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Planet of the Apes (2001)
Entertaining, but.... (spoilers)
First off, let me say that I found the original overrated. Not bad, but not a 'classic'. When I heard they were remaking it, with Cameron at the helm, I was extremely worried (I dislike everything the man's done in the 90's, with the exception of True Lies, which was fun). When it turned out to be Tim Burton, I felt that maybe he could make this movie truly 'relevant', with sharp satire, and perhaps a little human development. Alas, it wasn't to be.
Understand that I think that Burton is a director who's style often overwhelms the substance of any film he's shooting (note, see Sleepy Hollow). That said, he brings enormous creative energy to the film, and is to be respected for massing the talented crew he has. I'm glad to hear the people mentioned Danny Elfman's score, his best. It hooks you from beginning to end, and has the strength to become a contender at this year's oscars. Thunderous, rousing, brilliant, the score is better written then the script for eliciting a dramatic response. Special credit must be given to Rick Baker, the only Hollywood make-up artist whom I've heard of (he's acheived a celebrity status if you will). His simian creations are remarkable, and allow the actors to act through their make-up.
Well, that would be more true if the actors had something to act. The script makes no attempt to achieve any form of nuance or subtlety. It eschews what could have been a satire, and asks us to accept fight scenes and stunt work. Discussing the stunt work, it is phenomenal as well. Again, the technical achievements of this film are not to be ignored.
The film is fairly entertaining UNTIL..... The climax. What is supposed to be a pulse-pounding scene proves to be a series of cliches, and a horrible use of deux ex machina, and the ending is fairly silly and unnecessary. As for the actors, many attempt to act, but many have nothing to do (the humans). However, the performances by Helena Bonham Carter and Tim Roth are excellent. No kidding, but I think Roth deserves an oscar nomination (as it stands now). His scenery chewing performance as General Thade is energetic and outstanding.
Having said that, expect this to win a make-up oscar, and receive a nomination for best score, but it's not a film to rush out and see.
Artificial Intelligence: AI (2001)
Ambitious, but not entirely successful (spoilers)
Style is very important to both Kubrick and Spielberg, and it's never clearer here. I'll admit it was hard to imagine a Kubrick/Spielberg collaboration. Spielberg, the warm humanist, Kubrick, the cold observationist (word??), their styles being too distinct to mesh. For example, their view of children. Kubrick gave us Lolita, "Red-rum" boy from the Shining, and two ghosts awash in blood. Spielberg gave us Drew
Barrymore, the cute kid in Close Encounters, and the kid stuck in an adult's body, Robin Williams..... I mean Peter Pan. So the approach to David (Haley Joel Osment), at times, seems to be too, well, different. That is one of the films two flaws (they are important and will detract from one's experience, but they also allow for interesting observation).
The film has two or three acts, depending on how one views it (I choose three, because it seems so neatly sectioned off). The first act is the acquisition of David by grieving parents (France's O'Connor and Sam Robards). The opening five minutes set up the thematic statement of the film, but it isn't as if you couldn't tell by the tagline. It is written quite well, with the Spielberg sensibility shining through, though there are glimmers of Kubrick. It's only flaw is the underuse of the wonderful O'Connor. It's sunny cinematography is perfect.
The second act follows David's search for the Blue Fairy, so he can become a real boy. He meets up with Gigolo Joe (Jude Law, in a frantically funny and manic performance). Kubrick's influence is seen strongly here, with some incredible scenes (The Flesh Fair is a stand-out, jolting with energy and Brendan Gleeson).
The third act continues the above search, but I can't describe much more. It is serenely haunting. However, I find it hard to reconcile the two styles in it. For example, there is a scene where David is sitting on a ledge, and then falls (lets himself fall) to the bottom of the ocean. It is supposed to be heartbreaking, but it isn't because the premise of the film inhibits it (an earlier scene in the film had the same problem). The epilogue/conclusion is unearned, but then, some people found it devastating.
