Monday, December 24, 2001

The Lord of the RIngs: The Fellowship of the Ring / **** (2001)

Listening to the opening narration delivered in "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring," I was instantly swept back into the archaic but opulent realm of J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle-earth, where hobbits, elves, dwarfs, wizards and mortal men became united in their quests to save the lands they loved from almost certain destruction. It was a place I had not visited for quite some time, and yet one where I could still clearly visualize the lush landscapes that hedged the ambitious journeys of the story's endlessly colorful characters. That's because Tolkien's work in his "Lord of the Rings" trilogy is likely the most vivid and enduring material ever created in fantasy literature, work that transcends all boundaries of time and storytelling and flourishes off the imaginations of its readers. Those of us who read the books are instantly enraptured, and few, if any, admirers are able to forget the experience.

The Man Who Wasn't There / ** (2001)

The Coen brothers ambitiously set out to prove something in their latest feature, "The Man Who Wasn't There," but I'll be damned if I know what. The movie is one of their most ambiguous, subtle and unrewarding endeavors to date, and the fact that it adopts the most visually attractive and nostalgic style seen in a picture this year only fuels the obvious issue, which is that "Fargo" is their masterpiece and lightning will likely not strike in the same place twice.

Memento / ***1/2 (2001)

Since the moment it was first projected on the movie screen earlier this year, "Memento" has made the kind of impact on audiences that hasn't been seen since "American Beauty" or "Pulp Fiction," the kind that leaves viewers in a situation so filled with new ideas and reasoning, instantaneous discussions are provoked. Admittedly, I was not part of this initial discovery; somehow, someway, I allowed the film to simply float over my head, never even seeing it until just recently on DVD. Now that there has been a chance for me to catch up on the phenomenon, I long to immerse myself in those rich discussions with close friends, who have seen the picture perhaps countless times by now and yet still find so much to talk about regarding it. And they have good reason to; whereas the majority of theatrical releases in 2001 were so bland that they practically blended together, a film like "Memento" stands out, dares to challenge the common style, and ultimately gives birth to a new mold of storytelling. It is the jackhammer for our frozen imaginations.

Monster's Ball / ***1/2 (2001)

The title of "Monster's Ball" pertains to the last preparations made for a prison inmate as he takes his last journey down death row. The final party, as it is commonly referred to in the movie, consists of the last meal, final farewells, last-minute phone calls, words of wisdom and the like, all arranged and carried out by the prison guards in a concise but almost celebratory manner. Corrections officer Hank Grotowski (Billy Bob Thornton), who oversees the Monster's Ball of an inmate towards the beginning of the picture, believes every element leading towards the man's impending death should be perfectly executed; according to him, it's the only appropriate kind of sendoff. But when his own officer son, Sonny (Heath Ledger), becomes nauseous during the final walk and collapses onto the floor, Hank is totally outraged and becomes violent, so much so that eventually, other officers have to intervene and hold the tempered father back. Pulling away from the final walk like that, we gather, disrupted Lawrence's deserving sendoff.

Waking Life / ** (2001)

Sitting through "Waking Life" is like being trapped in a painting filled with philosophy students; every visual of the movie bleeds of elaborate abstractness, but you rapidly lose interest because those who stand in front of them discuss life, destiny, dreaming and imagination to a degree that feels repetitive and endless. Halfway through the film, there is a moment when a character looks over to another and asks him "what are you writing?" His reply: "A novel. But there's no story; it's just people, gestures, moments, bits of rapture fleeting emotions. In short, the greatest story ever told." This is the basic thread of logic the movie follows, because other than characters passing each other and opening themselves up to dialogue exchanges, there is no plot or element of basic storytelling contained in the picture. Needless to say, it eventually leads to ultimate boredom. And even then, that idea itself might have at least worked had the characters found more interesting things to talk about.

A Beautiful Mind / ***1/2 (2001)

Modest, reticent, offbeat and underestimated math genius John Nash is told at the start of "A Beautiful Mind" by an instructor at Princeton that he, or any one of his fellow classmates, could very well be the next Isaac Newton or Albert Einstein. Immediately we see the groundwork layed for a standard feel-good character study, saturated with promises of cheep and shameless sentiment and dripping with the obvious intent on manipulating audiences right down to the last provoked tear. Our anticipation, which has been built drastically in the recent weeks thanks to an ominous yet intriguing promotional campaign, suddenly dies down, and as we wait in the dark theater for the picture to throw out its first emotional outburst, we ache with displeasure.

