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Star Wars – Episode I – The Phantom Menace

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Fandom menace, indeed.

For the record, my roommate stood in line for only 22 hours (camping began about a week ahead of time in my little burg) and myself and about 35 of our closest friends came to the 8pm show on opening day. Thank you, line sitters, for humiliating yourselves so we don’t have to. It did not take a team of Gallup Poll scientists to figure out that the insane hype machine driving the pre-release of Episode I would end up with inevitable disappointed expectations. But I think most people expected a movie at least as decent as The Empire Strikes Back. Is that so much to ask? That was 1980, we’ve come a long way, baby!

All I have ever asked of movies is two things: entertain me, and don’t insult me. I can enjoy Weekend at Bernie’s and Silence of the Lambs equally with this basic principal. Most of my readers will agree that I can take something away from nearly every movie I see. The Flim Flam Menace failed me utterly. Curse my rule of no spoilers – my fans (friends) know that I am all too happy to discuss details with folks who have seen the movie, so contact me for direct ranting. My Star Wars savvy roommate pointed out that despite the widespread, fully justified negative reaction toward this movie, we are still talking about it. Dammit! Enough talking! Let’s take some action. House Bill 138, prevent George Lucas from directing people ever again.

OK, the first movie (ep.4) was rather simplistic and didn’t really have all that much tension in it, but at least it made up for that with, oh, I don’t know, CHARACTERS and DIALOGUE. I didn’t know who Vader was but I knew he was up to no good the minute I saw him and heard his theme. This boring, overly pretty movie was not entertaining, it crammed visual after visual in and didn’t even bother to make us want to see. Too many aliens and spaceships – how can we fall in love with a creature or a ship if it’s on screen just long enough to be replaced by the next one? Well, I know they all get out alive, so I have no tension in the majority of the situations that I should have. When I am so bored I have to go looking for things to remember to say I liked in my review, that says something. I liked the sound design of Sebulba’s pod during the race. Uh….

In a movie as vapid as You’ve Got Mail, there were two levels of tension: one, between the Big Bookstore and the Little Bookstore, and two, between the love interests. Tension, baby! YGM mucked it up by being kind of banal, but the elements were there at least.

I have complained about Ep. 4 having little tension but it had repartee and interpersonal tension to make up for the mythically straightforward plot. This flick rested on the first three (4-6)’s laurels and said, well, you know who Yoda is, so you will cream your jeans as soon as you see him even if all he does is act like a cantankerous naysayer. Natalie Portman’s look was beautifully designed, but she was one note – nice without makeup, stubborn with makeup. The episodes 4-6 all had their own inherent structure and strength – granted, the Ewoks were abominable, but they *served a purpose* – not unlike the ganjafrogs Gungan. Why should we even be concerned? Fart poop “how rude” and ethnic slander aside, the aliens seemed designed purely to be new different toys. Sorry to give away one of the only jokes in the movie, but you’ve probably all seen it by now anyway: The audience cheered when the sand people took potshots at the pod race, probably because they were all thinking the same thing. “We know he’s going to win, this is basically all the same crap over and over again, just knock out the hand walking jerk and win already!”

Nice sound design. Nice production design. Whoopie. What Dreams May Come had lovely visual design and a seriously trite tear-jerking storyline but it had 1. plot structure 2. characters you gave some level of a crap about and 3. music that forced you to feel when the script failed you. And the CGI effects, which were substantial, all had that weird internal glow I have never been able to describe, but you can tell it’s fake. OK, it is fake, and we know it, but I have seen movies older than this one, with less computing power behind them, and the CGI/real compositing looked more real. Jurassic Park leaps to mind. Jurassic Park – oh Spielberg, save us! John Williams took a nap on this one too. Also wasted: Darth Maul, Samuel L. Jackson, hell, even Ewan was wasted.

The OSHA-unapproved light saber battle, what the hell was that red stuff? OK, yeah, great, nice. Modern USA type jokes (moan with me here) – kowtowing to the kids does not make your movie popular, it does nothing but rob your formerly respectable epic of its only real virtue – the virtue of its fantasy. Star Wars (you know, A New Hope) was un-self-conscious and utterly simplistic but that was its appeal. You have Leia cracking Monica Lewinsky jokes as she pops open a Pepsi, well, the kids just don’t respond to that – and the adults will blast you on the internet. Has Lucas gone the way of John Hughes?

