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Star Trek: Insurrection

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This should be review enough for most Trek aficionados: It’s the better of the odd-numbered movies, but it is definitely an odd-numbered movie.

When the Next Generation series was on, the Jonathan Frakes-directed episodes were always fun ones. Frakes-helmed Star Trek: First Contact (the movie with the Borg) is my favorite of the 9, even more than the whale one. But Jonathan has been away from the helm too long, methinks. Some of this movie smacked of reunions and inside joke scrapbooks and glory days. This is all good for those of us who miss the Next Generation, such as myself. The funny bits are very funny, welcome reminders of the great chemistry that cast had together and the sense of fun they injected into every episode. This has been robbed of them in the two previous NG films, with Data getting an emotion chip too soon and the crew being divided up by plot. So now we get lots of amusing and endearing and fun moments wedged into some pure-dee Old Trek style moralizin’ and butt-whippin’.

Picture Kirk on a planet with a fountain of youth, snapping the Prime Directive in two as he keeps Mean Old Capitalism (thinly disguised) from destroying these nice innocents. OK, now make it Picard, but be sure to keep the inevitable Kirkesque romance with the colonist woman. Add a dash of F. Murray Abraham and of course the vastly superior acting skills of the crew of NC1107-E and you have Insurrection. Insurrection is trying to be every Trek episode – the funny ones and the kick ass ones, the Old Trek moralizing with the New Trek sensitivity and class. The unevenness you may experience may come from trying to integrate all these aspects into one film. I guess every one feels like their last chance, especially the way non-team-player Brent Spiner (Data) makes it harder and harder to get him signed on. Data finally gets to be the Data we all loved on the small screen – no stupid emotion chip getting “smiling Spock” cheap laughs and no re-programmable turncoat/evil twin nonsense either. Data is the 24th century’s answer to Pinocchio and he finally gets to be that again *and* sing Gilbert and Sullivan.

Yes, Gilbert and Sullivan. Old Trek had its Spock proselytizing on rap music, and New Trek has frustrated theatre folk living in space. That’s the fun stuff, if you just sit back and let it happen. But Paramount won’t let them make an all-funny episode, so here comes the cool holographic stuff and the icky bad guys! Woo, how about some sharp-shootin’ and some authority-defiance! Yee-haw! But the film hops around the various directions without ever choosing one. It’s an episode, much like the X-Files movie was an episode, padded for your dollar but really just small and self-contained. I just hope the Paramount execs remember that it is always the odd ones that suck and the even numbered ones that are good and let them make another one.

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 12/11/98
Time in minutes 103
Director Jonathan Frakes
Studio Paramount Pictures

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You've Got Mail

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Take proven formula for box office gold and remix, add timely angle to the original magic, and step back. What do you get? You’ve Got Mail. YGM is a completely watchable film, with some surprisingly depth-charged single moments glittering here and there. It teeters on the edge of brazen sentimentality (especially for a holiday release) and it follows the secret Hollywood formula of underdog uses Mac, big bad conglomerate guy uses IBM. You see that poster, with Tom “Every time a bell rings Tom Hanks gets a nomination” Hanks on it, and that sweet adorable Meg Ryan, and you think, “Awwww!” You sit in the dark – maybe this time (since Sleepless in Seattle) you have a special someone, or maybe for Sleepless you had someone and now you don’t. Or you’re in the same state of couple- or singlehood you were before. Either way, it’s different. Something’s different. Not wrong, but not quite right. Definitely not as perfect as before.

Oh, that’s right, now I remember: it is physically impossible to think of Tom Hanks as a bad guy. He does as best he can in the movie – he’s a nice guy in person but in business he has no heart….but we out here in Movieland know that Mr. Hanks would never do that to sweet little Meg Ryan. Yet he does. Between that, and using a PC, I was feeling forced to be disinclined towards Hanks. And if I am disinclined toward my romantic lead, how can I possibly root for them to hook up? A scene in a cafe (actually, just a single moment of Tom in that scene made the whole movie more plausible for me – anyone who wants to know what I mean just ask me) saved the movie. Thank goodness. I think it relied too much on audience’s innate adoration of Hanks and Ryan, and then it wrapped up too neatly.

