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Mr. Nice Guy (1998)

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Now I’m a big Jackie Chan fan like anyone, even though I have only seen a few of his movies (which, I am assured, are still not as good as Project A Part 2 and Drunken Master) but I cannot recommend this movie. The fight scenes were not the usual jaw-dropping gorgeousness that I have come to expect, and the silliness was more silly like a porn movie than silly like a modern-day slapstick Buster Keaton. Only one scene was what I could consider “proper” Jackie Chan, a scene in a construction area with wacky flapping doors and dangerous power tools – and I had to wait an hour and 10 minutes to get to it.

It wasn’t directed by Stanley Tong (perhaps his DGA membership was revoked after Mr. Magoo) and maybe that is the problem, Jackie was not given the freedom to be Jackie and we the audience were not considered. Early in the movie the camera passes through a room full of brooms and ladders and my pulse raced, thinking of the fun to come. If you have seen a decent Chan movie you know of which I speak. A hideously looped drug lord premise and the red headed Aussie lady from NYPD Blue attempted to fashion a movie out of the mess written by Edward Tang and Fibe Ma. Jackie is a TV chef who accidentally gets involved. YAWN. He’s just a nice guy, with a woman assistant, a girlfriend, and the Aussie tabloid reporter babe, and no hilarity or ass kicking ensues.

Some truly awful post-principal photography decision was to make scenes that were not slo-mo into slo-mo as if that would add anything. I don’t even mean like John Woo some bad boy is coming over the hill slo-mo, I mean a n d s h e ‘ s r u n n i n g t o c a t c h t h e b u s slomo. YAWN. Plus since it was shot with the wrong speed film, it just looked messy and pixelated, like the end of Toys. Weird blurry closeups and truly addictive use of the afterthought slo-mo combined with little or no intrigue, humor, or ass kicking, and what do you have? A big truck and $6.75 down the tubes.

Never mind poorly thought out details, like a cinema-quality video tape supposedly taken in secret from a corner of the room (complete with cuts and angles and music), or the painful uselessness of the bloopers at the end – a Jackie staple – but they’re ACTING bloopers? Who cares? Where’s the ambulance?

I was saddened.
*Note: this film was originally rated Dollar Movie, which fell between Catch the Network Premiere and Catch it on HBO

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 3/20/98
Time in minutes 83
Director Sammo Hung
Studio New Line Cinema

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The Big Lebowski

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I don’t know what to recommend you spend for this movie. As a Coen brothers fan, I want all Coen movies to be seen by everyone. As a movie goer struggling to write reviews that will touch the people in the heartland, my automatic response is that some people just won’t like it, because they will be distracted by the things I found wrong with it, but not notice all the things that are so right with it. If you have never seen a Coen brothers movie before, do not start with this one. As a Coen brothers fan, I was disappointed – but only because their movies like Fargo and Hudsucker Proxy and Raising Arizona are such delicious treasures that an “average” one like this is a let down, but it is not by any means, a bad film. I must stress that. Two of the people I saw it with found it to be sublime and perfect. I was entertained and amused, but…well, you’ll see.

I missed writing down the name of the music archivist during the opening credits and never saw it again – but he did some amazing work. The soundtrack is really interesting and special and sold out all over town! Roger Deakins, the god among cinematographers who made The Shawshank Redemption so beautiful, is not doing anything particularly magical ALL the time, but there are some seriously cool shots.

The Big L is populated with the Working Title Films stable of actors, all good, all doing something different, and all doing something great. John Goodman is so good at being the abrasive idiot of a VietNam vet that he is, he transcends just annoying his fellow characters and starts to annoy you. But you have to forgive him because he’s great! Jeff Bridges is new to the fold, and here he is The Dude. He’s the perfect LA stoner adult who just can’t be bothered with the crazy wacky world around him. Accidentally, he is swept into the world of a man with the same name as himself (Jeff Lebowski) and we are swept along as well.