I wanted to like it. I expected the worst – I expected Ep. 4 plus Ewoks. By the end I was waxing nostalgic for the relative superiority of the Ewoks. I got no plot tension, no romantic tension, no character interaction, no “welcome to this interesting saga which somehow thinks its cool enough to make up NINE movies” laying of a seed. I got someone who says “I got me a franchise and my fans know all they need to know to understand this movie so I don’t need to explain anything.” Well, dude, you do – why would anyone attack a planet based on a taxation issue? Boring! Why/How is that hooded creepazoid powerful? What’s the Sith and why do I care, if they are basically one-man teams of hand to hand combatants, whoopie, no big threat.

I liked the rolling killbots, the robot transports, I liked the fishies, but basically this movie was emptier – EMPTIER – than Independence Day. ID4 was full of broadly drawn characters but I still cheered when the dog survived. Someone asked me if I liked PM or the Mummy better and I have yet to come up with an answer! Titanic was a sketchily written visual tour de force but it was engaging on more levels than just “look at the cool thing on screen!”

Shame on George Lucas! Shame!

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 5/19/99
Time in minutes 131
Director George Lucas
Studio 20th Century Fox

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A Midsummer Night's Dream (1999)

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All I can say is, thank goodness I saw this film with a high school drama teacher – I thought to myself (dimly recalling my own high school’s production) that something was not quite right, but my Shakespeare-doting friend assured me that plenty of thematic but not plot-driving content was removed. Knowing this, it would behoove the casual viewer to peruse the play before catching the flick – or perhaps, better yet, afterward – the visuals for this movie are incomparable.

I don’t need to inform anyone that the lyric beauty of the Queen of the fairies, Titania, is most closely expressed on earth in the form of Michelle Pfeiffer, and Kevin Kline as Bottom is truly an inspired casting choice as well. Rupert Everett is the hunkiest Oberon imaginable, and believe it or not, Calista Flockhart only vaguely resembles Ally McBeal in this bicycle-riding Bardic beaut. “Use me as you would your dog” is a rather Ally thing to say, and who better to beg to be treated as their spaniel than Christian Bale? Woof. Oh yeah, and Stanley Tucci, who is Puck in real life anyway (see The Imposters!) is actually wasted because of all the good gushy material that the production team seems to have seen fit to eliminate.

I was bummed (after my companion reminded me, I can’t claim all this intellectual credit for something I only half-felt in my gut) that the delicious sniping rivalry between Titania and Oberon was snipped in favor of wordless set pieces apparently intended to develop Bottom’s real life character…perhaps they were trying to make him into the every man…heck, I dunno. It was gorgeous, beautiful, nicely acted, sexy, amusing, magical…full of bikes?

My incredibly brilliant theory is of course tied to the moment in history that is exemplified by the advent of widespread bicycle riding (see my junior year in college box of papers, somewhere in there is a snappy all-nighter of a paper about the subject) and its effect on women’s stature and autonomy in society. Of course, Midsummer is basically set in Elizabethan times and women were not allowed to marry anyone their fathers did not allow, so the dialogue was a bit jarring – and I’m sorry, is that supposed to be Athens? I can accept that all Shakespeare’s plays are by law to be performed with English accents for the most part, but these kids were just three years off the newsie job lines. (Sorry, Christian – no offense!)

Basically, it is a lovely movie – go, watch the pretty people on their pretty, false sets say pretty words (but not all of them) and then read the original and picture Kevin Kline’s delightful turn as the Lead Actor in his troupe – truly Oscar caliber, that, despite all the weird extra such and such with a wife…? It only makes him less sympathetic somehow. I don’t know, I was only an English major (with a theatre minor – shame on me!). I pledge to my non-email enabled high school drama teacher friend to read more Shakespeare from now on!

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 5/14/99
Time in minutes 116
Director Michael Hoffman
Studio Fox Searchlight

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The Mummy (1999)

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It took me some time to write this review. I wanted to love the Mummy, I wanted to bask in its glorious Egyptian imagery and hunky stars, but instead life intervened, as it sometimes does, and the Mummy hit the back burner. Then I saw The Phantom Menace, and was asked whether I liked The Mummy or PM better. Well, I had to think about it a bit. This is not a good sign for either movie.

Brendan Fraser, fresh off a wonderful turn in Gods and Monsters, is an attractive piece of fluff in the effects-happy sandstorm that is the Mummy. I love Fraser, I love John Hannah, and I love Egypt stuff – so I thought I would be in heaven, really. One shot includes Fraser, Hannah, and a very nice sarcophagus, and if I could have gone home with that in my mind, that would have been fine. Actually, the best part of the movie is the sections before our guy actually is turned into a Mummy, beautiful re-creations of ancient Egypt and complete buildings and scary priests and whatnot. Several times later, the movie presents moments of tension (while uncovering the Mummy in the relative present-day) but basically after that, it’s kind of silly.