The Endurance / **** (2001)

"There is nothing that can crush a man as to see his dreams crumble to the dust."
- Dialogue from "The Endurance"

A reference is made early on in "The Endurance" in which the narrator (Liam Neeson) refers to the voyage depicted in the film as the "last great journey in the heroic age of discovery." Immediately the mind is flooded with memories of high school history classes, when the majority of us were taught about the perilous but exciting journeys of explorers like Hudson and de Leon, who sought after, and eventually found, pieces of land that few human eyes had seen before. Much less extensive, however, is our knowledge in regard to the 1914 expedition of famed explorer Ernest Shackleton, who, only months before setting sail on his ill-fated adventure, placed an ad in the local British newspaper asking for volunteers to undertake the dangerous, potentially life-threatening task of crossing the entire Antarctic continent on foot—something that had yet to be done. How could most of us miss this piece of history? It's not as if the story is lacking in detail; in fact, "The Endurance," a fascinating new documentary, provides the viewers with enough specifics to almost make them scratch their heads in amazement.

Ghost World / *** (2001)

The months preceding and following a high school graduation are the most crucial for teenagers because they are when all the important decisions regarding the future have to be made. A huge weight feels like it has been lifted once the diplomas are in their hands, but the pressures of real life persist, and only when these young adults have set clear goals for themselves and their futures does the outlook appear to be less treacherous to navigate. Those who put off such imperative decisions only make the road ahead steeper and bumpier.

Gosford Park / **** (2001)

Robert Altman's "Gosford Park" is one of those movies that charges at us like a stampede of Zebras, startling and unexpected, yet mesmerizing and wondrous all at the same time. Grasping at its viewers through breathtaking visuals, elaborate characters studies and jaw-dropping plot devices, the picture strikes with such brisk force that few have enough time to express a reaction. And that's somewhat of a surprise given the nature of the premise, which takes on the classic "whodunit" approach in a relatively familiar way: by setting the scene at a reclusive, towering mansion built deep into the countryside, where countless high-profile characters are invited into its walls for fun times, free food and cushy living.

Friday, November 16, 2001

Monsters, Inc. / *** (2001)

On the other side of closet doors, in a universe right next door to the ones explored in "Toy Story" and "A Bug's Life" (in which toys and insects live social and productive lives), lies the land of Monstropolis, a colorful but eccentric cityscape that houses beings not unlike what many of us imagined were living in closets or under beds when we were young. What has never been said of monsters, however, prior to Pixar's "Monsters, Inc." is that human children scare them just as much as they scare us, and though kids may pull blankets over their heads for fear of a furry large beast emerging from a doorway, those same large creatures live with the idea that all children are toxic and can hurt them right back.

Friday, October 19, 2001

From Hell / ***1/2 (2001)

"One day men will look back and say I gave birth to the twentieth century."
-Jack the Ripper

Society has been fascinated over the years with homicidal maniacs considerably less monstrous than that of the ambiguous Jack the Ripper, a serial killer whom, in 1888 London, killed five prostitutes in ritualistic and horrendous ways, and then seemingly vanished into thin air, never to be found or heard from again. Many allude to his existence as that of the first tabloid star, a man whose heinous acts were so widely reported and anticipated by the media, thousands of newspapers were literally born in England because of him. What's most disturbing, perhaps even more then the killings themselves, is that this was likely the whole point behind the Ripper's crimes. He didn't simply know his mayhem would raise him to celebrity status in the eyes of the public, he knew that he would set a standard for future generations to imitate.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs / ***1/2 (1937)

Sometimes it takes an earth-shattering event before you are able to truly appreciate something you haven't before, and the recent DVD release of Disney's first animated feature, "Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs," is evidence of that. What the studio has done in restoring their crown jewel of feature animation is one of the most astonishing things we will ever see, a sophisticated and informative remargining of one of cinema's most beloved movie fairy tales that doesn't simply present a restored classic as much as it re-energizes it.

