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The Thomas Crown Affair (1999)

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I have not seen the original movie, OK, so don’t get on my case. I like cat burglar movies, I like movies about zillionaires who steal for the thrill, and I like cat and mouse games between attractive people. That said, I was moderately entertained by the storyline (I just don’t buy them as a couple or a couple-to-be or whatever), I was enormously entertained by how much I got to see Pierce Brosnan naked or shirtless (WOOF – he was and is my first pubescent crush), and I was pretty darn entertained by the plot. Rene Russo – kudos to a 40 yr. old lady looking so very prosperous and hot-bodied, but something about her face makes her look like a wild animal fighting to get out of a leather purse. It’s a shame. Ironically (to me), Faye Dunaway, another surgically enhanced alien life form, played the original girl chasing Crown, and she cameos as his psychiatrist. If not for her wispy gray hair, her skin is pulled so tight she only looks 5 years older than Rene Russo – which, I am sorry to say, is not a compliment to either of them.

Russo runs around way overdressed (gowns by Celine) and talking seductively to every single person she speaks with, be it Detective Denis Leary or Crown or even the pizza guy. She is set up to be a hot mama and she generally pulls it off but I keep waiting for her skull to leap out of her face. Otherwise, she looks *awesome* – I didn’t look that foxy at, well, at any age, dangit. Woof! The dance scene is very sheer and hot and what a great dress (with a slip, say)! Then the love scenes are actually so affectionate and playful it breaks the mood – no longer are these two people superhuman coolness machines mating in a frenzy of recognized peerage – now they are fun cool people who happen to have a servant bring them their morning coffee after playing giggle and tickle all night. It’s kooky. Russo seems positively smug to be getting to manhandle Brosnan in front of millions of people. I guess I would be too! back to the costumes for a minute – this is the only non-action sci-fi fantasy movie that costume designer Kate Harrington has ever done. Just an interesting point – she did fine, letting one designer take over for Russo’s wardrobe, but she looked too…done.

The cat burglary stuff is beautifully planned out and smooth. Everyone seems to be a little psychic – someone says “huh, looks like it’s going to rain,” and someone else says, “so, how long has your mother been dead?” Lots of people reading each other like books in a world full of deception and trust and mistrust and misinformation and…his laughing shrink can’t read him but some hot tanning bed victim (who still comes off looking very pale!) walks up and calls his whole life story? I don’t get it. Perhaps some scenes were lost in editing. The lifestyles of the extremely rich can only interest me for so long – sure, who doesn’t kind of wonder how they would make off with the Hope Diamond? But when you get it, do you imagine $100,000 boats and bets and insane expenses and things to do – I imagined the budget of the movie just trying to create a lifestyle for Mr. Crown was more than the budget to prep, shoot, cast, feed, develop, market, and edit the thing. So I get bored watching the super rich jet off to wherever and not go in to work and boating and golfing and….yawn! I’m sure it’s great work if you can get it.

The acting (besides the mild overdoing it on the seductive talk and the super-cosmopolitan-so-continental-it-hurts business) is good, the story is engaging – it’s a slow build up to the payoff and then there are so many disappointments along the way (on purpose, I mean) that it gets frustrating to watch sometimes. Why can’t people just communicate? It would save so much time. But then again, it wouldn’t be any fun at all. The best moments are of course the moments of realization. It shouldn’t disappoint you as a standalone film – I can’t speak for the original.

MPAA Rating R for some sexuality and language.
Release date 8/6/99
Time in minutes 125
Director John McTiernan
Studio MGM

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Twin Falls Idaho

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If you have no idea what this movie is about, it’s about a hooker who gets involved with a charming pair of conjoined (also known as Siamese) twins. I will say no more, not only because my conscience forbids spoilers, but also because it’s such an interesting movie. Brothers Mark and Michael Polish wrote and starred in this movie and Michael is credited with directing it – they are not conjoined, nor (some have said) are they even twins. Blake (the one on the left) is played by Mark, and Francis is played by Michael. It would have been very easy for this film to take off on the pure sensationalism of the concept of a pair of adult conjoined twins and how their lives are lived; to a degree we get some questions answered about daily functions most of us solo artists take for granted. But instead of the showmanship of say, The Elephant Man, where they exploit makeup technology to give you something to safely gawk at in the theatre, the reality of the lives of these men is presented in a more emotional and psychological way.

