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Billy Elliot (2000)
Very Enjoyable Movie
Jamie Bell and Gary Lewis were perfectly cast as son and father. They looked amazingly alike, and when they argued it was almost as if the same person was arguing with himself.
It was a joy to see Julie Walters, who just doesn't seem to do enough films, in this movie. In some ways, she was playing the "professor" role from Educating Rita this time! We will be seeing more of her soon as she's been cast in the upcoming Harry Potter movie.
I also have to agree with the other commenter who noted the "R" rating-it's almost purely for language, and probably a little for brawling. This is the sort of movie that kids should see, preferably with their parents.
Good Flick if You Like Quiet, Intense Movies
If you liked The Sixth Sense, you should like Unbreakable. There are certain aspects of Unbreakable that were very much in play in The Sixth Sense - Bruce Willis, a sensitive boy, Philadelphia,subtle music, shadows and a sense of isolation. This movie is even quieter than The Sixth Sense, so if you found Sixth Sense slow going, you'll find this more so. (In fact, you could pretty easily knock at least three scenes out of the movie and not loose a thing.)
That said, I think Shyamalan is one of the best commercial movie makers out there today. I like eerie, atmospheric movies that don't rely on grossness and hyperbolic action substitute for plot and character. Both Willis and Jackson are wonderful in their roles as a lucky security guard and an unlucky comic art collector.
Yes, there is an undercurrent of the fantastic in this movie; probably not enough to take the Dramatic Presentation Hugo from something "more obvious" like X-Men or Gormenghast. There were a few funny bits about comics fandom (by inference). Samuel L.Jackson's gallery was pretty tony for a comic art gallery. And there's another bit (the movie's most unnecessary scene) with Jackson in a comic store and the sales clerk has no idea who he is. Major comics or science fiction collectors are always well-known by the local sellers.
About the twist - I had two ideas about what I thought the twist would be. I was dead wrong on one, and half right on the other one. It's a great twist and works very well.
The Spitfire Grill (1996)
A Great Start, But a Really Poor Ending
I missed Spitfire Grill when it was out in the theaters, though it got wildly enthusiastic comments from viewers as diverse as my daughter and my mother. So I rented it and really enjoyed the first half of the film. It's the sort of movie with almost no surprises, but some of the details are a hoot, especially the location of the Maine Travel Bureau operators.
We're introduced to a very young prison inmate named Percy, played by the remarkable Allison Elliott. She's extremely creative and an eager learner, but clearly a person without much education and a rough past. Upon her release she's sent to a small town in what's supposed to be rural Maine. She goes to work for Hannah, the owner of the Spitfire Grill.
The townspeople are a series of horrific cliches, being so small-minded they hardly even talk to the young woman, even to the point of not ordering their meals from her in the grill. This ludicrous behavior does go away pretty fast, so most of the first half of the movie or so deals with Percy trying to adjust to life outside, with Hannah adjusting to Percy and yet another debilitating injury and with Shelby who comes to help them both. And the first half of the movie or so is very pleasant and reasonably-true-to-life, almost like a small British movie.
The script is interesting in that parts of it don't insult the viewer's intelligence. Some things happen in the background that later become very important in the film, but the writer doesn't feel the need to batter the viewer over the head with them. So I felt the script had lots of potential, at least in the first half.
There are a few problems with the movie overall, and they probably never bothered the average viewer, but, being a New Englander, they bothered me. The movie is supposed to be set up in rural, central Maine, somewhere near Lewiston or Bethel. However, that area tends to be filled with forests and lakes, and I don't remember so much of it having been cleared for farms. It was actually filmed in northeastern Vermont, probably because rural Maine is just too remote. So you get some beautiful shots of Vermont countryside, and a particularly sweeping shot of Lake Willoughby gap (where one large mountain became two smaller ones back during the last ice age) in the distance. Similarly, the accents of almost everyone in the movie is likewise "grafted on." Just like rural Vermont and rural Maine look different, an upstate Maine resident doesn't have the identical speech patterns of an upstate Vermonter. Its the sort of thing that it's better to just let the folks speak without any accent at all than to force them to sound so unnatural.
But these are kind of minor things that no one noticed. The acting, especially of the women in this picture, is quite good, so there's plenty to hold your interest. However, what surprises me is that no one ever mentioned the gross misogyny that permeates almost every frame of the last third of this film. The Catholic Church, a major financier of this film, has shown once again how much it really has a major problem with how it treats women. I remember hearing a church representative talk about how life-affirming this movie is. Hardly. The movie goes absolutely out of its way to promote the "woman as martyr" image.
Lots of spoilers follow.
The first hint of the kind of sick direction this movie was going take was in Percy's reaction to a man named Joe. Joe took a shine to her and asks her out, takes her for walks, etc. Percy seems to like him, but doesn't want to get too close. Finally, Joe asks her to marry him. She turns him down because he wants children and she can't have them. He says he doesn't care about that, but she's adamant.
Hannah is very bitter about her son who went to Viet Nam and didn't come back. Well, at least on the surface. It's clear her son went AWOL and is hiding and its Hannah's insufferable pride and the small town memories of her husband's valor in WW II that helps keep her son away from the help he so obviously needs. He's kind of a Bo-Radleyesque character, but this is the '90s not the '30s so keeping the son "a secret" just seems wrong.
And then there's Nahum, Shelby's husband and Hannah's nephew. He's a quietly viscious man who is nasty to Shelby and to Percy. He's supposed to have "redeemed" himself at the end of the movie by owning up to one terrible wrong he committed, but the scene was just terribly awkward.
