(On TV, August 1998) Now, why are people calling this Mel Brook’s greatest movie? It’s amusing, but not funny. It has its moments, but doesn’t sustain them. Some bits are fun, but most aren’t. Even Spaceballs was better. Seems to me that the western genre is ripe for another send-off. (Although, to be fair, the pacing of modern comedies is so much more frantic that it probably spoils what must have been hilarious twenty-five years ago.)
(In theaters, August 1998) This is the movie that Spawn tried to be. A very cool comic-book-inspired action-fest starring a bigger than-life superhero against a conspiracy of evil creatures (in this case; vampires). Blade begins with one of the most gripping introduction possible (I won’t spoil it), and if it doesn’t quite maintain this level of energy all throughout the movie, it finishes on an adequately action-packed finale. The direction is kinetic, and the little over-the-top stylistic touches push Blade in the realm of the really cool movies. Wesley Snipes is great, the girls are cute, the hardware is mouth-watering and the villain does a creditable job. It’s not only a B-movie, it’s a B+-movie!
(Second viewing, On DVD, May 2002) Most dynamic vampire-hunting film ever? Well, not since the sequel came out, but the original Blade still kicks a lot of blood-sucking butt, and the DVD is still one of the best collector’s editions out there. Not only does it include the requisite making-of, but it also features a half-finished alternate ending, plus plenty of discussion about how and why they settled on the finished product. The best thing about the disc, though, is the commentary track, which features snippets from various crew and cast members. Wesley Snipes seems arrogant and silly; Stephen Dorf sounds a bit sloshed and star-stuck. There is a cinematographer that can’t stop bitching about the compromises he must make in his work. A considerable amount of time is spent discussing rejected concepts and alternate sequences. (One of which, the “baby vampire” seems cruelly absent, though the “body freeze” answers one huge logical howler I’d noted in a previous review.) In sum, a very good track that takes some time to deliver, but which really does hold our interest. The filmmakers always knew what kind of movie they wanted to deliver, and the result is there in its full DVD glory. A must-buy if you’re a fan of the film.
(In theaters, August 1998) For a reason I cannot fathom, Baseketball flopped badly, pulling in less than $5M on its opening weekend to finish 11th at the box office tally. It was at our local dollar-theatre its second week. For $2.75C., it couldn’t be much of a disappointment, and wasn’t. Baseketball is funny. Not a classic, not a very good comedy, but a relatively satisfying one. Moments of cleverness lurk behind the remainder of this enjoyably silly movie. I predict a certain cult-status among late-night movie fans. Give or take a star whether you like cheerleaders in tight black leather underwear or not. It’s that kind of movie.
(Second viewing, On DVD, August 2002) I was one of the few supporters of the film when it was first released (and then promptly sank at the box-office), but a look at the film four years later only confirms my moderate enthusiasm. Hey, I still think it’s one of the most solid spoofs of the late nineties, but I’m not quite as taken by the (relatively modest, given its latter contemporaries) degree of gross-out humor or the often-inconsistent pacing. The film sets itself in a familiar narrative structure that’s very comfortable but doesn’t do much to spoof itself. It’s too bad that the film’s tone never equals its brilliant first two minutes about the decline of professional sports. There are several lulls, and a lack of background gags but there are also a few good moments and the two lead actors pull their own. Give it a try if you still haven’t seen it. The DVD contains a perfunctory making-of, but not much more.
(In theaters, July 1998) As a casual fan of the TV show, I was adequately satisfied by this adaptation, which retains most of the qualities and faults of the TV show. On one hand, it irresponsibly promotes goofy conspiracy theories, makes no attempt at internal consistency, confuses “complexity” with “incoherence” and can’t have the guts to answer its own questions. One the other hand, it’s beautifully cinematographed, competently realized, fairly entertaining and the leads actors have a nice chemistry. A good TV episode, it’s a bit of a let-down -content-wise- on the big-screen. Wait for the video.
(In theaters, July 1998) You wouldn’t expect a film about guys stalking a woman to be hilariously funny, and yet it is. In the not-so-grand tradition of the “gross-out” school of comedy (see Dumb & Dumber), here comes There’s Something About Mary, which uses props such as mentally retarded people, crutches, bodily fluids, genitalia-caught-in-zipper, sun-wrinkled breasts, homosexuals, hyperactive pets and almost-dead dogs. It’s vile, disgusting, not subtle but also incredibly hilarious… but you will hate yourself for laughing at these things. (The movie is very probably lost on anyone older than 25.) In short: Very funny, but I can’t recommend it.