“Oh, lord, it’s a chick movie!” I know, I hear you out there. It is a chick movie only in that the twins are quite cute, and that there is thought and love and emotions and stuff. It’s really a moderately slow, quiet study on what it is to need someone – not just one’s conjoined twin, it goes beyond their relationship. We need our parents and our friends and our children and sometimes strangers, and many times we push them away when we need them most. Blake and Francis embody being forced to reconcile with that need and live with it (as bizarre cameo Garrett Morris points out, for the learning disabled in the audience). Everyone in the world needs someone, no matter how much they like to believe they are self sufficient – it’s hard wired into the species. But we also need our independence, our inner strength and our privacy. But this movie is more about the need for others than the need for aloneness. Most of us think we would hate to be conjoined, we could never be alone; who is to say that they wish to be alone?

Michele Hicks is Penny, the prostitute who enters their lives unexpectedly. She seems motiveless throughout much of the first half of the movie (perhaps an editing flaw) and some of the relationships she has are a little unclear, but she does a great job holding the film together, sharing her organs with the other characters, if you will. The Polish brothers look very twinnish (I am told one is actually older than the other, although I cannot confirm that fact) and communicate an intimacy which could only be brought by constant togetherness. The conjoined twins are unsocialized yet wise, naive and yet very old, in their hearts. Their life has shaped their minds even more unusually than nature shaped their bodies. They are soft spoken and it does not seem difficult to imagine a woman getting involved with one of them. One of my companions, indeed, the one who secured me a ticket, disagreed with me on which twin was the cuter, so we’re in luck! Do not let their roles as Twin 1 and 2 (Mark was 2) in Hellraiser IV: Bloodline be any deterrent – there are only so many DoubleMint commercials available out there! Let this movie let you judge their performances.

The filmmaking is a little rough, the shots a little messy, the scenes a little intimate (perhaps budget did not allow for much location dressing). Some wackiness occurs that perhaps is supposed to give the message “who are we to say what is freakish” but it doesn’t quite come across. Overall, the movie is quiet and slow and deliberate, and I was never bored, just occasionally sometimes anxious for something to happen that wasn’t already happening. But the story was engaging, the acting for the most part (some of the side roles were just not as strongly cast as the main ones) was even and natural, and of course, one can’t help but be a little hypnotized by the subject matter. How does it feel? How do you…? What did you do as children? Their clothes are out of date, as if their former circus career ended more than 10 years ago, and they have had no new clothes since. Nice little duplicitous touches are everywhere (some more heavy handed than others) and over all, it’s a nice little movie.

I only say Matinee (with some shame) because it was a bit slow and it was also a bit choppy, and I know some people may come away dissatisfied. But I found it to be very interesting and touching. So, you go see it and be the judge.

MPAA Rating R for language.
Release date 7/30/99
Time in minutes 111
Director Michael Polish
Studio Sony Pictures Classics

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Deep Blue Sea (1999)

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Smart sharks. Stupid filmmakers. During the credits, the cursed name of Akiva Goldsman came up, and I knew I was in trouble. The man who wrote and produced the vomitous Lost in Space and wrote the execrable Batman Forever/Batman & Robin – this is a man who needs to be eaten by a smart shark. Samuel L. Jackson’s 3rd movie that even he couldn’t save (Fandom Menace and Sphere). Mr. Jackson wins the award for most un-freaking-expected moment in the whole movie. If you have no intention of seeing it, write me and ask me about it. I’d hate to spoil it, it (and super hunk Thomas Jane) were the only things worth seeing – but they were worth seeing enough to rate the movie “catch it on HBO.”

To the writers’ credit, a lot of what is said about sharks is true. Basically, sharks are the sexiest wonders of evolution in the world. After 65 million years, they have evolved into a perfect carnivorous machine. The cockroach, the coelocanth, and the shark will all kick our Darwinian butts come…the Darwinian equivalent of Judgment Day, but we have reduced them to goofy, inane set pieces in a movie that does little more than prove the Hollywood theory that Movies Made On Water (With The Notable Exception Of Titanic) Never Profit.

