(In theaters, February 1999) The cartoon strip Dilbert has enjoyed a long and successful run during the past few years by satirizing the hitherto-ignored daily frustrations of office work. Office Space covers more or less the same ground but, unfortunately, has more than three small boxes in which to delivers its punchlines. The first half of the movie is hilarious as characters, environment and small set-pieces are delivered without attention to story development, and the jokes are funny. Anyone with even the slightest experience with white-collar jobs will laugh along heartily. It’s in the second half that the movie discovers it has to have a plot, and fulfilling this obligation takes away a lot of the movie’s previous care-free fun. Still, it’s more than worth it for its target audience: Some bits are wonderfully directed, most characters are very well sketched and the whole is very enjoyable. Better still; see it with a group of colleagues.
(Second viewing, On DVD, March 2002) White-collar workers of the world, unite and go fetch this little film! Writer/director Mike Judge pokes fun at the meaningless work in which so many of us are stuck and delivers a solid, unpretentious 90-minutes comedy that will leave you smiling. Not many laughs the second time around, but it doesn’t matter a lot when the characters are so sympathetic. The second-half lull is more obvious the second time around, though. Sadly, the DVD doesn’t contain any extras worth mentioning.
(Third viewing, on DVD, October 2009): I hadn’t seen this in a while, and another viewing leaves me both happy and set straight. Sure, this workplace comedy has survived pretty well its first decade: the technology may have changed, but the issues tackled here are more or less the same, and the humour of the film remains applicable to most office contexts. On the other hand, the cult status of the film among IT and office workers may have skewed perceptions a bit: The film is considerably gentler and less steadily hilarious than I recalled it. It’s an ensemble piece, and an atmospheric one: There are moments in the film that glide from one amusing moment to another without necessarily going for the cheap gag. As a result, any compendium of best quotes from the movie doesn’t exactly reflect its genial, easygoing flow (albeit occasionally broken by hardcore rap.) Still, it’s a charming comedy, much closer in tone to director Mike Judge’s subsequent Extract than anyone is likely to remember.
(On TV, February 1999) This film perpetrates the most fatal error that an action movie can make: It’s boring. Okay, so you can’t expect much from a Jean-Claude van Damme picture but still, this one is unusually lifeless. The curiously uninspired direction (by Hong Kong legend Ringo Lam) is partly to blame, but as usual the script is the weakest part of the whole. Maximum Risk picks up during its third act (excluding that forgettable meat-locker scene) but can’t make up for the lackluster first 90 minutes.
(On TV, February 1999) I’m still not too sure of what to think about this film even a few days after seeing it for the first time. I get the impression of a darn good sports comedy (complete with outrageous odds, game-turning events and triumphant finish) mixed with a puzzling “realistic” romance (with less-than-honorable intentions but still a triumphant finish.) In the end, however, the uneven mix-and-match and the sometime creaky attempts at mature love story takes a second step to the movie’s biggest strength: the acting. Tom Cruise is even better than his usual good standards as a sports agent with a budding moral streak (However, -dare I ask-, is it reasonable that he would get fired for a passionate memo? Don’t think so…) but he almost disappears behind the hyper-energetic performance of Cuba Gooding Junior, who eclipses his other roles as something of a sissy-boy (see Outbreak, As Good As It Gets and What Dreams May Come) by playing an ultra-confident football player. Rene Zellweger is breath-taking while still remaining comfortably adorable; heck, even the kid is fun to watch! The script is okay and the direction is rather good. The result, as one colleague suggested, is a movie with everything for everyone: Romance for the girls and football for the guys.
(On TV, February 1999) This film was critically disliked when it first came out and it’s not hard to see why: the script tries to do two things (have a wacky Jim Carrey movie and tell a tale of a psychopath) at the same time and fails at both. Despite good direction by Ben Stiller (yes, that actor Ben Stiller), great usage of a good soundtrack and some clever asides, the movie suffers from its dichotomic script and a less-than-impressive conclusion. Give a medal to Carrey because he’s one of the few actors that had a chance to pull this role adequately, but take the screenwriter to the firing squad.
