Friday, February 25, 2000

The Beach / *1/2 (2000)

"The Beach" is quite easily the most colorful bad movie of the year, the first in ages to use big actors and technical resplendence to tell a story as insipid and preposterous as most Adam Sandler comedies. At the center of its plot is a character who feels identity is merely irrelevant to anyone who asks ("My name is Richard. What else do you need to know?"), and occupies the movie like one of those hopeless adventurers in search for something that may, or may not, actually exist. In his mind, travelers spend all of their vacationing time and effort doing things they could easily do in the comfort of their own homes; it is his hope, after landing ground at Bangkok, to go in search of something that will make him feel rejuvenated. But what could one possibly find refreshing in a place as complex as this? The search for paradise is one such matter that piques his curiosity--that is, at least after a hotel neighbor offers him a map of one.

The End of the Affair / ** (2000)

Isn't it funny how all the elaborate Hollywood romances are those in which characters find love through infidelity? The old movie love stories were never this daring or peculiar, as it was seen back then that romance was only found by those without foregoing relationships. Now it seems like every other one is breaking the sacred vows; sometimes characters who have been together for more than ten years suddenly decide that they are stuck in a rut, and their wandering eye takes them to new ventures. Studios still churn out the typical romances, but they have become so formulaic and orthodox that very little craftsmanship is found in them (just look at "Runaway Bride").

Not of This World / ***1/2 (2000)

"The things we want, happen always at the wrong moment. Too soon, too late, a little before, a little after..." - Giuseppe Piccioni

The Italians must be grateful, indeed, to have been given such magnificent directors as Roberto Benigni and Giuseppe Piccioni. In 1998, Benigni's sense of comical genius and heartfelt sensitivity influenced his making "Life Is Beautiful," a story about a father who pretends that the holocaust is a game to protect the innocence of his confused child. Piccioni is a similar director, but one that has, unfortunately, gone unrecognized by the mainstream moviegoers. Whereas Benigni has never really done much else other than his sleeper hit two years ago, this man has been making passionate dramas for close to 15 years: stories that reflect the human spirit and devotion to life without all of the traditional Hollywood melodrama circumstances interfering.

Pitch Black / ** (2000)

"Pitch Black" is the first movie I've seen that tries to mix elements of a slasher film and an "Alien" sequel to get its thrills. It may also be the first film to arrive at the conclusion that, if a planet has three suns in its scope, they can all have simultaneous eclipses every 20 years or so. That certainly doesn't seem like a big deal, but for the characters who discover nocturnal aliens who feed on human flesh, the event is anything but welcomed with anticipation. In a landscape of brightly pale colors and peculiar ancient ruins, survivors of a crashed space vessel must come together and set aside their past differences for survival; once the suns have moved behind a planet circled in rings, the shrieks of alien beings and the crunch of eaten bones will be the only sounds they hear.

X / ***1/2 (1996)

I adore movies that keep the curtains pulled over the eyes of the viewer, sporadically giving off hints so that they are forced to solve the mystery right alongside the characters. It's the kind of approach that keeps eyes peeled with perpetual awareness, and allows the audience to feel like they have a significant role in how the story resolves. Would "Dark City" have been effective if we were informed of the mystery and the characters weren't? Hardly. Would we find much excitement in the "Scream" pictures if we knew who the killers were beforehand? Definitely not.The most stimulating pictures are those that construct a story of massive audacity, only to deliver conclusions that have the same impact on the audience as it does on the characters.

Monday, February 21, 2000

Adventures in Babysitting / *** (1987)

The title "Adventures in Babysitting" evokes a sense of anticipation; it immediately fills the mind with all sorts of nostalgic memories, in which we as children were able to turn simple tasks into rousing adventures simply by breaking a few rules. For many, those undertakings were the first stage of rebellion, a sign that the future would be just as wild and unpredictable as our youth made them out to be. Unfortunately time proved otherwise; the world is a challenge in disguise of fantasy, tangled by all sorts of prejudices and insantiy. And because we only have one childhood, a little movie like this is good for the soul that wants to remain young.

Mad Love / *** (1995)

The Hollywood love story is the most predictable of all cliché-ridden movie formulas, a sappy series of romantic situations in which people find love, meet conflict, surpass trouble and wind up in each other's arms by the final frame. It is the reason why romance in the movies has become so sour and pointless; at one time, people actually cared about the characters and enjoyed seeing them tamper with fate because, in some cases, the conclusion was not always one in which the lovers live "happily ever after." Now filmmakers have become too afraid to break from the traditional formula--in their minds, the love story is something that can only be complete with a storybook ending. This is why I admire the oddities of the genre: the movies that choose to break from the repetition and recreate the definition of how one finds "true love."

