(On TV, September 1998) Earthworms. Sounds scary? Well, when they bite and they’re piled up high enough to rain down on a character when she opens a door, I guess it must be somewhat disturbing. Or, at least that’s what Squirm tries to tell us. The result is mildly effective. The science is ludicrous -anybody heard of power line breakers?- and the look is typically muddy-seventies, but the film is considerably helped by two rarities in characters: The skinny, nerdish hero is someone I could identify with, and the heroine (played by Patricia Pearcy) is still very attractive for a seventies’ film. (But then again, I have a weakness for long-haired redheads.) Worth a look. It will make you squirm.
(On TV, September 1998) This film doesn’t live up to its reputation of “the worst big-budget movie of 1995” mostly because, frankly, it’s not that bad. Granted, you would have a hard time convincing anyone given the fact that most of the film’s running time features half-naked women. What else do you expect from the story of a Las Vegas stripper? Still, it’s an okay story with a few interesting scenes. The characters are lousy and unsympathetic, the dialogue is laughably bad, the plotting is uneven and the action grinds to a halt whenever director Verhoeven wants to put up a nekkid boobs show, but it’s far from being a complete Z-grade mess of a movie. Anyone wishing for good porn, however, better look elsewhere: For all the nudity and suggestive dancing, Showgirls remains a curiously un-sexy movie. Blame it on nipple overload.
(In theaters, September 1998) One of the most realistic war movie you’re likely to see. Granted, I’ve never even been near a dangerous situation, but Steven Spielberg really puts viewers in the middle of the action in this WW2 epic. Bullets whiz by; tanks rumble under your feet; handheld camera shots gives you what the soldiers saw. Technically, the movie is excellent, although I’ll quibble that there were many unnecessary jerky camera shots. Beyond that, however, Saving Private Ryan tries to be honest, painting neither a gung-ho pro-war or a rabid anti-war portrait. War is hell, but not without a certain meaning. We are free to see the movie and make up our own conclusions. Saving Private Ryan is neither as good, as shocking or as violent that its growing reputation makes it to be, but it’s certainly that rarity; a film that deserves to exist if only to make history come alive. It’s not a crowd-pleaser that will warm hearts all over the country, but much like Schindler’s List, enjoyment is pretty much irrelevant. One of the best movies of 1998.
(In theaters, September 1998) One of the best buddy-cop movies you have already not yet seen. The standard formula (reluctant partners battling crime and developing respect for each other… yadda-yadda) is faithfully respected, but enhanced by the charisma of both leads Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan. The racist jokes are (mostly) defused by various factors, not the less being Tucker’s character’s complete social ineptitude. Chan isn’t as good here as his other movies, but still shine. Various clichés here and there (bomb defusing-by-cutting-wires… sigh) but still a lot of fun. Don’t miss it.
(Second viewing, On DVD, September 1999) Use boilerplate buddy-cop movie template. Insert Chris Tucker. Insert Jackie Chan. Stir as necessary. The result isn’t great, but it is certainly enjoyable, even on a second viewing. Chan remains impressive despite being restrained by American insurance concerns. Tucker isn’t as annoying as in his previous films. The DVD has a few interesting options, like a great commentary track by director Brett Ratner (though he pretty much destroys the illusion of a carefully-planned movie by pointing out all the last-minute ad-libs) and a documentary which features an extended long take where you can see Jackie Chan planning one of his bravura fight sequences. There are also more goodies like some of Ratner’s previous work, and a few deleted scenes (one of which, the visit to Peña’s apartment, should have been kept in the film.)
(On TV, September 1998) I just love everything done by Jackie Chan, but even I must agree that Rumble in the Bronx is one of his weakest effort that I’ve seen. Nothing really interesting happens in the first hour for one thing, and the supporting actors aren’t very strong… though the girls are cute. Unlike Supercop and First Strike (other slow-starting Chan films), the comedic bent of the script isn’t strong enough to sustain the first half. Things pick up soon afterward, just in time for a series of rather good action sequences, and a finale involving a hovercraft and a Lamborghini. Guilty pleasure, but fun.
(In theaters, September 1998) In many ways a throwback to the bare-bone spy thrillers of years past, as given away by the less-than-perfect lettering at the end. The plot is irrelevant, the goal is unknown but the acting is solid and the action scenes are shot is a way that’s not too confusing or hectic. Granted, there are plot holes here and there, as well as details that should have been spelled out, but Ronin is so well-executed that you might not care, except for the lacklustre finale. The two car chases are among the best action sequences seen this year, and the acting of De Niro and Jean Reno is superb as usual. Ronin has a feel that’s significantly different from most other action movies released this year, and should be seen if only for that.
(Second viewing, On DVD, November 2000) The very good and the rather disappointing intersect in this quasi-seventies thriller by legendary directory John Frankenheimer. The very good is easy to identify: The two spectacular car chases and the interplay between the actors—most notably Jean Reno and Robert de Niro. The flaws are more subtle, but no less annoying: The disjointed script that goes nowhere, the reliance over genre clichés and a huge silver MacGuffin. The DVD director’s commentary helps figure out what happened: A good original script (available elsewhere on the web, I believe) being reworked at the director’s whim. (It’s not a good thing to hear “I always wanted to do something about figure skating, so we changed the ending to take place there.”) Action fans and Jean Reno junkies owe it to themselves to see Ronin at least once: despite all its other flaws, it’s a solid thriller.
