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Armageddon (1998)
This movie stinks
14 April 1999
I know there are people who like Armageddon. I know there are people who cry during it and think it's exciting. Well, I think it stinks. It's an awful movie, agonizing to sit through. Ben Affleck has no appeal, Bruce Willis is insufferable, and Liv Tyler is annoying and pouty. The story makes no sense, director Michael Bay cuts annoyingly to a new shot every two seconds, and it's so over-the-top loud. And it contains the most laughably awful scene in a movie all year, involving Ben, Liv, animal crackers, and that oft-repeated Aerosmith song. Run away from this movie. It is a testament to everything that is wrong with Hollywood. It stinks.
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Jerry Maguire (1996)
A Great Movie
14 April 1999
Is there a movie that captures the 1990's better than writer-director Cameron Crowe's "Jerry Maguire"? There might be, but it's hard to imagine a movie doing it better than this tale of a cynical, money-driven sports agent who abandons his high lifestyle to find refuge with a single mom and an enthusiastic client. It's a riches-to-rags story where the hero finds redemption, and it's wonderful. "Jerry Maguire" is everything a modern romantic comedy should be: smart, funny, character-driven, and incisive. Crowe occasionally allows his movie to drag a bit (It clocks in at just under two and a half hours)but his characters are so interesting and human, and their predicaments so vital and involving, that the movie's extended running time is hardly anything to complain about. Tom Cruise has never been better in a movie. He deserved his Academy Award nomination for his portrayal of the title character, who goes from greedy and shallow to warm and human. The charisma and confidence that have always served Cruise so well in his career are put to great use in the movie's very funny first half. Cruise really does something special in the second half of the film, however: He lets his guard down and allows Jerry's emotions to shine through. Cuba Gooding, Jr. won the Supporting Actor Oscar for his work as Rod Tidwell, Jerry's lone client after he leaves his sports agency. Gooding, Jr.'s performance is uniformily hilarious and perfectly over-the-top, but he never strays from showing Rod's human side, which is expressed through the character's love of his family. The other great performance in the film (and one that was sadly overlooked by Oscar) is Renee Zellweger's as Dorothy Boyd, the warmhearted assistant and single mom that Jerry falls for. The actress is a constant delight, lovable and energetic. But her character is not simply a sappy romantic foil for Jerry; She's an intelligent and perceptive woman who ultimately makes Jerry earn her love. The supporting roles in Crowe's film are also written with remarkable complexity and the actors portraying them all give terrific performances. Bonnie Hunt is tenderly funny as Dorothy's skeptical sister; Regina King is wonderfully spirited as Rod's loving wife; Kelly Preston is refreshingly ruthless as Jerry's coldhearted fiancee; Jay Mohr is enjoyably sleazy as Jerry's underhanded nemesis; Jerry O'Connell and Beau Bridges make a nicely believable future football star and his father, respectively. The real scene-stealer in this remarkable bunch, however, is young Jonathan Lipnicki, who is adorable and hysterical as Dorothy's son. This is a great movie. Crowe writes and directs moments of perfect tenderness that never become cloying or manipulative and he also has a knack for creating scenes of pure joy. Included throughout the film are monologues from Jerry's mentor, Dicky Fox, that allude to the film's overall themes. They are completely random and completely perfect and they show that Crowe (who also directed 1992's "Singles" and 1989's "Say Anything...") has not lost his sense of quirkiness. In fact, Crowe hasn't lost anything with this one. "Jerry Maguire" is a winner in every sense, a movie that overflows with intelligence, humor, romance, and enormously engaging characters. It's a perfect movie for its era, one of the decade's best comedies, and a glowing example that even a business as cynical and jaded as Hollywood can occasionally still do things right.
