(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!
(On VHS, December 1998) Not as good as expected. Sure, Julia Roberts is at her best. Sure, it’s a more balanced romantic comedy than most. Sure, the script has its moment. But the movie cannot escape its own intentions and contradictions. If the result is more mature than the typical Hollywood love story, it’s also much less satisfying. On the other hand, the movie takes life every time Rupert Everett is on screen; he turns a potentially dreary role in a scene-stealing performance. That’s probably why I loved the last scene as much as I did.
(In theaters, December 1998) As a fan of Desperado, and as a wisecracking MST3Ker, I had high hopes -but low expectations- for The Faculty. Written by “look how postmodernist I am!” Kevin (Scream) Williamson (who, I’ll maintain, is a hugely overrated screenwriter) and directed by Robert (From Dusk Till Dawn) Rodriguez, The Faculty should have been something quite special. Unfortunately, its eagerness to spoof “alien invasion” movies clashes with its intent to scare and its rather poor script. There are logical plotholes everywhere and even though we’re not supposed to notice them, they really do grate after a while: some of the “twists” are really conjured out of nowhere, without an inkling of how they should be possible. Still, don’t get the impression that I didn’t enjoy myself: The movie plays well once underway (much like the other teen-supernatural drama The Craft, the first 30 minutes are insufferably tedious but the movie picks up once the basics are established) and there are a few nice scenes here and there. (Shoot me; I liked the football sequence!) The result is an unexplainably ordinary film, perfect on video for a slow Friday night.
(In theaters, December 1998) I usually boycott Disney movies. No hard ideological feelings; I just hate the sugar-sweetness of their animated features and the jackhammer subtleness of their marketing approach. I did make an exception for A Bug’s Life, though, given that it’s A> Computer animated (a few months of experimentation with the form left traces on me) and B> It’s really made by Pixar, not Disney. It was a good decision; A Bug’s Life is a lot of fun and it virtually guaranteed to be so for everyone. Animated features are so deliberate that it’s virtually impossible for a stinker to emerge from the process, since that so many people double-check the results. (On the other hand, don’t expect to see anything but writing-by-committee, but still…) The computer animation is simply incredible and the writing is pretty sharp. I liked the characters, and the Dot-rescue sequence is an tremendously exciting piece of action film-making. Stay for the end credits which are hands-down the most riotous part of the movie. Inevitable comparisons will be made with Dreamwork’s contemporary effort Antz, and that’s really a shame since both are good movies that shouldn’t somehow diminish one another. See it, and not only once!
(Second viewing, In theaters, December 1998) No, not a typo… I really went to see it again. (I made a bet with a female friend and lost… don’t ask.) Frankly, I was surprised at how well A Bug’s Life stood up to a close second look, three weeks after seeing it for the first time. In interviews, director John Lasseter said he made movies to endure through repeated viewings (he does know his adult public) and I’ll admit that he succeeded. Many other details pop up, and the succession of scenes is still as fun the second time. Oh; the second set of outtakes isn’t as riotous that the first one, but still cracked up most of the audience. My favourite? “Princess ABBA”…
(On VHS, December 1998) Not many films deserve the to be called “brilliant”, but this is one of them. Obviously rooted in the dystopian frameworks of 1984 and Brave New World, Brazil one-ups them by being a fiercely cinematic work. Director Terry Gilliam seldom disappoints, and the result is a non-stop succession of quirky images and weird angles that doesn’t flag halfway through like many other “high-visual” films. While it is true that the ending drags on for a while, the payoff is worth it. A memorable vision of a bureaucracy gone mad, Brazil is another movie to rent as soon as possible (though you might find it mis-shelved under the category “Comedy”…)
(Second viewing, on DVD, June 2009): I had inordinately fond memories of this film, and it turns out that I had forgotten just how great the film was: Another look kept surprising me with forgotten details, snappy turns of phrase and the film’s insane conceptual audaciousness. A sarcastic dystopia, Brazil never wimps out… especially at the very end. Twenty-five years later, Terry Gilliam’s direction is still spot-on, the production design of the film is still mesmerizing, and the pacing feels just as urgent as today’s films. Alas, the bare-bones DVD edition I watched had no supplements to speak of; this will be one of my must-buy Blu-Ray titles.
