Wednesday, April 25, 2001

Along Came a Spider / *1/2 (2001)

The villain referred to in the title of Lee Tamahori's "Along Came A Spider" is not the innocuous arachnid who "frightened Miss Muffet away" in nursery rhymes, but instead a viscous and manipulative psychopath who creeps between the cracks of the plot without fear of being discovered by someone who just might unravel his web of deception. He also doesn't seem to mind much that he's wandering around without a sense of what he's doing, or what the point exactly is of his endless mind games. And that's an even bigger problem with the movie than you might first suspect, because the protagonist of the picture, a forensics detective named Alex Cross (the always-admirable Morgan Freeman), is so smart and alert in his police investigations that even more cautious criminals would not likely slip through his fingers. Watching him wade through this incoherent mess is like seeing a good baseball pitcher benched for the season; he has the talent and the ambition, but the situation he's in just doesn't give him the opportunity to show off the way he deserves to.

Appleseed / *** (1988)

The hidden power of Japanese animation is not always about the quirky artistic style, but more about the deep level of story and metaphor the movies contain. Think of the mind-numbing and twisted thrills of “Akira,” or the compelling fantasy of “Princess Mononoke.” Feature cartoons don’t have to be visually superior to those of the mainstream in order to be better. Nor, for that matter, do they have to restrain themselves to material that would only attract the eyes of a child. Until moviegoers are willing to understand those possibilities, mainstream cartoons will always carry a stigma that narrows them to the youth market, made up of elaborate imagery but stories with limited appeal.

Black Jack / ***1/2 (2001)

While the masses continue to be fascinated by the evolution of feature animation, little, if any, attention is ever given to Japanese animation, a genre that, although very ahead of its time, often provides some of the most entertaining and fascinating motion pictures ever created. Most recently, steps have been taken to try and create a strong awareness in the states of its existence, but much of it is undermined because the public has the image that all Japanese animation mirrors the hideous “Pokemon” craze. That is, of course, not the case at all, and Manga Video, a nationwide distributor of anime films, was founded under the belief that even foreign techniques in cinema can find loyal audiences overseas. One of their newest releases, the science fiction thriller “Black Jack,” is proof that moviegoers still don’t realize what they’re missing.

Freddy Got Fingered / * (2001)

There is a moment near the end of “Freddy Got Fingered” when Tom Green and Rip Torn step from a plane, relieved that their 18-month hostage situation in Pakistan is over, and they are greeted by a cheering crowd that has turned out to see their arrivals. Of the many large signs that the onlookers are carrying, one of them announces, “When will this movie f**king end?” We know the feeling all too well by then; only 20 minutes into the picture itself, many of us with half a brain in the theater are checking our watches to see how much longer we are forced to endure the torture.

Friday, April 6, 2001

Blow / *** (2001)

If there’s one thing that movies about the drug business have always taught us, it’s that high-profile wealth and success derived from such illicit activities seldom stays around for long. Unfortunately the subjects usually have to learn the hard way. Think of two of the latest endeavors in this vein: Darren Aronofsky’s “Requiem For A Dream” and Steven Soderbergh’s “Traffic.” Both movies feature intertwining stories of seemingly normal human beings who think that an involvement with drugs (either an addiction or a job as a supplier) will bring them what they so desperately crave in life. As soon as they think they’ve accomplished their goals, however, they frequently suffer some kind of devastating setback--a prison sentence, physical or psychological damage, or in the worse case scenario, death. Any way you look at it, the only happy ending even remotely possible in these situations is the fact that it is all over.

Hannibal / *** (2001)

The eyes of Dr. Hannibal Lecter may very well be the most persuasive and paralyzing ever seen in a movie, so convincingly urbane and focused that they could coax a vegetarian into sharing one of his meals. Maybe that’s why moviegoers are so fascinated by his presence. That, at least, would explain the consistent success of Jonathan Demme’s “The Silence Of The Lambs,” a movie that, just ten years old, is already considered one of the greatest thrillers ever created for the big screen. Not all the praise is attributed to the persona, however, as much as it is to the actor who adopts it. Anthony Hopkins, being one of the best thespians of his time, is flawless in the execution of his role, bringing knowledge and insight to the cannibal’s menacing visage without getting too deep or involved in his motives. Is it a wonder that he won an Academy Award for this performance? Or better yet, was there ever any doubt that the movie would also take home Actress, Director, and Picture honors, only to be the third Oscar sweep in history?

Wednesday, April 4, 2001

Oscars 2001: Winner Reactions

Many wonder why journalists even bother to make predictions on Oscar winners; seldom are their forecasts accurate to the actual results. This year, I can certainly identify with these kinds of people.

After six weeks of long and hard contemplation and personal debates, I forged up my own, comprehensive list of winner predictions, only to have it thrown directly back in my face by a slew of surprises, upsets, and utter jaw-droppers at the 73rd Annual Academy Awards. It is always said that we cannot expect anything from the Academy, but who would have guessed so many predictions could be thrown so far off track?