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The Haunting

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

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

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

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

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

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Lake Placid

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Blair Witch Project

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Muppets from Space

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Fooll Preece-a Feetoore

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Arlington Road

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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American Pie

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Much has been said about this film pre-release – having seen South Park a second time this weekend, I was expecting just a full scale live action offensiveness offense tactic. Instead, I got a very enjoyable cross between Election and Something About Mary. The basic premise, not unlike Dancer, TX, Pop. 81, actually, is four guys their senior year in high school, about to make a big decision. The great thing about American Pie is it is unashamed to admit to high schooler’s obsession with sex, as a concept, as an event unto itself, and the first time doing it being a point of great significance. Many sexually experienced grown-up filmmakers, remembering how horny they were in high school, and recalling hearing about sexual events (and of course fearing the Younger Generation and their Wild Ways (TM)), generally tend to portray high school sexuality as a cool, confident, even blasé experience, when really, the whole deal was and I believe still is so very charged and loaded and serious. First time screenwriter Adam Herz appreciates the whole mystique of the other sex and nudity and humiliation and awkward talking – none of this 90210 Felicity’s Creek glibness.

You may wonder why I mention There’s Something About Mary as a comparative film. Well, I’ll tell ya – very few visual punches are pulled. No franks and beans caught in the zipper, but I think American Pie is only millimeters away from that kind of frankness. Ha ha! I crack me up. Seriously, if you were squeamish at Mary, you will be squeamish at Pie. If you want a teen party movie where people drink and talk a lot but little else happens, rent the excellent Can’t Hardly Wait. These American Pie kids are serious about their fun. The title refers to the all-American aspect of the quest for the holy cherry poppin’ mama as much as to, um, comparing pie to, er, ah, you know. Heavy petting. The Election angle is in the clever script and low-budget pseudo-reality of the movie.

Jason Biggs is a particularly brave actor, humiliating himself in front of his parents, schoolmates, and really every one, all in the name of the Holy Grail of Consummation. He does a great job in this movie and it’s worth seeing it just for what he has to go through. His father, Eugene Levy, is wonderful as he fumbles his way through birds and bees talk with his boy. Chris Klein plays another sweet, dopey jock (the other was in Election) and he’s just as winsome here. Let’s just say if he can’t find a date for prom, I’ll go with him! Rrrooowr! Thomas Ian Nicholas, channeling a charming Adrian Zmed-like quality, balances out the more interesting members of his foursome, by being the most natural and realistic of the bunch. My personal favorite was Eddie Kaye Thomas as Finch, a bizarre pre-Niles sort of chap (he reminds me of a friend who has just moved to England), but despite what an odd character Herz had written for him, manages to make him seem pretty real. I thought also he resembled Bud Cort just a bit (Harold from Harold and Maude) and that can’t be a bad thing.

Sure, many of the characters are broadly drawn – but I like to think that that is how we recall them ourselves when we are in high school – that nerd over there we never talk to is only a nerd, instantly identifiable, and as students, everyone reacts to him according to their social strata. Our main boys show some depth beyond their clique pigeonhole, and the supporting cast (notably Seann William Scott as überjerk Stifler) are one-note parameters for our leading men’s world. Stifler is one guy who, while drawn entirely one-note, is pretty entertaining even as he is horrible. The female characters here, while handled well by their respective actresses, are somewhat secondary, which may well be a grander statement: the guys are so concerned about Having Sex (TM) that they are not thinking about the fact that it just as deeply involves another person, and indeed, to a degree, it doesn’t matter to them with whom they have it. This is an unfortunate truth when the SRS* starts to affect higher brain function, but I wish it could have been lambasted a little more than just some kvetching about female orgasm.

American Pie shows us how little boys know about sex going into it, and how little the act really teaches them about it as well. But the true joy, for us in the audience anyway, is the chase.

*Semen Retention Syndrome

MPAA Rating R-sexuality, crude dialogue/language, drinking
Release date 7/9/99
Time in minutes 95
Director paul & Chris Weitz
Studio Universal Pictures

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Wild Wild West

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The expectations I had going into this movie were so low, so pessimistic, so permeated with dread and pre-show nausea, that really, they had nowhere to go but up. I was expecting the pandering, look at me showiness of Men in Black, coupled with the vapid excitement of Independence Day, layered with a cheesy slice of The Avengers (shudder). Instead, I got a moderately watchable, surprisingly innocuous summer film. For air-conditioned spectacle and non-insulting comedy (unless you are black or paraplegic), you can’t beat Wild Wild West. Had I not seen it already, it would have been a perfect film for that “you-got-off-work-early-for-the-holiday” surprise afternoon.

