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The Man in the Iron Mask

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Forget for one moment that the star is Leonardo DiCaprio, as King Louis of Brooklyn. Forget also that Alexandre Dumas pulled this story out of his butt based on a notation in prison records. If nothing else, we can all remember that while Leo may be a heart stealer in Titanic, he is no Jeremy Irons. Or Gabriel Byrne. Or Gerard Depardieu (in his most charismatic role since, well, I can’t remember). Or even the reptilian John Malkovich, who I think is a good actor but just creepy looking and too Chicago in his dialect no matter what. King Leo is not even as strong as Anne Parillaud (as Anne) but he is a fine match for Judith Godreche (Christine). It was a tad distracting that director Randall Wallace chose not to have anyone bother to even have so much as a formal stage English dialect – and so, Leonardo looked silly. The weave in his hair didn’t help matters.

If you don’t know, the older gentlemen are the 3 musketeers and D’Artagnan, and DiCaprio is King Louis and his twin brother Phillipe. Somehow, Phillipe was just…better. Maybe they actually got two actors. DiCaprio was amazing in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape but somehow was floating on his laurels in his scenes with all the heavyweights, notably Irons. Woof! But the Sun King was no more from France than the Coneheads.

A casting kudo – whoever found Peter Saarsgard to play Malkovich’s son is pure genius – the accent, the flat tone-on-tone coloring of his voice – at one point a letter from Saarsgard is read in his voice as voice-over and myself and my companion both wondered why Malkovich would have written that letter. Oops! The costumes and sets are fabulous, the whole thing looked great. It opened too early in the year to be remembered at Oscar time but I hope people recall how nice and dirty and real it all was – yay production designer!!
Bonus points for the masquerade ball and the mask bit. OK, sure, despite not having read the book, it was a tad predictable and easy, but not in a bad way. It’s not brilliant but it is definitely entertaining.

Overall I had a great time watching this movie – even when the story felt glossed over or maybe even lubricated to facilitate cramming a little morality lesson in, it was still enjoyable. Louis the Sun King was indeed young and foolish and randy and an egomaniac. His older Musketeers, brave, full of loyalty and honor and duty and fellowship, are a striking contrast in generational thinking, without many years difference between them. It had an interesting (and I am sure unintentional) analogy to Old and New Hollywood – where someone like Matthew McConaughey can become a star before his movie is even released, yet someone like Steve Buscemi can never play the game and rise above his means. Young Hollywood wants it all now and Old Hollywood wants the journey. Of course I don’t mean Tony Curtis and Charleton Heston Old Hollywood, I mean like Harrison Ford and Susan Sarandon – the marked difference by only a decade or two in attitudes and lasting power.

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 3/13/98
Time in minutes 117
Director Randall Wallace, William Richert
Studio United Artists

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U.S. Marshalls

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There is nothing wrong with this movie, really, it’s a nice, fast-paced, generic clone of its predecessor The Fugitive, it just doesn’t deserve that much of your money. OK, remember how on Three’s Company, our trio lived in fear that Mr. Roper, the land lord, would kick Jack out because he wasn’t really gay, so Mr. Roper became sort of a friendly bad guy? Then he and his wife got their own spin-off called The Ropers, as if we actually cared enough about their lives to watch them for 30 minutes without the benefit of those cute young tenants of theirs? And remember how in the Fugitive, we know Harrison Ford is innocent, but he’s still being hunted by the US Marshal Tommy Lee Jones, who is ostensibly a good guy but we have to root against him catching Ford? US Marshals = The Ropers.

Take The Fugitive, add a little Con Air, take away the charismatic stars of Con Air, drop in the total lack of tension in Airport 75, a sprinkling of Die Hard 3, and you have a nice, generic Hollywood action movie for early spring. Directed by Stuart Baird (Executive Decision), one would expect some genuine cool ass-kickin. This time, he substitutes a little banal cross-intrigue and a ludicrous premise. Actually, the semi-political clusterfuck double-cross twist is the only thing that makes this movie watchable.

Wesley Snipes (the fugitive) is no Harrison Ford but he does insert something interesting into the movie – however, he’s on the lam and he hasn’t even been convicted – somehow, mobilizing the authorities across the state and even across state lines seems a little…drastic. Robert Downey Jr plays a morally ambiguous tagalong and all I could think was, “Robert, isn’t it nice not being strung out? Do movies and play with your son – look, aren’t you having fun tromping through the woods with a big gun? Stay clean, man.” He looked hollow. Boing – plot explanation out of the blue, roll credits. Nice and tidy.

