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The Sweet Hereafter (1997)
The precious title tells it all.
I've seen this film twice now, and had the same reaction both
times, so I feel a little more secure in decrying this a vile
piece of garbage. The central idea (a school bus crash) has
such monumental emotional repercussions that it's easy to be
washed away in grief enough to not notice the emptiness of the
conceit built around it. As an intruding lawyer, Ian Holm is
asked to give a performance of staggeringly self-conscious
falseness in which his every word, movement and breath is meant
to project "SOMETHING IMPORTANT". His episodic encounters with
the people of the community in which the accident took place
only reveals Egoyan's total condescension toward life's "little
people", presenting them as simpletons who, gosh darn it, love
their children and each other and turn their noses up at
anything so disgusting as a dollar bill. In a failed attempt to
make the lawyer at least two-dimensional, a subplot is slopped
on about his losing touch with his own child, the most
ridiculous drug-addicted banshee every put on film. Toss in
heavy-handed allegories, heart-tugging music and trite
conclusions, and what have you got? An award-winning "masterpiece", to hear most people talk. More than likely they
woke up the next morning, remembered something about angelic
children heading for their final bus ride, and forgot the rest.
There's no other explanation. Rent the first episode of
Kieslowski's 1988 "Decalogue", which covers similar thematic
ground and, in 50 short minutes, accomplishes worlds more. 3
out of 10 for the nice work by actors Bruce Greenwood and Sarah
The Perfect Storm (2000)
"The Perfect Storm" tells of the 1991 "Storm of the Century", in which three storms collided over the Atlantic Ocean with catastrophic effect. The filmmakers attempt their own triple-header, following three stories of people affected by the storm - a group of people about a sailboat and their Coast Guard rescuers, the crew of a fishing boat, and that crew's family and friends back on the mainland. The results are equally rocky.
This is meant to be a story of heroes, which aptly applies to the rescuers and families. Unfortunately, the film thinks the FISHERMEN are the heroes, treating them with all the noble reverence of the soldiers marching off to save democracy in "Saving Private Ryan". Please Note: THEY CATCH FISH. FOR MONEY. THEY PURPOSEFULLY DIRECTED THEIR BOAT INTO A STORM. THEY'RE IRRESPONSIBLE FOOLS WHO CAUSE TRAUMATIC CONSEQUENCES FOR ALL THOSE AROUND THEM.
Now that I have that out of my system, I admit I found the film gripping. This is definitely an Oscar nominee for its Sound, Editing, and Visual Effects. The storm scenes are truly frightening. The cast is thoroughly appealing ... George Clooney, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, John C. Reilly, Diane Lane, Mark Wahlberg, Karen Allen, Cherry Jones. We care about them even though we are given ridiculously little (or in some cases, absolutely no) character development to base those feelings on.
But the film is just fundamentally wrong-headed, focusing on the wrong small story in weather's Big Story. I was rooting for the fish.
Mission: Impossible II (2000)
Choose not to accept.
I loved the first Mission:Impossible film. LOVED IT. Beautiful European locations. Complex plot that had to be experienced twice to fully understand (how refreshing!). World-class cast playing well-defined characters, spouting witty, intelligent dialogue (Jon Voight! Vanessa Redgrave! Jean Reno! Emmanuelle Beart! Kristin Scott Thomas!) Magnificent set pieces (the restaurant explosion, the embassy ball, the high-security hanging-by-a-thread break-in, the high-speed train/helicopter/tunnel finale). Suspense, humor, drama... and all of it involving and thrilling.
Mission:Impossible 2 is exactly the opposite. Stock characters, stock plot, stock actors, stock locations, stock action sequences. Instead of suspense we get gun fights and car chases. Instead of humor we get tired double-entendres. Instead of drama we get "Octopussy"-level heavy breathing. Gone is the idea of Ethan Hunt being part of a M:I team. Now he's a stock superman, invincible and therefore totally boring. As is the film. A shame.
Ma vie en rose (1997)
A total charmer.
Why is this wonderful family movie rated "R"? Why, on cable, is this heart-warming gem preceded by warnings of "violence" and "adult content"? Ludicrous! Although told in an almost fable-like manner, "Ma vie en rose" is an all-too-rare depiction of believably real parents and children dealing with life's pressures together. Beautifully written, directed and acted, any child would benefit from watching this utterly delightful and thought-provoking film with their parents and discussing the struggles of little Ludovic and his family. Don't miss the opportunity.
Small Time Crooks (2000)
The Last Straw.
Going to the new Woody Allen used to be an event each year for me, but those were the days of "Husbands and Wives," "Crimes and Misdemeanors," "Alice," "Manhattan," "Purple Rose of Cairo," "Interiors," "Annie Hall," "Another Woman," "Stardust Memories," "Hannah and Her Sisters" and "Broadway Danny Rose." These were films of thought, depth, character, humor and insight. Even the occasional flights of whimsy like "Zelig," "Radio Days," "Sleeper" and "A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy" were delights. But now we've had NINE shrill, shallow, half-baked Allen films in a row - one-dimensional characters, directionless plots, no feeling - "Shadows and Fog," "Manhattan Murder Mystery," "Mighty Aphrodite," "Deconstructing Harry," "Celebrity," and now "Small Time Crooks." Yes, there was charm to be found in "Bullets Over Broadway," "Everyone Says I Love You," and "Sweet and Lowdown," but not when you compare them to those earlier films. Where's the depth?! Is this a Keaton/Farrow influence versus Soon-Yi influence issue? One could speculate. All I know is that this fan gives up. From now on I wait for dollar day at the video store.
