Monday, January 31, 2000

The Cider House Rules / ** (1999)

Lasse Hallström's "The Cider House Rules" is one of the most frustrating experiences I have had in the recent months at the cinema, something so underwhelming and vacant that it's impossible for many to understand what exactly the picture is trying to say. Based on a novel by John Irving, who also adapted his story for the screen, this is one of those films in which the script has obviously been labored by an egocentric impulse to leave out many of the details from the novel, assuming that the entire audience has already followed the book. Unfortunately, I'm not one of the many who has actually read the story; for those who have not done so, walking into the theater of a movie like this is like trying to launch a space shuttle without knowing where the correct gadgets are.

Eye of the Beholder / 1/2* (2000)

Stephan Elliot's "Eye Of The Beholder" is truly something that has to be seen to be believed; a movie that forces the main character to pursue a merciless man killer, and then tries to be all noble by slapping in brief shots of religious statues and tears falling from the murderers face, as if homicide is not enough to keep her dull life occupied. Such a treatment is almost deserving of every criticism it gets, since it believes anyone with half a brain could find a single frame of this picture even slightly amusing. Those who say that new and invigorating ideas for movies are not all they're cracked up to be might have had this travesty in mind--by combining sorrow with suspense and love with obsession, the film leaves the moviegoer with a nasty aftertaste.

The Hurricane / ***1/2 (1999)

Sometimes the past is better left forgotten. Those of us who have looked back on yesterday seldom reminisce in the bright images that have been implanted in our memory banks; instead, it becomes easy to recall the most dreadful events that plague the mind, be they personal or historical. When one looks back at the 1940s, for example, they don't at first think of the joy of dancing to the Jitterbug, but of the immense differences between countries that inflicted World War II. Furthermore, those dreadful events tend to bring up others--the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Hiroshima bomb, and the Holocaust are just to name a few.

Play it to the Bone / *1/2 (2000)

Hollywood has apparently developed some kind of fixated obsession with brutal physical violence, as seen by a truckload of movies that have been released in the past few years. Most of them draw their energy not from drama or story, but the clutching of a fist and break of a bone; the recent "Fight Club," for example, ditches every effort to be entertaining for grotesque, creepy imagery that is often lurid and unrewarding to the eyes of the viewer. Yet there has also been a strength in the conviction of the events surrounding such occurrences for certain pictures--one will not remember brief moments of bloodshed in "The Hurricane," for instance, when matched up against the dramatic surges provided by the film's stars. The key to all of their success and failure is, in some way, determined by the magnitude of the visuals and depth of the substance. Violence can be amusing, to certain lengths, but not without some sort of plot point to back it up.

Princess Mononoke / ***1/2 (1999)

A universe bound by parallels and gravity could not have begun to comprehend the possibilities of animation when it was established as a new art form in the mid-1920s. The idea of thousands of drawings creating the image of a moving picture seemed, for the most part, like a false hope; yet the mind of Walt Disney, who essentially discovered the cartoon, proved differently. Suddenly, the world as we knew it was left behind--characters and their residing dimensions sprawled freely from the limits of reality, circumscribed exclusively by the constraints of the creators' imagination. Only massive budgets stood in the way of their innovation; this was a time, after all, when special effects and computer imagery could not help with the process, and individually hand-drawing and coloring the cells was rather expensive.

Monday, January 24, 2000

Summer of Sam / ***1/2 (1999)

New York's hot and humid summer of 1977 is one of the more unsettling time periods of modern American culture, and Spike Lee's eerie "Summer Of Sam" volunteers a solid, unorthodox portrayal of the dread that overshadowed massive bloodshed in a remote Italian-American neighborhood in the Bronx. This was, of course, the year that the infamous .44 caliber killer David Berkowitz was on the loose; more important, though, is how the society within his killing ground responded to the sporadic massacres. Hordes of filmmakers have tried to adapt this type of factual material, but they often get lost by focusing much of the time on the actual murderer (it's impossible to guess what a serial killer recollects in this situation because, alas, he really exists, and no one knows what he thinks). But Spike Lee is intent on other worries for his depiction of the summer of Sam; his story is not about killers or killings, but about paranoia and the need to single out someone as a suspect. In the sweltering summer of 1977, in which these events took place, there were more than a few hundred stories going on in the city; here was one in which those affected were not celebrities, but real, average people.

Friday, January 21, 2000

Being John Malkovich / ***1/2 (1999)

"Being John Malkovich" begins with the image of a saddened puppeteer putting on a performance at the streetcorner; as his talents go unrecognized and he struggles for work, his ugly duckling of a wife encourages him to accept a job as a file clerk at a Manhattan firm called LesterCorp, which specializes (not purposely) in employing individuals with a penchant for relishing in elements of the eccentric. The 7½ floor is the focus of this man's future, a 4-foot high office that forces its workers to crouch when navigating the corridors, and features workers that, if let loose in the free world, would be subjected to wearing straight jackets in asylums. Slowly but surely, he and his fellow comrades realize their personal imperfections, in what is one of the most extraordinarily inventive films of 1999.