The same team that backed up Tommy Lee Jones chasing Ford is back (there were other people?) and that is kind of cool, I guess. An amusing bit of dialogue, taken out of context, sums up my feeling about the film:
(lady from Lee’s team) I’ve never seen that before.
Lee: I have.
So have we. I can’t believe they even put his line in the preview – don’t *remind* us it’s a rehash, er, remake. I mean, sequel.

*The original rating for this film was Dollar Movie.

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 3/6/98
Time in minutes 131
Director Stuart Baird
Studio Warner Brothers

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Dark City

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As anyone who has seen the preview knows, Dark City is dark, Dark dark. One would be tempted to write off the movie based on its very blatant “look at all the cool visuals in this movie!” style trailer, but I think that the discriminating viewer can take a chance on this one. Mostly unfamiliar Rufus Sewell stars in a movie populated by mostly unfamiliar faces (save Jennifer Connelly, you know, from Labyrinth, and of course Kiefer Sutherland – oh, and for us RHPS fans, Richard O’Brien!) which adds to the weirdness of the mood. Sewell does not look like a leading man, which makes his perfect for this part. He’s interesting and unknowable, and that works great.

The Dark City they live in is dark for a reason (actually, if anything, some things are overexplained) and broodingly stylish in that Gotham-City Blade Runner noir style. It should comfort you to know that there is a *reason* the city looks that way that extends beyond the art department’s jones for gorgeousness. What you can see, looks really friggin cool. Some of the look is central to the plot and I don’t want to give anything away – it’s actually sort of complicated. I have talked to a number of people who still missed the point after the movie was over so let me just say it’s not a Blade Runny future and it’s not supposed to be a specific place (the film makes this abundantly clear, I don’t know WHAT these people were thinking).

Sutherland seems to be playing someone his father’s age, always breathless and Peter Lorre-esque, vaguely seeming like he should have seemed after coming off Flatliners, instead of engaged to Julia Roberts. O’Brien is playing way against type as a creepy, ethereal bald guy with evil intentions and unearthly origins. Oh, wait.

The plot is interesting – my main complaint about the movie is that it was cool and original up until the pre-climactic obstacle for our hero (this gives nothing away, it’s basic Film 101) – and then it goes straight down. The third act is totally clunky and Hollywood and loud and silly – after the creepy elegance (overall) of the rest of the movie, the ending is an utter letdown. I feel like I have been saying that a lot lately. Oh, and considering how much of this movie is computer generated, there are wires ALL OVER the place. And I don’t mean like, peering, squinty-eyed at the screen thinking, “Hey, I think I see a wire,” I mean green and yellow cables with visible texture. You can create that huge shifting city scape but neglect to spend the extra $100 on erasing a few giant cables? I saw more wires in this movie than in Plan 9 From Outer Space! And Ed Wood had a good excuse why he couldn’t digitally remove them!

Other than that, I thought it was cool and interesting. Maybe I’ll rent the Crow now.

MPAA Rating R for violent images and some sexuality.
Release date 2/27/98
Time in minutes 103
Director Alex Proyas
Studio New Line

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Sphere

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A wise friend, who had joined our party for the previous film (The Big Lebowski, talk about your contrast), refused to sneak into Sphere after the other movie because, “We have nothing to sphere but Sphere itself.” Oh, if he only knew how right he was.
I don’t think it’s unreasonable for movie goers these days to expect competency from all levels of movie makers. With the enormous insurgence of the independent movie scene, the bar has been raised to where we expect kids from the ghetto to be able to churn out an interesting narrative on their dad’s black and white 8mm camera. A movie that someone saw fit to not only green light but throw $60,000,000 at should at least be amusing. That money could have fed the poor!

Sphere has a pedigree: we expect it to deliver. Barry Levinson, Academy Award-winning director of Rain Man, Dustin Hoffman, Oscar winning star of same, and current (and multiple) nominee. Samuel L. Jackson, not frequently nominated but widely recognized as awesome. Sharon Stone, underrated and one-time nominee. Liev Schrieber, the hardest-working indie boy in show business, giving his all even when he’s in a cesspit like Phantoms. Michael Crichton, former director (Coma, Westworld), producer of ER, and crowd-pleasing author (Jurassic Park, anyone?). With all these people, shouldn’t Sphere at least have been PALATABLE? To the movie’s credit, the opening titles were quite cool.