Arnold Vosloo, who plays the mummy, is a cross between Billy Zane and Joe Mantegna, and is of course, better as a person than as a CGI monster, but he’s even better when he’s not on screen. The actual mummy himself is a grave disappointment (ha ha). It has this tendency to do that wide-mouth yawning face which is supposed to be scary, and it can be scary if used sparingly, like once. Open extra wide, release a plague or two, ooo that’s scary stuff. But if every time he commands his armies of zombie priests or every time he points at the buffet when it runs out of bacon bits, every time he walks on screen, well, the effect is diluted somewhat. Plus the face isn’t that scary to start with. Ah well. The effects are very nice looking, only a few have that weird glow about them which I equate with the old blue-screen outline, this kind of internally lit look that is what cops CGI objects from a frame of “real” stuff. The set design is nice, sound design is nice, acting is what it can be with the material.

Rachel Weisz, apparently only cast for her delicious accent and personage, was visibly trying to give us characterization unhinted at by the script, but, bless her heart, her efforts were in vain. John Hannah, wasted with a fake (he’s Scottish) British accent and some awkward attempts at glib humor, is still a delight to watch, if only just to try and decide what he is thinking. “Gwyneth gets an Oscar, I get a Mummy. We *both* made Sliding Doors what it was, dammit!” Also blazingly miscast was Kevin J. O’Connor (who I did not realize was in Gods and Monsters too!) as Beni, a fez-wearing ethnic type of some kind – but that actor is born to be a whiny milquetoast.

The writer/director, Stephen Sommers, brought us Deep Rising last year, and while that movie was not exactly a tour de force, it was actually surprisingly funny and campy. Perhaps Sommers got caught up in the 4000 year old majesty of the subject matter, but The Mummy could have been equally fun and campy and wacked out, but unfortunately it wasn’t.

The most telling part of the movie was in retrospect as well. My friend had come to see the show but knew he had to leave 10-15 minutes before the end, which of course is the big climax. So I dutifully recorded every moment in my mind and rushed home and left as detailed a description as possible on his voice mail. As I am describing the climactic and of course triumphant ending, it seems sillier and sillier. What we have been conditioned to expect out of a film, my god! So, I am going to have to suspend my answer as to which did I like better, The Mummy or The Phantom Menace, and make you read for yourself and decide.

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 5/7/1999
Time in minutes 127
Director Stephen Sommers
Studio Universal

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Finally, a film to shake me from the doldrums of a post-Taco Bell, I mean, Star Wars numbheaded boredom fest! Election looks to be, on the outside, another teen movie – I mean, it has *Reese Witherspoon* (who very possibly is gestating on screen as we watch) in it as a girl named Tracy Flick running for student council president – who wouldn’t initially dismiss it as a teen movie? Matthew Broderick, still baby faced and wearing a dab of unconvincing hair grey, plays his actual age in this one. The supporting cast is largely (but not utterly) unfamiliar faces doing totally familiar, real, understandable (even if deplorable) things, and coming off nicely.

Election is a yummy black comedy, with some interesting filmmaking tricks that somehow don’t manage to seem stupid, contrived, or overplayed (a rarity!) and are also actually service to the story. More “adults” I have run into who have seen it have really liked it, and I would have thought they would all have given it a wide berth – including my newest subscriber whose card I got right before I saw the movie! (Hi, D!) But it’s true!

Uniquely, Election has four narrators, four points of view (though two, Witherspoon and Broderick are the most dominant) and that and the exceptionally natural, unselfconscious performances make Election totally winning (sorry). A totally normal seeming chain of events careens terribly off course, and makes for some interesting broken dominoes along its path – and some serious yuks that sometimes are too painful to admit to laughing at. Is that a sentence? …and some serious yuks that are sometimes too painful to admit that they are at which you are laughing? Ugh. Anyway, you know what I mean? Even the profanity is used in a smart way. Some frank love scenes (or maybe they were the more embarrassing since I saw it with my dad) which actually guide the story along, nothing obligatory or even randomly unnecessary – very concise and clever and amusing.

