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As Good As It Gets

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By now you are probably sick of hearing about how good this movie is, and I have to agree that I am sick as well of the hype. But my reviews struggle (sometimes fruitlessly) against the hype!

I have found, in recent years, two truths in the cinema: 1. Jack Nicholson has never recovered from the way-over-the-top role of The Joker and has become increasingly difficult to watch and 2. Greg Kinnear is a shallow bit of fluff.

BOTH those truths were out the door with this movie. Jack has finally met his match with a complicated role which I am convinced few besides him could manage. Melvin is loathsome, tactless, fussy, weird, and yet totally understandable, layered, and interesting, even sympathetic.

As for Kinnear, well, I saw Dear God, and I have to say that this, my friends, is the acting he was supposed to have been doing. Helen Hunt is great too – I know many will argue with me, but I found her pragmatic yet idiosyncratic Jamie Buchman all over her character. Not that I minded, OK, I just want you guys to know that I actually thought she stretched more to be less like herself in Twister. Her acceptance speech at the Golden Globes was very…her.
This is not criticism per se, just facts. I found the situations and dialogue interesting, and the whole development of irritating loony as emotional center to the film to be fascinating.

Plus it’s funny and entertaining and witty and pretty to look at to boot. It’s a tad outlandish, but one would expect the life and lives surrounding the life of a man like Melvin to be unusual.

One complaint – many of the best lines in the movie were featured in the preview, and that fact actually robs them of their emotional impact when they occur in the movie. Going to as many movies as I do, I saw the preview easily 20-30 times. Maybe for the more normal the moments won’t be as ruined – or, since the movie has been out since forever (I won’t tell you when I *actually* saw it but rest assured it was not in the past 3 weeks), you have forgotten the preview.

I recommend it. It may not ring as hard core reality to you, but it does contain many truths about people.

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 12/23/97
Time in minutes 138
Director James L. Brooks
Studio TriStar Pictures

Comments Off on Titanic


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Full Freakin Price with Popcorn – NO DRINK!

I know full well that by now, you have probably been inundated by folks creaming over this movie. They are correct to do so. It has everything you could possibly want in a movie, squeezed into a bladder-bursting 3hrs and 20 minutes. There is talk of “it’s a real classic” and “Jim Cameron had better get the Oscar this year” – perhaps, perhaps…it would be unfair to the many great movies that have come out this year to dismiss them in the face of this expensive monstrosity, but BY GOD this is one fabulous movie. In fact, I was often so absorbed in just taking it all in, that I missed gobs of key dialogue.

You may know that it cost $200 million plus. You may not realize how much of that money was NOT spent on computer effects. In fact, the ONLY disappointment I felt watching this film was with the computer generated effects. Some long, lovely, sweeping shots of the boat deck as it sails are positively Myst-like. It’s a shame, too. Every CGI house in the world is listed in the credits it seems, and one of them did the cold-air breath on all the actors. *That* looks fabulous.

NOW. The real effects (i.e. the things they did with 3 dimensional real world objects) are absolutely mind boggling. Hair raising. Heart-stopping. Gorgeous reproductions of Titanic debris as it was when it was new. Most footage of sea-crusty Titanic debris underwater is REAL. Cameron developed the submarine crawlers and probes that took better actual live footage of the wreck than has ever been taken before. Titanic does have the best art department in the world and they will work for the rest of their lives with this on their resume, but the wreckage and the undersea footage is THE REAL FREAKIN TITANIC.

A wonderful shot, taken by the probe, pilots us through a ruined corridor, familiar from watching the action of the film, past a fireplace and a doorway we recognize from the Movie part, and then it seamlessly fades into how it looked back then. Stunning. Wonderful. As we drift through the silent, multi-ton/psi world that is the Titanic’s home, a faint faint echo of the music of the Titanic wafts through the soundtrack. I was literally breathless.

THEN we have this great story with a smart, independent rich girl (Kate Winslet, perfect) who fears wasting away in her shallow life (Billy Zane, wicked and handsome) falling in love with a sweet boy from steerage (Leonardo DiCaprio, bringing nothing new but nothing unwelcome)- oh, yes, and then the ship sinks. We are completely involved with their story, and their plot line is strong enough to be its own film; then, because we are so With them, when the ship is going down, we are totally emotionally caught up in the terror and the surreal fear. Oh and if you are a kook like me, you will have eyes all a-bug at the incredible spectacle of a REAL GIGANTIC 90% scale version of the Titanic sinking in real water with hundreds of real people screaming and clinging and slipping and OH my god the humanity!