Poor underappreciated Renny Harlin. I have yet to hate a movie he has directed. He makes these expensive, epic movies (Cutthroat Island, anyone?) with terrific sequences and incredible stunt work and visuals and pacing and then people crab about the dialogue. Someone please raise your hand: Who saw Cliffhanger expecting the dialogue from a Coen brothers movie? He doesn’t know much about the English language: After a computerized explanation of the brain research they were doing I actually thought, “Hey, I bet this would be easy to translate into any language.” Harlin does know about the language of action sequences. He should get into Kung Fu John Woo Jackie Chan type movies, whose script shortcomings American audiences are more ready to forgive. Long Kiss Goodnight is *awesome!* His action scenes in Deep Blue Sea, even if you have no idea how they could possibly be relevant to the plot, are totally full-blown pro. I was gripping my seat and freaking out in a scene with a helicopter.

Oh heavens but the whole script is pretty dang dumb. Visually exciting but D-U-M. Why enlarge the shark’s brains when you could, uh, use more sharks? Why harvest a “lot” when you could harvest a little and synthesize? Why explain to the sub-cretinous popcorn-chomping masses through digitally enhanced instant gratification what the heck all this brain talk is leading up to? My friends out there in the neuroscience field, please don’t see this movie at all. You will go mad. (Note to my frequent readers: I really, truly am friends with rocket scientists, neuroscientists, sexy-accented foreigners, actors, movie people, swordfighters, and all these other folk I frequently reference. I am their friends solely to boost my career and make me look cooler in my reviews. Right guys? Guys?)

The set is very cool. Catch it on HBO, have some friends over and play MST3K during the silly parts (watch for that gratuitous disrobing!), and admire that set. The dialogue doesn’t string together well, but the geography of that complicated set does. Remember in Armageddon how the Mir was all jumbled and you couldn’t tell where anyone was without the little LCD? Deep Blue Sea (soon to be known around the studios as Deep Red Ink) somehow avoided that editing trap. The sharks are pretty cool looking, someone gets to ask Samuel L. Jackson if he is “The Man,” (to which the answer is, of course, affirmative), and Thomas Jane is HOT – despite being that skanky mustached guy in Boogie Nights. And that girl Saffron Burrows (*there’s* a porn name for you!) is cute too, I guess. Sexual tension – you bet – between LL Cool J and his parrot, that is.

They shot this movie at the Fox Studios in Baja, aka the Titanic tank, also home to In Dreams, and you know what? Not just using logic, mind you, that the most kick ass water-tank would be home to every water movie ever made from here on out (avoiding Waterworld’s budget-escalating set losses) – but you can just freaking TELL when people are in that tank. The water is crystalline, it’s lit from below, and even when it’s murky, it’s clean. Guys: install fish.

MPAA Rating R for graphic shark attacks, language.
Release date 7/28/99
Time in minutes 105
Director Renny Harlin
Studio Warner Brothers

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Drop Dead Gorgeous

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I can tell looking at it, this movie is going to vanish and people are going to forget they ever saw it. It’s a shame, really, because I found it very entertaining. Other folks I have talked to either liked it as much or really didn’t like it. It’s a mockumentary much like Waiting for Guffman was a mockumentary – not as realistic as Spinal Tap (and certainly not ur-realism like Blair Witch) but not a full blown narrative either. Take The Positively True Adventures of the Alleged Texas Cheerleader-Murdering Mom and make it about Minnesota teen beauty pageants and you have a good sense of the flavor of this film. Guffman and Gorgeous are formatted like a mockumentary but feel far too much like films and planned narratives (even with Guffman at least being all improvised) to “pass” for the real thing. Gorgeous employs a talented stable of familiar faces to tell its story (like Guffman) adding to the unrealism. Please add an emphasis on talented.

Very little about Drop Dead Gorgeous is a surprise, except the darker elements: Denise Richards is the rich hottie competing with the sweeter, more deserving Kirsten Dunst, and there is a slew of other girls who are also vaguely familiar competing as well. Allison Janney is given much more to do than her out-of-place shenanigans in 10 Things I Hate About You, and she’s a real pleasure to watch. The cast, while only appearing in small snippets and small group scenes, still really feels like an ensemble, people who really know each other and who aren’t just talking about other characters in a script. This probably won’t play as well in Minnesota – aw golly geez those dialects are funny, ja dontcha know. And almost everyone has a really good accent.

The pageant is frightening (Denise Richard’s talent entry is…alarming), the jokes vicious and funny, the horrible things girls do to be The Most are painful because you know they are true. The same scary competitiveness that drove Holly Hunter’s characters to…*allegedly* kill the cheerleader competing with her daughter is all over Drop Dead Gorgeous. It’s quite wicked and funny. If you like poking fun at small town, white trash life, this is the movie for you! If you are not bothered by personal tragedy when it serves a greater comedic purpose, by all means, run, don’t walk.

