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Deterrence

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This wee film, shot entirely within the confines of a small diner (presumably) in Aztec, Colorado, and a surprisingly entertaining one. Despite all our relaxed attitude about the Cold War relative to the 1980’s, I think the general threat of nuclear terrorism still lurks within us when we hear the repeating tape loop at the airport regarding safety. Kevin Pollack, after so offending us in the otherwise delightful The Whole Nine Yards, had to do some serious work to get me to like him as much as I did by the end of the movie. He’s the president, he is actually a promoted Vice President in an unspecified but post-2007 near future (in which little progress was made reducing bigotry or terrorism). This non-elected president detail may seem just like screenplay color, but actually most of the things that seem included just for interest work out to be pretty important.

I would have liked to make this a triple feature with WarGames and The Day After – the message is the same, but the whole (oh, I have to say it) gestalt of the situation is quite different. For example, now, in this global village and all that stuff, something like the Red Scare, where an entire continent of people had to be assumed to have horns and fangs and red eyes, can never happen. Now we can be seduced into buying a super villain, as Saddam Hussein was painted as, but we can’t really drop our whole “I know they love their children too” attitude any more. This is a good thing. But as the James Bond franchise knows, it makes for some weak drama. The exciting thing about Deterrence is that we are the big scary bad guy who is acting irrationally – and yet the conclusion explains everything. It’s satisfying like sushi is satisfying – you don’t really know how you got so much food shoveled into your mouth, but suddenly you are full and happy and glad you went to the trouble.

The supporting cast is small, the “extras” smaller. Some interesting moments suddenly shine like a mirror tilted suddenly on the car in front of you, and others are dropped when they most seem to be going someplace. My companion and I imagined all kinds of alternate scenarios that were never used, but we got an equal number of surprises. Since we both see unnerving amounts of movies, I guess we expected the predictable, and didn’t get it. Hooray for everybody!

Pollack’s character, President Emerson, is described by another as “not very presidential,” i.e. he is very Vice Presidential. I have said the same thing about Vices that became Big Cheeses, and I know what they mean. Pollack is a supporting guy, a character actor, a villain, a sidekick – it works perfectly to set up his teetering position of credibility. Oh, did I mention it’s election night too? That’s a bit much but at least we don’t follow the polls throughout the evening, watching his popularity rise and fall with every move he makes. The idea is that he might have to wage international war from this little diner, snowed in and totally beyond rescue. Pretty cool idea, really. The high tech gadgets are cool, the alarming number of emergency situations his team is prepared for, and so forth. It’s interesting, and seriously, quite tense. I wouldn’t have thought it. For the most part (I won’t say completely) it avoids the beaten path and that is probably the best thing about it. And it’s got a little thing to say about war as well. A BIG little thing – making this movie not so wee after all.

MPAA Rating R for language and violence.
Release date 3/10/00 NY/LA
Time in minutes 101
Director Rod Lurie
Studio Paramount Classics

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The Next Best Thing

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The thing about this movie is that basically, it should be delightful – it should be charming, and while I was watching it, I cared, I enjoyed myself, I laughed, I wept a little, I lusted for Rupert and grooved on the soundtrack, and all those things you think you want out of movie going life. So, why a rental? It just didn’t stick with me.

My readers (and I am delighted to boast that there are a bunch of new ones this time around) should know that I am a sucker for certain elements in a movie, and Next Best Thing has a few of them. One thing that always gets me is someone’s final wish, you know, as they are dying or leaving forever. Fortunately, that’s not an issue here, so don’t worry. Another guaranteed to tear me up plot device is parents who desperately want to be parents and are thwarted. I am so sick of people pumping out 50 kids and neglecting all of them; or just having the one and resenting it forever for ruining the halcyon days of couples-only-hood; I have my own reasons. Me, I am not ready, not yet, possibly not ever – and partly because I don’t think I could give the kind of parental love, support, attention that a child deserves and needs. Blah blah. So when I see a parent in a movie who is clearly devoted, clearly committed, loved by and loving with the child, and they are being prevented from sharing that, it busts me up. So that is probably why I left the theatre feeling very emotionally drained (in a good way) and affected by the movie.

