Featured Post: Binary System Podcast #105 – WTNV #118 “eGemony Part 2: The Cave Lands”
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  • Thumbnal: Binary System Podcast #105 – WTNV #118 “eGemony Part 2: The Cave Lands”
  • Thumbnal: Binary System Podcast #104 – ALL the conventions (well, two of them anyway)
  • Thumbnal: Photo Gallery – NC Comicon: Bull City 2017
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The Best Man (1999)

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I wandered into this movie quite by accident when another movie was sold out – and I am so glad I did! This is a wonderful ensemble comedy, and I have to say, it’s much more universal than any targeted demographic might think it would have been. It’s about friendships and love and commitment (to people as well as to marriage) and it’s not just a chick flick either. I admit freely that I was concerned I would be left out in the cultural dark, but instead I felt welcomed in and very involved with everyone on screen. The main characters (but, sadly, not so much the peripheral ones) imparted a strong sense of history in their interactions – they make the movie real with their beautiful performances. Speaking of beautiful performances, have you ever seen Taye Diggs’ torso? Good heavens! But I digress, whereas the film does not. Don’t get me wrong, there is some largely gratuitous partial nudity, some for the ladies, some for the gents, but the movie is not all about booty or betrayal.

Quentin (played by the magic-eyed Terrence Dashon Howard) reminds me more than a little bit of Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas) from American Pie – he’s an anchor to the group who hovers outside them. He has the least to do but for some reason he really stuck in my head after the movie was over. Morris Chestnut and Taye Diggs are the meaty core, and Harold Perrineau Jr. (he was in Macbeth in Manhattan and Leo’s Romeo + Juliet) well, there’s one in every crowd. The love these friends have for one another is palpable. The script is great – lots of surprises, lots of painful barreling towards inevitabilities broadcast well in advance, adding to the tension. The best part is the times you think will go how it “always” goes, and then it veers way off somewhere else, but it doesn’t feel forced at all. Very nicely done all around, a fine motion picture for any old time, but super great for the holidays. My companion snuck peeks at me to see if I was misting up but I was too busy reveling in how great it was! Poor Melissa DeSousa (Shelby) had better watch out before she gets pigeonholed in the Bitch role forever. The end credits roll over the cast having a great time, and it’s abundantly clear they are no longer in character. Their enthusiasm for the film is evident the whole time.

Written and directed by Malcolm D. Lee, Spike Lee’s cousin (oh god he’s MY age! I am such a loser) The Best Man is definitely superior than the 2 1/2 minutes of The Bachelor I sat through while waiting for my actual feature to begin. Three lines of dialogue into that one, and I was ready to hightail it to LA and kill Chris O’Donnell. The Best Man I could see again and again.

MPAA Rating R for language and sexuality.
Release date 10/22/99
Time in minutes 118
Director Malcolm D. Lee
Studio Universal Pictures

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The Story of Us

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Perhaps the fact that I have close friends marrying in a week and as a result, the institution as a whole has been on my mind, affected my judgment; perhaps my innate need to compartmentalize my memories into a photo album not dissimilar to how the screenplay is structured appealed to me. Maybe it’s that I feel I have the characters portrayed by Bruce Willis and Michelle Pfeiffer (a surprisingly winning couple) at war within my own psyche – but no matter what the reason, I really enjoyed Story of Us. I also think many people might find it dull or aimless or even simplistic. So I don’t want to carte blanche recommend it to everyone because it might just be me.

That said, Story of Us is an interesting story, spanning 15 years of marriage and never really settling on what time is “the present” – there is a perceived present, where the fate of the relationship hangs in the air, there is an interview style present which one would think would be the start of a clip-show of flashbacks (as implied by the preview), and there are multiple time periods shown to differing degrees of complexity in the film. Personally, I felt that the way the flashbacks were handled in the storyline was very nice, very organic (not like a clip show sitcom – “oh and remember when…”), and quite often, very moving.

