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A Simple Plan

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Everything that is good about this movie is centered in the person of Billy Bob Thornton. After a lengthy debate on the way home as to the level of emotional realism of the movie, the day after I saw A Simple Plan, I had forgotten what movie I saw – indeed, all I could summon up was the simpleton’s face of Billy Bob. A Simple Plan has plenty to frustrate, and yet sort of plenty to interest. Even as you might not be caught up in the story, it’s still compelling enough to keep you watching. Oh, and as for the emotional realism – it’s all Billy Bob – not script or other actors at all. Fortunately, he is given a great deal of working space in the film and takes every inch of his screen time very seriously.

In a strange otherworldly casting maneuver, Bill Paxton (Twister, Titanic), is cast as the cuter, successful older brother of Thornton. Ostensibly, he’s the lead, but he slipped my mind in favor of savoring the nuances of Thornton’s character. He’s got a painfully sad understanding of life, and childlike ignorance of life as well. He’s really the best part of the movie, and the rest is sort of a Very Bad Things without the viscerality, without the psychotic glee. Also like Very Bad Things, A Simple Plan has a situationally uninvolved woman motivating much of the rampant self-destruction. What’s this alarming new trend in “edgy” filmmaking? Also, is everyone else as sick of Briget Fonda as I am? I don’t mean to rag on anyone but she’s pushing the limit here with irritating character (Jackie Brown) after another.

Danny Elfman’s music is cool and creepy and really fascinating. It’s not Boingo or Batman or the Simpsons – it’s like Seven meets Tales from the Crypt meets City of Angels. It’s as cool as the Montana (Minnesota?) snow layering the whole movie. It even sounds a bit like how I imagine the onset of craziness would sound.

A Simple Plan did little to inspire or amaze me beyond the two main elements (I can’t emphasize this enough, folks), Thornton & Elfman. The supporting characters have interesting roles but were too supporting and not central enough for me to get as involved as I may have liked. The best friend of Billy Bob’s character was pretty cool, but so one note through the majority of his screen time that I didn’t care by the time he started to show some depth.

Director Sam Raimi usually doesn’t trouble himself with this kind of pablum – despite what you may have heard about Darkman and The Quick and the Dead, they are at least interesting if not also stylish. I think Raimi wanted this film to be another Fargo, and instead it was more like the Evil Dead (the 1st one) – all one actor’s charisma and nought else. Sigh. Despite their Oscar nominations for Billy Bob and for the screenplay, A Simple Plan will be no match for the competition. But it’s not a bad film, OK?

MPAA Rating R for violence and language.
Release date 12/4/98
Time in minutes 96
Director Sam Raimi
Studio Paramount Pictures

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A Bug's Life

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OK, yes, I know ants are not pastel and they have six legs, not four. In Antz you could tell all the ants apart facially and here you can’t. Except for that, this movie ROCKS. Stay through the credits, seriously, they are the best part, a fat, sweet maraschino cherry on a delicious sundae.

Geri’s Game, the Oscar-winning short animated film Pixar produced last year, is finally getting wide play outside Spike and Mike’s festival. Wow oh wow. Wonderful again! Since I had seen it, I could watch for details, like the sunlight shining through his eyebrows, the bend of images in his glasses. Oh! very very awesome.

I wish I had the foresight to write down all the names of the creative team but to isolate so few would be unfair to the 2,000,000,000 people that worked on this movie. Disney, long the leading studio in terms of animation quality, has the squash-stretch animation down to a science. Everything in a hand-drawn Disney cartoon has weight and mass, a sense of space and full-body movement. Computer animation (even the stunning Toy Story) has traditionally abandoned that sense of mass in favor of implying it through superior rendering of three visual dimensions. Why make a 2D cel squash like it’s round when we can just show that it’s round by panning around? The result has always been to have a ball suspended above its background, with no interaction of the elements, creating a different kind of static image.