Stunning! (for all the wrong reasons)
You follow the hype... "T.Rex in 3-D!" You arrive an hour early to secure the best seats. You pay the exorbitant ticket price. You put on the painful helmet. But hey, it's a 45-minute 3-D thrill ride, right? WRONG. Within 5 minutes you're having serious doubts. A lonely girl wanders through a museum (Zzzzz). Paleontologists chip stone at the camera (Wooo!). A jackass father comes to appreciate his psychotic daughter (Awww!). The acting is horrible. The writing is worse. But wait! A big finish! Three whole minutes of the same computer-animated dinosaurs you can see any weekend on the Discovery Channel! The end. The audience leaves silently. Beware.
American Psycho (2000)
The Reagan Era, gutted.
It's an intriguing, if fairly shallow, premise - cross the protagonists of "American Gigolo" (Julian Kaye) and "Psycho" (Norman Bates) - and offer up the adventures of a designer-clad "American Psycho" (Patrick Bateman) as a satire on soulless 1980s consumerism and social hypocrisy. It works, though not as complexely as such other recent social allegories as "Silence of the Lambs," "Crash," "Eyes Wide Shut," "Fight Club" and "American Beauty" - and, like those films, not for everyone.
The Woman in the Window (1944)
Be Careful What You Wish For...
This wonderfully entertaining "film noir" by master director Fritz Lang is a curiosity, defying all of our expectations as a viewer and basically subverting the "noir" genre barely before it had gotten started. The dark shadows, the femme fatale, the harboiled detectives, the murder... all the elements are in place for a typical outing, but when all is said and done, look back at the motivations, the events, even the "femme", and what we have is not a world of evil (the typical "noir" stance) but a world of innocence darkened by a few petty thugs. Like the more obviously subversive (and equally wonderful) "Kiss Me Deadly" fifteen years later, "The Woman in the Window" seems to say that evil only lives when people look hard enough for it - practically a "film noir" rebuttal. As in "M" and "Fury," Lang (a refugee from the Nazi regime) once again examines issues of social evil in ways more complex than any of his contemporaries. Enjoy "The Woman in the Window." The cast is impeccable, the writing a delight, the direction peerless, the music score years ahead of its time. A small feast.
Man on the Moon (1999)
The man on the moon is Milos Forman.
Another piece of bloated hackwork from the revered Milos Forman, who made a good flick 25 years ago (One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest) and has since destroyed Hair, Ragtime, Valmont, Amadeus, Larry Flynt and now Andy Kaufman with his shallow, operatic puffery. Milos, please consider turning your creative energy toward something you're more skilled at. Finger-painting, perhaps.
The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999)
For those of you who don't know, lesbian author Patricia Highsmith wrote The Talented Mr. Ripley in 1955 as a metaphor for the lives of suspicion, contempt, deceit and self-loathing gay people felt themselves trapped in at that time, and the destructive consequences that come from leading such a charade. Bravo to Anthony Minghella for not only honoring, but heightening, that theme, and to Matt Damon for his heartbreaking turn as the trapped and increasingly desperate Ripley. A film of stunning depth.
Miracles Among Us.
A big, beautiful, compassionate tale about nothing less than life, death, love, forgiveness, redemption and grace from seemingly fearless writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson - far-reaching themes in a far-reaching film. Stellar performances (especially John C. Reilly, Melora Walters, Jason Robards, Jeremy Blackman and William H. Macy), the year's best score (by Jon Brion and Aimee Mann), propulsive editing (Dylan Tichenor), and Anderson's multi-leveled writing combine to create a total cinematic experience for adventurous audiences everywhere. Bravo!
Beautiful evocation of late 19th century London, a marvelous cast, time-honored backstage drama, and fully performed Gilbert & Sullivan musical numbers somehow amount to a muddle of a film, showing us everything but illuminating nothing about the celebrated theatrical duo and the creation of their masterpiece, The Mikado. A 3-hour bore that should cause many viewers to avoid Gilbert & Sullivan for years to come.
The creaky title metaphor is about the most creative thing going on in this pretentiously "edgy" tale of an irresponsible mother coming of age with the help of her preternaturally self-possessed daughter (yawn!). The utterly bogus "natural" acting and hand-held camerawork are sure to win awards and offend John Cassavettes fans everywhere. Pathetic.
The Set-Up (1949)
This film is a knockout on every level, a thrilling 75-minute character study told in real time by director Robert Wise. Wise pulls haunting performances from every member of a large cast, and makes telling use of cinematography, sets and sound (every street sign and pop tune seems to comment on the character's broken emotions). Along with "They Drive By Night" and "The Third Man" the same year, "The Set-Up" brought humanity to film noir. An overlooked classic.
