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A. I.

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Spielberg. Osment. Two excellent reasons to sit in a movie theatre. Spielberg is a master storyteller, with an eye for detail, whimsy, heart, and action. Osment is a prodigy, a sensitive, intelligent, expressive child, who can take a virtually unperformable role (Exhibit A: The Sixth Sense) and make it real. Together, they can create so much more than a typed script page would hope to achieve. High praise indeed, right? How many movies have had the adult naif, a blank slate, wandering throughout the frame with the wonder only seen in an infant’s eyes? Starman, Fifth Element, more. Osment is “born” at age 9 or whatever he is supposed to be, and he is a sponge for experience and existence. From Osment’s character knowing too much with Shyamalan, he now knows literally nothing, yet is infinitely trusting, loving, curious, and, later, wise. It’s another unperformable role that he made his own.

A.I. is a Pinocchio story of sorts, buoyed by the biotech genetic programming concern, but (as my companion brilliantly summarized) it’s more like a mix between The Wizard of Oz and Blade Runner. (He also said Dark City but I think only one scene really qualifies it for that – and there is a brief Clockwork Orangey sequence as well – apropos since the original idea was for Stanley Kubrick to direct.) Big shoes to fill, two serious classics. Am I implying that A.I. will be a classic, like its siblings Always and E.T.? Only time can tell. This film is not for the cynical, but I think anyone who has been jaded too many times in the search for love (acceptance and caring, not just romantic/sexual) will not be able to handle Osment’s sincerity. Frances O’Connor, as his “mother,” is almost embarrassingly true.

Osment is a robot, a very realistic man-made human, a “mecha,” and the first of his kind designed to be a child, designed to love. A.I. carries a whiff of that moral question posed more blatantly in the Jurassic Park movies – Discover if you CAN, and then figure out HOW then DO- but also, just because we can do this, should we? What of the responsibilities of the mortal target of an inorganic’s love? Interesting questions, with some dark answers. Did not God create without any second guessing His responsibility? It’s darker than E.T., certainly, and luckily it’s not overly weighed down with philosophical concerns. It is also funny, very exciting, and visually wowza. Spielberg standard cinematographer Janusz Kaminski paints a beautiful portrait of this boy and his world. Spielberg standard composer John Williams writes a totally atypical, creepy, weird, but effective score. Stan Winston – well, let’s just say that Teddy bear is totally utterly real.

Plopped in the middle is an unsettling sequence when The Bad Guys come, and it’s quite a throwback to the early ’80’s in some ways, but also a vivid portrait (and, frankly, a reasonable prediction) of what backlash there might be against such realistic mechanical persons roaming the streets. Jude Law (already typecast as a perfect-by-design fellow in Gattaca) is another mecha who meets David (Osment) on his Pinocchio quest and they balance each other beautifully. Law is a sexbot, basically, so he can produce the affect, the appearance of love, while David hopes to finally please the recipient of his love. The relationship is very interesting and complex, considering their perspectives, and I would love to read the source tale, Brian Aldiss’ “Super Toys Last All Summer Long.”

Pithy phrases of praise I have stored up unfortunately reveal too much plot, so I am forced to silence them. But so many moments in David’s quest are like so many classic, emotionally impactful moments in other great tales, just trust that you will never lose interest. It’s a fairy tale, not even a modern one – it’s a classic set in a distant future. Skimming through questions about the nature of the soul or consciousness, it’s a fable with real beauty and magic to it, the kind of magic I think no other creative team could have mustered successfully. Oh yeah and none of the mechas ever blink. Cool.