You know when you are watching a standard emotional story, maybe a love story, maybe a drama, but one where there is a standard structure of exposition, inciting incident, action, obstacle, action, climax, denouement? And you know how at the obstacle, you have that grinding anxiety in your stomach as you watch them inexorably blow it (hence, the obstacle), the pain, occasionally the urge to cry? The Story of Us is that story moment almost the whole way through – the structure is obstacle interrupted by action which is punctuated by exposition leading up to a not-forgone conclusion. The performance of the climax is lovely, is all I will say. Both our leads perform beautifully (Bruce adding more weight to the hair/acting ratio – the less hair, the better he is) and have great chemistry, happy or angry.

So, anyway, the whole movie you feel like you want to cry – you see glimpses of their earlier life as they remember it, windows to a painless past from a painful room. This is not a bad thing – you are entirely engaged in the characters and the action because of that grinding sensation. I was sucked in and interested (and choosing sides) almost before I even knew who everyone was. A smattering of amusing side characters were nicely, simply drawn, and Rita Wilson in particular was the most real element in a fantasy cast of friends (not unlike as she was in Sleepless in Seattle). Yes, I cried at long last – the long buildup of almost crying was going to end up nowhere else, but it is a release. Willis and Pfeiffer are a nice balance of flaws and amazing traits, irritating habits and sweet honesty. I really dug them as a pair, and the quick snips of their life as I saw it felt truly as if we had missed long, well-established scenes. I wouldn’t recommend this movie to the about-to-be-wed, the commitment-phobic, or people with no empathy – I think anyone else would enjoy the payoff.

And yes, that great song, Classical Gas, from the preview, is in the movie. Soundtrack comes out 11/23.

MPAA Rating R for language and brief sexuality.
Release date 10/15/99
Time in minutes 95
Director Rob Reiner
Studio Universal Pictures

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Fight Club

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Like other David Fincher films (Seven, Alien 3), Fight Club is brutal, grungy, has a gear shift that coincides with a brief lull before an intense climax, and explains too well how to do various forms of mischief; Fincher’s Guide to Young Felons. After seeing this movie, which we universally agreed was “good,” my companions and I wondered what demographic this movie was skewed for? Collectively we decided it was disillusioned Gen X malcontents in the third stage of desensitization to violence; this covered why we enjoyed it, at least. The beginning is overly stylish, swooping, invasive camera work, sucking you in, and then it takes off and becomes a pretty standard looking movie with occasional camera winks and nods (some of which get explained in a brief, Ferris Bueller as Hunter S. Thompson-esque direct narration to the audience) and nutty content. The “normal” world has more showy camera tricks, and the insane later sections of the film look normal. Maybe this is on purpose, but maybe not.

Pointed dialogue treats us to a moderately goofy plot element but some great one-liners, razor sharp bitterness and hair-pullingly jolting scenes. I don’t know a cube drudge alive who won’t respond to this movie on some level or another, in morbid fascination of the shock value mixed with corporate drone destructo fantasy. Imagine if the printer mauling scene from Office Space was directed by Quentin Tarantino – it is only comparable to QT in the glee it takes in the physical release of violence. Brutality is not so much glorified as elevated to a kind of spiritual performance art. Plenty of moments where your only verbal response to what is on screen is, well, the F word. “Oh my god” doesn’t even cut it. Fight Club, like the club itself, is not for everyone. It will keep most people riveted or revolted; intrigued or insecure, 95% of the time, and it’s interesting to dissect afterward. It is no Sixth Sense of post-viewing “oh YEAH I get it” but there are rewards to be gleaned from paying attention and then thinking about it afterward.

Brad Pitt is almost at his 12 Monkeys fever pitch but much cooler and more controlled, dressed in a Buffalo Exchange thrift store mish mosh that somehow makes him look more dangerous than slovenly. Ed Norton is interesting – before he slides into his relationship with Pitt, he is a young American everyman – a real Willy Loman. Helena Bonham Carter, while looking like a crack-addled homeless club kid, still manages to look sexy and vulnerable under her disheveled bitchiness. Sometimes. The movie is chock full of decaying and disheveled people and places, not to mention about a zillion squibs (blood packets). But my god, that money shot when Pitt stands up after one fight. Guys, you get to see Helena’s bubbies too.

