.. Reviews From Sea Level

Movies


The Cider House Rules -- It’s surprising that none of the presidential candidates have siezed upon this film’s pro-choice message. Gently acted. Completely engrossing. And complex, as John Irving’s stories always are.

Notting Hill -- Beneath eye-candy. A bit of fluff, fortunately viewed on cheap Pay-Per-View.

End of Days
End of Days -- Hilarious. Saw it in December in a touristy Time’s Square theatre where I risked being beat up by the scarry people behind us who kept talking. The only thing that made it interesting was that we were right in the middle of the movie’s setting (Manhattan), within a few days of it’s climactic events on New Year’s eve. But if you can’t duplicate those conditions, don’t bother.

Dogma -- We love irreverence, particularly when it’s got some depth.

The Matrix
The Matrix -- The concept is hardly original to an SF audience, but the execution is cool.

Austin Powers -- Oh behave! The first one was, as Bruce McCroskey puts it, "wierd-o-rama." If you’re a James Bond fan (or an Avengers afficionado), this stuff is just a little too strange. Less a cohesively successful film than a series of funny SNL-type bits. WWW.shut-up.com!

The Blair Witch Project
The Blair Witch Project -- Exemplifies the problem with net word-of-mouth. People actually camped out to see the premier of this? By the end of an hour I was really tired of Heather. An as to what’s in the tree? It’s rocks, for God’s sakes. Worthy moment: When one of the guys turns the damned videocamera on her. That message delivered ("life isn’t just what you see through the lens") they could have wound up the whole dismal adventure.

Runaway Bride -- Worse than Notting Hill. Why, you may ask do I see these Julia Roberts flicks? I don’t really know. It’s not like I’m a big fan. Perhaps this deserves further analysis, but I won’t bore you.

Double Jeopardy -- I’ll see almost anyting Tommy Lee Jones, but this isn't at all his best work. The twisty little plot kept me interested, but only for the two hours it took to play it out.

Man on the Moon
Man on the Moon -- I wasn’t a big Andy Kaufman fan, but Jim Carey’s portrayal of him is compelling. Wouldn’t recommend this to anyone younger, or who wasn’t aware of Kaufman on SNL (my college sophmore niece Meghann, thought it was dull). But between this and The Truman Show, Jim Carey deserves acknowledgement that he is a good actor, not just a rubber-faced jerk.

The Phantom Menace
The Phantom Menace -- Always remember, I’m one of those people who, as a teenager, saw Star Wars many, many times (and we’re not talking about video, here). It’s hard for me to dislike any installment in this saga. I still think The Empire Strikes Back is the strongest Star Wars film, but I enjoyed Phantom Menace simply because it provides background, and opens some new doors to peer through until the next installment.

The Thomas Crown Affair -- Proof that Pierce Brosnan is a solid actor. This remake puts his debonair side to good use, while hinting at the adventurous side that’s exploited in the Bond movies. Much better than . . .

The World is Not Enough -- It’s really hard to admit that the James Bond legacy may be running thin. Not bad, but not a blockbuster.

Wild Wild West
The Wild, Wild West -- When I was a geeky seventh grader, Jim West and Artemus Gordon filled many an afternoon when I wasn’t self-actualized enough to do something more fulfilling. Mel Brooks recently said in an interview that the best comedy is performed with complete sincerety. There was high comedy in Robert Conrad’s ultra-serious portrayal of James West, 1890’s secret service agent. No plot hatched by a dwarf villian or eastern european megalomaniac, was too bizarre for Jim. And nobody ever had to clean out the stable car on the private train. I imagine that making a movie adaptation of a 60s or 70s series is problematic: go for the same tone to please the original audience, or try for an update that will interest today’s gen-y market. Some, like the Brady Bunch movies, have managed both. Then there was the Avengers movie (so abysmal I won’t even justify it with a review here, beyond saying that watching a couple episodes of the recently released-on-video series is much more entertaining). The Wild, Wild West is somewhere in between. Marginally watchable, so long as you don’t try to put it into the context of the old series.

Eyes Wide Shut
Eyes Wide Shut -- I bought a DVD player one Friday night, and went to Blockbuster on Saturday for a binge. The buzz about Kubrick’s final film had prevented me from spending the big bucks to see it, but for $3.75, what the hell. I still can’t really claim to have seen it since I skipped over several scenes out of boredom. And I was playing with the DVD’s scene-jumping feature. It’s not that I don’t appreciate Kubrick’s style -- A Clockwork Orange hit so hard in college I’ve never been able to watch it again -- but this is all style, all slow, deliberate, empty style.

Sling Blade -- A cross between Nell and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, uh huh.

Entrapment -- Start with To Catch A Thief, stir in The Thomas Crown Affair, and extrapolate from there. Probably no coincidence that the stars of two of the three are also James Bond.

Around the World in 80 Days -- David Niven bets his fortune that he can circle the globe in 80 days. Jules Verne’s story provides the framework for a first class travelog full of gratuitous tourist shots. So this is what the masses did before convenient air travel could take them to Disneyworld.

Mighty Aphrodite -- Another typical Woody Allen where he’s a stud and his wife is a self-absorbed, vacuous, pretty little bitch. Get a new therapist Woody, the old one obviously hasn’t moved you along.