Pixar (aka sister company to Apple) defeats that trend and adds that house’s own specialty, the management of light. You may have noticed in Antz, for example, that the lovely, textured rust colored bodies pretty much looked the same all over, unless the character was In Shadow or In The Sun. Here, very facet of the ants pastel bodies is glimmering iridescently, and generating shadows consistent with the light source. Leaves are faintly translucent. Shadows of leaves glimmer with the leaves’ translucence. A million tiny hairs on a dandelion seed each carry or deflect the light. As characters walk, the ground reflects up onto their skin and the sun moves as they move away from it. It’s just absolutely lovely. I can’t even isolate any real examples, it just looks natural. It’s computer generated, yes, it’s cartoony in appearance, hell, it’s anthropomorphic insects, for goodness’ sake, but you never doubt that everyone is There in space in front of you. It’s stunning.

Let me take this moment to remind everyone that I am a staunch supporter of the hand-drawn animated arts, and that I can appreciate Scooby-Doo animation just as much as I can Mulan’s. I consider computer animation by and large as a field to be devoid of craft, devoid of the digital version of what used to be painstaking rococo and multi-plane cel movement. I also believe Pixar to be an exception to that rule, always stressing the maintenance of craft and beauty while improving the technical aspects of the trade.

Oh and did I mention that A Bug’s Life is freaking HILARIOUS? I had seen the toy designs in the stores and already had decided who would annoy me based on the previews. I was so wrong! Dave Foley is the best! The script is feel-good and clever, the story is fun and engaging, and everything is so dang entertaining you almost forget to be blown away by the animation. And also stay through the credits – I was howling! Added bonus: largely, the entomological (bug-ology) aspects are right on the money. Yeah yeah, four legged ants. OK, she’s no gypsy moth, she’s no real single moth either. Sure, the flea is huge. OK, fine, the ants are pastel. But the name Princess Atta refers to the genus of leaf-cutter ants! Ha ha ha! And you know how the queen has a pet aphid? Some species of ant keep aphids. “They guard them from predators so they can eat the honeydew they secrete (like in Antz). It’s kinda like herding cattle for milk.” So says the bug lady! Most of the other bug jokes are easier to get and just as true! If my entomologist friend endorses it, well, hey! Gee whiz, I can allow some artistic license after the great time these folks just gave me! Go see it, by all means!

MPAA Rating PG
Release date 12/1/98
Time in minutes 95
Director john Lasseter & Andrew Stanton
Studio Walt Disney / Pixar

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Very Bad Things

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Not to belabor the title, but I did hear some very bad things (well, I heard the local paper’s reviewing hack gave it one half star) about this movie. Nevertheless, I must go and see and protect and serve, mustn’t I? I expected a brilliantly cast, decently performed little buddy comedy with some dark undertones and a nice neat ending where the good guys win despite doing, well, some very bad things. What I got was a very well made movie, with a totally excellent cast, actual emotional involvement (to the point that I would not across the board recommend the film because, ladies and germs, it is NOT for everyone), karmic triumph, and true disruption. People might say, that movie was disturbing. No. You get disturbed when the seat cushion you are sitting on is lumpy. You get disrupted watching a film like this. I sat through Saving Private Ryan with my eyes wide open, absorbing the visual horror, but I was disturbed, moved. Very Bad Things is disrupting.

As usual, to discuss the movie to the degree it deserves would involve giving some stuff away, and to do that would violate this film. Argh! OK, we’ll take the preview. Kind of a Get Shorty (yecch) dimly lit Swingers kind of “whoops we killed a prostitute now what do we do?” “Ho ho Bob, give me another beer and I’ll tell you!” Oh, no, that is merely *the inciting incident.* No single event in this movie occurs that has not occurred in another movie – whether it’s Scream or My Best Friend’s Wedding. The difference here is that you are a moviegoer are actually affected by the events. Horrified. We see a dozen people fall through plate glass windows in the movies and TV, to the point of comedic cliché. In Scream, we watch, we scream, we cover our eyes, but we are not Involved. Every terrible occurrence is terrible, we feel the actual horror and human drama of the event. Its not glossed over in our desensitized “OK you get it she’s dead let’s get on with the wacky part of how do they get out of this sticky situation?” universe. Karma. Hideous reaction. By hideous and terrible I also mean to say that it is incredibly well done. We *should* be horrified by the body counts in movies like Terminator and I Know What Your Breasts Did Last Summer. We should feel the agonies of those involved, ponder the consequences – VBT proves you can deal with the psychological aspect without losing a second to pace. A cinematic miracle.

