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10 reviews in total 
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0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Audacious fun, 10 June 2001

To accuse Baz Luhrman of style-over-substance is missing the point, since the style is the substance of this giddy, splashy musical. It is appropriate that Luhrman incorporates Queen's "The Show Must Go On" into this film, as this is the cinematic equivalent of a Queen song -- intelligent, over-the-top and winking in a knowing way that let's the audience know it's not just in on the joke, but part of it.

The plot is just an excuse to throw together musical numbers and set pieces. To that extent, the second half of the movie drags and could have used some editing -- although the climactic scenes are very effective. I'd ditch the "Roxanne" number, simply on the grounds that it was musically uninteresting, for starters.

Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman both show the breadth of their talent, including their fine singing voices. Jim Broadbent uncharacteristically chews the scenery, delightfully, while John Leguizamo characteristically chews the scenery, also delightfully.

The use of music is almost always spot on, and any movie that not only touches upon Queen, but Elton John (big time), Sweet, Kiss and T-Rex shows an auteur who knows both zeit and geist in equal amounts. Oh, and the look of the film is just awesome, stitching together the best bits of cinema from the silents to Welles to today's cutting edge technology.

And best of all -- it's the best Kylie Minogue/Placido Domingo film ever...7.5 of 10, only because of the draggy bits -- but still worth seeing.

Mike Bennett

0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Labor intensive, 19 May 2001

The summary line is just a reference to the most over-the-top shoot out scene in a movie that is all about being over the top. The general critical line on this flick is that the plot makes no sense, but the action scenes are worth it. This is pretty much the truth -- in fact, the 'plot' scenes could be trimmed even further -- at times it takes too long to get from one action scene to another. Still, this a solid movie.

The performers, particularly the male lead, are fairly appealing, and it's always fun to see Tony Wong (the baddie in John Woo's HARD BOILED). Hark's direction is kinetic -- he's obviously having fun bringing us along for a ride with his camera. (Trivia note -- Hark fans should grab a copy of the Sparks CD GRATUITOUS SAX AND SENSELESS VIOLINS as Hark appears on the song titled, appropriately enough, "Tsui Hark").

Mike Bennett

Memento (2000)
0 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Manipulative but entertaining, 28 April 2001

Christopher Nolan deserves points for not only building on a clever premise, but providing a great deal of drama and comedy, without ever destroying the overall tone of the movie. The 'beginning at the end' approach really sucks you in, and it is easy to see how it could have been a disaster in the wrong hands.

Nolan is aided by three terrific primary actors -- Guy Pearce brings a tricked up intensity to his role -- part Ed Exley (his L.A. CONFIDENTIAL character) and part a guy who is both frustrated by his situation, yet still sees some humor in it. Carrie Anne Moss and Joe Panitalano (sp.?) are likewise outstanding, particularly Moss, whose character shifts tones a few times as the plot progresses backwards.

However, the ending of the movie is part of THE USUAL SUSPECTS school, which many people, judging by the ratings, apparently love. For me, the ending, like that of USUAL SUSPECTS is a screenwriter cheat -- perhaps moreso here. Instead of building to a logical conclusion (or a logical beginning?), the ending is decidedly random in a manner that suggests more that Nolan didn't know how to end the story, rather than providing a true resolution. When screenwriters get into this 'playing god' mode, I wish that maybe they'd try to pull a page out of the literary playbooks of Flann O'Brien and Alasdair Gray, and set up a confrontation between the lead character and the writer, who ultimately determines the character's fate.

This is essentially an terrific bunch of magic tricks.

Mike Bennett

Dogma (1999)
Nice try...., 2 January 2001

"Exposition" would be a better title for this feature, as Kevin Smith bites off way more than any auteur could chew. The script is bogged down by the constant lengthy explanations of various aspects of Catholicism and biblical history -- Smith really was in a bind here, as he needed the explanations to play out his plot, but they only serve to remove the necessary flow to the story.

Nevertheless, the provocative ideas and the fact that at one level Smith is taking religion seriously, gives the movie some value. However, this creates the other trap the movie falls into, which is that it's jokey tone (which at times, is hilarious) makes the relative seriousness of the final act seem totally out-of-place. Again, this may have been an insurmountable challenge for any director/writer.

Seeing this movie reminded me of a comment by Andy Partridge of the band XTC. He had attempted to prevent the release of "Dear God", one of XTC's most successful songs, a very questioning take on religion. Partridge explained that he thought he had failed to encapsulate his feelings on the subject, noting that he could have written a 3-disc box set on the subject, and still only scratched the surface.

I wish I liked this better, and although I can't recommend it, I wouldn't dissuade someone from checking this out.

Mike Bennett

Instant classic, 16 December 2000

Ang Lee outdoes himself with this movie -- he manages to combine legend and myth, with an epic grandeur, compelling love stories, ample humor and wit and some of the best action sequences ever committed to film. Lee's confidence as a film maker is apparent, as the movie builds slowly to its first daring action sequence -- yet as dazzling as it is, you ain't seen nothing yet. The tale takes place in vastly different setting, all beautifully photographed. The story isn't exactly complex, but it is has different moods and tones -- best exemplified by a lengthy, charming, flashback sequence. The acting is superb -- Michelle Yeoh and Chow Yun-Fat have that essential commanding screen presence (their really living archetypes) that immediately gives their characters weight. Zhang Ziyi more than holds her own with these legends. Awesome is an understatement.