Friday, October 12, 2001

Bandits / ***1/2 (2001)

Crime capers are some of the most perplexing types of movies we will ever come in contact with, not simply because they so closely peer into the lives of seemingly untouchable outlaws, but because they tend to treat the situation with a dynamic sense of fanaticism. As crooks wave around weapons and shout out orders to innocent bystanders, suddenly they become celebrities, revered by thousands of onlookers who view their audacious actions not as crimes, but as interventions against government. Such a case is the essential point behind "Bandits," the newest movie under director Barry Levinson's belt, which sees two escaped convicts almost effortlessly rob bank after bank along the US west coast, and develop a devoted fan base as a result.

Zoolander / 1/2* (2001)

"Zoolander" is preceded by a tag line that states "3% body fat, 1% brain activity," of course referring to the title character, a model who (by intention) has a mental capacity so low that you could practically step over it. Anyone who has bothered to sit through the movie, however, will think of it to be also an appropriate description for the film itself, which is by far one of the most frustrating, painful, lackluster and idiotic comedies made in the past year. Featuring Ben Stiller in the lead and a script hell-bent on poking fun at an already self-parodied business, one wonders what the real direct intention of this half-assed job could have been: to kill time in the actor's schedule, to cheat unsuspecting victims of their hard-earned money, or simply to provide several well-known actors the luxury of being able to say, "Hey, I was in a movie with that person!" without ever actually having to put in much effort into the task.

Saturday, September 29, 2001

Blood: The Last Vampire / *** (2001)

The worst possible thing we can do as moviegoers is expect too much from a film that promises so little, but that’s exactly the case with “Blood: The Last Vampire,” the latest in a string of Japanese Anime releases from Manga Video. It’s not that we want the movie to be a better one; just a longer, more productive one. It offers one of the most well-mounted buildups seen in animation of recent memory, taking us through a fascinating story in which the plot twists are so unforeseen that your eyes sparkle with delight after they are carried out. But in the wake of an astounding battle scene that literally sweeps the breath out of its viewers, the end credits begin to roll, and we’re left wondering, “that’s it? Where’s the rest?” A premise is set up, the characters are introduced, the plot thickens, there’s a magnificent battle of forces, and then... nothing. It’s as if the filmmakers created an open wound and felt that audiences didn’t need to see it heal.

Bubble Boy / zero stars (2001)

Comedy has taught us that one man’s laugh is another man’s disgust, and that thought needs no further explanation beyond the background story surrounding “Bubble Boy,” a movie about a 16-year-old teen with immune deficiency who seeks romance, but is unable to live outside of a plastic bubble for fear of coming in contact with germs which, ultimately, could lead to fatality. Even before its release, the movie was challenged by the mother of a now-deceased son that suffered from the same illness, who feared that such an approach to comedy was unsuitable and defamed the memory of her child. An understandable response? Perhaps. However, having not seen the movie, Carol Ann Demaret, the mother of the original “bubble boy,” has jumped to a conclusion simply on the basis of her personal experience, not to mention the fact that her uproar has actually given the movie more publicity than it ever needed.

The Fast and the Furious / *** (2001)

“The Fast And The Furious” can easily be seen as companion piece to last year’s summer hit “Gone In Sixty Seconds,” and understandably so. Both movies deal with man’s love for automobiles, and not just any automobiles, but fast ones that screech when the brakes are used and survive most of the damage dealt to them. A list of similarities could easily go on in a discussion about both films, but one substantial difference here is that the earlier endeavor was weakened by its dreary cast, whereas this picture, at least, is blessed to have Vin Diesel among its credits. Diesel has easily proven he can turn any role into something meaningful and realistic even when seemingly impossible, and though his character in this picture is hardly someone you would walk with in downtown L.A. past midnight, he’s very much observant, and by the time the plot sets itself up, we actually care what happens to him.

Glitter / * (2001)

Ever notice how famous music artists tend to have the most difficult time paving their ways into a successful movie career? The often disastrous transition that everyone is familiar with—from the examples set by Madonna, Whitney Houston and even the late Alliyah—is repeated for a zillionth time in Vondie Curtis-Hall’s “Glitter,” a film that gives pop songstress Mariah Carey 105 long minutes to show us if she is capable of holding the attention of an audience past her very extensive vocal abilities. Not surprisingly, her efforts have led to one of the most pointless and lackluster efforts to hit the big screen this year.

