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An Ideal Husband

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Adapted from Oscar Wilde’s play, An Ideal Husband is a lesser-known work, one that lacks a certain quality that makes for delicious farce; namely, mistaken identity and/or scandal, with a hint of real naughtiness. The work does contain classic farcical situations that could easily be resolved if people would just be more determined, i.e. “Now just wait a moment, hear me out,” or “No no what *actually* happened is this” – misunderstandings are essential in farce. However, An Ideal Husband has a certain bland center plot device which is difficult to jazz up. Loathe as I am to compare a still-enjoyable movie to one that was patently unenjoyable, this one point of comparison is inescapable: The political ballyhoos of An Ideal Husband are, in content and ferocity, as interesting as the trade treaties being discussed in Phantom Menace.

I must now defend this movie voraciously: The acting (and dialogue) is what makes this movie work where the other failed. The story is thin, the situations frustratingly easy to make right, but the lovely ensemble with their arched brows and self-interested half-smiles are what carry this movie. Rupert Everett is the edible Lord Goring and Jeremy Northam his friend and foil. Cate Blanchett is lovely here, proving that Elizabeth was not a fluke, and quietly begging us with her eyes to cast her in a real comedienne role, and soon! Minnie Driver is her usual bizarre, spastic self, and finally Julianne Moore, making up for Lost World with a spanking British accent and a cunning resemblance to Glenn Close in Dangerous Liaisons.

An Ideal Husband was not the romp I had taken it to be, and the political plot point is a bit dry even by British standards, but every shot is rife with beauty and elegance and every actor is dripping with subtext and wit and irony and that is the true delight of the film. It more than makes up for the unfortunately languid pacing.

Director Oliver Parker also adapted the screenplay, as he has done one other time, with 1995’s Othello (Laurence Fishburne). He clearly takes a long time to be very wedded to his text before committing it to film, and took great pains with his production team making every little detail just so. The production design, props, costumes, small touches everywhere, are scrumptious. I can’t say how much is Parker’s directing and how much is his superb ensemble’s cleverness. It seems as though some scenes (the ones that felt as if they markedly decelerated the quick dialogue) he just didn’t know what to do and just let his people do what they do and just capture it on film. Fortunately, he cast good people: I hate to think what might have happened with a group where Jeremy Northam was the strongest actor on screen instead of the weakest as here. No offense to Mr. Northam, but he, being the Ideal Husband and all, should have been a stronger link. He is no detriment, only an underused fulcrum that could have vaulted the film further.

Rupert Everett plays quite the ladies man, which is a tad amusing. The Hollywood school of thought that says that the American public does not want to know if their leading man is gay because it will undermine him as a lover or hero has nothing to worry about. Except for not being altogether passionate about his kissing scenes, Everett is a total cad and a dreamboat, just as he should be. Fortunately, in Wilde’s society, a man could be heterosexual and still effetely vain about his cravat. He’s a pleasure to watch, really. It’s a pleasant diversion but sadly, little more than a chance to hear Rupert’s barbed wit.

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 6/18/99 NY/LA
Time in minutes 97
Director Oliver Parker
Studio Miramax

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Run Lola Run (Lola Rennt)

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Full Price Feature (Eigenschaft Des Vollen Preises oder bezahlung voller Preis)

Normally, I shy away from subtitled films because reading them gives me a headache, and I miss so much of the visual portion of the movie. Seeing Life is Beautiful, by midway through, I forgot all about the fact that I was reading the dialogue; and so it is, for the most part, with Run, Lola, Run. I feel I should mention this up front as many people get turned off by foreign films for the very same reason, and I don’t want people to miss this one.

Basically, Lola runs. She is desperate, she has a mission that is time-critical (20 minutes, shot in real time) and she does it more than once. That is all I will say about the plot because it is much more delightful to have the characters tell it. I knew she ran going into the movie (I mean, come on, I did go to elementary school) but I did not know why. The best part is, somehow, writer-director Tom Tykwer makes it interesting, engaging, fascinating. She runs into and past people and we see snippets of their lives. As things change so do their fates, momentarily touched as they are by her presence running by. Lola is a force, a massive force, affecting all those around her unwittingly, yet she is nothing supernatural – she only zigged where she should have zagged and events took their turn from there. I have always been interested in the concept of “what if” and this movie takes “what if” to a new level – in addition to being really different in execution (say, than Sliding Doors) from most films, Run Lola Run also has the bonus of having all kinds of interesting side stories – they whisk by but still register – they are not unimportant, they are only secondary to Lola’s run.