Mike Bennett

1 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
Overrated, but fun, 2 December 2000

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

A free flowing series of vignettes on the road, filtered through the experiences of a teen journalist on a bus with a second-tier rock band. Cameron Crowe gets some laughs and smiles in this sentimentalized, semi-autobiographical tale. Some fine performances -- especially young Fugit and Billy Crudup, who deserves to be a big star.

What prevents this film from achieving greatness (almost greatness?) is that Crowe doesn't seem comfortable making this a more Altmanesque layered story with multiple viewpoints. Thus, when he gets to final couple of reels, he has to stick in some fairly contrived conflicts to bring tension to an otherwise easygoing picture. In particular -- the factchecker coming in and saying the band was denying their quotes. Excuse me -- didn't the kid TAPE his interviews?

0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
A couple points about a great movie, 2 December 2000

So many other comments capture the greatness of this essential movie viewing experience, I thought I'd just make a couple comments:

1. Janet Leigh. Some speculate her character must be an operative; others a waste of time in an otherwise spectacular film. I have to disagree with the former -- in order for Leigh to be on the train at that time would require a depth of surveillance intelligence by the Communists that would have undermined Marco's attempts to uncover the problems with Raymond Shaw. And since Marco talked freely with Rosie about his plans for Shaw, wouldn't the Communists tried to stop Marco from destroying their ultimate plan, which, but for Marco, would have succeeded? I must disagree with those who find Leigh's character pointless -- she provides a lighter tone to the picture and allows us to see the gentler side of Marco -- this serves to provide some relaxing moments before racheting up the tension. What is initially jarring is the light speed rate of their romance, and her initial attraction to Marco. But remember -- Sinatra was playing Marco -- one of the most charismatic, virile men to walk the planet. Even in his shaky state on the train, it's not surprising that a strong woman like Rosie would be drawn to him. Leigh gives a great performance, given how sketchy the character is.

2. James Gregory as Iselin -- is his performance to broad. Is it unbelievable that a clown like him could be nominated veep? Iselin is the major comic relief throughout the film. Moreover, look at the plastic nature of Gore and the bumbling aspect of Bush and I don't think it's that farfetched.

4 out of 7 people found the following review useful:
Missed opportunity, 27 August 2000

A clever premise -- overweight lothario with a formula for getting women meets his match -- is wasted when the screenplay falls back on typical gimmicks that it seemingly is trying to subvert.

Part of the problem is we never get to see the lead character, Dex, ever utilize his Tao and see how it fits in his life. Another big problem is the overly glib dialogue that manages to sound neither realistic nor stagy, just forced (except for Logue, who is nifty). And I could have done without the big pop culture scene where the guys hum TV themes around the poker table.

But the flaw that sinks the movie is the central relationship between Dex and Sid. At no point in time is there any reason to believe that she would be attracted to him. And the movie engages in the typical things are hunky dory/contrived rift, to keep Dex and Sid from getting together, until much later in the movie.

Finally, there is one scene where Sid appears to be totally falling for Dex when she drops a bombshell on him, and the audience. The nature of this revelation, and her spin on it, is such that it is impossible to believe that: a) she could have even a shred of romantic feeling for him; and, b) being a superficially intelligent human being, she may have wanted to deal with problem a lot earlier. But that would not have been convenient to the screenplay, and throughout the movie Sid makes a lot of snap decisions that may be a sign of multiple personalities.

4 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
Freed rules, 20 August 2000

There are plenty of hokey things in this film, but Tim McIntire's performance is one of the best ever in a rock and roll film. I don't know if this is what Alan Freed was really like, but I would like to think so. So often actors can't manage to provide charisma in their portrayal of a well known figure -- this was no problem for McIntire, who's charisma practically burns through the film. Lots of fun.

Happiness (1998)
5 out of 11 people found the following review useful:
Stylelessness over substance, 5 August 2000

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Contempt might have been a better title for this movie, because this seems to be all Todd Solondz shows for his characters throughout this feature. Hamstrung from the get go by an inconsistent set of performances (Dylan Baker and Cynthia Stevenson are good, Phillip Seymour Hoffman is extremely mannered, Lara Flynn Boyle overdoes the superficial routine), the movie tries to have its cake and eat it too. Adopting a veneer of ironic detachment, but still wanting to seem to be making a statement, Solondz badly misses the mark. Praise has been heaped on the purported socio-realism of this work, but the bulk of the movie is premised on manipulative "look what I can get away with" shock value, often in the from of heaping additional degradations on the characters, for no apparent purpose other than to really cram their lives down the toilet. Essentially, the movie is saying that many people are really screwed up and have bad lives, but offers nothing more than that superficial insight. While the movie does show glimpses of sincerity, Solondz constantly undermines any realism by utilizing cheap jokes -- the 11-year old masturbating, dog licking up the ejaculate, the mother kissing the dog and the boy bragging about his orgasm -- this isn't as much tasteless as thoroughly at odds with the overall subject matter of the film. Thus, the pedophaelia plot -- which might have been better as the subject of a whole, fully developed movie -- never achieved full effectiveness. As for comparisons with AMERICAN BEAUTY, that was also a pretty shallow affair, but compensated with great dialogue, a better handling of different tones and consistently good acting.