Fight Club is very interesting but kind of feels a little hollow afterward, not unlike Seven, and very much unlike Sixth Sense. It is definitely worth seeing, but be forewarned it is not for everyone.

MPAA Rating R-violent anti-social behavior, sexuality &language.
Release date 10/15/99
Time in minutes 140
Director David Fincher
Studio 20th Century Fox

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Random Hearts

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The only thing carrying this movie is Harrison Ford. And usually he knows better. One of my companions summed it up best: “It’s clear this movie was written by a bag of mesquite charcoal.” The unfortunate aspect of the film is that it should have been something else; it could have been something interesting – but I am not sure what would have had to change in order to make it better. Ford, normally a whiz with picking scripts, has always guaranteed a watchable movie just by his involvement. Kristin Scott Thomas, a chilly actress, has to work extra hard to make any sparks fly for her in general. Where did this movie think it was going? Lunatic desperate grief-sex? Beautiful healthy romance blossoming naturally? Humiliating sticky fumblings in the backs of cars? My other companion (I was speechless) noted that this movie could not possibly have been made with any audience in mind. Director Sydney Pollack may be responsible for not murdering the writers, but all the scenes that Sydney is actually in have some competence in them so perhaps he truly had no idea.

Scott Thomas’ chilliness works for her in this movie – but dear Harrison’s innate sense of Great Guy works against him. And the music! Agh! Turn up the jacuzzi, Aldo, I’m coming with our Perriers! I am purposefully not consulting the Internet Movie Database to get the names of the people who worked on this film, as I am positive they had no idea it would turn out like this. You know the gist of it, don’t you? Ford and Thomas had spouses killed in a plane crash and it turns out the spouses were having an affair with each other. Sounds interesting, dramatic – and indeed, the first reel was undoubtedly the best, even knowing what was going to happen. I thought, hm, sure, Matinee at the very least. I was concerned for everyone’s feelings and I thought everyone behaved pretty rationally, considering everything.

By the last 20 minutes I was thinking about how much great screen time all the extras have and what nice use they made of their locations, and how much I hated that whinging trumpet blowing the score into a kleenex. We were openly mocking the movie, mocking what should have been real pain (and was real, well-performed pain at the start). It isn’t even their romance that made the movie not work; it’s just not very good. I am so sorry to say so! In any other vehicle I would enjoy Ford melting the ice queen’s reserve, would like watching Indy and Duckface* hook up – but instead, it was just this vaguely unsettling, embarrassing non-hookup which left me feeling like someone had shot two movies (the one about their separate personal lives and the one where they hook up) starring these people and thought, “Wouldn’t it save a lot of marketing money if we just spliced them together and made them one story?”

The title “Random Hearts” means Random words selected from dictionary tossed in bag with little construction paper hearts and drawn out by monkeys, glued to a bulletin board, and then Washington Junior High’s 7th grade class is told to create a narrative using these words and inserting some kind of emotional response wherever a heart shows up.
Here is the screenplay – not having a heart shaped character I will use &.

politics cops n’ robbers answering machine & airplane Saks body bag & Miami anger & cabin *69 homicide car blue jeans & apartment & prep school television money dinner & jogging idiot dullness trite & whisper Stoli & Concord bar airport

So now you don’t have to see it.

*Correction: she played Fiona, who coined the nickname Duckface.

MPAA Rating R for brief violence, sexuality and language.
Release date 10/8/99
Time in minutes 133
Director Sydney Pollack
Studio Columbia Tristar

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American Beauty

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American Beauty is really really really good. No, that’s won’t do. Go see it, it’s awesome. Ecch! Uh, how about – American Beauty is a truly astonishing piece of filmmaking which I already intend to own and watch again and again. I have yet to use “astonishing” in a review and it is a perfect word here – knowing at the beginning how it will end (along the same line of Sunset Boulevard’s opening) and not having any idea what will take you there is exhilarating enough – the astonishing part is how great the spectacular cast is, how creative and interesting yet totally accessible our man Kevin Spacey is, and how smart the script is, and what happens along the way. Total visceral involvement.