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 6/29/01
Time in minutes 144
Director Steven Spielberg
Studio Dreamworks & Warner Bros

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The Anniversary Party

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The Anniversary Party is a little serio-comic movie which no one should have heard of, yet among my movie-going friends it was like the next Big Hollywood Blockbuster, we were so jazzed for it to open. Written and directed by and starring Alan Cumming and Jennifer Jason Leigh, it’s a feast of familiar faces, resonant themes, and just some seriously good storytelling. Leigh and Cumming are the anniversary celebrants with a slippery history together. In their house full of friends, many of whom are people regarded as larger than life, as Leigh plays a well-known Hollywood actress, they are regular people with regular friends who happen to do larger than life things for a living, yet all the people are so real, so interesting, and so well-written.

Phoebe Cates and Kevin Kline costar as a movie actor with his former movie actor wife, complete with their real-life kids, and they were my favorites. Alternately showy and loving and Big Stars and regular folks, they reminded me why we as a culture are so fascinated with movie stars’ personal lives – can they do regular things like go to a dinner party like we do, or are they just too unreal? Everyone is great, everyone gets a moment to be known by the audience without bogging down the plot line. Jane Adams (Mel from Frasier) is especially divine as John C. Reilly’s wife, also in Hollywood and definitely more of what we wonder about the on-the-edge types in that business. Parker Posey is uncharacteristically subdued and it’s actually quite great to see her this way. Gwyneth Paltrow plays an up-and-comer ingenue and lust-object, and she plays it so beautifully shallow and stupid, it’s super to see who is duped by her and who is entranced – and then we get to see who she really is.

Shot on digital video, the movie feels less like a script and movie and performance than just a brilliant little documentary about this party – the very medium allows for less complex set-ups and more intimate, quick, easy familiarity. The cheapness of the medium seems to have given the actors the freedom to explore or take risks or just go balls-out, because they just rewind if it stinks and do it again. As a result, except for the various too-personal moments and tragic turns, it’s like the best, most delicious home movie ever made. The friends are there to celebrate the continued relationship of Leigh and Cumming (an author whose screenplay has just been optioned) and the love, gentle joshing, and accidental injuring that close friends can do to each other is palpable and real. All I can say is I felt that the whole movie was so very real, so natural, so intimate.

My companion astutely pointed out that the only thing that would have made it feel more real would have been that Woody Allen/Robert Altman-style everyone talking over everyone else type dialogue, but I think we would have missed too much of the friendship and care that these people take around each other. At the party are the disliked neighbors, (Mina Badie and Denis O’Hare) invited in a weak gesture of peacemaking over a neighborly contention, and their awkwardness is just as true and heartfelt as the sweet little song young master Kline wrote (himself!) for the recently beleaguered couple. They are all steeped in or influenced by the unreal, bizarre Hollywood life, but their pains and issues and happiness are all so achingly identifiable. Jennifer Beals plays a photographer friend of Cumming’s and it’s her actual photos we see – very nice stuff. The genuine contributions add to the story, it’s clear all these people worked on this project for the love of it, and it really shows.

Michael Penn did the music, which was so subtle I didn’t even notice it. Take that how you will. It’s a simple, enjoyable movie, sometimes scathingly honest, sometimes just sweet and funny, but all in all, well-crafted and just plain old a good dollar value.

MPAA Rating R-nudity, adult situations, language
Release date 6/22/01
Time in minutes 115
Director Alan Cumming and jennifer jason leigh
Studio Fine Line Features

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Sexy Beast

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Sexy Beast is the slickest student film ever made. That said, it is not a student film, but rather a relatively big-budgeted indie with heavyweight Ben Kingsley as Don. Here and there, director Jonathan Glazer has some elegant, expository editing, some cool camera work, and confident, languid shots. And then he gets all excited about that and overdoes it, to the point of adding a metaphorical “dream” sequence that, if one were viewing one’s college roommate’s film, you would think was brilliant. However, it’s a mean bunny on horseback with a gun, and no one can make that look deep, cool, or heavy. No one.

