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Spice World

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It’s not Arrakis!
OK. I went to see this movie to wash the taste of Phantoms out of my mouth. I figured I would have to see it, having a movie review habit and all, but we did get three people in on one ticket, if that makes you respect me any more.

If you don’t have an idea who the Spice Girls are, what you really want, what you really want is to skip this movie. If you have an idea and are vaguely bemused by the phenomenon (you should see London) then it is actually a frothy, silly, harmless way to spend a couple of hours. This is no Titanic, people. This is a movie about women called Ginger, Sporty, Posh, Baby, and Scary, who sing and dance and wear the most horrible shoes invented.
The frightening thing is, I was pretty entertained. Maybe it was the cleansing colonic effect after seeing Phantoms, but a little bubble pop combined with like, 4 concurrent plot lines, all culminating in a live show and a little metafictional giggle, well, it hit the spot.

Along with some regrettably catchy ditties, some clever pseudo-dream sequences, a truly worth-a-dollar-by-itself visual gag with the tower of London, and some uncomfortably respectable actors making appearances make Bob Spiers’ Spice Opus quite watchable.
The movie is actually set up well for people who know nothing of all things Spice – they let us know what we need to know and then amuse us for a while. Richard E Grant is their maniacal manager, and he’s funny. Roger Moore in a self-mocking small role, is a cryptic megalobossman. Richard O’Brien (Riff Raff and author of Rocky Horror), Bob Hoskins, Alan Cumming, Meat Loaf, Elton John…

George Wendt and Mark McKinney are Hollywood agents trying to pitch a Spice Girls movie to Grant while the girls are touring. Cumming is a press man who wants to destroy their career for big headlines…um, or else he’s a documentarian following them around their tour, trying to get the real story. O’Brien is a spy hunting down incriminating photos, a la the royals. Their best friend is about to have a baby and they want to be there for the birth. On top of it, there’s dissension in the band and flashbacks and all kinds of silly stuff. Sad to say, compared to some of the crap that has paraded across the big screen lately, it’s downright complex and introspective.

One flashback to before they were famous, they sing and dance to a jam box in their friend’s restaurant in the same style (and lighting and camerawork style) as an old Cyndi Lauper video, where it’s supposed to look like her parent’s house and she’s just there, but really it’s a huge obvious set?

These blue trash gals are likable and not offensive on camera. They are having a great time making this movie and they just want us to have fun watching it. It demands no more of you than that. The previews take some of the goofy metafictional sequences and try and pass it off as the actual movie, which I think hurts them – in context, the scenes are more cartoony but there is a purpose.

Three people in the audience danced at the finale, too, male and female, so it couldn’t have sucked. If you’re a Spice fan, go.
No nudity, sorry guys.
So pay a buck, take a load off, sip a soda, and enjoy it for what it is. Or just buy their album.

*Note: originally rated Dollar Movie, which was between Catch the Network Premiere and Catch it on HBO

MPAA Rating PG
Release date 1/23/98
Time in minutes 93
Director Bob Spiers
Studio Columbia TriStar

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Phantoms

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I went into the theatre actually thinking I was going to see the boat movie with the slimy tentacular things; instead I got a mysteriously dead town with a stupidnatural slimy thing.
Dean Koontz forces us to endure a not-so-gripping tale, peppered with his own screenplay touches as “The devil is here. I think he wants to dance with us.” Dean, the author of the book this was based on, also had final say in director. So he chooses Joe Chappelle, best known (if at all) for ending the Halloween franchise (#6, which I saw – but maybe Kevin Williamson will resurrect it) and the Hellraiser Bloodlines. So naturally, he was the logical choice to helm Koontz’s masterwork. The previews make this movie look awful. So much for my rants about previews ruining movies – if I had paid closer attention I would have skipped it. You guys probably all know by now how hard it is for me to be out and out cruel to a movie, and perhaps it is unfairly harsh to write my review before 7am. But I can’t stress the concept any more strongly: Do not financially contribute to the potential success of this film.

If it’s any consolation, (I know you were all worried) I got in with a re-admit pass so no money passed hands from any of my companions or I. Turns out the only other person I know who saw this movie also used a re-admit pass.

Joanna Going (you know, the woman who looks like Jami Gertz) and Rose McGowan are sisters who discover Going’s small town is all dead or vanished. Enter sheriff Ben Affleck (yes, Golden Globe winner Ben Affleck – FOR SCREENWRITING! You’d think he would have recognized the missing elements in the script) and his deputies, a guy who dies pretty early and Liev Schreiber (Screams, Walking & Talking). They bumble about in a macho fashion, Schreiber giving us far more character than he was written, and Affleck looking totally out of sorts in a big winter coat and cowboy hat. Our theory was that he did Chasing Amy, figured it would tour the indie circuit and disappear, and took the first “big screen” job handed to him, not imagining the hubbub over Good Will Hunting. Ah, youth.