I had been growing weary of the cold, just-imagine-what-I-am-thinking-and-you-still-have-no-idea ruthless sort of bit that Spacey had been doing lately. I knew he was excellent but I was seeing the same thing over and over (Usual Suspects, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil., Swimming With Sharks) and it was starting to wear on me. Here, he is none of those things and still extremely brilliant. His face is utterly readable, a mirror, a window, he’s hysterical. Annette Bening, always good, still inexplicably married to and birthing for Warren Beatty, is a perfect foil for him, visually, in her performance, oh! Molto bene. Thora Birch plays their daughter, and she is very good – she gives that sullen, closed off teen performance we see so infrequently these days without some kind of goofy “freak” layer to it. Wes Bentley skates the line of the freak layer, but always stays in the real world of the movie. His father, Chris Cooper from Lone Star, is…man, I wish I could make a drooling Homer Simpson noise somehow written. American Pie’s Mena Suvari proves she isn’t just a pretty blonde twit. They are all so very (drooling Homer noise) and with the material with which they have to work, they glimmer, they shine. It’s a treat! A joy! Kick ass, as they say. It rules.

Rosepetals shoot out of the screen at you – in the film, but also in the spirit of the metaphor of the film (those who have seen it will agree you walk out with a lapful) – this is filmmaking the way it’s supposed to be. The same exhilaration (I know I already used that word) I felt upon leaving Sixth Sense and Shakespeare in Love I feel now; someone wrote, greenlighted, directed, and distributed a movie that is the reason I see and review movies. American Beauty is sociologically significant, it’s emotionally significant, but it’s also in your gut entertaining and intelligent without being off-putting, witty and real and fascinating. It’s great!

Apparently, this is director Sam Mendes’ first time out, though his name somehow rings a bell. I can’t believe writer Alan Ball only has two TV series to his credit besides this movie, but I have a feeling that is about to change, for both of them. It’s a drama or a comedy (it will no doubt ultimately be classified under Drama) depending on how unhappy you are in your life right now. It’s beautifully shot, fantastically written, and all the actors (even those with more disposable roles) are right there in it. Oh! Rapture!

I don’t want to tell you too much, because not knowing was the best part. I will say this: DON’T WATCH PREVIEWS! The same company that was savvy enough to produce this picture will ruin it for you advertising for it. Avoid reading about it, hearing about it, seeing previews. It’s wonderful, anyone who has seen it will say as much, trust us. So you go see it too. Get there early – it’s doing a well-deserved brisk box office business.

MPAA Rating R-sexuality, language, violence & drug content.
Release date 10/1/99
Time in minutes 122
Director Sam Mendes
Studio Dreamworks

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Three Kings

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I was very late in seeing this feature, due to a variety of intrastate reasons; but I was definitely looking forward to the movie. Before I went, I asked my friend who was in Desert Storm special forces what he thought of it – his was the only dissenting opinion of the film. Keeping all that in mind, I finally slipped into the theatre and proceeded to watch, uninvolved and only vaguely interested, a very beautifully shot film with good performances.

Several days later, I wrote a paragraph; stopped, then wrote another a couple of days later. Everyone I know who saw this movie besides my veteran friend loved it, thought it was amazing; but I couldn’t warm to it. I didn’t care about anyone, I had long ago made up my mind about the politics of the situation and really had no feelings about the situations into which our heroes representing individual members of our fighting forces were getting themselves in the film. I thought the film stock (rough and grainy and partially colorless like in Saving Private Ryan) looked cool, I liked the quick-jobbie look of the film coupled with its slick long shots and pans and stuff, but I didn’t really care. I checked my watch twice during a big explosion scene.

So, war movies aren’t my bag? Maybe. I liked SPR and some other ones. But I didn’t feel this was a war movie – it was kind of a heist movie without all the heist tension. I dunno. I have so little to say about Three Kings (except Spike Jonze was funny in a random way) that I feel bad even posting a review in the first place.

Three Kings is somewhat of an action/drama, somewhat of a morality play, and all about interesting technical film work. But as you may gather, it just didn’t wow me. Maybe my expectations were too high, having waited so long to see it. My apologies, movie buffs!