Hardball / *1/2 (2001)

“Hardball” is exactly the kind of idiotic, boring and sluggish endeavor any number of us would come to expect from director Brian Robbins, the man who single-handedly concocted the moron comedy “Ready to Rumble,” the insulting “Varsity Blues” and the pointless dreck known as “Good Burger” all in less than five years. Perhaps we should give him credit for at least trying though; this is probably a better movie than all three of those put together. And yet you can’t help but wonder, with or without answers, if his mind was simply lost in orbit when he even considered taking on this obvious and predictable project, especially since we’ve already seen it played out a good two or three dozen times in the last twenty years alone. At this point, it’s safe to say that this genre has gone into too many extra innings.

Planet of the Apes / *1/2 (2001)

The primate-infested landscape that is implemented in Tim Burton’s remake of “Planet of the Apes” is not the kind that made the original science fiction endeavor an astounding piece of work, but one of clouded judgment and disconnected logic that is driven by intricate visuals, but slowly and painfully slaughtered by a routine and uninteresting plot and characters that, unless under the ape makeup, seem to drift off into cliché-land. The movie is pointless, dimwitted, clumsy and implausible, and if it doesn’t go down as the single worst picture to come out of Burton’s imagination, it will forever be remembered as one of the most unforgivable remakes I’ve ever seen.

Shrek / **** (2001)

Hollywood’s newfound ability to create movies completely through computers has given birth to one of the most unlikely and diverse movie genres we have ever seen, a form of expression mainly aimed at catching the eye of technology fans, yet also responsible for garnering a young audience for its likeness to standard animation. Whether that resemblance was an intentional move on the parts of studios who first jumped at the technique is something we will never know for sure. For years prior to the evolution of cinematic technology, it had been a heavily-discussed topic regarding the future of the moviemaking process, essentially founded on the notion that the eventual benefits of it would allow studios to create films that seemed so close to standard live action, there would no longer be a need for actors and, thus, large movie budgets. But those claims appear to be founded on naive idealism; the computer is as powerful as we never imagined, and it is still too early to successfully replicate the realism of living, breathing actors. That doesn’t mean it can’t eventually be done, but it leaves many wondering what studios can do in the meantime.

Wednesday, September 26, 2001

Fall 2001: Things to Come

Stepping out of the summer for most vacationers is like leaving behind an endless party, but for many of the moviegoers of the 2001 summer releases, walking away from a train wreck would be a more appropriate comparison. Not that the last three months were a total waste, mind you: the variety of things to see at the local multiplex was extremely diverse, ranging from big special effects extravaganzas (“Pearl Harbor”) to hilarious comedies (“American Pie 2”) to ambitious sequels (“Jurassic Park III”) and even to digitally-rendered epics (“Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within”). Unfortunately, the many selections did not always produce glowing results, and at some points even the most avid moviegoers couldn’t help but scratch their heads in disbelief at what big studios had to offer during the busiest time of the year at the movies. Is this a normal reaction? Sometimes. But even just plain badness can exceed the limits, and unlike recent years, summer 2001 saw its fair share of cinematic garbage.

Tuesday, July 24, 2001

A.I. - Artificial Intelligence / ***1/2 (2001)

A rare few movies will require repeat viewings to gain the full perspective of things, and Steven Spielberg's "A.I. - Artificial Intelligence" falls into that category without hesitation. As an immediate experience it is an extraordinary visual spectacle, filled with images that defy explanation.  But the story dwells somewhere between challenging and conflicted, and  added viewings have become a necessary channel to arrive at a well-mounted response. While that outcome will be different depending on the approach you offer, my eyes
find a meaning that is rich in intellectual speculation.