(In French, On TV, February 1999) This serves magnificently well as a reminder that some movies are made to be seen on television. It’s free, so you can’t feel ripped off. It has commercial breaks, so you can take reading breaks. It can’t be fast-forwarded, so you’re stuck seeing all of the movie in more-or-less linear time. Bio-Dome (starring the ungreat Pauly Shore) is easily one of the stupidest comedies I’ve seen (waaay stupider than Dumb & Dumber, for instance) and also easily one of the less funny. Granted, the French translation takes away half the jokes and drowns the rest in the too-loud rock soundtrack, but there are things that aren’t affected by inept translation and the development of the good basic premise (two losers lock themselves up in a scientific experiment) is one. Bio-Dome is actually so bad that it starts being sporadically watcheable despite itself about half an hour in the movie. There are occasional flashes of good comedy (the unlocked door, for instance) but nothing that really makes it worthwhile.
(In theaters, January 1999) As my first movie of 1999, I wanted a baseline. A not-too-good film against which to compare the others I’ll see this year. I certainly got that with Virus. Neither astonishingly bad or particularly good, Virus is about the most generic movie you could imagine about an energy life-form taking over a boat. As a representative of the “there’s-something-evil-on-this-ship-and-we’re-stuck-with-it!” subgenre, Virus does the job without distinction but also without being too tiresome. Joanna Pacula is as lovely as ever, and Donald Sutherland’s deliciously bad performance as the ship captain is a hoot to watch. The direction is promising, but hampered by jumpy editing. The special effects aren’t all that special (the CGI sequences are unfortunately easy to spot) and some lines of dialogue are hilariously bad. (Lighting coming out of the computer: “Something’s accessing the computer!” “Impossible! Only I have the access codes!”) Might be a good choice in a few years on late-night TV. Until then, it will join Mimic, Screamers, Species and other undistinguished not-too-bad-not-too-good SF movies on the shelves of your local video store.
(Second viewing, On VHS, January 1999) I loved that movie when I saw it in theatres. It was fun, fast, exceedingly well-done and incredibly exciting. Those who complained about the lack of character development, plot or thematic relevance were, I felt, missing the point of the film. Twister existed solely to make us see things we hadn’t seen on the silver screen before, and it delivered the goods. I was concerned, however, that the video version wouldn’t pack the same audiovisual punch than the movie, and up to a certain point, it’s true: this is a movie to be enjoyed on the biggest, loudest home theatre system you can find. But no matter; even diluted down to my monaural 20” TV setup, Twister is still a fun ride. Well-directed and competently acted within the confines of the action movie genre, this movie doesn’t loses itself in philosophical meandering and endless digression: Everything is to the point and we’re carried along for the ride. Enjoy it again.
(In theaters, January 1999) An acceptable 90 minute WW2 movie mixed and intercut with a five-minute credit sequence, thirty minutes of a Discovery Channel special on the plants, animals and wonderful savage people of the south east-asian jungle, a fifteen-minutes experimental film by stoned freshmen philosophy students and another forty-five minutes of footage that the editor forgot to cut, probably because he fell asleep at the editing console. I really loved the camera work, the cinematography and the war scenes. I also liked the characters, but I just wish they’d been featured in a better movie. Saving Private Ryan it ain’t, because Spielberg never forgot that great movies entertain as much as they’re art. Now, could someone re-cut The Thin Red Line and chop off all the simplistic philosophy, repetitive romantic imagery and non-sequitur interludes? There was a great film in there, but director Terrence Malick choked it to death it with his disillusions of cinematographic grandeur. I’ve seen better reflections on the nature of war in men’s adventure novels, and those were entertaining.
(In theaters, January 1999) I expected nothing from this film and wasn’t entirely disappointed. Sure, it’s even worse than its prequel, but at least the supporting players are fun to watch (with distinctions to Jack Black’s stoned hippie) and Brandi’s irresistible charm did a lot to raise my opinion of the film. (Not to mention her tight clothes.) The remainder of the movie is a representative example of a genre that should have remained dead for some more time.