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A Sparkling and Surprising Romantic Comedy
30 March 1999
After a year of making art-house films with respected directors like Stephen Frears, Neil Jordan, and Woody Allen, Julia Roberts came back into the mainstream with the wonderfully smart My Best Friend's Wedding. This fluffy and witty creation is a testimony to the fact that even a genre like romantic comedy can be resurrected if it has some surprises up its sleeve. And director P.J. Hogan and screenwriter Ronald Bass are both full of surprises. The first is that MBFW refuses to cop out in the end, and supplies one of the most winning finales of a romance in eons. The second is the inclusion of plot developments that make the characters more than just two-dimensional stereotypes. And third is the original and charming use of music in the movie, particularly in a restaurant scene that has all the earmarks of a classic. The movie's look is as bright and cheerful as a wedding cake with Hogan making generous use of numerous upscale Chicago settings. And, finally, there is Rupert Everett, who is hilarious and completely winning as Roberts' gay buddy and manages to steal every scene he's in. When Everett's not on screen, the movie drags a bit, bogged down occasionally by plot contrivances and also by the fact that the leading man being fought for by two beautiful women is played by Dermot Mulroney with all the charisma of a floorboard. Luckily, the leading ladies fare better. Cameron Diaz, as Roberts' rival, is irresistible, but also gives her cheerful character a good deal of depth. As for Roberts herself, her character pulls some pretty mean tricks to get her man, but the actress is able to convey more comic flair, vulnerability, and screwball energy than she ever has. She makes Julianne likable, hateable, smart, silly, neurotic, and dazzling. If Pretty Woman established Roberts as a major comedic talent, then My Best Friend's Wedding shows how she's flourished. It's more than a skillful and funny turn; It's a work of art.
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Eve's Bayou (1997)
A richly rewarding drama
30 March 1999
Eve's Bayou is a movie of revelations, the first being the arrival of writer-director Kasi Lemmons, who scores an unforgettable debut with this haunting, mesmerizing, completely original piece of work . The second is Debbi Morgan, a soap-opera actress who gives a seductive, transfixing performance as a widow with psychic abilities that should have garnered her an Oscar nomination. The third is that alluring, literary dramas can be still be done so well. This is a great film, about ghosts, voodoo, and the power of memory. Its Southern gothic tone is a mixture of Tennessee Williams and Anne Rice. And besides Morgan's breakout performance, it features strong work from a good cast, particularly Samuel L. Jackson as straying family man, Lynn Whitfield as his wife, and two of the best child performances to grace the screen in ages by Jurnee Smollett and Meagan Good.
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Parenthood (1989)
A Warm and Hilarious Comedy
30 March 1999
Parenthood is a first-rate ensemble comedy, a movie about the stress that being a good parent has on a person, but how the love and laughter that comes with the job makes it all worth it. Director Ron Howard, who has never made a comedy better than this, supposedly has a large family and he is obviously able to find a great deal of truth in the terrific screenplay by Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel. The cast is flawless as well. Steve Martin, one of the most underrated of actors who has been criminally ignored by the Academy for a number of great performances, is in top form here and successfully walks a fine line between screwball humor and drama. It's some of his best work. Equally good are Jason Robards as Martin's negligent father and Mary Steenburgen as his patient, assuring wife. Best of all, though, is the wonderful Dianne Wiest, who earned a deserved Academy Award nomination for her hilarious and touching performance as a single mother with two estranged teenagers. Critics usually sight the sentimental ending as the movie's biggest flaw, typical of a Ron Howard movie. But even though it's on the sappy side, it works as an appropriate close to an underrated comic treasure.
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A Sparkling Romance
30 March 1999
The Fabulous Baker Boys is a movie with a plot that's been done countless times before. There's two partners (in this case, the Baker Boys) who have had a lounge act for over fifteen years and suddenly have their lives thrown upside down when a gorgeous lounge singer enters the act. Jack (the unsettled playboy brother played by Jeff Bridges) falls for the showstopping Suzie (Michelle Pfeiffer), much to the dismay of responsible family man Frank (Beau Bridges). The whole setup is so corny and predictable that it's hard to believe writer/director Steve Kloves fashioned something so wonderful out of it. The Fabulous Baker Boys overflows with style and class. The cinematography by Michael Ballhaus is lush and atmospheric. Kloves' direction is smart and so his script, which artlessly combines humor, romance, and drama in a surprisingly poignant story about hopes and dreams. Dave Grusin's jazzy score and the gorgeous melodies only enhance the mood. Best of all, though, are the performances. Casting the Bridges brothers as the Baker boys was inspired. It's fascinating to determine how much of their real-life relationship is played out here. Beau brings numerous grace notes to what could have been a stereotypical character and Jeff gives one of his best performances as the miserable Jack. But, the big news in this movie is Pfeiffer, who became a star with this sharp, confident, stunningly sexy turn. The screen literally jolts to life when she appears. And that now-classic scene where she sings "Makin' Whoopee" on a piano is certain to immortalize her as one of the great movie stars of this century (and one of the best of current actresses as well). Pfeiffer's in a class all by herself, and so is this movie.
