getting to manhandle Brosnan in front of millions of people. I guess I would be too! back to the costumes for a minute – this is the only non-action sci-fi fantasy movie that costume designer Kate Harrington has ever done. Just an interesting point – she did fine, letting one designer take over for Russo’s wardrobe, but she looked too…done.

The cat burglary stuff is beautifully planned out and smooth. Everyone seems to be a little psychic – someone says “huh, looks like it’s going to rain,” and someone else says, “so, how long has your mother been dead?” Lots of people reading each other like books in a world full of deception and trust and mistrust and misinformation and…his laughing shrink can’t read him but some hot tanning bed victim (who still comes off looking very pale!) walks up and calls his whole life story? I don’t get it. Perhaps some scenes were lost in editing. The lifestyles of the extremely rich can only interest me for so long – sure, who doesn’t kind of wonder how they would make off with the Hope Diamond? But when you get it, do you imagine $100,000 boats and bets and insane expenses and things to do – I imagined the budget of the movie just trying to create a lifestyle for Mr. Crown was more than the budget to prep, shoot, cast, feed, develop, market, and edit the thing. So I get bored watching the super rich jet off to wherever and not go in to work and boating and golfing and….yawn! I’m sure it’s great work if you can get it.

The acting (besides the mild overdoing it on the seductive talk and the super-cosmopolitan-so-continental-it-hurts business) is good, the story is engaging – it’s a slow build up to the payoff and then there are so many disappointments along the way (on purpose, I mean) that it gets frustrating to watch sometimes. Why can’t people just communicate? It would save so much time. But then again, it wouldn’t be any fun at all. The best moments are of course the moments of realization. It shouldn’t disappoint you as a standalone film – I can’t speak for the original.

MPAA Rating R for some sexuality and language.
Release date 8/6/99
Time in minutes 125
Director John McTiernan
Studio MGM

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Twin Falls Idaho

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If you have no idea what this movie is about, it’s about a hooker who gets involved with a charming pair of conjoined (also known as Siamese) twins. I will say no more, not only because my conscience forbids spoilers, but also because it’s such an interesting movie. Brothers Mark and Michael Polish wrote and starred in this movie and Michael is credited with directing it – they are not conjoined, nor (some have said) are they even twins. Blake (the one on the left) is played by Mark, and Francis is played by Michael. It would have been very easy for this film to take off on the pure sensationalism of the concept of a pair of adult conjoined twins and how their lives are lived; to a degree we get some questions answered about daily functions most of us solo artists take for granted. But instead of the showmanship of say, The Elephant Man, where they exploit makeup technology to give you something to safely gawk at in the theatre, the reality of the lives of these men is presented in a more emotional and psychological way.

“Oh, lord, it’s a chick movie!” I know, I hear you out there. It is a chick movie only in that the twins are quite cute, and that there is thought and love and emotions and stuff. It’s really a moderately slow, quiet study on what it is to need someone – not just one’s conjoined twin, it goes beyond their relationship. We need our parents and our friends and our children and sometimes strangers, and many times we push them away when we need them most. Blake and Francis embody being forced to reconcile with that need and live with it (as bizarre cameo Garrett Morris points out, for the learning disabled in the audience). Everyone in the world needs someone, no matter how much they like to believe they are self sufficient – it’s hard wired into the species. But we also need our independence, our inner strength and our privacy. But this movie is more about the need for others than the need for aloneness. Most of us think we would hate to be conjoined, we could never be alone; who is to say that they wish to be alone?

Michele Hicks is Penny, the prostitute who enters their lives unexpectedly. She seems motiveless throughout much of the first half of the movie (perhaps an editing flaw) and some of the relationships she has are a little unclear, but she does a great job holding the film together, sharing her organs with the other characters, if you will. The Polish brothers look very twinnish (I am told one is actually older than the other, although I cannot confirm that fact) and communicate an intimacy which could only be brought by constant togetherness. The conjoined twins are unsocialized yet wise, naive and yet very old, in their hearts. Their life has shaped their minds even more unusually than nature shaped their bodies. They are soft spoken and it does not seem difficult to imagine a woman getting involved with one of them. One of my companions, indeed, the one who secured me a ticket, disagreed with me on which twin was the cuter, so we’re in luck! Do not let their roles as Twin 1 and 2 (Mark was 2) in Hellraiser IV: Bloodline be any deterrent – there are only so many DoubleMint commercials available out there! Let this movie let you judge their performances.

The filmmaking is a little rough, the shots a little messy, the scenes a little intimate (perhaps budget did not allow for much location dressing). Some wackiness occurs that perhaps is supposed to give the message “who are we to say what is freakish” but it doesn’t quite come across. Overall, the movie is quiet and slow and deliberate, and I was never bored, just occasionally sometimes anxious for something to happen that wasn’t already happening. But the story was engaging, the acting for the most part (some of the side roles were just not as strongly cast as the main ones) was even and natural, and of course, one can’t help but be a little hypnotized by the subject matter. How does it feel? How do you…? What did you do as children? Their clothes are out of date, as if their former circus career ended more than 10 years ago, and they have had no new clothes since. Nice little duplicitous touches are everywhere (some more heavy handed than others) and over all, it’s a nice little movie.