But it didn’t stick with me.

The previews make this out to be a more faaaabulous Object of My Affection – instead of sweet Paul Rudd and darlin Jennifer Aniston, we have Material Virgin-cum-Mendhi-Guru-Saint-Mother Madonna and delish, hysterical, sensitive sexual idol for all genders Rupert Everett. The best part (from a sociological point of view, and one that Hollywood should take notice of) is that when Madonna and Rupert kiss (as you know they do because the preview tells you he knocks her up), **it seems weird!** For decades, Hollywood has hidden its gay actors, afraid of how audiences would respond to a James Cagney type who goes home and kisses boys – even encouraging beard marriages to keep up the pretense. Genetically speaking we should be grateful, for that may be the last generation to mass reproduce their wonderful DNA – but I digress. Rupert (with a couple of exceptions) proudly plays a gay man, but he is still adored by woman and was “man enough” to knock up maneater Madonna, so…it’s a step forward.

Madonna herself has been vastly improved by her Evita-era voice training regimen, yoga practice, and motherhood in general. She may be “old,” as she describes herself, but she’s still got it. She also has the sense of humor (for she and Everett apparently did extensive script tweaking to match their personalities – and she is not the slattern you recall from Desperately Seeking Susan) to casually toss off a line that is a direct quote from “Papa Don’t Preach.” I so hope it was R.E.’s idea. They have a lovely time in this movie, and that always comes across. A fantastic little screwball old-Hollywood style scene, some great mommy/daddy stuff, and some truly nice moments of genuine heart stuff. The kid is good, too.

The lighting is terrible. Awful. Bizarre. Madonna’s forehead is eternally in shadow, Benjamin Bratt (yes he and Rupert both take their shirts off – yay!) is backlit and kind of alarming looking sometimes. It all looks weird and fake and artificial and not so nice. The plot takes an alarming turn, possibly just for the sake of doing something interesting (and I think it happened at what could have been an interesting time in their lives the way it was going) – and then becomes weird and horrid. This is the part that is not so good, but also hit my tear-jerker button. So, it worked, but it would have worked on me anyway. In the cold light of retrospect, it’s only OK. Then a quickie, documentary-style wrap up ending and, inexplicably (if you see it you know why it is inexplicable), Madonna singing American Pie. That song is set up to be something really special and it just drops the ball. But it’s worth renting to see them together, to see the kid, and the stuff that does work. Madonna does all her own yoga and she’s hard enough to identify on the big screen during one major move but – go, girl!

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 3/3/2000
Time in minutes 110
Director John Schlesinger
Studio Paramount

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Drowning Mona

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As my companion sagely pointed out, the dark comedic elements of Drowning Mona could have raised feature film virgin director Nick Gomez to the Farrelly Brothers’ sick level, and at times it looked like he had it in him. But his TV experience, and that of his writer, Peter Steinfeld, may have overcome any hope this film would have had to be the next Something About Mary, or even the next Weekend at Bernie’s.

Made for an astoundingly skimpy $8 million, Drowning Mona was a little movie that got a huge cast of famous (and, you’d think, super-expensive) faces to stock it up. The only main character I did not recognize was Marcus Thomas, playing the son of the titular Mona (Bette Midler). The IMDB is shamefully lacking in information about this movie, considering it opens in like, 2 days. But come on! Danny DeVito, Jamie Lee Curtis, Neve Campbell, Casey Affleck (at his most flat and unwatchable), and some other folks should guarantee at least an amusing time. But indeed, Drowning Mona was lucky for her – she got to be dead most of the time while we didn’t get that luxury. Midler (who of course appears in posthumous flashbacks) is an uncompromising bitch, which is great. Many of the flashbacks are the best part of the movie. Structurally it does work better with them as flashbacks rather than killing her in a linear sense…but the movie is just too simplistic and overdone and silly to work. It’s a shame.