(On TV, September 1998) Right after watching this cine-biography of boxer Jake LaMotta, I felt indifferent. Shot in stark black-and-white, with unsympathetic characters and an episodic structure, Raging Bull is not a movie that lets itself being instinctively liked. But as the days passed, I kept thinking at the movie and as the cliché goes, it grew on me: the skill of director Martin Scorsese and actors Robert DeNiro and Joe Pesci is obvious, some images and lines of dialogue stay in mind and the result is nothing short of the classic movie that Raging Bull is. Not bad. Not bad at all.
(On TV, September 1998) It’s no mean feat for a courtroom drama to sustain interest when any sufficiently intelligent viewer can guess the major plot twists coming around at least one good half-hour before they happen. Usually, I try to go along with the game, but Primal Fear didn’t help out by revealing its oh-so-clever premise in the opening line (“What do you do when you know your client is guilty?” Duuuh! What do you think will happen, now??) The usage of standard thriller gimmicks (the sex videotape; oh, how shocking!) also lets the plot being comfortably predictable. Yet, Primal Fear is not a complete waste of time, mostly due to the good acting by Richard Gere, Laura Linney and Edward Norton. It’s also nicely directed, and the script (despite its predictability) is entertaining. Catch it on TV.
(On TV, September 1998) Once upon a while comes a movie so radically different from a visual viewpoint that it transcends its own weaknesses and becomes something of a gem. La Cité des Enfants Perdus is such a movie. Story, script, characters: Okay, but could have been better. But the visuals, however, probably can’t be improved. The vision is “steampunk”, a dark and grimy fantasy world of high-tech concepts executed with Victorian-era technology made of glass and brass. None of director Jeunet’s characters are beautiful; most are grotesque. The film is packed with delightful visual inventions. It is not enough to see it once. A very worthy video rental.
(In theaters, September 1998) Delightfully bad. Not only from an acting standpoint (Jean-Claude Van Damme, Rob Schneider… duh?) but also from the technical angle, where almost every possible camera trick is used in the first fifteen minutes. Knock Off is a study in how to mishandle an action sequence: Stuff that would have been incredible in John Woo’s hands (eg; the supermarket fight) ends up tepid here. Granted, Knock Off makes more sense when considered as a Hong Kong action movie that happens to star van Damme, but that doesn’t really excuse it. On the plus side, however, Lela Rochon is quite watcheable and the movie is simply great for the late-night party-with-friends type of watching. It’s bad… but in a way that won’t make you angry.
(On TV, September 1998) I don’t usually watch children movies, and that’s probably why I expected more from this Tarzan knock-off that I got. Granted, some of the comedy is clever (everything absurd and/or involving either the narrator or the native carriers was hilarious, for instance) but the remainder is just unbearably tedious. George Of The Jungle seems like the aftermath of a demented screenwriter’s half-hour of rewrite fun with a below-grade children film script. Too bad they didn’t let him play around with it longer.
(On TV, September 1998) Standard made-for-TV Science FIction, which is to say garbage! Really, this more-than-obvious futuristic sports drama is enjoyable as long as you don’t expect it to be any good. Unusually well-know performers: Vanessa Williams provides a reason for watching everything, Wesley Snipes had an interesting screen presence and Dean Cain is solid. The multiracial casting was great. Some special effects were nice. (For some reason, I also kind of liked the design of the head-mounted newscameras.) It gets awfully silly when they decided to rescue the love interest, though… Out-of-the-screenwriting-manual plotting, bad dialogue, half-baked concepts not fully explored (Pi ratings, anyone?)… what else did you expect?
(On TV, September 1998) Twenty-five years ago, The French Connection stood its ground as an intense action movie. Today, however, this tale of cops-against-drug-dealers seems tepid. The much-lauded car chase is interesting but not much more. The garage and subway sequences, however, are unexpectedly involving. I didn’t like the abrupt conclusion, which seemed to do its best to deny the audience a satisfying finale. With its bland villains, relatively low stakes, grim conclusion and ambiguous heroes, The French Connection seems more “realistic” than the average police drama but suffers a lot from historical perspective.
(Second viewing, On TV, September 1998) I first saw Executive Decision in theatres the first week of its release, and kept a fairly good impression of this tense techno-thriller. I was surprised to see, watching it again on the small screen, that it still held up pretty well upon a second viewing. The terrorist-take-over-plane plot is serviceable, but given a kick in the pants by the screenwriters’ originality. The craftsmanship of the tension is obvious; so is the director’s portrayal of the characters and the superb casting. (Never mind Kurt Russell’s charming everday man: This is Steven Seagal’s best movie, y’know?) The abrupt tone change of the last few minutes, which had annoyed me a lot the first time, didn’t seem to grating on second viewing. Not only one of my favourite movies of 1996, but one of the best thrillers ever made.
(On TV, September 1998) Unfortunately, due to the movie’s reputation, I already knew every frame of the film even before seeing it. A first belated viewing was curiously familiar and strange. Not a bad movie, but clunky at times–despite what film lovers say. Peter Sellers is pretty good, but the script seems half-poised between intense seriousness and wacky slapstick: Some say this is what makes this film great, but I just found it inconsistent. Still, a great movie-seeing experience, and the finale goes where few other movies have gone before (or since). Dark fun.