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Event Horizon

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Event Horizon has gotten a lot of bad press which, after seeing the movie, I do not entirely agree with, but it is NO Fifth Element. The short version is it is 2001 meets Alien (the first one) with a dash of Hellraiser. A bunch of astronauts pop out to pick up a ship that disappeared and reappeared near Neptune (the Event Horizon is the ship, as well as a reference to the point at which a ship would cross over from less than light to more than light speed, kinda).

Many people I have asked (including my rocket scientist friend) have concurred that the story is stupid and science is all wrong. BUT there has been some grudging concession that it was quite scary and exciting too. I found it to be interesting (I went in knowing that the science would be all wrong but let me tell you, MOST people don’t know the kind of science these folks are talking about…it didn’t bother me, OK?) and I found it to be quite scary and quite unnerving and REALLY loud (could have been the theatre too but I rarely find movies too loud) and pretty disturbing.

There is some metaphysical “I’ve seen things you don’t want to imagine” type stuff which I always find tiresome – like the Lovecraftian convention of something so horrible, all one can do is tell me how a character went mad in a second looking at it – YAWN.

However, director Paul (not Poul) Anderson seems to agree with my distaste for that tell-don’t-show philosophy, and flashes, Exorcist like, some really ghastly visuals to rev us up. Oogie! This is where Hellraiser comes in. Some personal psychological terror is involved, some booga booga to the nth power, and some really unnecessarily cool looking sets make this movie quite spooky. There is a whiff of Stargate and Dune to the production design – that is a good thing.

You’ll notice that the two movies I think parented Event Horizon are two slowly paced, quiet 70’s style suspense sci fi films. The interesting (and therefore merited) part of Event Horizon is how it captures that old school style of spooky spooky weirdness and taking its time to get around to what it has to say without being all slow and boring about it. I admit it, I am a spoiled, attention-span-starved early MTV kinda chick; I have used Alien to overcome insomnia (but Aliens is one of my top 5 films of all time!) and this film has the pacing that works in 2001 and Alien (and some direct shot and plot ripoff, in my opinion) but with a more modern tempo that keeps me interested.

If this means nothing to you, and you just wanna know if it is stupid or not, here is your answer: It’s kinda stupid, but it will booga booga the crap out of you. Not a good first date movie either, unless you want to filter out squeamish people. I have no patience with squeamish people (eww grosss that is disgusting!) but this movie has almost every bodily mutilation to test the most squeamish-intolerant of us all. Try a Matinee Price showing.

MPAA Rating R -strong violence/gore, language and some nudity.
Release date 7/28/97
Time in minutes 95
Director Paul Anderson
Studio Paramount Pictures

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Air Force One

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All I can say is, I’m voting for Harrison Ford! Ok, it’s not ALL I can say. It was butt-kicking! I bit off all my nails and I really didn’t know what was going to happen next. As Kevin put it, it is the best permutation of Die-Hard-On-A-Plane we’ve seen in a long time – it was less gung- ho macho silly than Executive Decision, but with all the cool bang em up stuff and innovative good guys and human interest moments.

It’s not as explosive as Con-Air but not such a stretch from a motivational point of view. Even as Harrison dangles in danger, we know in our hearts he will win because he’s Harrison Ford and he is the Prez, but we also have no idea how or if maybe this once, he won’t! Pres. Marshall is canny, though, and we love him for it

I saw this with a number of friends, only one of which had his BS-O-Meter going off, which disappointed me. He found it to be silly and improbable – but do you go to movies to see the paperboy arrive every morning at 6:30 or do you go to see the paperboy eaten by a dinosaur?

Which is a more interesting movie? Terrorism happens all the time in real life and every time you think, my God, how could this happen? It seems unreal. Why should this situation seem real and mundane? They hijacked AFO!!!!

An article in Entertainment Weekly detailed the could-have-happeneds and could-not-have-happends from the film and many of the things my friend complained about could have happened, they just haven’t happened in real life so far. Other ones were normal Hollywood stretches that made some exciting movie moments – it was great the way information was handled in this screenplay. Some stuff we have no way of knowing if it could happen or not thanks to the classified nature of the most bad-ass flying fortress in the world.

