Category Archives: Movie Review

Batman & Robin (1997)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Batman & Robin</strong> (1997)

(On TV, March 2000) If someone with only a superficial knowledge of -and no particular affection for- comics books set out to do a big-big-big budget blockbuster, s/he probably wouldn’t do worse than Joel Shumaker’s Batman & Robin. Let’s get all the positive out of the way first: The set design is fabulous, and none of the actors really embarrass themselves with the material they’re given. The rest of the film is pure trash. The scenario makes no attempt to be smarter than the average adult’s worst prejudices about comic books they never read. The dialogue is almost uniquely composed of one-liners, and they’re so lame that the audience laughs at them, not with them. The direction shows occasional blips of interest, but usually seems unaccountably off by some ill-defined degree. The film is shot in one of the most garish, less visually attractive neon-on-black colour scheme you’ll ever see. Subplots abound, and strangle each other in an effort to get some recognition. But in all its awfulness, Batman &  Robin attains some kind of bad-movie nirvana of compulsive watchability. How worse can it become, after its first moronic fifteen minutes? Not much, but you can’t stop watching. A surefire candidate for a home-grown group MST3K session.

(Second viewing, On DVD, April 2010) An extra decade hasn’t been kind on this film, which is just as terrible now as when it first escaped in theaters.  Yes, there is a lot of work in what’s shown on-screen… but the childish script, overdone set design and garish cinematography quickly kill off any interest we could have in the rest.  If the 2005 DVD re-issue has a saving grace beyond the lavish making-of featurettes, it’s that the filmmakers seem to have an idea that the film wasn’t well received, and (for what it’s worth), director Schumaker half-apologizes to those (read; everyone) who were disappointed in the film.

Any Given Sunday (1999)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Any Given Sunday</strong> (1999)

(In theaters, March 2000) This would seem to be, in many respect, a very disappointing film: The plot is relatively innocuous, especially for controversymeister Oliver Stone. The script is rather average, not really rising above the usual sports clichés. The directing is too choppy, too gimmicky, too focused on fast editing to give the sports scenes the grace they need. In short, this is a film with substantial problems. But, it still manages to be a lot of fun. Is it simply that a sport film can’t go wrong with a young male audience? Is it the fact that the direction improves in time for the final game? Is it because, despite its problems, this is a solid, conventionally satisfying story? Possibly. Probably. The soundtrack adds to the fun: Though it’s of unequal quality, the sheer number of songs used virtually guarantee there’s something to like in there (It’s also more effective if you already know the songs: A particular dance piece played over a match against San Francisco takes on an extra dimension when you know the title of the piece is Propellerheads’ “Take California”. Ditto for a rookie’s first moments on the field, scored with Fatboy Slim’s “Right Here, Right Now.”) In short: It’s pretty much what you want on a big-screen, big-sound football film. Crunchy, unchallenging fun.

Wild Things (1998)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Wild Things</strong> (1998)

(On VHS, February 2000) Let’s be upfront about it right away, and admit that this film is pure popcorn: It’s built around plot twists, spends a lot of time focusing on curvy female forms and never aims at providing anything more -or less- than two hours of pure entertainment to its viewers. But what it does, it does damn well. Naked people (including Denise Richards), dead bodies, double-crosses, a briefcase filled with money, alligator wrestling and gorgeous south-Floridian cinematography are some of the elements composing this crunchy thriller. A great performance by Bill Murray, classic quotes such as “You skanky bitch!” and “My mother will kill me if she finds out I took the Rover”, Neve Campbell as white trash, a score by George S. Clinton and plenty of comic relief are others. Don’t expect much, but be prepared to have a lot of fun.