The soundtrack pumps during the majority of the film – I’d say during the action sequences but I would think of them more as dramatic tension sequences with rapid movement. The best thing about the soundtrack is it feels designed to drive the action and not the bottom line, if you get my meaning. Even cooler: Tykwer wrote some of the original music and Franka Potente (Lola) performs some of it! How personal and intense and nifty is that? It is not a student film – it is multimedia and polished and interesting to the eye. I am not sure what city she is in, Berlin or another city, but it’s beautiful and old and she is beautiful and young with a shock of hot red hair and cool pastel casual clothes and the contrast of her immediate desperation running through these old, staid Bavarian streets to this almost-techno driving music is…freakin’ cool. Freakin’ cool (or a less MPAA-friendly version of that opinion) is what I was thinking most of the time. Sometimes the tone abruptly switches, and I’m like, what the – ! But it’s soon clear and I never flagged in my focus. The film forces you to be as focused as she is. I mean that in a good way.

Franka Potente is fabulous – she’s beautiful without being unnatural or inaccessible, kind of a punk without being a freak, and throughout the film she gets put through the emotional paces and always surfaces with a new tack. Her face is, somehow, expressionless much of the time, yet extremely expressive. It’s all in the eyes. She’s got that Anglo Saxon/German Celtic look going on, mixed with the street chic of her tattoos and wild hair – she’s like a weird modern angel flying through the city to…well…do something really important and in a hurry. Moritz Bleibtreu plays her boyfriend, Manni, central to the plot and also put through the paces in this horrible day. He’s oddly handsome but also not unnaturally so – and they make a believable couple no matter what they are engaged in doing.

Basically it’s refreshing and cool – a Black Forest cake of a movie! Run out and catch it – har har har!

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Tarzan (1999)

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You want a top of the line animated feature, you got it. Disney has got this down to an art, nay, a science. My roommate thought that it followed the Lion King formula, which is interesting seeing as the only similarities is that there are animals as most of the lead characters and it’s set in Africa. The Disney studio and parks have long held a reverence for the Victorian adventurer’s image of Africa, its untamed wilderness of pure, man-free beauty and incredible majesty, and they take full advantage of that tradition in this film. Every background is gorgeous, every animal carefully studied for movement and behavior, every leaf wet with animated dew. Wow. The “camera work” (you know what I mean) is totally unbelievable – I know it’s on the computer, but the deep-frame animation, the speed, the lush textures, oh man oh man is this movie just a feast! The beautiful shots of the island in Bug’s Life, that sense of light and weight that is the sole domain of Disney and Pixar (and what wins them the Oscars, baby!), it’s triple that here in Panavisual glory!

Unusually, Tarzan is the first Disney feature I can think of in a long time (excepting Pixar work) and frankly, not just Disney movies, where the song music is used as score rather than as songs. Yes, the music is combined score and song, but the lyric parts of the music serve more as captions or internal monologues, not musical numbers. Some folks out there, you know the ones, the fuddy duddy “no magic or suspension of disbelief allowed in my universe” wanks, they might be pleased to know that no one bursts into song, that the songs punctuate the plot more along the lines of the use of a pop song in a regular, live-action movie. Phil Collins is a master heartstring tugger; during the 80’s in particular, he could write you a song that would bust your rib cage open with pure angst and longing. He does an admirable job with that aspect of the music, but for one, it’s so recognizably Phil (but what a relief it’s not that wretch, Randy Newman!), it seems a bit bizarre. For two, the music is not…African enough. I think it would have been amazing if Phil and say, Peter Gabriel (or, I don’t know, some African people, but come on, this is Disney we’re talking about.) could have collaborated with the Real World label artists and cranked out some serious whoom!

Besides Phil Collins, another great thing about the movie is that the characters are not overwhelmed by the people voicing them, well, except Rosie O’Donnell, but she is the comedy relief so it’s only semi-aggravating. I watched the credits and was stunned to see Glenn Close and Lance Henriksen listed among the voice talent – as apes, even. Minnie Driver, oh, I could tell it was her, but it wasn’t I’M MINNIE DRIVER all the way through like it was when say, Mel Gibson played John Smith in Pocahontas. Wayne Knight I had to dig in my brain to identify but his Newman persona didn’t dominate his character either.

