Fanzing At The Movies
by Nicolas Juzda
Here are reviews for every movie I've seen this summer, plus Unbreakable, which I saw back in the Spring. I warn you now that this is all my opinion!
This is a brilliant movie. It's not for people who dislike slow paced movies, but if you have patience and an understanding that there will not be any big explosions, go see it.
Most super-hero movies treat the origin as a necessary evil to get over with quickly so the hero can go fight the villain; this one doesn't. In a perverse way, this movie requires that the audience NOT have a suspension of disbelief, or a ready made belief that super-heroes are totally plausible. Simply settling the question of whether or not super-heroes could possibly exist is the narrative centre of the movie.
Willis underacts and Jackson overacts, but both of these (particularly the latter) make sense within the movie's context; I can't explain further without spoilers. And the direction and cinematography make up for this. Of special note are the recurring shots where something "frames" the action, invoking comic book panels; the shot on the train near the beginning, viewed through the seats, is a particular high point.
Josie and the Pussycats
I thought this was a damn fine movie, but then its target audience is pretty much just me, personally. Coincidentally enough, I, personally, also constitute the target audience for the film The Last Action Hero. Really, I'm the only hardcore action/meta-textual/children's movie fan there is. But I'm going off on a tangent. For Josie, I'm really the only audience a wacky teen comedy with heavy satiric content targetting the culture of teenagers and a basis in an Archie comic that hasn't been published regularly in decades could have.
Yeah, I liked Josie. It was funny (Alexandra Cabot excepted- she was the film's Jar Jar, lowering the already not-exactly-Bergmanesque tone whenever she appeared). The leads were as talented as they ever are in teen comedies these days, and the satire was decent. Du Jour's songs alone are worth the price of admission. Also, how can you dislike a movie with the line, "If I could go back in time, I'd want to meet Snoopy."
Also, people criticize the film for its product placements when the movie's whole point is to decry commercialism. You know, there was a time when "irony" meant something more than Kevin Williamson scripts with people saying stuff like "Gee, this is just like a horror movie." I mean, there's a shot with a bathroom done up in a McDonald's motif. It's a joke, for crying out loud!
The Mummy Returns
Another hit! Forget Tomb Raider; The Mummy and The Mummy Returns are the true heirs to Indiana Jones. You've got great action set pieces, actually humourous comedy, romance by characters who aren't phoning in their performances, likeable leads, archeology, super-natural threats with actual menace, period appeal, and an airship (wait, that's something that should have been in Final Fantasy, not Tomb Raider).
Sure, the kid's really annoying and the big bad is CGI crap, but the movie is still well worth it. The set piece on the double decker bus is an instant classic, and the sword and sai duels are very well done. Also, if you want to see attractive actresses engaged in combat on-screen, you're once again better off here than in Tomb Raider.
Okay, now that you think I can only rave-rave-rave, I'll admit that I found Shrek underwhelming. Maybe it just got too much build up from all the glowing reviews, but I thought that it was nothing unprecedented. The jokes are pretty hit or miss, with the scatological humour mostly missing, although those that do hit are occasionally pretty funny. The ending is predictably feel-good, and just plain predictable.
If you want a relatively inoffensive family film with some jokes for the parents and a nice moral for the kids, this is fine. It's like Disney used to be about a decade ago.
On the CGI front, yes, it's all very impressive, but nothing groundbreaking. I see no significant advances here over, say, Toy Story.
I'm not sure if anyone out there has heard of this, since it's a Canadian film. It's about two teenage girls, one of whom gets bitten by a werewolf and gradually starts to transform into a wolf-like creature.
Again, a lot of hype may have set me up for a let-down. But I found the characters unlikeable (to be fair, they weren't supposed to be that likeable), the monster at the end unrealistic, the metaphor for adolescence overdone (although they were at least up front about it) and the metaphor for menstruation unoriginal (Alan Moore's The Curse, anyone?).
On the plus side, there were some genuinely stylish touches. The opening credits play over a montage of the two leads appearing to have just committed suicide in various ways (for a class art project, it will turn out), and the score is great.
It's the return of the glowing reviews. This movie was AMAZING. Really. Best I saw all summer, by far. Great acting, great script (some small plot holes aside), a gimmick that really works, some funny bits, some suspense, at least three twists I didn't see coming.
It's about a man who can't remember anything for more than a few minutes. The movie opens with him killing someone, then plays the last few days of his life for us in reverse, with the each segment ending where the previous one began.
I'll spoil nothing else.
This was a terrible film. Of all the ones I saw this summer, this was the worst.
The set pieces are not up to par. The one with the most potential, with Lara Croft hanging from bungee cords in her own home, is the best of a meagre lot. The others, such as her climbing over a curiously accurate solar system model or her blowing up an ED-209, lacked any particular charm or innovation. If I want to see someone blow up an ED-209, I'll go watch a Robocop flick.