Let’s digress for a moment. Everyone always says that my negative reviews are better than my positive ones, but the reason I give positive reviews is of course to get people to go out there and see these movies and give money to the studios that took a chance on what was clearly a long bet. Election is a funny, smart, cool movie (dig Reese’s crazy warrior music) and there are so many more ways to denigrate than to praise, in my world, that I don’t think I can, in words, do a movie justice without you, Gentle Readers, taking that leap of faith and checking out for yourself. And in an era when this movie, which clearly cost them about $12 to make, is literally 50-500 times more entertaining than an overproduced vapid slice of poo like The Flaunting Maggots, this is when your vote counts, people! Go to the theatres and pay your good, hard earned money (I hear it’s past $9 in NYC!) to see something that you might conceivably want to recommend to someone, rather than something you are pressured to see by a bunch of freaks standing in line for 3 weeks. Channel that line-standing energy into, I don’t know, recycling or planting trees or doing a walkathon for a disease, and spend your cash on a movie that is worthy of your money, worthy of your time talking about it at the watercooler the next day (or over the sneeze guard or the monkey cage, whatever)!

Sorry, Dennis Miller came into my house, drunk (so he wasn’t as clever) and rubber banded his fingers to mine and out came that.

My point is (and I do have one), Election is very funny, it is well made, it is interesting, engaging, well-acted, nicely shot, and worth spending your money on. Show some discretion out there, people, or the studios will make an epic period love story starring Ricky Martin, Madonna, and Juliette Lewis, and it will be your own damn fault.

MPAA Rating R strong sexuality, sex related language, drugs
Release date 5/7/99
Time in minutes 105
Director Alexander Payne
Studio Paramount Pictures

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I would like to preface this review by reminding my Gentle Readers out there that I am a heterosexual female. I would then like to say that Catherine Zeta-Jones, her butt in particular, is the best thing about this movie. This does not make Entrapment a de facto bad movie, but had some other female creature been contorting her way across a deadly web of infra red security beams, this movie would have rated a little lower. Sean Connery is playing his sage “I was James Bond once, you know” character who naturally finds Ms. Zeta-Jones pleasing to the eye. No stretch there, but then when an übermortal such as Connery is trying to woo an überdeity like CZ-J, well, I mean, she would make Superman feel inadequate.

Sitting in the theatre, I enjoyed the movie, but as occasionally happens I totally forgot I saw it and therefore did not review it for over a week. This to me bodes ill for the longevity of the movie. I recall thinking it is a delicious mix of kick ass locations, interesting double and triple crosses, and a wild pastiche of poorly explained motivations that still added up to keeping me interested and involved. The amazing twin towers in Malaysia, the tallest structure on earth, is a major setting and that stuff alone it’s worth catching on HBO. Did I mention Catherine Zeta-Jones’ ass? It’s truly not fair. I do my part – I work at a computer all day, see a lot of movies, read, drive everywhere, and eat my American share of fatty and sugary foods – why should that Welsh bit look so much better than I do and still make it look natural? Doesn’t she realize how much higher the standards for women’s’ appearance have just risen?

Connery is old but he’s no slouch – he does some pretty cool stuff and the castle on the loch in which he makes his home is also a delicious location. Overall, the movie was very entertaining and utterly forgettable. Ving Rhames and Will Patton are in it, yeah, and well, uh, and they do some stuff, and there are some really cool cat burglary scenes which I am a sucker for in general. Zeta-Gives-Men-A-Jones is feline and fulla moxie. I found myself sucked in even as my rational brain screamed “No! Give me a break!” Scientifically speaking, that would make this movie a perfect start to the air conditioned soporific known as the summer movie season.

“Pretty girl! Pretty places! Neat trick! Ooh tension! Oh a surprise. Cool….art. Pretty places again!” I had no idea all the signs on everything in Malaysia were in English. It’s always a bad sign when I can’t generate 500 full words, but if you think Catherine Zeta-Jones (last seen in Mask of Zorro) is pretty, you will like this movie quite a bit.

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 4/30/1999
Time in minutes 113
Director Jon Amiel
Studio 20th Century Fox

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Never Been Kissed

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“Full Price Feature?” you ask, agape. You have forgotten what I mean by my ratings again – dollar value for what you seek! Never Been Kissed is a brutally hilarious look at the pain of being a huge dork in high school and what would you do if you got the second chance. Drew Barrymore is totally perfect as our intrepid undercover reporter who goes back to high school – and frankly she probably does a better job at fitting back in than most of us would, I am sure. It’s got social commentary, slapstick, horrible flashbacks to her own actual high school days, all kinds of great emotional plays. Then of course is Michael Varnet – he could get me to do post-graduate work any day! Sure, that teacher has some general boundary issues with his students, but we all know how it should turn out, so we are OK with it.

Drew is funny and brave enough to get ugly, way ugly, truly fugly, and sexy enough to pull off her sweet naïveté as an adult. She has a great supporting cast back at the office, and a moderately good cast at school. The requisite popular girls aren’t as sociopathic as the ones in Jawbreaker, or as cold as the ones in Heathers, but they are funny, in their small bits. The movie has a lot of fun with its subject matter, as well as some fun with the perennial wackiness that kids endure during these
particularly charged years of their lives.