Man! Did I mention how awesome this movie looked? The camera screams through the jungle canopy, the apes knuckle along smoothly and gracefully, the computer-generated objects meld handsomely with the hand drawn stuff, and the acting (by that I mean the animation of the apes and people) was very good. I can’t explain how that works, but it does. I even cried twice (I was alone and am more susceptible to Phil Collins’ charms when I am not chaperoned) and I laughed out loud a couple of times (harder to do alone). This jungle island is lush and gorgeous and painfully beautiful, and the story is more or less faithful to Edgar Rice Burroughs’ original tale – it’s definitely faithful to the spirit of it when it derails from the word of it. I was surprised at the amount of death but not surprised at how it was handled. But, the jungle is brutal, so you know, son, uh, in nature…well, let’s just watch Animal Planet shall we? (Cut to shot of boy watching television – on screen a cheetah takes down a gazelle. The boy doesn’t even flinch). There, you see? Circle of life and all that. I really liked Tarzan and I may or may not buy the soundtrack but I will buy the movie when it is released *but only on DVD!* Do you hear me, Disney? Divx dead – DVD good!

MPAA Rating G
Release date 6/18/99
Time in minutes 88
Director Chris Buck, Kevin Lima
Studio Walt Disney

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Buena Vista Social Club

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What could have been a very illumination love fest for some very old Cuban musicians turned into a long, un-dance-worthy non-structed documentary. Director Wim Wenders chronicles the recording of these musicians, banded together like a third world Traveling Wilburys, which was apparently brought about by semi-revered American musician Ry Cooder. Wenders seems to have no say in the structure or the direction of the film, and while the individual tales of the musicians are interesting, the shots are lovely, and the music is nicely spliced between recording sessions and live performance footage, overall the movie lacks direction and pacing.

BVSC was a club back at least in the 1940’s Cuba if not earlier which had a jumping local music scene, and has since shut down. The BVSC of the movie, however, is what this group of musicians has decided to call itself for the purposes of this recording (and a couple of subsequent major gigs) in honor of the old place. Unfortunately, the film (shot almost entirely in 1997-98 era digital video) feels more like multimedia liner notes and it doesn’t really have much of an arc to it.

Thankfully, the musicians, all a zillion years old and veterans and pros to a one, have no egotistical “well yes I am the best at what I do” that could have made BVSC into an unwatchable film. As it is, it is really simply a little too long and a little too broad. The characters of the musicians are all colorful and interesting, but not explored enough in depth to really give us a sense of having met them, as a project like this film could have done. The music they perform is lovely and interesting and they are all basically extremely talented; and the clear joy that these forgotten musicians exhibit getting to do what they had done all their long lives is quite as lovely as the sounds they produce together. Cooder and his son contribute and they seem almost wrong; they are not untalented or outclassed, but merely far too honky to be jamming with these pre-Castro, hell, pre-modern jazz musicians.

I was informed by my jazz enthusiast companion that when the US embargoed Cuba, they also essentially cut them off from the jazz evolution that was just coming to life in the early 1960’s, and so their harmony structure and so forth never evolved past the end of the swing style jazz era. I nodded and smiled, thinking I was enjoying this music, but I had always envisioned it more earthy and dance-inducing and…sexy I guess. The music is sexy, but in much the same way that the blues are sexy – you listen to it and have your own sexy moment, you spectate the music. It is not the raw, inclusive sexiness of Brazilian music, I guess. What the hell do I know! All I know is that the movie was a tad slow, it had no assisting voiceover or title cards to let me know what was being documented so I knew to what I should be paying attention (so, sue me, I’m human – just tell me what you’re on about and I will pay attention better, especially when the pace is so slow). Ah well. It’s interesting enough to be worth seeing, but it’s not quite cohesive enough to hold you.

MPAA Rating G
Release date 6/18/99
Time in minutes 101
Director Wim Wenders
Studio Artison Entertainment

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Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me

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All right, I’ll say it up front: I am not an Austin Powers fan. Due largely to the winning comedic nature of my boss qua friend, I have come to assimilate a couple of Dr. Evil references into my life, as well as even begrudgingly sit through showings of the first movie. But, while enduring the Spy Who Shagged Me, I realized the relative brilliance of the original film. Not unlike the Saturday Night Live Theory of Sellativity of “if it’s funny once, it must be hilarious six times,” the Austin Powers franchise (shudder) has now taken the bits that had finally grown on me a little from the first movie, and ruined them forever. Psh! I have a whole bag of psh! right here, Mike Myers, and I’m not afraid to use it. It’s an unfortunate use of the conservation of mass, applied to filmmaking. A wise scientist I know predicted the outcome of this filmgoing venture with eerie accuracy: “Feces is never created or destroyed. It is merely reincarnated as colorized motion pictures.” Oh, how true. Run that up the flagpole and salute it.