We snuck guiltily into the almost-empty theatre, already prepared to hate it. But we were ill prepared, all the same. The whole movie is telegraphed with every snit of silly, overtechnical dialogue: “You’ll be pressurized sufficiently so that you could even swim out in the water without a suit, in case you need to do that in the third reel when everything goes horribly wrong, but the water will be really cold, OK?” . . . – – – . . .! They were worshipping at the altar of Samuel Morse. It was nice to see one scene where Jackson totally walks all over Hoffman’s dialed in performance. Wham! Hugely overdramatic score and wildly uninteresting dialogue. Hideous editing – and I never notice editing.

Sphere was horrible, stupid, useless, illogical, overly bright and underly written. Ghastly. With the job market like it is, they expected me and my friends to fork out $6.75 (I know it’s $9 in NY) to be subjected to this embarrassing low tech piece of doo doo. I am so pissed, I haven’t been this pissed since Anaconda! I expected Anaconda to suck, between silly plot lines and B-list actors, I expected silly camp. Fortunately, I read Sphere, so I just expected some decent acting and maybe some cool special effects. Oh, no. Matte paintings of underwater scapes that make Star Trek: Next Generation look like Braveheart. Jerry, the angry UMAX box who only taps into the stupid parts of our subconscious. But it had no millennium bug – it’s a Starmax Mac!

I don’t tend to give away plot in reviews but 1. there is none and 2. who cares? The preview gives away the only interesting aspect of the movie which then *does nothing with it!* Basically the sphere kind of gets in people’s heads and like, digs out the worst part of them and then manifests it. So Samuel L Jackson is reading 20,000 Leagues under the sea, so they are attacked by a giant squid. Of course, no one is thinking of the Baywatch babes attacking the undersea habitat. It all goes downhill from here. The people behave stupidly (build a habitat for months then train a bunch of specialist yahoos in 8 hrs how to dive in the unforgiving deep ocean) and just the thought of Dustin Hoffman and Sharon Stone naked together should have been enough to implode the sphere. I don’t think I need to detail the incredibly Abyss-mal derivativeness of the thing as well, do I? Though after Jackson wakes up after being knocked out, and has a voracious appetite, my friends and I all manifested an alien bursting out of is chest. That would have helped. So would have drowning the increasingly abrasive Hoffman, like in the Abyss, only without reviving him. Oh and hello? Lifeboat too small? Which movie is that stolen from?

It’s corny, bad, disappointing, and annoying. Miss it! Miss it! It’s like Event Horizon without the cool parts. We walked in fearing the movie would be bad and sure enough, it manifested itself right there! Oh if only we, like the undeserving survivors at the end, had the power to forget. But it was vaguely better than Airport 75. Yuck.

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 2/13/98
Time in minutes 144
Director Barry Levinson
Studio Warner Brothers

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The Wedding Singer

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Full Price if you like the 80’s, Matinee with Snacks no matter what

I can’t say enough early enough in this review to convince the dubious that this is a good movie. Number one, I really don’t like Adam Sandler (except the Hanukah song) and I really liked him, warmed to him, had sympathy for him, in this movie. Number two, if you thought the 80’s were fun, if you like retro 80’s night at your local dance club, if you own the albums Too Rye Aye (you know who you are!) or Friend or Foe, you will love this movie. If you enjoy jubilant pop music and senior citizens in love, if you have ever loved someone who was with the wrong person, if you have ever gotten dumped and had your faith in the entire human race obliterated, if you have ever had a best friend who was perfect for you and you had no idea at the time, then this movie will make you feel great. If you just broke up, you’ll feel better about the decision. If you just hooked up, you will feel better about the decision.

It’s a sweet little universal love story that just so happens to be set in 1985. As my friend said, “This must have been what the Big Chill was like for our parents.” And so it might have been. Except without Kevin Costner dead on the floor behind the couch, and with a less depressing soundtrack. Which, by the way, was totally sold out when we went there after the movie to buy it. So we rented Sixteen Candles as a basis of comparison, and we appreciated the reconstruction of the decade even more than while we were watching. For those who don’t know, Sixteen Candles came out in 1985 and was directed by the once-great John Hughes. He was, once, really in touch with stuff.