The look is sort of signature Coen- but I found it unpalatably Hollywood. Maybe because it was shot in LA, they wanted to make it flat and fake. A friend suggested the movie is in Dude-O-Vision – we see the action in the film as he does. The Dude is inundated with interesting people – the film is chock full of great characters that never get borne out – but out of sight, out of mind. Strange recurring themes like Chinamen and the randomness that plagues all real people, and the bizarrities of the truly stupid people of the world are explored lovingly. There is a lot to like and enjoy about this film. John Turturro plays a creepy bowler named Jesus (not Hay-soos, but Jee-zus) and he is so showcased and so unused. Very frustrating. Julianne Moore’s vaginal art world woman was interesting if perhaps not too much so. The Nihilists, chock full of rock and roll cameos, could have been really interesting but instead they were just…left overs.

The part where I come up with “I don’t know” is where, when the movie is over (and I had to be told it’s over in an inconsistently trite manner), I felt empty, unsatisfied, unresolved…not that I have to have pure resolution, but I felt like I had eaten a great meal and then thrown it up. It was disheartening. Perhaps, along with my friends theory of Dude-O-Vision, that habitual stoners feel like that at the end of the day as well – vaguely unsettled. They had a good day, sure, it was a cool groove, man, but what, now it’s over? What happened?

MPAA Rating R -strong language, drugs, sexuality, brief violence.
Release date 3/6/98
Time in minutes 117
Director Joel & Ethan Coen
Studio PolyGram Films

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Wings of the Dove

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Wings of the Dove is a bummer. That said, it’s a smoothly scripted, nicely acted, beautifully shot bummer that makes you think about the nature of love and the strength of the lies we tell ourselves. Ooh, deep, huh? After garnering 4 Oscar nominations, I knew I had to see it to make any kind of informed commentary on the awards.

Helena Bonham-Carter’s nominated performance is strong, but not necessarily anything I can’t imagine someone else doing. This may be unfair of me to say – I find it difficult to qualify acting performances, and her character is very interesting and layered, but at the same time, I just wasn’t blown away. I think the role of her ill American friend Milly (Allison Elliott) was more complex on the visible surface than Bonham-Carter’s – this could be either Elliott’s strength or B-C’s weakness, I can’t say. Anyway, my point is lost here – it’s good, and interesting.

Helena loves a man below her station, and her friend is rich and dying. She sees a solution and goes after it, and then I wouldn’t say mayhem or wackiness ensues so much as complications and heartbreak. Henry James is not known for his fluffy comedies, so don’t go expecting Jane Austen. But do go expecting to see gorgeous views of turn of the century clothing waltzing attractively around England and Venice. The relationship between the three principles is complicated and painful. If you are feeling bad about a relationship you are in, this is not the movie to see. But it is worth seeing, even if only for a Matinee. I give it that rating because, well, I don’t understand Bonham-Carter’s appeal to the other two people. Ah well.

Those lured by rumors of menage-a-trois will be disappointed, but there is nudity.

MPAA Rating R for sexuality.
Release date 3/13/1998
Time in minutes 110
Director Iain Softley
Studio Miramax

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The Man in the Iron Mask

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Forget for one moment that the star is Leonardo DiCaprio, as King Louis of Brooklyn. Forget also that Alexandre Dumas pulled this story out of his butt based on a notation in prison records. If nothing else, we can all remember that while Leo may be a heart stealer in Titanic, he is no Jeremy Irons. Or Gabriel Byrne. Or Gerard Depardieu (in his most charismatic role since, well, I can’t remember). Or even the reptilian John Malkovich, who I think is a good actor but just creepy looking and too Chicago in his dialect no matter what. King Leo is not even as strong as Anne Parillaud (as Anne) but he is a fine match for Judith Godreche (Christine). It was a tad distracting that director Randall Wallace chose not to have anyone bother to even have so much as a formal stage English dialect – and so, Leonardo looked silly. The weave in his hair didn’t help matters.

If you don’t know, the older gentlemen are the 3 musketeers and D’Artagnan, and DiCaprio is King Louis and his twin brother Phillipe. Somehow, Phillipe was just…better. Maybe they actually got two actors. DiCaprio was amazing in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape but somehow was floating on his laurels in his scenes with all the heavyweights, notably Irons. Woof! But the Sun King was no more from France than the Coneheads.

