Monthly Archives: April 2000

Final Destination (2000)

“A group of teens prepares for a field trip overseas to Paris when one gets a panic attack screaming of their impending doom. He’s taken off along with a group of reluctant others. And then the plane explodes and they are the sole survivors. Except they haven’t cheated death, only delayed it. Death’s got prerogatives and is tracking them down one by one to recapture the souls it let slip out.” Ladies and gentlemen, there you have the BEST premise for all of the year 2000.

Final Destination may seem like another teen horror pic but it’s a clever slash above its insipid competition. No fisherman is chasing them, no pop-culture references fall from their lips — they’re being stalked by death itself. How do you escape death? Death just doesn’t come in the form of a knife but sets up its dirty deeds in everyday household objects in elaborate schemes that would seem like coincidences. The way death dispatches its teenagers is truly ingenious – he must love his work.

After seeing Final Destination it made me paranoid of everything around me somehow managing an attempt to kill me. The movie stays with you after you see it and sticks in your system quite well. It’s got some truly clever and jump moments, plus adding some scary moments of its own. Final Destination is a great movie that deserves to be selected from the mush of teen horror placating our theaters.

Nate’s Grade: B+

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Here on Earth (2000)

The story is nothing groundbreaking: new guy arrives in town, sweeps girl off her feet because he’s “different” than the rest, earns ire from mean boyfriend, and eventually gets the girl. It’s been the plot from everything from Lady and the Tramp to Edward Scissorhands. But even though the theme is based in predictability, the creators of ‘Here on Earth’ seem to have lazily put forth an execution.

The movie and its screenwriter have their logic completely reversed. The girl’s boyfriend is supposed to be the wife-beating snotty jerk, and the new kid is supposed to be the nice sensitive “different” guy. But in Earth, Klein is the snotty Richy Rich whose colors never change, and Josh Hartnett is the dependable and established nice guy boyfriend. The structure of this tragic tale is no way to build drama, only contempt for the female lead.

Whatever high-minded message Earth is hopelessly aiming for is destroyed by dialogue so cheesy that it could be considered a side dish at a local Taco Bell. By the time Klein starts naming Leelee’s breasts after different states in the Union the movie loses what little credibility it had or thought it did (“Massachusetts welcomes you”). It’s a wonder most of these young actors can even say what they do with a straight face.

Spoilers follow as I make fun of this movie. Just when you’re wondering why the hell Leelee is doing the things she does and it looks as if we may reach a conclusion or insight – BAM! – she has cancer and dies. This ranks up with “it was all just a dream” as one of the cheapest ways to sneak out of an uncomfortable or unexplained position. It turns out our Joan of Arc bumped her knee and somehow that has exploded into unstoppable cancer. The doctor tells the distraught family members that they always suspected this could happen. Like hell! Every time I stub my damn toe it never crosses my mind I’ve contracted cancer.

Here on Earth is supposed to be the tearjerker for the teen audience out there; the Love Story for the under twenty. But the only thing wringing from this formulaic clunker of a sob story is a healthy outpouring of sap, moral high ground, and a warning to always wear knee pads.

Nate’s Grade: C-

U-571 (2000)

Think of every major movie where the action centered on a submarine — now add every cliche and a dash of boredom and U-571 is your dish.

The movie centers around the launch to retrieve the German coding during the later stages of WWII and the brave men and women who risked their lives and honor out of duty for their fellow man. This sounds like a great premise for a movie but why must it be fictionalized and steamed for mobile suspense when I’m sure there are many heart-pounding stories of courage that are true. You’d also think with every major cliche of the action world that U-571 would at least be able to stand to its feet for excitement but it’s quite easy to doze off on this underwater snoozer. The characters are all one-in-the-same that I had to identify them by haircut and height in order to know who was who at all times. And when some of them died it took me awhile to process which one it was.

U-571 is full of every old and new Hollywood convention itself that adds nothing to the story or enjoyment as a whole. The up and coming leader is advised he doesn’t “have the stuff to let a man go in order to save others” so let’s try and guess what position he will ultimately be put into. Why is the only black man in the movie a jive-talking chef and why does he jump at the controls and knows what to do INSTANTLY trouble’s afoot. I guess a nuclear submarine and engineering physics is so closely related to spices and stews. Of course everyone’s favorite bad guys (say it with me now together “Germans are always evil”) are in the middle and slaughter a whole group of sea-faring survivors just for the hell of it. Why do they do this? Because they’re Germans, and they have to be more evil so they kill innocent people.

