(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.
(On TV, June 1998) Guys organize party, guys meet girls, guys get in trouble, guys get happy ending and girls. Now that the plot has been given away, let’s just say that House Party is a notch over the average entry in this genre mainly due to a certain innocent fun that’s present both in the actors, and in the making of this movie. Far from every joke works, but those who do, do. Since it’s a musical, it’s no wonder that the movie’s highlight comes at mid-point during a delightful dance sequence and a good-natured rapping contest. (The French translation I saw had at least the good taste to leave the rapping in the original English version!) Good-natured, mostly harmless fun.
(On TV, June 1998) Take possibly the best action director on the planet at the time (John Woo). Take one of the blandest action “star” of the moment (Jean-Claude Van Damme). Take one of the most routinely average B-movie action script possible. Mix’em up together and you get Hard Target, possibly the most beautifully directed action B-movie ever. It’s far beyond ludicrous, it doesn’t have any surprises, it’s impossibly outlandish, but even then the directing is so compelling that it elevates the whole to a watchable state. Woo couldn’t make it any good, but he could make it impressive. A portentous fore-runner to Broken Arrow, and the superlative Face/Off.
(On TV, June 1998) My sister was almost speechless when she realized that I was watching Grease for the first time. “It’s a classic!” she finally said. “It’s a movie that defined a generation!” Well, maybe not, but it has a certain naive charm. Never mind that their fifties is a complete figment of their imagination, Grease is fun to watch, especially with a young John Travolta (and an equally-young Jeff Conaway, of Babylon-5 fame) The songs aren’t that good, but there are at least two memorably snappy tunes (“Summer Nights” and “We go Together”). Mercifully, the French version I saw had the good sense to keep the musical numbers in their original English version.
(On VHS, June 1998) Before coming to America and directing Hard Target, Broken Arrow and Face/Off (each much better than the previous), John Woo was already a famous movie-maker in his native Hong Kong. There, he wrote are directed several action movies that are now coming over to North American video stores. The Killer is reportedly one of his best efforts. The film might seem a bit unpolished by Hollywood standards, but still contains a native energy that is amazing to watch. The gun battles are even more over the top than almost any other movie. The story, while not perfect, works. In its own way, The Killer is as preposterous as any Jackie Chan movie, but made dramatic rather than comedic. A quirky choice, but memorable.
(On TV, June 1998) This was actually the second time I saw the movie. The first time, I saw only the latter half of the movie, during which a hostage situation happens. This time around, I saw all the development. My conclusion is that it’s a pretty good hostage comedy, but that the first hour can be safely skipped. Otherwise, you get a movie that goes awry at mid-point. Robin Williams is okay. Oh, and the girls are pretty cute.
(On VHS, June 1998) “Groovy, baby!” are the two last words in Austin Powers‘s credits, and they describe the film quite well. An outrageous mix of sixties parody and very nineties comedy, the movie gains a lot from the presence of Mike Myers. Sure, it’s not exactly well-balanced nor completely successful, but the overall tone is so original (if this can be said of a parody) that it hits more than it misses. The character of Austin Powers himself will probably remain a part of my imagination forever. Yeah, baby, yeah!
(In theaters, May 1998) After the usual “fun but dumb” thrill left by most movies, it’s refreshing to see a movie that let you use your mind at full gear throughout its running time. Unfortunately, The Spanish Prisoner isn’t half as smart as it would want us to believe… but we almost have to feel grateful for the attempt. This multiple-twists story is about an inventor who suddenly finds his life much more “interesting” after he invents a substantially profitable industrial process. He make friends, who might or might not be friends, and his company now might or might not want to give him full recognition. But don’t worry; as in The Usual Suspects, everything you think you know is wrong. The problem with tightly-plotted movies of this type is that they run the very real risk of being too complicated for their own good. And that’s exactly the problem of The Spanish Prisoner: Upon careful examination, several parts of the intricately crafted plot fall apart. Simply put, the chain of event in the movie could only have happened in a movie. Characters have to make dumb decisions, and commit even dumber acts. The movie simply rings false, an impression compounded by the unlikely dialogue. And of course, once you finally realize that this is the kind of twisty-turvy movie where no one is who s/he appears to be, you can safely predict the course of the plot by using inverse logic. Still, the acting’s good (especially Steve Martin, if you can believe it), the plot is entertaining and even though the plot is in its own way as preposterous as Godzilla‘s, at least it’s an intellectually ambitious failure. Definitely worth a video rental.
(In theaters, May 1998) First things first: Godzilla stinks. The dialogue is beyond horrendous and well into inanity, the story has gaping holes, the pacing could -should!- have been improved, the characters aren’t very interesting and the attempts at “humor” are embarrassing to watch. (Especially the awful “Siskel and Ebert” bits.) In retrospect, Godzilla stands as a particularly irresponsible waste of good money and even better talent on a more than sub-standard script. If only someone with any storytelling sense had rewritten this script in the vein of Moby Dick, then we could have had a killer movie to watch. Alas… But, to paraphrase Spice World, it was quite entertaining without actually being any good. The setup is intriguing. Some of the set-pieces are a lot of fun to watch. Jean Reno is a delight (but then again, he speaks French most of the movie, which is huge plus for my French-Canadian ears.) The ending car chase is pretty spiffy and the final battle against Godzilla is spectacular. In the meantime, most of New York’s landmarks get trashed quite thoroughly and we get to see some pretty special effects. (It’s a shame that they had to use darkness and rain to cut CGI corners, but we’ll see about that in the sequel.) In the realm of the usually-stinky monster movies, Godzilla stands as a more polished (if not necessarily better) species. Trashy B-movies adapted to contemporary standards. Whether or not you’ll like it still depends on your tolerance for trash…
(Second viewing, On VHS, August 2000) I stand by my original review: Godzilla as made by the “American” team of Emmerich and Devlin definitely has its moments, but they’re constantly dogged by uneven pacing, a script that should be taken out and burnt, below-average acting and too-expensive CGI effects. Compare and contrast with the Japanese-made Godzilla 2000 to see a film made with a lower budget, but whose willingness to trade perfection in effects shot allows for more exciting directing and more storytelling possibilities. Still; the set-pieces here are exciting and if you’re willing to gloss over the pacing in-between Godzilla’s presence on the screen, it’s a pretty good monster movie. Vicki Lewis is absolutely delicious -not to mention underused- as a flirtatious scientist. And Jean Reno is cooler than the sum of the rest of the film.
