Monthly Archives: August 1999

The Prince of Egypt (1998)

Holy Moses, a Bible story made for a mass audience? The first animated feature from the folks at Dreamworks is ambitious, and crazy enough… it just might work. I’ll start right off by saying hands down this is great animation. The scenes are constructed with beauty and at certain times I did had something stirred inside me from the wondrous eye-candy. People look like people, not sketched cartoons. The animation and movement are so lifelike and fluid that you’ll easily be lost inside it and forget you are indeed watching a film people drawn by hand.

But while the visuals are lavish and splendid and just about every other adjective you can think of, the story suffers. The head folks had difficulty using the story of Moses because three separate religions use that story for their own purposes and beliefs. The trick is not pissing off any of the religions, and the end product is a very vague and gentile Sunday School lesson. They give you the message to believe, but believe in what? It’s never explained. The main characters tread over the thin ice of religious ire, and because of that intimidation they are often vague in descriptions and purpose. The idea of faith is pretty much gagged and taken away to be replaced with the supposedly more noble (and note; more universally agreed upon) issue that slavery is bad. You can’t help but feel a little like the producers chickened out with the material and hid behind the idea of slavery to not rise anyone’s blood pressure over a cartoon tale.

By making Ramses (Ralph Fiennes actually getting his second chance this decade to persecute Jews in a movie) and Moses (Val Kilmer, who also surmises the voice of God, but if God were Kilmer don’t you think he would’ve passed on The Saint?) not so black and white you have established that they are indeed people and both have their reasons for what they each do. You can see the motives and understanding for each, plus the tension and drama gets a shot in the arm.

While the music and message can be easily passable they can’t detract from the greatness that this movie projects with its simple and marvelous visions. You may gasp when the Red Sea is parted. I must confess though after multiple viewings on DVD the story and songs are indeed growing on me as is my impression of the film. This movie is more effective on your TV screen than the big screen.

Nate’s Grade: B

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Tarzan (1999)

The next installment in Disney’s stranglehold on children is strikingly beautiful in its fluid animation, color, picture, and at times true excitement. But again it’s just more of the same.

Despite its rich animation, the story is again the lacking problem ringing in Disney’s big ears. Every word and action falls under the strict Disney formula code, which is restraining imaginative thought more than helping it. But that’s what you gotta’ do I guess if you wanna’ sell a billion of Tickle me Tarzan merchandise.

The plot is like a ghost of what Burroughs’ novel was originally, but with the typical Disney formula points; there’s the hero suffering from an identity crisis wanting something more, the fawn-like love interest who will eventually fall in love with the only available white man in central Africa, the treacherous one-note villain, and of course the bumbling sidekicks with comic relief and one-liners of slapstick and amusement for the kids. None of this was in The Iron Giant and it still managed to be a great film. Can we at least drop some of the items on the list?

The movie can get overly pretentious at times with the hammering of the ideals that nature… good, animals… good, man… bad. I’ve heard it all before, do I need it set to Phil Collins’ monotonous radio-friendly pop songs as well now?

Despite some flaws and the worse villain in a Disney movie of recent memory (a poor man’s Gaston) it is still enjoyable and worthwhile even with the creative constraint of the Mickey Mouse. Sure it’s already made millions but for my money Mulan was better.

Nate’s Grade: C+

Drop Dead Gorgeous (1999)

Satire can be a tricky mistress. It’s like a flower, you have to water it just right. Too much and it dies, too little and it dies. So if you fail to do it just right it can become a catastrophe. Drop Dead Gorgeous flirts with disaster but comes out of nowhere to become one of the funniest and dead-on movies of the summer.

The mock documentary unspools its tale of a Midwestern beauty pageant and all the action behind the scenes of small town life. The story is rich in eccentric and hilarious characters that seem to be delved straight out of the Coen brothers’ twisted imagination. Much of the humor is subtle but still very funny. Some people have said it’s too mean spirited, but all they do is poke fun at mentally handicapped people, physically handicapped people, anorexic and bulimics, pedophiles, gun owners, religious fanatics, high school cheerleaders, dog lovers, lesbians, tomboys, stage mothers, trailer park families, farmers, the deaf, police officers, news reporters, beauty queens, Asian-American families with the American dream, the deceased, sexual harassment, swans, and a world of other lampooning I’ve failed to pen.

In the grand tradition of Fargo the Minnesota accent here is thicker than your grandmother’s jam. The movie does lose a little steam toward the end 10-15 minutes that could’ve been trimmed, but I still readily enjoyed the movie. A complete surprise for myself. If you like your comedies as black as your coffee then check this one out.

Nate’s Grade: B+

The 13th Warrior (1999)

The movie is supposedly based upon Michael Crichton’s novel Eaters of the Dead but to what extent I don’t know having not read it, and after the movie I’d never be interested in reading one sentence. The story goes like this; Antonio is kicked out of his homeland for making googily-eyes at the wrong lady, then picked up by a Norse group of men to stop a band of bear-people from killing a small village. That’s the plot. There it is.