Interesting tidbit – everyone looks awful! William Fichtner’s makeup, while horrid, makes him look terribly withered. Jamie Lee “Va Va Voom” Curtis looks nothing like her Baroness self, Casey has bad hair, Neve has the same stress acne she has in Scream 3, and DeVito…well, actually, he looks pretty good. Midler – yow! That Isn’t She Great movie must have taken it all out of her. Will Ferrell has the same terrible SNL makeup he always wears *and* he is more unfunny than his Spartan character – he’s the mortician, for goodness’ sake – it’s a black comedy about death – USE THE MORTICIAN! Oh woe is me. The burly female mechanic looked familiar (Say Anything as one of Cusack’s friends?) but the IMDB drew a blank for me. I liked her, though.

The film is set in 1990 in Verplanck NY, and everyone drives a Yugo with vanity plates. This is actually kind of funny after a while. Thank god for vanity plates, else we wouldn’t know who was parked where and why that would be interesting at all. Jokes about dinner theatre are a little funny. The machinations of the town around DeVito’s investigation, his “first mate” cop is pretty amusing in a predictable, Type-A kind of way, and the guy from Repo Man is still playing the same character – in fact, he was also playing this character in Erin Brockovich. He’s even the same kind of stupid deus ex machina – what is this?! We get some funny vignettes/flashbacks as the townspeople gossip about each other, and that is entertaining. Best of all are the ones regarding Casey Affleck’s business partner, who is a pure idiot. That’s kind of funny, but he’s so unlikable that you can’t help but wish a lot would have been trimmed to make this a one hour TV movie. Basically, the movie is all promise with little payoff. The biggest crime of all. Certainly, it’s a bigger crime than the one being investigated.

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 3/3/2000
Time in minutes 91
Director Nick Gomez
Studio Destination Films

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Pitch Black

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I was pretty excited about this movie. So, we had some spooky postcards advertising it, very little buzz, one second of interesting footage in a preview – a person or two in a circle of light as it winks out, but not before we see the people surrounded by something alien and menacing.

There were people in darkness surrounded by something menacing all right, and it was brought to you by director David N. Twohy, who, you should know, wrote G.I. Jane, Charlie Sheen Has Bug Eyes (aka The Arrival), Waterworld, Terminal Velocity, Warlock, and Critters 2. To be fair, he also wrote The Fugitive, but I think he had some help. The screenwriter of Pitch Black were responsible for IT Came From Outer Space II, The Stepford Husbands, The Fly II, Nightmare on Elm Street 4, and (gulp) Ewoks: The Battle for Endor. I don’t think it is a stretch to say that it is the work of these men that have given Hollywood such a bad name.

I didn’t expect Pitch Black to be another Aliens. I didn’t even dare to hope it would be something laughably silly like Deep Rising or Lake Placid. But a girl can only lower her standards so far. Having just walked out of the deeply unsatisfying Boiler Room (starring Vin Diesel) and into Pitch Black (starring Vin Diesel), I have to say that Vin, while being in two of my least favorite movies of 2000, is still an actor worth watching. Am I biased because he is the voice of the Iron Giant, a man of many ethnicities and superhuman torso and gravely voice? Probably, because I mean, my god, people, Pitch Black is really bad. Part of what made it bad was Cole Hauser, as the hot tempered-cop-sort of guy. He’s totally forgettable looking, and he’s no good on screen, PLUS he had a horrifically stupid character (as did second stringer Radha “I wish I were Tasha Yar” Mitchell). So maybe I can’t blame the stink coming off of Pitch Black on Cole. But I wish I could!

The movie began with some promise, interesting, brain-frying editing and scary action and mysterious problems. They land on a hot planet – we know it’s hot, because apparently Ray Charles is the cinematographer and he read that golden filters make everything look hot. Instead, it makes the planet look hot *and* overdeveloped. Basically, the movie looked like a really expensive amateur film – badly shot, over-shown, underwritten, and giant holes in the story you could drive a truck through. It would be best used to drive over some of the parties responsible. Yuck! The production design was kind of interesting, but in a seriously low-budget kind of way. Or like a foreign film from Macedonia. I could see the paint splattered on the brand new foam core walls like it was a very good high school production of Das Boot. Yes, here and there were interesting things – the oxygen dealies, the spaceships, whatever. How does a person only get one tiny scratch on the face from a crash landing in which you were in the cockpit? Oops, sorry! Did it again.