(In theaters, May 1998) I had been following the various rumors and previews about Deep Impact, so I thought I had a pretty good idea of the film’s value when I entered the theatre. I expected a maudlin tear-jerker with a cool five-minutes of special effects at the end and perhaps a good idea or two. I was right, but what I didn’t expect was that the movie actually played better than I thought. Overall, the science is also better than average and the story shows signs of maturity uncommon for disaster films. (Which is why I tend to consider Deep Impact a “drama” rather than a catastrophe movie.) On the other hand, the movie shows clear signs of having been rushed to the screens: Things are told rather than shown (the most egregious example being the missile strike against the comet), the scientific accuracy degrades by the end of the movie, the script should have been rewritten at least twice, the journalist character is annoying, at least one subplot should have been completely cut, the directing is average, things don’t always make sense (The car crash? Why?) and thus we are left with a curious impression of “okay, but could have been so much better.”
(In theaters, April 1998) I expected the worst, and got something not entirely unenjoyable. I never watched the original series, so I could appreciate the new movie on its own terms. And the terms are similar to last year’s The Fifth Element: Unpretentious entertainment for the whole family, with illogical actions scenes that look pretty good, science-fiction concepts badly handled, loud sounds and annoying sidekicks (in this case, an insufferably bad monkeoid named “Blarp”, but should be pronounced “Barf!”) The acting’s okay, the special effects are mostly great and the production design is simply fabulous. Dialogue, plot and coherence were truly Lost in Writer’s Mind, although there are a lot of missed opportunities that were nicely introduced in the first hour. Nevertheless, it’s one entertaining ride. Not Bad, one might say.
(Third viewing, On TV, April 1998) Lord knows why, I’ve got a soft spot for this movie, widely known as one of the biggest bombs in the history of cinema. This tale of one singing cat-burglar is very uneven, intermittently clever and suffers from a lacklustre first ten minutes before it switches in high gear, but it also sports Bruce Willis in a fairly good character, Andie MacDowell (what more is there to say?) and some of the weirdest, most over-the-top comedy you’ve ever, ever seen. (“There aren’t many challenges left when you’ve made your first billion at nineteen. So I set upon my next goal: Global Domination!” [The shareholders applaud]) I can see why it’s not for a general audience and I’d sure would have liked to see another (tighter, funnier) draft of the script. But this movie left me in stitches each time I’ve seen it (thrice, two of them in butchered French translation) so… see it at least once, and don’t expect anything.
(In theaters, April 1998) This is another of those movie that are a lot of fun providing that you don’t expect them to make a lot of sense. In this case, it’s a violent comedy in the tradition of Pulp Fiction, Hexed and Grosse Pointe Blank mixed with the stylistic excesses of The Chase, The Rock and/or a bunch of Hong Kong movies. The characters are at least unusual, and the action sequences (all five of them) are fairly well executed. The movie tries too hard to be funny, and regrettably indulges in a lot of despicable stereotyping but it’s okay if you’re in the mood for this kind of thing. Acting is also above average for this kind of movie, with special kudos going to Mark Wahlberg, Avery Brooks and newcomer China Chow (may she have a long and successful career: we could certainly benefit from seeing more of her around!) Very good movie to see with a bunch of MST3K-like friends.
(In theaters, March 1998) What can you say about a Jackie Chan movie? You either like the goofy humor, the incredible real-life stunts, the lousy stories, the insulting sexism and the hammy acting or you don’t. As a confirmed Jackie Chan fan, I can say that it’s one of the most enjoyable movie he’s done, mainly due to a certain lack of repetitiveness that had plagued some of his earlier films. The action is also nicely distributed, with at least four memorable sequences in the movie, including a horse-carriage chase and a construction site fight. The Pepsi-fight is also fun to watch. The ending might be disappointing for martial-arts aficionados, but is a blast if you like monster-truck shows. Better than Operation Condor, if less hilarious. Unpretentious fun, Mr. Nice Guy is exactly what you need to take a 90-minutes brain break.
(In theaters, February 1998) I can’t wait I waited this long to see this movie. To L.A. Confidential, I offer my ultimate movie-criticism compliment: It was as enjoyable as a good book. A triumph of storytelling, L.A. Confidential packs a staggering amount of material in less than three hours, which fly so fast that you’ll never realize it is almost a three-hour movie. Every minute is worthwhile, and few moments are boring. A masterful script is backed-up by excellent performances by all six lead actors (Kim Basinger, yeah!), surprisingly great direction and equally excellent editing/scoring. L.A. Confidential gives me back my faith in cinema. Or rather; I go see movies for things like L.A. Confidential. I’m not sure if Titanic or L.A. Confidential is my favorite film of 1997, but I’m sure that L.A. Confidential is the better movie of the two.