I feel it is my duty again to say this movie is not for everyone. It is edited tightly, painfully, dare I say brilliantly in key spots. The acting is great – very raw, very engaging. All of the events tumble forward with a terrible logic and with an awful sense of MY GOD no no no no! Reel three, we’re thinking, oh, he’s not going to – oh god oh god he – oh my he – agh! I don’t know what the Statesman was thinking giving it a HALF star? What the heck does he want in a movie? No, it’s not Sleepless in Seattle, OK, but if this movie had wrapped up that neatly it would be an insult. It utterly sucks you in, does it well, and it’s technically skillful as well. By golly I was entertained – not just dancing clowns entertained, I mean, I really experienced this movie. All the way home I had a sort of shell shock. I didn’t want to read with dinner or talk to anyone for fear of breaking the spell before I sat down here to tell you about it.

OK – let’s talk cast. Jon Favreau, excellent – playing a little off his Swingers persona. Christian Slater – as good as he was in Heathers, not tiresome, just right. Daniel Stern – always underappreciated, perfect in his role. Jeremy Piven, not whooping frat boy like in Grosse Pointe Blank or PCU, but still channeling that energy into a really extra awesome performance. The little guy, the one from Schindler’s List – good good good, the kind of role you ignore but sticks to your ribs. Cameron Diaz: A lot of people find her overexposed and I don’t think she is any more exposed than many many who are less deserving than her – and bless her, she is not just some hysterical bride-to-be, she’s got some meat to chew! As a side note, her first real scene she has a monster zit poorly disguised which just makes me love her as a person, being one of mighty morphin power zits myself. Anyway, back to the movie. Unexpected twists you think you see coming, think to yourself, no way will they do that – OH GOD THEY DID THEY DID!!! Both my companions had their hands held by me in front of my face – not to mask my eyes but to peer over, as if over protective walls. This movie should deserve an NC-17 long before a pre-Porky’s bit of fluff like Orgazmo would – if only for the sheer brutality and reality of it all. It’s savage, but it’s not heartless or mindless. I called my roommate just to vent the explosive reaction I had but it was unformed – I could only say “terrible horrible” but I didn’t mean the movie was bad, I meant that it was horrific, terrifying. But really really well done. You be the judge.

MPAA Rating R-strong, grisly violence, sexuality, drugs & language
Release date 11/25/98
Time in minutes 101
Director Peter Berg
Studio Polygram

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Enemy of the State

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Kick ass! I’m not a blind Will Smith freak and I’m not an acolyte in the church of Gene Hackman. I really take these gentlemen or leave them as I will. Jamie Kennedy and Seth Green got me into the theatre, to be honest, that and the preview. But DAMN this movie is all you could ever want. It’s got action, tension, comedy, drama, big boom booms, ladies in their panties, family values, incredible layers of paranoia and intrigue, and would you believe, a cool idea, script, and (heaven forbid) a totally tidy ending that doesn’t make you feel all nauseated inside?

As I’m watching the final petal unfold of this action/thriller flower, I’m thinking to myself, oh, yes, lawd, this is sooo beautiful! I actually had my palms up to the ceiling as if in supplication, fingers away from my shoulders, and a serenely satisfied grin on my face. Too sweet! But I can say no more. Dude, this movie is butt kicking AND smart! But not like smarty pants smart, not all Sneakers and aren’t we droll, it’s a normal guy caught up in a world of what we always fear but never get confirmation on. What if someone were watching me right NOW? What if they think I’m someone else? I have heard there is this device that can read the EMI off your monitor from a van outside your house, and they essentially see what is on your computer screen. What if your normal, boring daily life was interrupted because you saw something you shouldn’t? What if, by accident, I have typed the super secret encryption code key out in every fifth letter that I type now, as if I were an autistic child being saved by Bruce Willis, and De Gub-ment is coming right now to cut my power and rearrange my identity? My god – what if this were happening to WILL SMITH?

I was immensely satisfied by Enemy of the State. Smith does not perform on the soundtrack. The preview gives very little away, I was astounded and grateful to note. I like all those little intrigue movies and gadget movies (James Bond, Sneakers, True Lies, even (gasp) The Net), I like the idea of wondering how I would react. Man this one seems so plausible, so…uh oh, the doorbell’s ringing. I’ll be right back.

