Fri, Mar 31, 2000

: An Ideal Husband

Very cool film. Witty Oscar Wilde lines fly fast and furious — you’ll want to keep the rewind button handy and/or watch this one several times. The plot’s a little crazy and confusing, but everyone’s having so much fun being mildly evil that the whole thing’s a delight irregardless. They just don’t write comedies like this any more.

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Wed, Mar 29, 2000

: Runaway Bride

Predictable romantic comedy. Not bad, but I didn’t like the way it trivialized marriage. Ironic since (of course) the leads marry in the end.

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Tue, Mar 28, 2000

: The 13th Warrior

I actually liked this, though the ending fell flat. It’s based on Crichton’s Eaters of the Dead, which is one of my favorite books (and one of his best). It’s essentially a retelling of Beowulf, but from the perspective of an Arab visiting the Norsemen. The film’s impressive in action and photography, but the story’s slight. The ending fades in so gradually you’re suprised. “Is that it?” you ask. In these blockbuster days we’re used to much more dramatic conclusions. The best parts of the book (and film) are the ones that emphasize the cultural differences between the characters. Unfortunately, the film shows little of that, leaving us only with a weak action story. Watch it for the scenery and elaborate sets.

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Mon, Mar 27, 2000

: Kiss the Girls

Author: James Patterson

I saw the film a while back and it confused me enough I wanted to read the book. The book’s typical annoying Patterson, pretentious and overly dramatic. But a few of the scenes are good, and some of the characters are well done. The casting in the film had always bothered me, but reading the book, I realized it was dead on. As to the “sensational” plot, it was overdone and forced. Can’t he write about anything but psychotic killers? My understanding is that genuine psychotics are rare, but he makes it seem like every one of us has one for a neighbor. It gets old after a while, especially with no explanation. Not a badly written book, but one that promises more than it delivers. At least it reads fast. That’s one thing I do like about Patterson’s stuff.

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Sat, Mar 25, 2000

: Twin Dragons

Fun Jackie Chan flick with him playing twins. Lots of slapstick and identity confusion. Pace is bewildering. Above average.

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: Gorgeous

Bizarre movie that’s not quite a love story, but not a true Jackie Chan action vehicle either. Action sequences are few but extended, and very well done. Female lead is amazing — truly a star, especially for such a young girl. She showed terrific range. Slightly long and slow in places, but worth checking out if your looking for something unusual.

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Fri, Mar 24, 2000

: Tea With Mussolini

Cool movie. Light, low-key story about old women living in Italy before and during WWII. Not as emotionally compelling as Life is Beautiful, but the characters were original and well-done.

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: EdTV

Not as fun as fun or intelligent as The Truman Show, this was okay, but nothing remarkable.

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Thu, Mar 23, 2000

: A Better Tomorrow 2

Author: John Woo (story)

Director: John Woo

Stylish action flick picks up where the previous film left off, resurrecting Chow Yun-Fat’s character as a twin brother. Well done, though overly complicated by a plot that gets forgotten in the ending’s huge shoot-em-up. Some remarkable images and acting, including some poignant moments and a bizarre sequence in which one character goes catatonic for an extended period. Not quite up to the original, but worth it for Woo fans.

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Sun, Mar 19, 2000

: Pushing Tin

Author: Darcy Frey and Glen Charles

Director: Mike Newell

Not quite what I expected; more character-driven, less action and comedy. But still fun. Essentially this film is about control over your life, as the characters are air traffic controllers who have to be in constant control. Slow in a few places, the story drifts a bit in the middle, but ultimately winds up being satisfying. Good performances.

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: Blindsight

Author: Robin Cook

Once again, another “thriller” where you’ve figured out the plot by page 50 but Cook keeps you in “suspense” until the last page. If you’ve got a mobster who’s blinded by acid and needs a cornea transplant, and suddenly ordinary people all over New York City are being killed by hit men, does it take a doctor to figure out what’s going on? Apparently so. In the meantime you’ve got hundreds of pages of corny dialogue and artificial arguing (can’t have the main characters getting along; gotta keep that tension up) to muddle through. It would have made a fine short story.

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: Deep Blue Sea

Author: Duncan Kennedy, Donna Powers, and Dave Powers

Director: Renny Harlin

Cool little Jaws-like action romp. Scientists genetically enhance some sharks, making them smarter, and then all hell breaks loose. Fun, actually scary in a few places, with some amazingly realistic special effects. (Don’t watch this if you’re squeamish about seeing people being eaten.) Obviously not ground-breaking like Jaws, this is still well-done and a lot of fun. There are enough surprises and twists that even jaded action fans might find it cool.

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Sat, Mar 18, 2000

: Merlin

Author: Edward Khmara (story) and David Stevens

Director: Steve Barron

I missed this mini-series on TV (I think I recorded it, but who knows), so I rented the DVD. Not bad. Impressive (but flashy) direction and special effects. (The director used lots of gimmicky transitions, both for exotic effect and to speed scenes. My favorite was a shot where a woman in white is lying on a bed and we see a tiny black dot moving on her chest. As the camera pans left, the dot grows, and suddenly we see it’s a tiny man on a miniature horse. Suddenly everything becomes clear, the woman fades away, and the horse is riding across the white sand of a desert. I replayed it several times. Amazing.) The film itself tries to pack a little too much into one story. It’s like a soap opera, or a Greek myth, with Gods and mortals screwing each other over right and left (literally and figuratively). It’s cool seeing all the big stars, and many, like Sam Neil (as Merlin) and Miranda Richardson (as evil Queen Mab) are excellent. Overall, it’s big, flashy, and there isn’t much depth. Fun, but nothing permanent. Odd religious conflict inserted. Historically accurate, but poorly done.