U-571 isn’t a terrible movie, it does hold some credible acting and set designs to bring the look and feel of the 1940s to breathing life. The effects are well done but are sporadically used. Most of the tale takes place about trying to get past one Destroyer – just one. Two hours of this? U-571 may be a prelude to the summer, and if it is it’s going to be a long long movie season.

Nate’s Grade: C

American Psycho (2000)

American Psycho is based on the controversial 1991 best seller by Brent Ellis though it got old fast. One can easily grasp how the lead connects with brand names on page one, but repeat it for 300 more and you’re tempted to add the book to your collection of firewood. Ellis’ novel was sadistically perverse, but director Mary Haron (I Shot Andy Warhol) has somehow managed to pull out an entertaining social satire from the pages of blood and name brands.

Christian Bale, mainly known as the boy-next-door in period piece films, plays Patrick Bateman with ferocious malevolence and vigorous life. Teen scream Leo was once considered for the part but after seeing Bale’s startling performance it should prove why he’s on screen and Leo’s swimming in The Beach. Bateman is an up-and-up Wall Street yuppie who glosses over appearance more than anything else. The only outlet it appears for our sinister shark from the soulless decade is by random acts of gruesome violence.

If Bateman blows off steam by blowing off companion’s heads than it only becomes more frustrating when no one believes his random confessions. Haron takes the grisly material of Ellis’ novel and mines it for pure 80s pulp. It only gets better the further it gets as you have so many points to discuss: Is Bateman acting out to prove his existence in a world that doesn’t humor him or others? Is he acting out deep-seeded rage from the actions of the decade on its people? Is he desensitized and so jaded that death does not even fracture him anymore? The questions are boundless.

The hit list of stars in Psycho includes Chloe Sevigny as a nailed home addition, Willem Dafoe as an investigative detective, Jared Leto as an axed co-worker, and sweet Reese Witherspoon as the apple of Bateman’s twisted eye. Everyone has fun in their tongue-in-cheek nostalgia romp through the absurd.

American Psycho should not be confused with the successful teen sex farce American Pie. The only desserts in this film are just, and they’re usually left of the mayonnaise and behind the frozen head in the refrigerator. American Psycho is the thinking man’s slasher movie. A flick that slices, dices, and always entices. It only gets better after you’ve seen it. One of the best films of 2000 for now.

Nate’s Grade: A

The Skulls (2000)

In the prestigious college of Yale there exists an actual club known as the Skulls and Crossbones which is now the basis for a teenybopper thriller. Don’t say Yale never paid its debt toward society.

The Skulls are the campus country club, the boy’s only tree house, the velvet rope of the Ivy League. When most go on father/son picnics the Skulls posture about and brood in Gothic castles with large words melded to larger walls. So sunshine and proper education be damned. They posses a long list of alumni, including Craig T. Nelson and a senator who appears driving around on campus so much you’d think he’s scouting girls.

Enter WB heartthrob Joshua Jackson who wishes to join the elite boy scout troupe. Who wouldn’t with the cars they hand out at you? Sadly the only black guy in the film, and probably the Ivy League for that matter (not a comment on racial intelligence) -who of course happens to be Jackson’s friend- gets killed. Jackson starts having second thoughts on joining the overzealous organization. The rest of the flick is Jackson’s quest to bring down the Skulls which somehow coincides with a lot of silly car chases. You think the Skulls could afford a car that could outrun a Dawson’s Creek kid.

The Skulls have bigger problems at hand than Joshua Jackson. Anyone with basic knowledge of turning a doorknob could break into this security behemoth. And what kind of working secret society is it when everyone on campus knows all about your organization? Doesn’t this defy the meaning of “secret”? Usually a secret is better kept without large Skull banners, let alone Skull insignia branded onto members’ flesh. You won’t be fooling any people about being a member of the Skulls with a huge skull branding singed on your damn arm in plain sight! There is so much Skull merchandise I figured there would be a Skulls home pregnancy test and some items endorsed by ad-man Michael Jordan. The reach the members of the Skulls posses defies logical thinking. Turns out these groups of angsty kids are more powerful than the CIA, FBI, KGB, and KFC combined. Must be their self-imposed lock on Clearasil and the WB’s Wednesday lineup.