The Passion of Joan of Arc / **** (1928)

The story of Joan of Arc has been an unsettling chapter in the French's past--a sketchy but ironic chronicle of religious faith, and one of the most perplexing essays in the search for identity. What makes it such a difficult subject is not necessarily the historical angle, but the moral instability of the people involved; very little information has been provided that can determine the sanity of the players (who made decisions that can both garner respective or disruptive judgments). The most puzzling debate is, not surprisingly, centered on the very source herself; it becomes all too unclear when some sources claim that she heard the voices of God, and others try to discredit those remarks by denouncing her as a mere lunatic. Actual documents from the trial that resulted her execution are an immediate defense for the latter conclusion, for they indicate Joan may not have been completely sane when fighting for France's army during an age when England was seeking control over many of the poor European provinces. Yet similar texts paint the portrait of an innocent, misunderstood woman who cared about people, and devoted her life to saving a country from utterly pointless turmoil.

Thursday, February 17, 2000

Oscars 2000: Nominee Reactions

The movie industry was put on ice Tuesday morning when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced the nominees for this year’s annual Academy Awards ceremony. The event, a widely-anticipated press conference, is the official kickoff of a month-long debate between various analysts, critics and public figures as to whom, or what, will come out on top when the ceremony actually takes place; the list of nominees itself, naturally, brews up its own debate with surprise nominees and shutouts. Unlike previous years, however, the nominees announced this year were more of a depressing surprise rather than a pleasant one.

Monday, February 14, 2000

Oscars 2000: Nominee Predictions

Trying to compare the movies of 1998 to the movies of 1999 is like trying to compare a republican to a democrat; they both look the same, but very few share any other similarities.

Whereas 1998 was a year of familiarity and less risk-taking (the Best Picture candidates were dominated by Elizabethan England and World War II), 1999 was something else entirely--a year that innovation took center stage and exploded with intense but rewarding results. From the eruption came some of the most unique ideas ever seen at the movies, including stories of technological takeover (“The Matrix”), cussing cardboard cutouts (“South Park: Bigger, Longer And Uncut”), dysfunctional families (“American Beauty”), mind unraveling (“Being John Malkovich”), journalistic integrity (“The Insider”) and even new takes on old favorites (“An Ideal Husband,” “The Talented Mr. Ripley”). The year also saw the arrival of highly anticipated events, such as the new “Star Wars” film “The Phantom Menace,” and Stanley Kubrick’s unforgettable final feature, “Eyes Wide Shut.” But especially wonderful was the continuity of the success at cinemas; many of the year’s best were not dumped out in theaters around fall, but were spaced apart for a good duration of the year.

Monday, February 7, 2000

Isn't She Great / * (2000)

Cheap and tawdry are some of the only English words that can fittingly describe Jacqueline Susann's "Valley Of The Dolls," and maybe that should be taken as a compliment. Written at a time when drugs and sex were barely walking the line between the taboo and the candid, her revealing novel offered the reader the chance to peer into the lives of unidentified Hollywood stars, who embodied these revealing qualities in such a way that exploitation of them was merely a fate. Attempting to identify the people who are portrayed in the book became somewhat of a challenging game, and it quickly resulted in one of the most popular books of its time when released in 1966. But no one really had the chance to watch Susann herself grow into the warped and shameless persona that those in her personal life saw her as, since she died a few years later after completing two more novels.

Scream 3 / ***1/2 (2000)

Wes Craven may very well be one of the most unconventional horror movie directors working in the cinema today, and that may be an understatement considering his marvelous history with the horror genre. Beginning a career without any knowledge in technical aspects of a motion picture is not always the first sign of a prominent filmmaker, but that little education helped shape the bitter and brutal substance of his debut effort, "Last House On The Left" in 1972, into something that horrified anyone who saw it. That film, at least for those who know it even exists, succeeded immensely, and he has since then gone on to make movies ideal for teenagers who have a thirst for bloodshed and ingenuity. Some of his projects--like "A Nightmare On Elm Street"--even go on to become cult classics. Others--like "The Serpent And The Rainbow"--are forgotten almost as soon as they arrive on screens.