A casting kudo – whoever found Peter Saarsgard to play Malkovich’s son is pure genius – the accent, the flat tone-on-tone coloring of his voice – at one point a letter from Saarsgard is read in his voice as voice-over and myself and my companion both wondered why Malkovich would have written that letter. Oops! The costumes and sets are fabulous, the whole thing looked great. It opened too early in the year to be remembered at Oscar time but I hope people recall how nice and dirty and real it all was – yay production designer!!
Bonus points for the masquerade ball and the mask bit. OK, sure, despite not having read the book, it was a tad predictable and easy, but not in a bad way. It’s not brilliant but it is definitely entertaining.

Overall I had a great time watching this movie – even when the story felt glossed over or maybe even lubricated to facilitate cramming a little morality lesson in, it was still enjoyable. Louis the Sun King was indeed young and foolish and randy and an egomaniac. His older Musketeers, brave, full of loyalty and honor and duty and fellowship, are a striking contrast in generational thinking, without many years difference between them. It had an interesting (and I am sure unintentional) analogy to Old and New Hollywood – where someone like Matthew McConaughey can become a star before his movie is even released, yet someone like Steve Buscemi can never play the game and rise above his means. Young Hollywood wants it all now and Old Hollywood wants the journey. Of course I don’t mean Tony Curtis and Charleton Heston Old Hollywood, I mean like Harrison Ford and Susan Sarandon – the marked difference by only a decade or two in attitudes and lasting power.

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 3/13/98
Time in minutes 117
Director Randall Wallace, William Richert
Studio United Artists

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U.S. Marshalls

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There is nothing wrong with this movie, really, it’s a nice, fast-paced, generic clone of its predecessor The Fugitive, it just doesn’t deserve that much of your money. OK, remember how on Three’s Company, our trio lived in fear that Mr. Roper, the land lord, would kick Jack out because he wasn’t really gay, so Mr. Roper became sort of a friendly bad guy? Then he and his wife got their own spin-off called The Ropers, as if we actually cared enough about their lives to watch them for 30 minutes without the benefit of those cute young tenants of theirs? And remember how in the Fugitive, we know Harrison Ford is innocent, but he’s still being hunted by the US Marshal Tommy Lee Jones, who is ostensibly a good guy but we have to root against him catching Ford? US Marshals = The Ropers.

Take The Fugitive, add a little Con Air, take away the charismatic stars of Con Air, drop in the total lack of tension in Airport 75, a sprinkling of Die Hard 3, and you have a nice, generic Hollywood action movie for early spring. Directed by Stuart Baird (Executive Decision), one would expect some genuine cool ass-kickin. This time, he substitutes a little banal cross-intrigue and a ludicrous premise. Actually, the semi-political clusterfuck double-cross twist is the only thing that makes this movie watchable.

Wesley Snipes (the fugitive) is no Harrison Ford but he does insert something interesting into the movie – however, he’s on the lam and he hasn’t even been convicted – somehow, mobilizing the authorities across the state and even across state lines seems a little…drastic. Robert Downey Jr plays a morally ambiguous tagalong and all I could think was, “Robert, isn’t it nice not being strung out? Do movies and play with your son – look, aren’t you having fun tromping through the woods with a big gun? Stay clean, man.” He looked hollow. Boing – plot explanation out of the blue, roll credits. Nice and tidy.

The same team that backed up Tommy Lee Jones chasing Ford is back (there were other people?) and that is kind of cool, I guess. An amusing bit of dialogue, taken out of context, sums up my feeling about the film:
(lady from Lee’s team) I’ve never seen that before.
Lee: I have.
So have we. I can’t believe they even put his line in the preview – don’t *remind* us it’s a rehash, er, remake. I mean, sequel.

*The original rating for this film was Dollar Movie.