Enemy of the State is a very good movie. It is entertaining but it is purely fiction. Go see it and pay a lot of money to do so. Will Smith is the star and we all love Will Smith. Gene Hackman is a veteran actor who is very very good despite defaming the office of the President of the United States but we, I mean, I understand that Absolute Power was only a movie. Two thumbs up and five stars.

MPAA Rating R for language and violence.
Release date 11/20/98
Time in minutes 127
Director Tony Scott
Studio Buena Vista Pictures

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Velvet Goldmine

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It’s not based on the rise and coast of David Bowie, but one can pretend it is. Velvet Goldmine is an occasionally meandering, time traveling fictional biography as explored by reporter Christian Bale (mmmm), a sort of insider to the glam rock phenom of the end of the 70’s. Those who know me will also know that it is important to note that Ewan McGregor is in this movie AND he’s naked again. Always a good thing. But MAN he looks like Kurt Cobain in this flick!

Production design, kick ass man. Tons of totally real, totally period looking fan paraphernalia for Jonathan Rhys Meyers’ Brian Slade (aka Maxwell Demon a la Ziggy Stardust). Same goes for the fringe bands that circle Slade – first as mentors, then as lovers and opening acts, then as interviewees of how it was back then. Toni Colette, true to form, is great, although her interview section drags a bit, and zips a little more confusedly across time barriers. Meyers is perfect – androgynously beautiful, lovely in glitter makeup but unabashedly male as well. McGregor, oh, how I could sing odes to his alabaster self, but he also is the master of trashed beauty – smeared eyeliner under glazed red eyes, greasy hair caught in the corner of his mouth. He is an actor utterly without fear or vanity, and he is raw in this movie like he hasn’t been since Trainspotting.

Glam rock, which in real life, was centered on Iggy Pop and David Bowie types, is difficult to divorce from those pioneers, and place on the shoulders of these fictional megastars, but it is carried off brilliantly. In a certain way it’s like That Thing You Do (great movie!!) in that it is following a career rise like a biography, a fake biography, but treating its subject as if its real life doppelgangers never existed. No Beatles threatened The Wonders rise to fame just as no Bowie challenges Brian Slade. It’s an alternate universe where we can watch our own culture’s behavior as if we were not involved. A very effective conceit of filmmaking.

The movie is fascinating, the music is perfect (genuine glam pop veterans and my personal yum meister, Carter Burwell), and it only occasionally suffers from pacing problems. 20-30 minutes, snipped in little places, and this would be a matinee with snacks for sure. It’s the end of the 70’s, it’s the onset of the 80’s, pre-AIDS, post 70’s flower children – the glam movement that dispersed into punk and new wave and Duran Duran, glam was the realm of Frank N. Furter and gender bending freedom of bodies and ideas of identity and love. Those of us who were, um, prepubescent when this movie is set, might only remember that pale guy with the blue hair. But the aftershocks of glam rock still resonate 20 years later. It’s definitely worth a look.

MPAA Rating R -strong sexual content, nudity, language &drugs
Release date 11/6/98
Time in minutes 117
Director Todd Haynes
Studio Miramax

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Six String Samurai

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I saw this at SXSW and I am led to understand that it won a cinematography award at Slam Dance. SSS is totally deserving of that award. Since viewing it I have come across a few reviews (damn, lost my exclusive – I snoozed, I losed) saying how great and funny and clever it is.

Ignore those reviews. It is an interesting idea, a post-apocalyptic society where Elvis lived and was actually King and now musicians come to challenge for the crown and they play guitar (shades of The Devil Went Down to Georgia) and sword fight to win (shades of Highlander) – oh yeah, and Death is a-comin’ too (shades of Raising Arizona). Our hero, our incredibly hunky and eminently edible martial arts stud muffin Buddy (Jeffrey Falcon) is traveling to Lost Vegas to claim the title of King. He is filthy, disheveled, generally all crapped out, and I totally wanted him. After the film he came up all nice and clean and he was just not the same. Oh well! Anyway, Buddy finds this kid and saves his life and the kid follows him and I know how annoying that sounds – but this kid, Justin McGuire, was GREAT. I mean excellent – and the director (Lance Muniga) said the kid was a one- or two-take actor. Incredible!