Atlantis: The Lost Empire / *** (2001)

It’s always hard to assume anything when it comes to Disney animation, but the department’s latest feature, “Atlantis: The Lost Empire,” takes such a tremendous departure from the studio’s routine method of storytelling, not even those who knew of its existence could have foreseen it. Stretching the fabric to a rim only reached once before by “The Black Cauldron,” the movie is an intense risk of subject matter, challenging and fresh, with little to no focus on cutesy characters and catchy songs and more of a direct concern with narrative intricacies and human drama. Children could be easily turned off by hearing a description about the Disney film, but this really isn’t solely intended for little tykes, anyway. The elusive “PG” rating attatched to the film, only the second time a Disney cartoon has ever received one, might even turn parents on to an increasingly popular theory: no one, not even the mouse house, can ignore animations’ new-found maturity.

Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within / ***1/2 (2001)

The future of our cinema rides on an endless debate that flesh and blood human actors may one day may not be necessary in filmmaking--that they will be ultimately replaced by the evolution of computers and digital effects, and that movie budgets will be reduced dramatically because CGI thespians don't require the meaty paychecks that real ones do. That argument, however, has left a dry taste in the mouth of many because there has so far been no distinct evidence supporting or denouncing the concept. Technology, after all, may have advanced greatly in the recent past, but not enough to match the natural detail of ordinary human beings.

The Homeboy / *** (2001)

It is said that fame is like a drug, addictive from the very beginning and coveted by those under its influence, but those who say so tend to overlook one very significant factor behind the statement: like some substances, it can also bring you down just as fast as it lifted you up. The situation is no more apparent than in the music business, a venue in which any aspiring person can release a catchy tune, acquire a massive following, get showered in awards and praise, and then quickly fade out after a deafening commercial collapse.

Jurassic Park III / ***1/2 (2001)

He who said that third times are a charm sure said a mouthful. That, at least, would excuse the reason why I found myself completely enthralled by "Jurassic Park III," the latest installment in an obligatory franchise about genetically engineered prehistoric giants. Much less science-driven narrative and more of a brainless action adventure than either of its two predecessors, the film has classic symptoms of B-movie status, something that, frankly, the series could have used from the very beginning. Though the original endeavors--both "Jurassic Park" and "The Lost World"--effectively used special effects to generate creatures that had died out millions of years before man, the writers failed to realize the full potential of their stories, thus ending up in mediocre payoffs. Here, they've finally gotten things right--the dinosaurs are as realistic as ever, the characters are intelligent, and the story is such nonstop silly entertainment that, by the end, the only complaint we have is that it all ends too soon.

Friday, June 8, 2001

Summer 2001: An In-Depth Preview of Things to Come

Though the summer movie season is widely considered to be a three-month excursion into blockbuster territory starting in June, it actually just recently began kicking off in early May, when Hollywood studios began to see how major motion picture releases during the month were quickly becoming major hits. For the past decade, major revenue began generating off of the Memorial Holiday weekend, and just two years ago, both “The Mummy” and “Star Wars Episode 1—The Phantom Menace” proved beyond a shadow of a doubt just how eager moviegoers were starting to get for their favorite movie season. Now it seems everyone wants a piece of the action; last year, Academy Award winner “Gladiator” was May’s hot ticket, and just these past two weeks, the highly anticipated “Pearl Harbor” ate up a good percentage of weekly box office receipts.

Friday, June 1, 2001

Summer 2001: Where Have All The Ideas Gone?

It’s becoming increasingly apparent that many of today’s filmmakers are losing their inspiration.

Those who share a similar opinion about Hollywood’s latest offerings need not to look any further then the schedule of summer movie releases that have been laid before us. Of the more than two dozen major releases being planned for the June-to-August calendar, around half of them are either sequels, remakes, or adaptations of existing source material. While familiarity isn’t necessarily a bad thing, too much of it can easily lead to a feeling of repetition that can quickly turn off many viewers. Now, with so many releases on the horizon devoted to revisiting far-too-familiar territory, many can’t help but wonder: where have all the fresh ideas gone, and are moviegoers even interested in all the retreads being offered at the movie house this year?