(In theaters, November 1998) A vile, vile, unfunny movie that desperately wants to be condemned by the general moviegoing audience, which I won’t grant. It starts off in Las Vegas, where a very pretty stripper is accidentally killed during a wild bachelor’s party. What follows is a series of increasingly grotesque, bloody and malicious series of cover-ups by the five friends to hide what they’ve done. The gross-out factor is high and blood flows freely. I could have enjoyed that movie a lot if it hadn’t been made as an explicit comedy. The charm (for me) of Natural Born Killers and Pulp Fiction was that these movies, while tongue-in-cheek, took themselves seriously enough to let the natural dark irony of the story flow. Here, it’s overplayed for laughs. While the remainder of the theatre exploded in nervous laughter and numerous “Oh my god!”, I just wished for silence. There’s a difference between humorous and funny; they missed it. Still, Very Bad Things is well-made, with good characterization and acting, adequate directing and rather effective tension. Still, why couldn’t they have played it straight…? I dislike being told when to be grossed-out, and that’s what Very Bad Things does, with a gleeful gleam in its eye. I’m glad I didn’t pay to see the movie (Free tickets to the Ottawa premiere), and do not recommend it. If you do see it, just don’t expect any of the characters to A> Live, B> remain whole or C> remain sane.
(In theaters, November 1998) You probably won’t see this until it’s (inevitably) remade as a big-budget Hollywood production, and you’ll be missing a pretty good compilation of car chases. French action films aren’t too common (two of the last few were remade as Point Of No Return and True Lies), but Taxi has the added pedigree of a script by Luc Besson. Granted, that’s not much of a recommendation in the storytelling department. Still, Besson’s flair for imaginative action set-pieces are obvious, and you haven’t seen a car chase until you’ve seen one through the terrifyingly cluttered French streets. (It’s worse than in Ronin.) It was a treat to see an action movie with the characteristic French rhythms and attitude. Taxi loses points for inane episodic incidents, nonsensical setups, juvenile humour and a gratuitous usage of drugs but does sports a few niiice gun battles and high-speed driving. The last stunt is pretty cool, if unlikely. I’m actually looking forward to the Hollywood remake!
(Second viewing, On DVD, February 2003) There’s a lot of dumb stuff in this film and, upon seeing it again on the small screen, not as much action as I remembered. But it’s still a lot of fun, thanks to the dynamic performances of the leads and some inspired action directing. The script may be dumb, but it’s dumb in a charming way. The fact that it comes from France is a plus in itself, as it offers something different than the usual sunny L.A. backdrops we could expect from such a story. The region-one DVD has the film, the trailer, and not much else.
(In theaters, November 1998) With only one more rewrite, this could have been one of the best political thrillers in recent memory. Not many films try to deal with the underlying issues surrounding terrorism (What if it’s our fault? What if we admit we can’t solve it? What if we have to overstep our laws to fight it?) and The Siege at least deserve credits for trying to do so. Unfortunately, for every good scene in The Siege, you have to tolerate another painful moment. The first hour is pretty clever; the second one is increasingly silly. The acting is good; Bruce Willis’ character is incoherently written. The bus explosion sequence is good; other explosions aren’t shown. The sidekick Arab character is great; everyone else is either saint or terrorist. Denzel Washington’s character is competent; he’s also everywhere regardless of whether he belongs or not. General Deveraux seems to be pretty responsible in the first hour; he turns in a raving maniac for the last 40 minutes. Annette Benning’s character is suitably complex; her motivations keep changing on us. The asian FBI agent is lovely; Annette Benning doesn’t look a tenth as cute as in Mars Attacks! The result is a muddled movie that tries but fails.
