Written & Directed by: Terrence Malick, based on the novel by James Jones Starring: James Caviezel, Ben Chaplin, Sean Penn, Elias Koteas, Nick Nolte
My Advice: Wait for Cable.
For the record, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a better acted piece of overblown, pretentious, self-important cinema in my life. Also for the record, I have never seen a film more in need of an editor…in my life. Let me try to summarize this monster for you. It’s World War II, and you’re at Guadalcanal. Private Witt (Caviezel) has gone AWOL again only to be given a second chance by Welsh (Penn), a first sergeant. He is a member of Charlie Company, led by Capt. Staros (Koteas), who is getting his ass chewed out perpetually by Lieutenant Colonel Tall (Nolte), who is in turn busy kissing the ass of a brigadier general (John Travolta). In the meantime, we have Private Bell (Chaplin), who is pining for his wife (Miranda Otto). Somewhere else in there we have a bunch of other soldiers who I can’t remember (98% of the cast) and a bunch of people who did have roles but were edited out (name any actor in Hollywood). Confused? Good. I don’t feel so alone now.
Written by: Kelly Asbury & Lorna Cook along with 14 other people, based on the book of Exodus Directed by: Brenda Chapman, Steve Hickner, & Simon Wells Starring: Val Kilmer, Ralph Fiennes, Patrick Stewart, Michelle Pfeiffer, Sandra Bullock
My Advice: Wait and Rent It.
To escape a culling of Hebrew firstborns, Moses (Kilmer) is placed in a CGI basket by his mother and set adrift, only to wind up in the arms of Egypt’s Queen (Helen Mirren) and become a…prince of Egypt. He flees the kingdom once he learns of his true heritage and finds peace in Midian and winds up marrying Pocahontas (Pfeiffer). Content at first, he’s called on by God (Kilmer) to go into Egypt and lead the Hebrews out of slavery.
That’s right, it’s the book of Exodus. They’ve thrown in some unnecessary action sequences, i.e. a Ben Hur chariot race down the scaffolding of a monument whilst the nose of said monument is a close third, but all in all, you’ve got Exodus. And therein lies the problem with this film: it tries too hard to do too much. The story is big and broad enough as it is, it doesn’t need add-ons. It’s almost like they set out to out-Disney Disney. For example, apart from the opening “Deliver Us,” the songs are all unnecessary and painfully intrusive. Every time somebody needs to explain something, suddenly–! There’s a song going–and I’m cringing.
Written by: Wes Anderson & Owen Wilson Directed by: Wes Anderson Starring: Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Olivia Williams, Brian Cox, Mason Gamble
My Advice: Don’t miss it.
This film is the most disturbingly funny coming of age story since Harold met Maude, and while this movie does have its share of morbid mayhem, love, friendship and Cat Stevens, it’s an entirely different kind of flying…altogether.
Max Fischer (Schwartzman) is a nerd, first and foremost. But instead of being able to work mathematical proofs in his head like your archetypal 15-year-old egghead, he instead has a wild imagination and passion for extracurricular activities. In fact, he’s either founder or president of pretty much every club on the Rushmore Academy’s campus. His grades suck rocks though, and so Prof. Guggenheim (Cox) is on the verge of expelling him. Enter two adults into his life, Harold Blume (Murray), a miserable married man with twin oafs for children and Rosemary Cross (Williams), a recently widowed first grade teacher. Max quickly falls in love with Cross only to have complications arise when his good friend Blume might want Cross for himself.
Written by: Marc Norman & Tom Stoppard Directed by: John Madden Starring: Gwyneth Paltrow, Joseph Fiennes, Geoffrey Rush, Tom Wilkinson, Ben Affleck
My Advice: Don’t miss it.
I’ll never complain about the plight of a modern writer again. Well, at least not this week. At least the SDI will never get closed because of the plague. Never expected the terms “plague” and “romantic comedy” to ever get together? Well, surprise. This is the best comedy of 1998, an absolute cinematic gem.
Bill Shakespeare (Fiennes) is in the throes of writer’s block at the start of his career, completely at a loss. This is bad news for the owner of the Rose Theatre, Henslowe (Rush), who owes money to Fennyman (Wilkinson), and will probably get killed or worse if he doesn’t pay. There’s only one thing to do–write a play and quickly, and call it “Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate’s Daughter.” With a deadline approaching, they need a Romeo, and who should arrive but Thomas Kent, a virtual unknown who’s perfect for the part.
Directed by Shekhar Kapur Written by Michael Hirst Starring Cate Blanchett, Joseph Fiennes, Geoffrey Rush, Christopher Eccleston, Richard Attenborough
My Advice: Don’t Miss It.
Henry VIII is dead and Queen Mary Tudor (Kathy Burke) isn’t feeling too good herself, which leaves young Elizabeth (Blanchett) to take the throne. There are some complications, not limited to the fact that she is Protestant in a land of Catholic rule and also the fact that she loves Robert Dudley (Fiennes) despite many attempts by her head advisor, Sir William (Attenborough), to get her to marry someone else and get on with the business of producing an heir.
First and foremost, a big round of applause to not only Kapur for orchestrating this enjoyable historical jaunt, but Remi Adefarasin for the evocative cinematography, Alexandra Byrne for the gorgeous costume design, and John Myhre for the beautiful production design. They all provided the environment for the movie to work in, and damn if they didn’t do jobs worthy of multiple Oscar nods. Voluminous rooms, strategic use of curtains and lighting, and absolutely stunning garb work with the unique camera angles to bring England of the day to light.