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 3/6/98
Time in minutes 131
Director Stuart Baird
Studio Warner Brothers

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Dark City

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As anyone who has seen the preview knows, Dark City is dark, Dark dark. One would be tempted to write off the movie based on its very blatant “look at all the cool visuals in this movie!” style trailer, but I think that the discriminating viewer can take a chance on this one. Mostly unfamiliar Rufus Sewell stars in a movie populated by mostly unfamiliar faces (save Jennifer Connelly, you know, from Labyrinth, and of course Kiefer Sutherland – oh, and for us RHPS fans, Richard O’Brien!) which adds to the weirdness of the mood. Sewell does not look like a leading man, which makes his perfect for this part. He’s interesting and unknowable, and that works great.

The Dark City they live in is dark for a reason (actually, if anything, some things are overexplained) and broodingly stylish in that Gotham-City Blade Runner noir style. It should comfort you to know that there is a *reason* the city looks that way that extends beyond the art department’s jones for gorgeousness. What you can see, looks really friggin cool. Some of the look is central to the plot and I don’t want to give anything away – it’s actually sort of complicated. I have talked to a number of people who still missed the point after the movie was over so let me just say it’s not a Blade Runny future and it’s not supposed to be a specific place (the film makes this abundantly clear, I don’t know WHAT these people were thinking).

Sutherland seems to be playing someone his father’s age, always breathless and Peter Lorre-esque, vaguely seeming like he should have seemed after coming off Flatliners, instead of engaged to Julia Roberts. O’Brien is playing way against type as a creepy, ethereal bald guy with evil intentions and unearthly origins. Oh, wait.

The plot is interesting – my main complaint about the movie is that it was cool and original up until the pre-climactic obstacle for our hero (this gives nothing away, it’s basic Film 101) – and then it goes straight down. The third act is totally clunky and Hollywood and loud and silly – after the creepy elegance (overall) of the rest of the movie, the ending is an utter letdown. I feel like I have been saying that a lot lately. Oh, and considering how much of this movie is computer generated, there are wires ALL OVER the place. And I don’t mean like, peering, squinty-eyed at the screen thinking, “Hey, I think I see a wire,” I mean green and yellow cables with visible texture. You can create that huge shifting city scape but neglect to spend the extra $100 on erasing a few giant cables? I saw more wires in this movie than in Plan 9 From Outer Space! And Ed Wood had a good excuse why he couldn’t digitally remove them!

Other than that, I thought it was cool and interesting. Maybe I’ll rent the Crow now.

MPAA Rating R for violent images and some sexuality.
Release date 2/27/98
Time in minutes 103
Director Alex Proyas
Studio New Line

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A wise friend, who had joined our party for the previous film (The Big Lebowski, talk about your contrast), refused to sneak into Sphere after the other movie because, “We have nothing to sphere but Sphere itself.” Oh, if he only knew how right he was.
I don’t think it’s unreasonable for movie goers these days to expect competency from all levels of movie makers. With the enormous insurgence of the independent movie scene, the bar has been raised to where we expect kids from the ghetto to be able to churn out an interesting narrative on their dad’s black and white 8mm camera. A movie that someone saw fit to not only green light but throw $60,000,000 at should at least be amusing. That money could have fed the poor!

Sphere has a pedigree: we expect it to deliver. Barry Levinson, Academy Award-winning director of Rain Man, Dustin Hoffman, Oscar winning star of same, and current (and multiple) nominee. Samuel L. Jackson, not frequently nominated but widely recognized as awesome. Sharon Stone, underrated and one-time nominee. Liev Schrieber, the hardest-working indie boy in show business, giving his all even when he’s in a cesspit like Phantoms. Michael Crichton, former director (Coma, Westworld), producer of ER, and crowd-pleasing author (Jurassic Park, anyone?). With all these people, shouldn’t Sphere at least have been PALATABLE? To the movie’s credit, the opening titles were quite cool.

We snuck guiltily into the almost-empty theatre, already prepared to hate it. But we were ill prepared, all the same. The whole movie is telegraphed with every snit of silly, overtechnical dialogue: “You’ll be pressurized sufficiently so that you could even swim out in the water without a suit, in case you need to do that in the third reel when everything goes horribly wrong, but the water will be really cold, OK?” . . . – – – . . .! They were worshipping at the altar of Samuel Morse. It was nice to see one scene where Jackson totally walks all over Hoffman’s dialed in performance. Wham! Hugely overdramatic score and wildly uninteresting dialogue. Hideous editing – and I never notice editing.