Never mind that the plot is silly – I didn’t expect it to be anything more than a skeleton. Never mind that we have established the ha-ha convention that this trollish git is supposed to be the most sexy, irresistible bloke in town. This is all fine and dandy. It was the screeching product placement, the exact rip off of jokes and gags from the first movie (even the same characters doing them!), the retread of the go-go interludes which were novel in the first movie and now clearly filler for the second…it was the wasting of Heather Va Va Voom Graham as a compellingly named Felicity Shagwell, the grotesque Fat Bastard (who almost made me laugh despite myself), the snoozarific back and forth between Dr. Evil and his clone…oh my god and Tim Robbins! First a Martin Lawrence movie and now this? What’s next, the new Gallagher tribute? And to ruin “Let’s Get It On” for me forever to boot!

Did I mention how offensive the product placement is? I don’t mean even blatant prominence on camera which is de rigeur for big budget pictures, I mean out and out campaign slogans inserted into dialogue, random closeups of specific products, the whole shebang. Someone who knows me would be spinning in their grave to hear me say that even (gulp – goodbye soul!) Wayne’s World handled their product placement with more style. Kill me. It’s embarrassing. I have seen more subtle handling of sponsors during a commercial break for the Super Bowl! Perhaps (and I am giving someone a LOT of credit here) the joke is on the Pierce Brosnan Bond films, which have gotten a little Nokia/Tag Heuer/BMW heavy of late. But even Ineeda Mantadoo doesn’t say, “Oh, Mr. Bond, your Tommy Hilfiger jacket makes you look just like a native!”

The reason AP:TSWSM gets a Catch it in HBO rating is for 1. Rob Lowe’s eerily dead-on impression of Robert Wagner (it was researched: it’s REALLY Rob) and 2. an amusing side-trip as people see a rocket flying over and comparing it to…well, that part was funny, anyway. Also, I know I am not the only person who wants a New Convertible Beetle. I’d like mine in a solid color, however, please. I must say, Seth Green looks positively edible with blue and black hair! People are lining up to watch this drivel and after seeing Phantom Menace, I’m amazed anyone can look at themselves in the mirror now. In true form, the latest print ads for Austin Powers are aping other movies’ ads – sure, it’s postmodern and stuff, but if the movie is derivative of its predecessor and the ads are derivative of the competition, what does that leave us moviegoers? Up a creek, that’s where!

Fearing I am merely growing curmudgeonly in my advancing age, I settled in to watch about 30 minutes of Barb Wire, just to get a sense of what a really bad movie feels like, and you know what, Shagged Me didn’t improve one iota. International Man of Mystery has bumped up a couple of rungs now, but if I’d sooner watch Barb Wire than force myself to revisit memories of the Spy Who Shagged Me, something is seriously wrong in the world. At least, with both Pamela and Mike, I got a double dose of Clint Howard. Shudder! Skip it! Save your money!

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 6/11/1999
Time in minutes 105
Director Jay Roach
Studio Hollywood Pictures

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Notting Hill

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Shame on me, I have now seen this movie twice without having reviewed it, but I can tell you one thing: romantic movies are altogether different depending on who you see them with. Normally I do not like to reveal much about my companions, but this is worthy of note in my enjoyment of the movie. The first time I saw Notting Hill, I saw it with (I am not lying) my ex boyfriend and his more recent ex-girlfriend and another girl he went out with once. So imagine the ladies, by and large swooning over Hugh, grumbling softly to themselves that our one male companion couldn’t have been as floppily charming and sincere or whatever (sorry, man) as our celluloid swain. Now picture the guy, surrounded by women who, for the record, he is around all the time anyway, taking frantic notes to himself in case Julia Roberts happens to call Apple to license a whole lot of the MacOS. And a distinct shortage of Raisinets were present as well.