Written by: John Carpenter, Don Jakoby & Dan Mazur, based on the novel Vampire$ by John Steakley Directed by: John Carpenter Starring: James Woods, Daniel Baldwin, Sheryl Lee, Maximilian Schell, Thomas Ian Griffith
My Advice: Wait for Cable.
Two films that actually have vampires in them instead of “hemocytes” (I’m not bitter) came to theaters this year. This, the second of them, really threw me for a loop. James Woods plays a master vampire slayer who has possibly met his match in Valek (Griffith), the numero uno master vampire who kicks ass like nobody’s business. Valek apparently wants to find a religious relic that will help him and his vampire hordes become unstoppable.
In the film’s favor, we do have a good performance from Woods (along with some killer lines pointed toward the state of vampires in cinema) and a fairly good phoned-in walkthrough from Baldwin. I’m not exactly sure why Schell took this role, and neither is he. The two acting jobs worth mentioning are the two that had the least potential. Sheryl Lee is very good at being feral–thank you. Griffith makes a menacing master vamp, but isn’t given much to do other than tear people in half and get shot. To his credit, he does this well.
Written & Directed by: Gary Ross Starring: Tobey Maguire, Reese Witherspoon, William H. Macy, Joan Allen, Jeff Daniels
My Advice: Matinee.
The real world sucks. We all know it’s true. And David (Maguire) is so clued into this fact that he retreats into reruns of his favorite show, Pleasantville, which he watches religiously. No Pleasantville trivia can get past him. One night, due to an altercation with his trendy MTV-watching sister Jennifer (Witherspoon), their television is broken. Neither can get to the shows they want to watch. Just in time, a mysterious TV repairman (Don Knotts) shows up and fixes the TV. He fixes the two of them as well, setting them up to be zapped into Pleasantville, playing the part of the son and daughter. What happens when imperfect people are injected into a sterile perfect world? And what’s the definition of perfect anyway?
Written by: Charles Leavitt, based on the novel Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick Directed by: Peter Chelsom Starring: Elden Henson, Kieran Culkin, Gillian Anderson, Harry Dean Stanton, Sharon Stone
My Advice: Don’t miss it.
It’s movies like this that make all the other crap I’ve had to wade through this year almost worth it. Max (Henson) is literally a gentle giant in the seventh grade (for his third crack at passing the year) and a pacifist though he doesn’t know what that means. The boy is with a great largeness, and I mean he’s built like a truck. He generally keeps himself to himself and doesn’t want to make waves, cause trouble, or even live it almost seems like. Then a woman (Stone) moves next door with her son, Kevin (Culkin). Kevin seems like a junior Stephen Hawking in the brain department, and like the illustrious Dr. H, his body isn’t working so good. He has a degenerative illness that retards his bone growth while his internal organs all keep right on going. He’s in a leg brace and crutches. But still he’s courageous and takes his cues from King Arthur, wanting to be chivalrous and go about accomplishing good deeds. The movie relates how these two misfits become partners and even to a degree a single entity, which they dub “Freak the Mighty,” and how together they’re able to bring to the table what the other is lacking. As Kevin puts it, Max needs a brain and Kevin needs legs. What a deal, right?
Written by: Todd Alcott & Chris Weitz Directed by: Eric Darnell & Laurence Guterman Starring: Woody Allen, Sharon Stone, Sylvester Stallone, Gene Hackman, Christopher Walken
My Advice: Don’t miss it.
Z (Allen) is an ant that is, well, Woody Allen. So you can understand that when we meet him, he’s neurotic, complaining about being the middle child in a generation of millions, and only able to lift ten times his own body weight. He feels out of place as a worker, where all he does all day is move earth and hate his life. But then he meets the princess of the colony, Bala (Stone), and everything changes.
This movie is not only funny (and quite funny at that), it also has quite a bit of social commentary going on. And it gets major points for doing so in a way that isn’t a forced “Think for yourself, schmuck!” like Robert Anton Wilson might say. Don’t get me wrong, that certainly has its place, but I never did like a movie’s message to be delivered like they used to at the end of each Super Friends episode. And I hope they killed that purple monkey. But I digress.
Written by: David Mamet (writing as Richard Weisz) and J.D. Zeik, based on a story by J.D. Zeik Directed by: John Frankenheimer Starring: Robert DeNiro, Jean Reno, Natascha McElhone, Stellan SkarsgÃ¥rd, Jonathan Pryce
My Advice: Rent it.
Ronin begins with a definition of the title (in a really crappy font, nonetheless). For those who don’t know, a ronin is a masterless samurai. My first thought was that the film was beginning in a deficit. “Why explain the title up front? Why not have it explained during the course of the movie?” To my great chagrin, they did explain it again, I guess for those that were busy at the concession stand and missed the opening of the film. That’s pretty much indicative of the rest of the film, I fear.
The call goes out from Deirdre (McElhone). She needs people to go and grab a mysterious case which apparently contains the soul of Seamus (Pryce). I’m kidding. Who shows up? A cool and collected bunch of mercenaries, and Sam (DeNiro), an American former CIA agent, becomes their impromptu leader. Simple, right? Take a case away from some guy. Easy pickings, right? Well, not really.