Bridget Jones' Diary / ***1/2 (2001)

We’ve always been told that it’s impolite to read someone else’s diary, but what if someone’s deep and personal secrets were unknowingly brought out into the open for a whole audience to see? That’s the essential situation utilized in Sharon Maguire’s “Bridget Jones’ Diary,” in which a British singleton in her thirties decides to lose weight, stop smoking and dive into the pool known as romance. After being dismissed by an attractive man at a Christmas party, the quirky and tempered sexpot vows to reshape the structure of her dead-end life, and one of the tasks on her “to-do” list is to keep a diary of all of her experiences under this new umbrella of reasoning.

A Knight's Tale / ** (2001)

"A Knight's Tale" tries very hard to be one of the year's most carefree good times, but its lapse in logic creates a deafening interference for the moviegoer to deal with. Few people have probably not heard by now about how the movie uses a classic rock soundtrack against a medieval setting, but even fewer might not realize just what kind of intense distraction this has on us, not just as sensible viewers but as moviegoers in the spirit of silly summer thrills. It's great to have fun, but even the most mindless occasions call for a little plausibility, and this is the kind of movie that has no interest whatsoever in at least operating inside respectable boundaries.

The Mummy Returns / ***1/2 (2001)

Stephen Sommers’ “The Mummy” is chiefly thought of as a lightweight and brainless action adventure, but that’s probably exactly why it became one of the biggest hits of the 1999 summer movie season. Filled with endless plot absurdities and cheesy CGI effects, the highly successful action adventure starring Brendan Fraser as an adventuresome grave-robber impeccably captured the proper essence of the conventional summer release: the movie where a plot doesn’t matter and characters are secondary to an incessant ride of surprises and thrills. Critics faulted it for being “silly” and “unbelievable,” but think about this for one moment: compared to the “Indiana Jones” franchise, just exactly how silly and unbelievable would you call it?

Pearl Harbor / * (2001)

The Randall Wallace screenplay that offers a romance-driven rendition of the infamous World War II disaster at Pearl Harbor serves as the newest in a long line of excuses for director Michael Bay and producer Jerry Bruckheimer to waste ambition, talent, money and time on a production built around loud noises, gigantic explosions, and not much else. Perhaps we would not be so willing to cave into advanced negative perception, though, had either of them actually done something halfway respectable somewhere in the duration of their incessant careers. The fact is that their adrenaline-pumped endeavors care about little of anything other than numbing the senses, and judging by the latest offering in their endless cycle of big-budgeted drivel, neither has any interest in taking one simple subject seriously either, never mind the fact that they aren’t just tinkering with emotions and special effects this time around, but history itself as well.

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?

Friday, March 23, 2001

Oscars 2001: Preserving the Secrecy of the Ballot

As Hollywood prepares for another ceremony in which the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences honors the year’s best in cinema, countless industry experts (most notably journalists) continue in a long and frustrating attempt to do what so far no one has been able to thus far: unveil the results of winners before the envelopes are torn open on stage.

It is a temptation that the industry has had for more than 50 years, and now, with the threat of things like Internet site hacking and academy member polling looming large over the event, keeping those well-guarded secrets hidden until the annual telecast becomes even more difficult.

Oscars 2001: Winner Predictions

In less than two days, Hollywood will be buzzing over the many celebrated victories at this year’s Academy Awards. Perhaps the anticipation preceding the ceremony may be much greater than what follows it, though.

Creeping anxiously towards Oscar night 2001, we as moviegoers are seeing one of the biggest debates among industry insiders, critics, and audiences of the past ten years: who exactly are the front-runners among this year’s nominees, and who’s to say that they won’t be upset by other highly-observed contenders? Part of the calm atmosphere that has swirled around the ceremony in the past is the fact that the majority of the winners were usually imperative; this year, almost nothing can be ruled out as a sure thing, especially since the year’s top three picture contenders (Ang Lee’s “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” Ridley Scott’s “Gladiator,” and Steven Soderbergh’s “Traffic”) each appear to have a large voter following behind them.

Friday, March 16, 2001

Oscars 2001: Nominee Reactions

In contrast to everything that the masses had embraced at the movie theater last year, the final nominees for this year's Academy Awards ceremony were not much of a surprise. Too bad that doesn't make most of them deserved. With movies like "How The Grinch Stole Christmas," "The Perfect Storm," and even "102 Dalmatians" turning up nominations for the 73rd year, one wonders exactly how many of the contending movies Academy voters saw throughout the past year.