Countdown aka Serial Bomber (1996)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Countdown</strong> aka <strong class="MovieTitle">Serial Bomber</strong> (1996)

(On VHS, February 2000) This is, from stupid title to trite finale, one of the most inept piece of celluloid I’ve seen in a long, long while. Think of almost any element that could go wrong in a terrorist thriller, and they’re all there: An heroine (Lori Petty) that looks like a crack addict, a whiny villain that’s far more annoying than threatening, wrong technical details, implausible developments, bland action scenes, no suspense, an ending that’s more laughable than exciting, obvious dialogue and a complete lack of tension. Those all outweigh the rather interesting intentions of the film, like setting up a female protagonist with a Japanese policewoman and/or killing off most of the characters. In short; a video rental to avoid, and a study in how *not* to build a thriller. We asked our money back at the local Blockbuster. They easily complied.

Seconds (1966)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Seconds</strong> (1966)

(On VHS, February 2000) John Frankenheimer is best known for the classic The Manchurian Candidate, but he should get special mention for this almost-forgotten piece of speculative fiction. The film begins as one middle-aged businessman is offered the opportunity to start afresh as a new person (played by Rock Hudson, no less). But, of course, there’s a hidden price… Starts off well -if longuishly-, lags a lot in its middle (What was that bacchanal scene all about?) but makes it up in its last nightmarish minute. Not exactly a piece of fluff cinema for a Saturday night, but a worthwhile film for serious SF fans.

Scream 3 (2000)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Scream 3</strong> (2000)

(In theaters, February 2000) This film ends the Scream trilogy on the worst possible note, being exactly the type of film that the first one parodied. Surprisingly tepid for a horror film, mostly because there’s never any tension (idiot characters do stupid thing, and the oh-so-infallible Ghostface kills them.) nor any unsettling elements. Formula? Hell, yes! Not much laughs either, and those feel more forced than anything else. Catch it on video if you must, but there’s not much to be found here.

Ransom (1996)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Ransom</strong> (1996)

(On TV, February 2000) It takes some effort to put together a good thriller, but no one ever accused Ron Howard of not being a professional filmmaker. Here, he draws upon Mel Gibson, Renee Russo and Gary Sinise to set up a sombre kidnapping affair that quickly goes awry. Solid leading-man Gibson is perfect for the role, and Sinise makes the most of his name’s resemblance with sinister as the bad guy. Even though the film feels slightly too long at more than two hours, it moves quickly and the viewer is never bored. The conventional finale disappoints somewhat, as if the scriptwriters didn’t know what to do with their last-minute twists. But Ransom mostly delivers what it sets out to do; a good, fun, crunchy thriller.

Pitch Black (2000)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Pitch Black</strong> (2000)

(In theaters, February 2000) This film must be considered as an SF B-movie in order to be properly assessed. It doesn’t set out to re-invent the alien-creatures-eat-humans type of story, but is plays effectively within the limits of the sub-genre. No one in the audience can be blamed for wanting to leave after the first five minutes (the direction of the opening crash is a blur of flashes, jerky camera work and incoherent editing), but the movie settles down after that for a rather good second act, with plenty of chills, thrills and fun visuals. Vin Diesel makes a strong impression as bad-boy Riddick. The script falters by the time the last act come through, with no clear big finale, and a muddled last five minutes. The intentionally grainy cinematography might not be to everyone’s liking, but fits perfectly with the idea of a B-movie. One thing to like is the film’s reliance on purely visual cues in order to provide a sense of strangeness. (Even though the film severely fumbles with its “darkness” motif, as most of the latter half takes place in a full-moonlit environment.) Not great SF -the ecosystem is patently impossible- but great fun, and sometimes that’s all you need.

Patch Adams (1998)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Patch Adams</strong> (1998)

(On VHS, February 2000) This film approaches unbearability by its callous usage of mental patients, cancerous children and personal grief in order to build a “heartwarming tale of life”. The treatment of the girlfriend character, killed by some random psychotic in order for the main character to have his own crisis of faith, is particularity repulsive. Robin Williams is insufferable when he dons his false saccharine personality. The script compounds bad taste with dumb one-sidedness, painting Hero Patch’s enemies with a Pure Evil brush. The central thesis of the film (“medicine is cold and uncaring”) is actually correct, but the scriptwriters completely missed that this is order for physicians to protect themselves against burnout. Gee, why isn’t that covered in the film? Oh right; all doctors are evil! The film quickly becomes an intellectual tug-of-war between its loathsome manipulative intentions and our own innate intelligence. The viewer can win, but the battle leaves unhealthy mental scars.

