ON THE SCREEN
On The Screen
Not even the writing of the gifted Andrew Kevin Walker can save this flop directed by Joel Schumacher. It is the story of a private detective whose inquiries into the authenticity of a snuff film reveal a grossly disturbing culture of pornography and violence. What he finds is not only that this culture provides a thriving environment for the morally vacuous, but that its implications and effects take a frightening toll on even the most virtuous of us.
Frightening, in its own regard, but the emotional impact is lost in the direction. Don’t bother. -- Francisco Delatorre
Nick Nolte plays a grown man still grappling with the ghost of his father’s abusiveness. A sheriff in a small snowy town, he riles against the rich, against authority and against those who try to help him. For a long time the rage has been kept in check, but it won’t hold forever.
Although some characters in the movie are one-dimensional, director Schrader, working from a script by Russell Banks, puts together a very solid film. Nolte and Coburn, as his father, are astounding and harrowing, and keep the movie’s loose ends together to make for a powerful experience. -- Roy Rodenstein
On the surface, a classic OmniMax nature-themed documentary, replete with grandiose nature shots and panoramic views of mountain ranges from the helicopter. Underneath -- an involving story, using the turn of the seasons as an underlying plotline and carefully observed animals as central characters. Unexpectedly, it’s also downright hilarious, bursting with more humor than any other movie currently in release. --Vladimir Zelevinsky
Analyze This (]])
A sorry sit-comish excuse for a comedy, with Billy Crystal engaging in so much tiresome shtick as a burned-out shrink, analyzing an overstressed mafia boss played by Robert De Niro. Not enough humor, not enough story, and more than enough gratuitous violence. However, De Niro, in a rare comedic appearance, almost makes this movie worth watching. --VZ
Blast From The Past (]]])
In 1962 a paranoid scientist and his wife (Walken and Spacek) hide underground from what they believe is nuclear warfare. Their son (Fraser) grows up underground and does not come out until 35 years later. On the surface he meets 90’s-girl Silverstone and tries to deal with this new world, some of which really is as bad as his worst nightmares.
The movie is full of kitschy, delicious humor, and is rendered effectively by all the lead actors. There are few lulls and several enjoyably strange scenes. Some observant social commentary is also there if you look. --RR
Another Day In Paradise (]])
A couple of couples on the run, with Woods and Griffith the aging but savvy leaders, and Kartheiser and Wagner the innocent and youthful recruits. Theft, guns, sex, drugs, and recovering from wounds are the usual major themes. Griffith’s maternal instinct makes Woods’s lead-ape job tricky, though.
Paradise is disappointing, not as clever as it should have been given the talent involved. Director Clark pushes his Kids angle which makes for a dirty-as-heck atmosphere that is supposedly joyful. Woods is the highlight, with the supporting performances also good but marred by an incoherent, dull and melodramatic plot. --RR
Cruel Intentions (]])
A millennial remake of Dangerous Liaisons, Phillippe and Gellar play rich young socialites moving from conquest to conquest. Blair and Witherspoon play their naive targets. Twisted happenings, sex, innuendo and humor pepper the sadists’ futile attempts at happiness.
While all the actors are decent in their roles, the roles are almost completely one-dimensional. The plot occasionally reaches cruel and comedic heights, but regularly stumbles and becomes exploitative. The rapport between Gellar and Phillippe, and Witherspoon’s acting talent, are the most rewarding aspects. -- RR
A remarkable visual achievement, this story about one of the greatest rulers of England ever is told by withholding the epic scope and concentrating on the essential details. The great cast, headlined by Cate Blanchett in a commanding titular performance and ably supported by Geoffrey Rush as her chief assistant, works extra hard to create vivid characters from the rather overwritten and overplotted screenplay. The finale, with ethereal music by Mozart, is stunning. --VZ
Life is Beautiful (]]])
Most reviewers praise the second half of this Italian tragicomedy -- the serious half. While it certainly has its merits, it’s the first hour which really makes this film so remarkable. With its gentle whimsy, subtle satire, and unabashed romanticism, this is the stuff of which the best romances are made. There are also classically gorgeous visuals, memorable score, and elaborate visual and verbal gags aplenty. --VZ
Office Space (]]1/2)
A brilliant idea: a corporate drone gets an attitude adjustment and stages a rebellion against his company. Poor execution: slow pacing, bland visuals, undercooked story, underdeveloped characters, and the second half is mostly wasted. Still, it’s sprinkled with enough amusing bits, and it certainly got the environment down pat. Still, its satire would be better if it weren’t so mild. --VZ