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: At First Sight

Author: Oliver Sacks (story) and Steve Levitt

Director: Irwin Winkler

An excellent movie. It’s gimmicky — a man blind since childhood is given the chance to see — but what I liked was the way the characters were done. Many complex questions were raised: Is seeing that important? Do we see with our eyes or our hearts? (And which is more accurate?) What are our motivations when dealing with the disabled? Mira Sorvino’s character, thinking she’s acting out of love, persuades Val Kilmer to have the eye operation. But he’s been blind for so long, seeing is frightening and unnerving for him. It turns his life upside down. When he was blind, he understood his role in life. But as a seeing person, he no longer knows who he is. Fascinating. Good performances by Kilmer and Sorvino, but especially remarkable was Kelly McGillis (Top Gun) as Kilmer’s sister. She displayed amazing subtlty as the caretaker — overprotective of her brother and neglecting her own life.

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Thu, Mar 16, 2000

: Broadband

I’ve got broadband! Yes, I finally succumbed to this Internet thing and subscribed to DSL. Now I can access the Internet 35 times faster than before. What an amazing difference! Highly recommmended. (And not costly, considering I was already paying extra for a second phone line anyway.)

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Wed, Mar 15, 2000

: Bowfinger

Author: Steve Martin

Director: Frank Oz

Light spoof of wannabe filmmakers making a film with the world biggest action star, only he doesn’t realize he’s in a movie! Doesn’t quite hit a home run; a few concepts fall short of their potential, and the comedy isn’t laugh-a-minute. But it gets better with repeated viewings. This is the kind of movie that would be hilarious after midnight.

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Sun, Mar 12, 2000

: The Haunting

Author: Shirley Jackson (novel) and David Self

Director: Jan de Bont

Nice idea — a group of insomniacs stay at a haunted house as part of what they think is a sleep study (but really is a fear study) — but it soon drops into a derivative ghost story. Impressive special effects, especially the amazing house. It’s sad — the film could have been so much better. For instance, I loved the concept that the insomniacs are so unstable that all the “ghost” effects are just their sleep-deprived imaginings. The director could have used that to better effect, making us, the audience, wonder if what we see is real or fake. Unfortunately, we are treated to exotic special effects right off the bat, making us realize that these “ghosts” are real — there’s no suspense or ambiguity. The conclusion’s a gimmicky, far-fetched twist, and the overly complicated “ghost story” is interesting but ultimately unfilling. I never did figure out how the heroine suceeded. I didn’t really care either. Not the least bit scary, this film is a good “might have been.” Worth seeing only if you like the stars or want to see some cool special effects.

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Thu, Mar 09, 2000

: Clerks

Author: Kevin Smith

Director: Kevin Smith

I’ve seen several of Smith’s more recent films, but Clerks is definitely superior. The dialog is wittier, the events more natural and realistic. It’s believable that convenience store clerks would argue about the meaning of life — after all, meaninglessness is all around them. Extremely impressive for a first film. Makes some of Kevin’s bigger budget, glossier movies seem rather limpid in comparison.

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Tue, Mar 07, 2000

: Practical Magic

Author: Alice Hoffman (novel) and Robin Swicord

Director: Griffin Dunne

Odd film that doesn’t know what it is. Is it a love story? A thriller? A mystery? A fantasy? I expected the latter, but instead was treated to a bizarre mix of all of the above. Basically two sisters, both witches, are suspected of killing the one’s evil boyfriend, and face investigation into their lives by a snoopy police detective. The film’s supposed to be “enlightening” about the effects of discrimination (ordinary townspeople are critical of magic) — the sister witches just want to be normal — but I find the TV show Bewitched did that much more effectively thirty years ago. This was heavyhanded and silly.

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Sun, Mar 05, 2000

: Vital Signs

Author: Robin Cook

This was a disappointment after the last Cook book I read. Concept-wise it isn’t bad (woman doctor struggles through artificial insemination treatments and discovers discrepancies that no one will answer), but it’s 75 pages too long. Cook does well making ordinary people do extra-ordinary things in a believable manner (and without coincidence and excessive luck), but in this case all that detail makes for a slow, monotonous read. (Essentially the main character travels to several countries attempting to solve the medical mystery, and at each country she starts over.) But the fatal flaw for me was the way Cook killed off the lead’s best friend and she continues right on as though nothing’s happened. She doesn’t even grieve! Frankly, I almost put the book down at that point, but the mystery kept me interested. Unfortunately, the mystery turned out to be exactly what I thought it was on page 50, only it wasn’t revealed until page 300. I hate it when authors think their plot is so great they must keep it a secret until the last page: throughout the book they reveal so little it barely keeps the story moving, and ultimately the conclusion’s anti-climatic. Then you just wonder why you wasted the time reading it. Skip this one.

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Sat, Mar 04, 2000

: The Astronaut’s Wife

Author: Rand Ravich

Director: Rand Ravich

Bizarre film about an astronaut that goes out of contact with NASA for two minutes while on a mission — and comes back a different person. I never could figure out what a big deal being out of contact for two minutes was: the film has NASA rushing to get the wife immediately and is all in a panic. What’s the big deal? Doesn’t that happen all the time up in space? They should have explained the significance of that better. Anyway, it starts out well, and the relationship between Depp and Theron is explored, but soon it drops into a standard “space aliens ate my husband” film. The ending is kinda cool, with both expected and unexpected twists. Watch it for the stars, not the story.

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