David Arquette, fresh out of the Slovakian wilderness (Ravenous), plays her brother, and he’s very funny and cool. They were both well-cast, as they can look like adults or like high school kids with the flip of a hairbrush – much more so than the cast of Grease, I should say.

Great things to notice:
– The costuming at the prom – my god, that scene alone is worth frame by framing the DVD for.
– The end credits – you’ll see what I mean. Time to play “there’s your boyfriend!”
– The costuming in the flashbacks.
– How “the one major guy” in school is never actually cute.

Never Been Kissed is loads of fun, never pandering (though it does have a message), and always funny. I went with six other women (look out!), some of whom had to tell significant others that they could not join us – guys actually want to see this movie too, and it’s OK. You don’t have to be a girl to appreciate the pain of high school stigmas, or the gross echoes of our youthful disappointments that still reverberate in adult life (unless you had a chance to address them). After the movie we stood around
comparing awful prom stories (my dad had to rent my date’s tux or he couldn’t go) and then moved on to general humiliation stories. If we didn’t identify with Drew, we identified with someone. Despite being past all that, it still hits a chord. It’s nice to be able to laugh at it. It’s also nice to get to look at that Varnet dude – woof!

I am constantly amused by the fact that the swarm of teen movies (which regular readers will note I have been utterly sucked into) nearly all require an 80’s song or a remake of an 80’s song in their preview or soundtrack. I know the films are being marketed to the Breakfast Club as well as the New Kids in Tha Hood, but come on! I was recently asked by an adult (for naturally at 29 I could not possibly be an adult) what “jiggy” meant, and I really had to dig around for the answer. But the answer lies within the teen movies, I should have said. I gave her the 411 and wasn’t that dope of me?

Go see it.

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 4/19/99
Time in minutes 107
Director Raja Gosnell
Studio 20th Century Fox

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The Matrix

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I can’t tell you what the Matrix is – you have to see it for yourself. Wiser words were not said.
Movies like this, and Blade, I have to step back and remind myself (and by extension, you, my Gentle Readers) why I rate movies by dollar value. I am here to tell you now that The Matrix is exactly what you should be paying your hard earned dollar for – it is what you want it to be, and even pretty smart and self-referential as well! Take Strange Days + Terminator 2 + Dark City + Brazil + Lawnmower Man + Alice in Wonderland + John Woo + The Net minus the stupid stuff in Strange Days and Lawnmower Man & The Net and then add that unique end of the millennium malaise that so many of us trapped in a black and metal cubicle (as I am – are you not? save me!) have. It’s really cool.

“Keanu Reeves at his least bothersome!” screamed the headlines the next day. Folks, if you are boycotting the Matrix because it has Keanu Reeves in it, get over yourself now. As one of my companions so wisely said, no one says “whoa” with the gravity and truth that Keanu does. And he has plenty of great reasons to do so.

The effects are luscious – sure, we’re all sick of the Gap “Khakis swing” ad freaky rotating freeze, but you knew someone was going to use it in a movie as soon as you saw it, didn’t you? Enemy of the State uses it, and it feels forced. The Matrix uses it (only three times) and it totally fits within the framework of the story. You’re not going to get any story out of me – the surprises are one of the best aspects of the film. However, judging by the fact that it opened Friday and as of Sunday I knew of THREE SEPARATE social groups of people seeing it for the 3rd time, this leads me to believe that it is to guys as Titanic was to chicks. For those not impressed by the phrase “kick ass visual effects,” consider this: the movie is by the same folks who brought you Bound (a Full Price Feature itself, and vastly different from this movie) and it shares Bound’s wonderful and interesting camera work, cool angles, the total love affair that the DP has with the shapes in his frame. To sum up: Guys, this flick has some seriously boss CGI action – and some awesome mano a mano as well. Gals, the mise-en-scene is spectacular, and you get to see Keanu partially naked (though the scene is not all that, um, hot). For the record, another scene reminds one visually of a Gap or a (shudder) Old Navy commercial, which amused the crap out of me. Talk about subtle product placement!

Notable new face is Hugo Weaving – who IS this guy? What a total bad ass! At first, I thought Agent Smith was just a guy trying to be Gary Cole (boss from Office Space, dad from Brady Bunch) – but by the end of the movie, he is like a whole new beast of menacing cool. Remember how you thrilled as Robert Patrick (aka the T 1000) just looked like a guy, but somehow the lack of animation was more chilling than any Al Pacino histrionics? Hoo-ah! Weaving better be in one of the next Star Wars movies! Laurence Fishburne as well (with his kick ass sunglasses that reflect everything at once) speaks with a smooth, inhuman monotone that, to me, really drove his character home.