Sphere was horrible, stupid, useless, illogical, overly bright and underly written. Ghastly. With the job market like it is, they expected me and my friends to fork out $6.75 (I know it’s $9 in NY) to be subjected to this embarrassing low tech piece of doo doo. I am so pissed, I haven’t been this pissed since Anaconda! I expected Anaconda to suck, between silly plot lines and B-list actors, I expected silly camp. Fortunately, I read Sphere, so I just expected some decent acting and maybe some cool special effects. Oh, no. Matte paintings of underwater scapes that make Star Trek: Next Generation look like Braveheart. Jerry, the angry UMAX box who only taps into the stupid parts of our subconscious. But it had no millennium bug – it’s a Starmax Mac!

I don’t tend to give away plot in reviews but 1. there is none and 2. who cares? The preview gives away the only interesting aspect of the movie which then *does nothing with it!* Basically the sphere kind of gets in people’s heads and like, digs out the worst part of them and then manifests it. So Samuel L Jackson is reading 20,000 Leagues under the sea, so they are attacked by a giant squid. Of course, no one is thinking of the Baywatch babes attacking the undersea habitat. It all goes downhill from here. The people behave stupidly (build a habitat for months then train a bunch of specialist yahoos in 8 hrs how to dive in the unforgiving deep ocean) and just the thought of Dustin Hoffman and Sharon Stone naked together should have been enough to implode the sphere. I don’t think I need to detail the incredibly Abyss-mal derivativeness of the thing as well, do I? Though after Jackson wakes up after being knocked out, and has a voracious appetite, my friends and I all manifested an alien bursting out of is chest. That would have helped. So would have drowning the increasingly abrasive Hoffman, like in the Abyss, only without reviving him. Oh and hello? Lifeboat too small? Which movie is that stolen from?

It’s corny, bad, disappointing, and annoying. Miss it! Miss it! It’s like Event Horizon without the cool parts. We walked in fearing the movie would be bad and sure enough, it manifested itself right there! Oh if only we, like the undeserving survivors at the end, had the power to forget. But it was vaguely better than Airport 75. Yuck.

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 2/13/98
Time in minutes 144
Director Barry Levinson
Studio Warner Brothers

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The Wedding Singer

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Full Price if you like the 80’s, Matinee with Snacks no matter what

I can’t say enough early enough in this review to convince the dubious that this is a good movie. Number one, I really don’t like Adam Sandler (except the Hanukah song) and I really liked him, warmed to him, had sympathy for him, in this movie. Number two, if you thought the 80’s were fun, if you like retro 80’s night at your local dance club, if you own the albums Too Rye Aye (you know who you are!) or Friend or Foe, you will love this movie. If you enjoy jubilant pop music and senior citizens in love, if you have ever loved someone who was with the wrong person, if you have ever gotten dumped and had your faith in the entire human race obliterated, if you have ever had a best friend who was perfect for you and you had no idea at the time, then this movie will make you feel great. If you just broke up, you’ll feel better about the decision. If you just hooked up, you will feel better about the decision.

It’s a sweet little universal love story that just so happens to be set in 1985. As my friend said, “This must have been what the Big Chill was like for our parents.” And so it might have been. Except without Kevin Costner dead on the floor behind the couch, and with a less depressing soundtrack. Which, by the way, was totally sold out when we went there after the movie to buy it. So we rented Sixteen Candles as a basis of comparison, and we appreciated the reconstruction of the decade even more than while we were watching. For those who don’t know, Sixteen Candles came out in 1985 and was directed by the once-great John Hughes. He was, once, really in touch with stuff.