(In theaters, January 1999) This does nothing to enhance my low opinion of scriptwriter Kevin Williamson. If he’s supposed to be so clever, then why is the movie so ordinary? A particularly bland entry in the “psycho killer” genre, I spent hours trying to find something distinctive to say about it, but in vain… At least, the (mostly-teenaged) audience I was with regularly snickered and laughed out loud at moments that were supposed to be scary or tender. Whether this reflects the unredeemable cynicism of our generation or good movie-watching sense remains an exercise to the reader.
(On VHS, December 1998) Another of these movies whose opening sequence might be too strong for its own good. We’re very convincingly introduced to Daryl Zero, an utterly eccentric modern-day Sherlock Holmes and the plot is set rolling by a series of rather fun scenes. But then, the movie begins to takes itself seriously, Zero loses a lot of his peculiar nature (and doesn’t use his amazing deductive powers as much as we’d like) and the result, while reasonably good, is somehow disappointing. Too bad, given Bill Pullman’s good performance and the potential of his character.
(On VHS, December 1998) My hopes might have been slightly too high for this film, given that this was a John Woo film. The nuance is that this is Woo’s breakthrough film; a promising cop/criminal drama, but nowhere as eye-popping and exciting as his best movies (Hard-Boiled, Face/Off) or even his first American disappointments (Broken Arrow and Hard Target). On the other hand, unlike his two first Hollywood effort, A Better Tomorrow keeps the strong emotional core that’s so characteristic of Woo’s work. The result might not be a kickin’ action masterpiece, but remains an enjoyable movie. Curiously, Chow Yun Fat is under-used as the sidekick.
(In theaters, December 1998) This reminded me, like the X-Files movie, of everything I really hate about the source TV series: Lousy science, complete lack of durable character evolution, horrendous dramatic structure, boring stories and the grating certitude that it’s written by people far from being as smart as they think they are. Above all, it’s the smug “see how intelligent / technical / philosophical we are?” attitude that’s insufferable, especially since nothing makes sense if you examine it closely. “Don’t ask” says Picard’s love interest after a particularly unexpected “magic” trick. Well I’d like to, but I’m sure that even the writers don’t have the answers. Even though it follows Star Trek’s well-known odd=bad/even=good sequence, it must be said that the final product nevertheless manages to entertain (and isn’t as bad at either Star Trek 5 or Generations) a bit. If you don’t expect much.
(On TV, December 1998) The title offers many opportunities for rotten cracks on “hammy acting” and such, but it would be a mistake to pounce on this relatively enjoyable spoof of (mostly) Psycho, with bits of The Silence Of The Lambs thrown in for good measure. It’s far from being as polished as other spoof comedies, but still packs in an impressive array of jokes. Most are juvenile; some are hilarious. Probably not worth renting unless you’re in the mood for this stuff, but it’s a blast if you can catch it for free on TV.
(In theaters, December 1998) Unarguably one of the best movies of 1998. Why? Pure Magic. Who would have thought to be enchanted by a hilarious film taking place in Elizabethan times, starring William (“Will”) Shakespeare as the romantic hero? Doesn’t sound promising, but the result is magnificent. Great acting by Joseph Fiennes and Gwyneth Paltrow as the leading couple, plus Judi Dench as the second Elizabeth worthy of an Oscar nomination this year. (Shakespeare In Love does makes a perfect companion to the rather humourless Elizabeth) The film played exceedingly well to a demographically heterogenous audience, drawing laughs from both Shakespeare scholars and teenagers less familiar with the works of The Bard. (It also played quite well to your crusty “anything-but-a-chick-flick” reviewer…) It’s a testimony to the power of film that Shakespeare In Love will finally make you understand the greatness of Shakespeare and the magic of theatre; while not perfect, it’s good enough to land on my yearly Top-5 without hesitation. A shame it’s not widely released; don’t miss it!