American Beauty (1999)
What is beautiful to you?
From Alan Ball's magnificent original screenplay, to Conrad Hall's impeccable cinematography, to truly brilliant acting turns from Kevin Spacey and Annette Bening, this modern-day morality tale is close to perfection. From what's on display here, director Sam Mendes may prove to be the best actor's director since Mike Nichols, taking a terrific ensemble straight to the edge, but never over (not to mention eliciting the best performace by a plastic bag in film history!). A most worthy companion to such thematically similar gems as "Carnal Knowledge," "Save the Tiger," "Shampoo," "The Ice Storm" and "Election." See it, and if you have teenagers, take them along. A moving, valuable experience for all.
Arlington Road (1999)
Memo to Bridges, Robbins, Cusack: "Why?"
This reworking of "Rosemary's Baby" for the Oklahoma City Bombing generation is a sick, irresponsible film whose entire plot, from first scene to last, is based on the maiming, murder and terrorization of children. If that's your idea of entertainment, you'll also be treated to hack direction, ham acting, endless plot holes, a feeble attempt at a "Kiss Me Deadly" ironic ending, and a first hour so stupifyingly boring that you may never make it to the second. Shocking that Jeff Bridges, Tim Robbins and Joan Cusack are involved in this truly worthless film.
Trip worth taking.
Despite the direction of this film's marketing, reviews and various plot summaries, "Hamam" is ultimately the tale of the spiritual connection and liberation of two Italian women as they encounter life-altering experiences in exotic Istanbul. The journey to their eventual connection is, in turns, lush, erotic, humorous, tragic - and thoroughly engaging. Wonderful music, cinematography, performances and scenery. A stylish, thoughtful first film from writer/director Ozpetek.
Why Do Fools Fall in Love (1998)
The filmmakers know you've heard this tale before - true life chronicle of a young singing star's rise and tragic fall - and so they wisely downplay the standard bio trappings and instead focus on a raucously entertaining ride through Frankie Lymon's woman troubles. The smart screenplay revolves around the court battle of Lymon's three wives (yes, three!) over song royalties, leading to vivid (and often humorously contradictory) flashbacks of their lives with the singer. Larenz Tate is magnetic playing the many different sides of the ever-changing lead character, but the film ultimately belongs to Halle Berry, Vivica A. Fox and Lela Rochon as the wives. Each is allowed to shine as the trio portrays 30 years of changes in the women's lives, with Fox drop-dead hilarious as the most outrageous of the three. There's beautifully detailed '60s-era cinematography, sets, costuming and musical numbers, plus a side-splitting turn by Miguel Nunez as a young Little Richard. Major issues (such as '60s race relations) are barely glanced at, but what this film lacks in depth, it makes up for ten-fold in entertainment value. A winner!
Un tè con Mussolini (1999)
This inept film advertises well, but is incompetent on just about every level. One-dimensional characters, writing, cinematography and direction leave the great cast with nothing to do put pose and mug shamelessly throughout the torpid proceedings. A total waste that will please only the simplest of minds. For a similar, much better film, check out "Where Angels Fear To Tread."
Another Woman (1988)
After borrowing heavily from Ingmar Bergman in "Interiors," "A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy" and "September," Woody Allen all but remade Bergman's classic "Wild Strawberries" in this tale of an emotionally frozen doctor reflecting on her life. While "Wild Strawberries" is a masterpiece, this is still an engaging, intense little film, with an award-calibre lead performance by Gena Rowlands and a priceless cameo turn by Sandy Dennis. An underrated gem.
The Mummy (1999)
Beware The Mummy's Curse!
Whomever lays their eyes upon this film shall - for two endless hours - have unleashed upon them a plague of bad acting, juvenile humor, inept direction, and pathetic special effects. You have been warned!
I enjoyed the clever surface intricacies of this film, but what do we ever know about these two "lovers"? Who are they? Why do they love each other? We never know, which leaves this film a major step behind the similar "Unbearable Lightness of Being."
What's the difference between morals and ethics?
That's the question at the heart of this gleefully raunchy, absolutely hilarious, perfectly cast look at how each of us "elects" the standards by which we live. Career highs for Broderick and Witherspoon. Enjoy the movie. Think about the question.
Cronenberg's exquisite masterpiece.
A profoundly sad view of dislocation and longing in a slick modern world, recalling such diverse but equally powerful films as "Three Colors: Blue," "Blade Runner" and "Vertigo." If you don't understand this, you're part of the problem.
Make Way for Tomorrow (1937)
Beulah Bondi gave her greatest performance as a mistreated elderly mother in this bittersweet, highly underrated Leo McCarey gem. Oscar should have noticed. (Actually, McCarey did win the Best Director Oscar that year, for the screwball comedy "The Awful Truth" - also written by Vena Delmar. In his acceptance speech, McCarey thanked the Academy, but said "you've given me this for the wrong film" - referring to "Make Way For Tomorrow.") Believe it or not, Bondi was only 48 at the time of filming, only four years older than the actors playing her children. A marvelous performance, and a lovely film