Will Smith – I know he’s a nice guy, everyone who works with him loves him, audiences adore him, studios bank on him, but he does nothing for me. He doesn’t bother me, but he’s not ” a draw.” (pun intended – get it. draw, like a gunfight? Oh never mind) On the other hand, I have sat through some serious garbage to get to see Kevin Kline be Kevin Kline, and I was not only not disappointed, I was actually not even embarrassed to see him in this movie (as I was to see Tim Robbins in The Spy Who Shagged Me, for example). Kevin gets to play two characters again, and he gets to do that thing which I think only Kevin Kline can do, which is be both cocky and fallible. He’s a master at it (read: Otto in Fish Called Wanda, the French guy in French Kiss, The Pirate King in Pirates of Penzance) and I love him. Phoebe Cates, look out! Kenneth Branagh…now, since breaking up with the only woman in the world who is perfect for him, Emma Thompson, his career choices have ranged from the shoddy to the inexplicable. But he’s actually quite a pleasing villain.

The star of the movie, of course, is the effects team. But, the nice thing about the effects is, even though you know they are computer generated (she said in a vaguely bored tone), their beauty and execution is in their design and appearance. I have to say, no matter what you think of Wild Wild West, you have to applaud its design. The inventions, Branagh’s lair’s decor, the costumes, the trains, all very fabu!!! Bo Welch is the production designer and he has a nice little resume: Men in Black (ugh), The Birdcage, Wolf, Batman Returns, Edward Scissorhands, Joe Vs. The Volcano (that lamp!!!), Beetlejuice…you notice a pattern? Kick ass is the pattern, for the color blind. His art director, Tom Duffield, worked with him on these films as well. CREAMORA! I put their names in here because I want them to know I noticed, and I love them. Hire me! Hire me!!! Teach me what you know! Ahem, excuse me. (But seriously…)

WWW is not brilliant, it’s not seat of your pants, it’s not even post modern – but! The story actually has a beginning, middle, and end (which, given some of the Not-Scottish stuff I have seen this summer is really the equivalent of a Full Price Feature recommendation), and it has characters that, while thin, are still slightly more than two dimensional (thank Smith, Kline, and Branagh for that – nothing like hiring ACTORS, have you noticed?). Salma Hayek, thrown away as usual as the Hot Babe. For the record, there are no boobies, guys, sorry. Rent Desperado. You’ll see more of her skin in Fools Rush In.

The movie does have some high points, even for the detractors I saw it with (I found it to be a pleasant diversion, they thought it was not very good. But you know what – it was almost exactly 72 times better than Phantom Menace) – for example, some lovely pun interplay between Smith and Branagh, and also some surprisingly engaging interplay (sometimes) between Smith and Kline. Sure, they threw in a couple of silly, anachronistic jokes, but they didn’t beat you with them like Myers’ British nitwit does. Sure, you know how it will end (basically) and that’s not why you see a Fourth Of July Weekend movie. You go for the fun. And I thought it was pretty fun. Ooh, special guest appearance by Ted Levine, formerly known as Jame Gumb, the baddie in Silence of the Lambs. Oscar winners crawling all over this movie and it was definitely not as horrific as Sphere. Just go.

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 6/30/1999
Time in minutes 107
Director Barry Sonnenfeld
Studio Warner Brothers

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South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut

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I say Full Price Feature with this codicil: IF you like South Park, you will get your money’s worth and more. If you are of tender sensibilities, abhor profanity, desperately require 3D rendered animation, or hate music, skip this movie. If you want to know what that damnable tune I keep whistling at my desk is, go go go go go! Midway through my roommate said, “Good thing I already bought the soundtrack” – and it is a good thing! Track 2, three more times!!!! I had not seen one episode this season, I worried that I had grown out of the kids, or tired of them, or something. Oh no. I was just saving up my belly muscles so I could wrack and ruin them by the end of the first reel. The little screen room I was in was sold out, and just in 2 days they have added a second, larger screen.

It’s got everything. And I, with my one rule of no spoilers, can’t tell you half of it. If you don’t mind knowing, read the glowing review in Time Magazine or the Thumbs Up from Ebert. It’s freakin’ hilarious and it’s also terribly, terribly wrong. The thing was, I wasn’t even ashamed of laughing, because how can you not laugh? Terrance and Phillip are in it quite a bit, and I’m sorry, I can’t stop laughing at them. They are my Itchy and my Scratchy, my Steve Martin and Eddie Murphy. Again, refer to Track 2 of the soundtrack. You thought Mr. Hanky was tacky? Thought the original Jesus vs. Santa Claus was a bit outré? Well, get over THAT!

