Friday, March 31, 2000

Oscars 2000: Winner Reactions

Last Sunday night saw a turnout in Hollywood more massive than the one in London when the press found out Madonna was pregnant with her second child.

It was the evening of the Academy Awards, an annual ceremony devoted to honoring the best movies of the year in various categories; and as such, celebrities from every corner of the globe showed up to watch the contenders vie for the top prizes.

Unfortunately, like so many telecasts before it, the 72nd evening of the Oscars was nothing short of a bore—a dreary and predictable experience in which the real Oscar winners were ignored for much more mainstream (and sometimes undeserving) front-runners.

Saturday, March 25, 2000

Oscars 2000: Winner Predictions

The word "surprise" is one of the most frequently used during Oscar night, and when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences unveils this year's winners during Sunday's telecast of the 72nd annual awards ceremony, don't be amazed to hear it a few more times.

We've approached an era in which anything is possible at the tear of the envelope, as seen most recently with the surprise win of "Shakespeare In Love," which went up against Spielberg's World War II epic "Saving Private Ryan," just last year. This time around Hollywood is treading on similar territory; Dreamworks Pictures, which owns "Saving Private Ryan," now has "American Beauty" to deal with; meanwhile the brains behind Miramax, whose campaigning of "Shakespeare" left many feeling like they had bought the Best Picture Oscar, are hoping that their much-publicized surprise hit "The Cider House Rules" will make it out on top. It's a battle of clashing forces, as it seems: both films are leaving their other competition ("The Green Mile," "The Insider," and "The Sixth Sense") literally in the dust thanks to heavy publicity. But who will actually win? Now there's a good question!

Monday, March 20, 2000

The Shining / **** (1980)

Evil has its way of manifesting in the faces of people whom we are most familiar with, and in Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining,” one is bound to completely be amazed at how the charming image of Jack Nicholson is suddenly altered into a disturbing, unforgettable presence. The performance itself is the most incomparable of its kind; one that doesn’t require any physical alterations, but a gradual deterioration of sanity. For Nicholson himself, who has seen such transformations throughout his career (the Joker from “Batman” comes to mind), this isn’t simply a straightforward performance, but one that requires him to unleash aggression and hatred as if he were personalizing the fierce screen persona. It may be the finest performance of his career.

What Planet Are You From? / * (2000)

There is nothing sadder than seeing great screen actors squander their talent away in movies that are completely hopeless, and that is what we get with "What Planet Are You From?". How can one tell that the movie is irreparable? The idea itself is a good start--it features a planet dominated by men without sex organs, who plan on populating Earth with their own offspring in hopes that it will lead to some sort of Universal domination. It's the kind of idea that offends every form of human intelligence, and is one so dimwitted and miscalculated that, even if there had been script revisions, nothing solid could have possibly come out of the final concept.

The Whole Nine Yards / * (2000)

"The Whole Nine Yards" is a movie so stunningly bad and so incredibly inept that, for a brief while, I debated whether or not the film actually deserved a review from me. Shortly after that question entered my mind, the movie entered #1 at the domestic box office, thus providing a purpose of putting my own two cents in on this mess. A late warning is, I guess, better than none at all.

What's even more disheartening is the continuing success of the picture; while it tramples the box office competitors, great and important works like "Magnolia" and "Wonder Boys" are disappearing from the list almost as soon as they are introduced. How sad that decent moviegoers are missing films that actually have something to say and are flocking to those that merely have something to mock.

Hook / *** (1991)

The countless realizations of the childhood fantasy "Peter Pan" are more common than remakes of "The Hunchback Of Notre Dame," but probably more effective. The story visualizes a place where children can stay any age they wish, battle pirates, swim with Mermaids, and fulfill all sorts of adventures without the discipline of a parent to interfere. In other words, a dream come true for any little boy under the age of seven.

"Peter Pan" was certainly one of my faves at the time. But each of us has a soft spot for childlike myths even after the years have passed by, because such stories constantly remind us of the fearsome possibilities of youth and its many adventures. Could this explain why there are so many interpretations? Partially. But I think the subject endures so many remakes simply because it seeks exposure to each new generation. Most of the renditions, though, are produced for the stage--there have only been a handful of movies using Pan as the source material.

Jakob the Liar / ** (1999)

To see "Jakob The Liar" in its entirety is to endure "Life Is Beautiful" with ice dripping down our necks. Sometimes there are subjects in movies that do not require second interpretations, especially if they have nothing new to add to the touchy subject. What we deal with here is a second round of the holocaust, but one that is so overly dramatized by its writers and characters that one is left feeling cold and detached. No one needs a second movie in two years involving this subject to start with; when it begins playing with our minds, attempting to pass off as deeply poignant drama, then the matter gets worse.