And there's the situation that landed Percy in prison. Near the end of the movie, she tells Shelby her story. She was sexually abused by her stepfather and made pregnant by him she she was 16. Since this movie was financed by the Catholic Church, she, naturally, loves the baby of the man who raped her, and is devastated when he beats her so badly that she loses the baby and her ability to ever have children again. She is kidnapped out of the hospital by this man and kills him in self defense. You have to ask yourself what kind of incompetent lawyer did she have, that landed her in jail for even 30 seconds much less five years for manslaughter.
As you might have guessed by now, Percy dies by the end of the movie in trying to warn the AWOL son that the police are trying to find him because they think she gave him money "she stole" from Hannah. And the lesson the town learns is to be nice to strange women who come to Gilead to attempt to have a new start at life.
This picture could have been life-affirming if only it hadn't sunk to so much misogyny and melodrama. It's not so obvious as those movie that promote violence against women, but it's almost more insidious.
The Perfect Storm (2000)
Perfect Special Effects, Needed a Better Script and Editing
This is probably the best special effects movie ever. Most of the time, you can spot a special effect a mile away. The effects in this film are superbly combined so you can't tell where the tank waves end and the digital waves begin.
As for the script, it had the details right, Diane Lane's accent was spot-on, and the cast had the look of fisherman. But the writer felt obligated to work in unnecessary details (the meteorologist, too much time worrying about the yacht and the Coast Guard, not nearly enough time with the wonderful supporting cast), and then the director and editor failed to cut these things out.
Mostly, I recommend this movie as a very good movie, but not a great one.
Drop Dead Gorgeous (1999)
Howlingly Tasteless Flick!
I'm not generally a big fan of tasteless comedies, but this one grabbed me and I completely enjoyed it. Yes, there's serious forshadowing all over the place. Yes, it makes fun of handicapped people, grasping mothers, brain-dead daughters and "family values." But the thing that makes this comedy work so well is how far it twists. Allison Janney gleefully steals every scene she's in.
Unlike a Farralley Brothers movie, there's only a brief moment of "gross-out comedy."
The Cider House Rules (1999)
Quiet, understated, complicated film
I enjoyed The Cider House Rules. Compared to The World According to Garp or Simon Birch, it's not as quirky as many other movies based on John Irving books. Tobey Maguire plays one of his quiet observer roles again; but he's someone who just wants to keep things calm. Michael Caine gives a nice performance as the pragmatic doctor but his accent is so flat it's like a newscaster's.
I happened to see Cider House and Simon Birch on the same day and Cider House did a much better job at portraying a very particular time and place.
I liked Delroy Lindo's performance very much also. He has a very thankless role (and wasn't nominated for anything at Oscar time but probably should have), but was particularly good. A few reviewers have complained about the way his character was written, but I have to disagree. There are millions of people out there like Delroy Lindo who are intelligent, "normal" people to most but are monsters in their private lives.
Charming and Fascinating Look at the Victorian Theater
Mike Leigh's leisurely love letter to that Victorian operetta team of Gilbert and Sullivan was just a joy to watch. The performances, set direction and costumes were top-notch. If anything, the script was a little weak and the editing a bit too leisurely in places. But if you're a Gilbert and Sullivan fan, enjoy the theater and want to see one of the best movies of '99, Topsy-Turvy is definitely the one for you.
Man on the Moon (1999)
Oddly Heartless Movie, Misses Andy's "Cherubic" Persona
I was a big Andy Kaufman fan (yes, even the inter-gender wrestling stuff) and was looking forward to the movie. Jim Carrey tries SO hard in it, and Danny DeVito and Courtney Love just spend the film reacting to him. But they can't overcome an oddly anachronistic script (Carter president in 1975? All of Me and ET out in 1980? I don't think so...) and direction on the level of "Unsolved Mysteries."
There is one moment near the end of the movie where Andy realizes he's been conned. It's the sort of moment where there shouldn't have been a dry-eye left in the house. It completely fizzled.
Forman has made some wonderfully emotional movies - Cuckoo's Nest, Amadeus, Valmont and even The People vs. Larry Flynt. But Man on the Moon comes off as completely sterile. The only surprise in the whole movie was Jerry Lawlor saying he was in on the famous David Letterman incident from the early '80s.
Dogma - Extremely Entertaining, Surprisingly Reverent
Dogma is a mostly entertaining but occasionally-muddled movie about fallen angels, extra apostles, modern life and possibly the end of all existence. The script is witty and the performances (particularly Linda Fiorentino, Salma Hyek and Ben Affleck) are pretty good. There was way too much of the prophets for my taste, but I understand they are stock Kevin Smith characters (and, indeed one of them is played by the director himself).
I'm an agnostic so the only thing I found offensive was the foul demon and too much blood in two scenes. For people who bother to pay attention to the movie (rather than the "boycott without thinking" mentality), most of the "anti-relgious" comments are about how people abuse religion.
I have rarely seen theological discussions in movies (outside of costume epics like A Man for All Seasons), and they abound in this one.
Meet Joe Black (1998)
Handsomely produced but really poorly edited, written and acted
This is one of those "posturing" movies. Brad Pitt acts for about five minutes (maybe) in the movie but mostly just apes Jeff Bridges' performance from Starman. In comparison, Anthony Hopkins manages to generally rise above a very awkward, illogical script.
Kind of fun to watch if you like seeing how the super-rich live, and there's a wonderfully sparkly scene when Susan and "Joe" first meet.