The other best thing about The Matrix was how they somehow squeak along the fine, fine line that separates archetype from cliché. For example: everyone wears shades, black leather outfits, listens to cyberpunk music, and has some horrific web handle. If I were in this movie, I suspect my name would be Crabby or Tampon or something lame. So, even though our hero, Keanu, has been named Neo, it’s still OK. There is a reason that sunglasses are an overused icon for coolness – **because they are cool!** Name someone whose face is not improved by just the right sunglasses and I will say, “whatever, you’re still wrong.” Folks wearing black just look good. Slick, modern, bad ass. It is true, why fight it? Think of the angels in Wings of Desire and you know why they kept that idea for City of Angels. It’s *cool*. The Matrix takes stuff that should be tired and somehow it’s still cool. I am also pleased to announce that for a “virtual reality movie” that spends a significant time “online” (those who have seen the movie know why those are in quotes), the 2 hrs plus flick fairly skims along. Remember The Net, frantic and ultimately static scenes of typing, looking much like you reading this review right now? Yawn! But the filmmakers saw the pitfalls the movie would fall into via the inevitabilities presented by its subject matter and they somehow avoided them.

Basically, it’s a lot of fun, it’s great to watch, it doesn’t insult you, and it even explains deja vu. How’s that for dollar value?

MPAA Rating R for sci-fi violence and brief language.
Release date 4/6/99
Time in minutes 136
Director Andy & Larry Wachowski
Studio Warner Bros

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10 Things I Hate About You

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Based very loosely on The Taming of the Shrew (you know, by that guy, that old English dude), 10 Things is the millionth movie of 1999 to have a prom scene in it and the zillionth romantic comedy where the lovebirds start out bickering, but you know what? I still enjoyed the hell out of it. I will admit – the beginning of the movie is wildly uneven! The guidance counselor featured so prominently in the previews is really a throwaway character, and the beginning uses quite a lot of the weak-looking preview material. The result is the usual dry-heave of unfunniness when a preview gives away jokes, and a weird mish-mosh that looked like it was trying to be style and ended up being kind of retarded. But! Never you fear, Earnest Fans – the movie picks up pretty soon after that. Of course we know how it’s going to turn out – that is so not the point of a film like this. As with life, the joy is the journey. Purists may be upset that Mr. Verona (ha ha) didn’t lock Ms. Stratford (hee hee) in a closet and break her will, but we have come a long way, baby, after all.

I appreciated the movie not using any of the NeoBrat Pack like Sarah Michelle Gellar and Jennifer Love Hewitt and Freddie Prinze Jr. and Katie Holmes and so on. None of these kids except the nice young man from that TV show, uh, 3rd Rock from the Sun? are even recognizable, for the most part. the fact that our hero Patrick (Heath Ledger – what a great romance novel name!) has an Australian accent doesn’t hurt either – a soft gentle one like Olivia Newton-John, not a brash Outback one like Paul Hogan. Our heroine Kat (Julia Stiles) is everything that we 10 -yr.-reunion veterans wish we were and know will ultimately be regarded as The Babe – she’s beautiful, wild, speaks her own mind, really smart, and fun to be around. Between the two of them, it’s actually a nice little match. For all the characters’ around them insistence that they are freaks and mutants, it doesn’t take long for us fogies whose prom smelled of Breakfast Club to recognize who the mutants are. Stiles is a role model (except she’s a little more hostile than I am sure she should be – but so am I)!

Another thing that will be unappreciated by many: the father is rabidly protective – but, unlike a movie like She’s All That, it isn’t just “how he is” or just for the sake of comedy – it’s explained. Everyone has a motivation, everyone has a character and many of those characters develop. Despite the patchy editing at the beginning, it all comes together quite nicely in the end. Again, with the embarrassingly unfunny and unnecessary exception of the normally fabu Allison Janney as Ms. Perky, this is quite a nice little movie. The relationship grows in a totally natural way – everyone’s transformation is much better than the cookie cutter rendition of Pygmalion of She’s All That (despite Freddie Prinze Jr.). It’s not brilliant, high comedy – it is still a will-the-teens-get-together movie that culminates in a prom, but so what? It’s a member in good standing of the huge panoply of will-the-teens-get-together movies. Double bonus – the clothes are basically realistic too. No freaky $200 a piece cyber slut clothes like Jawbreaker, no impossibly beautiful people made to look like hideous wretches merely through accessories – just plain old jeans and tank tops and jackets and skirts. Refreshing, really.