Monday, February 12, 2001

Oscars 2001: Nominee Predictions

If members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences enjoy a challenge, they need not to look any further than their first big task of the year: nominating for this year's already-anticipated Academy Awards ceremony. The reason? Never before had the movie industry seen such a diverse supply of endeavors at its disposal, especially in the last few months of 2000, when every other decent release in theaters was either highly nostalgic or incredibly original. Who could have ever foreseen, for example, a movie like "Cast Away" being released just within weeks of something like "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon?"

The Best and Worst Movies of 2000


1 - American Psycho
If the 2000 movie industry had a face, chances are it would resemble something along the lines of Patrick Bateman's, the character who we all learned to despise (but vividly remember) in Mary Harron's "American Psycho." The sadistic creation of author Bret Easton Ellis, he is one of the most colorful incarnations of every human's fears, a man who so effortlessly charms and manipulates the audience that, by the time he is established as a cold-blooded killer, it leaves us feeling almost victimized. Screen personas in this vein would normally hop directly onto the wagon of crime without ever giving us guided tours of their warped hidden agendas. But here was someone who seemed to rewrite every rule that had been laid down before him, literally inviting us in to observe the downward spiral of his crumbling "mask of sanity." No other character in a movie this past year came close to his mesmerizing audacity (that is, if there is such a thing).

Monday, January 29, 2001

Before Night Falls / **1/2 (2000)

Artists are probably some of the most courageous and strong-willed individuals in existence because most of their inspiration is derived from the intense suffering that usually envelops their own lives. Since they understand and identify with the content that goes in their products, they have little trouble in finding a loyal audience. And though their motivation can at times lead to bizarre and ambiguous endeavors, they have to be applauded, if only for the fact that every ounce of pain that has been inflicted on them inspires them to create rather than to destroy.

Billy Elliot / **1/2 (2000)

Parents are bestowed with the responsibility of shaping their children into respectable adults, but that doesn't give them the unbounded permission to dictate every minor detail of their lives: the way they think, act, talk, walk, aspire, or even breathe. Of course a parent doesn't intentionally keep his or her offspring on these short leashes, because their basic intent is for a child to grow up in a happy environment, not one in which rules are more like choke-holds. Given the circumstances, exactly how does a kid break away from this kind of tight grasp to make some of their own decisions without seeming disobedient or rebellious? The key is in good communication; unless the little one has some kind of courage to tell his parents how he or she feels, the situation faces no improvement. In fact, those who simply let their elders run their lives down to the last detail will sense that dictation looming over them even after they've grown up and moved on.

Traffic / *** (2000)

What a challenge it would be to imagine a day in the life of director Steven Soderbergh. Here is perhaps the most highly recognized (and praised) filmmaker of 2000, a man who had not one but two critical triumphs to his name during the year, and is now being looked at as a double front-runner at this year's upcoming heated Oscar race. How does he handle the pressure? Where does he find the time and energy to successfully pull off two big hits in just a space of nine months? And last, but certainly not least, where does he inherit that incredible sense of style?

Friday, January 19, 2001

Cast Away / ** (2000)

"Cast Away" is a movie divided by its own warped conviction, an odd and unbalanced undertaking that pays distinctive attention to the appropriate elements but then draws back at all the wrong moments, ultimately leaving us unsatisfied and, in ways, feeling ripped off. Presented in three phases, the story clearly operates under opposing values, because while the first act is exhilarating and the middle mildly intriguing, the finale is a complete miscalculation, so wretchedly played that it does little but drag down everything that precedes it.

What Women Want / ** (2000)

Assume for a moment that men were really able to listen in on the deep personal thoughts of the human female. What exactly would they hear? Dark secrets? Exotic desires? Perhaps shocking confessions? A mixture of all these things? The extent of the human mind boggles us, so no one can be exactly sure as to what is buried beneath the female cranium. Nonetheless, the attempt to presume what goes on inside makes for quite an interesting idea in a motion picture, and in "What Women Want," we see a thought-provoking spin in which Mel Gibson plays a man whose severe miscalculation of himself as heaven's gift to women is overturned when he is given the incredible opportunity to hear every thought that jumps out of their heads.