Oh and my companions can attest, I was trying to like the movie. I’m not giving anything away by telling you there are ravenous critters abounding on this planet (else why would there be a movie?), and they are pretty cool looking. One companion pointed out all the previous aliens that they resembled (Alien, of course, but check out the rest of this pedigree: Starship Troopers main army bugs, and the rolly killbots from Phantom Menace- ACK!) and I was like, yeah yeah…they were still cool looking. Oh, until the end, when we get to see more mano a mano alien/human action. Also not a big surprise, is it? This big surprise is how viscerally the movie seems to be affecting people – it’s dark = it’s dangerous, that’s nothing new, but instead of an unseen Blair Witch, you’re lunch right here and now! Save your money and buy yourself a copy of Aliens.

MPAA Rating R -sci-fi violence and gore, and language
Release date 2/18/00
Time in minutes 108
Director David N. Twohy
Studio PolyGram

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Boiler Room

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I’ll cut right through all the crap and get to my point: this is a man’s movie, fulla swinging phalluses and money and greed and testosterone and slick suits and fang baring predatory nonsense. With its wikki wikki wikkiti wik wik editing and aggressive rap soundtrack, a cast of guys generally typecast as “nice guys,” and a whole lot of macho posturing, this movie was made for the guys it’s about. We’ve all seen them, piledriving down the sidewalk screaming “BUY SELL” into their cel phones, smarming their way into bar fights, dumping our hot chick friends because they demand respect – so why do we need to see a movie about them? Plus I think the trailer made it look more like, I dunno, something else. What, I don’t know. But something more interesting, for sure.

To be fair, Boiler Room is more than a bucket shop of dicks. It’s Giovanni Ribisi’s happenstance to have fallen into said bucket and all the reasons for doing it that make it more than an Armani sumo match. I am told by the guys I saw this with that the relationship Ribisi has with his on-screen father is very strong and touched a lot of nerves. To me, men put themselves into those kinds of dynamics on purpose, so I can’t see the poignant tension that I am told is there. Diff’rent strokes and all that, I guess. I felt pretty alienated from the film most of the time I was watching it and perhaps I was meant to be, but that pretty much guarantees a bad time for me.

The short synopsis is Ribisi joins this stock brokerage firm to further his relationship with his father and then unpleasant wackiness ensues. It’s all about commerce and the almighty dollar and the silverback brokers stomping on the rookies – but then some bad stuff happens, and the movie is forced to rely on good old fashioned emotional character work (you know, like in a chick movie) to redeem itself. The writers give us one client’s personal story to put perspective on what the firm does as an entity (like Jack and Rose’s tribulations put a human face on the tragedy of Titanic) and it is during these scenes that I felt the most tension. The rest was pissing contests, flashy cars, bar fights, chest thumping, “you’re wasting my time” blasé-blasting tripe, for me. In fact, I saw this movie now over 10 days ago and couldn’t work up the snuff to write about it (or the other 4 movies I saw since then) because this much macho crap just bores me to death.

Some of the interpersonal stuff with the brokers was so arbitrary, so baseless, that I couldn’t care, since it was just “ME ALPHA MONKEY” in nature and not “YOU HAVE INJURED ME THEREFORE I MUST DEFEAT YOU” in nature. Ugh. I hated it. Why do I rate it at Matinee price? It was well-made, the men with whom I saw it really liked it, and if nothing else, it’s never been done before. It is interesting to see Tom Everett Scott and Giovanni and Ben Affleck and Jamie Kennedy (that mustache!) all cast as power-hungry snarky bastards and/or losers. Vin Diesel (you know, the voice of the Iron Giant), while personifying everything I have always hated about salesmen (Ex PCCers know what I mean), was the most interesting actor, and somehow less two dimensional than the other non-Ribisi players. I enjoyed watching him sell, I enjoyed watching him win, I enjoyed watching him lose.