The film is a technical achievement, to be sure. The art direction, costumes, make-up, sound, cinematography, score, film editing and visual effects are all first rate, and deserve oscar nominations (as it is now). Kahn's editing, Kaminski's cinematography, and Williams' score all deserve mention for working together to aid the Spielberg/Kubrick vision
O'Connor and Law are phenomenal. Osment is handed the trickiest role, and pulls it off with aplomb. This role requires amazing depth, breadth, and subtlety to be convincing, and Osment deserves another Oscar nomination for pulling it off. It's a role that cannot be entirely based on 'gut instinct', and it's a tribute to Osment and Spielberg that it is played perfectly.
The following is from Lisa Schwarzbaum's review from EW. It sums up my opinion quite well.
--There aren't many at all like Spielberg and Kubrick, directors willing to lasso dreams (that's Steven) and nightmares (that's Stanley) or die trying. ''A.I.'' is a clash of the titans, a jumble, an oedipal drama, a carny act. I want to see it again.--
Maddening, moving, provocative, a visual feast, AI is worth seeing, and worth seeing again.
Not half bad
This was an entertaining film, but one that could have been better. While it didn't seem short, if they added some character development for some of the characters who just take up screen time. And either develop the perfunctory love triangle, or get rid of it.
The story itself is rather simple as well. People hate mutants, and want to pass a bill forcing them to register themselves. The mutants are divided into two camps. The first group believe in peaceful coexistence, while the second believe that people must be destroyed.
The performances range, but that is as a result of their parts. Berry, Marsden, Jansen, and Romain-Stamos are limited by their roles, but still give a solid go of it. Anna Paquin as Rogue, while doesn't disappoint, isn't incredible. Rogue is not a teenager, so her character isn't completely 'true'. It also limits the flirtatious relationship between her and Wolverine, played by Hugh Jackman. The film belongs to him. He's great to watch.
Fun, while not incredible (though it should have been nominated for an oscar in the Sound and make-up categories).
Good Will Hunting (1997)
My second comment, but
I had originally reviewed this movie a year after I saw it, and in my review, I gave it restrained praise. 'Does it have it's flaws. Yes. It does go on a bit too long, and Minnie Driver's character borders on caricature'. After rewatching, I have to take those two comments back. It didn't seem too long during the second viewing, and Minnie Driver's character had real depth, something I had missed on my original viewing.
However, one thing that I have to comment on is the script. It felt much better the second time around. Damon and Affleck have a natural ability to create dialogue that flows, almost like lyrics to a song. None of it seems forced, and it becomes quite moving in several scenes. The scenes between Williams and Damon are so well written, and are acted very precisely, they become quite powerful.
The music also works quite well, something else that I overlooked in my first viewing. I'm glad I watched it again, and it's status had certainly risen in my mind.
A Human epic (spoilers)
With his third film, Paul Thomas Anderson has accomplished the rare. He has made a true Human epic. Robert Altman's Nashville is the epitome of this 'genre', but Magnolia (and perhaps Soderbergh's Traffic, which I have yet to see) are shining examples of what can be achieved when throwing a handfull of people together.
Meet Frank TJ Mackey (Tom Cruise), a sex guru who's carefully constructed past is about to be blown in his face by a reporter (April Grace). Meet Stanley Spector (Jeremy Blackman), a brilliant child who's pushed to the limit by his overbearing father (Michael Bowen). Meet Mackey's father (Jason Robards- in his last film performance), a bedridden dying movie mogul who's desperate to see his son before he dies, while his trophy wife (Julianne Moore) is closer to the edge of despair then before, using pills to ease her pain. Meet Jim Kuring (John C. Reilly), who's need for love is so great, he falls in love with Claudia Wilson Gator (Melora Walters), a woman trying to remain sane while her body screams for drugs. Meet her father, Jimmy Gator (Philip Baker Hall), the quiz show host on Stanley's show, meet Donnie Smith (William H. Macy), former Quiz kid.
This is a movie that takes a leap into the operatic. Championing extroversion and ignoring the irony that plagued the nineties, Anderson assembles a magnificent cast and explores a story full of coincidence and ambition. He lets his cast free, and they give us glorious performances. At the head of the list are Tom Cruise, Melora Walters, and Julianne Moore. Cruise deserved the oscar for a brilliant turn as the sex guru who's visage is slowly destroyed. Walters and Moore give career defining performances (what a year for Moore!). The nervousness they share is underlined by their need for drugs.