So here’s two good performers and a good idea, gorgeous camera work….and nothing else. The dialogue was weird and almost 95% looped (per Muniga – I would have guessed 85%), and not all that good. The idea was funny but I thought it was executed poorly at times.

“A mysterious and powerful hero of the classic kind, Buddy is as skilled with his guitar as he is with his samurai sword. Thrown together with a kid whom he saves in a spectacular battle, the two of them must now escape their enemies and reach ‘Lost Vegas,’ the rock and roll capital of this future world.” It has a feel like a big private joke that also had big private funding. It was fascinating to hear about how they started out on a lark and in debt (and Falcon did everything – stunts, production design, more!) and how they landed some dough and some real equipment and just didn’t upgrade the content past a 10 minute student film type script. Plenty was amusing, it just wasn’t remotely cohesive.

The Red Elvises, a real Russian Elvis-style band, provide the soundtrack. It’s appropriate music, but it literally overwhelms the movie, and the whole thing has a music video feel. You know how some videos (especially in the 80’s) had sort of an implied plot, like Cyndi Lauper leaving her boyfriend in Time After Time or the gang fight in Beat It? That is exactly how Six strong Samurai felt. Hard rockin tunes, fabulous amazing visuals and – ooh, what’s next on Video Jukebox?

Samurai makes no pretensions at being serious, but it also lacks camp – it’s a Spinal Tap video the way it’s meant to have come from the band. It’s not straight man funny like The Naked Gun, nor is it wacky funny like The Mask. Best line: “Who are you?” “Death.” “Cool.” That and the best use of “Misrilou” since before Pulp Fiction. Falcon is definitely a bad ass and this is his vehicle but he the actor is overwhelmed by the Night Flight void around him.

If they could remix it and maybe re-edit it I think it would be a nice vapid but fun matinee. As it stands, however, it’s a rental. I don’t like to discourage filmmakers but dangit, I have to protect the public’s money.

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 11/14/98
Time in minutes 81
Director Lance Muniga
Studio Palm Pictures

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I Still Know What You Did Last Summer

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I wanted to give this movie a “Full Blouse Feature” but I am sorry to say that this was a totally substandard film and sequel in every way. Unless you are a heaving cleavage fan. Without baring all, Jennifer Love Hewitt has raised the bar on breast presentation. A friend told me that another reviewer had noted (accurately) that this movie was everything Scream 2 said was stupid and wrong about sequels. Tsk! Nothing really wrong with the acting, unlike many horror movies, but just nothing for them to act with.

I snuck in with a friend and was consoled by the lack of fiscal involvement. We weren’t scared and only a couple of times startled or horrified. The most mood-setting aspect of the experience was the fact that the lights were down already in the theatre even though they weren’t showing slides or anything yet. Motiveless behavior and utter disregard for a lot of what the first movie set up was the order of the day. EVERY sound had to be boobs, I mean, investigated by every one, regardless of how likely it was that the sound was of innocuous origin. The bulk of the movies takes place in the “off season” (early July) in the Bahamas, so there were grey cloudy days rivaled only by Penobscot and hurricanes rivaled only by firehoses.

Brandy was great, however, and I hope this movie doesn’t ruin her chest, I mean, chances of working more. Hewitt has already established her breasts, I mean, herself in other movies, but Brandy is still in the proving grounds. Mekhi Pfifer and new face what’s his name (as Will) round out our cozy quartet with weird side line boyfriend Ray from the first movie. Overall the movie was just not any fun, and that’s all I really ask of horror franchises, you know? I don’t need genuine deep dialogue, lessons to learn, or amazing production work, just a lot of fun. The first I Know What You Did Last Summer (and what an unfranchisable title! What’s the next one going to be, I’m Telling You, I Am Totally Aware What You Did 5 Years Ago?) was a hoot, nothing fancy, just a yeehaw ride. Check out my review! But ISKWYDLS is…well….blah.

It’s not irredeemable, it’s just forgettable. I recognized moments of tension (or attempts thereof) borrowed from other movies (even a bit that was one of the few great bits in Lost World), but they just didn’t happen for me. Or, apparently, the other 6 people in the audience.

A blah review for a blah movie. Do what you will with it.

