Sunday, April 16, 2000

American Psycho / **** (2000)

At surface level, Patrick Bateman seems like the kind of guy that every young man would love to be modeled after: he has a successful job, lives in an upstate apartment, is showered in riches and has friends in high places. This is what one could call a “role model,” an ideal archetype for youngsters who seek to achieve success on various avenues. But anyone who has even heard of “American Psycho,” either as a film or as a controversial novel by Bret Easton Ellis, surely knows that this image of fortune and vitality is completely deceiving. Beneath this deluding appearance lies a madman beyond description: a sadistic and superficial being that feeds on sex, drugs and violence in order to fill a void in his soul.

Friday, April 14, 2000

Final Destination / *** (2000)

Here is an occasion worth noting: I find myself actually recommending a new teen horror film that hasn’t been directed by Wes Craven. “Final Destination” is the product in question, a surprisingly effective little picture that delivers what so few thrillers have done lately: a well-written script, interesting characters, psychological thrills and unconventional directing. Several will be fooled by the fast-paced trailers and television spots, though, which try to promote the movie as a slasher flick. Hardly the kind of vehicle that uses a Jason Vorhees or a Freddy Krueger as a ruse for bloodthirsty teen moviegoers, “Final Destination” makes a villain out of the one being everyone fears, but no one can confirm the existence of: Death himself.

Drowning Mona / ** (2000)

The early moments of “Drowning Mona” assemble the plot as a whodunit, with the residents of Verplanek, New York, hearing that their most hated resident, Mona Dearly, has plunged her car off of a cliff and into the water, and that the unfortunate accident may have been instigated by one of the many people who knew her. Then it gradually finds itself venturing into new territory, at first trying to be a quirky character study and then later approaching the tone of a farce. It’s easy to see something amusing emerge from this combination: a murder mystery with complex characters and eccentric intentions, after all, holds great potential simply from description. But any potential one might have expected from this flick is dashed even before there is a chance to build up the hope. “Drowning Mona” is a spiritless, flat comedy that tries to accomplish more than it can handle; it scrambles over all sorts of characters and plot twists, but never finds the time, or necessity, to probe things deeper and find stability.

Erin Brockovich / *** (2000)

As an actress, Julia Roberts has gallantly survived one of the most unyielding hardships: a relentless affiliation with romance comedies that, frankly, are stale in substance and scarce in character development. Those who have seen her act in great roles like such as those in “Steel Magnolias” and “Conspiracy Theory” (not a great film, but she was pretty good anyway) should know what she is capable of on screen, and indeed, those who will see her in the new “Erin Brockovich” are going to be amazed at how such an under-appreciated thespian is cast in many second-rate roles, but always manages to return to the spotlight brighter than ever before.

An Extremely Goofy Movie / *** (2000)

Parents suffer greater pain than one might imagine as they watch their own children grow into adulthood, leading their own lives without the necessity to depend on their creators any longer. The prospect of anyone raising children begins innocently enough; they expect the time between birth and graduation will not go so fast, and therefore not hurt so much when it is time for them to go out on their own. But sooner than they realize, infants crawling around in diapers are going onto school, getting jobs, maintaining responsibilities and then, ultimately, moving away from home. Those who love their children strong enough will feel this way no matter how long childhood years seem to last.

High Fidelity / *** (2000)

The tagline clipped to Stephen Frears’ “High Fidelity” suggests something short and sweet, announcing the movie as “A comedy about fear of commitment, hating your job, falling in love and other pop favorites.” It is foreseeable that the hordes of moviegoers, in pursuit of something vigorous and kinetic, will turn their backs to this campaign, fearing that the film is simply rehashed ideas and dreary exercises in romance comedy. That would be their great loss, however, since “High Fidelity,” unlike its promotional line, is filled with great energy and spirit. And in a year marauded with comedies in which characters get involved in plots that are completely absurd and fabricated, here is one that revolves around realistic people, and allows the audience to relate with their situations.

The Road To El Dorado / ** (2000)

Because of animation’s unlimited contingencies, one might wonder why it has taken so long to make a cartoon feature using one of those big treasure-hunting premises as source material. Surely you know what I’m referring to: the plots of countless live action films, such as “Romancing The Stone” and “The Mummy,” in which characters go in search of legendary artifacts and must dodge hazardous obstacles, take risks and battle villains in order to save their own lives. The feats that certain individuals accomplish on screen (like swinging on vines from one side of a cliff to another while a hot pit of lava is just below) frequently look laughable because—let’s face it—live action has its logical restrictions. Isn’t it apparent, then, that a style as eternal as animation could take these approaches and make all sorts of ludicrous actions look believable? You’d think so, wouldn’t you?

The Skulls / zero stars (2000)

Sitting in the middle of an angered audience at “The Skulls” may have been a blessing in disguise—the only element of the evening that kept me, and several theater patrons, from dozing off in their seats at the sight of a mindless catastrophe crumbling on screen. Supposedly a “thriller,” the film places its focus on a society called (you guessed it!) The Skulls, which are said to be restricted and secret, but for one reason or another have a big logo on their building so the entire University knows where they are. It’s amazing that so many viewers were still seated by the time the end credits began to roll.

Wonder Boys / ***1/2 (2000)

The irony behind every man’s destiny is that the path towards success is usually averted by unforeseeable detours. For most, such a turbulence can be caused by almost any element of everyday life: family, serious relationships, social interference, fallback from the world, employment, or a lack of enthusiasm for their fortes. An artist, for instance, can shift off-course if he or she suddenly arrives at the notion that there is no need to paint or sculpt anymore. A writer, in similar fashion, can be suspended by the inability to organize their thoughts and finish the work they have started. As a result we see such people go through mid-life crisis, retirement, depression, and other similar withdrawals from their work. Sometimes, however, those people will go in search of a muse, hoping that inspiration will break the bars of mind’s prison and, once again, set free their creative energies. Now comes a splendid little movie that finds a man on the verge of collapse with his work, but one who looks to a nearby acquaintance to find the strength, and ability, to carry on successfully.