I only say a teeny weenie snack as compared to a good, fat-free bag of Twizzlers and a Diet Dr. Pepper (got to watch that figure if you’re going to compete!) because the movie didn’t work hard enough to try and convince me that it was a documentary, true or no. I enjoy the spontaneity of improvisation and a good mockumentary (Blair Witch) can convince me it’s real even if I know it’s not. Maybe it’s just me. As a movie and a narrative and a cluster of performances, it’s great fun, and definitely a swell way to get in out of the heat. Plus there are all these foxy teen girls to ogle – but look out, you creepy teen-ogling middle aged men – you get lampooned as well!

Grab some friends, split a popcorn, and go see it. Jeez.

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 7/23/99
Time in minutes 97
Director Michael Patrick Jann
Studio New Line

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Inspector Gadget (1999)

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I must preface, yet again, with the fact that I never saw the original cartoon TV show, and therefore had no expectations to set the tone. It’s kind of a gentle Robocop meets The Mask. I find Matthew Broderick to be always a winning actor, almost no matter what the vehicle, so I figured I would have a pleasant ride and go home. Oh, and Rupert Everett and Andy Dick are bad guys! Winner! Overall, I enjoyed myself. I laughed more than my companions did, and my roving, set-dresser-wanna-be eye picked up a lot of funny things I am certain most people missed. Inspector Gadget is also chock full of cute movie references; I say cute because sometimes they are executed in a tad too precious a manner, but there is plenty for adults to get that kids won’t notice. But it’s no Muppets From Space (Go see that, people, it’s dying at the box office – there may never be another Muppet Movie!!!!).

Disparity! My companions were mildly insulted by the product placement (something my frequent readers know needles me) and by the Poochy-esque talking car. The car itself was so cool (some huge Continental with suicide doors) and Broderick so winning that by and large, I was not really insulted so much as in neutral. I was pleased at the general *lack* of Extreme Preciousness that has pervaded live-action Disney movies of late. By “of late” of course I mean at least 15-20 years. The script engages in a little self-reference and some general friendly Disney mockery, but not so much that it would really qualify as edgy and post modern. No one can do self-effacement like Ben Stiller, and he would have made a terrible Inspector Gadget. Sure, there are some moments of “oh brother,” but I know through the eyes of a child it would not be bad at all. Think gallons of toothpaste hosing uncontrollably. Remember when that was funny? Well, I do! It’s not funny now, but I know it is to young’uns!

I pretty much sunk in and let myself be a kid, and I laughed at much more than I would have laughed were the rest of my life not so freaking stressful. Some sight gags (even some shots used to death in the preview still worked for me – another rarity) really cracked me up! Sure, it’s silly, sure, it’s heavy handed sometimes. The premise is of course ridiculous but who cares – you don’t see Inspector Gadget because you want to be awed by the latest in actual technogizmory – you go see Inspector Gadget to see a generally normal guy with wacky bits sewn into him do outrageous things. Oh and did I mention the delicious I-can’t-believe-he’s-forty Rupert Everett doing an American accent and actually *toning it down!* He seemed to enjoy his puckishness more in My Best Friend’s Wedding – indeed, perhaps working with Stanley Tucci as Puck gave him pause as to expressing his effervescent fabulousness. Andy Dick is an amusing foil to Everett – two tall, gangly men, as opposite as can be, what a team!

And that car! It’s a nice, hot Sunday afternoon diversion. Don’t expect the script from A Bug’s Life; don’t expect the technological wonder of Wild Wild West, and do expect a pretty bouncy, exciting score. Relax, have some Raisinettes (if your evil theatre chain didn’t stop selling them, that is! Curse you, Regal Cinemas!) and have fun. It ain’t rocket science.

MPAA Rating PG
Release date 7/23/99
Time in minutes 78
Director David Kellogg
Studio Walt Disney

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The Haunting

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I should say right off the bat that I did not see the original film, The Haunting of Hill House, and I am assured by several people that the original is better (how often is it not?). However, the original does not have THX and by gum they don’t have THIS house. This movie is worth seeing just for the house and for the sound design. I haven’t been this aurally impressed since The Ghost And The Darkness. (Whatever you may think of that film, it was as deserving of its sound Oscar as Saving Private Ryan) Some people go to a huge, insanely huge, amazing gorgeous, impossibly immaculate house in the middle of nowhere and have the wits scared out of them. That’s all you need to know. I was plenty scared during a good portion of this movie – more scared than I was at any time by The Blair Witch Project (but not as enthralled, if that makes sense). If there was an Oscar to be given to Locations, this movie should win it. It had BETTER be nominated for Production Design, oh my lord!