If you don’t know the premise, the president and a pile of other people are taken hostage on board Air Force One, the top of the top of security and protectiveness in the world. It’s the most classified flying document in the world too, so it was difficult for the production team to know what was REALLY possible and what was not…as one of the producers said, you can’t just call up the Secret Service and say, “If I were a terrorist trying to hijack Air Force One, how would I go about it?”

Harrison Ford IS the President of the United States, trumpet the print ads, and he really is – he is a mite altruistic for a president who would be elected in this day and age, but by gum, you believe him. Bill Clinton understandably LOVES this flick – I know I would dig a movie about someone with my job kicking some serious butt in the name of what’s right and to protect my family.

Lots of great tension, groovy visual effects, and Gary Oldman’s surprisingly human bad guy. You *know* he’s the bad guy the moment he walks on screen, and you might wonder that the Secret Service men don’t think, man, he looks like trouble, but he is both more evil and less evil than we would expect from a summer action blockbuster.

Non-action movie fans will enjoy it, patriots will enjoy it, and Harrison Ford fans will enjoy it. It’s fun and exciting and ohmygod ohnonono! Go see it and much down – I believe this guy will get re-elected! Get your full price tickets and board Air Force One!

MPAA Rating R for violence
Release date 7/28/1997
Time in minutes 118
Director Wolfgang Petersen
Studio Columbia Pictures

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Operation Condor

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I love Jackie Chan. He is often compared to Gene Kelly for his artistry with his body, and rightfully so. Operation Condor is one of many older Chan movies being dusted off and rereleased in the US with English dubbing and a new soundtrack. I believe this one came out in Hong Kong in 1991.

It’s a parody/homage of the Indiana Jones franchise, complete with idol-robbing Nazis, and
spear-chucking desert folk. However, unlike First Strike and Supercop (Police Story 3) and even Rumble in the Bronx, Condor is less about the amazing things Jackie can do than the amazing places they have him doing things in.

Don’t worry, there is plenty to amaze you and planty of serious injuries in the outtakes, but the intricate choreography of say, his ladder fight or the refrigerator/shopping cart dance of death, is lost in favor of a quick leap and a quick kick but WOW we’re in a Nazi munitions dump! COOL we’re in a remote desert marketplace! HOLY MACKEREL we’re in a real working wind tunnel (this was the best scene, both for humor and for WOW COOL HOLY MACKEREL).

Chan directs this feature, and maybe that is why he spends less time on himself than his other director, Stanley Tong, does. The humor is present but much goofier, and Jackie’s character isn’t as well developed as in the other films released in the US so far. It’s still a Jackie Chan movie and for that, you should go. Here in Austin it was playing in what we call the Lincoln “puppet theatre” – a smaller non-THX annex usually relegated to late-runs and low-box office draws. There are plenty of beautiful women and really spiffy props and locations, but not enough Jackie.

Encourage the studio to keep releasing these great movies, go see Operation Condor.

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 7/22/1997
Time in minutes 90
Director Jackie Chan
Studio Miramax

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George of the Jungle

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Before all the George maniacs out there start into me, please let me say that I have never seen a George of the Jungle cartoon. I am told that this live-action film was basically true to the form, except for making Ursula more sympathetic. So, with that in mind, I watched it like a Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoon, and found it to be very silly and enjoyable – this is not Beckett, people, this is Brendan Fraser talking with no adjectives or articles while wearing a buttflap (which, for me, was worth the price of admission), and a menagerie of well-executed animals having fun with him.

It was totally silly and tree-smashing, but still had some hip little clever jokes and some predictable jokes that felt familiar *even though I have never seen the cartoon before.*

Kids will like it quite a bit despite the mushy stuff (and if the actress playing Ursula and Brendan Fraser did not actually do it at some point I will be very, very surprised.) It’s definitely a different movie than A Simple Wish but I think more grownups will like George better. Kudos for a Swahili cover of Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On.”

John Cleese provides the voice for an ape named Ape, CGI provides the voice for the elephant-dog Shep and there’s a great toucan who might be a puppet or might be well-trained (Jim Henson’s Creature Shop rides again. ) A cool treehouse, silly villains, funny porters, and an amusing (if pigeonholing) turn by Thomas Haden Church as Lyle, Ursula’s obnoxious fiance-to-not-be make this movie even better.