(On TV, November 1998) This should have been scary enough with just its first subject matter; a fatal, airborne viral infection. Unfortunately, the screenwriters of the movie had just graduated from the Hollywood Action Movie Script School and felt the need to include conspiracies, helicopter chases, explosions, ruthless military officers, an eleventh-hour aerial standoff and pointless dramatic gestures. Bad movie? Not quite. Though certainly over-the-top and not nearly as terrifying as it should have been, Outbreak is still a deftly-produced, enjoyable piece of entertainment. Dustin Hoffman is backed up by a surprising number of good actors (Russo, Freeman, Sutherland, Spacey, Gooding Jr….) and director Wolfgang Petersen obviously knows his stuff. Not a bad choice.
(In theaters, November 1998) Very, very silly. It was a comfort to finally meet two guys even more socially inept than I. This movie has zero scrap of even the slightest social value but does sport a rather good mid-nineties-dance soundtrack. (It was a shame that our second-run Vanier theatre has such a poor sound system, though…) It’s not as bad as the frosty critical reception suggested, but it does sport a few very amusing moments, as well as a significant babe factor. On the other hand, the biggest flaws of the movie are the two lead actors, who are outshined by almost everyone else (most notably Canadian actor Lochlyn Munro—last seen as the highlight of Dead Man On Campus). This would have been a hilarious movie with Jim-Carrey-type actors in the lead role. Instead, A Night At The Roxbury has to settle from being barely diverting.
(Second viewing, On TV, November 1998) Pure and complete nonsense, but intentionally so. Going from set-piece to set-piece, this thriller never pauses long enough to allow viewers to realize that what they’ve just seen is not complex, but senseless. Still, it might be foolishness, but director Brain DePalma has too much experience to let it be anything but good-looking foolishness. Tom Cruise makes a convincing action hero, and the superb action sequences are simply remarkable. (Even knowing where special effects were used didn’t diminish the enjoyment one bit) Disclosure: A previous viewing had prepared me to accept the lousy script and enjoy the good bits.
(On TV, November 1998) Inferior made-for-TV movie about a disaster aboard a space shuttle. Far from being even remotely realistic (even with a relative ignorance of actual NASA procedures, I was able to spot several mistakes), it can also “boast” of belonging to the cookie-cutter school of screenwriting, with painfully mistaken conventions of dramatic structure and characters that we’ve seen countless time before. It wasn’t a waste of time for me, since I consider a bad techno-thriller better than no techno-thriller at all, but less enthusiastic viewers might very well disagree. Max Q makes the fatal mistake of trying to emulate the superlative Apollo 13… and it’s not even close to being in the same league at the already-classic 1995 film.
(On TV, November 1998) Unarguably one of the most amazing action movie I’ve seen. Whereas other directors will settle for a shot of a guy jumping quickly cut to an exploding car, Hard-Boiled‘s John Woo uses a slow-motion uninterrupted shot of the actor jumping out of an exploding car, debris falling over him. You can actually see pieces bouncing off the stuntmen, who definitely earned their salary in this movie. The emotional core of the movie is also there, and it’s effective. (I publicly thanks Toronto-area station CITY-TV for having the wonderful integrity to run Hard-Boiled in its full letterboxed, subtitled glory.) Despite some annoying heart-stirring manipulation (babies, anyone?) and the problems in trying to piece together a foreign-language movie, Hard-Boiled is miles ahead of your usual Hollywood summer blockbuster. An unforgettable action masterpiece. Don’t miss it.
(On TV, November 1998) certainly isn’t for everyone. Comedy, even in the best of time, is a very subjective thing. It’s even worse when it comes to a quirky style maintained and perfected by a group of comedians. I had never watched Kids in the Hall, but still had a good time watching Brain Candy, an uneven take-off on pharmaceutical research. My sister, though, got up and left after ten minutes.