MPAA Rating R -violence/gore, strong language ,drug use.
Release date 11/13/98
Time in minutes 96
Director Danny Cannon
Studio Sony Pictures

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The Siege

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Directed by Edward Zwick, the man who brought you Glory and Courage Under Fire, The Siege is an over the top terrorist drama about national reaction to terrorism and specifically, Arab terrorists. Using his favorite (and mine) director of photography Roger Deakins, Zwick makes this otherwise mildly silly movie pretty dang watchable. It was like eating celery – crunchy and loud and tasty – then zero caloric content after all that trouble chewing it.

Denzel Washington and Annette Bening and Tony Shalhoub should also take some credit for making this film the immediate gratification fest that it is. They are, all three of them, utterly committed to the story – and you are lost in the genuineness of their acting before you realize how nuts the whole thing is. Basically, some seemingly random terrorism escalates, targeting no groups and making no demands, and Washington is on an anti-terrorism task force with Shalhoub. Unfortunately, it looks more and more to be an Arab group of some kind, which starts a pretty big reactionary ripple, and ultimately, martial law, compliments of Bruce Willis. Willis is also following his formula of no hair = good acting, lots of hair = bad acting. I love Bruce when he’s bald and really eating up a part, but he can’t be solely blamed for how ridiculous he ends up being in this movie.

Not surprisingly, in real life, Arab anti-defamation leagues popped up protesting the depiction of Arab-Americans in the film. Now, I admit openly that, not being Arab-American, I am not culturally literate in their mores and sensibilities, and I mean no offense by any statements here. I felt that the film targeted the few people in those war-torn countries who *do* act out in a terrorist manner (globally) and also showed a great deal of honorable traits of those people. Plus, it is the first high-profile movie I can think of that even acknowledges them as a community. The start of the film shows the infusion of Islamic religious practice and solidarity among the Arab peoples. Prisoners showed dignity and commitment to their causes, and basically it was U.S. Army again as the real bad guy. One lunatic or a small group of 4 lunatics does not define a people. We see white American lunatics all the time in movies and know that they are not stating that all white Americans are lunatics. Anyway…in our end-of-the-millennium freakout stage, I would argue that the prayerful Islamic ones are going to be able to band together when the riots start and not us over at Starbuck’s.

The Anti-Defamation leagues have a story-related appearance in the film, as well – and they are pretty much blown off (respectfully, but still…). It seems as if there could have been more attention spent to working with those groups in the plot but whatever. Plot is secondary to tension in The Siege. Sitting in the theatre, occasionally spouting quips, (“That’ll do, pig.”), I was pretty involved in the movie and I felt a sense of trepidation and buildup and stuff. But the warmth of the theatre had not even fully been blown away by the outdoor wind before we were picking apart the silliness. It’s a shame, because the stuff that was good, was pretty good. Denzel is chewing up the scenery in this one, really digging in for this director who loves to use him.

Hopefully the upcoming Arlington Street (Tim Robbins, Jeff Daniels) will be better.

Last movie seen in 1998! See you in the new year!

MPAA Rating R for violence, language and brief nudity.
Release date 11/6/98
Time in minutes 116
Director Edward Zwick
Studio 20th Century Fox

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Elizabeth (1998)

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An excellent film, Elizabeth does not warrant a higher rating only because it assumes we in the audience are very familiar with Queen Elizabeth the 1st’s rise to the throne, and so takes a lot for granted. Perhaps we should know more of the details of the monarchy, but the first half of the movie is not forgiving at all to those who do not. Interestingly, I saw this film (which begins set in 1554, 9 years before Shakespeare in Love) two days after seeing Shakespeare in Love. With at least two principal actors, a character (Lizzie herself) and a soundstage and shoemaker in common, making comparisons is unavoidable. Perhaps I should write a separate article. The two films are vastly different in tone and scope and filmmaking technique, and I think Elizabeth as a movie lost some of my potential affection by just being less accessible and more show-offy with the camera than its “competitor.” Normally I am seduced easily by gorgeous camera work, but as I was watching, confused as to whom was whom, I was distracted and annoyed even as I was dazzled. Not much, OK, this isn’t Natural Born Killers by any stretch, but it was still discombobulating.

Having said this negative stuff, I feel it is very important to point out that this is a very good movie, with a strong lead in Cate Blanchett and simply stunning costume and scenic design. Oh my! Everything looks amazing, the castles and boats and courtiers and corridors…everyone’s teeth are pretty clean, too. The music is lovely and period sounding, the score unobtrusive. The boats! So dreamy.

