(In theaters, February 2000) It’s not every day that you can be engrossed by a financial thriller mixed with a family drama, but that’s what you get here. Of course, the plot is enough to be interesting: A young ex-illegal-casino-owner gets hired in a stock trading firm where he’s guaranteed to become a millionaire in three years. Of course, it’s a scam, and as far as scams goes, this one is pretty clever yet explained in an understandable fashion. The acting is decent, with standouts being Ben Affleck in a scene-stealing quasi-cameo and Vin Diesel as a near-decent trader. Protagonist Giovanni Ribisi is less impressive, however; this reviewer couldn’t help but imagine Edward Norton in the role and bemoan Ribisi’s casting. The script is sharp, with funny interludes and not-so-funny insightful vignettes. The family drama drags a bit, and the protagonist’s “redemption” isn’t effective, but that shouldn’t keep you from Boiler Room, a darn good film.
(On TV, February 2000) This film from what I’ve heard, a typical Hong Kong action film. Terrorists threaten Hong Kong with nerve gas release unless authorities free an imprisoned cult leader. Two rebel cops are left to deal with the terrorists. Many explosions, one great opening car chase and crunchy gunfights make this film worthwhile. Cleanly shot and competently edited too. What makes more interesting than your usual Hollywood thriller, however, is the typical Hong Kong sense of unpredictability: Children and protagonists die, civilians are mowed down and even though the usual action conventions are preserved, they’re done so is such a slightly different format that things remain interesting.
(On VHS, February 2000) A man is trapped in an infinite time loop; every day is the same day, but *he remembers*. Groundhog Day? Nope! 12:01 came out a year previously, and unlike the Bill Murray comedy, actually wears its SF elements like a badge of honor. Not only does everything makes sense and is played for keeps -this is a thriller rather than a romantic fantasy-, but the character evolution of the protagonists feels real. In fact, the script is an admirable masterpiece of good B-film scripting, what with great dialogue, actions and motivations that make sense, smart characters, plenty of payoffs for all the little setups and some darn good individual moments. Jonathan Silverman makes a great protagonist, and Helen Slater is simply wonderful as the Scientist Babe. Video stores are made for this type of wonderful discoveries you wouldn’t see anywhere else.
(In theaters, January 2000) It’s not often that you’re disappointed by a film that’s better than you expected. But there’s an exception to be made for Supernova, yet another cheap January sci-fi release. Already famous for a troubled production history (including directors storming off the project and removing their names from the credits), Supernova had the potential of a modern trash classic, a film so bad that audiences could actually revel in its pure awfulness. Unfortunately, Supernova is actually not-so-bad, with adequate technical values and a plot that sustains interest for the full length of the film. The only really sore spot, for me, is the interior set design, which rivals Star Trek (The Original Series) for sheer illogic and apparent cheapness. (rows of blinking colored lights? Slanted glass corridors? Come on!) Not a good film, but not a truly disgusting one, and that’s too bad.
(On TV, January 2000) A predictable failure; it’s a film inspired by an Saturday Night Live sketch that -for some unfathomable reason- tries to be a family melodrama with a deadly serious earnestness. It features, among other things, a therapy session that plays without a laugh and ends on a note of defeat. Hardly what you’d expect to find, and the rest of the film isn’t necessarily more enjoyable. Protagonist Stuart Smalley is the type of falsely cheerful character you’d love to slap around, and the mixture of faint comedy and high family drama around him simply doesn’t mesh well. It can work if you find the characters interesting and sympathetic… but chances are that you won’t.
(In theaters, January 2000) Remove the cute little computer-generated mouse protagonist, and there’s not much left to this film. A mostly-bland children’s film that truly depends on its special effects, Stuart Little is sufficiently sympathetic to make you smile all throughout, but not funny enough to elicit laughter among viewers above twelve. (There is one notable exception, a blackly hilarious police station scene that seems straight from another film: “Do you want to have it straight?”.) There are two rather good action scenes, competently milked for maximum effect. A good choice when there’s nothing else on TV, but not worth a great bother.
(On TV, January 2000) Not many people know the story of hispanic-american singer Selena, but this film does a creditable job of bringing to a wide public the unfortunate tale of a promising career cut short. Jennifer Lopez is radiant in the title role. (Lopez’s newfound singing career makes the film more interesting now than during its initial theatrical release) While the film doesn’t really break out of the biographical format, it does manage to create a perceptible sense of loss, and that’s more than good enough.
(On TV, January 2000) About as unremarkable a piece of “thriller” cinema as it’s possible to find. Though I’m not familiar with the original TV series, I sure hope it was better than what was presented on-screen, which reeked of gimmicky (past trauma, character trademarks, fake spy tradetalk, etc…) devices. The techno-babble stinks, the romance isn’t special, the action set-pieces are non-existent. Only the interesting musical ambience and the charm of the two lead actors save this one from total memory wipe.