Ray Winstone plays Gal, our hero, who is a retired career criminal being sought by Don to do a Really Big Job. Don doesn’t do no, as some of the advertising says, and that is an understatement. Don, you might say, is violently averse to any sort of contrariness that can be imagined. Winstone does a great job, I must say, of being confident and terrified of Don in the same breath – he is exactly one half of the reason to watch this film. Kingsley, of course, is the other half. Gal apparently is the titular sexy beast, though what that has to do with anything I don’t know, unless it was a working element that was never fixed in post-production, kind of like the scruffy, gun-totin’ bunny-man.

Yeah there’s a lot of language and violence and stylish criminal yattering, and a pretty cool caper with a surprising conclusion – but this flick comes off very unsatisfying. The people are cold and joyless, so even though we come close to liking Gal, we don’t ever really. The story lurches along, building in tension between Gal’s “no” and Don’s “yes” until something HAS to happen – and then one of the most hackneyed stalemate-breakers in film history pops the bubble. Then everyone goes utterly against their character, undermining what little character development was done in the first place, all to justify said hackneyed deus ex machina. I’d hate to insult improv comedy by saying it’s one of the lame “this scene is going nowhere” tricks to save a tanking scene, but there it is. Sorry, improv comedy!

Kingsley snarls over his very aggressive, threatening soundtrack theme in a rich cockney, which is belied by the intelligent sparkle in his eyes. Is this the vice-president from Dave? The robed pacifist from Gandhi? Yes, and he’s the horrible torturer in Death and the Maiden. His slim-hipped, delicate-skulled form in this movie fairly ticks with fury, and it’s quite powerful. However, all his work and skill is for naught, as he’s stuck in a movie with a freakin’ bunny with a gun. To sum up: lovely Spanish vistas, rich Cockney dialect studies for aspiring actors, and an empty, unsatisfying end product – and the invention of the delicious malaprop, “insinuendo.”

MPAA Rating R-language, violence, sex
Release date 6/21/01
Time in minutes 88
Director Jonathan Glazer
Studio Fox Searchlight

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Atlantis: The Lost Empire

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Set in 1914, Atlantis is just the kind of movie Disney set out to make in the old days, sans songs – imagination-firing fantasy coupled with enjoyable, humorous characters, beautiful, lush visuals, and, if a few toys would be cool too, so be it. The story is pretty straightforward: plucky, underexperienced scientist haplessly lures unsavory types to magical other world, which is therefore put in danger, and adventure ensues. Nothing surprising happens in this film, but quite a bit that is beautiful and funny does. It is worthy of note that this animated feature is rated PG, not the traditional Disney G, and, thinking back, I cannot decide why. The fair maiden Kida is foxy, but so was Jasmine in Aladdin and Ariel in the Little Mermaid. Someone uses the word “nude,” is that enough to rate it PG? Is it more violent than the G-rated set can handle? It doesn’t seem so, but perhaps it is.

Atlantis is simply beautiful, hand-drawn and computer-generated imagery blending together smoothly, character’s faces interesting and attractive (their fingertips are kind of creepy, but oh well). They move like Disney characters seem not to have moved in a long time – it’s more of a visceral impression than anything, but there it is. The animation department has finally perfected that difficult hand-drawn maneuver, the camera-rotating around the moving subject, which has looked jerky even in recent films – it’s perfect here! The special FX (you know, glowing stuff, fire, lighting type animation tricks) are very cool, very high tech.

The submarine that takes our crew of characters (shallowly drawn but endlessly interesting and amusing) with their enormous crew of faceless underlings is more than a little reminiscent of the now-defunct 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea ride in the Disney parks, as well as enormously tempting for giant squid (the big glass observation dome invites a giant squid beak to pop it open for the goodies inside). Don’t get too attached to it! Other vehicles are equally groovy – you see some of them in the fast-food tie-in commercials, in the drive-through.