Six of us went to this movie on Valentine’s Day, six people in various stages of relationships, or not. Most of us tend to find Adam Sandler annoying as hell. (Name dropping note – my friend stage managed his concert and he’s a dick, too.) Sandler is as likable a schmo as ever graced the screen in quite a while. He’s actually the consummate 80’s teen romance flick nice guy who finally wins. The decade that birthed the sensitive guys OK to have crushes on, the years that brought us Ducky. The loser who wins the girl because he’s a better man than the hunky, wealthy, popular jock/businessman. He may not be John Cusack, Jon Cryer, or even Andrew McCarthy yet, but considering Sandler’s innate abrasiveness, pulling off this role convincingly puts his Robbie the Wedding Singer in the running to join the Brat Pack.

Drew Barrymore is another actor that some people love or hate, and this is her cute as a cherub phase, like in Boys on the Side, but not trashy. My only complaint is she is too 90’s earth child – her smooth, center parted flip do and semi-retro 60’s chiffon floral dresses look weird next to the layered shags and short on the sides, thin on the top mops. But she’s way too cute to really worry about it. Every other female is 80’s enough to make up for it. In the film, her Julia is engaged to Matthew Glaven, a perfectly 80’s smarmy villain type boyfriend – Miami Vice watchin’, Wall Street workin’, stubble-sportin’, dimply pastel insincere rat bastard – totally the Me Decade in a Delorean.

Julia’s best friend (Christine Taylor), a Madonna worshipping small town easy girl, is perfect MTV glam – she is as supremely 80’s s she was perfectly Marcia. Poor Christine will never get to play her decade! OK, sure, Rubik’s cube jokes are a tad outdated for 1985, but by and large the movie is dead on, period-wise. Unlike other recent period nostalgia comedies (Spirit of ’76, The Brady Bunch movies, Peggy Sue Got Married, Austin Powers), The Wedding Singer isn’t trying too hard to cram every reference the writers and art department could think of into each scene. No nudge-nudge wasn’t that funny? type shots of ridiculous artifacts – some of this stuff we still have in our closets (um, or on our knick knack shelves), and we have to squint to recognize the Charlie’s Angel lunchbox (properly aged – not everyone had ONLY brand new stuff in any year as movies want us to think) or the rosary bead necklaces.

The Wedding Singer is also very consistent with the music – they stick with pop radio New Wave, not bouncing between Night Ranger and Toto and Styx and Michael Jackson and Billy Ocean and Kajagoogoo just to make a point – it’s all the general feel of New Wave, in fashion and in music. Not all 1985, either, but I believe nothing that shouldn’t have been there. I don’t have to tell you it’s a wall to wall soundtrack, with the lyrics always matching the subtext of the scene. Not all of it is Sandler singing and not all of it is gratuitous hits like say Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion (a not very 80’s movie I must say!). And it’s not as white bread generic hits like Forrest Gump either – we are talking some truly classic songs. Shut up, I know it’s only been 13 years, but these are the songs that get people on the dance floor even now. The combination of people talking about music, singing music, and soundtrack songs makes it feel more natural somehow, like sitting around with your friends singing along with life.

The plot is almost perfect 80’s formula (with more 90’s pacing) with the romantic mishaps and the geeks inheriting the earth. Sure – you think, oh man I *had* that hat! But you also dated THAT guy right there! That makes it great. Some people say if you didn’t like the 80’s, you won’t like this movie, but the story is totally universal – it’s the kind, funny homage atmosphere that makes it fun, and the sweet story that makes you care. Only time can say if it becomes a classic like Pretty in Pink or Say Anything, but regardless, it’s a winsome love comedy even a dude could, like, totally jam to. AB – I thought of you!!!!

Oh, and Steve Buscemi is in it too!

*****
Author’s 80’s nostalgia tips: For one of the best movies ever made in or about the 1980’s, rent Valley Girl (yes, with Nicholas Cage!) – it disappeared among truly vapid slop but even my dad likes it – it’s very sincere, with an extraordinary soundtrack, and a super duper star crossed lovers type of romance. It’s rad.