The sad thing is (oh, dear readers, it gets sadder), the actors are giving us the best they can in a ludicrously boring movie. I can only fault them for accepting the job, and I know first hand how hard it is to turn down a job. Enter multi-Oscar nominee Peter O’Toole, in an eerie art-imitating life capacity as a respected scientist now writing for a tabloid to pay the bills. Oh Peter – whence Lawrence of Arabia?

The biggest laugh in the movie was generated by disgust with the Sphere preview and the ridiculous voice over for the upcoming Caught Up. Continuity was forgotten, never mind all the excessive silliness. I noticed a dead kid was named Tim Lindsay and the bullets were Lindsay and Lindsay brand – was that supposed to be important? I struggle to find meaning!!!

The movie was so disheartening that I wished I had seen Spice World instead. SO WE WENT. Kids, this is what this kind of filmmaking can do to you. Don’t make the same mistake we did.

*Note: originally rated Dollar movie, which fell between Catch the Network Premiere and Catch it on HBO.

MPAA Rating R for sci-fi violence/gore and language.
Release date 1/23/98
Time in minutes 91
Director Joe Chapelle
Studio Dimension/Miramax

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The Gingerbread Man

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Loyal readers know I hate to be critical – and I do, heaven love me, I do. Now, the friends I saw this movie with HATED it venomously, but could concede that Kenneth Branagh, as usual, could do no wrong. I saw so many offenses to the senses earlier this year that at worst I was only mildly bored by the film. Yes, I should have expected that from a Robert Altman film, but I always hope. Lots of Altmanesque weird subscenes that mean nothing but add “color” – additionally, tons of shoeleather. Walking, walking, enter room. Camera stays on corridor, another door opens, someone else comes out. Music shifts, they walk off camera. NOW cut. ZZZZZZZ. The mood is forced by Mark Isham’s incredibly portentous score, which was way cool but totally out of place in this film.

Da-dunh! He walks along the corridor. Daaaaa! He sets down his briefcase.
No big Grisham fan, I went to see this based on the strength of Branagh and Robert Downey Jr. alone. Naturally, I was very pleased by their performances, and Ken’s Georgia drawl is better than many native Atlantan’s. But by gum, was this one predictable little flick. Robert Duvall has a supporting role as a filthy-footed nutcase, ambiguously drawn as either sympathetic or evil, depending on the screenwriter’s whim. Grrr. Embeth Davidtz, formerly of Schindler’s List, stares out of glazed-eyes and does not seem particularly desirous of sympathy or full of cunning, even though you know perfectly well what her role is as soon as she has any semblance of real dialogue.

But no one has a motive for any of their behavior – finally Branagh claws one out of what I am sure a lot of rewrites.

A surprise casting choice – Daryl Hannah, as one of Branagh’s colleagues – she is unrecognizable and actually quite good. Downey’s character is that sleazy sort of charming so often lived out by actors who are only capable of sleeping with people and never with relating with people – oh, and his character is loaded all the time too. Poor Downey – having to act out being loaded while being straight – perhaps Embeth got into his stash to keep him clean on the shoot, hence her daze.

As a side note, I am deeply troubled by Downey’s trouble with his addiction, and I don’t mean to poke fun at him. I think he is incredible on screen and I just hope he doesn’t kill himself. Robert, if you’re listening – remember Indio needs you!

Anyway. I don’t know if Branagh signed on to this film before seeing the final script but it seems that the Bardic genius within him OR the control freak director within him was squelched along with his better judgement. This was a role better wasted on a lesser Baldwin than on Emma Thompson’s redoubtable ex. Actors love to work with Altman and I think it’s because his scenes are shot so naturalistically, people talking over people, a lot of hand held stuff, you know. Yet for all this cinema verité flavoring, the soup still comes out all stock.

A blessing in disguise – Al Hayes screenwrote from Grisham’s book, and he skips over a lot of the dry legal mumbo jumbo that his novels-turned-films rely so heavily on, and in doing so 1. avoids being even more boring but 2. turns into a simplistic legal manipulation “thriller.” I use quotes because I was watching scenes that should have been gripping but were more predictable than Mystic Pizza (sorry ABG) – I know if I were living them out the tension would be enormous, but it was only thanks to my hyper-cuddly empathic nature that I was able to squeeze more out of it than my trendily jaded ex-LA friends.