Bizarrely, Don Novello (you may know him as Father Guido Sarducci) makes a come-back as the munitions expert on the voyage – it is impossible not to picture him in his hat and sunglasses and mustache, but his delivery is divine. Florence Stanley is a favorite, of my companions and I as well as others who saw the film, as Mrs. Packard, the communications lady. Very very very funny, all. On the ship, M*A*S*H-like PA announcements set the tone, and the cast quickly follows. the screenplay is very tight, but does not feel rushed, despite the fact that the 93 minute film has goodly length action-only sequences. Maybe the absence of songs was what was needed to make Disney films feel less perfunctory with the story, but I can’t say I wish them gone. James Newton Howard’s score worked, in that I was caught up enough in the movie not to notice the score glaring out.

Overall, Atlantis was a nicely rendered, well-executed piece of film. I don’t know if it will excite the rabid fandom of the more princessy themed Disney films of recent years, but perhaps a few kids will get excited about anthropology and exploring as a result.

MPAA Rating PG
Release date 6/15/01
Time in minutes 93
Director Gary Trousdale, Kirk Wise
Studio Walt Disney

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Moulin Rouge

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This is a difficult film to rate. Whenever I give a rating purely based on my personal feelings and experience watching the movie, I get guff from the folks whose tastes differ from mine – not simple disagreement, I get plain old guff – but if they had asked me, I could have told them, no, this movie is not for your type. I went to two screeners in a row, one for Moulin and one for Evolution, and the demographics in the theatres were like night and day. The demo they invited to Evolution will not like Moulin Rouge. Me, I loved it. LOVED IT. My companion – LOVED IT. But we already knew we would. You should read this review and decide for yourself – I just don’t want any guff. Folks who prefer David Spade comedies will snicker but it is their loss.

When asked what I thought of the film, I say it was beautiful crazy sexy magical dangerous insane and cool. Rich adjectives all, but not very descriptive. It’s a sort of modern musical, not unlike the sort-of musical of Kenneth Branagh’s Love’s Labor’s Lost (but with much better singing) or Pennies from Heaven in that the songs are pre-existing songs, but here not period-appropriate, which are lyrically meaningful in the story and period (1899) in which they are being used, but also accessible and deliciously, marvelously reconceived to match the tone of the film. (OK, that row of guys in Budweiser T-shirts just walked out – I am narrowing my demographic with every word.)

In other words, yes, Jacek Koman growls a Tom Waits-like “Roxanne” with a tango twist (my very very favorite scene in the whole film, so far), but it works! Pick up the soundtrack album – the songs on there are actually more simplified versions of the dense, luscious orchestrations and mixes that actually take place – it’s like being on some kind of drug to watch this movie, but the drug is music! But there are far more songs, individually and mixed in, in the actual film, and I will be very vexed indeed if I have to be content with the relatively mix-content-free “Because We Can” after seeing what Craig Armstrong did to it in the film. Oh my!

If you are familiar with the flavor of low-end English music hall (greasy, syphilitic chorus girls with wild eyes and flailing limbs), with Cirque du Soleil (imaginative costumes, physical perfection twirling in French surrealism) and Mardi Gras (vital, dangerous, lurid, celebratory, colorful madness in the name of fun), then you have a sense of the scary beauty of the Moulin Rouge as realized in this film. The voice talent is more than adequate, especially Ewan McGregor, wow! Nicole Kidman is no Annie Lennox, but she is certainly not as bad as all I’d read set her up to be. And, as a nice change, she as an actress is nowhere near as chilly as she usually is in films, indeed she’s warm and yet still ethereally beautiful and supernaturally glamorous. Her costumes alone made me wet my pants and cry “mommy!” Jim Broadbent – I knew he was a great actor, but he’s got hidden pipes!

Everyone seems deeply committed to this project, one that is more of a feat of insanity even than Baz Luhrmann’s last film, Romeo + Juliet, which was a marvel of wedding modern sensibilities to the Bard’s language. Here he takes the decadence and innocence of the Belle Epoque and makes it splashy and ambrosial. Have I said enough about the totally kick ass orchestrations? It’s intense, clubby, accessible to young people, yet also big 1980’s Broadway (think of the vast lushness of the Broadway epics like Les Miserables and Phantom of the Opera without thinking of the actual shows themselves) – where a small band would do, make it a philharmonic, and mix in Bowie and Nirvana and Elton John and Beck and Nat King Cole and….yowza. It’s visually arresting and musically revitalizing. I’m going to see it again in a couple of days and I have cleared a spot for the DVD and second soundtrack album, yessiree!