The second time I saw this movie was with one of my bestest friends in the whole world, a married female who I was visiting. Hugh does not as much for her as me, but she claims she could understand his charm in this movie (which is all I ask for – she’s got a man with a yummy accent). It was a million times squishier for me. I must get a date to take me so I can see how the other half lives.

I’ll come right out and say it, I think Hugh Grant is the dishiest, and while Julia Roberts I can take or leave, she is best when she is luminous and dewy. The premise can be appreciated by anyone in the whole world: common man falls in with super goddess. It’s been done a million times, but seldom so nicely, I think. Who doesn’t want to be the deity revered without even having to do anything? Who doesn’t want to be the mortal noticed and loved by the deity? Who doesn’t want to see past some public persona into the real person of someone who is an icon? (Are you listening, John Cusack?) Who doesn’t want someone to take the trouble to see past one’s public persona and be seen for who they really are? Who doesn’t want to meet that person (assuming you haven’t) who is your perfect match and somehow overcome all obstacles to be together and be happily happily ever after? And, frankly, given the number of guests Jerry Springer and his ilk have every week, who apparently doesn’t want to be famous, no matter for what reason?

Given all that, what would not be appealing to *someone* in this movie? Merely the sociology of famous meeting unfamous and how would that work is interesting. On top of that, our stars have some nice chemistry, some really good acting moments (who doesn’t wish Julia would replace Andie in Four Weddings and a Funeral – same director), and a really cool passage of time sequence as well. Watch the extras when Hugh goes walking dejectedly through Notting Hill.

Like all bittersweet British comedies (Peter’s Friends, Four Weddings, etc.), our hero has a wonderful tight net of supportive friends who are also interestingly painted and well developed. Dang, but those people sure know how to build a character. Notable (and perhaps a tad over the top) is Grant’s flatmate Spike, who frankly is appalling but at least his grotesqueness serves a purpose.

First viewing, I thought there were some editing problems, but apparently we had a terrible print because the second viewing went much more smoothly. I have to say, however, that the soundtrack (not the score, it’s actually quite hold-your-breath nice) is the cheesiest, nastiest clumping of only vaguely appropriate songs since…well, something that kid from Rushmore would have produced. Ugh! Perfectly lovely moments killed by a smarmy soundtrack – and it’s not even like embarrassing overuse of pop hits, which would be execrable but understandable from a marketing perspective. Ick.

Overall, an interesting tale told well, and go see it with someone you love. Sorry, ex-ie boy. It’s just not the same.

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 5/28/99
Time in minutes 123
Director Roger Michell
Studio Universal Pictures

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Star Wars – Episode I – The Phantom Menace

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Fandom menace, indeed.

For the record, my roommate stood in line for only 22 hours (camping began about a week ahead of time in my little burg) and myself and about 35 of our closest friends came to the 8pm show on opening day. Thank you, line sitters, for humiliating yourselves so we don’t have to. It did not take a team of Gallup Poll scientists to figure out that the insane hype machine driving the pre-release of Episode I would end up with inevitable disappointed expectations. But I think most people expected a movie at least as decent as The Empire Strikes Back. Is that so much to ask? That was 1980, we’ve come a long way, baby!

All I have ever asked of movies is two things: entertain me, and don’t insult me. I can enjoy Weekend at Bernie’s and Silence of the Lambs equally with this basic principal. Most of my readers will agree that I can take something away from nearly every movie I see. The Flim Flam Menace failed me utterly. Curse my rule of no spoilers – my fans (friends) know that I am all too happy to discuss details with folks who have seen the movie, so contact me for direct ranting. My Star Wars savvy roommate pointed out that despite the widespread, fully justified negative reaction toward this movie, we are still talking about it. Dammit! Enough talking! Let’s take some action. House Bill 138, prevent George Lucas from directing people ever again.

OK, the first movie (ep.4) was rather simplistic and didn’t really have all that much tension in it, but at least it made up for that with, oh, I don’t know, CHARACTERS and DIALOGUE. I didn’t know who Vader was but I knew he was up to no good the minute I saw him and heard his theme. This boring, overly pretty movie was not entertaining, it crammed visual after visual in and didn’t even bother to make us want to see. Too many aliens and spaceships – how can we fall in love with a creature or a ship if it’s on screen just long enough to be replaced by the next one? Well, I know they all get out alive, so I have no tension in the majority of the situations that I should have. When I am so bored I have to go looking for things to remember to say I liked in my review, that says something. I liked the sound design of Sebulba’s pod during the race. Uh….