Lung hing foo dai [Operation Condor 2: Armour Of God] (1986)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Lung hing foo dai</strong> [<strong class="MovieTitle">Operation Condor 2: Armour Of God</strong>] (1986)

(On VHS, February 2000) Standards disclaimers apply where reviewing Jackie Chan films: Thin plot, forced humor, mysogynism, choppy pacing, etc… Armour Of God is a bit more indulgent in these flaws than usual, and commits the added sin of boring the viewer for its first hour, but nevertheless maintains the usual Jackie Chan strengths: Amazing action set-pieces, genuinely funny physical comedy and an overall sense of fun that can’t be denied. For fans.

Heathers (1988)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Heathers</strong> (1988)

(On VHS, February 2000) Rather less effective than what I had heard, but still stands as one of the finest teen comedies of the eighties. I’m not sure that such a film would have been commercially viable a decade later, what with its subject matter of students “suiciding” other students, but it’s certainly as interesting now than before. It hasn’t really aged all that much unless you start focusing on how *young* Christian Slater, Winona Ryder and the luscious Shannon Doherty all look. Filled with many subtle sight gags and blink-you’ll-miss-it laugh-aloud quotes (“People may like you, but I *know* you”) that highlight its smart writing. Said writing flags noticeably in the second half, as if neither writer nor director knew what to do with their premise after the initial hour. Would make a great companion to Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Election.

Die xue jie tou [Bullet In The Head] (1990)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Die xue jie tou</strong> [<strong class="MovieTitle">Bullet In The Head</strong>] (1990)

(On VHS, February 2000) This certainly feels like John Woo’s most personal film, but it’s certainly not a *fun* movie like Hard-Boiled or Face/Off. What it is, instead, is a wrenching, often unbearable Hong Kong view of the Vietnam war, with four protagonists who will be forever changed by the experience. Starts out slowly (it takes nearly an hour before we see the usual Woo shootouts) but then quickly becomes involving at a visceral level. No humour, no relief. Features a POW camp scene that will sear itself in your mind. The film is somewhat of a let-down after that, feeling overlong and forced in its pyrotechnic conclusion. Not a fun pop-corn rental, but nevertheless an essential part of the John Woo collection.

The Devil’s Advocate (1997)

<strong class="MovieTitle">The Devil’s Advocate</strong> (1997)

(On VHS, February 2000) Now that’s a pretty good film. I was struck, halfway through, by how well all the subplots seemed to come together, like a good novel. (It *is* an adaptation…) There’s a lot of symbolism too, both of the smack-on-the-head-obvious to the ooh-subtle variety. But beyond that, you get good direction, great performances by Keanu Reeves and Al Pacino (who tears through his role with relish, especially during the last fifteen minutes), a snappy pacing despite the almost-three-hours runtime and a memorable finale. It’s kind of a shame that said finale doesn’t make too much sense in retrospect, or that nothing *more* is done with the central premise, but when it’s so well-done, who can complain? Plus, it would be unfair not to mention the high babe-factor of the film, which shows nearly all the female stars in more-or-less complete nudity at one point or another. (Most of them are worth it.) Not a great film by any means, but quite an enjoyable video treat.

Braindead aka Dead Alive (1992)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Braindead</strong> aka <strong class="MovieTitle">Dead Alive</strong> (1992)

(On VHS, February 2000) This covers a lot of the same gonzo gory-horror/comedy than the first two Evil Dead films, though not with the same sustained level of interest. The first hour is more funny-peculiar than funny-ha-ha, (Your reviewer was heard muttering “What’s this? A Romantic Comedy?”) but things pick up shortly afterward. The sense of humour is definitely warped, and some set-pieces rather more puzzling than enjoyable (what *was* that thing in the attic?) but it’s certainly worth a look for pure off-the-wall weirdness. Not for sensitive stomach, of course; seeing dismembered zombie body parts being used as… well… anything other than dismembered zombie parts isn’t for everyone.