Monthly Archives: December 2000

O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)

Loosely based on Homer’s The Odyssey comes the latest from two of the most talented and imaginative minds working in the business. ‘O Brother’ has all the things that go into making a good Coen brother film. It’s full of Coen regular like John Turturro, John Goodman, and Holly Hunter among others. It includes elements of wackiness like a KKK color Guard rally where they march into spelling KKK. It even has the great wit with dialogue being handed over to the overly verbose leader of the gang on the run Ulysses Everett McGill (George Clooney looking and sounding like Clark Gable). On top of this you get a wonderful blue grass soundtrack that is selling surprisingly phenomenal, and cinematography that is astonishingly beautiful. Yet, with all these positives, O Brother Where Art Thou? is a mid-level Coen movie. The comedy of the film is missing a lot when it should be there, replaced with pretty images or very pretty songs. Still, a mid-level Coen brother’s movie is much better than most anything out there today. It seems to aim to be a pleasant movie, and it achieves that finely. O Brother is a fun experience with the right person but not necessarily something that has a lot of rewatchability. Especially if you have bought the soundtrack.

Nate’s Grade: B

The Gift (2000)

Sam Raimi is a slick director and is maturing smoothly. The Gift is a nice ensemble pot-boiler in the South. Cate Blanchett gives a remarkable performance that was, as most were that were nominated, better than Julia. Keanu Reeves finds a role he can actually excel with in that of a wife beating redneck; he’s actually quite scary in it. Giovanni Ribisi gives the best performance of his career as a mentally challenged mechanic. The film coasts on some good atmosphere and direction by Raimi, but it is too easy to figure out the final turns in the end.

Nate’s Grade: B

The Family Man (2000)

If I poked this movie it would spray sap in my eye and blind me. It’s essentially a Hollywood remake of Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life with a bit more cynicism and a bit less success. Cage is a heartless Wall Street whiz who catches a “glimpse” of an alternative life where he’s married to Tea Leoni and has kids in the suburbs. The Family Man wants to kill you with its message of “business is EVIL” and “suburbs and mini-vans and bowling leagues and family… good!” It’s almost caveman like in its bludgeoning. Sap flows freely in this supposed feel-good flick, but stalls in a lackluster ending.

Nate’s Grade: C

Cast Away (2000)

Strand Tom Hanks on a desert island for years? Sounds too good to be true to many a disgruntled movie goer. Such is the state in Cast Away, Robert Zemeckis’ existential meditation on man, nature, FedEx and their product placement checks, and of course… volleyballs.

Hanks is yet another everyman, except he’s a real stickler for time and order as a FedEx supervisor. His girlfriend (Helen Hunt) is pushing for marriage but hey – they’ve got all the time in the world, right? So Tom boards a FedEx flight headed for the Southern Pacific that hits a nasty collision with a powerful storm. The plane goes down abruptly in what is likely the most terrifying plane crash ever performed on film. Hanks washes ashore onto a mysterious deserted island after drifting alone in the vast ocean. Without civilization and without human contact he must start all over just to survive the day. So becomes the Odyssey of Island Tom.

Cast Away hits one out of the park with its near dialogue free middle act with Tom’s first days upon his new island home. Hanks struggles to do everyday things from finding food to creating a makeshift shelter. As Hanks goes through these daily troubles the audience is with him every moment and learns as he does. Cast Away‘s middle is fascinating to watch. After a few days some packages from the crash wash ashore including a volleyball that Tom turns into his best friend. “Wilson” is Hanks’ companion and is totally understandable how one would branch out for contact under the circumstances. Plus, Wilson’s a dynamite celebrity of his own right now.

Hanks’ acting is his usually above average output, but his whole role seems more like a showcase for his method acting than the acting itself. The first half of Cast Away was shot then they took a year off so Hanks could become scruffy, thin Caveman/Unibomber Hanks. The transition is fun to watch and remarkable for an actor to devote themself completely to their role. But the part itself, and Hanks’ show, seem more spectacle than substance. Helen Hunt pops up in the beginning and end proving that she can somehow manage to be in every film in December. Pretty much the next actor in the film would be… well, a volleyball. Cast Away is basically a one-man show.

Despite a wonderful middle ‘Cast Away’ is suffering from the opposite syndrome of Saving Private Ryan: strong middle, weaker beginning and end sandwiching it. Our opening plays like an extended commercial for FedEx, complete with the dazzling FedEx package POV cam (coming soon!). The end plays like a thank you card to FedEx. The ending also suffers from extreme let-down from multiple climaxes that don’t end the film but just give way to another climax. By the time the movie does end you’re exhausted.