In a movie as vapid as You’ve Got Mail, there were two levels of tension: one, between the Big Bookstore and the Little Bookstore, and two, between the love interests. Tension, baby! YGM mucked it up by being kind of banal, but the elements were there at least.

I have complained about Ep. 4 having little tension but it had repartee and interpersonal tension to make up for the mythically straightforward plot. This flick rested on the first three (4-6)’s laurels and said, well, you know who Yoda is, so you will cream your jeans as soon as you see him even if all he does is act like a cantankerous naysayer. Natalie Portman’s look was beautifully designed, but she was one note – nice without makeup, stubborn with makeup. The episodes 4-6 all had their own inherent structure and strength – granted, the Ewoks were abominable, but they *served a purpose* – not unlike the ganjafrogs Gungan. Why should we even be concerned? Fart poop “how rude” and ethnic slander aside, the aliens seemed designed purely to be new different toys. Sorry to give away one of the only jokes in the movie, but you’ve probably all seen it by now anyway: The audience cheered when the sand people took potshots at the pod race, probably because they were all thinking the same thing. “We know he’s going to win, this is basically all the same crap over and over again, just knock out the hand walking jerk and win already!”

Nice sound design. Nice production design. Whoopie. What Dreams May Come had lovely visual design and a seriously trite tear-jerking storyline but it had 1. plot structure 2. characters you gave some level of a crap about and 3. music that forced you to feel when the script failed you. And the CGI effects, which were substantial, all had that weird internal glow I have never been able to describe, but you can tell it’s fake. OK, it is fake, and we know it, but I have seen movies older than this one, with less computing power behind them, and the CGI/real compositing looked more real. Jurassic Park leaps to mind. Jurassic Park – oh Spielberg, save us! John Williams took a nap on this one too. Also wasted: Darth Maul, Samuel L. Jackson, hell, even Ewan was wasted.

The OSHA-unapproved light saber battle, what the hell was that red stuff? OK, yeah, great, nice. Modern USA type jokes (moan with me here) – kowtowing to the kids does not make your movie popular, it does nothing but rob your formerly respectable epic of its only real virtue – the virtue of its fantasy. Star Wars (you know, A New Hope) was un-self-conscious and utterly simplistic but that was its appeal. You have Leia cracking Monica Lewinsky jokes as she pops open a Pepsi, well, the kids just don’t respond to that – and the adults will blast you on the internet. Has Lucas gone the way of John Hughes?

I wanted to like it. I expected the worst – I expected Ep. 4 plus Ewoks. By the end I was waxing nostalgic for the relative superiority of the Ewoks. I got no plot tension, no romantic tension, no character interaction, no “welcome to this interesting saga which somehow thinks its cool enough to make up NINE movies” laying of a seed. I got someone who says “I got me a franchise and my fans know all they need to know to understand this movie so I don’t need to explain anything.” Well, dude, you do – why would anyone attack a planet based on a taxation issue? Boring! Why/How is that hooded creepazoid powerful? What’s the Sith and why do I care, if they are basically one-man teams of hand to hand combatants, whoopie, no big threat.

I liked the rolling killbots, the robot transports, I liked the fishies, but basically this movie was emptier – EMPTIER – than Independence Day. ID4 was full of broadly drawn characters but I still cheered when the dog survived. Someone asked me if I liked PM or the Mummy better and I have yet to come up with an answer! Titanic was a sketchily written visual tour de force but it was engaging on more levels than just “look at the cool thing on screen!”

Shame on George Lucas! Shame!

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 5/19/99
Time in minutes 131
Director George Lucas
Studio 20th Century Fox

Comments Off on A Midsummer Night's Dream (1999)

A Midsummer Night's Dream (1999)

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All I can say is, thank goodness I saw this film with a high school drama teacher – I thought to myself (dimly recalling my own high school’s production) that something was not quite right, but my Shakespeare-doting friend assured me that plenty of thematic but not plot-driving content was removed. Knowing this, it would behoove the casual viewer to peruse the play before catching the flick – or perhaps, better yet, afterward – the visuals for this movie are incomparable.