Six of us went to this movie on Valentine’s Day, six people in various stages of relationships, or not. Most of us tend to find Adam Sandler annoying as hell. (Name dropping note – my friend stage managed his concert and he’s a dick, too.) Sandler is as likable a schmo as ever graced the screen in quite a while. He’s actually the consummate 80’s teen romance flick nice guy who finally wins. The decade that birthed the sensitive guys OK to have crushes on, the years that brought us Ducky. The loser who wins the girl because he’s a better man than the hunky, wealthy, popular jock/businessman. He may not be John Cusack, Jon Cryer, or even Andrew McCarthy yet, but considering Sandler’s innate abrasiveness, pulling off this role convincingly puts his Robbie the Wedding Singer in the running to join the Brat Pack.

Drew Barrymore is another actor that some people love or hate, and this is her cute as a cherub phase, like in Boys on the Side, but not trashy. My only complaint is she is too 90’s earth child – her smooth, center parted flip do and semi-retro 60’s chiffon floral dresses look weird next to the layered shags and short on the sides, thin on the top mops. But she’s way too cute to really worry about it. Every other female is 80’s enough to make up for it. In the film, her Julia is engaged to Matthew Glaven, a perfectly 80’s smarmy villain type boyfriend – Miami Vice watchin’, Wall Street workin’, stubble-sportin’, dimply pastel insincere rat bastard – totally the Me Decade in a Delorean.

Julia’s best friend (Christine Taylor), a Madonna worshipping small town easy girl, is perfect MTV glam – she is as supremely 80’s s she was perfectly Marcia. Poor Christine will never get to play her decade! OK, sure, Rubik’s cube jokes are a tad outdated for 1985, but by and large the movie is dead on, period-wise. Unlike other recent period nostalgia comedies (Spirit of ’76, The Brady Bunch movies, Peggy Sue Got Married, Austin Powers), The Wedding Singer isn’t trying too hard to cram every reference the writers and art department could think of into each scene. No nudge-nudge wasn’t that funny? type shots of ridiculous artifacts – some of this stuff we still have in our closets (um, or on our knick knack shelves), and we have to squint to recognize the Charlie’s Angel lunchbox (properly aged – not everyone had ONLY brand new stuff in any year as movies want us to think) or the rosary bead necklaces.

The Wedding Singer is also very consistent with the music – they stick with pop radio New Wave, not bouncing between Night Ranger and Toto and Styx and Michael Jackson and Billy Ocean and Kajagoogoo just to make a point – it’s all the general feel of New Wave, in fashion and in music. Not all 1985, either, but I believe nothing that shouldn’t have been there. I don’t have to tell you it’s a wall to wall soundtrack, with the lyrics always matching the subtext of the scene. Not all of it is Sandler singing and not all of it is gratuitous hits like say Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion (a not very 80’s movie I must say!). And it’s not as white bread generic hits like Forrest Gump either – we are talking some truly classic songs. Shut up, I know it’s only been 13 years, but these are the songs that get people on the dance floor even now. The combination of people talking about music, singing music, and soundtrack songs makes it feel more natural somehow, like sitting around with your friends singing along with life.

The plot is almost perfect 80’s formula (with more 90’s pacing) with the romantic mishaps and the geeks inheriting the earth. Sure – you think, oh man I *had* that hat! But you also dated THAT guy right there! That makes it great. Some people say if you didn’t like the 80’s, you won’t like this movie, but the story is totally universal – it’s the kind, funny homage atmosphere that makes it fun, and the sweet story that makes you care. Only time can say if it becomes a classic like Pretty in Pink or Say Anything, but regardless, it’s a winsome love comedy even a dude could, like, totally jam to. AB – I thought of you!!!!

Oh, and Steve Buscemi is in it too!

Author’s 80’s nostalgia tips: For one of the best movies ever made in or about the 1980’s, rent Valley Girl (yes, with Nicholas Cage!) – it disappeared among truly vapid slop but even my dad likes it – it’s very sincere, with an extraordinary soundtrack, and a super duper star crossed lovers type of romance. It’s rad.

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 2/13/98
Time in minutes 96
Director Frank Coraci
Studio Warner Brothers

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The Replacement Killers

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The best thing that I can say about the Replacement Killers is that it’s very stylish. Director Antoine Fuqua is no John Woo or Stanley Tong (with Jackie Chan, not Mr. Magoo) but he shows sense of style. From what I understand from Chow Yun Fat fans, Fat is not allowed to be the gun-artist badass that his fans are used to seeing. He’s quiet & brooding in this film (an interview I read with him quotes him as saying his favorite role would be a big dumb guy with no dialogue), which isn’t bad in and of itself, but screenwriter Ken Sanzel doesn’t give him enough plot or crazed action to offset the contemplative side.