Zemeckis lends a skilled hand toward the direction, the script plays to the strengths of the tale good enough, and Cast Away has its moments but becomes too heavy-handed at certain periods. Still, the volleyball is good. Go for the volleyball.

Nate’s Grade: B

(For fun, count the amount of times FedEx is mentioned or seen in the film. Hell, do it with this review too. I’ll even help you out – FedEx, FedEX, FedEx, FedEx, FedEx, FedEx, FedEx, FedEx, FedEx, FedEx, FedEx, FedEx, FedEx, FedEx, FedEx. Oh fun.)

Reviewed 20 years later as part of the “Reviews Re-View: 2000” article.

Vertical Limit (2000)

New heights are explored in the mountain climbing expedition that is Vertical Limit. A group of climbers must perform a rescue mission on the second highest mountain in the world or risk losing the lives of their friends and loved ones. With a set-up like this you would assume it would have a lot of great action. Well, yes and no.

Limit stars Bill Paxton (talented but has poor film choices) as the usual corporate villain, Chris O’Donnell (untalented with poor choices) as the tortured rock climbing hero, and Robin Tunney as the overly ambitious climbing sister to O’Donnell. This isn’t all the subplots though — oh no! We get a pair of wise cracking pot head brothers, a religious Pakistani serviceman, a military base, and a grizzled loner that everyone thinks is crazy until we finally realize he’s the best mountain man of them all. By the time it takes to establish all of these subplots, plus others I’ve failed to mention, we haven’t even gotten to the damn mountain yet. Rule #1 of a mountain climbing movie: Get on the bloody mountain within an hour of the movie starting!

The plot is overly cornball and excessively redundant. By the time you actually see the loner’s long lost wife frozen in a wall of ice and looking like a figurine from the Mattel Barbie catalog you will know the ends this film will go.

The experts of rock climbing are all young and seemingly frat house rejects. Why in every film must the experts in any field of scientific research be frat house party animals? How about some realism there and make them all middle aged balding white males. Well… I guess that would be less of a draw.

Director Martin Campbell (GoldenEye) has a great knack for establishing tight thrills and strong suspense. Campbell is clearly the strong point of this picture. When the action is running it’s plumb with excitement and great visceral visuals of the scenery. The only problem is that the action scenes are separated by long stretches of characters coughing or wheezing and terribly cheesy dialogue. If the story is technically built around the action sequences why do we have to devote so much time to it then? It’s a waste of Campbell, a true action talent.

Limit is rigid with expendable cut-outs designed to be its people. The characters are shoe-string and so is the plot but the action, when allowed to actually happen, is first rate. However, I do exclude a series of scenes where Tunney and Paxton are trapped in an ice cave that resembles more of your grocer’s freezer than a Himalayan peek. The 12 year-old behind me kicking my seat figured it all out good enough. I think that says enough.

Nate’s Grade: C-

The Emperor’s New Groove (2000)

Originally The Emperor’s New Groove was a grand Disney formula flick known as The People of the Sun concerning the Aztecs and included six Sting songs. We would have had this “same old same old” if it weren’t for someone who courageously raised their hand and said “Isn’t this stupid?” God bless that person. The original theme was scrapped as well as all the songs excluding one. The patented Disney formula was ditched for a fast pace and zany antics that haven’t been seen from Disney hands since Aladdin.

The central message of Emp’s Groove is still a moral lesson – this one over vanity and self-centeredness. David Spade voices a young prince named Kuzco with no regard for any of his followers. He plans on building a special waterslide by destroying the village of Pancha (John Goodman). Spade’s scheming high priestess Yzma (Eartha Kitt) concocts a potion to kill the Emperor with the aid of her dim-witted but loyal assistant Kronk (Patrick Warbutton). Through a mix-up the potion doesn’t end up killing Kuzco but turning him into a llama. So now alive and trying to regain his throne Kuzco can only find help with Pancha, the one he had wronged earlier.

The vocal talents of the four leads are particularly inspired with Warbutton on a different plane of comedy. Warbutton provides the film’s biggest laughs and is a genuine master of timing and vocal inflections. When Disney sequelizes this straight to video (as they do everything now) I hope it centers on Warbutton’s Kronk character. Kitt is fun in an over-the-top parody and Spade provides delicious sarcasm so simply.

What’s being advertised as hilarity is more or less spotty. Some jokes work but others are full of tedium. There are stretches of tedium that shouldn’t be there for something with “zany antics.” Yet, the 15 minute ending is the best piece of the film with multiple comic payoffs.

The anti-Disney Disney movie is anti enough. the jokes need to come more often and it takes a while to truly get into. It has its moments but The Emperor’s New Groove is not new enough. Although, I’m thankful that we got what we did instead of what we could have.

Nate’s Grade: B-

%d bloggers like this: