Monthly Archives: June 2001
A.I. is the merger of two powerhouses of cinema – Stanley Kubrick and Steven Spielberg. The very mysterious film was given to Spielberg by Kubrick himself who thought ole’ Steven would be a better fit to direct it. The two did keep communication open for like a decade on their ideas for the project until Kubrick’s death in March of 1999. What follows is an imaginative futuristic fairy tale that almost grabs the brass ring but falls short due to an inferior ending. More on that later.
In the future technological advances allow for intelligent robotic creatures (called “mechas”) to be constructed and implemented in society. William Hurt has the vision to create a robot more real than any his company has ever embarked on before. He wants to make a robot that can know real love. Flash ahead several months to Henry and Monica Swinton (Sam Robards and Frances O’Conner) who are dealing with their own son in an indefinite coma. Henry is given the opportunity to try out a prototype from his company of a new mecha boy. His wife naturally believes that her son could not be replaced and her emotions smoothed over. Soon enough they both decide to give the boy a try and on delivery comes David (Haley Joel Osment) ready to begin new life in a family. David struggles to fit in with his human counterparts and even goes to lengths to belong like mimicking the motions of eating despite his lack of need to consume. Gradually David becomes a true part of the family and Monica has warmed up to him and ready to bestow real love onto their mecha son.
It’s at this point when things are going well for David that the Swinton’s son Martin comes out of his coma and returns back to his parents. Sibling rivalry between the two develops for the attention and adoration of their parents. Through mounting unfortunate circumstances the Swintons believe that David is a threat and decide to take him away. The corporation that manufactured David had implicit instructions that the loving David if desired to be returned had to be destroyed. Monica takes too much pity on David that she ditches him in the woods and speeds off instead of allowing him to be destroyed.
David wanders around searching for the Blue Fairy he remembers from the child’s book Pinocchio read to him at the Swinton home. He is looking for this magical creature with the desire she will turn him into a real boy and his human mother will love him again. Along David’s path he buddies up with Gigolo Joe (Jude Law), a pleasure ‘bot that tells the ladies they’re never the same once he’s through. The two traverse such sights as a mecha-destroying circus called ‘Flesh Fairs’ complete with what must be the WWF fans of the future, as well as the bright lights of flashy sin cities and the submerged remains of a flooded New York. David’s journey is almost like Alice’s, minus of course the gigolo robot of pleasure.
There are many startling scenes of visual wonder in A.I. and some truly magical moments onscreen. Spielberg goes darker than he’s even been and the territory does him good. Osment is magnificent as the robotic boy yearning to become real, but Jude Law steals the show. His physical movement, gestures, and vocal mannerisms are highly entertaining to watch as he fully inhibits the body and programmed mind of Gigolo Joe. Every time Law is allowed to be onscreen the movie sparkles.
It’s not too difficult to figure out which plot elements belong to Spielberg and which belong to Kubrick, since both are almost polar opposites when it comes to the feelings of their films. Spielberg is an idealistic imaginative child while Kubrick was a colder yet more methodical storyteller with his tales of woe and thought. The collaboration of two master artists of cinema is the biggest draw going here. A.I.‘s feel ends up being Spielberg interpreting Kubrick, since the late great Stanley was dead and gone before he could get his pet project for over a decade ready. The war of giants has more Spielberg but you can definitely tell the Kubrick elements running around, and they are a gift from beyond the grave.
I thought at one point with the first half of A.I. I was seeing possibly the best film of the year, and the second half didn’t have the pull of the first half but still moves along nicely and entertained. But then came the ending, which ruined everything. There is a moment in the film where it feels like the movie is set to end and it would’ve ended with an appropriate ending that could have produced lingering talk afterwards. I’m positive this is the ending Kubrick had in mind. But this perfect ending point is NOT the ending, no sir! Instead another twenty minutes follows that destroys the realm of belief for this film. The tacked on cloying happy ending feels so contrived and so inane. It doesn’t just stop but keeps going and only gets dumber and more preposterous form there. I won’t go to the liberty of spoiling the ending but I’ll give this warning to ensure better enjoyment of the film: when you think the movie has ended RUN OUT OF THE THEATER! Don’t look back or pay attention to what you hear. You’ll be glad you did later on when you discover what really happens.