Oh, I know, I know, Sleepless in Seattle stretched reality and wrapped up neatly – but that movie was all about magic. It was stardust and “just knowing” and all that stuff we always hope romance will be, even if it never is or so rarely that it might as well be never. But You’ve Got Mail is a relentlessly practical movie, big business versus little business, strangers touching over the internet versus real life volatility. Personally, living in a city infected by a certain cancer of a major high tech organization (I would never defame them but their name rhymes with Hell), I have major issues with chain stores turning cozy neighborhoods and friendly, people-oriented towns into Generica The Uniform, so of course I don’t want Meg to get sucked into a lifelong partnership with a corporate hellion.

As someone wisely pointed out, this movie has an original enough premise that it’s not just Sleepless in Manhattan, but one cannot ignore director Nora Ephron’s loving touch when sticking Mr. and Ms. Romantic Lead of the Second Half of the 20th Century together. They still have that chemistry together, that gentle sparring that keeps them likable without either of them (well, except Meg a little this time) having to sacrifice their own selves in order to be with the other. I still love them and YGM did not deter me from thinking of them as my favorite Romantic Leads. They are classic RL’s – nonsexual, all repartee and genuine charm. I can see gorgeous people naked together every day for free on Fox, I want to shell out my money to see their brand of Love.

I think You’ve Got Mail is worth seeing because, with all the email liaisons that go on and the new letter writing etiquette that has utterly supplanted the older courtship styles, it imparts a sense of hope. And hope is why we go to romantic comedies. We hope, if we’re single, that it will happen like that for us. We hope, if we’re with someone, either that we will feel the magic that brought us together, or our best friends will have it happen for them too. It’s hope that in the growing NC17 universe out there, the corporate stink layer settling over every aspect of our lives, that we can still know someone and be known for real, for who we are. Email courtship reduces us (in an ideal, honest exchange) to our intellect and wit, supposedly the essence of our souls unfettered by Old Navy styles and glittery eye makeup. The beautiful people whine about being objectified as they sign another modeling contract. The unbeautiful people whine about the superficiality of the opposite sex even as they themselves reject people for being too unattractive. Email is not touching each other, exactly, but you can get to know a person without being distracted by that yummy smell they have. But You’ve Got Mail only merits a matinee price because it just doesn’t quite have that sparkle – yet it has everything you want it to have. (Including a great joke about the word irony!)

MPAA Rating PG
Release date 12/8/98
Time in minutes 119
Director Nora Ephron
Studio Warner Brothers

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Little Voice

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The play of roughly the same name on which this movie was based was written specifically for its lead, Jane Horrocks. Some of you may know her as Bubble from Absolutely Fabulous (I didn’t). Jim Cartwright, not unlike the character Ray Say played by Michael Caine, developed a show around the amazing vocal mimicry of Jane Horrocks, The Rise and Fall of Little Voice. I had heard of this and thought, well that sounds kind of interesting, but it also sounds like kind of a Nell-ish acting showcase kind of movie. I still wanted to see for myself, and so I and two companions settled into our seats on a gloriously beautiful convertible day. One of my companions is a huge devotee of the very music that Jane is singing (Judy Garland, Shirley Basset, etc) and attested to her vocal accuracy. For this alone, the movie is worth seeing.

On top of this, or rather, in tremendous addition to this, is the casting of Brenda Blethyn (Secrets and Lies) as LV’s mother, Ewan “Scrumptious” McGregor as a shy suitor, and Michael Caine as the man who discovers LV. Bleythin is a loud, raucous, painfully real mother, a Yorkshire version of those poor sad women who used to be cheerleaders but now just layer on the makeup and shag in Chevrolets to feel young again. She is, to use a tired old phrase, a force of nature – and she should definitely get a nomination. Oh, she’s just so….so loud and so harsh! If anyone recalls the horrible mother-son argument in Boogie Nights, think of that but for almost two hours, and with her also somehow adding a sympathetic layer or two to this woman. Remarkable. Caine, as usual, forgotten because he’s cast behind such a showboat, but always managing to stay afloat, is a drunken sod of a man who is at the end of his rope – oh it’s wonderful. The best friend across the street, Sadie, has nary a line in the film, but she is a complex and kindly balance to Bleythin.