Next Friday / zero stars (2000)

It has been four years since the nightmare that is "Friday" was unleashed upon millions of unsuspecting humans. Now comes "Next Friday," a sequel that manages to be even more painful than its predecessor, and will likely succeed at the box office just as well. January traditionally clues us in one what to expect in the remaining year as far as movies are concerned, and if this is one of those indications, the apocalypse might not be that far off as we suspect.

Supernova / * (2000)

The medical vessel Nightengale scurries through the cosmos at top speed, searching for the location of a new distress signal. As the ship arrives at a galaxy of bright fluorescent lights and large moon bases, they find the source of the angst, in a man whom one of the crew members describes as "the worst nightmare I ever met." In retrospect, however, the man they pick up is an individual who, if it wasn't for his greed and naive impulses, might have seemed like mere pudding for these space marines to handle. In the vast emptiness that is the universe, it is said that no one can hear you scream; lucky for those of us sitting under the movie screen of "Supernova," the screams of utter anger can be distinctively heard by theater patrons just outside the walls.

Wednesday, January 19, 2000

The "Toy Story" Comparison

In 1996, a little film studio called PIXAR unleashed a creation onto the world that would shape the very mold of feature animation. The film, titled “Toy Story,” was the first ever produced that was built completely on computer generated imagery, inspired by the very minds who helped give Disney’s animation studio a push for implementing computer animation in their feature animated films. Naturally, the response was positively overwhelming, opening up to glowing reviews and brilliant financial success. Heck, there was even major adult-audience turnout for the film—which is odd, since animation is generally regarded as a child’s genre. It was almost assured that the studio would want to capture that success with a sequel. Three years later, that possibility was realized.

Monday, January 17, 2000

Value Unlimited

A Brief Commentary On The Movies Unlimited Catalog

How boring life would be without the creation of the motion picture. That ever-so treasured medium in which anyone with a knack at being creative can test themselves behind the camera is the cause of much attention in the free world, as each year the box office gathers in record-breaking dollar amounts, and many new faces enter the spectrum to pursue their own success. As a result, this leaves the door open for possibilities beyond our wildest expectations; filmmakers old and new are able to take us to places unforeseen by other minds. Thanks to the fast growth of technology, the restrictions of our movies are constantly being broken.

Angela's Ashes / *** (1999)

The memoirs of Frank McCourt, which are the source for Alan Parker's production of "Angela's Ashes," may very well be some of the most descriptive and beautiful words ever written on paper--the kind of poetic memoirs that draw the reader into an intricate atmosphere, and allow them to experience, firsthand, at what the writer likely went through to relive the memories. Page after page, McCourt's details describe the desolation and poverty his family experienced during a torturous life that begun in the 1930s in Brooklyn, and continued for over a decade back in their home country, Ireland. Essentially, McCourt's work is a modern classic--the "A Tree Grows In Brooklyn" of literature, without even holding back the painful memories for a second.

Monday, January 10, 2000

Lady and the Tramp / ***1/2 (1955)

The arrival of Disney's "Lady And The Tramp" in the mid-50s was not one of those traditional cartoon introductions that the studio had been giving moviegoers for almost 20 years. Here was something far beyond anything foreseen by avid audiences, a movie that stayed in its narrative limits, but leaped beyond the technical boundaries. Yes, I am referring to that elusive but effective format known as 70mm, in which the dimensions on a picture scale were stretched beyond the conventional restrictions to take advantage of larger backgrounds and visually complex material. You will recall that most of the big Hollywood epics at that time--like "Cleopatra" and "Ben Hur"--relied on this technique because their massive stories and images could not be scaled down to the typical 35mm dimensions. But it is the animated movies that were destined to be seen in widescreen, and "Lady And The Tramp" was the first to arrive at that conclusion.

Friday, January 7, 2000

The Best and Worst Movies of 1999


1 - Eyes Wide Shut
When I saw Stanley Kubrick's "Eyes Wide Shut" last summer, I knew I was witnessing not only the last film of a great director's career, but one of the greatest. Every year has its share of ups and downs cinematically, but one significant event that accommodates each is the arrival of a flawless, stirring, unique and haunting masterpiece. After the lights went up on this one, I knew instantly nothing in the remaining year could surpass it.

Kubrick was one of those directors who treated films like paintings, carefully crafting them so that any noticeable flaw could be immediately covered over. His death this early last spring was a sad time for the cinema--t signified the passing of not just a filmmaker, but of an era in moviemaking.