On TOP of this we have a lyrical performance by Gloria Stuart, as the grownup Kate Winslet, and Gloria made me cry in the first 30 minutes of the movie. She is simply divine on camera. By the end, and I am NOT making this up, a large grown man 2 rows back was SOBBING UNCONTROLLABLY. Oh and then we have a half-developed plot about uncovering a lost diamond and some incredible hats and gowns and music and equipment and wonderful sound design and WOW. At points, my jaded, multiplex self would prepare to snort at anything maudlin, and then Cameron would just slip in and NOT manipulate me and not patronize me and it was wonderful.

Towards the end (am I giving anything away by saying the ship goes down and..er…some people die?), a nameless pair of extras, an old couple, await their death in their stateroom, and thinking about it now makes me cry. We never saw them before (or since!) but it was a beautiful moment. The characters are well drawn overall (not so much in the present day framing story) and the disaster, the fear, the BOOM of the whole thing was just so vivid. Showing a computer reproduction of the disaster in the present day segment helped us comprehend the terrible truth of the 1912 segments.

Industry types: Russell Carter, director of photography. Hire him. Deborah Scott – costumes. Hire her. Writer/director/producer/editor – James Cameron. This is a symphony. Cameron is known for being a tyrant on the set and pushing the budget envelope way past all semblance of reality, and the results are all up here. Two studios had to finance this to make it happen, and I don’t think Fox or Paramount are going to regret it. So flee the theatre before Celine Dion (UGH!) ruins the mood but be sure to clap for the art department and the stunt people (crew list roughly equivalent to the population of Rhode Island). It’s truly marvelous. Do NOT get a drink before you go in there, but the time flies by.

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 12/23/1997
Time in minutes 194
Director James Cameron
Studio Fox/Paramount

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Loath as I am to admit this, I was massively underwhelmed by Amistad. Maybe it was the fallout from seeing Titanic first, maybe it was my jaded sigh of resignation upon seeing the Dreamworks logo and the woefully overrated Matthew McConaughey.

Most of the clever points I have to make in this review I have to attribute to my moviegoing companion, because he was better able to put his finger on what was wrong with Amistad. The story, while an interesting one and a historical one, was not humanized as it should have been for maximum audience empathy; nor was it, historically speaking, a very glamorous means to an end. A group of slaves, kidnapped from Sierra Leone, rise against their captors but then are captured as “salvage” by the US. A dry property dispute ensues, tempered little by the human side of the issue.

The movie has fine moments, however. Djimon Hounsou, who plays Cinque, the leader of the group of Africans, is evocative and powerful on screen. His recounting of how he got to the US is horrific and stirring. Anthony Hopkins, as John Quincy Adams, orates a long and moving speech which hints at the human side of the drama, but mostly appeals to legal technicalities.

The story of the revolt on board La Amistad is an interesting one, but the sad thing is, the whole legal leg it stands on is a boring one. Defining the men’s status as property, and whose property, is a sad way for one to win one’s freedom, even though the freedom is the point. This year for Spielberg was a faint echo of 1993; whiz bang dinosaur movie followed by Very Important Film. Unfortunately, this duo was not as magical as the first. I was surprised to note that 30 minutes of film passed by with not a word of English – and not all was subtitled.

Morgan Freeman has a role ripe for a little dramatic license – a freedman involved in the case of the Africans’ plight. It would have been interesting to explore Cinque’s feelings and Freeman’s feelings related to the issues of black men as property and strength and courage and whatnot, but instead the courtroom drama prattles on about treaty jurisdiction and receipts and manifests.

Amistad is worth seeing for the performances and to get to know the story if you aren’t familiar with it. It’s chock full of stars and Very Important Music (courtesy of John Williams, who just might not get to finish that Academy Award chess set this year) and I wasn’t as hugely annoyed with McConaughey as I usually am.