The Prince of Egypt (]]1/2)
This animated movie about a young prince who is exiled after a tragic incident, tries to rebuild his life away from home, and then triumphantly returns, reborn as a true leader, is not made by Disney, and should not be called The Zion King. Adapted from The Exodus, Prince works remarkably well in its first half, which concentrates on the characters, and totally loses its track when it tries to shoehorn these characters into an established story. Two sequences stand out: first one, the hyeroglyphical nightmare, is amazing; second one, the Plagues, done as a musical/special effects number, is rather tasteless. --VZ
A breath -- or, rather, make it blast -- of fresh air. This is an offbeat comedy, an offbeat buddy film, an offbeat romance, and an offbeat revenge story. Or none of these things. Mix up some wildly varying comic elements, combine them with some of most deliciously deadpan acting in recent memory, add highly imaginative and inventive usage of widescreen format -- and get Rushmore, which is just about the least conventional and yet solidly enjoyable movie to come out recently. --VZ
Saving Private Ryan (]]1/2)
For all the sound and fury unleashed by Steven Spielberg in this WWII action drama, the result signifies more or less nothing. Other than two majestic battle sequences (first half and hour and last half an hour), which have taut pacing, amazing visuals, and taut direction, the rest is lackluster. The story doesn’t build toward much, the few character arcs are either barely existent or utterly obvious, and the acting is passable at best. It’s certainly highly watchable, but even this is somewhat of a problem, since it turns the horrors of war into exciting spectacle. --VZ
Shakespeare in Love (]]]1/2)
What a difference does a good screenplay make! This one, co-written by Tom Stoppard, is funny, witty, unapologetic in its gags, and completely earnest in dramatic romanticism. The resulting film displays uncanny verisimilitude in recreating Elizabethan England in all of its ungainly squalor and demonstrates nothing else than the genesis of true art -- from such humble beginnings as want, dirt, hate, envy, and lust, as well as love and hope. --VZ
She’s All That (]]1/2)
A sickeningly offensive and sexist retelling of the Pygmalion myth, placing it in the milieu of high school, where one local stud bets another one that they can turn a local nerd into a prom queen. The really sad thing is that there are flashes of creativity, originality, and true human emotions sprinkled around this whole mess; just enough to make the surrounding inanity even more depressing. --VZ
A Simple Plan (]]]1/2)
The setting of this snow-bound thriller -- about two brothers who steal a cool $4 million from a downed plane -- reminds of Fargo; everything else doesn’t, and it makes for a much better film, which follows the harrowing downward progress of its characters, while making them more and more empathically human. Great acting, too -- it’s expected from Billy Bob Thornton, but it’s the reliable everyman Bill Paxton who firmly anchors this film in reality. --VZ
Star Trek: Insurrection (]1/2)
The “even-odd” Star Trek rule still holds place. Insurrection stinks big time, from the acting of guest stars, to “let’s have the camera shake a lot” direction, to unusually inane special effects, to the total mess of a plot, to the idiotic -- even for Star Trek! -- science. The only semi-worthwhile element is humor, but even that is of the rather ridiculous variety, and in such amounts that this Star Trek often crosses the line into self-parody. --VZ
The Thin Red Line (]]1/2)
A WWII drama, with the boffo central hour, spectacularly showing the crazy assault on a Japanese stronghold on a hill during the battle of Gudalcanal. The cinematography is stunning, and the visuals are almost out of this world. But the pleasure is severely diluted by endlessly discursive bookending sequences, which take up more than half of the picture, and are filled with endless vague philosophizing. --VZ
Thrill Ride (]]1/2)
One third exhilarating, taking the audience on the wild rides through the worlds created solely by the artists’ imagination and state-of- the-art technology. One third innocuous, with rather bland “educational” footage of rollercoasters and motion simulators. One third nauseating, with the impressive computer-generating effects being artless and trying to conceal the fact that there’s precious little substance beneath the flashy surface. --VZ
Waking Ned Devine (]]]1/2)
Charming comedy about a small town’s quest for wealth. Nearly 7 million pounds is at stake in the Irish national lottery, and the sleepy village of Tully More pulls together to outwit the officials after the winner, one of the town’s inhabitants, dies at the shock of being rich. Standing in their way are individual greed and fear of legal retribution, among others.
Overall, it is a wholly enjoyable, hilarious, and wonderfully written film. One of the best of 1998. --FD