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 6/1/01
Time in minutes 126
Director Baz Luhrmann
Studio 20th Century Fox

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Pearl Harbor

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Don’t be fooled by the high rating for this film – I am not branding it as the historically accurate document of a few weeks that will live in infamy; nor am I singing the praises for the wordsmiths who watched a lot of M*A*S*H and not a lot of Jane Austen before setting pen to paper. No one in their right mind would go to a Michael Bay-directed, Jerry Bruckheimer-produced, and Ben Affleck-above-the-title film expecting to be swept away by the human story behind the tragedy. Therefore, those not in their right mind walk out thinking, “Eck! Great effects, though.”

Listen up people: Bay/Bruckheimer are not the historical accuracy nazis that other directors are, but as action producers, they have no equal. Example: Armageddon. A whiz bang of a blow em up shooting through space action adventure, with some talking. Pearl Harbor – a period film, a very emotionally charged world war, and a love story thrown in to put chicks in the seats, but by golly this is an ACTION MOVIE. And it is a damn good ACTION movie. Let’s not lose sight of that, OK? By Bruckheimer standards, actually, this movie has far less inane dialogue than I was prepared for. For my dollar, for the action and the effects, it’s a matinee price plus snacks.

I, for one, am a chick who will already see action movies even if they don’t stick in some chick-drawing goopy love story. When it’s thrown in, it’s thrown in – it’s not integral to Japan’s strategy to have the shimmering beauty of Kate Beckinsale marred by the quandary of loving two men. Beckinsale is beautiful in this movie. Ben Affleck is Ben Affleck, he’s flat and cocky and strong-jawed and always best when he’s shooting or clammed up. Josh Hartnett, who may or may not be right off the WB lot, is better than Ben. One of the best actors in the movie is Ewen Bremner who plays Red, and he and trained actress Beckinsale carry the story as far as they can with all the bombs dropping.

Let’s go to the bombs dropping. Holy mackerel! Not just fat fireballs rising above the unmoving targets, we have humping up battleships and swelling, screeching, expanding metal. I would gape in awe at the preview and the preview (while definitely spending some of its money shots) only hints at the fantastic effects work done for this movie. Comparisons to Titanic are inevitable, what with the big boat going down (and in the same tank used to shoot Titanic) and all. The comparisons are flattering and accurate. the dialogue is comparable, but so is the technical mastery.

During the credits I was pleased to see it was flagship effects house Industrial Light and Magic taking the credit – the people who did the Mummy Returns were clearly jilted for this, superior effects film. Tiny tiny details fill the screen – this will lose a lot to video so do try and see it on the big screen while you can. Whizzing underwater bullets a la Saving Private Ryan, delicious swooping camera work like Cliffhanger, it’s all in there. I am sorry to say that I prefer the Thin Red Line’s score (as used in the preview) to the relatively generic (but similar) music used here. But we can’t have everything, can we? Lighting and camera work were very impressive.

Earlier I invoked the name of the revered television comedy/drama M*A*S*H, which was occasionally (if justifiably) heavy-handed with its “war is bad” message. I agree war is bad, but to have a top-line general spouting pap about “O if such machines of war could be turned to greater use” it kind of takes the wind out of the drama – a reluctant enemy with whom we have since made peace and whose overseas box office revenues we desire, well, come on. If I want that kind of yap I’ll watch the highly one-sided Star Trek – I came here to see the beginning of the last cut-and-dried, right-and-wrong conflict this nation ever got involved in. As the Onion so beautifully put it, “Dastardly Japs Attack Colonially Occupied U.S. Non-State” – if you’re going to soft-pedal it, do it right. (Please refer to page 60 of “Our Dumb Century” for the famous speech.) Anyway, it’s kick ass to watch, so go watch it.