(In theaters, July 1998) As kids, I suspect most of us dreamed of having action figures that could act as our best friends, carry on conversation and generally be more animated that they were. Small Soldiers carries this concept all the way by proposing action figures equipped with military CPUs. Before you can say “Hey, haven’t we seen this in Gremlins before?”, the small soldiers of the title are busy wasting most of our young protagonist’s neighbourhood. The special effects are okay, but the script is strictly by-the-numbers and by the end of the movie, that’s what matters: Whereas Small Soldiers could have been so much more, it ends up being fairly ordinary. Side note: In February, I managed to grab hold of an early draft script of Small Soldiers. (don’t ask how.) While the theme and characters remain in the final movie, a lot of material has been cut. The result is a tighter and better movie, but also one that loses a lot of the draft’s most memorable parts. Curious…
(On TV, July 1998) Who would have thought to combine nostalgia for the Cuban Missile crisis of 1962 with an examination of B-grade horror movies of the same era? Director Joe Dante, that’s who. John Goodman is great as a horror-movie producer peddling his latest movie (“Mant!”) to a small Key West city. In fact, he’s so much fun (along with the fake movie itself) that the various adventures of the teen characters become more of an intrusion than an integral part of the movie. Uneven, but worth a look. Matinee‘s social commentary about horror movies does not go much further than a Stephen King essay, but is unusual to see in a Hollywood product.
(In theaters, July 1998) At first glance, there’s nothing very exciting about the concept of Zorro: A masked guy (yawn), swordfighting (yawn) evil Spaniards (yawn) in 19th century California (yawn). And yet, The Mask Of Zorro fills a need you didn’t think you had: To see one good swashbuckling movie about a stylish caped crusader. Antonio Banderas brings authentic looks, charisma and comic timing to the title character. Sultry Catherine Zeta Jones burns the screen. The stunts are great, the swordfighting isn’t butchered by quick edits, the script is okay and the sheer style of Zorro isn’t overshadowed by the unobtrusive direction. One of this summer’s most satisfying blockbusters. Great fun for everyone.
(Second viewing, On DVD, September 1999) Fortunately, this marriage of old-fashioned swashbuckling adventure with modern pacing still holds up amazingly well to a second viewing. This is obviously a by-the-number action script, but the whole atmosphere lifts the film up above your run-of-the-mill film. A trio of extremely capable actor (Antonio Banderas, Anthony Hopkins and the breakaway presence of the luscious Catherine Zeta-Jones) and some quasi-classical scenes complete the work. The DVD doesn’t add much besides an unremarkable making-of featurette.
(On TV, July 1998) A routine “buddy” cop movie that raises itself above average with the inclusion of a few action sequences (the money shot being a car doing a vertical 180o in front of a bus) and the marvelous mismatched characters personified by Danny Glover and Mel Gibson. Exemplifies a certain archetype of 80s buddy-cop action pictures: I wonder how much of the film’s then-freshness is invisible today thanks to countless imitators?
(In theaters, July 1998) Once you’ve accepted that Lethal Weapon 4 is going to be an incoherent action comedy, the movie is a blast. Sporting no less than six big-name stars (Gibson, Glover, Russo, Rock, Pesci and Li) and numerous explosions, Lethal Weapon 4 is still a pretty good follow-up to the franchise. It’s certainly one of the first 1998 releases that can be enjoyed by a wide audience without too many problems. Again, the standout sequence of the film is a fabulous car chase that resulted in applause in my theatre. Rene Russo is criminally underused, the coincidental aspects of the plot are troublesome, the emotional content of the movie is manipulative, some of the comedy falls flat and most of the drama is quickly glossed over, but Lethal Weapon 4 delivers like few blockbusters this year.
(On TV, July 1998) This sequel loses something of the initial interaction between the two lead characters, but gains fantastic villains and even better action sequences while retaining a certain dramatic edge that is nowhere to be found in latter films of the series. Series regulars may regard this one as a high point of the series, lame ending aside.