MPAA Rating R for graphic war violence, language and some sexuality.
Release date 10/1/99
Time in minutes 125
Director David O. Russell
Studio Warner Brothers

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Patricia Arquette is not 23 years old, and last I heard, you don’t treat epilepsy by inserting electrodes into the cortex. That said, most of this movie is textually interesting, narratively engaging (except for one teeny flaw which, to discuss, would be ruinous to viewing the film) for the most part, and stylistically over the top. If the director does not already work in commercials and music videos, he should – those short-attention span media will suit his wandering visual artistry better than a serious narrative about serious, heavy, iconic stuff. Occasionally scenes were distractingly stylized, in the manner of an American Express commercial, or those cool blue-lit, herky jerky denim ads – or any video for a song about angst shot entirely in one take. It distracted from the work of the actors, which to me seemed admirable considering everything.

It is worthy to note that after writing the above paragraph, which I began nine days before these words, I was unable to come up with anything more until guilt drove me back today, leading me to be of the opinion that this movie is more devoid of substance than I had previously thought. My initial impressions were that it looked cool, bits were interesting, I was curious to see how the story came out, but I was neutral on the subject. The movie itself is neutral too, seemingly unable to commit to the idea behind these horrible things happening to her. At times I felt the directed wanted us to think she is possessed by evil, at other times, blessed. In the heat of watching, I was not as bothered by it.

Something that tickled the back of my mind as I watched was the idea that the supporting cast of “good guys” (Jonathan Pryce, Gabriel Byrne) all played the devil or a devil-like character in previous films, making their presence here a jolly good little joke on their resume and in the six degrees game. However, that element has nothing to do with the narrative, and, in fact, took me out of it as I tried to recall that it was Something Wicked This Way Comes, and so on. Those horrified to see Patrick Muldoon (last seen woodenly being evil on Melrose Place) in the opening credits, rest easy – he has apparently been almost entirely edited out. Whew!

Basically, the best and worst thing about Stigmata is the visuals. It’s beautiful when it shouldn’t be, distractingly processed and filtered and freaky looking when it should and shouldn’t be, and it’s just a plain old looong music video without necessarily music. There are some nice scenes between Arquette and Byrne, but sometimes they are ruined by the weird look of the scene. And I don’t mean this in a “I don’t like interesting visuals” way – if you see it, check out the scene at the flower stand where they are talking (no dialogue, just music and visuals) and see how LIT it is. Ugh. Anyway, she has these visions and they are really cool – any time she is having a freak out it looks awesome, but I am sad to say that except for that and tiny little things, it’s pretty washed out overall. I hope she got to work out her relationship angst. (MR: they are breaking up! ask her out!)

MPAA Rating R -intense violent sequences, language, sexuality.
Release date 9/10/99
Time in minutes 103
Director Rupert Wainwright
Studio MGM

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Macbeth in Manhattan

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What is more fun than a Hollywood adaptation of a Shakespeare play? A Hollywood interpretation of the process of a stage production of a Shakespeare play! In the spirit of the extremely entertaining A Midwinter’s Tale comes Macbeth in Manhattan. I myself, despite my high movie-going quotient, actually do manage to work in theatre now and again, and I am often highly critical of the depictions of such goings-on. My love for Waiting for Guffman is only quelled by what an utterly unrealistic production Red, White, and Blaine is, particularly in the center of such a clever mockumentary. A Midwinter’s Tale is shot filmically, i.e. not pretending to be a documentary, and such it is with Macbeth in Manhattan. A New York theatre group is doing the famous 400 year old tragedy, and naturally, mayhem ensues. As Philip Henslowe so wisely says in Shakespeare in Love, theatre is a lot of “insurmountable obstacles” all heading toward “imminent disaster.” Macbeth does both Henslowe and its own infamous legacy proud.

A surprising ignorance of the stigma attached to Macbeth prevails among the characters cast in it – they speak the dreaded name of the Scottish play with reckless abandon. For those unfamiliar with the cursed name, it is covered well for you “real people.” The best and cleverest part about the screenplay is how the production storyline ultimately mirrors the classic storyline of the play. A brilliant (and sexy) character (Harold Perrineau) known only as the Chorus fills in the Bard’s plot for us in a prosaic “meanwhile back at the ranch” sort of delivery, while serving as the backstage crew and wise eye that sees all (like all good crew should be doing anyway). He runs the character gamut subtly as his various backstage tasks require him to be different designers and workers.