Also, Lara Croft is completely unlikeable. I didn't care at all if she survived. Well, maybe I did, because I suppose if she had died it might have cheered me a little. Seriously, her emotional sub-plot about her dead father made me care not at all.
Also, the movie was far too humourless. Yes, there are a couple of jokes, but everyone spends most of the movie deathly serious. I'm not urging high camp, but where's the "dry cool wit" of the action hero(ine)? In about three lines total, that's where.
Cinematically, this was a fascinating film. We get the sterility of Kubrick as interpreted through the emotionally manipulative (and I say that with no disrespect intended) Spielberg.
The result is a movie that, not surprisingly, feels patched together. The film has a clear three act structure, and one can almost see the baton being passed as the acts progress.
The opening one, where the android child David attempts to live a normal life, is in many ways the most interesting. Maybe it's just that I'm a sci-fi fan, but this was the only point where the movie was breaking new ground in SF terms. Indeed, even Supertoys Last All Summer Long (and its two sequels) did not depict in any particular depth the process of an android trying to fit into a real family. And the kid, Haley Joel Osment, is a fine actor, probably the best child actor around today.
Act Two is fairly predictable, and introduces Jude Law hamming it up far more than he should as Gigolo Joe, another android, whose function is sort of obvious from the name. He plays the role as a sort of annoying seventies lounge lizard.
Act two's climax is a great way to end the movie (I enjoy bleak endings, if they fit the story)... so we get act three tacked on. Everyone I've discussed this movie with agrees with me that the last bit was a mistake. Spielberg cannot resist the tearjerker/happy ending. And the Oedipal overtones throughout the film climax in some extraordinarily creepy ways; one suspects that Kubrick might have been conscious of them, but to Spielberg the family unit is sacred, so there is no irony here.
Jurassic Park III
I'll just summarize this one: better than two, far worse than one, fast paced and nice effects, needed to use its cannon fodder far better and needed more than one quick scene on the boat to support the idea that dinosaurs are anything more than horrible killing machines. See it if you want mindless thrills, because it does deliver that quite capably.
Or, "Generic Sci-Fi Film". I've played my way through a few of the games (one, four/two, and six/three), and they actually had, whatdayacallit, "fantasy" elements. Like magic, and swords, and monsters. Don't mind me; I'm just a bitter old gamer. In my day, we had Chocobos, and Moogles, and black mages in big straw hats... you don't get straw hats that big these days...
Anyway, this was a let-down. The only two characters I liked died about halfway through the film, in the same scene (I imagine anyone who saw the film knows to whom I refer). No, scratch that, I liked the villain too. He made sense.
The effects were a step beyond anything seen previously. But there was a certain hollowness to them for that very reason. If you want to create a giant Ogre or an Ant or Mr. Potato Head, you can't just hire someone to play the role, but the CGI here had the explicit aim of looking just like real people. So... what's the point? I'm not saying I wasn't impressed, but it was a technical achievement divorced from cinematic effectiveness.
Lost And Delirious
That's more like it. I'm a sucker for movies about a horribly doomed love affair, and this flick's got that, let me tell you. Horribly, horribly, doomed.
Another Canadian production, this one's the story of two lesbians at a boarding school; when their affair is discovered, one of them breaks it off, and the other takes that very very badly.
You've got Shakespeare quotations flying left and right (including one of my favorites, Cleopatra's speech upon Antony's death, as one of the characters' mantra), you've got falconry, you've got sword fights, you've got tragedy, you've got (not terribly explicit) lesbian sex... what more could you want in a film?
Planet of the Apes (2001)
I'd say this was better than Battle For..., Conquest of..., and maybe Escape From..., but below Beneath... and far below the classic original Planet of the Apes.
The new film's costumes and make-up are of course astonishing, and the scenes of the Apes leaping about are far beyond the original film. But Wahlberg gives a bland performance, seeming completely unperturbed by his situation; Heston may be hammy, but he had passion. The new blonde bimbo lacks the personality of the original Nova, and Nova never spoke. And no, "personality" wasn't a euphemism. I will give points to Helena Bonham Carter and Tim Roth for decent performances, though.
The cinematography and scoring of the original was also superior, which is surprising. Burton's bizarre visions and Elfman's accompanying music are usually beyond comparison, but the sterile desert and shoreline and tinkling music of the classic did far more to establish atmosphere than the frenetic approach of the current one.
The surprise twists are all telegraphed. Yes, even the big final one.
This isn't a total pan. The visuals of the current one are quite good (albeit, as previously stated, not quite as good as the original), and it's fast paced enough to keep the viewer's interest.
All characters are DC Comics
This piece is © 2001 by Nicolas Juzda.
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