There are scenes that are so rare for a film, that they defy reason. The cast singing 'Wise Up' was not cheesy and out of place as some suspected, but a touching addition. And the frog scene was incredible and very funny. Aimee Mann's songs work very well with the film as well as on their own.
I did think American Beauty was a better film, but Anderson's operatic and ambitious epic was a film where the tagline 'Look Closer' was one that could be identified with it.
Hmmm....(spoilers below, though not major)
This film is probably the best blockbuster of the summer. It has grisly and rousing action, wonderful technical direction from Ridley Scott, and masterful performances from Crowe and Pheonix.
Flaws always first. The opening battle sequence is confusing, and tries to be chaotic, when it is just incoherent. However, the rest of the film justifies Scott's technical brilliance (more on that later). The screenplay isn't as much a story told with action sequences but a string of action sequences with some connecting thread. However, it allows for some great acting. The script introduces a startling relationship between Commodus (Joaquin Pheonix) and his sister Lucilla (Connie Nelson), giving Pheonix and added dimension to chew through.
And does he ever. One of his three films this year, Pheonix proves that he can act in several diverse roles. This will probably garner him on Oscar nomination. His snivelling, ambitious emperor provides a fine foil for Crowe's Maximus. Crowe finally cements his star status with this film, after amazing turns in The Insider and L.A. Confidential. His performance is brutal and intense. In fact, the screenplay spares nothing on his character, giving Crowe several powerful scenes (the climax, his prison conversation with Lucilla, and his earlier conversation with Marcus Aurelius). He'll probably get an oscar nod as well.
Now, the direction of Ridley Scott. I am not a huge fan of his, so I was pleased to see him handle both the technical and narrative direction with equal aptitude. His technical direction is superb, ranking with Blade Runner and Alien. For the first (arguably second) time, however, he has paid attention to the story (the first being Thelma and Louise). And it has paid off handsomely. Look for Gladiator to have the most nominations at the academy awards this year (I'm guessing 11).
Brilliant, brutal film
When released in 1998, Happiness caused an uproar. After watching it (for the second time), it is easy to see why.
The story follows three sisters, and their respective relationships. Trish (played by Cynthia Stevens) is married to Bill Maplewood (Dylan Baker), in what seems like a happy marriage. However, when Bill speaks to a psychiatrist (he himself is a therapist), we realize that there is a lot more going on under the skin. In fact, this entire film is about discovering what's under the skin of many people, no matter how unhealthy.
If there was an ensemble acting award at the Oscars, it would have gone to this film. There is no single bad performance throughout the entire cast, spearheaded by Dylan Baker, who should have received a supporting nod. His performance is simply magnificent. Many people will cringe at his final scene with his son, but Rufus Reed and Baker play it so well, that it doesn't feel exploitive or out of context In answering his son's questions openly and honestly, he perhaps saves his son from any future pain. Baker's character isn't a demon, but a man who isn't in control of his demons.
The three sisters are portrayed excellently, with Lara Flynn Boyle leading the pack. Her performance as a poet who's sick of being admired rang very true, from her characters shallowness to her own understanding of how empty she is.
This film can not be described as titillating or exploitive. Though not everyone will like, it dares to tread where few go. One of the best of 1998, Todd Solondz was sorely overlooked at the Oscars.
Playing by Heart (1998)
I agree with most of the comments made about this film, namely that it is slightly inconsistent, with three good stories, one okay one, and two slightly ridiculous. Bad news first: Anthony Edwards and Madeline Stowe make a very unconvincing couple. This isn't any fault in their acting (Stowe is great in a couple of scenes), but the script, which neither develops the relationship and hopes that the audience won't catch on to the contrivances. No such luck. The other story that isn't completely satisfying is Dennis Quaid, as a man who goes on an improv spree and tells tall (tragic) tales to strangers that he meets. This story ultimately leads no where, which is a disappointment.