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 2/13/98
Time in minutes 96
Director Frank Coraci
Studio Warner Brothers

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The Replacement Killers

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The best thing that I can say about the Replacement Killers is that it’s very stylish. Director Antoine Fuqua is no John Woo or Stanley Tong (with Jackie Chan, not Mr. Magoo) but he shows sense of style. From what I understand from Chow Yun Fat fans, Fat is not allowed to be the gun-artist badass that his fans are used to seeing. He’s quiet & brooding in this film (an interview I read with him quotes him as saying his favorite role would be a big dumb guy with no dialogue), which isn’t bad in and of itself, but screenwriter Ken Sanzel doesn’t give him enough plot or crazed action to offset the contemplative side.

The music, a kind of hopped up testosteroni dance club trance assassination remix (compliments of Harry Gregson-Williams) implies more ass kicking than is actually occurring on screen. The bad guys appear in a steady, unreal viral stream like in a video game, ignoring logic of dramatic convention. At no point do I ever really worry about Fat, even though he does not come off as supercop bad boy. I have not given up on Fat – I hear nothing but creamy things about him, but this is not the movie to start my fandom.
Mira Sorvino is smart, competent, and briefly in her underwear – but her character is an eerie paranoid sister to the one she played in Mimic. She’s a little bit cyberpunk, a little bit rock and roll, and a lot misplaced sexual tension.

Loyal readers may note I am often bored by straight out gunplay (so is my most constant movie-going companion) and Replacement Killers does nothing to improve my feelings on the subject. If more directors could be as fun and original as Robert Rodriguez in Desperado or John Woo in Face/Off or Sam Raimi in The Quick and the Dead, well, maybe I would feel differently. But I don’t. So I got kind of bored. I can be impressed by cool gunplay and neat camera work and visuals, but nothing really struck me.

In case you’re wondering what the title means, it is literal and the killers don’t show up until 55 minutes in, and they don’t seem all that important enough to warrant being the title characters, but what do I know? I was mildly bored but certainly not miserable. It’s worth seeing, but like eating Chinese food, it left me feeling unsatisfied. I’m glad the Hong Kong stars are getting work over in the States (besides Cannonball Run II) and I hope it continues, but not at the expense of their style.

MPAA Rating R for strong violence and for language.
Release date 2/6/98
Time in minutes 88
Director Antoine Fuqua
Studio Columbia Pictures

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Zero Effect

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OK, let me say right off the bat that I really liked this movie, and the only thing holding me back from granting it a full price feature rating is the fact that I don’t think a lot of people are going to appreciate it the way it should be appreciated. I also am not going to say much at all about the story, because it’s full of pleasing surprises. Zero Effect stars Bill Pullman (as the Zero of the title) and Ben Stiller, two odd choices for leading men, but effective ones here – both are perfect s the interesting characters writer/director Jake Kasdan has given them.

Side note: Jake Kasdan, son of Lawrence, is a 22 yr. old with literally zero experience, not even a short film. Nepotism? Who knows, maybe – but if so, Lawrence has raised his boy right. The film is very slick for a first time effort, and my companions and I had a great time. The pacing is moderate but consistent and the story is interesting, but I admit I can’t quantify it.

Pullman’s character is a bizarre wacko genius private eye, whose public advocate is salesmanish charmer Stiller. Zero is kind of over the top, but we can forgive it since he’s the very best at what he does. He’s like Ted Kaczinsky channeling Sherlock Holmes. His character is revealed through two contrasting Stiller monologues, one to a client and one to a friend in a bar.

The mystery plot is interesting too, but we are kind of stuck waiting for Zero to tell is the clues (not being super geniuses and all); but it’s still enjoyable! Ryan O’Neal is their client, and to tell the truth I didn’t even recognize him as someone I am supposed to recognize; but he is all full of tricks as well. Kim Dickens (witness? suspect? love interest?) is interesting too – she, like Pullman, is wacky and unknowable. The whole group is a tight little ensemble – I wonder if the script was written a long time ago by a guy who figured he would only have $7,000 to shoot the movie. Kasdan clearly had a decent budget for this one, and a good eye for intimate story telling.

I can’t say much more, because to give it away would be a crime. It’s very humorous, my companions and I had a great time, and it’s interesting. Sorry to be so brief, I’m trying to add a little mystery here! Check it out. I’d like to see what Jake’s next project will be.