Mission to Mars / *1/2 (2000)

Astronauts hope that technology will one day permit them to walk on the surface of Mars. Only thirty years before, mankind was taking steps on the moon, looking out into the starry universe with hopes that, in the foreseeable future, they could journey even farther than that. At any rate, though, one wonders why it has taken so long to push the boundaries (a college instructor I got into a discussion with once said that we have the equipment right now to walk on the red planet--just not the immediate desire). Machines have already been sent to the surface to take samples of the soil and atmosphere; now we merely await the next step.

The Next Best Thing / *1/2 (2000)

You've got to applaud Madonna. Here is a woman who has managed to weather every harsh criticism that has come her way in the past 17 years, both with her controversial music and her considerably-mixed movies. She's undefeatable; invulnerable to the heaviest of offenses and cruelest of remarks. But that shouldn't stop her from worrying a bit about certain aspects of her career.

Musically, she's one of the greatest women of all time; cinematically, however, very little has helped establish her as a hardworking actress. There are a couple of exceptions--both "A League Of Their Own" and "Evita" showcased talents that we never thought she had to begin with--but most work is, bluntly, complete crap. A 1993 film called "Body Of Evidence" would be exhibit A if there were ever trials that could prosecute actors for horrible roles.

The Ninth Gate / *** (2000)

Ever notice how all the new movies dealing with some form of Satanism tend to be extremely absurd? We're living in an era where anything that tries to be "The Exorcist" or "The Omen" goes completely overboard--last Thanksgiving saw the arrival of "End Of Days," featuring a story as ludicrous as an episode of "The X-Files," and before that we had "Stigmata" to deal with. While the latter film achieves some thrills, its nonsensical plot outline prevented the real scares from ever showing up.

This, to a certain effect, is the core problem with Roman Polanski's "The Ninth Gate." Here is a story that almost no one will be able to comprehend--one that is confusing, odd, dimwitted and often unbelievable. But I find myself recommending the picture regardless. Though the premise is considerably shallow, and it shifts back and forth between intriguing and ridiculous, the lush imagery presents us with high energy and is so well shot that we want to keep watching.

Friday, March 10, 2000

Boiler Room / ** (2000)

"Boiler Room" features an array of characters who watch movies like "Wall Street" and "Glengary Glenn Ross," and who strive for excellence in their careers even though greed and dishonesty are the only two things that influence their effort. These are among the most self-centered players seen in a movie for quite some time, brokers of a Long Island stock company who pounce on innocent buyers, sell them phony shares, collect the profits and actually get away with it. In a place where the only thing that matters is a paycheck, one expects lots of things to happen. Nothing is sadder, though, than seeing such promise dashed when the picture retreads to the obvious and borrows its energy from other films. This is exactly the kind of problem that plagues "Boiler Room"; its promising characters are completely eclipsed by the routine plot, which is so dreary and predictable that watching the events unfold becomes somewhat of a checklist.

Reindeer Games / * (2000)

The average human being knows that pathological liars usually deserve whatever they get, and in "Reindeer Games," actor Ben Affleck creates a character that survives on feeding lies to whoever will listen, and then (surprise surprise!) learns the hard way of how they can turn around and bite back. He stars as Rudy, a prison inmate convicted of grand theft auto, spurred by the notion of being freed in two days from the maximum security stronghold. He wants hot chocolate. He wants pecan pie. Most importantly, he wants to meet up with a beautiful woman named Ashley, who has been writing love letters for the past few years while he has been behind bars. Once he gets his wish, however, Ashley's very own brother, a ruthless man named Gabriel (Gary Sinise), blackmails Rudy into heading up a heist on a popular nearby casino on Christmas Eve when security is diverged and the customers sparse. But how do we feel sorry for the ex-con after he is dragged into the criminal act? Heck, Rudy isn't even the man Ashley has been writing the love letters to!

Snow Day / * (2000)

The simplicity of a premise is sometimes the best possible concept for certain movies, and when the word comedy enters the mind, the finest examples we tend to think of first are those that don't reach so high to attain their sense of humor. This is essential thinking because laughter is most easily seen in everyday situations--at the office, in the school yard, on the streets, and even right in the home. The only real differentiating factor between each is the approach of the slapstick; some choose to provoke the comedy with cruelty and/or intentional distress, others simply rely on the threat of embarrassment to amuse the moviegoer.

Snow Falling on Cedars / **1/2 (1999)

Scott Hicks' visionary "Snow Falling On Cedars" employs one of the most enticing styles of filmmaking that is, unfortunately, rarely seen from our other great movie directors. The approach is a standoff presentation, one that doesn't simply move in a straightforward manner but refers to past memories and flashbacks to garner its credible facts for the audience. The possibilities, both visually and narratively, have almost no limits--the glorious "Dolores Claiborne," for instance, manages to tell two stories both in present day and in the past tense, using only aging makeup and an ominous tone to separate the two. Hicks, who directed the emotionally-drenched "Shine," knows this style like the back of his hand, and presents it here using visual beauty to back up the promising premise. No story done in this manner, however, is always easily absorbed (in all fairness, the importance of present occurrences can get ignored for the past circumstances in these pictures).