The Skulls is teeny camp portrayed at its venerable worst. It starts to enter the so-bad-it’s-good range but then you remember easily again that it is bad. Why do I have the feeling the actors involved in this will be signing their Skulls checks under false names? Too bad you can’t be anonymous with a damn Skull branding on your wrist.

Nate’s Grade: D

Rules of Engagement (2000)

Samuel L. Jackson and Tommy Lee Jones are old war pals who took separate paths after a cataclysmic ambush in Vietnam. Jackson went on to a prestigious career in combat but Jones was restricted to desk jobs the rest of his tenure. It appears Arabs are at their old tricks again, being that without Nazis or Communists they are Hollywood’s favorite misrepresented bad guys. Jackson gets dispatched to protect a U.S. embassy besieged by protests. During the melee of confusion Jackson orders fire on the crowds outside. Now he has to face the ramifications which include murder charges and a tangled web of conspiracy.

Jackson gives an electric performance as the Marine Captain full of sound and fury. Jones and Jackson exhibit great chemistry together under William Friedkin’s deft hand. Friedkin, known for classics like The French Connection and The Exorcist, whose last pic was Jade, has crafted exciting sequences of action and suspense. The problem is they all happen early and the film unwinds and unspools as it continues.

Bruce Greenwood seems to be making a career out of beguiling Jones. In last fall’s Double Jeopardy he was a slimy not-so-dead hubby, and in Rules he’s a slimy National Security adviser. These two look like they’ll be the Ben and Matt of the over forty crowd.

Rules of Engagement is a courtroom action/drama that plays closely to the rules established but coasts on terrific performances from its leads and some dynamite action sequences. But eventually the weight of the plot drags Rules from the potential it flashed.

Nate’s Grade: C+

The Road to El Dorado (2000)

Tulio (Kevin Kline) and Miguel (Kenneth Branaugh) are two 16th Century Spanish con men who somehow speak in English accents and appear to have a secret gay relationship. I calls ’em as I see ’em people. Through a strange comedy of errors the boys end up marooned on a far off land with a horse in their possession as well as a mysterious map. The map leads to the unfold treasures of the mysterious fable of the city of El Dorado. They partner with a saucy native (Rosie Perez) with hips bigger than shoulders and a pining to be taken away.

Dreamworks has scored big with previous strong ink and paint outings, but El Dorado seems to be a disappointment. At times the banter between Kline and Branaugh is lively and humorous but the energy is never sustained for long. El Dorado lulls unexpectedly quite often. Katzenberg created the very successful Disney animated formula, and still sticks by it regrettably. The Iron Giant showed originality can work, so why is no one listening?!

The animation is surprisingly shoddy at times. The contrast between 3-D and 2-D animation is easily noticeable, unlike the work in Prince of Egypt. Perez seems miscast, what with her Puerto Rican accent, and close to all the characters are poorly underwritten, even the damn horse.

Elton John and Tim Rice buddy up after their successful pairing with the Diz blockbuster The Lion King to unleash wave after wave of senseless drivel. None of the monotonous songs are memorable, or even downright humable. After seeing these pop regurgitation it’s easy to see that everyone makes a bad step. Consider this one.

El Dorado is an animated attempt toward the bumbling road pictures of Hope and Crosby, but this tank is too low on gas for the entire trip.

Nate’s Grade: C+

Erin Brockovich (2000)

Julia Roberts is who they tell you is the star, but the real star is Julia’s cleavage which screams “LOOK AT ME!!!” at the top of its lungs through the entire film. Julia is the female equivalent of John Travolta in last year’s A Civil Action — little guy/gal taking on the big/evil corporations that pollute our water. Julia hands down what is likely her best performance of her long career. It’s a one-sided take and displays the title character’s ruthless tactics and intimidation in order to reach whatever goal she wishes to strive for. The story though, isn’t much for most to work with as it is essentially sap and predictability: the hero will win, justice will prevail, the bad guys who were alluding in the beginning will be punished… etc. etc. Julia’s “woman in a man’s world” business gruff will either prove sadistically humorous or simply wickedly mean-spirited to each viewer. You’ll either love this character or hate this character but either way it will keep you watching.

Nate’s Grade: B-

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