(In theaters, August 1999) Any film featuring kids playing with guns, explosives and ballistic mathematics can’t do wrong! Naturally, a story about rocket-making boys at the end of the 1950s can’t be anything else but inspiration, especially when it’s based on a true story (Homer Hickman’ Rocket Boys). It gets even better when you realize that October Sky is a coming-of-age story that doesn’t focus on beer, sex or proms, but on intellectual breakthroughs, hard work and confidence in yourself. It works even better than it sounds, and is one of the very few movies to be watched by everyone in the family without any discomfort. An all-around winner, made with skill and distinction: See it, and see it now!
(On TV, August 1999) With Hitchcock’s 100th anniversary celebrations, two local TV stations ran some of his films. While I was not interested enough by Psycho to keep watching it beyond the infamous shower scene and couldn’t muster the interest to see most of The Birds (watched the set-pieces and returned to my book for the remainder of the film), I must admit that North By Northwest still works very, very well forty years later. Okay, most of the special effects are weak and the beginning could be tightened, but the dialogue and the plotting gradually build to a high pitch of interest. Interestingly, the movie uses (defined?) most of the modern conventions of thrillers, up to the gimmicky ending at A Famous Location. Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint are great in their roles, and the overall result is worth a look.
(In theaters, August 1999) Thank goodness that the screenwriter didn’t take his script seriously! What could have been a tedious exercise in yet-another-teen-romance-that-ends-at-the-prom suddenly becomes an acceptable film with some greater resonance than what we might expect. Some choice gags (“The Simpsons” theme, a Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas flashback, etc…) pepper the film, making it seems far more clever than it truly is. Leelee Sobieski shines as the Hollywood hot-babe- with-glasses-so-we’re-supposed-to-know- she’s-smart-and-ugly. The movie falls flat near the end, as a long-awaited confession cuts off a half-dozen plot threads in thirty seconds, but the rest is okay.
(In theaters, August 1999) Holds the distinction of being a satisfying disappointment. Given its premise (a satire of superhero films by looking at the “B-grade” superheroes), its assembled talent and its superb special effect work, one could have expected a truly memorable experience. Alas, such is not the case: The narrative meanders, the quips are wildly uneven, the villain isn’t impressive, the resolution too conventional. Fortunately, the end result is still loads of fun, much like when Men In Black delivered good summer fun even if it couldn’t match its own premise. Most of the actors are delightful (with special kudos to Ben Stiller, William H. Macy and Janeane Garofalo), some one-liners are really good (“By doubting training you only train yourself to doubt”) and the overall atmosphere is just wonderful. Grrreat soundtrack. Yes, Mystery Men could have been much more, but it’s quite delightful as it is.
(Second viewing, On DVD, November 2000) This isn’t quite as good the second time around. Sure, the actors/characters are (mostly) as appealing, the lines still as funny and the overall sense of fun still unbeatable. But the bad moments, boring stretches and various incoherencies all pile up to diminish the film’s lasting impression. Director Kinsha Usher’s commentary track is one that will actually diminish your opinion of the film by pointing out last-minutes ad-libs, referencing deleted scenes not included anywhere on the DVD and generally acting like a barely-articulate doofus. (“…and we thought it was really funny” is the commentary track’s most-often repeated line. Problem is that the “funny” stuff most often isn’t.) Worse; a lot of the film’s jokes seems to have been put together by the actors, director, production assistants, even the assistant sound editors… but the writer is barely referenced once. (And even then, it’s as a vaguely derogatory reference to the film’s original script.) Oh well… comedy by committee usually works well, though as proven here, it doesn’t hold up very long.
(In theaters, August 1999) I like most movies because they entertain. I admire some movies because they’re very well done. I only love a few movies for their emotional impact, and The Iron Giant joins this select club by virtue of being an excellent film. It’s not “merely” a story about the friendship between a boy and a giant extraterrestrial robot, though it is also exactly that. It is, at turns, comedic, dramatic, horrifying, uplifting and every else you’d wish a great film would be. Cleverly constructed and exceedingly well-executed, The Iron Giant is simply wonderful. It can’t escape being a children’s movie (it eschews emotional subtlety and drags as it goes through the early “required scenes”) but also holds as much content for adults. It’s a measure of how good the film is that I was near-tears at the line “I am not a gun”, and horrified at a firepower display that would normally make me cheer. Great stuff, great movie; see it.