I say it’s worth a rental because Branagh is just always so great, you know, and that guy, in my opinion, kicks Meryl Streep’s dialectical butt. Plus the production design is great too. Go, Stephen Altman! Rent this, then cleanse your palate with the always perfect Dead Again. You’ll be glad you did.

MPAA Rating R for some sexuality, violence and language.
Release date 1/23/1998
Time in minutes 115
Director Robert Altman
Studio Polygram Filmed Entertainment

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Fallen

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Actually, this movie is pretty interesting; I just think I need to reserve the Full Price designation for something more…I don’t know, maybe less forgettable. Directed by Gregory Hoblit, he who bought you Primal Fear (Richard Gere, Edward Norton), Fallen has fallen victim to its own marketing campaign. Instead of being the silly, NYPD Blue meets X-Files demonfest it looks like it will turn out to be, it’s more of an interesting, unsolvable-by-normal-means crime drama with a supernatural twist. One moviegoing companion pointed out that we learn too much about the enemy, and perhaps that is the problem. I noticed that even the preview gives too much away (what is with that, anyway? Remember when they were accurately described as “teasers?”) and that detracted from the fun of discovery.

I won’t tell you anything about it save that cop Denzel Washington puts away a bad guy but it turns out the bad guy was much much more than that, and now the evil essence is roaming the streets. Sounds stupid, yes, but it’s carried off with remarkable aplomb.
For lack of a better word, the “demon-cam” is a very interesting part of the movie – my favorite scene is the one with all the camera work and extras and where Washington realizes what’s going on. Let’s hear it for the DP, Newton Thomas Sigel! The script throws you a few red herrings, but not many, and some mildly pat “this is the mystic part” moments, but it is still engaging; more in that you want to know how Denzel will resolve the issue, rather than due to the subject matter. It builds pretty slowly but it doesn’t drag, giving you information as it feels like it. Ultimately it answers more questions than an X-Files episode as well.

The best part of the movie for me, the freak, was trying to pick out which extras will get used in bigger parts – the whole movie is a casting director’s party – extras tend to be cast because they are unremarkable, yet here are people who have to be unremarkable until they suddenly become central to the plot . It’s kind of like Saturday morning cartoons, where the part of the rocks that will come tumbling down is more vividly colored or strongly outlined than the rest of the cliff, so you know that portion will be moving and the rest is just the background painting. Again, the preview ruins a large portion of this movie, and I would like to start some kind of uprising to prevent that kind of thing.

On a side note, they also need to start mixing multiple versions of previews, and of course, stop ruining pivotal plot points. Maybe this is just me and my friends, but if I saw the Mad City preview one more time I was gonna take a bank hostage – and if I see one more Great Expectations preview, I swear to all that is holy that I will burn down the director’s house*. Spielberg previews are the best – they show almost nothing but totally suck you in. Godzilla’s previews have also been nicely resistant to this ULTRA-ANNOYING trend. But I digress.

Fallen prompted some discussion when it was over, which is quite a recommendation in and of itself.

*Legal note – if that guy’s house burns down, I really didn’t do it. I don’t even know who directed it because I cover my ears when I hear that mod music.

MPAA Rating R for violence and language.
Release date 1/16/98
Time in minutes 124
Director Gregory Hoblit
Studio Warner Brothers

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Wag the Dog

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Matinee Price with your brain and some popcorn

Wag the Dog is an interesting, wry, Bob Robertsian commentary on the power of the media and politics. It is not a rollicking comedy, as the previews would lead you to believe, but a thoughtful one, and it is not a Robert De Niro ego party. It is a bit of a Dustin Hoffman ego party (what isn’t?) but it works for his Hollywood producer character. Anne Heche is not given much to do, sadly, but Denis Leary comes through with some really dead on bits as the Fad King. Also: Adriene Martin, Woody Harrelson, Kirsten Dunst, William H. Macy, and Craig T. Nelson. And Willie!

The camera work was weird, pseudodocumentarian quick cuts and zooms, kind of NYPD Blue meets NOVA, but it was not staged as a documentary. It’s a shame, because if it had been, we the audience would have felt in on the conspiracy and more involved in the story. As it was, these people are so good at their job that for a goodly portion of the movie, they encounter no real obstacles, and we just sit back and watch the superlinear story unfold. It is much colder than a comedy should be because of all this distance, but it is still very interesting and clever and quite a commentary on our society as a whole. Also a neat pastiche of pop culture/media infiltration imagery.