MPAA Rating R for language.
Release date 1/30/98
Time in minutes 115
Director Jake Kasdan
Studio Castle Rock

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Great Expectations (1998)

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I have to say it – I did NOT have great expectations of this film. “I’m not going to review this movie the way I saw it – I’m going to review it the way I remembered it.” I purposefully waited 4 days before setting thumb to trackpad so that I would have some perspective. Memory versus direct translation from the senses is a principle of art that was considered a bad thing by my high school art teacher. In the case of this film, I would have to agree with her assessment. The thing I was most looking forward to in seeing Great Expectations was to NOT have to sit through the preview ever again. This movie more closely resembles its source material than say, Lawnmower Man, but not by a lot.

The kid they cast as young Finn (I missed his name!) is a total ringer for Ethan Hawke, but the young Estelle is far too lush a beauty to grow up into the alarmingly bony Gwynneth Paltrow, who seems dressed to emphasize the unhuggable points and angles of her body. Francesco Clemente provided the art credited to Finn in the story, and his interesting renderings of old and young Estelle merely emphasize the disparity between what Finn sees and how he remembers/feels it (and between the two ages of Estelle).

Screen adapter Mitch Glazer seems to have gotten rejected by a woman, gotten drunk, then gotten the Cliffs Notes to Dickens’ Great Expectations and been told to “sexy it up some.”
The central focus of the film is the non-romance between Hawke and Paltrow, losing all but a few shreds of the actual story, which focuses more heavily on the interesting and important characters of the convict and the crazy old maid aunt (Miss Havisham in the book). Anne Bancroft, in full Lon Chaney Jr. drag, is doing her best to wring the magic out of what is left of her scripted part – but she comes off as trying too hard, in the context of the film. I just know in my heart she read that novel again and again to get a grip on the old woman who was left at the altar so long ago, her bitterness and her rage, but poor Ms Bancroft is left singing Besame Mucho and impersonating a dried up ex-starlet. It is not her fault, I need to emphasize this, it is the script’s. The same fate falls on Robert DeNiro, whose character is castrated even further – and his is very important indeed. In the context of the movie, he might as well have Deus Ex Machina tattooed on his arm.

As it stands, the movie is the story of a fish-obsessed young artist who mysteriously adores this cold, bitchy girl all his life and gets rejected by her, with these older wackos thrown in for flavor. His uncle, Joe, played by Chris Cooper (Lone Star) is his moral center, and even though much of that story is also let untold, Cooper apparently is more used to small, crappily written roles than DeNiro and Bancroft, and he ends up being the only emotionally stirring person in the entire film. Go, Chris! His scene in the 3rd act actually made me care about something for a moment, and then he takes off. Go figure. I guess it’s not cool to like your central characters any more or care about them in any way.

Great Expectations is not as painfully stylish as the preview implied it would be, but the whole usage of green *everywhere* and on *everything* is distracting and annoying. According to some article, the actors didn’t even know what the deal was, it’s the director’s favorite color and that’s it. In this reporter’s humble and oh-so-biased opinion, if the green thing had been more effective if it had been restricted to the weird triad of pain formed by Hawke, Paltrow and Bancroft, but now it’s more like the pervasive blues of First Knight. And no one wants to be compared to First Knight.

The oh-so-hip nudie drawing session as symbol of intimacy and emotional breakthrough was better used in Titanic and As Good As It Gets – or maybe I just cared about the people. Despite Hawke’s urgency and strong reactions to Paltrow, I just could not care. If indeed Dickens had a grownup romance between Pip and whatsher name, it certainly wasn’t the centerpiece. It’s like trying to make a whole movie out of the section of Star Wars where Luke plays the hologram of Leia over and over again.

The loud, intrusive, and occasionally obnoxious score robbed scenes that could have worked of any hope of emotional connection. Romeo and Juliet was loud but the scenes were matching in intensity – not so here. The scene after the party (I’m talking about GE here), in its almost nonsexual hotness, was a million times more woof that their thrown-in, uninventive, unromantic, and unhorny actual sex scene. What the hell?

Hank Azaria is wonderful, so of course he sat around in his trailer kvetching with DeNiro and Bancroft about their characters’ lack of screen time.

This tepid distillation is best for Hawke fans who want to see paint splattered biceps or Paltrow fans with a skeletal fetish. The meat of the original work is sacrificed to the god of modern attention spans.

* this film was originally rated Dollar Movie, which fell between Catch the Network Premiere and Catch it on HBO.

MPAA Rating R for language and some sexuality.
Release date 1/30/98
Time in minutes 111
Director Alfonso Cuaron
Studio 20th Century Fox

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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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