If you are Canadian, wear a thick skin. If you are any gender or ethnicity or religion, do the same. I know, I had also heard that the movie was incredibly offensive, yadda yadda yadda. But it does more than just scream goobery infantile bile at you – the glory of South Park is under all their “oh my god did he just say that?” showmanship, Trey Parker and Matt Stone always have something positive to say. Sometimes it’s as simple as “Be tolerant” and other times it’s “Parents, why don’t you take a little more responsibility for your actions, you cretins,” but always, it’s positive. Occasionally, the less vicious element overlooks that – they can’t see the forest for the fart jokes. Plus they have the courage to say the kinds of things we usually say anyway but with a hushed voice as we look over our shoulders. “So, I met this guy and he was…(looks over shoulder, whispers)…Amish!”

I wish I could get a beer with these guys. They openly despise the MPAA (and frankly, it is more than a tad outmoded and unrealistic, how they rate these movies) and so they had made a cut (please please DVD director’s cut please!) specifically with scenes they knew the MPAA would freak about and make them cut. Heck, the animation is done on a Mac in some hole somewhere, it probably cost the productions dozens of dollars to boot up and trim those minutes off. So, the major “sin” of South Park is language – but I can hear roughly the same stuff (with less farting, granted) in a Cannes-Creamfest like Pulp Fiction or a Spike Lee Joint or anything starring Joe Pesci – what’s the problem? Any violence or nudity in SP is clearly cartoonish and, I might add, less startling than say, Heavy Metal or Wizards. So folks who think South Park is a little too alarming, well, come on. What’s the problem, exactly? Dirty words? Universal disrespect for others? Xenophobia against the largest of our 51 states (ooh that one burns, don’t it, Canucks?)? So how come I had to endure the sick, horrible, 20 minute R-rated feedback rape scene in Strange Days with not a peep from the MPAA and I had to flash my stupid driver’s license to hear Cartman say the F word?

I busted a gut watching South Park and I fully intend to see it again and bust it again. I almost saw it again today (2 days later) but the plan fell apart. I know people I would specifically tell to avoid this movie, but (and as they read this they know who they are) I kind of, in a not-meaning-to-be-mean-way, feel sorry for them. I’m sorry that this stuff doesn’t bother me and it does them – because it’s a funny freaking movie! It’s hella cool! M’Kay?

MPAA Rating R for everything you can object to
Release date 6/30/99
Time in minutes 81
Director Trey Parker
Studio Paramount

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An Ideal Husband

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Adapted from Oscar Wilde’s play, An Ideal Husband is a lesser-known work, one that lacks a certain quality that makes for delicious farce; namely, mistaken identity and/or scandal, with a hint of real naughtiness. The work does contain classic farcical situations that could easily be resolved if people would just be more determined, i.e. “Now just wait a moment, hear me out,” or “No no what *actually* happened is this” – misunderstandings are essential in farce. However, An Ideal Husband has a certain bland center plot device which is difficult to jazz up. Loathe as I am to compare a still-enjoyable movie to one that was patently unenjoyable, this one point of comparison is inescapable: The political ballyhoos of An Ideal Husband are, in content and ferocity, as interesting as the trade treaties being discussed in Phantom Menace.

I must now defend this movie voraciously: The acting (and dialogue) is what makes this movie work where the other failed. The story is thin, the situations frustratingly easy to make right, but the lovely ensemble with their arched brows and self-interested half-smiles are what carry this movie. Rupert Everett is the edible Lord Goring and Jeremy Northam his friend and foil. Cate Blanchett is lovely here, proving that Elizabeth was not a fluke, and quietly begging us with her eyes to cast her in a real comedienne role, and soon! Minnie Driver is her usual bizarre, spastic self, and finally Julianne Moore, making up for Lost World with a spanking British accent and a cunning resemblance to Glenn Close in Dangerous Liaisons.

An Ideal Husband was not the romp I had taken it to be, and the political plot point is a bit dry even by British standards, but every shot is rife with beauty and elegance and every actor is dripping with subtext and wit and irony and that is the true delight of the film. It more than makes up for the unfortunately languid pacing.