Liam Neeson sleepwalks through his role as the psychologist who has led them all here. Catherine Zeta-Jones pigeonholes her exquisite self as a sexually confident Uber-babe with more moxie than manifestness. Owen Wilson sticks his battered nose into a goodly portion of trouble most of the movie and, like Zeta-Jones, is kind of unimportant. Lili Taylor is the star of this movie – and despite having to shoulder the brunt of the inevitable goofiness attendant in any ghost story, she really comes as close as anyone can to making us believe at least her part of it. Certainly, much of the haunting implicit in the title is expressed via computer, but it’s not as over blown as The Mummy was. Well, until the end. But a great deal of the effects are or look like real things rather than computer things – blowing curtains and the like. I appreciated, from a design perspective, most of how the haunting of Hill House was portrayed. Some things are left for me to rationalize, like the silly, wooden monologue about the house by the housekeeper – I think there was a reason and I think I know what it was but I think it was left on the cutting room floor by mistake. C’est la vie.

I mentioned the sound design earlier. This house, this amazing house which, not unlike the crashed alien craft in Alien, seems to have its own biology and life, breathes. All the time. It’s not a draft, it’s not rumbling score pushing the mood, it’s this great alpha wave or delta wave or something, tickling your bones from within with its low, grumbly register and sleepy rhythm. It’s freaking cool man, and it really added to the enjoyment of the movie overall for me. OK, so some set piece scenes kind of just happen and no big deal – but then seeming throwaway scenes pick up the ball and keep you interested. Sure, Liam leaned on the base of a huge marble column and the foam that shielded a fall against that column gave a little. OK, the various images of the late owner of Hill House are…uh…operatically over the top to the point of drawing laughs from the audience. So what! It’s exciting, the sound grabs your ankles under your chair and Taylor’s performance keeps you interested until the very end when you are just marking time until Zeta-Jone’s blouse falls off. Which it doesn’t, guys, sorry. But by then you have invested over 100 minutes in the film, you should see it through. Man that house is amazing. Every door, every chaise, every light fixture, every statue, every room’s floor! The floors alone should win an Oscar.

My friend, who had seen it before I had, made a very wise observation: Zeta-Jones is stunningly beautiful, but once you get used to her, she is just kind of there. Taylor, who is non-standard in appearance in general, looks more beautiful even in scenes with Zeta-Jones because she is *acting* so well. Not that Zeta-Jones is a weak performer, but her character has nothing to do. Ultimately your eyes are naturally drawn to Taylor instead of that hot Welsh lady.

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 7/23/99
Time in minutes 112
Director Jan de Bont
Studio Dreamworks

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Lake Placid

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I am sure you are as shocked as I was to see this rating for this movie – it is unconscionable how long it has taken me to write this review because I think a lot more people would like it than think would like it. I went, fully expecting Anaconda with legs; The Relic underwater; Deep Rising inland. My friends and I joked all week about the line for Blair Witch being the line for Lake Placid; it’s “No passes” status at the box office made us roll our eyes and use our passes paying for the General’s Daughter so we wouldn’t pay actual money to see Lake Placid. I expected squat.

What I got was the actually scintillating dialogue of writer David E. Kelley (you know, that guy who writes The Practice, Chicago Hope, Ally McBeal, and the upcoming Spooks or something – a show per network!), some nice ensemble work and comic timing from actors I would think were “second choice” (Bridget Fonda at her least annoying, Bill Pullman, Oliver Platt, Betty White, others) but who are still strong carriers in someone else’s vehicle – and I got a pretty swank looking crocodile. Apparently a major child star has a bit part but I don’t really know who she is.

Nice detail: The lake featured in Lake Placid is not actually Lake Placid, and it is never named. It’s a lovely, smooth, glassy bit of nature’s eye candy, so it’s probably in Canada. Rubes and city folk are equally skewered, and Oliver Platt gets to comically carry scenes rather than support them. It’s all very refreshing. If you have had Sprite every hot summer day your whole life, this is a root beer. Different, but tasty.