Lovely scenery – and the Hawaiian locations weren’t bad either! Did I mention Brendan Fraser was almost naked? It’s rare these days (except in a Joel Schumacher film) that the male body gets any feature when there are women to be seen instead, so for you ladies out there sick of Cameron Diaz and Julia Roberts, here are shiny pecs and gluts for ya.

Fraser was nice as a simple, sweet jungle boy with the natural artlessness of the wild – very all-around-nice-guy, as he should be. I have actually never seen a Brendan Fraser movie before this one – is that his real voice? It’s not brilliant, but it’s nice summertime fun – and squeaky clean at that.

Grab a bag of popcorn and remember it’s not dorky, it’s cleverly ironic – at least, Rocky and Bullwinkle are, and it’s the same idea.

Try a matinee on a hot summer Saturday, with popcorn. Or a soda.

MPAA Rating PG
Release date 7/21/1997
Time in minutes 92
Director Sam Weisman
Studio Walt Disney

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Cop Land

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Watching this movie, I got the distinct sense that there was a lot left on the cutting room floor. Like an actual movie. What was left is a series of sequences that look like they relate but really don’t – why did Stallone wreck his car?

This serious film, dripping with testosterone, has been widely touted as Sylvester Stallone’s foray into serious actor-dom. In his defense, there was nothing at all wrong with his performance, or anyone else’s – all the big names in this movie were working very hard to make some sense out of a painfully empty and seemingly stupid script.

I am amazed ANY characterization occurred at all, with what little these folks had to work with. Robert DeNiro, Cathy Moriarty, Annabella Sciorra, Harvey Keitel, Ray Liotta, Robert Patrick (you know, the T1000), Janeane Garafalo (and why was she so wasted?), and Michael Rapaport are also horribly underused or wrongly used or just plain overcast in this film.

Lots of moments appear to be leading to someplace interesting, only to crash and burn (unresolved) under the weight of a terribly portentious score by Howard Shore.Dun dun da-dun! He is reaching for a sandwich! Daa da da DUNN! He bit into it! CUT TO: Car driving along street, driving beat and lots of horns and drums as the driver looks at THE SKYLINE! DUN DUNDAAAA!

There was no reason to use all these expensive, scenery chewing people if they were not going to be portrayed as someone interesting. People were sleeping around and no one cared. All kinds of terrible mayhem happened and I wondered how Air Bud’s game was going. I sensed I should have had some emotions at some point but perhaps it was just the music. I was bored silly. I didn’t care about anyone, but as soon as I thought about getting interested in the Robert Altman-like scattering of random and unrelated plot points, they dropped the thread.

I still don’t know what the movie was about. I say Catch It on HBO because it’s only fair to Sly that you see how hard he worked. But for heaven’s sake, don’t pay any extra money to see it. And Janeane Garafalo, who I love, why was she in this movie???

MPAA Rating R for violence, strong language and brief nudity.
Release date 7/14/97
Time in minutes 100
Director James Mangold
Studio Miramax

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Contact

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Wow. Cool. Smart. How did they do that shot? (open mouthed silent gaping)

The opening sequence begins as interesting but as your mind starts to wrap around it, it just becomes…ahhhh open mouthed silent gaping. As Kevin says, the best use of silence in a film in years. Jodie Foster is genetically engineered for the role of Ellie Arroway – reading the book it was an inescapable comparison. The movie does diverge significantly from the book on both major and minor points, but it is completely devoted to the central theme in the novel.

My only complaint is the distracting use of footage of our real president in scenes that could very well have been set in a future administration with an actor as our future unknown president. OK, and a certain blazing hypocrisy is not pointed out in a key scene. But besides that, Contact left me feeling viscerally tugged and with an intense desire to reflect and be alone.

I don’t want to give away too much, but essentially we get a little wakeup call from the stars and start re-examining everything – science, theology, our place in the universe…the ideas are not new to me as I was raised in a similar environment to Ellie, but to have them executed so eloquently on screen is a rarity.