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 5/27/01
Time in minutes 180
Director Michael Bay
Studio Touchstone Pictures

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Shrek

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This is not a movie for kids, or at least not little ones. Yeah, it has a few visual poopy farty jokes at the beginning, as well as very marketable characters and a whimsical green chubbo of a lead, but Shrek (both times I saw it) was simply not interesting to kids. The adults, however, are cracking up. The music is modern, which is weird, I grant you, and the jokes and humor are generally modern as well, but I don’t think it will be as dated in 10 years as other movies that have attempted the same thing. Dreamworks mogul Jeffrey Katzenberg used to be an animation honcho at Disney, and Shrek is chock full of dead-on Disney mockery (all of which was deemed “nothing we can’t handle” by Mauschwitz itself) as well as a fresh and funny silliness. I am telling you, I myself am totally surprised at how much I laughed – both times I saw it! Forget the anachronisms, the spirit of the film is funny.

Based on the soon-to-be-a-best-seller book by William Steig (sample quote: “One day, Shrek’s parents hissed things over and decided it was about time their little darling was out in the world doing his share of damage. So they kicked him goodbye and Shrek left the black hole in which he’d been hatched.”), Shrek is basically a character who revels in stinkiness and all things grody, as a good ogre should, and the filmmakers take full advantage of modern audience’s gross-out tolerance without overstepping the bounds. What would have made our grandparents cry in their day makes the audience roar with laughter today. If you’ve seen the movie, just think about the blue bird. Modern twists on traditional fairy tale elements abound as well.

The animation? Superb, stunning, gorgeous, Pixar-quality, fantastic, wow, man. Keep your eyes peeled for funny things in the background. CGI animated people are still super creepy, but the only two people we see for any length of time are Princess Fiona (voiced by Cameron Diaz with just the right balance of sincerity and wink wink) and Lord Farquaad (John Lithgow, delicious), and their animators took lots of time with them, obviously. The lighting is beautiful, the fur and fabrics very real looking. Nice. And who remembers that Fisher Price dragon that came with the castle?

I did not want to laugh at Eddie Murphy’s Donkey, but sue me, I did! In the previews, I thought he was alarmingly out of place, like casting Chris Tucker in the Princess Bride, but truly, he was very funny and the soul/conscience of the movie. Mike Myers, with a self-described accent of a Scotsman who’s lived in Canada for 20 years, inhabits this role like a pro. My avid readers know I have little sympathy for Myers’ self-aggrandizing muggery, but stuffed inside the crusty maw of this gentle ogre, Myers has begun to redeem himself.

It’s funny, it’s upbeat, the animation is great, and all the voice casting works surprisingly well. I can’t think of any reason not to see it. More reasons TO see it: Mummy Returns, Angel Eyes, Knight’s Tale. Go see Shrek!

MPAA Rating PG
Release date 5/18/01
Time in minutes 100
Director Andrew Adamson, Victoria Jenson
Studio Dreamworks

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A Knight’s Tale

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Now I already knew full well going into this theater that the only reason to see this movie is because I had seen everything else playing at that multiplex. My expectations were low due to the kooky preview and subsequent supporting commentary. Like Shrek, A Knight’s Tale takes its soundtrack from pop songs of today, but, not at all like Shrek, A Knight’s Tale is insulting, boring, and sad. Writer/director Brian Helgeland (The Postman, Payback, and L.A. Confidential, among others, including Nightmare on Elm Street 4) takes what should have been an interesting idea, a commoner posing as a knight in order to joust in tourney, and makes it nigh on unwatchable. I don’t decry it as un-WATCH-able only because the jousting itself is pretty cool. But all you folks who complained about the dialogue in Pearl Harbor must realize that at least the sentences spoken in that film follow one another in a logical sequence – dialogue between hapless lead Heath Ledger and his maiden fair, Shannyn Sossamon is labored, random, and horrifying.