Director Oliver Parker also adapted the screenplay, as he has done one other time, with 1995’s Othello (Laurence Fishburne). He clearly takes a long time to be very wedded to his text before committing it to film, and took great pains with his production team making every little detail just so. The production design, props, costumes, small touches everywhere, are scrumptious. I can’t say how much is Parker’s directing and how much is his superb ensemble’s cleverness. It seems as though some scenes (the ones that felt as if they markedly decelerated the quick dialogue) he just didn’t know what to do and just let his people do what they do and just capture it on film. Fortunately, he cast good people: I hate to think what might have happened with a group where Jeremy Northam was the strongest actor on screen instead of the weakest as here. No offense to Mr. Northam, but he, being the Ideal Husband and all, should have been a stronger link. He is no detriment, only an underused fulcrum that could have vaulted the film further.

Rupert Everett plays quite the ladies man, which is a tad amusing. The Hollywood school of thought that says that the American public does not want to know if their leading man is gay because it will undermine him as a lover or hero has nothing to worry about. Except for not being altogether passionate about his kissing scenes, Everett is a total cad and a dreamboat, just as he should be. Fortunately, in Wilde’s society, a man could be heterosexual and still effetely vain about his cravat. He’s a pleasure to watch, really. It’s a pleasant diversion but sadly, little more than a chance to hear Rupert’s barbed wit.

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 6/18/99 NY/LA
Time in minutes 97
Director Oliver Parker
Studio Miramax

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Run Lola Run (Lola Rennt)

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Full Price Feature (Eigenschaft Des Vollen Preises oder bezahlung voller Preis)

Normally, I shy away from subtitled films because reading them gives me a headache, and I miss so much of the visual portion of the movie. Seeing Life is Beautiful, by midway through, I forgot all about the fact that I was reading the dialogue; and so it is, for the most part, with Run, Lola, Run. I feel I should mention this up front as many people get turned off by foreign films for the very same reason, and I don’t want people to miss this one.

Basically, Lola runs. She is desperate, she has a mission that is time-critical (20 minutes, shot in real time) and she does it more than once. That is all I will say about the plot because it is much more delightful to have the characters tell it. I knew she ran going into the movie (I mean, come on, I did go to elementary school) but I did not know why. The best part is, somehow, writer-director Tom Tykwer makes it interesting, engaging, fascinating. She runs into and past people and we see snippets of their lives. As things change so do their fates, momentarily touched as they are by her presence running by. Lola is a force, a massive force, affecting all those around her unwittingly, yet she is nothing supernatural – she only zigged where she should have zagged and events took their turn from there. I have always been interested in the concept of “what if” and this movie takes “what if” to a new level – in addition to being really different in execution (say, than Sliding Doors) from most films, Run Lola Run also has the bonus of having all kinds of interesting side stories – they whisk by but still register – they are not unimportant, they are only secondary to Lola’s run.

The soundtrack pumps during the majority of the film – I’d say during the action sequences but I would think of them more as dramatic tension sequences with rapid movement. The best thing about the soundtrack is it feels designed to drive the action and not the bottom line, if you get my meaning. Even cooler: Tykwer wrote some of the original music and Franka Potente (Lola) performs some of it! How personal and intense and nifty is that? It is not a student film – it is multimedia and polished and interesting to the eye. I am not sure what city she is in, Berlin or another city, but it’s beautiful and old and she is beautiful and young with a shock of hot red hair and cool pastel casual clothes and the contrast of her immediate desperation running through these old, staid Bavarian streets to this almost-techno driving music is…freakin’ cool. Freakin’ cool (or a less MPAA-friendly version of that opinion) is what I was thinking most of the time. Sometimes the tone abruptly switches, and I’m like, what the – ! But it’s soon clear and I never flagged in my focus. The film forces you to be as focused as she is. I mean that in a good way.

Franka Potente is fabulous – she’s beautiful without being unnatural or inaccessible, kind of a punk without being a freak, and throughout the film she gets put through the emotional paces and always surfaces with a new tack. Her face is, somehow, expressionless much of the time, yet extremely expressive. It’s all in the eyes. She’s got that Anglo Saxon/German Celtic look going on, mixed with the street chic of her tattoos and wild hair – she’s like a weird modern angel flying through the city to…well…do something really important and in a hurry. Moritz Bleibtreu plays her boyfriend, Manni, central to the plot and also put through the paces in this horrible day. He’s oddly handsome but also not unnaturally so – and they make a believable couple no matter what they are engaged in doing.

Basically it’s refreshing and cool – a Black Forest cake of a movie! Run out and catch it – har har har!

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