The start of the film has the most “mundane” action, but to compensate, director Robert Zemeckis (Who Framed Roger Rabbit and the agonizingly overrated Forrest Gump) does some totally amazing camera things – it never stops moving, like the curious eyes of a child.

Most people would not notice so just watch for a scene when young Ellie runs upstairs. Wow! How did they do that! It was almost distracting it was so neat. But the story hooks you and the sophistication of the novel is hinted at. Naturally they have to get through a lot to get to the end, so many plot elements came off a bit pat and contrived, but only because they didn’t take the time to explain why it is not contrived.

Just go see it, but read it as well. It’s more visceral than I can explain in a short little review like this – but you can feel your breath in your throat at the most unexpected times. Matthew McConaughey is Palmer Joss, a flip side of Ellie’s coin, and frankly I don’t understand the point of much of the parts of their relationship (especially since it was created for the film), but he does provide some valuable debate points.

Pay full price and I don’t think you will be disappointed.

MPAA Rating PG
Release date 7/14/97
Time in minutes 150
Director Robert Zemeckis
Studio Warner Bros

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A Simple Wish

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This is a film for children – adults on their own will find the jokes predictable and even a little old – however, we must not forget that kids have never heard these jokes before. The kids all around me this Sunday matinee were laughing and giggling at Martin Short’s antics – he definitely was channeling a little Danny Kaye. If you know me at all, you know that is a high compliment – I mean, he is not Danny Kaye’s heir to the silly children’s jester throne, but he was really as close as Hollywood will let anyone get.

Mara Wilson is – guess what? adorable as the one making the wish. The movie is crawling with Oscar nominees too – generally in scenes together and everything – Kathleen Turner, Teri Garr, and Amanda Plummer (not sure if nominated ever but she should be). There are cute fairy godmothers and wicked witches and adventure and lessons to be learned. A great deal of work went into this movie – it would be a shame if no one ever saw it. But see it with a child, certainly. Robert Pastorelli is a different kind of dad, the wish is a different kind of wish, and this is an infinitely better children’s movie than Wild America or Space Jam (shudder). The production designers and camera people did some really clever things – and there is a fake Broadway show in it that is a soooooo very perfect stab at that institution.

It’s not brilliant or for adults, but it’s a nice, pleasant movie you can pretend to be eight years old with.

Catch a matinee or rent it, depending on your tastes. But only with a kid. Otherwise, don’t worry about it.

MPAA Rating PG
Release date 7/14/1997
Time in minutes 89
Director Michael Ritchie
Studio Universal Pictures

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Men in Black

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Men in Black showed such promise in the preview – it delivers everything in the preview and almost nothing more. Some interesting production design, a couple of predictable but humorous digs at famous people, and some amusing bits strung together make this movie the cuisine equivalent of a light Chinese meal.

Will Smith’s likeability, which makes him a good foil to the practically personality-free character that Tommy Lee Jones plays, seems forced (more so than normal) and Jones’ looks like he wishes he could have had some of the funny lines. The creatures were pretty interesting looking, and there is a weird farmer guy who was an interesting side story, but all in all, it was kinda….well….

There is a plot but it’s really just a linear slice of time rather than an actual plot – oh they try to hook us into some kind of suspense with a countdown clock and all that, but really, are we ever in doubt? At least in movies where there are possibly apocalyptic events that MIGHT happen if our heroes come through, we are all wound up thinking “My god, how will they ever do that thing and make that doohickey?” Not so here. MiB exists for critters, cool toys, and cute bits. It felt vaguely like a skit comedy show with one running theme.

I say matinee price rather than rental JUST so you can see all the cool critters and things down at MiB headquarters and such visuals – but you have seen almost the entire thing already, you just don’t know it.

Rent Independence Day for Will Smith and effects, see Men in Black because it’s a hot summer afternoon and you don’t have much else to do.

But don’t pay more than matinee price.

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 7/9/97
Time in minutes 98
Director Barry Sonnenfeld
Studio Columbia TriStar

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Hercules (1997)

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For you fuddy duddies out there who dismiss animated features as “kid’s stuff,” you must have been living under a rock these last 8 years or so – Disney, Nickelodeon, Fox, HBO, all these studios have been producing cartoons that appeal to adults. Hercules is a perfect example – it has all the fun mythological stuff to hook the kids, cute baby Pegasus, familar myths and legends stories, and Disney’s prerequisite BEAUTIFUL animation.