Most abrasive (and needlessly XYY chromosomal) was Nicky Katt as Greg. It was transparent that we won’t like him and needless to be redundant with so many jerks. I was vindicated checking him out on the IMDB that he has been in countless other projects I have not liked so it’s not just the character of Greg. Why does Affleck have so little screen time, besides the fact that he dials in what he has? Why was Nia Long even in this movie? Did she develop a terrible coke habit that she had to feed? Ron Rifkin (as Ribisi’s dad) was pretty cold and one-note most of the movie, but somehow his two dimensions had a little more depth than his younger counterparts (except Ribisi, who was wasted-looking but fine). Not enough to make me enjoy the film, however. Sigh.

MPAA Rating R for strong language and some drug content.
Release date 2/18/00
Time in minutes 118
Director New Line
Studio Ben Younger

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Return to Me

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Gentlemen, start your date engines. Return to Me is not a weirdly cast lovey dovey movie, it’s a chick’s dream. Co-writer, co-producer, director, and supporting actress Bonnie Hunt has made a sweet, sad, gentle movie that (while requiring one surprising major coincidence) is totally natural, tender, and funny. Hunt is generally cast in films as the best friend who anchors our lead in reality – she has done the same for herself her. She has also by extension provided an emotional anchor for the entire movie (as a director) – she coaxes a modest, charming, character for David Duchovny (who is not at all bland or hollow as he has been in previous big screen outings) and a vulnerable, winsome character for Minnie Driver (who is not the terrific spaz overwhelming her menfolk as she has done in previous outings). They are perfect matches for each other – but what brings them together is a surprise I do not want to ruin.

I will say right now that I dropped a tear (or several) a *minimum* 5 times while watching this film, and it could have been more, had I let myself. The previews make this movie look daffy and silly – and there are genuine moments of warm daffiness, adorable old men (including an almost unrecognizable Carroll O’Connor – you know, Archie Bunker!), and silly shenanigans. But thankfully, Hunt does not rely on the yuk-a-minute tactic for her romantic comedy, instead making the tension between the two people unknown and quite poignant.

I hesitate to make this comparison, because the majority of the movie I am about to cite was *not* so good, but the one thing that did work in You’ve Got Mail was the brief moment in the cafe when Tom Hanks realizes who Meg Ryan is, and she, not knowing who he is, dresses him down. That moment of knowledge, the emotional conflict that Tom’s character had, *that* was the best thing about that movie and a capsule of what makes this movie work. The situations are not all happy and joking and oh aren’t we precious, and that’s what makes it work. The people are insecure, they have baggage, but neither of them are over the top with their burdens or parodying real life folks’ real life versions. David Alan Grier comes close to parodying a real person – but his intentions are pure and in the end, he’s only a catalyst by his behavior, so we can forgive him being drawn so broadly. And as always he is funny.

Hunt is sweet and supportive and kind in this movie as in all others, but she now has a funny foil of a husband in James (not Jim) Belushi. You got that right – Bonnie even got him to turn in a kinder, gentler performance and it’s her toning down of everyone that makes the movie work. The old men (Driver’s character’s grandfather and his cronies) are funny and talk over each other and have a wonderful chemistry – their love for her is pure and sweet and old fashioned, and there is the requisite hearkening back to the more romantic days, i.e. the days of the big band, a can’t-miss musical influence for a movie like this one. But between arguing who is better, Dino or Frankie, we all agree there’s no love like old-fashioned love. Even Duchovny can’t work a microwave while grandpa’s putting CD’s in to “enhance the mood.” (Oh but the big band in the scene near the beginning is awful!) (in a good way)

It’s sweet, it’s charming, it’s romantic, it’s tragic, there’s some serious Catholic business thrown in but it’s that warm fuzzy Catholic stuff, not the brimstone-smelling stuff. I really enjoyed it and I hope it does gonzo in the box office so they make more like it. Driver and Duchovny are a fantastic on-screen couple, if you can believe that. There’s even a nice great ape preservationist message in there. Go see it!