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Twister (I) (1996)
A Fun Thrill Ride
29 March 1999
The biggest complaint that usually accompanies Twister is the movie's lacckluster plot. And, yes, this is indeed a noticeable flaw. But, honestly, is this movie really more empty than any other big-budget suspense movies? Granted, the screenplay by Michael Crichton and Anne-Marie Martin could use more depth and surprise, but it's not exactly embarrassing. And Twister has some huge things going for it. First, there's the direction of Jan De Bont, who did a spectacular job with keeping 1994's Speed on track and once again maintains a pulsing momentum in this, his second effort behind the camera. Second, there's the game and likable performances by Bill Paxton and Helen Hunt, who bring more conviction and depth to their characters than the screenplay expects of them. And, third, there are the special effects, which are simply astounding. Cows fly, hail falls, houses are torn apart. And once they start, they never seem to stop. Twister may not offer anything new in terms of drama, but as a big-budget special effects extravaganza it's enormously satisfying and a lot of fun.
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A magical comedy
29 March 1999
Everyone Says I Love You is as light and fluffy as any movie ever made, and that's one of its biggest charms. Woody Allen's hilarious, irresistibly romantic musical-comedy never pretends to be profound, and that's what makes it so lovable. The plot is pretty much insignificant. It takes several wealthy New Yorkers and has them profess their love in songs from the 1930's like "Just You, Just Me", "Makin Whoopee", and "I'm Through With Love". None of the actors (with the exception of Goldie Hawn, Alan Alda, and Edward Norton) can sing and that's the movie's wonderful point: That even the most normal person can be inspired to croon melodies when in love. Allen also has his vintage classic lines and he makes good use of a great cast, particularly Hawn and Drew Barrymore, who offer radiant comic turns. The movie is also great to look at, alternating spectacular shots of Central Park with Venice and Paris. And the musical numbers are inspired and hilariously goofy. The final one which has Woody and Goldie partaking in a poignant, moonlit waltz along the Seine, is one of the most magical scenes in movie history. It's a fitting finale for a highly original and wonderfully enjoyable movie.
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Working Girl (1988)
A dated but enjoyable satire
25 March 1999
Watching Working Girl ten years after its release, it's hard not to dismiss it as a dated satire of the corporate world of the 1980's. At the same time, that's part of the movie's charm. Even though ten years has made the costumes, hair, and production design irritating, the charm and intelligence of Mike Nichols' Cinderella story still shine through. As does the quality of the performances, which are also revealing a decade later. Harrison Ford makes a perfectly likable romantic lead while Alec Baldwin and Kevin Spacey offer amusingly smarmy comic performances. But the actresses walk away with the movie. Joan Cusack is hilarious in a scene-stealing turn as a Staten Island secretary, and Sigourney Weaver is great as a shrewd and conniving career woman. The brilliance of Weaver's performance is how slyly and genuinely she plays her villianous character, often decieving the audience as she decieves the characters in the movie. And finally there is Melanie Griffith who gave a star-is-born performance as the big-haired secretary who falls in love with Ford's merger specialist and smartly climbs her way up the corporate ladder after Weaver stabs her in the back. Griffith earned an Oscar nod for this performance (as did Cusack and Weaver for theirs) and it's a testament to how funny, sexy, and wonderful she is in the part that even after numerous flops and odd career moves, she's still a well-known movie star ten years later (For an opposite side at this scenario look at Jennifer Beals in Flashdance or Jennifer Grey in Dirty Dancing, both of whom became big stars and then fell off the face of the earth). Nichols' direction is smart, as is Kevin Wade's clever screenplay, and the light and funny romantic comedy leads up to a surprisingly suspenseful and enormously satisfying climax. All-in-all, a satisfying and amusing entertainment.
