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Kiss of the Dragon (2001)
Masterful fight scenes with original plot devices
I liked Jet Li in the movie Lethal Weapon 4, and hated him in The Black Mask. I didn't see his other films, but looked forward to seeing his martial arts skills portrayed in this movie.
I was not disappointed. Not only were the fight scenes enjoyable (the R rating was well deserved - people with weak stomachs should be prepared to shield their eyes), but there was a novel plot device that I found added much to the movie.
Bridget Fonda's performance was beneath her capability, but face it, you're not going to go to this film for the acting.
Mission to Mars (2000)
A movie worth seeing, though less compelling than Contact
I had not seen many of the trailers for this film. From what I had seen, I expected a cross between 2001 - A Space Odyssey and Contact.
The movie begins with a going away party for the astronauts chosen to be the first men on Mars. During this scene, we learn that the astronaut played by Gary Sinise has been replaced by another (due to emotional problems with Sinise's character). I immediately thought of "Apollo 13", and the way Sinise's misfortune would have positive results in that film.
In this film, it is no different. The first manned mission to Mars lands successfully, but then the crew is decimated by a strange force.
Gary Sinise is sent, with a team of three others (including Tim Robbins and Connie Neilson), to mount a rescue mission, searching for possible survivors and the reason for the initial mishap. Some time is spent showing the training and preparation for the rescue mission. During this period of the movie, and the subsequent flight to Mars, most of the special effects were adequate (though some of the in-capsule weightless scenes were poorly conceived).
As for the story line, I was impressed with the manner in which the rescue mission participants overcame some technical obstacles to make it to Mars. And the scenes leading to their eventual landing on Mars were handled well.
Once these rescuers actually reach the planet's surface, that's where I feel the movie starts to fall apart a bit. There are too many technical issues that seem to have been solved with too few clues (too much of a leap of faith for my tastes). Whereas "Contact" made use of tremendous computational resources to establish the existence of intelligent life, this movie almost matter of factly suggests it with a single video clip, and an unbelievably complex signal analysis (with barely the tools to suggest it would be possible to do such an analysis). Still, when it is determined that intelligent life does exist, and the rescue team discovers the "key" for communicating with the Martians, this movie goes further out on a limb in trying to explain the evolution of life on Earth than was hinted at in "Contact".
While I personally found this movie quite fascinating and poignant in this regard, others with a "creationists" viewpoint may be somewhat offended by the theories expressed here.
Overall, I would consider this a worthwhile science fiction picture, though less compelling than "Contact", and less original than many of its predecessors.
Message in a Bottle (1999)
Costner is "back" in this well-written romance story
Kevin Costner's movies are enigmatic. He deals with subjects that are slightly off-center, and is not afraid to be seen on screen doing things that may not be positive to his career.
I personally liked his "Dances with Wolves", and even found "Waterworld" somewhat enjoyable. But it is his romance movies that have really been my favorites.
In "Message in a Bottle", we have an excellent storyline, and personal chemistry every bit as strong as that in "Robin Hood" and "Tin Cup".
The plotline begins with a divorced mother (played by Robin Wright Penn) running on the beach, and discovering a poignant letter in a bottle. Using the investigative techniques of her journalistic profession, and the public exposure afforded by the newspaper she works for, she is able to locate other letters. These clues allow her to track down the author of these heartfelt letters (Costner). She travels to Costner's home town, where she first meets his father (Paul Newman), and gets to discover much about the town, its people, and the relationships between Costner and his fellow townspeople.
As in many conventional love stories, the letter writer and the journalist eventually fall in love. When Costner plans a trip to the "city" to surprise Penn, the audience knows the "secret" will be discovered. Predictably, when Costner discovers this secret, he feels betrayal and doubt, and this leads to a parting in their ways.
However, the way in which these conflicts are resolved, and the love these characters have for each other is revealed is not conventional, and makes the movie worth seeing.