I always consider beast effects to be good when I have to use logic rather than my own eyes to determine if I am looking at a puppet or a computer generated image. Think the kitchen scene from Jurassic Park – very seamless and pretty cool looking too. Basically I got the idea of what Anaconda should have been – unexpectedly big beastie stalked by amateurs and one expert, the silly summer movie fun of Deep Rising (without the Cthuluesque insanity of something outside known nature), and the groovy visuals of The Relic. Hey, what’s wrong with that?

Lake Placid is not going to win any Oscars, but it’s really very funny – on purpose, and in the right way. In Deep Rising we were guffawing at the over the top wackiness of the whole thing. In Anaconda we were laughing at the executive who actually passed this movie through his GI tract. There was no laughter in the Relic, not even the derisive kind; just head pounding. Some quotable lines and humorous running gags later, we meet the beast of Lake Placid. Generally, showing the monster deflates movies such as this; but the sheer biology of the crocodile makes him better to see in action. Riffling sarcasm without the Kevin Williamson forced irony or amusing but unnatural stilted archness makes Lake Placid a fun movie to watch regardless of the hook they cast to pull you in.

Now let’s hope that smart shark movie will be as good.

MPAA Rating R -violent creature attacks /gore, language.
Release date 7/16/99
Time in minutes 82
Director Steve Miner
Studio 20th Century Fox

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The Blair Witch Project

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The second most-anticipated movie of the year, The Blair Witch Project has generated web-buzz, online parodies, and immediate early-morning sellouts the likes of which haven’t been seen since that little sci fi movie from earlier this summer. Made in 1996 and circulating the impressive internet word of mouth, the little $25,000 movie that could is popping up everywhere in the form of bootleg copies and unfortunately obnoxious press love-ins, and the whole hype machine (while utterly different than its bigger budget counterpart Episode One) has actually done more to harm the movie than help it.

I’ll tell you right now, The Blair Witch Project is positioned as a real documentary and presented as true life, and if you approach viewing the movie with that attitude and expectation, I think you will enjoy it much more. Opening in a limited engagement of 15 cities, Blair Witch sold out all the showings in my city in an hour. People drive 2 hrs from elsewhere in the state just to be turned away at the parking garage. Moviegoers in my town tend to be savages, sauntering in after the previews or even the film has begun; but 98% of the audience was ready and seated 30 minutes before the show began. Not everyone (including myself) had seen the Sci Fi Channel’s backstory special a few days before, but everyone had a preconceived notion of the scariest movie they’ve ever seen. On the very computer on which I am typing this review, I have a copy of the preview that I got in April.

Several in my party are involved in filmmaking actively, and they were the ones who were least entertained by the movie. All were impressed with the acting, the execution, the concept. I personally was willing to forget that I knew it was not real, that it was a performance, and I enjoyed it very much. I felt frightened, my pulse pounded at points, I was utterly moved by and I believed in what I was watching on screen. With no ambient score to drive the mood, every emotion I felt watching the film was generated by the three filmmaker’s behavior. I really want to applaud the filmmaking team – it has every appearance of reality, every human flaw and quirk fingerprinting it. The editing is totally linear, with no fudging or cheating to artificially create a mood or a response. It’s very impressive in that way.

My filmmaker friends were too distracted with the “Oh yes I see how they did that” and the “what did they use for that” and “I wonder how much they told that actor ahead of time” aspect to really be able to succumb to the mythos and appreciate the pure naturalism unfolding on the screen before them. I feel sorry for them, for the other friends there with me appreciated how real it really seemed, and had a more visceral response in general. A woman in the row behind me apparently thought it was actually a real documentary and was disappointed at the lack of followup; she missed the point altogether. Mockumentaries in the past, even spectacular ones like Spinal Tap, occasionally forget that they are shoving cameras in people’s faces, and Blair Witch was always very self-conscious of the invasive nature of a camera and lights. It added to the sense of reality.

The less you know about the Blair Witch Project the better. The three filmmakers portrayed in the movie are each excellent to watch, the footage they got (they actually did shoot most of the footage themselves) is creepy and disorienting and altogether a very good pastiche of what three filmmakers in their situation would have gotten. I was impressed by how they did not need to add a soundtrack of any kind (not even the minimalist reedy one note which sparks terror in most horror movie scenes) in order to evince suspense. The only things I was disappointed by is not mentionable in an article such as this determined not to spoil anything. Catch the Sci Fi Channel special if you can, go in with an open mind and pretend it’s real, and you will have a very unique and interesting and, I believe, scary time.