I don’t need to inform anyone that the lyric beauty of the Queen of the fairies, Titania, is most closely expressed on earth in the form of Michelle Pfeiffer, and Kevin Kline as Bottom is truly an inspired casting choice as well. Rupert Everett is the hunkiest Oberon imaginable, and believe it or not, Calista Flockhart only vaguely resembles Ally McBeal in this bicycle-riding Bardic beaut. “Use me as you would your dog” is a rather Ally thing to say, and who better to beg to be treated as their spaniel than Christian Bale? Woof. Oh yeah, and Stanley Tucci, who is Puck in real life anyway (see The Imposters!) is actually wasted because of all the good gushy material that the production team seems to have seen fit to eliminate.

I was bummed (after my companion reminded me, I can’t claim all this intellectual credit for something I only half-felt in my gut) that the delicious sniping rivalry between Titania and Oberon was snipped in favor of wordless set pieces apparently intended to develop Bottom’s real life character…perhaps they were trying to make him into the every man…heck, I dunno. It was gorgeous, beautiful, nicely acted, sexy, amusing, magical…full of bikes?

My incredibly brilliant theory is of course tied to the moment in history that is exemplified by the advent of widespread bicycle riding (see my junior year in college box of papers, somewhere in there is a snappy all-nighter of a paper about the subject) and its effect on women’s stature and autonomy in society. Of course, Midsummer is basically set in Elizabethan times and women were not allowed to marry anyone their fathers did not allow, so the dialogue was a bit jarring – and I’m sorry, is that supposed to be Athens? I can accept that all Shakespeare’s plays are by law to be performed with English accents for the most part, but these kids were just three years off the newsie job lines. (Sorry, Christian – no offense!)

Basically, it is a lovely movie – go, watch the pretty people on their pretty, false sets say pretty words (but not all of them) and then read the original and picture Kevin Kline’s delightful turn as the Lead Actor in his troupe – truly Oscar caliber, that, despite all the weird extra such and such with a wife…? It only makes him less sympathetic somehow. I don’t know, I was only an English major (with a theatre minor – shame on me!). I pledge to my non-email enabled high school drama teacher friend to read more Shakespeare from now on!

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 5/14/99
Time in minutes 116
Director Michael Hoffman
Studio Fox Searchlight

Comments Off on The Mummy (1999)

The Mummy (1999)

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It took me some time to write this review. I wanted to love the Mummy, I wanted to bask in its glorious Egyptian imagery and hunky stars, but instead life intervened, as it sometimes does, and the Mummy hit the back burner. Then I saw The Phantom Menace, and was asked whether I liked The Mummy or PM better. Well, I had to think about it a bit. This is not a good sign for either movie.

Brendan Fraser, fresh off a wonderful turn in Gods and Monsters, is an attractive piece of fluff in the effects-happy sandstorm that is the Mummy. I love Fraser, I love John Hannah, and I love Egypt stuff – so I thought I would be in heaven, really. One shot includes Fraser, Hannah, and a very nice sarcophagus, and if I could have gone home with that in my mind, that would have been fine. Actually, the best part of the movie is the sections before our guy actually is turned into a Mummy, beautiful re-creations of ancient Egypt and complete buildings and scary priests and whatnot. Several times later, the movie presents moments of tension (while uncovering the Mummy in the relative present-day) but basically after that, it’s kind of silly.

Arnold Vosloo, who plays the mummy, is a cross between Billy Zane and Joe Mantegna, and is of course, better as a person than as a CGI monster, but he’s even better when he’s not on screen. The actual mummy himself is a grave disappointment (ha ha). It has this tendency to do that wide-mouth yawning face which is supposed to be scary, and it can be scary if used sparingly, like once. Open extra wide, release a plague or two, ooo that’s scary stuff. But if every time he commands his armies of zombie priests or every time he points at the buffet when it runs out of bacon bits, every time he walks on screen, well, the effect is diluted somewhat. Plus the face isn’t that scary to start with. Ah well. The effects are very nice looking, only a few have that weird glow about them which I equate with the old blue-screen outline, this kind of internally lit look that is what cops CGI objects from a frame of “real” stuff. The set design is nice, sound design is nice, acting is what it can be with the material.

Rachel Weisz, apparently only cast for her delicious accent and personage, was visibly trying to give us characterization unhinted at by the script, but, bless her heart, her efforts were in vain. John Hannah, wasted with a fake (he’s Scottish) British accent and some awkward attempts at glib humor, is still a delight to watch, if only just to try and decide what he is thinking. “Gwyneth gets an Oscar, I get a Mummy. We *both* made Sliding Doors what it was, dammit!” Also blazingly miscast was Kevin J. O’Connor (who I did not realize was in Gods and Monsters too!) as Beni, a fez-wearing ethnic type of some kind – but that actor is born to be a whiny milquetoast.