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A wonderful romantic comedy
24 March 1999
The American President is a movie that makes you feel good. That seems like corny praise but Rob Reiner's sparkling look at romance in the White House is one of those movies that does everything so well it almost makes itself look effortless. First, there's Aaron Sorkin's remarkable screenplay, which is not only full of great wit but also with extraordinarily smart dialogue. Second, there's the tone that Reiner has set for the film, one that is glamarous and charming enough to hark back to the great romantic comedies of Hollywood's golden age. Third, there is the cast, which is simply perfect. Michael Douglas shows a range that some might have forgotten existed after his recent roles; he's funny and utterly charming. Annette Bening lights up the screen in the classiest romantic performance from an actress in eons. Michael J. Fox has never been better in a movie and neither has Martin Sheen. David Paymer, Wendie Malick, Anna Deaveare Smith, John Mahnoey, Samantha Mathis, and Richard Dreyfuss offer solid support. This is a great, Capraesque movie--one of the finest romantic comedies of the 1990's and one that didn't deserve to be snubbed by the academy when Oscar nominations came out in 1996. The American President is two hours of warm and funny pleasure and the fact that it barely seems to exist in reality is only part of the fun.
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The Grifters (1990)
A great film noir
24 March 1999
Anjelica Huston is one of the most underappreciated actresses of our time and her talent has never been more evident than it is in Stephen Frears' bold, sexy, surprising The Grifters. Huston is dynamite as a cold-hearted con-artist who gets involved in a juicy triangle with her grown son (John Cusack) and his sexy girlfriend (Annette Bening). Whether slinging razor-sharp one-liners across the screen, subtly suggesting her feelings as a mother, or fearlessly conveying greed and ruthlessness, Huston never goes wrong. Cusack is terrific too as is the enormously talented Bening, who expertly suggests that her dim-bulb character isn't all she's cracked up to be (Both she and Huston received Oscar nods as did Frears for director and Donald Westlake for his screenplay). All-in-all, The Grifters is an enormously droll, dark, and satifying crime pic with an unforgettable ending and classic performances.
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A smart and funny masterpiece
18 March 1999
Writer-director James L. Brooks is a filmmaker who is able to brilliantly combine comedy and drama with rich characters and unforgettable dialogue. Terms of Endearment and As Good As It Gets are his other two masterpieces (His 1994 I'll Do Anything is a good movie but a flawed one), but Broadcast News is his personal best. Brooks paints a savage, knowing, hilarious look at the television news industry and also what can happen to your personal liefe when your job consumes you. The performances are simply phenomenal. William Hurt gives depth to a dimbulb anchor, but Holly Hunter and Albert Brooks walk away with the movie. Hunter just dazzles with a fearless, emotionally intricate portrayal of a neurotic producer and Brooks is hilarious and poignant as the reporter who loves her. Brooks should also be credited for a realistic ending, a different and satisfying touch to a different and deeply satisfying movie.
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Avalon (1990)
Barry Levinson's masterpiece
17 March 1999
Barry Levinson has made many great films (Rain Man, Good Morning Vietnam, Diner) and also some not-so-great ones (Jimmy Hollywood, Toys, Sphere) but Avalon is my personal favorite among this director's works. It's a magnificently constructed, beautifully filmed, and deeply personal film about the American family in the mid-20th century. Very funny, surprisingly touching, and ultimately heartbreaking and moving, Avalon is completely perfect, blessed with a screenplay that should have scored Levinson an Oscar (he was nominated) and wonderful performances, particularly from the great Armin Mueller-Stahl and Joan Plowrightand a very young Elijah Wood. Avalon might be Levinson's own personal story, but like any great movie, it hits a universal chord.
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