The overblown sword-swinging wannabe epic is nothing more than a series of carnage strung together. The movie is basically one long battle sequence with plenty of heads rolling and blood spilling. I just wish that the battles were lit better so I could see what the hell was going on. There’s so much blood flying that there should be a sign in the theater saying “Warning: The first five rows, you will get wet.” You know you’re in trouble with a Medieval hack-and-slash piece when the most interesting thing during the battles is the pretty scenery. And pretty it is.

Antonio Banderas hones the art of the befuddled stare and surmises it as the only attempt of sensible acting in the movie. Rounding out the rest of the baker’s dozen of warriors are mostly unknown Scandinavian actors that will remain unknown. Banderas tries to keep the audience’s attention but is powerless to stop the inevitable yawns that will come.

The characters are all copies of the same mold and the characterization is thin. The story is so incomprehensible and incoherent that it introduces characters, gives them all promise, then directly forgets they ever existed for the rest of the movie and steers off to the next beheading. The love interest is horribly underused and as such largely made for the purpose of cleaning some nasty cuts and wounds from the big bad boys. The movie is extremely slow paced, sometimes unbearably so. The cliched script as a whole introduces so many other promising directions that do nothing but enrage you with the path the movie does decide to take.

Little more than a testosterone pumped B-movie, The 13th Warrior even fails to excite the average moviegoer with any sense of tension. This movie has been sitting on the shelf of Touchtone for over a year of reshoots, edits, test screenings and such. I wish it had remained on the shelf.

Nate’s Grade: C-

The Mod Squad (1999)

There are some movies out there that you simply can’t stop yourself from scratching your head and wondering how it ever got made in the first place. Some movies so horrible that you ponder what any big suited executives were thinking. Well folks, The Mod Squad is one of those movies.

It’s the cinematic updating of the Vietnam era show epitomizing the rebellion against authority and suppression by the Boomers like only Aaron Spelling can. I’m convinced that if you pay adequate attention to the plot you will actually lower your intelligence but don’t hold me to it. It’s only a theory, I still need the tests to come back. This basically is nothing more than a watered down 90-minute jeans ad. “Oooh, look at those jeans Claire Danes shoots up in! I wonder if they have them in a size 30 waist?”

This is one of those movies I seriously can’t find anything remotely good to mention. Though I’m trying to get it all out of my head as quickly as humanly possible. I feel sickened by this poison MGM has thrown out to the masses. I remember the last time Generation X & Y tried looking back nostalgically and enviously on the Boomer’s playground. It was called Woodstock ’99. Anyone care to remember what happened there?

Nate’s Grade: F

The Iron Giant (1999)

There is a magic that animation has that a regular film can never capture. It can delve into our imaginations and conjure up emotions and laughter that regular celluloid can rarely get a firm grip on. So why has every animated film this decade fallen under a strict formula that bogs down the quality of the efforts? Now comes a movie like The Iron Giant, which restores faith in all that is good with cinema.

The Iron Giant is reminiscent of E.T., but has a distinct voice of its own. The main question might be, “Is it enjoyable for people other than kids who can’t touch the floor with their feet?” I can answer that question easily: Yes! Adults, teenagers and children will have just as much fun with this picture together. It is a movie for all ages and for all time.

The animation is strikingly brilliant and deserves an ovation of its own. Never have I seen voice-over-to-mouth animations done so fluidly. The sight of the giant itself is awe-inspiring, but never terrifying. The movie also perfectly captures the innocence, patriotism and Cold War hysteria that defined American living in the ’50s.

But the truly biggest thing The Iron Giant has to offer is magic and heart. The characters are all well-developed, and the audience is made to feel great attachment to each one. The script for the feature is right on, and never is a scene wasted. And the tale is very touching as it heads toward its climax. I don’t mind admitting my eyes were quite moist toward the end.

The Iron Giant breaks the common mold of animated flicks. There are no cuddly animals and slapstick sidekicks, no dopey forced love interests, no one-dimensional villain, and thank God, no Grammy wannabe songs breaking up the drama. The Iron Giant sends out a strong message and breaks free of a Disney-controlled industry. I dare say this is the greatest animated film of this entire decade, by far. I urge everyone to go out and experience some of the magic and warmth that is The Iron Giant. This is destined to become a classic, mark my words.

Nate’s Grade: A+

The Sixth Sense (1999)

August is mostly thought of as a time of dead water for summer movies. But now I think it should be regarded as the best month for film this whole mediocre summer, and The Sixth Sense is one of the main reasons. Though the title kinda’ sucks.

In a summer low on genuine chills here’s one movie that offers honest-to-God-grip-the-armrest-chills. It’s very moody when it needs to be and creepy when it never has to be but is anyway, and constantly moving. The Sixth Sense also offers audiences something they haven’t seen this summer: real characters with depth. The characters leap from the screen and are slowly established as complicated, rounded, and very thoughtful people. Now that’s something that took me for surprise.