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Startup.com

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The night I saw this film, I know I enjoyed it, but I didn’t realize to what extent until afterward, when I was explaining it to a fellow ex-dot-commer. As a documentary, one has to wonder how it ever got made – it appears to be a Pulitzer-prize worthy stumble of luck on the part of the filmmakers to have found people willing to be so scrutinized and well-covered by a film crew from the inception of their company idea to the almost inevitable end. The coverage is so good, and the contents so private (either from a corporate espionage perspective or from a personal humiliation perspective), it almost feels too good to be non-fiction. It turns out that the camerawoman was the roommate of Kaleil, initially interested in the phenomenon of a guy getting venture capital with no actual business. She met Chris Hegeman, interested in a similar product, and Bingo. The result is an amazing, behind-the scenes look at the rise and fall of the American dream, from living room “what-if” pow-wows to CNN coverage of company CEO Kaleil Isaza Tuzman slipping President Clinton a business card, offering him a job after his term ends.

Kaleil is one of those guys who is not like regular people, but all too common in the dot-com boom-bust horror show that is the result of men such as himself. He is balls-out, energetic, confidence dripping from his immaculately clad frame, and chock full of grandiose dreams of getting rich rich rich. It starts with an almost sociopathic need to beat the competition, at the cost of one’s employees, one’s life, one’s friends, even one’s supposed mission statement, that is, to create a product that helps customers. In my own experience I have referred to this as the Rosenfelt Effect (an elite few of you are snickering) because it takes one crazy guy with a good idea to hype everyone up and make them forget why they came in the first place – oh, and naively shoot himself in the foot with his business practices, and being reactive instead of proactive. It’s a film about idealism versus realism, played out in the face of consumerism. Can you smell the hubris?

Fellow dot-commers and ex-dot-commers, you know the drill. Weird, alienating pep rallies, chanting, stupid mottos, calling the upcoming grueling months a “fun ride” with “tremendous rewards” gleaming at the end of it, the elusive pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, the lightning-fast policy changes (if, indeed, there are policies and procedures in the first place), rapid, untrainable growth, Barely-Just-In-Time releases of product with little or no concern about quality, followup, or support, no sense of realism or humanity…I myself, employee #68 out of over 400 by the peak at a failed computer manufacturer, propped my feet up on the long-vacated desk of a man like him and drank good booze on the last day of that company’s existence. While watching startup.com, the memories and bitterness and, worst of all, recognition of other people succumbing as I had succumbed, overwhelmed my appreciation for the actual film. Now I see the brilliant foresight employed by the filmmakers, having a camera person on each key player to catch both ends of important phone calls. The foresight to even make this film is precisely what has been lacking in the “ooh free money for the taking” attitude of the dot com craziness. It’s fascinating to see it played out so similarly and yet so uniquely.

Kaleil’s partner, Tom Herman, is the perfect foil to Kaleil’s avarice. He is dedicated to his home life and his own health and well-being – he’s not selfish, he’s definitely committed and motivated in the company, but he has a sense of realism and empathy and humanity that is altogether lacking in the PR machine that Kaleil becomes. Tom is human, and ultimately, that is his demise, with regards to their company, govWorks.com – and eliminating the humanity from a place ultimately will kill the place. The film does not go so much into company morale as it does the conflicts between Kaleil and key players in the company, particularly Tom, and it does not address the corporate aftermath of the decline of this company. There are moments, especially on a weekend retreat for employees and some obnoxious pep rallies, where you can see who is Playing the Game and who is Just Employed, and it’s a delight. The obsession about getting rich and the de-emphasis on the customer and the actual product is what killed this beast, and you see it early on in the film, long before they do, and not because you already knew it’s coming. It’s sad and funny, and definitely very interesting. See it!

