Friday, December 31, 1999

Ride With the Devil / ** (1999)

The advantage of war movies is that they tend to provide us with the brutal horror that textbooks cannot begin to comprehend. "Ride With The Devil," the new film from acclaimed director Ang Lee, is about Civil war guerillas who inflict their own personal horror in Missouri for reasons unknown on the surface level. It would painful for the audience trying to even guess what they stand for.

The movie is quite odd--possibly the first war film ever made that takes the perception of self-values and shuts the viewer completely out of their meanings. By this, I'm referring to what the characters stand for; each presents us with a personal (and sometimes psychological) dilemma, only to tear it away from us before we even have a chance to scratch the surface. We sit there is paralyzing frustration for over 130 minutes, hoping that one of the players will open up and let us in. Alas, like Terrence Malick's "The Thin Red Line," it just sits there and provokes a dreary series of plot developments that occur during the infamous Civil War (and yet most of them are told from a non-historical perspective).

The Talented Mr. Ripley / **** (1999)

During his life as a respected filmmaker, Alfred Hitchcock showcased uncanny cinematic talents that went beyond what any of his peers had ever attempted (at that time, of course). The only difference between he and others is that, when furthering the styles and techniques of filmmaking, most directors are eventually copied by others in hopes that they can share in the success; Hitchcock's photographic and narrative brilliance went immediately noticed, however, because it was the kind that no director could successfully copy. His works, compared to most frontal horror films in modern days, were silent and subtle thrillers (timeless, but never the kind that would hold up to an audience in an age of suggestive imagery). They required a squint of thought rather than two eyes and a thirst for puddles of blood. The master of suspense also provided us with psychological dilemmas among his movies enemies. There is a moment in his "Psycho," for example, where we feel sorry for the villain and hope he succeeds in his hidden agenda; then there's a moment in "The Birds" when we ask ourselves, "how can one blame these birds for murder when we have done worse things to them?"

Saturday, November 13, 1999

The Region Crisis

In the intricate field of film criticism, region is everything. Residing in locations that tend to receive the more big-budget flicks than lesser-known pictures poses much of a problem for aspiring film journalists, because it can limit their exposure to certain cinematic experiences (usually the ones that receive better consensus than some more widely known films). This may very well be why all the famous critics--Roger Ebert, Janet Maslin, Kenneth Turan, and Desson Howe, just to mention a few--are employed in places more widely populated and known; they aren't habitually cut off from non-mainstream products. Although some, such as myself, can persist as a movie reviewer even in some places less extensive than those like Chicago and Los Angeles, one cannot argue that we would be much better off in areas as large as those. Can one, for instance, be a Broadway star only if they live in New York? Not necessarily, but it helps.

Monday, November 8, 1999

101 Dalmatians / *** (1961)

Disney's "101 Dalmatians" is an unusual piece of work because it shamelessly meanders from the threads of common sense. Cartoons have different rules than traditional family films when tinkering with stories, but here is an idea so ridiculous and absurd, it is amazing how animators thought they could have gotten away with it. The theory that animals can talk with human vocabulary is unbelievable enough; imagine seeing them outwit a viscous dog-napper, and traveling miles in the snow at a staggering number of 101. These images are passable (sometimes), but when Pongo, the head of the Dalmatian family, takes inventory of his children, we jump to our feat and shout in wonder – "Who taught him how to count?"

Friday, October 29, 1999

American Beauty / ***1/2 (1999)

Like the river water as it moves down a cascade of sharp rocks, "American Beauty" sails with a stubborn and unrelenting distinction, only for it to arrive at a turbulent climactic moment that surprises even the characters. Here is a movie that deals with the dysfunction of the American dream, leaves us questioning our own family values, and looking closer for the "hidden beauty" of all things existing. In many ways, this it is reminiscnent of Ang Lee’s "The Ice Storm" – both have foregrounds as elegant as a Thomas Kinkade painting, while the interior lives are occupied by everlasting tribulations and selfish impulses.

Wednesday, September 8, 1999

Supernatural summer follows up with "Stigmata," "Stir Of Echoes"

Seemingly embraced by countless avid moviegoers, the supernatural force found in this summer’s most successful movies is gearing up within two post-summer flicks to be released this Friday--the Kevin Bacon vehicle "Stir Of Echoes," and the religiously-based thriller "Stigmata." They follow on the heels of three or more mega-popular horror-based films that arrived sometime this summer, including the recent box-office survivor "The Sixth Sense" starring Bruce Willis. One has difficulty finding the words to describe the sudden success of this genre, especially when the years preceding it were filled with no more than dumb slasher movies and poor commercial business. Nonetheless, the financial and (sometimes) critical figures speak for themselves: horror movies are hip again. It is no question as to whether these two upcoming movies might experience the same kind of commercial success as the others have.

Friday, September 3, 1999

The 13th Warrior / *1/2 (1999)

For one moment, let's just say you are Antonio Banderas' biggest fan –you've seen all his movies, read all magazine articles about him, memorized his dialogue and even wept when he was denied Oscar accolades for "Evita." Without a doubt, you love the guy. And why shouldn't you? This is someone who, behind all those mystifying good looks, can act his way out of a quicksand pit. With that in mind, ask yourself this question: are you the proper candidate to see his latest picture, "The 13th Warrior," and walk away from it confident of his decision making? I sincerely hope not.

Saturday, August 14, 1999

Audience's "Eyes" shut for 65 seconds

When Stanley Kubrick’s final film "Eyes Wide Shut" is released on Friday, July 16 to North America, chances are some viewers are going to feel betrayed.

In a recent, dreadful development from last Saturday’s press screening in Burbank, California, producer Jan Harlan revealed that the distribution of the film to the US and Canada will feature 65 seconds of "digitally tampered" footage, in order for the film to safely secure an "R" rating. The MPAA apparently considers these excruciatingly revealing moments some of the most sexually charged footage ever captured in filmmaking, and told Warner Bros. that, if it had not been edited, they would have to enforce the notorious NC-17. Since the studio is not about to put extra limitations on Kubrick’s highly anticipated final film, they made the edits without much objection, although Harlan admits that Warner Bros. wasn’t too happy about them.

Wednesday, March 24, 1999

"Love" Conquers All! "Shakespeare" wins 7 Academy Awards in 71st year of surprises and disappointments

The minute Whoopi Goldberg walked out onto the stage dressed as Queen Elizabeth, we were reminded that the Academy Awards are always unforgettable. Not one year has gone by in which we were not surprised, overjoyed, brought to tears, and even angered at some of the night’s honors. The 71st Academy Awards, the last of the millennium, was no exception to those feelings, although some of them were somewhat unexpected. In a year dominated by Elizabethan England and World War II, the Oscar was handed out to, for the most part, awkward winners. Everyone was almost sure that Spielberg’s "Saving Private Ryan" would win picture, but that honor went to the other front-runner, "Shakespeare In Love," which in total earned 7 of the 8 Elizabethan Oscars. The other went to "Elizabeth," for achievement in make-up (we’ll discuss that later).