MPAA Rating PG
Release date 2/18/00
Time in minutes 115
Director Bonnie Hunt
Studio MGM

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The Whole Nine Yards

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I know! I know! Bruce Willis and Matthew Perry – who would possibly think this could work? Certainly none of us in the audience. My two companions fell into both sides of the Matthew Perry camp: funny on TV but can’t make it in movies (Fools Rush In, anyone?), and funny no matter what. I teeter, but I have to say – all those Chandlerisms that make him so winning on Friends work perfectly for this character. He’s a regular guy dunked into a chilly vat of nuttiness.

You may have experienced this in films in the past – a mediocre movie still somehow, on a visceral level, can be fun because the actors in it are having such a good time you can’t help but feel it too. The Whole Nine Yards is better than a mediocre movie, it’s a damn funny movie, and I am rethinking that Matinee with snacks even as I write this. Seriously! No one is more shocked than I am. When we first see Bruce Willis, I knew if nothing else, I would enjoy watching him – he is having the best time in this film – it was produced by the same fellow as Hudson Hawk – whatever you might have thought of that film (I have not seen it but understand it is an unappreciated treat), you know Willis had a gas making it. The fun feeling is infectious – even Rosanna Arquette (as a thinly drawn, unabashedly wicked wifey) looks like she is having fun. Michael Clarke Duncan is practically chuckling his way through the film. The realization sequence that Perry has as to who Willis is will make or break the film for you – it’s wacky and fast and funny!

One thing that is stinky is Kevin Pollack – normally I wouldn’t think so, but every time he is on screen, he sucks the life out of the film. His accent is horrible (what IS it?!? Scandinavian Croatian Jew from Jersey?) and he chews on the dialogue slowly, like a dentureless cretin. I’m sorry, Kevin, I just couldn’t take it! And you had such a great character to work with! Natasha Henstridge has the throwaway role, and she’s fine, you know, but guys, she doesn’t get naked. Sorry! It’s all about Willis and Perry….mmmm roll that over your tongue for a dynamic duo.

I’ve heard that Bruce Willis kind of takes over his sets (not in a bad way) when he’s working – it must be true for this movie because director Jonathan Lynn’s resume is, um, too spotty to have produced something as fun as this on his own. And I am telling you, this movie is funny! The plot twists and turns, and maybe some early bits are a tad predictable (and there’s a totally cornball love angle thrown in) but I laughed most of the time, really loud, mind you, and felt great afterward. Same with my companions and the full house I saw it with. That’s got to count for something! The audience ate Perry up, actually, and his physical comedy was full on turbo – highly advanced. He might even be more than noticeable in a scene with two-time Oscar snub, Jim Carrey.

Back to the story – of course it’s improbable – if they shot a movie about you brushing your teeth, would you go? But at times it gets a little complicated (not that that is bad!) to the point that you’re not sure who you should root for, and therefore, it’s harder to predict how it will come out. THAT is refreshing, let me tell you! And the final wrap up is, well, definitely original! Hee hee! The whole movie is a tad amoral, so I thought one of my companions would not be too keen on it – but you know what? He thought it was funny too! And it is! You have to believe me!

Amusing trivia for the purely trivial-minded – the score was done by Randy Edelman, who did the score for Come See The Paradise. So? It’s the music in EVERY preview. I didn’t notice the score, really. But the soundtrack was pretty cool. Nice Canadian jazz (which is a good thing).

MPAA Rating R for some sexuality/nudity and violence.
Release date 2/8/2000
Time in minutes 112
Director Jonathan Lynn
Studio Warner Brothers

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Scream 3

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Despite the online film criticism community being locked out of press screenings of this movie (despite assurances that we would not post until opening day) by wicked Dimension Films, I still went to see it on opening weekend. Maybe it was the lack of internet-generated buzz that made the seats so empty! Maybe it was fear of a Nightmare on Elm Street-style debacle that kept them away. Me personally, I thought it was a hoot, as did my companion.