Some genuinely funny bits are scattered throughout the film, a mildly obtrusive “buy me” soundtrack is prevalent but not totally distracting (and it was even infectious!), and what a gloriously gorgeous setting! To save you the trouble, I waited to find out – it was shot at Stadium High School in Washington state. You cannot imagine how totally awesome Padua High is – it looks like a wonderful old English university with a California bit of flair. Wow! Someone asked why so much of the action took place hanging out by the athletic field (seeing as these characters aren’t cheerleaders and jocks) – the answer to that is – wouldn’t YOU hang out there at every
opportunity? What a view! One of my favorite scenes is in the stadium seating and it’s kind of your typical Ferris Bueller stunt but it cracked me up!

See it, and enjoy!

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 3/31/99
Time in minutes 94
Director Gil Junger
Studio Touchstone Pictures

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For the first time, a movie that is trying to be Pulp Fiction actually succeeds in a weird way, without seeming derivative or stupid. Go is about one night, and three stories that intertwine of crazy club kids, the drug culture in L.A., and how “life begins at 3 am” (or so says the promotional swag). I’ll go ahead and say right away that what turned me off the movie for the most part was my constant sense of peril – any one of the characters seemed to be getting into a bad situation at almost any point, and no one seemed immune from sudden and horrible death. Directed by Swingers’ Doug Liman, I admit I was hoping for the same fun, reckless reflection of natural people doing interesting and even outrageous things. Instead, I had a bunch of kids throwing themselves in the way of harm so often I couldn’t even feel sorry for them or worry about them by the 3rd reel. Instead of glorying in the reckless fun of a car chase, say, I was too worried about them to have any fun. It is inevitable that Go will be compared to Swingers, so why don’t I just step in and do the
honors now.

The movie looks like it wasn’t even fun to make – I can’t explain it. I know it will be a huge hit, kids will think taking X is the be-all end all of awesome, and parents will blame Go for just being a terrible influence. It wasn’t bad, however, and I probably could enjoy it on a second viewing just because I won’t worry about people who don’t need worrying about. I know I sound like the late Gene Siskel at his most fuddy duddy, but I like the escapism of a
young-kids-living-that-crazy-rebel-without-a-cause thing as much if not more than the next one – I do spend 40+ hours a day feeling my body die slowly behind the desk at a software company, after all. It’s not Ferris Bueller meets Sid and Nancy either. It’s a wanton self-destructive version of the rumble scene in West Side Story meeting Less Than Zero. But with many more funny parts, I will admit. Go has a lot of humor, I just had a hard time enjoying it as much.

Taye Diggs stars in the first segment (it’s a weird triplicate of roughly the same several hours, looping back on itself like Pulp Fiction but more linearly) as a teen living on her own and potentially wasting her life on a loser scene which looks like it should be fun but I just couldn’t get into it. At least Vince Vaughan being a reckless bastard in Swingers looked like fun. Dawson’s Creek’s Katie Holmes is her friend, scary Timothy Olyphant (Scream 2) is featured as a creepy echoes of all bad boyfriends past. An English gentleman whose last name is Askew (my faulty source material has omitted listing his first name) stars in the second segment, and Party of 5’s Scott Wolf and 200 Cigarette’s Jay Mohr have the funniest of the 3 segments. But all these folks are in each other’s segments – it’s just a three tiered view of one crazy night. All three include a different use of the word “Go,” a literary and seriously glossed over thematic tie in that barely justifies the title.

Doug Liman is also the director of photography, as he was for…you know, that other movie – and it totally looks it. One scene takes place in a casino and the lighting, the atmosphere – it could have been shot between takes of Swingers. For some reason that bothered me, and I bet no one else would notice or care. But it definitely has that stamp on it. It is less sunny and merry than Swingers, more gritty and muddy and greasy haired – but maybe that is also indicative of its characters. The swing scene is all about dressing up and playing nice and couple dancing and looking cool. The X taking rave scene is about dirty kids living in their cars to save money to buy drugs and tattoos. It could just be a stylistic thing, but the grittiness also did not help make up for the constant sense of peril that quells much of the humor.

The thing about Go that makes it worth seeing at all is the unique situations everyone gets in – none of this is really anything I have ever seen before, which is nice, and this weird sub-strata of characters gets left behind in “major motion pictures” (not unlike the swing scene in Los Angeles until Swingers) – but the characters of Go end up doing nothing more than engineering one big Stop. Or is it three big stops? By the end, well, you’ll see. Overall I grant you this sounds like a negative review, but you know, in a way it’s not – I was very emotionally involved in the characters to be so worried about them in every shot, and I was definitely totally captured by the movie. By those standards, it’s a bang-for-your-buck kind of movie. Parents will hate it.