I only say Matinee (with some shame) because it was a bit slow and it was also a bit choppy, and I know some people may come away dissatisfied. But I found it to be very interesting and touching. So, you go see it and be the judge.

MPAA Rating R for language.
Release date 7/30/99
Time in minutes 111
Director Michael Polish
Studio Sony Pictures Classics

Comments Off on Deep Blue Sea (1999)

Deep Blue Sea (1999)

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Smart sharks. Stupid filmmakers. During the credits, the cursed name of Akiva Goldsman came up, and I knew I was in trouble. The man who wrote and produced the vomitous Lost in Space and wrote the execrable Batman Forever/Batman & Robin – this is a man who needs to be eaten by a smart shark. Samuel L. Jackson’s 3rd movie that even he couldn’t save (Fandom Menace and Sphere). Mr. Jackson wins the award for most un-freaking-expected moment in the whole movie. If you have no intention of seeing it, write me and ask me about it. I’d hate to spoil it, it (and super hunk Thomas Jane) were the only things worth seeing – but they were worth seeing enough to rate the movie “catch it on HBO.”

To the writers’ credit, a lot of what is said about sharks is true. Basically, sharks are the sexiest wonders of evolution in the world. After 65 million years, they have evolved into a perfect carnivorous machine. The cockroach, the coelocanth, and the shark will all kick our Darwinian butts come…the Darwinian equivalent of Judgment Day, but we have reduced them to goofy, inane set pieces in a movie that does little more than prove the Hollywood theory that Movies Made On Water (With The Notable Exception Of Titanic) Never Profit.

Poor underappreciated Renny Harlin. I have yet to hate a movie he has directed. He makes these expensive, epic movies (Cutthroat Island, anyone?) with terrific sequences and incredible stunt work and visuals and pacing and then people crab about the dialogue. Someone please raise your hand: Who saw Cliffhanger expecting the dialogue from a Coen brothers movie? He doesn’t know much about the English language: After a computerized explanation of the brain research they were doing I actually thought, “Hey, I bet this would be easy to translate into any language.” Harlin does know about the language of action sequences. He should get into Kung Fu John Woo Jackie Chan type movies, whose script shortcomings American audiences are more ready to forgive. Long Kiss Goodnight is *awesome!* His action scenes in Deep Blue Sea, even if you have no idea how they could possibly be relevant to the plot, are totally full-blown pro. I was gripping my seat and freaking out in a scene with a helicopter.

Oh heavens but the whole script is pretty dang dumb. Visually exciting but D-U-M. Why enlarge the shark’s brains when you could, uh, use more sharks? Why harvest a “lot” when you could harvest a little and synthesize? Why explain to the sub-cretinous popcorn-chomping masses through digitally enhanced instant gratification what the heck all this brain talk is leading up to? My friends out there in the neuroscience field, please don’t see this movie at all. You will go mad. (Note to my frequent readers: I really, truly am friends with rocket scientists, neuroscientists, sexy-accented foreigners, actors, movie people, swordfighters, and all these other folk I frequently reference. I am their friends solely to boost my career and make me look cooler in my reviews. Right guys? Guys?)

The set is very cool. Catch it on HBO, have some friends over and play MST3K during the silly parts (watch for that gratuitous disrobing!), and admire that set. The dialogue doesn’t string together well, but the geography of that complicated set does. Remember in Armageddon how the Mir was all jumbled and you couldn’t tell where anyone was without the little LCD? Deep Blue Sea (soon to be known around the studios as Deep Red Ink) somehow avoided that editing trap. The sharks are pretty cool looking, someone gets to ask Samuel L. Jackson if he is “The Man,” (to which the answer is, of course, affirmative), and Thomas Jane is HOT – despite being that skanky mustached guy in Boogie Nights. And that girl Saffron Burrows (*there’s* a porn name for you!) is cute too, I guess. Sexual tension – you bet – between LL Cool J and his parrot, that is.

They shot this movie at the Fox Studios in Baja, aka the Titanic tank, also home to In Dreams, and you know what? Not just using logic, mind you, that the most kick ass water-tank would be home to every water movie ever made from here on out (avoiding Waterworld’s budget-escalating set losses) – but you can just freaking TELL when people are in that tank. The water is crystalline, it’s lit from below, and even when it’s murky, it’s clean. Guys: install fish.

MPAA Rating R for graphic shark attacks, language.
Release date 7/28/99
Time in minutes 105
Director Renny Harlin
Studio Warner Brothers