I am sorry to say, Ewan is more bundled up than I have seen him, even more than in Brassed Off, but even neglecting his duty to be naked in every movie, it is wonderful to see him play a shy, reclusive & charming lad with a big heart and a bunch of pigeons. The only reason I am not resoundingly giving this movie a Full Price Feature rating is due to how I don’t know how many people will appreciate it as much as it deserves to be appreciated. The Full Monty had disco hits to help those who got lost in the North Country accents – but for those who aren’t addicted to Yorkshire speak, Blethyn’s excellent performance gets lost in its own colorful dialect and it’s a crime, really, that this film can’t be subtitled for Ohio-Americans who might get lost. It’s very moving, even when it is moving a little slowly.

There is a scene, which most people could surmise from the preview or even the soundtrack cover, but which (sigh) I will not reveal here, which would, in a Hollywood board room, have become a big brassy feel-good moment without a look back – but in this film, it almost reduced us to tears. THAT, my friends and readers, is writing and acting. Fully expecting to be grinning and swaying, my friends and I found ourselves struck dumb with affect. The music of course is also wonderful, and if you aren’t the type to close your eyes and croon with Billie Holliday, you might just rethink that stance after you see this movie.

MPAA Rating R for language and brief nudity.
Release date 12/4/98
Time in minutes 96
Director Mark Herman
Studio Miramax

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Psycho (1998)

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I feel the need to emphasize that no one on the production team did anything wrong. The “rental” rating just means I don’t think the studio needs to earn as much money as it could.

The acting is good, the sets are cool, the camera work actually illustrates how much we take for granted today in filmmaking. However…apparently, when Janet Leigh took her shower in 1960, it was unheard of that a nice boy like that Norman could be capable of anything terrible. Such was the scientific naiveté at the time – the same naiveté that allowed for her boss and his client to treat his female employees the way he does, the same cultural attitude that made the presence of an out-of-town boyfriend something shocking. Gus Van Sant’s update only serves to show us how times have changed. Viewing the 1960 original, we automatically put the movie in its cultural context, and we don’t notice the glaringly dumb things like the last 5 minutes. Watching the guy from Swingers and Ellen’s girlfriend, we do notice.

Anne Heche takes her oddly funky wardrobe, her misogynistic boss, and clearly lunatic host in stride as she acts her way into an area of non-culpability. By gum, if this movie is going to founder, it will be through no fault of her own. She seems genuinely involved, and her performance and that of Vince Vaughn is what makes this movie watchable at all. We all know she gets killed in the shower. The ad campaign depends on it. In 1960 it was a horrible surprise – to be let in on this intimate, titillating personal moment was shocking enough – then to have an intruder enter and to see all that blood! Oh my. The movie almost (and I am sure it’s accidental) invites us to giggle at how easily people were upset back then. Who would not assume Norman is a potentially dangerous lunatic after talking to him about his mother and his life there at the motel? Get in that car and drive, girl!

Vaughn is frenetically alive, and he also does his best to make this character something believable and a person who could put a little bird like Heche at ease as well as be terribly frightening. The problem is, these days, psycho killers are a dime a dozen. A modern audience, presented with the Bates scenario for the first time would want to know – does he do this often? Where are the other bodies? How did they elude the health inspectors all this time? Never mind – hey, he stabbed her like, 15 times, why are there only two neat slices? Boo!!! Vaughn would have done well given free reign with the character, rather than being constrained within the original’s script and shot schedule.

William H. Macy, the investigator, is always good. Two phone calls and he would have found the cop’s report and her car exchange. Instead of the stalking cop taking down her plates and running them through a computer, Macy questions every bed and breakfast proprietor in person with a photograph. The people outside the girl versus nutcase scenario are really what date this movie – her coworker, the boyfriend, everyone. A better remake would have been to keep all the brilliant Hitchcock touches (shotwork, etc.) and updated the wardrobes and the dialogue. Why add a walkman when you still have the boss patting his secretary’s fanny? The early helicopter city shot that ends up slipping in the hotel window at the sleeping couple (how shocking!) is a shot we see every day on TV – but watching it, knowing Van Sant was doing a faithful rendition down to the technology involved, makes you appreciate how difficult that convention was to come by, and how much we owe to those earlier pioneers like Hitchcock to be able to take so much visual stuff for granted today.

Psycho is mostly entertaining if taken as a lesson in what is universal in storytelling and what is not. It is a lesson in film history, and no doubt an interesting project to have worked on, but overall, as entertainment, it has as much life as one of Norman’s stuffed birds.

MPAA Rating R for violence and sexuality/nudity.
Release date 12/4/98
Time in minutes 106
Director Gus Van Sant
Studio Universal Pictures

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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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