(On VHS, July 1998) Incredibly convincing account of a U-boat submarine patrol in the middle of WW2, Das Boot ranks as one of the finest war movie I’ve seen. Mesmerizing, suspenseful, touching in its sincerity, Das Boot should be seen at least once. My “Director’s Cut” widescreen version was in German, with English subtitles. It works. This should be experienced on as big a screen as possible, with the best sound system you can afford to put together. It’s a bit longish in spots, but uses most of its long stretches to build suspense or develop characters. Don’t miss it. Makes a perfect double-feature for Saving Private Ryan.
(In theaters, July 1998) It gave me a headache, it frequently didn’t make any sense, had some of the goofiest science ever and the worst editing I’ve seen lately, but Armageddon was definitely a perfect summer blockbuster. It’s the second “something’s going to smash into the Earth!” movie of 1998, but whereas Deep Impact was okay drama, Armageddon is slam-bang action. The goofs are innumerable and I could probably prepare a good hour-long seminar on “Physics Armageddon writers should have studied”, but you’re unlikely to be bothered with it: just consider it a caricature. Okay acting, spectacular Special Effects, adequate characters… Complete nonsense, but it delivers. One truly enjoyable brainless audiovisual stunner, just perfect for the 4th of July. I just wish for an extended director’s cut where they’ll use shots lasting more than three seconds.
(Second viewing, On TV, February 2001) Watching this on a TV screen with three year’s worth of hindsight is an instructive experience. Stripped of the hype and of the audiovisual pummelling prepared by director Michael Bay, the film proves to be better and worse than remembered. For one thing, despite all his problems with coherent editing, it’s difficult not to be impressed with the dynamism of Bay’s direction: moving cameras, beautiful framing, interesting setups, wonderful colors. Indeed, the first half-hour of Armageddon is a top-notch, A+ thrill ride, with what may be the most extravagant action scene yet put to film (the destruction of New York, with its orgy of exploding cars). It’s in the latter part of the film that things don’t go as well. While the script works well as a comedic action film, it never takes off when it attempts to build love scenes (the infamous “animal crackers” bit), drama (“That salesman is your father!”) or heroic sacrifice ([spoiler]) The last half-hour is not only far too long and repetitive, but the editing problems get worse (it’s virtually impossible to have a clear idea of what’s happening) and the script problems also deteriorate in unintentional ridiculousness that clashes more and more with the heroic tone of the film. At least no dollar has been spared to bring us the pictures (some of which only last a flash or two) and most often than not, the pictures are worth looking at, while they’re still on the screen.
(In theaters, June 1998) “The best movie of the decade”? Not really. “One of the better Hollywood films in a while?” Probably. Penned by Andrew Nicol (of the excellent Gattaca, which shares many similarities with The Truman Show), this lighthearted (but darkish) socio-fiction is a surprisingly good vehicle for Jim Carrey (who had more or less prepared for this role with last year’s Liar Liar). The concept is about as high as they come (a man finds out that his whole life is a TV show) and so it’s no surprise that the movie isn’t as good as we would imagine it to be. Several aspects of the script, and the way it chose to resolve some issues, are especially disappointing and fall apart under closer scrutiny. But no matter: The Truman Show, like Gattaca, works better when considered as a loose metaphor rather than an literal work. It’s not close to being perfect, but it’s still recommended viewing. And the closing scene is almost perfect, although most viewers won’t realize that ultimately, the joke is about them.
(In theaters, June 1998) I do not like what I’ve read of Elmore Leonard, but he’s currently Hollywood’s darling author (with Get Shorty, Jackie Brown and Out Of Sight). His stories are slight tales of small-time crooks and overcomplicated heists. So, it’s a surprise to find out that while Out Of Sight keeps these flaws, it’s still better-constructed than most of the other movies I’ve seen this year. George Clooney is better than usual as the male protagonist and Jennifer Lopez is as good as his counterpart. Nice use of non-linear storytelling makes this a movie a notch over the rest. The last act is the best one, the comedic content being cranked up and the action being more focused. As for myself, I find my reaction to Out Of Sight to be an ominous sign of my cinematic preferences: While I can say that it’s one of the best movies I’ve seen this year so far, I think it would have been a better choice on video… I like my movies-at-the-theatre to be loud, explosive, Special Effects-filled and quick-paced.