I don’t think Spielberg is going to get as much guff about being a white man telling a black man’s tale as he received for The Color Purple, nor can I fault him for the Christian virtues as alien concepts thread running through the story. I think the whole historical untouchability of a Very Important Film and the incredibly dry nature of the actual facts was what made this production a lose-lose proposition for Spielberg. He can’t add to history without being faulted, even if it makes the film more real for the viewer, and he can’t push the slant of the story too far out of what would be acceptable for him to narrate.

What am I saying? I think it should be seen (before you see Titanic) but don’t pay too much.

MPAA Rating R -strong brutal violence and some nudity.
Release date 12/23/97
Time in minutes
Director Steven Spielberg
Studio Dreamworks

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Mouse Hunt

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I know! I wouldn’t have thought so! Actually, maybe it’s Matinee with lots of snacks. I went to this movie at a matinee when I was unexpectedly released from work early, so I was in a great mood. I went with a very cynical friend so I figured we would have a good chuckle and make fun of it. Instead, I literally found myself laughing at stuff (including preview scenes) and saying, “I shouldn’t be laughing at this but it’s so dang funny!”

Lee Evans and Nathan Lane play brothers who inherit this house, which has a very cute and really impressive little mouse in it. Mayhem ensues. It’s cartoon violence but it’s really funny! Some of these gags are the oldest imaginable and yet somehow, Mousehunt pulls them off! Watch Evans in a string factory – it was surprisingly funny!

Alan Silvestri did the music, and I bet that had something to do with keeping my mood up – it was merry and light and the whole movie was a gas – I wanted to see it again right away! Really!

This is no high art here, people, this is two grown men flummoxed by some great mouse effects (I could never tell when the mouse was real or animatronic and I bet you won’t be able to either – that little bugger is great!). At one point, I didn’t even remember who I was supposed to be rooting for – and that’s OK!

Just when you think you’ve seen enough men snapped by mousetraps, enter Christopher Walken. Yes, THAT Christopher Walken. He’s great. You should see the movie just for his scene. Ironically, he played a singing and dancing Puss in Boots for cable. Yes, THAT Christopher Walken. And not all that long a time ago.

The mousecam is incredible, all the visuals are great, it’s everything 101 Dalmations wished it was but was not. Don’t take the kids – it’s actually pretty dark. Like, quite dark. Junior high and up, maybe. The pound scene upset me. It was generally unexpectedly grownup, but still gleefully cartoonish – the perfect movie for us Xers who loved the coyote and the roadrunner, but crave special effects and funny bits. Kudos to Stan Winston, Boone’s Animals for Hollywood, and Rhythm and Hues – that freakin’ mouse was awesome!

Mousehunt is also set in that neat new Hollywood timeless cross between the 1940’s and the present, with groovy big cars and men in hats and Hudsucker Proxyesque factory machinery. I took almost no notes because I was really having a great time. You should see it.

DVD Note: Check out the crazy German-style techno preview they never showed in the theaters!

MPAA Rating PG
Release date 12/19/97
Time in minutes 98
Director Gore Verbinski
Studio DreamWorks

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Scream 2

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OK, when asked, I can only reply, “Ass-kickin!”

I realize that that is not a very useful review, so I will attempt to give you a bit more – but always remember the phrase “ass kickin” in the back of your mind.

If you don’t like horror movies and/or you didn’t like Scream, you will not like this movie. Otherwise, start pumping out the money, like everyone else is – it made $40 million opening weekend, double what Beavis and Butthead made last December and breaking December opening box office records.

SO? I am willing to bet that it was huge groups (like ours) filling the seats and repeat viewers (like I want to be) filling the lines. So, just like the preview suggests, there is a larger body count, more elaborate death scenes, and tons of suspects as to who the killer is. But so much more! Scream 1 was chock full of in-jokes about horror movies and following the rules of the genre, it was smartly written, and full of great booga booga slasher wackiness. Scream 2 is just as smartly written, if not more so, and takes the metafictional aspect of the Scream series one step further – I predict by Scream 5 we will be on live video watching ourselves watch the movie!

S2 discusses and obeys the rules of a sequel a la Scream 1, but it also pokes fun at the idea of “based on a true story” always being a lesser work than the true story itself, and it makes fun of capitalizing on an event…it really twists around on itself in a dozen clever ways, and to give a good example would be to ruin the surprise.