To sum up: The president is accused of a sexual indiscretion 2 weeks before the election and his crack team of spin doctors concoct a little skirmish to distract and inspire the people to vote for the incumbent instead of his blatantly mudslinging opponent.
References are made to how Desert Storm was presented to the public and how this strategy for this president compares. I would be very interested in speaking to any Desert Storm vets (the one I know won’t return my calls!) to see how they felt about this analogy being drawn. I admit freely that my 21 year old self perceived the 5 week conflict to be akin to a big football game – lots of lights and logos and not a lot of coverage or even actual motivation for the fighting, and suddenly over. I know that is not the whole story, but that is the media distillation as experienced by me. In Wag the Dog, the war they concoct is entirely fictional, but the whole US mobilized behind it.

Bonus touches: The pop song inspirational anthems, the hero’s rescue mission and the falsification of a 1930’s blues hit ( I have said too much but it’s so perfect!), the whole weird crazy people getting hopped up about an enemy they can’t even find on a map and never worried about. It’s a fascinating and amusing satire but don’t expect to chortle your guts out. Just feel proud that you Get It and that you are so metafictionally aware that you would never fall for such a cheap ruse.

MPAA Rating R for language
Release date 1/9/98
Time in minutes 97
Director Barry Levinson
Studio New Line

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Tomorrow Never Dies

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OK, I love Pierce Brosnan as much if not more than the next person, and I think he makes one smooth sexy debonair Bond….but these films MUST be getting sillier because my expectations are NOTHING and still they manage to bore me. The uninviting opening song by Sheryl Crow (they make up for it with k.d. lang at the end), the goofy cybermedia terrorist plot and tepid sexual chemistry between Brosnan and Teri Hatcher – fine, whatever, that would make it a matinee feature.

BUT to cast the inestimable Michelle Yeoh, not even bring her in until an hour into the loooong movie, and then not even to use her kick ass abilities for more than a little piddly scene an hour and forty minutes into the film- THAT is inexcusable. Why even cast her? Hell, Julia Roberts could have pulled it off. Michelle Yeoh can hold her buttkickin’ own with Jackie Chan and you relegate her to being cuffed to 007, watching him as he saves the day?

The stealth boat is ridiculous. The idea that Jonathan Pryce (oh, he was soo wonderful once) can get on international TV and announce to the world his intention of taking over everything and not get called on it…the idea that he can make up headlines before the events occur and NO ONE NOTICES is ludicrous. A helicopter chasing people through crowded streets trying to chop them up with the blades is….not all that suspenseful.

Plus there is too much bang bang boring gun stuff. It’s tired and it’s not even like, sexy Bond shooting and then sipping his martini. The car chase is kind of funny and kind of exciting too. His car is cool in general. The terrible sea-drill (really bad for the manatees!) is kind of cool but not really cool. The house music score is kind of…obnoxious and not all that “updating.”

It’s difficult to be objective about such a long-lived and tradition-stuffed franchise as James Bond. I have been relieved by the relative sexism-free Bonds of recent years, but the goofy unsubtle puns and quips are really starting to show their whiskers. If this helps: The director is Roger Spottiswoode, he of “Stop or My Mom Will Shoot,” a man tuned in to the aesthetics of his waiting audience if there ever was one.

I’d recommend seeing it on HBO just to see Pierce with a lot of his upper chest showing.

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 1/2/1998
Time in minutes 119
Director Roger Spottiswoode
Studio MGM

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Jackie Brown

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I know, I know, it’s heresy to condemn a Tarantino film. For the record, I find him mostly technique rather than real auteur man, but I have enjoyed his sense of humor, yadda yadda yadda.

Pam Grier is a big blaxploitation goddess who is clearly worshipped by Tarantino and Guillermo (the DP) – every shot of her is lit and shot like she is a sacred artifact. I am not familiar with the oeuvre of Ms Grier (besides her small part in Mars Attacks) so I found myself impatiently waiting for the walking (sometimes not even cool, with a purpose walking like say Reservoir Dogs) shots and the thinking shots to be over with and get on with the story. The camera loves her, but the script couldn’t be bothered, somehow. I found myself wondering if she wishes she could be in one movie in her life where the soundtrack is not from the 70’s – even Mars Attacks couldn’t be that movie.

Jackie Brown is very linear for QT, which in a way was disappointing. I like his unique takes on situations, and outside one pivotal scene shot from multiple character’s perspectives, it didn’t feel very exciting. The story is interesting, if slow to get there, and Grier is good at what she does, don’t get me wrong. I just don’t think she was given much to do. I suppose I was expecting some Harlem Wonder Woman in flares with a .38 kicking some ass, and instead I got a woman drawn into an ugly situation smoking and being worried, and basically talking her way out.