Anyway – the story of how Elizabeth attained and more importantly kept the throne is fascinating – and the movie made me want to follow up for more detail. Women in power have frightened men terribly over the centuries despite their peaceful, successful legacies in England in particular, and it is always amazing to see how the men try to pull their queens down off the very pedestals on which they place these women. Blanchett lets us see the woman behind the throne, her fears and her distaste and her genuine concerns and all the meat and gristle behind the woman who defined her age, made her country the most powerful in the world in only 40 years, and who lived as the “Virgin Queen.” I would like to take note that she is taking “virgin” in the correct sense of the word, not as one who has not known sexual relations, but as a woman who does not marry. There’s plenty of sexual relations in this film.

I was not emotionally swept away by Elizabeth, but I was totally intellectually involved. A woman behind me in the theatre cried. I would consider the conclusion of the film’s narrative to be a generally upbeat one, even though the circumstances that brought Queen Elizabeth and us filmgoers there was not a happy journey. It’s very interesting – and even when I was confused I was not put off, just frustrated. I knew I was seeing important events but I could not follow who was who until deeper into the movie. It’s got other actors in it, including Geoffrey Rush and Joseph Fiennes, but despite their importance to the plot they are so secondary to Her Majesty that I will only say that they have very interesting characters and do quite a lot with them.

I recommend seeing it and you will be hearing quite a lot about Cate Blanchett in the future. I already had been, and when the movie was beginning she seemed all reaction and no self-determination, but later I appreciated the contrast. Also, the poster is off-putting, with her brightly lit face pale over a slatternly, defiant pose, but the poster does not reflect the tone of the film, don’t let that be a deterrent.

So, go see it.

MPAA Rating R for violence and sexuality
Release date 11/6/98
Time in minutes 124
Director Shekhar Kapur
Studio Gramercy Pictures

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Gods and Monsters

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Thank goodness this movie was nominated for some Oscars (Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Adapted Screenplay) so that it was expanded from 11:50pm once a day to a full day’s run so I could see it finally! Gods & Monsters is not the kinds of movie everyone would think to pay full price for – but it’s also an extremely emotional, dense, fascinating movie. The film is based on a book about James Whale, most famous for directing Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein, Show Boat, and the Invisible Man. It portrays the dwindling life of a truly fascinating person, and a potentially fictional friend.

For the record, Ian McKellen is a god.

The title of the film comes straight out of the month of Dr. Frankenstein, and as the story twists through Whales famous creation and he infamous creation it depicts, it peels away layers of the labels “gods” and “monsters.” It’s quite beautiful.

Now, as of this writing I have not seen Blast From The Past, so I hope I don’t eat my words when I say that Brendan Fraser is increasingly more and more impressive. Outwardly, he seems to have been cast only for his imposing, even hulking physique – but he’s outstanding as Whale’s friend and gardener. Lynn Redgrave has a showy role as Whale’s housekeeper – she’s very good but next to Ian she’s practically Juliette Lewis. Did I mention that Ian is amazing?

I can’t remember the last time I was so emotionally pounded (as was my companion) by a film – oh, yes I can, it was Life is Beautiful. Before that it was….well, it’s been a while.

Some folks may bristle at the frank discussions of Whale’s life, loves, and lifestyle – but those who don’t have deserve a movie like this. I don’t know how anyone with a heart could condemn this tired, gentle, soulful director.

Kudos to the casting folks for reproducing the actors of Whale’s Bride of Frankenstein so eerily. The actress playing Elsa Lanchester is truly divine. Carter “Yummy” Burwell provides an unusually understated score – I’m not sure if I noticed it but he’s also king of his trade so…I would also like to mention that if the Academy continues to fail to recognize guys like Carter Burwell and Danny Elfman they will continue to devolve into writing bland and unmemorable music, thinking that since Randy Newman is getting all these undeserved Oscar nominations, that’s gotta be the way to go. Stop the devolvement of genius!

Gods and Monsters is a really lovely movie, eloquently written and deftly performed. Do go, won’t you?

MPAA Rating R for sexual material and language.
Release date 11/4/98
Time in minutes 106
Director Bill Condon
Studio Universal