(On TV, August 1999) A documentary about wrestling? Yes, and a darn good one. Beyond simply exploring the fascinating “sports/entertainment” business of wrestling (and settling once and for all the question Is-Wrestling-Fake?), Wrestling With Shadows details the real-life sordid business surrounding the fall of Bret “Hitman” Hart, the Canadian “good guy” wrestler forced into “bad guy” status by World Wrestling Federation honcho Vince McMahon and then unceremoniously fired—all in the name of ratings. The documentary is very well-done and incredibly managed to obtain actual proof of McMahon’s duplicity. Wrap this up in the carnival spirit of wrestling shows, and you’ve got a documentary that almost has it all. Though overlong in spots (during flashbacks to Hart’s family history, for instance), Wrestling With Shadows is certainly one of the best documentary I’ve seen in a while, and should appeal to a variety of viewers not necessarily fascinated by wrestling.
(On VHS, August 1999) This gets a failing grade for two reasons. One, this parody of high-school dramas isn’t very funny. Yes, there are chuckles; yes, some set-pieces are great; yes, the whole movie is fun. On the other hand, it’s not that funny if you’re not familiar with the source material, the material isn’t clever or unexpected and there is far too much plot for the various gags. The second failing of High School High is that despite everything, it thinks of itself as terribly funny. The biggest sin of the film is to actually allow long reaction shots to let the audience laugh. (There’s a gag, then a second-long shot of a character looking amused/puzzled/nauseous while -in theory- the audience laughs their heads off, then the movie continues) This, given the non-hilarious nature of most jokes, totally kills the pacing of the film and gives an air of unbearable pretentiousness to the whole movie. Oh well, at least Tia Carrere (and not a few young actresses) looks good, which is considerably more than what one can say about Jon Lovitz.
(In theaters, August 1999) Yet another one of these everything-goes-wrong comedies that could be over in fifteen minutes if anyone in it acted rationally. But no, we get lies-leading-into-more-embarrassing-lies, idiotic decisions, contrived bad luck and a bunch of other annoying things. The result is a comedy with some moments, but a romance that falls very flat. Fortunately, the direction has its moments of interest, the soundtrack is unusually dynamic and a few scenes work well. Despite the happy (?) ending, this is not really a good date movie.
(In theaters, August 1999) Back in 1973, right after Richard Nixon’s resignation as President of the United States as a result of his implication in the Watergate, not many people would have been favourably predisposed toward a comedy about these events. Times have changed, tragedy plus time equals comedy and Dick arrives as a cross between bubbly teen comedy and nostalgic social comment. Despite a few misfires and an unwillingness to really go over-the-top (or to tone down the most outrageous scenes), this movie does its job reasonably well, and leaves the audience satisfied. Great soundtrack, good acting and a decent script (which unfortunately lags in the second half), plus amusing funhouse-mirror portraits of such figures as Nixon, Kissinger, Woodward and Bernstein. Though not required, it helps enormously to prep up on your Watergate history before seeing the film.
(In theaters, August 1999) A sad paradigm of the stereotypical Hollywood formula action film. Use an easily-graspable premise (two strangers stuck with chemical weapon that detonates if heated up at more than 50F), an unbeatable pitch to studio executives (“Speed on ice!”), two young and popular lead actors (Skeet Ulrich and Cuba Gooding Jr.), terrorist villains and the expected plot twists. Those still hoping for a moderately entertaining film are in for a disappointment. It’s not that these is no chemistry between the actors (though it takes a while to get going) or not interesting stunts (a few action scenes are mildly exciting), but the movie’s flaws overcome its few assets. For one thing, it suffers from serious tone problems, throwing in dramatic tension and dead bodies with wisecracking buddies and over-the-top histrionics. The numerous plot holes (why not bring back Elvis where it started, why let the terrorists go, why “forget” about the ventilation shaft at first?, etc…) don’t help. The choppy action scenes don’t allow us to get involved in the tension. But these are nothing compared to the frustration caused by the ultra-predictable “surprises” of the film, (He stole it! It’s a fake! They’re not dead!) which can be guessed ten, fifteen minutes in advance. Maybe worth a late-night viewing, but not much else.