The leads are all excellent – ER’s Gloria Reuben is the girlfriend of David Lansbury, and they are up for the Macbeths – but a terrible, awful soap actor intervenes in the form of Nick Gregory – Gregory’s performance as William is as brilliant as William’s performance of Macbeth is awful. It’s really very excellent. Anyone (especially us ladies) who have worked on a play have known a William like him, probably even fallen for his line once or twice – but it’s a clever intertwining of inspired theatrical acting and witty screenwriting that makes Macbeth in Manhattan an utter hoot. Bringing all these folks together is the perfect
incarnation of a director who is…not very good, John Glover. Let me just say that the moment he turns away from the rehearsal of the sword fight between Macduff and Macbeth is pure genius.

My brief literature which I am consulting to make sure I have everyone’s names right mentions that this movie was shot on a “shockingly small budget – ” I don’t know what it was but it has got to have been less than a million dollars (cheaper than an episode of ER and a full 97 minutes too). If a major studio didn’t catch this at SXSW and see this as a clever way to ride the Shakespeare craze (10 Things I Hate About You, O, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and oh, yeah, what’s that movie that won Best Picture?) for zero down and zero payments for 6 months, well, they are stupid. It’s smart and funny and of course, funnier if you know the source material but I didn’t really and I still had a great time.

*Available exclusively at Hollywood Video as part of their special filmmaker series First Rites

MPAA Rating R – language
Release date 9/8/99
Time in minutes 97
Director Greg Lombardo
Studio First Rites available at Hollywood Video

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Analyze This

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Analyze This could have been a terrifically horrible movie. It also could have been really really funny. It was definitely neither, with a slant toward better than I thought it would be. Robert DeNiro plays (get this kids!) a mobster. The catch is, for once, something is making him anxious about the mob life. This is the comedy part. Billy Crystal is (get this kids!) a mildly neurotic smart guy who this time is a therapist. Enter the anxious mobster, add in the surprisingly aged Lisa Kudrow as the wildly miscast fiancee of Crystal, and you have mild wackiness. Did I mention that whoever thought Kudrow and Crystal would make a cute, believable, or even funny couple were probably the same geniuses who cast John Laroquette and Kirstie Alley in Houseguest. Brrrrrr!

I’ll tell you now, some of the best jokes are in the preview. Some others are there, but they don’t make the movie sing. It is amusing, though. This review probably seems to be contradicting itself quite a bit, and I gotta tell you, it’s because the movie does as well. At once it is a hair’s-breadth away from being really funny, but then also it can be pretty blatantly obvious. When the mobsters are doing that vicious stuff they are famous for, however, the violence and scary gangster stuff doesn’t hold back. I felt that some of the “bad guy” action was pretty heavy for a tinkly light comedy. My viewing companions liked it more than I did, but perhaps I just wasn’t ready to accept DeNiro in a comedy, even as a self-parody. I always tend to enjoy actors who can make fun of themselves, but DeNiro seems a little unwilling still. The real gems of the movie were the supporting cast. Mostly mobsters from a hundred mob movies, they seem to actually be having fun mocking the genre. This movie is not a parody of the mob genre – and maybe it could have been instead of basically a parody of the What About Bob? genre. Now it’s basically What About Guido?.

Without really giving anything away, I have to say that one scene where DeNiro breaks down and cries is the least believable scene in the movie (and there are plenty to choose from). Mr. Method, Mr. Be The Character, sobbing, well, it *seemed* funny. And not in the right way. Instead it actually feels forced and faked – and everything else DeNiro brings to Analyze This feels really genuine. Billy Crystal’s whiny, poorly boundaried psychiatrist seems pretty low on resources and definitely is low on the qualities I would look for in a shrink – it’s a wonder he can have that incredible house in the woods, what with his low-rent clients and his shoddy caretaking skills. Plenty goes unexplained in the movie as well, but overall it is mildly entertaining and perfect for a rainy day in. I did laugh out loud at a few moments, but it says a lot that I cannot recall a single one.