So, Scream 2 includes the premiere of the movie Stab which is based on the book that Courtney Cox’s character wrote about the events that occurred in Scream. So, Stab is Scream, and Scream 2 is indirectly about the fallout for Stab, while also picking up where Scream left off. It’s great.

Stab is great, too, because the footage we see is shot by shot a mimicry of Scream, but with different actors, who are not as good (on purpose) as who they are playing. Heather Graham a.k.a. Rollergirl plays Drew Barrymore’s part from the opener of Scream, etc. Very funny! You have to see it to get the full effect. Oh, and what a horrible horrible way to die! Oops! Did I give anything away?

The movie occasionally found me saying, “hey, what’s with all this plot? Let’s kill somebody already!” But then, action would resume, and really, the plot parts were never boring. I got to know a bunch of the characters so I cared when they died, and even having forgotten huge chunks of Scream I easily followed the sequel parts. Deputy Dewey (David Arquette) is back, with his Broken Arrow soundtrack and full Bruce Campbell hamming style, as well as the Tarantino video guy Jamie Kennedy, Neve Campbell, Liev Schreiber, and Courtney Cox. Oh, and that ghoulish black and white mask. A bunch of Neve’s new friends get killed too.

It was scary, more suspenseful than the last one I think, with excruciatingly tense scenes where your whole body is screaming GET OUT OF THERE! The guy behind me who was with us was saying in a very matter of fact voice at one point, “This is so scary. My god, this is really scary! Man, I am so scared!” He was serious, but it was hysterical. Myself, I was at that point pulling my hair (literally – I’m told it was rather adorable) and sitting on my feet and chewing on my coat making a high pitched GGGHHH! noise. I’m not talking about “ew!” and covering my eyes, people, I mean like eyes bugging out, sweaty armpits, rictus of grinning terror on my face, hopping up and down. My whole group was pleased with the film and he who plays the Hollywood Stock Exchange had giant glittery $$$ in his eyes.

I don’t want to give anything away but all the self-referential stuff is great, the ending is a surprise, and the scene with the car (that’s all I’ll say) is a bed wetter! Get a bunch of your favorite people, a few gallons of popcorn, and prepare to be scared. The nice part is there was no lingering paranoia walking back to the car, just Yahhooo!

So go see it already!

MPAA Rating R for language and strong bloody violence.
Release date 12/15/1997
Time in minutes 96
Director Wes Craven
Studio Dimension Films

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Alien: Resurrection

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During the actual experience of watching Alien: Resurrection I was so caught up in Sigourney Weaver’s quest for her identity and her interesting personal dilemmas, while being surrounded by the fascinating and cool looking visuals that are the calling card of director Jean-Pierre Jeunet, that I didn’t realize until later how stupid the whole thing was. Chalk up one more for Sigourney’s acting and chalk up one more reason to stop with sequels already.

I enjoyed myself more than I did during Alien3 (directed by David Fincher, of Seven and The Game fame, so maybe I should see that one again), but Alien:R was not packed with powerhouse actors, save Ms. Weaver. It made me realize again how truly elegant Aliens (the 2nd one) is. Like Michael Biehn’s Hicks in Aliens and Charles S. Dutton’s character in Alien3, thinly drawn characters can take on all 3 dimensions with the proper actor. But with the exception of Dan Hedaya as the general, Alien Resurrection’s secondary characters were FAR less interesting than the machinery they used.

Jeunet and his D.P. Darius Khondji (Evita, Seven) definitely have a trademark look, best seen in The City of Lost Children, which, I’m sorry to say, I HATED. One more reason to give Fincher’s stab at the Alien series a second look. Resurrection added nothing to the mythology of this fabulous species, it dropped a nuke on earth and bent science far past the pardonable levels, and it wasn’t even all that exciting. It was sensual and weird – if only it had had a decent story!

I felt as though the underappreciated art department killed themselves just barely making deadlines, made all this great stuff, and Jeunet saw it for the first time the day of shooting, so he drags the camera over it lovingly, destroying the pace and even some of the illusion of the great sets and props. Sure, we get a looooong look at some very good work, but aren’t we supposed to have our hearts pumping in terror right about now? Oh well!