However, the other four stories more than make up for the above two. Rowlands and Connery (in two marvelously modulated performances), play a husband and wife coming to terms with his 'affair' that occurred twenty-five years prior. This story works very well because it is written like a short story or a one act play. Ellen Burstyn gives a powerhouse performance as a mother just coming to grips with her son's illness (AIDS, as we led to believe). This story isn't given too much time, which is a shame, but Burstyn and Mohr (as her son) are incredible in their brief scenes. Gillian Anderson and Jon Stewart are marvelous together. This is one story where you can tell they act off each other. Gillian Anderson is a special treat, because we get to see her laugh and we get to see her nervous, which isn't something that Dana Scully reveals too often. The story is simply two people who try to get together, but her fear of being hurt prevents that. Jon Stewart also does wonderful work, in a very credible performance
Easily the most surprising of the relationship was the one between Jolie and Phillipe. With this film, Jolie proved she was a talent to watch, and Phillipe surprised with his convincing turn as an aloof character (without turning uninteresting). They are combustible together, and heartbreaking when we see how much they are in love.
Similar to the recently released (and ignored) Living Out Loud, this treads the same ground, but treads lightly and well, leaving a generally satisfying film (with a wonderful converging ending). A charmer, if not perfect.
Living Out Loud (1998)
Funny and very well written (spoilers)
When watching Living out Loud, it becomes obvious why As Good as it Gets felt contrived and phony. Richard LaGravenese is more interested in showing how people bounce off each other, in friendships and sexual relationships, than forcing a made-up romance between two people.
Holly Hunter stars as Judith, a woman who's coming off a bitter breakup from her husband (Martin Donovan) of sixteen years. She meets Danny Devito, and elevator attendant in her apartment. She also meets a torch singer (Queen Latifah), and they both change her life, but in different ways. LaGravenese doesn't find it necessary to place Hunter in a sexual relationship with either one, and that makes the film all the more unique. Now, because there is no plot per-se, the film may flounder for some. However, I found the movie to be very remarkable.
Danny Devito gives a detailed performance as a man who's lost everything, but still has hope. The first scene we see him in is very well acted, and absolutely hilarious. However, it's the two females who shine brightest in this film. Hunter is stunningly sensual in her role, embodying grace (sometimes it's lack), desperation, and humour. Her performance deserved an oscar nomination. The surprising scene stealer was Queen Latifah. Her rendition of 'Lush Life' was great to watch. She certainly holds her own against two incredible actors.
Some of the scenes deserve mention as well. The dancing sequence was very well done. The line between fantasy and reality was blurred, but frankly, I don't want to know if it was real or part of her imagination. It was very sensual, and again, oddly touching. The massage sequence, the 'kiss scene' and the ending were also very well handled. Overall, this dramedy should have received more acclaim than it did, and it places eight on my top ten of 1998. (as of now.)
Pulse pounding (spoilers)
This is one hell of an exciting movie. It starts off with a scene that sets up the suspense level of the movie, with the elevator accident. It is an incredible sequence, staged so magnificently (my kudos to the editing team. They did an brilliant job throughout the entire film). It was a hard act to follow, but director Jan de Bont does it admirably.
The basic plot: a really bad guy (it's Dennis Hopper, everyone's favourite in a performance that's of no stretch) has a score to settle after his simple demands of 3 million dollars aren't met (in the elevator fiasco). So he puts a bomb on the bus, and wires it to go off if the bus goes below 50 miles. Some people thought that 50 miles wasn't that fast, but there's absolutely no point in getting hung up on that. The bus sequence is an intense piece of filmmaking by all involved. The tautness of the situation is continually raised, and Jan De Bont and writer Graham Yost manage to crank up the suspense factor. Yes, the bus jumping the fifty foot overpass is ludicrous, but it is gloriously so.
Keanu Reeves actually gives a good performance. He is attacked for trying to expand is repetoire (Much Ado About Nothing, Dracula), so Speed is a refreshingly simple film for him. He is a great action hero (which was again proven with The Matrix). Sandra Bullock has great charisma, and she and Reeves have palatable chemistry.
An action film that cranks up the suspense factor like no other. Sure, its incongruous sometimes, but why carp?