Quick note: So, I could have had a third companion, who had only seen Scream 1, but he did not groove on the meta-fictional irony of the first movie. Having been unimpressed by the first, he did not see the second. My companion who did come in pointed out that meta-creation is best appreciated by those who appreciate the original genre in the first place. That made sense. So keep in mind that I dig “real” horror movies and I think Scream 2 was the best of the three. Scream 3 is meta meta meta! Without giving any details, let’s say it’s impossible to describe some of the crazy surrealism of the movie. A close approximation would be Sean Connery playing the bad guy in a new James Bond film and talking about the actor named Sean Connery. It’s more than just a wink-wink cameo, though, it would be like, Indy’s hat and whip showing up on President Harrison Ford’s desk in Air Force Two.

Scream 3 reunites some of the old gang (even a posthumous cameo from Jamie Kennedy, the lovable video store clerk from Scream 1 & 2) while Hollywood makes a franchise loosely based on the original true story (sound familiar?). The nudge nudge aspect of that joke is that Hollywood knows it takes a real story and makes its own monster out of it…witness Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. So, Stab 3 is not based on real life events, as Stab1 was. I promise, this sounds like I am giving away stuff but I am so not! Therefore, there are no rules to be broken – no sequel rules as in 2; no classic horror rules as in 1. Thence the super-meta. Basically it was fun and not dissatisfying, but the meta sort of overwhelmed the story after a while. Me, I dig that play-within-a-play stuff, but it doesn’t make for big visceral scares.

Long-missed Parker Posey plays the actress playing Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox)- and oh my god she cracked me up! Parker’s Waiting for Guffman alum Matt Keeslar plays Deputy Dewey (you know, the role played by real life Mr. Courtney Cox David Arquette) but I don’t think that their actor characters were supposed to be dating…should have been, though. Keeslar, formerly known as Box Office Poison With A Bad Agent, seems to have taken some dialect instruction and gotten a new agent! Yay Matt! Forgive him the mustache, it’s all for art. Seinfeld’s Puddy, Jenny McCarthy (perfect) and some newish faces (Scott Foley, Patrick Dempsey, Deon Richmond) help fill out the cast roster and body count. Now, keep in mind, we have to keep track of all the living Scream 1/2 survivors (Sidney, Cotton, Gale, Dewey) as well as the actors who play them and other characters that die/died – as well as keep up with the back story. So this is no brainless horror film with a bunch of Hollywood inside gags (though they are there too)…

And, in keeping with the Scream franchise in general, no real nudity at all!

Wes Craven directs. This can be good or bad, depending on where you stand. Some of his stuff are classics (Nightmare on Elm Street, the Scream franchise), some are…well, Shocker and The Hills Have Eyes 2. I think he did a good job keeping all the story lines straight, but kind of went for the very gratuitous “get on with it” murder spree that flaws all straight horror franchises. I could say it was intentional and ironic, but it felt messier than Scream 2. The laughs were comparable but the suspense was diminished in 3. He did get a tad heavy handed with his various red herrings, but is partially vindicated for one stupid fax sequence by using Heather Matarazzo as a cameo.

So, go see it. It’s fun. See if you can spot the “homages” also known as “satirical rip-offs.”

MPAA Rating R for strong horror violence and language.
Release date 2/4/00
Time in minutes 116
Director Wes Craven
Studio Dimension Films

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3000 Miles to Graceland

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This is a terrible, horrible film, a big-budget student film with stupidity and insipidity written all over it. AOL Keyword: Suck. Imagine Ice-T, suspended by his ankles and sliding along a cable suspended from the ceiling, in the line of fire, spinning and shooting his guns. This was supposed to be the moment when people go, “Wow, bad ass.” Instead, the meager audience, weary from groaning and giggling and snorting with derision for two hours, laugh out loud, so desperate are they for entertainment in this wasteland of awfulness. Even Las Vegas isn’t this cheesy.

Yeah, I knew Kevin Costner was in it. I knew the rest of the cast was not enough to make up for Costner’s inherent shoddiness factor, but I had no idea the movie could fail on so many levels! The first five minutes is a rock and roll video of two CGI scorpions in a weird, video-game-like battle to their mutual plastic deaths. Very, very telling. Bookending the film is a freakodopolis curtain call of Kurt Russell singing an Elvis number with a music video montage of shots from the movie, and the actors (most of whom are dead by the time the film ends) grinning and waving guns in front of accelerated shots of Las Vegas.