I was very wrapped up in Sigourney’s inner journey and her trying to come to terms with being a resurrected clone with only partial memories and all kinds of new and exciting abilities. They cloned her from some goo left over from her body in Alien3, wherein she was the host to an alien queen pupa. All well and good, except writer Joss Whedon forgets that parasites don’t genetically fuse with their hosts, making the whole blended biology thing kind of retarded. I have liked some of Whedon’s work (Toy Story, Buffy the Vampire Slayer) in the past so I am going to assume that for this film someone told him what to write.

Goofiness ensues involving lots of unpleasant people we never really get to know, some bitchin’ underwater CGI shots, and the execrable Winona Ryder obviously miscast and miswritten and just awful. Why they felt the need to have on-land aliens computer generated when 12 years ago they had perfectly gorgeous puppets is beyond me.

I started to care as they swam for their lives out of the frying pan and into the egg-infested fire, but then Winona shows up, mumbling valley girl android dialogue and saving the day, sort of, in a very stupid and unheroic way, and well, I stopped caring altogether. Don’t even ask about the mammalian hybrid nonsense at the end. Despite the science snafus and all that, are not these aliens kick-ass enough, that you have to make something new and less scary? Oh and did I mention that Winona Ryder, once deeply revered by myself after Heathers, was horrible?

I can’t even say it was all because of the material (some of it was). But damn the alien containment apparatus and the cryo chambers and wheelchairs and all that stuff was cool looking! And I really felt Sigourney’s pain. Maybe it came from watching a superawesome series crash and burn like…like…the Batman series. And still we are left with an opening for yet another sequel. Please, Jim Cameron, Tim Burton, someone we trust, please take the reins and put this alien baby to sleep.

*Note: The film was orginally rated “Dollar Movie;” that price availability has since gone the way of the dodo.

MPAA Rating R -sci-fi violence & gore, and for language.
Release date 12/8/97
Time in minutes 108
Director Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Studio 20th Century Fox

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Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

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I had no idea this (screenplay by John Lee Hancock) was based on a book by John Berendt which was based on a true story until after the movie was over. Knowing that makes me forgive a great deal of the content that seemed extraneous and irrelevant at the time I was watching.

John Cusack is a reporter invited to Savannah to cover Kevin Spacey’s famous Christmas party for Town & Country magazine, and intrigue ensues. Sometimes director Clint Eastwood became too enamored of all the wonderful and interesting characters that inhabit Savannah (which apparently has no normal people) and forgot about Spacey and Cusack. No matter – many of them were nice diversions and actually part of the story, but it felt like a traveler’s diary (which I presume the book actually was). It was languid and genteel and very tonal, and never really broke out of that tempo. But it was never boring.

I had high expectations for watching Kevin Spacey and John Cusack match their considerable wits and acting chops on screen, but they fizzled a bit in my eyes. Spacey brought nothing new to this performance from his other esteemed roles except a sweet Georgia drawl, and John Cusack, chewing another man’s words, never felt quite at home to me. I also realize that Spacey’s onscreen gift is that he looks like he is always thinking something that you’ll never be allowed to know; Cusack looks like he is feeling something and you feel it at the same time he does, never before. Together they are just gazing at each other, thinking and feeling but not really doing anything. A romance with Alison Eastwood seems tacked on and unimportant (even if it really happened) and only serves as a motivation for her to help Cusack in the 3rd reel.

Cusack has the best line to describe this film in the movie itself: It’s like Gone with the Wind on Mescaline. Jude Law has an odd, small part, as a rebel-flag tattooed bad boy, his lovely English accent all but gone as he swaggers about in tight Wranglers. Irma P. Hall is a voo doo woman with a prominent role; someone suggested she was the moral center of the film. Perhaps so, but the meandering, nay, ambling nature of the narrative was interrupted by her upbeat, jolly magicks. Many things happened with little explanation, and with little consequence or effect.

It’s interesting but not fascinating, it’s good but not great. I didn’t want to read the book afterward, but I was not sorry I was introduced to all these people. It felt like a decent meal at a restaurant in a town you will never visit again.