As a side note, at the SXSW screening I attended there was a proliferation of groovy club swag and weird Swingers’ style logo T-shirts…Liman is not trying very hard to remind us of his previous big success.

MPAA Rating R-drug content, sexuality, language ,violence
Release date 3/29/99
Time in minutes 103
Director Doug Liman
Studio Columbia Tristar

Comments Off on Ravenous


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Believe me, everyone I told I was going to see this movie (except the 3 people I saw it with, and apparently the other 3 people in the one-show-a-day screening) was mystified as to why I would want to see a cannibal movie. Uh, has everyone forgotten Silence of the Lambs, Delicatessen, Alive, Eating Raoul, Eat the Rich? Anyway, it’s really more of a vampire movie, except instead of sexy Transylvanians gnawing on ladies’ necks, it’s sexy frontiersmen gnawing on each others’ legs. But instead of the moral quandary posed by Alive, the sensational mystery posed by Dr. Lecter, Ravenous is a pure tale of “eat and change” – like a vampire, those who imbibe will become craven and a cannibal for life. So, you people out there shut up about the cannibal thing.

Pros: Cannibalism as vampiric expression. Check. Guy Pearce as the lead. Ooh mama – he was the hunky costar of Matrix’s Hugo Weaving in Priscilla Queen of the Desert, and then he was a buttoned up goody two shoes in LA Confidential – but this time he is a traumatized veteran who has experienced some serious terror. It’s a terrible sight, the raw carnage of this movie – and that is the war stuff, before we even get to the relatively civilized windingo! Mmmm but I would eat up Guy Pearce any day of any week. Pearce fans, his mono-expressioned face is reason enough to sneak into Ravenous.

OK, got the cannibalism, Guy Pearce, what else? Oh, yeah – Ravenous has an interesting story, a great deal of pure tension, a really random but interesting cast (including Jeffrey Jones and David Arquette dialing 1-800-EAT ME ha ha I couldn’t resist), and some UNbelievable Slovakian wilderness that is supposed to be the untamed American West. Wow! I think they had to do some reshoots later, after the snow melted, because it appeared that some of the patches of snow in the woods were…cloth! But apparently it only bothered me. Oh, and the website is pretty cool too! Bonus for two utterly appropriate and contextually hilarious quotes by Ben Franklin!

So – we have an interesting idea, a hot sexy lead, a great cast, fantastic locations. What’s with the earplugs? I have to shout here: THIS MOVIE HAS THE SINGLE MOST ANNOYING SCORE I HAVE EVER EXPERIENCED! If you have ever been around a small child with a one-note repetitive instrument like a triangle, a drum, a horn they can’t play, you might have an idea of the horrific nature of Michael Nyman’s atrocity. Yes, I mean the same Michael
Nyman who wrote the yummy music for Gattaca and *The Piano* for goodness’ sake! Tab Hunter (I can only assume it’s The Tab Hunter) plays the jew’s harp boing boing boing boing boing boing boing boing boing boing boing boing boing boing boing boing boing boing (random drop in pitch) boing boing boing boing boing boing boing boing boing boing. Occasionally other instruments interrupt. I don’t mean the harp boings for a measure or two and is mixed too loudly, I mean no other sound but the ear-drilling boing boing boing boing boing boing boing boing boing boing while our hero treks across fantastic wilderness and runs for his life and those kinds of score-inducing film moments that should involve instruments with a variety of pitches. All of my companions and I were clawing at our seats and our faces and ears, tears squeezing out over the din. I am so angry that an otherwise adequate movie was rendered utterly unwatchable by this freaky annoying CRAP! Michael Nyman, I shake my fist at you!

It is actually a testament to the actual movie (story, shots, acting) that I was still interested in the story and experiencing suspense and thrills – the music is more obtrusive than that in LadyHawke. We all love Queen’s music in Highlander and Flash Gordon, right? Now take the volume and presence of that music and make it an 1847 techno-irritation. Did Fat Boy Slim’s great great great great grandpappy write this? The music is wretched, agonizing, heinous, unforgivable, and directly the opposite of the lyrically beautiful Guy Pearce.

I mourn the production staff of Ravenous whose movie will never get seen, except by the deaf. Rent the DVD with subtitles.

MPAA Rating R for considerable gore and strong violence
Release date 3/19/99
Time in minutes 100
Director Antonia Bird
Studio 20th Century Fox