The music, a kind of hopped up testosteroni dance club trance assassination remix (compliments of Harry Gregson-Williams) implies more ass kicking than is actually occurring on screen. The bad guys appear in a steady, unreal viral stream like in a video game, ignoring logic of dramatic convention. At no point do I ever really worry about Fat, even though he does not come off as supercop bad boy. I have not given up on Fat – I hear nothing but creamy things about him, but this is not the movie to start my fandom.
Mira Sorvino is smart, competent, and briefly in her underwear – but her character is an eerie paranoid sister to the one she played in Mimic. She’s a little bit cyberpunk, a little bit rock and roll, and a lot misplaced sexual tension.

Loyal readers may note I am often bored by straight out gunplay (so is my most constant movie-going companion) and Replacement Killers does nothing to improve my feelings on the subject. If more directors could be as fun and original as Robert Rodriguez in Desperado or John Woo in Face/Off or Sam Raimi in The Quick and the Dead, well, maybe I would feel differently. But I don’t. So I got kind of bored. I can be impressed by cool gunplay and neat camera work and visuals, but nothing really struck me.

In case you’re wondering what the title means, it is literal and the killers don’t show up until 55 minutes in, and they don’t seem all that important enough to warrant being the title characters, but what do I know? I was mildly bored but certainly not miserable. It’s worth seeing, but like eating Chinese food, it left me feeling unsatisfied. I’m glad the Hong Kong stars are getting work over in the States (besides Cannonball Run II) and I hope it continues, but not at the expense of their style.

MPAA Rating R for strong violence and for language.
Release date 2/6/98
Time in minutes 88
Director Antoine Fuqua
Studio Columbia Pictures

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Zero Effect

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OK, let me say right off the bat that I really liked this movie, and the only thing holding me back from granting it a full price feature rating is the fact that I don’t think a lot of people are going to appreciate it the way it should be appreciated. I also am not going to say much at all about the story, because it’s full of pleasing surprises. Zero Effect stars Bill Pullman (as the Zero of the title) and Ben Stiller, two odd choices for leading men, but effective ones here – both are perfect s the interesting characters writer/director Jake Kasdan has given them.

Side note: Jake Kasdan, son of Lawrence, is a 22 yr. old with literally zero experience, not even a short film. Nepotism? Who knows, maybe – but if so, Lawrence has raised his boy right. The film is very slick for a first time effort, and my companions and I had a great time. The pacing is moderate but consistent and the story is interesting, but I admit I can’t quantify it.

Pullman’s character is a bizarre wacko genius private eye, whose public advocate is salesmanish charmer Stiller. Zero is kind of over the top, but we can forgive it since he’s the very best at what he does. He’s like Ted Kaczinsky channeling Sherlock Holmes. His character is revealed through two contrasting Stiller monologues, one to a client and one to a friend in a bar.

The mystery plot is interesting too, but we are kind of stuck waiting for Zero to tell is the clues (not being super geniuses and all); but it’s still enjoyable! Ryan O’Neal is their client, and to tell the truth I didn’t even recognize him as someone I am supposed to recognize; but he is all full of tricks as well. Kim Dickens (witness? suspect? love interest?) is interesting too – she, like Pullman, is wacky and unknowable. The whole group is a tight little ensemble – I wonder if the script was written a long time ago by a guy who figured he would only have $7,000 to shoot the movie. Kasdan clearly had a decent budget for this one, and a good eye for intimate story telling.

I can’t say much more, because to give it away would be a crime. It’s very humorous, my companions and I had a great time, and it’s interesting. Sorry to be so brief, I’m trying to add a little mystery here! Check it out. I’d like to see what Jake’s next project will be.

MPAA Rating R for language.
Release date 1/30/98
Time in minutes 115
Director Jake Kasdan
Studio Castle Rock