MPAA Rating R for language.
Release date 7/16/99
Time in minutes 82
Director Daniel Myrick, Eduardo Sanchez
Studio Artisan

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Muppets from Space

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Fooll Preece-a Feetoore

Yes, that is the Swedish Chef talking – Kereena has Borkified* my rating! If you are like me (and the other nine 20-30somethings who went with me to see this movie), and you can’t say the name Jim Henson in conversation without a pause and a collective sigh of regret at his passing; if you loved the first three Muppet movies as much as most intelligent people I know, and were mildly if not wildly disappointed at the last two (Christmas Carol being the first post-Jim); if you loved the old Muppet Show and/or the short lived but very cool Muppets Tonight, you will LOVE Muppets From Space. I’d like to personally thank Frank Oz for continuing his involvement with the Muppets despite ever-increasing demands on his other talents.

Since Jim Henson’s death and Jim Henson Pictures’ weird relationship with Disney began, the “new” Muppet movies…well, have sucked. I love Tim Curry, and one film introduced Rizzo the Rat, but you know what? So what. Muppets From Space has two major things in its favor – no, three: Not Disney (it’s Columbia), Brian Henson no longer does Kermit (more on that in a sec), and a serious return to the old wonderful camaraderie that made the Muppets so special. They all live in the same house, everyone is there (even if they don’t have any lines, like poor Rowlf) – Beaker, Bunsen Honeydew, Statler & Waldorf, Robin, Jack, Gonzo and Kermit and Fozzie and Piggy of course, Rizzo, Swedish Chef, Marvin Suggs, Sam the Eagle, Dr. Teeth and the whole Electric Mayhem Band (only flashes of Zoot, sorry to say) all the chickens, the cows, the pigs, the penguins – and, from Muppets Tonight, Clifford, Sal Minella and his monkey friend Johnny, the bear security guard, Pepe the Prawn, and that creepy doctor who looks exactly like Andy Dick. It’s great. It’s a real return to the old feel, but with modern filmmaking magic like budget, slick camera work, and groovy extra stuff. There’s amiable strife, eye-rolling tolerance of Miss Piggy, random cameos, silly singing of other people’s songs, and a sense of community only seen back in the days when they worked on the TV show. Jim would be pleased.

Brian, son of Jim, did the voice work for Kermit on Muppets Tonight and for Muppet Christmas Carol and Muppet Treasure Island (which has a fantastic score, by the way), and he has got the hand acting down, but…his voice was close, you know. But you could tell it wasn’t Jim. Kermit’s place (his head?) is hard to fill. Rowlf has yet to speak since Jim died. This time around, a man named Steve Whitmire does Kermit – and he has him and Rizzo and Beaker (not Rowlf; but Rowlf plays piano too) down cold. It’s wonderful. It must be wrenching for Brian to pass the Muppet conch on to a man who is not even family – I myself would have lost months of sleep about it, agonized, maybe even taken up some designer drug, but ultimately, he is doing Kermit’s father’s memory the most justice by taking away the distracting wrongness in Kermit’s mouth. Whitmire is very faithful, and to us Muppet fans, it makes a huge difference. Ve-a lufe-a Stefe-a Vheetmure-a!

The story is sweet and silly at the same time; Gonzo’s long-time identity as a Whatever has finally gotten to him (please make note of his wonderful tie when you see it). There are the attendant lovable foul-ups, lucky breaks, random cameos, and a caper-like sequence – and all is very very right in the world. Only one weird, weak moment occurs in the movie, which is a shame, but if you get down to it, it’s very much how the TV show used to be – a weird production number out of place but chock full of heart. It’s a Full Price Feature because it’s everything you want a Muppet Movie to be. It is what made the Muppets so endearing in the first place, and a totally satisfying movie on its own terms as well. Several of my movie-going companions rated it as one of our top two movies of 1999 (the other movies of folks’ various pairs ranged *wildly* so I shan’t comment on them here). Many agreed it was funnier than South Park, because it didn’t go for the easy joke as often; in fact there are a number of jokes that are pretty subtle. Shawshank Redemption, anyone? Close Encounters? The original Muppet Movie? Even a couple of vaguely off-color jokes that you might not notice sneak in here and there. Zee fleem is ookey-dukey.