MPAA Rating R for language and brief violence.
Release date 12/8/97
Time in minutes 135
Director Clint Eastwood
Studio Warner Brothers

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Good Will Hunting

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Good Will Hunting, as I am sure by now you have already heard, is a really good movie. It’s kind of a guy-bonding kind of Beaches movie, with men crying and identifying and so on. I just thought it had a supremely and surprisingly mature, sophisticated script, especially considering the age of its authors.

Matt Damon (The Rainmaker) stars, and with supporting actor Ben Affleck (Chasing Amy), wrote a really amazing screenplay. Damon plays a kind of loserly custodian type who happens to be a genius, and Affleck is his best friend who is not.

Generally it seems that people who write supernormal characters for themselves fall into that Kevin Costner trap of self-aggrandizing moronic yabbering, but not so with these guys. Damon writes himself as a sympathetic guy who is what he is but doesn’t care to be so, who loves his beer-swilling friends but happens to have an extraordinary wealth of book knowledge and comprehension. What makes the story into gold is how they wrote the older characters in the film (Robin Williams’ psychologist and Skellar Skarsgard’s math professor) as people actually wiser than the genius star. Williams in particular spends a great deal of the movie pointing out Damon’s flaws and his immaturity. All the “adults” have interesting character development, rather than just being dads or bad guys or just bitter shadows behind the star’s genius. At no point do we feel that Damon is unavailable to us or that he himself thinks he is just hot stuff. I especially appreciated Will Hunting(the character, sorry!)’s total lack of passion or drive for anything.

Damon gets involved with Minnie Driver, and she is not just a babe for him to play with while the plot skims along, driven by Danny Elfman’s unElfmanesque score. Driver is great and everyone is great. It’s all I can say, really.

I didn’t cry, as some of my men friends have, because I guess women don’t have these same emotional walls and infallibility standards that men do. I know I will get crap for that but I hope you know what I mean.

Directed by Gus Van Sandt, a man one could say is not known for churning out crowd-pleasers, Good Will Hunting seems to be totally loyal to the material and not concerned with Hollywoodizing it up. Pulp Fiction producer Lawrence Bender may have helped Van Sandt along here.

Robin Williams, I am pleased to say, is back where I love him most – playing gently humorous but deeply heartfelt characters. He can still be real and funny and from the hip, but with his wisdom. A monologue he has, done almost entirely in one long, loving shot, is the best Robin Williams I have seen in forever.
So, you know, go see it.

MPAA Rating R-strong language, sex-related dialogue.
Release date 12/5/97
Time in minutes 126
Director Gus Van Sandt
Studio Miramax

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The Ice Storm

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You know how when you are outside of a relationship or a situation, and someone asks you advice(example: a friend’s romantic troubles) on that situation, you can see the whole situation with unusual clarity? Or is that just me? Director Ang Lee (Sense and Sensibility) has that power with sociological situations. With S&S, it was pure British elite honkiness; with The Ice Storm, it’s early 1970’s New England cultural ripples, Americana like junior high bands blatting Oscar winning theme songs and levered ice trays. And he paints with genuine emotion like Jim Cameron paints with money. I mean, special effects.

I have read quite a few articles which holler about how this movie captures a snapshot of the coming of age of America, the sexual revolution, the disillusionment of everyone with Vietnam and not trusting the presidency, etc., but I really didn’t get as powerful a sense of that sitting in the theatre. In the dark I watched the pain of being a smart adolescent, the pain of unhappy people, of unaccepted children and the fear of trying to be cooler than you are. I was only three when the movie was set, and maybe lacking that direct experience prompted my response.

It is NOT a feel good movie, but it is a good movie. The only reason I don’t say Full Price Feature (and as I write this, I am reconsidering my rating) is because it didn’t HIT me, you know? It didn’t strike the chord in me that it might in my parents’ generation, so I hold back with the praise.

Kevin Kline and Sigourney Weaver are neighbors and lovers – her husband (Jamey Sheridan) is a forgettable guy, but we the audience know he will be a zillionaire and just hope he divorces her before that time. Joan Allen, as always cast as the cold wife, complements Kevin Kline in a way I never thought she could. Kline and Allen are the parents of Christina Ricci Tobey Maguire. Elijah Wood and Adam Hann-Byrd (Jumanji) are Weaver and Sheridan’s children. The kids are all great – smart and yet totally unsure what to do with the smarts they have – sexually aware but ignorant. Very cool performances, all of them. And they look like they could be related, too. Bonus.