(On TV, August 1999) Some types of movies don’t age very well, and older action films often pace in comparison to the frantic pacing of their more recent cousins. While the car chase centerpiece of Bullitt -nowadays the movie’s main claim to fame- may have thrilled audiences in 1968, it pales in comparison to what’s been done since. The non-action remainder of the film has its moments, but ultimately ends up in an overlong, quasi-senseless foot chase. Though not a bad film per se, Bullitt has few new or fresh things to offer thirty years after its release.
(In theaters, August 1999) Somehow, I expected better from this Hollywood satire, almost as if it was deliberately pulling its punches in order not to offend anyone. Yes, Eddie Murphy does a creditable job in two roles that ask a lot of courage from a superstar actor, but is this the hilarious comedy we could have expected from Steve Martin? Though steadily amusing, there aren’t very many big laughs in Bowfinger and one has to wonder why given the great premise (an actor is manipulated to star in a film without him knowing it). As it is, though, even if the film is a slight disappointment, it is not a waste of time.
(In theaters, August 1999) There’s a limit to what you can do with the “fish-out-of-water” concept and this films pretty much reaches it. Fortunately, Brandon Fraser and Alicia Silverstone sufficiently brighten up the screen so that we can gloss over the other less satisfying parts of the film. Some plots “twists” are seen miles in advance. The conclusion annoyingly relies on a coincidence. There’s a very good swing dance number. Otherwise, it’s a good, but unmemorable film.
(On TV, August 1999) Oh my… I sat down to watch this, thinking that if anything else, David Spade’s sarcastic brand of comedy would liven things up. Mistake. Even though Spade comes through with some dignity, I’ve never been a fan of Chris Farley (dead now; not a cinematic loss) and Black Sheep only reminder why. A big, unfunny mess that somehow thinks it’s worth considering seriously, Black Sheep contains a scattering of chuckles, but is otherwise cloyed in false sentimentality and immature embarrassment humour. Not many movie can pull off unfunny characters-on-drugs moments, but Black Sheep does. Thrice. Give this one a miss; it’s a definite potential choice for “worst movie” awards, and not the “so-bad-it’s-good” ones.
(In theaters, July 1999) There are two ways of approaching this film. The undemanding method results in adequate enjoyment, but in the other lies madness. On one hand, we can appreciate Wild Wild West for what it offers: Will Smith looking darn cool, Barry Sonnenfeld’s sprinkling of ironic visual humor (like the sights gags about E.T. and -my fave- RCA’s “voice-of-his-master”), some interesting character dynamics and -boy, oh, boy!- a giant mechanical spider. Mix everything up and you end with an adequate summer popcorn matinee movie: Not too bad, but unfortunately not too special either. And there lies the seed of our discontent: You’ve got a script with the potential to pick and choose over the strongest aspect of James Bond, Steampunk, Buddy Movies and Westerns. You’ve got Will Smith, Kevin Kline, Kenneth Branagh, ILM, Salma Hayek, Barry Sonnenfeld and $180M. How the hell to you end up with such a barely adequate movie? Six of the most bodelicious babes in recent memory grace the screen, and the movie can’t even wring some hot scenes out of it? Six writers and you end up with “That’s a man’s head!”? Sheesh… The editors should be shot for letting at least three separate scenes run for a full thirty seconds after we understood the joke. This is the kind of movie that really make you reconsider the average IQ of Hollywood residents. How could you produce such a non-event out of such sure-fire concepts and talent? Watch Wild Wild West to find out.
(In French, Second viewing, On TV, April 2004) Yup: five years later, this film still sucks. While the incoherent pacing may have been affected by the choppy for-TV editing, the lame editing of the surviving scenes still rankles. Oh, the visual design of the film is fantastic: this American steampunk vision is often impressive (despite unconvincing special effects) and the melding of action movie aesthetics with western period flavour is enough to make anyone dream in wonder. But seldom has so much been wasted by so many: The atrocious script is conceptually OK, but fails on a scene-per-scene basis, with unexplainable pauses and lame gags repeated over and over again until all freshness has been squeezed out of them. Salma Hayek is gorgeous (as usual), but is wasted in a role that pops in and out of existence. No wonder so many people, myself included, hated it five years ago: it has lost none of its awfulness.