Alan Menken, shaking off the extremely wrongful snub for Best Score at the Oscars last year, composes a fun bopping score much more along the lines of his Little Shop of Horrors than Hunchback of Notre Dame or Beauty and the Beast. The Greek chorus is a girl group style chorus who are worked into the action in truly clever ways only possible with animation, and of course anachronisms abound (as in Aladdin). Best of all is all the clever, knowing, yet squeaky-clean humor that will FLY over the kids’ heads.

James Woods voices a smarmy Hollywood agent/used car salesman version of Hades, Lord of the Underworld, so he’s no nightmare-inducing Queen from Snow White, but he is definitely bad – but very very funny. Herc himself is sympathetic and developed in a way that a comparable live action hero just isn’t these days. The jokes are actually so fast and furious I am going to have to see it again to catch them all! And yes, I will pay full price again! The soundtrack is not as strongly standalone as Little Mermaid or Beauty and the Beast, but it fits perfectly within proper Greek theatre parameters – only adults would appreciate that.

Michael Bolton is the only blemish on this shiny urn. But hey, it’s only during the credits!

It’s fast and fun, it’s a short movie with lots packed into it (voice talents include Matt Frewer aka Max Headroom, Bobcat Goldthwait, Charlton Heston, Rip Torn, Tate Donovan, and Danny DeVito, among others of course). Amusing stabs at Space Jam (shudder) and the present day iconization of the strangest things, not to mention self-mocking Disney merchanidising mania, will keep the grownups interested, and may even help them save some money at the Disney store.

It’s a cool movie and really very satisfying. Full Price Feature with a drink (it’s short, you won’t need to go to the bathroom) and popcorn.

MPAA Rating G
Release date 7/9/1997
Time in minutes 86
Director Ron Clements, John Musker
Studio Walt Disney

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Face Off

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Aka Face/Off

If you like gunplay, especially well-executed and original looking gunplay, well, John Woo is your man and Face/Off is your movie. I enjoyed this a lot more than Woo’s Broken Arrow by the simple virtue that it had a really interesting story and you never knew where it was going to turn next. The movie is stuffed with plot, and crammed with Nicholas Cage and John Travolta doing what they do best, which is inhabiting a character (well, two characters each) and having the time of their life doing so. There is a ton of gunplay, did I mention that? I tend to find firestorm type shoot-em-ups boring, but this was different. To say more would require delving into plot and I don’t want to ruin anything for anyone. The preview ruins very little for us. Joan Allen, still haunted by the spirit of Goody Proctor, turns in a nice performance as The Good Guy’s Wife, as well as Gina Gershon (but not until well into the 2nd reel) as…? Go to the bathroom before it starts, it runs something like 2 hrs and
20 minutes.

If you don’t like John Woo movies (the slo-mo bad guys, sunlight flashing dramatically off sunglasses, etc.), well, you still might like this one. The bad guy slo-mo shtick was stupid to me in Broken Arrow but fit its subjects better here.

From a medical standpoint, Face/Off is wildly improbable (I mean, just look at the SIZE of Travolta’s SKULL!) but at the same time uniquely fascinating. It’s not for the squeamish, and you should have a sense of humor going in, because these bad guys are greatly funny and the good guys are pretty silly too! Hong Kong filmmakers are breathing new life into the genre for us Americans who think we want to see Batman and Robin or Speed 2. (yuck)

Woo throws us climax after climax, just like all the other action movies this summer, but his actually seemed to be building toward something and towards an actual payoff, rather than just BLAM for BLAM’s sake. A strange little actor plays Pollux Troy, the brother of Castor Troy, and they are the bad guys. I wish I knew his name but he was like the Anti-Niles Crane to Troy’s Anti-Frasier. I won’t say any more! Just go see it!

I hope you all enjoy it, I know I did. Nicholas Cage is so perfect for this kind of stuff – who says you have to do only Merchant Ivory films after an Oscar win?
Pay full price.

MPAA Rating R-strong violence, strong language.
Release date 6/27/97
Time in minutes 138
Director John Woo
Studio Touchstone Pictures