Bruce Willis achieves his quiet mode and teams up yet again with another child (a la Mercury Rising). Willis’ acting is solemn and just enough to drive his character through his quest. You haven’t seen Bruce Willis show this much emotion since he walked over glass in Die Hard! But the story of The Sixth Sense is a little tyke that comes from out of nowhere and redefines child acting. To say Haley Joel Osment carries the film is an understatement – he throws it on his back and runs a 4.3 with it. If Ana Paquan can win an Oscar for babysitting a piano then this kid deserves one too. This is the greatest child actor I’ve seen in years and I begin to wonder why Lucas chose his miscast young Anakin.

The best thing The Sixth Sense has is intelligence. It rewards those who stood up and paid attention with a knock-out terrific ending that wraps everything up you questioned before. And you will rerun things in your mind over and over when you leave the theater. My only complaint, and it is small, is that the direction could be tighter at times. But for everything The Sixth Sense has to offer I will gladly wait in line for seconds. The best summer chiller, and one of the best movies of the year. The title still sucks though.

Nate’s Grade: A

Teaching Mrs. Tingle (1999)

The directorial debut from Scream scribe Kevin Williamson is in a dire identity crisis no marketers would want to handle. Is it trying to be a teen drama? Is it trying to be a thriller? Is it trying to be a comedy? Whatever it’s trying to be it most certainly isn’t entertaining. Maybe they should’ve tried that first.

Williamson, the man who made self reflective pop-culture references a career and the puppeteer over Dawson’s Creek, takes a stab at directing his own movie he wrote embittered over an unpleasant English teacher of his long ago. The normal sharp writing and wit found in most of Williamson’s trademark slash-and-dash-and-instant-cash pictures are completely absent in this outing and we are replaced with dull cardboard characters, predictable plotting, and poor direction.

The movie is bubbling over to the brim with every high school cliche you can think of. The characters aren’t even people, or even grossly overdone cartoons, they’re basically cut-outs of real people. It’s like every person phoned in a performance and had cut-outs stand in their places. Let’s see there’s the good girl hero who’s falsely accused (Katie Holmes), the good girl’s rival who kisses up to teacher (Liz Stauber), the bad boy without a cause that the good girl hates but just can’t help herself to fall in love with later (Barry Watson), and the good girl’s best friend who serves for the purpose of comic foil (Marisa Coughlan). Have we got everything covered? Okay, greenlight it!

One of the pleasant things in Tingle is Helen Mirren’s wonderful over-the-top performance as the misanthropic title villain. She shows how she can out-act anyone that dares vie for her creed. Though for the latter part of the movie she’s mainly reduced to clawing and hissing.

This effort comes off as a juvenile fantasy to exact revenge upon all those in the educational system that have ever done wrong. Notice that this same idea was used in last winter’s The Faculty to much better results. Ultimately when it comes down to, Teaching Mrs. Tingle has a few funny parts, mostly revolving around The Exorcist in some way, and a lot of predictably dull parts. Williamson doesn’t have the visual prowess to keep a career as a director, and the entire horror world has moved on from the post-irony movement he himself forged. While I do think there is a place for this man’s talent, I hope he sticks behind a typewriter more than a camera. Now what did we learn class?

Nate’s Grade: C

Brokedown Palace (1999)

Foolish teens today, thinking they can smuggle drugs into East Asian countries and get away with it. Foolish screenwriter for thinking we haven’t seen this exact same situation done many times before and done many times better. And foolish audience for actually paying to go see this.

The movie desperately tries to be an emotional tale of the chains of friendship and perseverance, and it uses earlier examples like Midnite Express and Return to Paradise as staples. But the movie is devoid of emotion all together because of one glaring fault in the flick: the girls are complete idiots! Throughout the whole movie they’re given cliched and horrendous dialogue to spurt. You can’t feel any attachment or connection because they are just so incompetent that on some cosmic level it’s almost like they deserve what they get. And they didn’t get much. The ending is rather ludicrous because it tries to have this strong emotional force but is only a whimper because there was little attachment to the characters in the first place.

It’s a common practice in movies to put the characters through harrowing and dangerous circumstances so that the audience will pull for them and be drawn closer to them emotionally. And in this genre nothing can do that like the good ole’ inhuman prison system so monstrously shown in previous films. But I don’t know where these girls went or who their travel agent was because where they stay is like the Club Med of all those horrible foreign prisons. They’re almost livin’ it up for an inhuman hell hole.

The women-in-prison genre is a classic cheesy late night television smorgasbord of gratuitous nudity and shower sequences that are almost the entire purpose of the genre. Brokedown Palace certainly isn’t going to go down this route. You won’t see Claire Danes sponging off Kate Beckinsale’s body during a mass shower, or see the tough lesbian guard who runs her shop tight and mean, or the tough lesbian rival in the jail cells. What you do get is a script that tries to garner emotion but instead can only grasp for cheap melodrama.

Nate’s Grade: C

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