The writer/director, Stephen Sommers, brought us Deep Rising last year, and while that movie was not exactly a tour de force, it was actually surprisingly funny and campy. Perhaps Sommers got caught up in the 4000 year old majesty of the subject matter, but The Mummy could have been equally fun and campy and wacked out, but unfortunately it wasn’t.

The most telling part of the movie was in retrospect as well. My friend had come to see the show but knew he had to leave 10-15 minutes before the end, which of course is the big climax. So I dutifully recorded every moment in my mind and rushed home and left as detailed a description as possible on his voice mail. As I am describing the climactic and of course triumphant ending, it seems sillier and sillier. What we have been conditioned to expect out of a film, my god! So, I am going to have to suspend my answer as to which did I like better, The Mummy or The Phantom Menace, and make you read for yourself and decide.

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 5/7/1999
Time in minutes 127
Director Stephen Sommers
Studio Universal

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Finally, a film to shake me from the doldrums of a post-Taco Bell, I mean, Star Wars numbheaded boredom fest! Election looks to be, on the outside, another teen movie – I mean, it has *Reese Witherspoon* (who very possibly is gestating on screen as we watch) in it as a girl named Tracy Flick running for student council president – who wouldn’t initially dismiss it as a teen movie? Matthew Broderick, still baby faced and wearing a dab of unconvincing hair grey, plays his actual age in this one. The supporting cast is largely (but not utterly) unfamiliar faces doing totally familiar, real, understandable (even if deplorable) things, and coming off nicely.

Election is a yummy black comedy, with some interesting filmmaking tricks that somehow don’t manage to seem stupid, contrived, or overplayed (a rarity!) and are also actually service to the story. More “adults” I have run into who have seen it have really liked it, and I would have thought they would all have given it a wide berth – including my newest subscriber whose card I got right before I saw the movie! (Hi, D!) But it’s true!

Uniquely, Election has four narrators, four points of view (though two, Witherspoon and Broderick are the most dominant) and that and the exceptionally natural, unselfconscious performances make Election totally winning (sorry). A totally normal seeming chain of events careens terribly off course, and makes for some interesting broken dominoes along its path – and some serious yuks that sometimes are too painful to admit to laughing at. Is that a sentence? …and some serious yuks that are sometimes too painful to admit that they are at which you are laughing? Ugh. Anyway, you know what I mean? Even the profanity is used in a smart way. Some frank love scenes (or maybe they were the more embarrassing since I saw it with my dad) which actually guide the story along, nothing obligatory or even randomly unnecessary – very concise and clever and amusing.

Let’s digress for a moment. Everyone always says that my negative reviews are better than my positive ones, but the reason I give positive reviews is of course to get people to go out there and see these movies and give money to the studios that took a chance on what was clearly a long bet. Election is a funny, smart, cool movie (dig Reese’s crazy warrior music) and there are so many more ways to denigrate than to praise, in my world, that I don’t think I can, in words, do a movie justice without you, Gentle Readers, taking that leap of faith and checking out for yourself. And in an era when this movie, which clearly cost them about $12 to make, is literally 50-500 times more entertaining than an overproduced vapid slice of poo like The Flaunting Maggots, this is when your vote counts, people! Go to the theatres and pay your good, hard earned money (I hear it’s past $9 in NYC!) to see something that you might conceivably want to recommend to someone, rather than something you are pressured to see by a bunch of freaks standing in line for 3 weeks. Channel that line-standing energy into, I don’t know, recycling or planting trees or doing a walkathon for a disease, and spend your cash on a movie that is worthy of your money, worthy of your time talking about it at the watercooler the next day (or over the sneeze guard or the monkey cage, whatever)!

Sorry, Dennis Miller came into my house, drunk (so he wasn’t as clever) and rubber banded his fingers to mine and out came that.

My point is (and I do have one), Election is very funny, it is well made, it is interesting, engaging, well-acted, nicely shot, and worth spending your money on. Show some discretion out there, people, or the studios will make an epic period love story starring Ricky Martin, Madonna, and Juliette Lewis, and it will be your own damn fault.

MPAA Rating R strong sexuality, sex related language, drugs
Release date 5/7/99
Time in minutes 105
Director Alexander Payne
Studio Paramount Pictures