Samuel L. Jackson is really great as a smoothly rotten professional criminal – this is his movie, scriptwise, or else he just takes control of it. Robert DeNiro (one with whom I often have an intolerance) was surprisingly restrained and tic-free. He was interesting, because I could finally see past his mobster mannerisms and “you talkin’ to me” ‘tude and see the actor within.

I felt I came away from the movie with unanswered questions, along the lines of “what was the deal with..?” and “why did he…?” and I felt the loose ends were so unimportant that I didn’t understand why they were introduced at all. Additionally, the movie was slow enough that it didn’t grab me until it was almost over, and by then I was getting pretty impatient. It’s a tad forgettable but not bad by any means. I know it sounds like that, but it’s not. I just was expecting something different.

MPAA Rating R for strong language, violence, drug use, sexuality
Release date 12/25/97
Time in minutes 160
Director Quentin Tarantino
Studio Miramax Films

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The Postman

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Ill Postino

I pay full price so you don’t have to!!!!
OK. I have to say this. The Postman was nowhere near as bad as I had been set up to believe. I’m not saying go buy the Criterion Collection laser disc, I was just so set up to create a new rating, underneath “Avoid at All Costs,” which would have been “No no no no no no no.”

For those who don’t know, Costner plays a guy in a vague post-disaster 2013 wilderness formerly known as America who masquerades as a Postman and somehow brings not only mail, but hope, peace, children, and general good stuff to the world.
Yes, Kevin Costner is totally full of himself and must be shot.
Yes, the movie is way too long and for way too little gain.

But also, Larenz Tate could have saved that movie single handedly. He plays a kid in one of the towns who is suckered in by Costner’s clever little ruse, who is actually responsible for the creation of the cult figure THE POSTMAN. The worst part about the Postman is not that it is stupid in and of itself – the idea is intriguing that a guy just trying to mooch a little soup could somehow accidentally, unwittingly, plant the seed for reorganization in chaos.
What should have happened: The first hour of the movie, in which we establish the bad guy, is shortened to 20 minutes. Costner meets Larenz Tate, does not prove what an amazing, heart wrenching lover he is with that pretty girl whozits, gives Tate the idea of starting lines of communication for real while also giving people hope that others have survived, then takes off. A year later, he should pop by and see what Tate did with this germ, and then GO AWAY and let Tate be the hero of this movie. Tate’s character, Ford, really cares about the good he is doing, gets everything organized, and is simultaneously acting his lovejones off getting us to believe too. Costner whines at the false authority he did not have to assume, he has a retarded pissing contest with the bad guy WHO DOESN’T EVEN REMEMBER WHO HE IS (more on that in a bit), and he is somehow credited with everything, when he’s just a huge dork.

OK, the director of photography, Stephen Windon, should also be noticed because he had some cool stuff going on. One screenwriter contributed to the agonizingly overrated and conservative Forrest Gump, the other the delicious LA Confidential. I just hope the Academy remembers the Postman when they are thinking about crowning LA Confidential.
Anyway! I enjoyed some little cinematic tricks, and some bits here and there. Some sets were cool and plenty of stuff was dumb and unexplained. 30 minutes into the film I wrote: “Not offensive yet.” One hour and 13 minutes in I marveled at Ford’s commitment to the Postman and started spying holes in the story. 90 minutes in I wrote: “ACK. Suddenly it turns stupid.” This is where Costner should have wandered off in search of a free meal and we could run with the interesting concept.

I took a LOT of notes and I considered just transcribing them for you all. Like, “A whole horse = one bowl of soup?” “I’d say appallingly mediocre at the 2 hr point….officially dumb.” Maybe I will post them at www.hsbr.org for fun.

“He’s only the greatest man who ever lived!…He lives! It’s Easter! But they don’t deliver mail on Easter!”

Yes, I write all this WHILE I watch a movie. My film companion kept tugging at my notebook, but I was transfixed. Most of the flaws (outside ego-related ones) are minor but there are so many! He casts Will Patton, a most uncharismatic, unthreatening to The Kevin stand-in for a bad guy nemesis, has him spout stupid lines of dialogue that only serve to empower his character, and then forgets to give them a relationship to make all this hatred make any sense. Oh woe! 13 minutes before the end of the film, plot occurs. Plus he sings over the credits with Amy Grant.

If it weren’t so long, I would love to see Mystery Science Theatre kick this one around. Poor Larenz – he was truly great.

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 12/25/97
Time in minutes 180
Director Kevin Costner
Studio Warner Brothers

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As Good As It Gets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Titanic

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Full Freakin Price with Popcorn – NO DRINK!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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