*(Online dialogue Borkifier: http://www.astro.queensu.ca/~dursi/borker.html )

MPAA Rating G
Release date 7/14/1999
Time in minutes 88
Director Tim Hill
Studio Columbia Pictures

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Arlington Road

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Have you ever heard the Kronos Quartet? If you have, and if you have heard the admittedly limited sampling that I have, you will get this analogy: Arlington Road is to generic Hollywood summer filler as the Kronos Quartet is to Laserlight’s Hooked on Bach. I found it very gripping, very interesting, basically well-executed, and nicely performed. Afterward, I felt vaguely that I had been duped into thinking it was more intense and arty than I thought while I was watching it – and therefore, if I were to view it again, it would be lame and stinky. I must point out at this point that I don’t find Kronos lame and stinky, I find them unfathomable. And I did not find Arlington Road in the least bit lame or stinky or unfathomable either; I just think, like The Game, it would not hold up to repeat viewing. More on that later.

The less you know about the plot the better – the opening 5 minutes was a surprise to me and therefore I found it quite intense and “what the –!” and cool. The bits that should have been as cool, but were annoyingly featured in the preview, should have been much more powerful in context and I felt robbed. If you have never seen the preview, all the better. Tim Robbins and Joan Cusack are interestingly cast in this film – you might say they were cast against type, but then again, maybe they weren’t – the mystery and the tension of what is the truth is all this film has to separate it from a regular thriller, and I refuse to be a party to ruining that tension. But they are both very good, as always. I am surprised they have not worked together before – they look good together and Tim and John Cusack have been friends for years.

Jeff Bridges does what he always does well – plays a guy who is not sure if he is in his element or not, reactive, explosive, lots of inner work going on. He’s also a professor and a man with baggage, something else Jeff Bridges does very very well. There are kids in this movie, and I would rate them as average kid performances, not abrasive and not brilliant. The men live in a grotesque suburban neighborhood (not unlike my own – in fact, I think I had the same builder as Tim Robbins) and the whole suburbia thing is used pretty well overall. I am sure most of Generica the Beautiful looks like my neighborhood, so the effect could be universal. Those of you cool enough to live in groovy pre-WWII neighborhoods won’t understand the soullessness of these homes.

Many times, directors who try funky stylistic (i.e. not naturalistic) things with their filmmaking turn me off by doing it too much: Quentin Tarantino and his brassy overbright hyper-neo-film noir lighting, the Pillow Book with its weird layering of images over standard footage, flashes of alternate images, etc., that kind of stuff passes easily into the realm of lame pretension or just plum annoying. Arlington Road makes what I could call “artsy” choices with lighting and light changes and mood, not a comic booky sort of colored lighting (think Creepshow’s red and blue side lighting) but more of a theatrical spots and gels kind of lighting, clearly artificial. I think it was *mostly* used judiciously enough that it didn’t rank as annoying, but it wasn’t seamless either. Picture a man reacting to a shock, whose background is entirely black (whereas before it had natural style lighting) and he is bathed in an amber spotlight. Like that. Odd, but only really badly done in a couple of spots.

If you saw The Game and enjoyed it, you might have had the same experience I did: an interesting, gripping tale, with a main character truly lost in his surroundings, behaving erratically, getting set up, doing things out of his character but which make sense to us the viewer, understanding his travails. Then the ending, denouement, and all is made clear. Upon a second viewing, The Game is immensely unsatisfying. Knowing the outcome makes the clearly fabricated screens and red herrings weak and contrived. Arlington Road, while I have only seen it once, seems to be the kind of movie that will lose all its power on a second viewing, and that is the reason I grant it matinee with a possibility for snacks status. I am still hesitant whether to grant the snacks or not; I really was tense and interested and entertained, and isn’t that why I go see movies like this? But seeing through the movie, thinking about it retrospectively, I see how it would fall apart under scrutiny. So, you know, don’t spend too much money, but you probably will enjoy it. It’s not bad at all.

Post script: For the first time in weeks, you may have noticed I did not need to use The Phantom Menace as a basis of comparison for this review. Perhaps I have been cured of PM’s banality and suckage and I can get on with my life. Or maybe not.

MPAA Rating R for violence and some language.
Release date 7/9/1999
Time in minutes 119
Director Mark Pellington
Studio

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