MPAA Rating not rated; some language
Release date 5/11/01 (NY/LA)
Time in minutes 103
Director Chris Hegedus, Jehane Noujaim
Studio Artisan

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The Mummy Returns

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Possibly one of the most infuriating things about The Mummy Returns is that The Rock is not why I was disgusted by it. I was upset at seeing Industrial Light & Magic’s name in the credits, after having seen such a total hack job of special effects – in this day and age! For 1990, the effects were pretty cool, possibly cool enough to carry the film (see: The Lost World Jurassic Park for effects carrying a film)…for 1990. For those not familiar with ILM’s normally stellar reputation, let me just say that if you’ve seen a movie with outstanding, amazing, realistic computer generated imagery, it’s probably ILM. Oh, and The Mummy Returns. I pose that it was the ILM summer intern skeleton crew’s team building project, which was chosen by drawing straws. I mean, and how! Television Star Trek looked better. There was so much graphics compression the whole movie could fit onto a zip disk.

I don’t expect much from the Mummy franchise. I expect cool production design (I dig that Egypt thing) and I expect a little eye candy with the curses and the scarabs and the time travel, but dear heavens I didn’t expect to see this! The camp was just barely there, mostly to the tune of Brendan Fraser gamely making “uh oh not this again” gag lines, but it was enough to make it apparent that campiness was their intent. Of course, Divine herself could have come out dressed as a gold chiffon scorpion at the end and it couldn’t have saved this film. To be fair, I walked out of the theatre more or less non-plussed, thinking, “Well, the hand to hand combat was pretty good, and I think it was better than the first one,” but the more I thought about it, the more aggravated I was. The hand to hand combat was actually very good, and kudos to the costumers, but seriously, what a piece of tripe. If they had just focused more on the analog elements of the story, it could have been cool. Or watchable.

If I were kissing the studio’s butt, I would say that many of the elements of the film were homages to other films – read between the lines and see the words “totally stolen.” Indiana Jones temple falling apart all around – check. Bravely traipsing through creepy crawlies – check. Throw me the whip and I’ll throw you the whatever – check. Gungians and Ewoks – check. Moat of lava – check. Groveling Satanic minions who know not what they do – check. I could go on, but I would hate to ruin it for you.

The one major thing this movie did have going for it (as opposed to other would-be blockbuster hits) was that we, as audience members, had a lot of great opportunities for one-liners to spice up our own experience – my friends and I had some very funny MST3K style action going on, and for that, I am faintly grateful. Hassan chop! Battlefield Earth was not kind enough to provide any humor fodder. As for you Fraser fans, he doesn’t take off his shirt, and neither do Rachel Weisz or Oded Fehr, so don’t go hoping for that. Fans of wrestler The Rock will also be disgruntled to realize that fully half of his screen time is played by a horrifying computer version of him, only recognizable by the eyebrow ridges and hairdo – and that is a good 3 minutes we are talking, of very, very silly action. It would be cool if someone would remake The Incredible Hulk with The Rock, since he looks more like a pumped Rob Schneider than Lou Ferrigno looked like anyone.

Non-video game enthusiasts (or video widows), please forgive this analogy. Imagine a typical early Sony Playstation game (circa the first Resident Evil) – the whole caboodle – a short, overdramatically narrated introductory film and straight into action, generally destroying countless cut-and-paste multiples of some easily killed foe, culminating in a big obnoxious battle with a seemingly unbeatable baddie, where you basically just hit the Fire button as fast and as long as you can, and you Save Game a lot. This is the experience of watching the Mummy, without the satisfaction of actually being interested or involved. In fact, my companions and I, miming the little game paddle, were all punching imaginary Fire buttons during the “climax” and also saying “save save save save save,” and *that* was my favorite part of the movie.

Yeech.

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 5/4/01
Time in minutes 130
Director Stephen Sommers
Studio Universal

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