A word of praise for Chazz Palminteri, who captured my heart as a dumb mobster in Oscar, and is not given the space to be as funny here but still gives me that blank, blinking palooka that I know had to have lost some mileage on the cutting room floor. If you are tired of the usual DeNiro schtick, it actually is kind of entertaining to see him good-naturedly making fun of basically most of his career-making roles.

MPAA Rating R -language, a scene of sexuality &some violence
Release date 9/8/99
Time in minutes 106
Director Harold Ramis
Studio Warner Brothers

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The 13th Warrior

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Having heard that director John McTiernan had made this movie (titled after the book on which its based, Eaters of the Dead) about 400 years ago; that it had been languishing in post-production so long that McTiernan had time to whip out The Thomas Crown Affair in its entirety in the meantime – I was a tad apprehensive when I plunked down in my seat. The exposition of the film is confusing, as if it had been edited by the crude, 11th century weapons wielded by the proud Norsemen in whose company our hero, Antonio Banderas, falls. He is Ahmahd ibn Eyeliner, and he gets tossed in as the 13th Warrior (natch) with some Norse guys and he, like we in the audience, are not sure why. Fortunately, he is so cunning, he can turn their language and his into English just by listening, and the rest of the movie picks up after that. Author Michael Crichton is listed as director along with McTiernan, and therein may lie the problem.

13th Warrior is no Braveheart, although it had aspirations to be so. It is filled with old-old-age bravery and action, the kind that made you realize what self centered wimps we all are today – these guys make smoke jumpers look like Marian the Librarian. A nice touch is that Banderas isn’t Mel Gibson – he is right along with us, being smaller and weaker (but not ineffective or stupid), being frightened and queasy. All these other guys (notably Norse God Anders T. Andersen and the red haired guy too) have cojones of titanium, biceps of adamantium, and bravery-centers (an organ we have since Darwinized out of our bodies) of bouillon. I was impressed by the action sequences (McTiernan is best known perhaps for Die Hard, Predator, Hunt for Red October – he knows a thing or two about tone) but I was more impressed by the *idea* of the action sequences. These warriors basically have no self-induced motivation but honor driving them to do incredibly risky, dangerous, heroic, scary things. Wow! And because the actors playing these warriors did a great job overcoming their dialogue by being impossibly burly and good natured, I cared about their welfare. As they are in peril or in battle the majority of the film, it was pretty exciting.

Cool score, too, Jerry Goldsmith. Just go here and see how many mediocre films (and TV, since 1948) he saved from being utter rubbish with his music: http://us.imdb.com/Name?Goldsmith,+Jerry. I’d like to point out notable not-rubbish movies like Aliens and Poltergeist and Air Force One and LA Confidential.

So, let’s see, we have a handsome charismatic star with whom we identify because of his weaknesses, we have elaborate and battle scenes set to stupendous music, and we have some big-trousered Men of the North swinging 50 lb swords about – why is this movie only a matinee? I’m not sure. I enjoyed watching it, and I think most people will (unless they are squeamish at the sight of filth or blood), but at the same time, it seemed to be missing some elemental piece that would make it awesome. I am certain, in my bones, that that piece is lying on the floor of some cutting room somewhere out there, some vital moment caught on film with that incredible primeval British Columbia, I mean, er, Scandinavia looming impressively in the background. Maybe it was somewhere in the lengthy multilingual sequences that dragged on, with Omar Sharif gamely translating as the chatter goes from Norse to Greek to Arabic. You’d think it would be as amusing as the various Japanese translations of American advertising slogans – Microsoft’s “If you don’t know where you want to go, we’ll make sure you get taken.” – then at the end, Omar could show up and say, “No, no my friend, you were only supposed to hold their cup for them while they chose the 13th Warrior!” – that would be funny.

MPAA Rating R for bloody battles and carnage.
Release date 8/27/99
Time in minutes 102
Director John McTiernan
Studio Touchstone Pictures