Casino
Casino -- The violence actually managed to make me queasy toward the end, and that's unusual. Nonetheless, it's brilliant. Incredible photograpy and use of light. Well-developed characters, good dialog, and strong performances by De Niro, Sharon Stone, and Joe Pesci. And great casting for small parts and cameos.

Response from Mona Rosenthal: I saw Casino too. I loved it, but it still wasn't as good as Goodfellas. You forgot to mention the superb soundtrack.

Carrington (review from Mona Rosenthal) -- Why didn't she age? Obviously it was over the span of many years. And how did she meet those men. A wonderful blend of tragedy and humor and great acting by Jonathan and Emma. I wonder if the guy who played her husband was supposed to look like Kenneth B, or was it just coincidence?

Hanibal – All the gore and none of the suspense of its predecessor, Silence of the Lambs. But when I read the book I just knew no studio would film it as written.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon – I don’t think I’m the target market for this stuff. Sure, the effects are cool, but the endless rooftop chases get a little old. And the ending is so terribly sad!

The Pillow Book – Really weird and really captivating. Be prepared for split screens, subtitles, and lots of nudity. But keep an open mind, it’s worth it.

What Lies Beneath – Harrison Ford as the villain! And he can be really creepy. Keep all the lights on and don’t go near the bathtub after watching this one.

28 Days – Sandra Bullock’s homage to rehab. If my HMO would pay for a 30 days in such a facility I’d become a party girl too.

Brigit Jones’s Diary – If you somehow escaped reading the book, the movie version is loyal to its humor and innocence. I giggled all the way through.

American Beauty – I expected depressing and got dark humor. A very smart, challenging film that I’m surprised to be able to recommend.

Chocolat – Ugh. There was this great little book with a mystical French/gypsy sensibility. Then came this film that fails to capture any of it.

Me, Myself, and Irene – I didn’t realize it was a Farrelly brother’s film until well into it. Once I did, it all started to make a twisted sort of sense, and it got a lot funnier.

Soft Fruit – A little known Aussie Indie (!) about family members gathering around their dying mother. The three portly sisters and their disreputable brother descend upon their parents’ home with children and baggage. As with any family, they squabble over everything, including caring for poor mum, who gradually declines and eventually passes.

Meet the Parents – cringe-inducing situations alternate with heavily foreshadowed mishaps. Amusing, but not hysterical.

Being John Malkovich – For reasons too complicated to get into, the notion of a 7.5 floor and hidden door touched a chord with me. The notion that John Malkovich would go along with this project made it all the more appealing. It’s weird, but it’s well worth seeing.

Fargo – It’s such a pleasure to find smart, dark humor in a cold climate.

The Waterboy – You can do it! You can sit through this absurd Adam Sandler comedy.

Finding Forrester – touching, uplifting, enlightening, you get the idea. Sean Connery as the jaded recluse, Michael Pitt as the underprivileged high school student who shows him a way back into the world. Certainly worth a watch for the performances.

Cast Away – I went in expecting Survivor on the big screen and came away surprised at the depth (for a big budget movie, anyway). Not nearly so much about survival skills as about loneliness. Makes you believe that four years on a deserted island can make a volleyball seem like a buddy. And the airplane crash is one of the most frightening I’ve ever seen.

Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels – four well-meaning losers who turn to crime, four nasty criminals who look a lot like the first four, four drug dealers who also look like the first two groups, four black drug dealers (thank God for differentiation!) a couple hit men, a gangster boss, and two (or is it four?) antique muskets. I got lost pretty early on and don’t think I ever sorted it all out. My Brit friend Dave says it was hysterical. But he probably understood the provincial accents.

East is East – It’s Manchester in the 1970s and a Pakistani father is trying to raise his children with good Pakistani values. It’s a losing battle. My favorite character is the young son who insists on wearing his hooded jacket all the time – kind of a live action Kenny (but this kid doesn’t get killed).

Charlies Angels – I entered with low expectations and was delightfully surprised. With lots of respectful nods to the original TV series and updates that don’t step all over the sexist concept, this silly film manages to be entertaining and inoffensive despite its 70s TV origins.

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
Like most people, I was blown away the first time I watched the Fellowship of the Ring. I had long ago decided that nobody would ever be able to do justice to Tolkien's books. I'd read them as a child and re-read them countless times since. My mental image of the characters and locations was shaped by Tolkein's illustrations and the work of Greg and Tim Hildebrandt, who have illustrated so much heroic fantasy. Here on the screen was my mental movie, so captivating it never occurred to me to wonder how they made the hobbits and John Rhys-Davis so short and the elves so tall. Not, in any case, until I got the first enhanced DVD set and watched the documentaries. I'm thrilled that Peter Jackson prooved me wrong. And even more so that he did it three times. Well, maybe, just maybe, two and a half. The final film was cautiously edited to exclude some of Tolkien's work, but even so it was very, very long. Why did Jackson use the parts he kept instead of what he cut? Why didn't he cut just a little more so we could walk to the restroom when it was over instead of run? Will I ever go to a theatre to watch all three films? Fat chance. Will I watch them at home in a marathon? Inevitably.

The Matrix Reloaded – I knew half way through the first excruciatingly tedious fight sequence that this film was going to be a huge waste of two hours of my time. And indeed, for the next 110 minutes I felt like I was riding a train wreck.

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