(In theaters, January 2000) As with 1998’s The Thin Red Line, there’s a great quasi-classic film inside Magnolia, but it’s smothered by at least forty-five extra minutes of padding. Clocking at more than three hours, director P.T. Anderson’s third feature is undoubtedly an ambitious film, juggling nine quirky main characters, a coincidence-filled storyline and several high-intensity emotional moments. But it’s also exasperatingly over-indulgent in its writing, editing and pacing: Characters ceaselessly break into repetitive, obscenity-filled monologues of little value. By the time a dying character is confessing a litany of past sins, most viewers will be checking their watches. This isn’t to say, however, that this is a bad film: The first fifteen minutes are a blast, as is the concluding rain scene. Anderson has an awe-inspiring mastery of directing (the film is filled with clever cinematographic tricks) and when Magnolia gets going, it truly is impressive. Expect film enthusiasts to dissect this one for years to come. (Favorite detail: The studio security officer taking away the “Exodus 8:2” sign, as if to protect the audience from spoilers… Favorite shot: Inside the ambulance crash…) But, sheesh, someone shoot the editor responsible for this mess. And beat up the people who didn’t suggest to Anderson that his script was perhaps a tad too long.
(On TV, January 2000) Interesting as it starts from a very dangerous premise (male scientist makes himself pregnant) and completely defuses all possibly controversial elements, ending with a final products that’s about as challenging as plain pablum. Arnold Schwarzenegger embarrasses himself as the pregnant scientist, though Emma Thompson makes the best of her role. Lousy gags and juvenile humor pepper the script. Not really recommended.
(In theaters, January 2000) A puzzling film. It has a competent story, numerous good special effects, good laughs and a great concept; what if aliens came to earth and sought the help of our SF actors? (Never mind that this exact premise was the basis of 1998’s Diplomatic Act, by Peter Jurasik and Williams H. Keith Jr.) It’s such a can’t-lose premise that even the lousiest writers couldn’t mess it up. And that’s pretty much what happens here: Despite the inherent comic potential of parodying Star Trek and Trek Fandom with the help of Tim “Buzz Lightyear” Allen and Sigourney “Ellen Ripley” Weaver, Galaxy Quest delivers the goods in a strictly pedestrian fashion, never for an instant getting really wild. But at least it delivers, which is more than one could say for many summer blockbusters. Which leads us to Galaxy Quest‘s biggest mystery; why the heck was it released in the Christmas deluge when it fit so perfectly in a summer lineup? Oh well…
(Second viewing, In French, On TV, May 2001) This holds up rather well to a second viewing, especially given the lowered expectations. When not expecting the ultimate Science Fiction TV-Show parody, it plays like a strong, if formulaic, comedy. Most of the actors do a great job, most notably Tim Allen and Tony Shaloub. Special effects are good, especially the rock monster. Some of the script’s most weepy/expected moments (The “We’re actors” confession, the teen-called-to-help segment) are more annoying. I still wish that it would have been a wittier comedy, but it’s still quite good as it is.
(On TV, January 2000) I can testify that this film works pretty well as a comedy without catching any of its references to the noir genre it’s so obviously parodying. This fabulous cinematic experiment intercuts actual scenes from classic 1930-1950 films into its own B/W footage, and so includes Steve Martin and the gorgeous Rachel Ward interacting with the great Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Vincent Price, Cary Grant, Greta Garbo… and a few others. It presumably blows the mind of the fans of these type of films, but as a total neophyte to this period, I though the film was pretty darn successful without knowing the referents. You’ve got to love the recurring tie gag.
(On TV, January 2000) This film has a rather big problem. It’s basically a rethread of The King And I with a satiric bite, with Fran Drescher as a sarcastic American “teacher” suddenly dropped in an East-European country ruled by a kind-of-dictator. Some of the funny bits work; Drescher does deliver a few fun zingers and the film does exhibit moments of cleverness whenever it tries to make fun of the basic premise. Unfortunately, the film takes itself much too seriously most of the time, and ends on a purely-straight romantic note, which doesn’t jibe with the sarcasm that had been, up to that moment, the best part of the film. Might be best watched as a dubbed translation, as no one can have a more annoying voice than Drescher…
(On TV, January 2000) A charming fairy tale about a farm, its animals and the human farmers. Though quite fun and always interesting to look at, it does lacks some “oomph”. The computer-animated animals are cute, but there are signs that the film doesn’t fully exploit its potential. Still, good fun.
(Second-through-fiftieth viewings, Toddler-watching, On DVD, June 2014) Sometimes, it takes a different perspective to appreciate a film at its true value, and so it is that toddler-watching Babe (that is; over and over again) with a curious two-and-a-half year old only underscores what a magnificent achievement this film is. We usually skip over the dark opening and the sheep death scene, but most of Babe is fit to be watched by very young kids, even if as nothing more than a pleasant montage of scenes with adorable animals. (Tell no one, but the scene in which Babe convinces a sheep to take her medicine proved to be of pedagogical value.) It’s upon the fifth or fifteenth viewing that you begin to realize how perfectly executed Babe is: As a representation of a bucolic family farm, it’s got charm beyond measure. James Cromwell is nothing short of an icon as a laconic farmer, and the near-silent climax is a thing of beauty. Babe him/herself is a hero worth cheering for, and the sheep are almost impossible cute (and I say that as someone who has worked with sheep.) George Miller’s hand in this film is mostly that of a producer/screenwriter (Chris Noonan directed the film), but you can recognize the success of his approach in the rewatchability of the film. Babe is sweet but just as much fun for adults than it is for young kids. Let go of any cynicism and enjoy.
(On VHS, December 1999) Choose this film. Choose visual dynamism. Choose densely textured construction. Choose a cult classic. Choose thick annoying English accents. Choose good acting by Ewan McGregor. Choose a darn funny film with unfortunate scatological vignettes. Choose yet another good English crime dramedy. Choose one of the most harrowing description of heroin addiction ever put to film. Choose life. You know you want to do that.