The eponymous storm is really amazing – a very cool (sorry so technical!) moody setup and gorgeous shots by Frederick Elmes – you really feel the cold and the unwillingness to move, the weight of the ice on the branches layering on and on until they snap.

The screenplay is by James Schamus based on Rick Moody’s novel, and Schamus uses bits from the novel (which I have not read but I will) that drop off suddenly, like an interesting parallel between, of all things, The Fantastic Four, and families. The film draws me to the book to know more. Much happens in the 2 hr and some minutes film, but it’s still a thin slice of life, like a time capsule, but it’s very interesting, and hints of more. No doubt about it, it’s a total downer, but a thought provoking one, with plenty of humor and all that good stuff. Pay full price for the novel (I can only assume) and catch the matinee with plenty to munch on. But don’t wait for video – the dark and cold, blue ice storm shots would be lost in TV ratio even on DVD.

MPAA Rating R-sexuality, drug use, language.
Release date 11/25/97
Time in minutes 113
Director Fox Searchlight
Studio Ang Lee

Comments Off on Anastasia


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I know, I should have known I would hate a Don Bluth movie, but it looked so promising. After some industry input from my animator friends, I can express my feelings more accurately, but please know that all the emotions were already there.

This movie is boring, horribly animated, and the villain could have been cut from the movie and nothing would change, plot wise. Meg Ryan should never ever be allowed to do voice over work again. The songs were short, weird and unhummable, expect the December song from the music box. The mix of computer animation and hand drawn was jarring. One would think that animation technology outside Orlando would be relatively even planed but the faces looked like they were underwater, the movements were clearly based on live action reference models (who I thought acted very well, actually – more natural movements than the similarly modeled Snow White), and did I mention how much I hated the way they overused computer pieces – in Aladdin, I had to look to see computer versus hand drawn, they fused so naturally – here the jerky hands hold the smoothly, eerily floating objects that didn’t need to be CGI in the first place!

Hank Azaria’s Bartok, John Cusack’s Dimitri (I could guest host the Rosie O’Donnell show and just gush about both those guys!), Kelsey Grammer’s Vladimir, Angela Lansbury’s Dowager Duchess, and Christopher Lloyd’s Random Rasputin were well voiced, acted to the limits of the script, and those who sang, did well. The singing voice for Anya (I apologize, miss, for not getting your name – Bluth only features the talking voices in the picture gallery) was quite lovely.

I couldn’t help but wish the movie had been live action all the way through. I did very much enjoy the fact that while they are in Paris, all the backgrounds are done in Impressionist style.

PS The Romanovs were all shot to death in a field, not escaping, waving from a train. Don’t tell the kiddies!

Now my soapbox. I am all too cognizant of the state of live action musicals and animated movies as an art form and as a lucrative film investment. Animators are dying for work and all they have is claptrap like this and Quest for Camelot if they are lucky. Too many suits out there think all the world wants is an inane plot to justify the drawing of it, and that is enough. Kids have never been that stupid and they will never be. Disney is getting the short end with movies like Hercules and the Hunchback of Notre Dame – they modify the original story, I concede, but taken as individual pieces, both movies are very strong for adults and children. Most studios out there don’t realize the cash cow for animation that is good. Has anyone noticed the ratings the Simpsons, King of the Hill, Nickelodeon cartoons, and South Park get? MAKE GOOD CARTOONS.

As for movie musicals, executives are constantly shocked when they change or take out the songs, alter the story, and pack it with dubbed over faces and why we think movie musicals don’t work. People, they can work if the filmmaker understands the difference between stage and screen and the executives leave the masterwork alone. Despite the regrettable cuts made for the movie, rent The Wiz and see what I am talking about.
OK. GO see Anastasia to support to creation of animated movies, but better yet, write your local congressperson and demand that Hollywood (especially Don Bluth) be forbidden to screw the medium up any more.
For all you Bartok fans out there, “Hey Fred, I need a tequila!”

MPAA Rating G
Release date 11/14/97
Time in minutes 94
Director Gary Goldman, Don Bluth
Studio 20th Century Fox