The soundtrack is weird – the idea (a casino robbery by a group of guys dressed as Elvis during an Elvis convention) is almost too thin for a Saturday Night Live sketch (which, if made, would only feel half as long). It’s White Trash and Two Smoking Barrels, i.e. Demian Lichtenstein saw that movie and said, “neat,” but forgot the part about story, acting, character, or dialogue. So we have some unnecessarily cool zooms and cuts on things that aren’t very important, a precocious child with a future in crime, and Courteney Cox Arquette rethinking her entire career. The high part of the film is Kevin Pollack and Thomas Haden Church as (gulp) Federal agents. That’s all – they don’t actually do anything, but the scenes in which they are allowed to speak are almost as good as a Shannon Tweed film festival.

It’s an indiscriminate little-boy shoot-em up joyride through nothing, culminating in a poorly-executed sort-of movie that also features Howie Long. Why would anyone go to see this film? I saw it, frankly, because it opened. It’s weak. It’s boring. It’s laughably stupid. At times (see aforementioned Church and Pollack, also Jon Lovitz) I thought, “Well, I could give this a Catch It On Network TV rating” which gives no money to the studio but gives you something to laugh about with your friends; the problem is, the networks would cut out the only “good” parts, i.e. the strong violence, the sex, and the cussing. It’s rank and wretched and I have a lot of making-up to do with my companion, who was shaken and angered by the horribly insulting loss of time from his life. And they don’t even go to Graceland. Sheesh!

MPAA Rating R-STRONG violence sexuality language
Release date 2/3/00
Time in minutes 125
Director Demian Lichtenstein
Studio Warner Brothers

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Isn't She Great

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No, she’s not. The preview fooled me. I had no idea it would be a smarmy biopic about Jacqueline Susann, who wrote the then-groundbreaking Valley of the Dolls. Basically the majority of the stuff that makes this movie enjoyable (besides the painful production design – and it’s painful because it’s true what they say about the 60’s and 70’s!) is in the preview. John Cleese and David Hyde Pierce aside, this seemed like a flamboyantly trashy, can’t lose comedy with two very funny comedy vets, Bette Midler and Nathan Lane. Yes, yes, I know they have done some stinkers before, but my god, I mean, how could I know?

Oh I am ashamed. And it took me forever just to get around to reviewing it, because it was so wretched that I wasn’t sure if I should admit to having seen it. Now I have to generate enough content to convince you not to go. From what I could see of the box office, and the empty seats around me, that won’t be too much of a problem.

Bette Midler plays Jackie Susann, and to be completely fair, the character is perfect for Midler’s particular brand of…whatever – she can pull off crass trash and glowing diva with the best of them, and Susann’s story was not known to me, so in that respect I was interested by the story. Nathan Lane is inexplicably drawn to Susann, and perhaps his real-life counterpart was gay as well, but he is thrown away in Susann’s shadow (much like his real-life counterpart) in this script.

Stockard Channing, also a glam-trash diva herself, gets a little screen time being extremely fabulous (her bits are the most watchable in the film) and the rest of the folks behave in a shockingly tiresome and predictable way, especially considering it is a true story and one with which I was not familiar. Oh woe is me! If you’re interested in fashion from the 1960’s and 1970’s and narcissistic ingrates, go for it! It’s not fair to say Jacqueline Susann was an ingrate – but it took personal tragedy for her to appreciate anything, and even then…

The title comes from Lane’s character’s constant extroverted support for his wife – and he is pretty much relegated to trying to prove to the world how great she is. Maybe she is/was, but the movie isn’t. Not unlike another biopic about an abrasive celebrity (Man on the Moon), Isn’t She Great offers us thin (if any) insight into what drives the main character – we just watch her go and go and go and abrade and abrade and abrade. It did make me want to read Valley of the Dolls, however, even though probably by today’s standards, Valley of the Dolls is as shocking as Peyton Place.

Skip the movie, read the book, and go see Galaxy Quest again.

MPAA Rating R for language.
Release date 1/28/00
Time in minutes 90
Director Andrew Bergman
Studio Universal Pictures