The whole Blue Fairy search is far too whimsical for its own good. It could have just been given to the audience in a form of a symbolic idea instead of building the last half of the film for the search for this fictional creature’s whereabouts. The idea is being pounded into the heads of the audience by Spielberg with a damn sledge hammer. He just can’t leave well enough alone and lets it take off even more in those last atrocious twenty minutes.
A.I. is a generally involving film with some wonderfully fantastic sequences and some excellent performances. But sadly the ending really ruins the movie like none other I can remember recently. What could have been a stupendous film with Kubrick’s imprint all over turns out to be a good film with Spielberg’s hands all over the end.
Nate’s Grade: B
Reviewed 20 years later as part of the “Reviews Re-View: 2001” article.
Tomb Raider (2001)
Lara Croft is an adventurer with a taste for action along the lines of the Raiders of the Lost Ark kind. It seems that time is drawing close to a planetary alignment that occurs once every 5,000 years as they always do in movies. This alignment supposedly unleashes an ancient object that has the ability to alter time itself. Croft is drawn in by a secret society that wants a mysterious artifact she discovers in her property that can lead to the locations for the time altering device. Now Croft must step out and try and beat the big bad guy (Ian Glenn) to the chase and get to the device before he and his society get their grubby hands all over it.
This is a movie that is light on characters yet at the same time has so many extraneous ones. The bad men are being led by fellow tomb raider Alex Cross (Daniel Craig), who also happens to be a former flame of Croft’s. Lara is saddled with a geeky computer whiz who just happens to be British, because he keeps spouting phrases like “blimey” and “bugger” all the freakin’ time. Croft also employs a butler, because, someone has to take care of that huge house. If this wasn’t enough the big bad employs an assortment of typical evil henchmen that are distinguishable by tattoos alone. Add on top of this heap the flashbacks Croft has of her long missing father Lord Croft (played by Jolie’s real father, Jon Voight). All of these dueling personalities clog the action and the pacing.
Front and center, Angelina Jolie is the living embodiment of Lara Croft. She fills out the attitude and the look to a perfected T. Jolie gives Croft the muscle but the screenwriters fail her in giving her the flesh and blood. Tomb Raider falls into the “rule of five”: if there are five or more people credited with the script (including in this instance the director himself) then there was no script at all.
The action of Tomb Raider is loud and explosive but rather lifeless and dull. West has managed to create bombastically mundane action sequences. Never once did anything from the screen arouse my interest, except for the female lead of course. The story has its characters travel to exotic locales and impressive sets of ancient caves and temples, but it’s all window dressing. The pretty scenery and locations only mask how ineffective and boring the action is. And for an action picture, when the audience begins to notice how pretty the scenery is compared with the action – you’re not doing your job.
Simon West is not exactly a director to be trusted with any sort of project. West brought audiences Con Air and The General’s Daughter, a film that tried to decry rape but then took sadistic pleasure in recreating it again and again. So what better man to helm the project of the buxom video game heroine than a man who has brought us cartoonish violence and horrific rape? The camera framing of Tomb Raider takes a few notes from the Jennifer Love Hewitt experiment that was I Still Know What You Did Last Summer. Jolie’s breasts are always in frame, and at certain times it seems like the camera is lowering just to get them in there for the sake of exposure.
Despite the attempt this video game turned into a movie feels exactly like a video game turned into a movie. It’s complete with some laughably atrocious dialogue (“You know what today is?” “The 15th.” “And that is never a good day.”), and despite the running time of an hour and a half, it feels like an eternity longer. Tomb Raider never gets off the ground even with the added push of some pretty good special effects. Jolie may have an action vehicle at her helm and that’s fine with me. Keep her. Just make sure to get rid of everyone else.
Nate’s Grade: D
Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001)
A joke me and my friend Adam Kipp had going in a script we never started was about an elite tactical force known as the Superhuman Samurai Stereotype Squad. They were a group contained of all different minority killers but each was a bad stereotype of that minority – like the black man was a gangster rapper with one incredible fro, the Asian was a martial arts expert, the gay person was flaming etc. (this is not an example of how I feel toward minorities, just lampooning the lame stereotypes). So imagine my surprise when watching Disney’s Atlantis I see our joke played out in front of me, except it’s supposed to be taken seriously.
Nerdy historian and dreamer Milo (Michael J. Fox) gets teamed up with a ragtag group on an exploration to hunt for the missing land of Atlantis with the aid of a book his grandfather gave to him. Anyone else getting Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade déjà vu? This group features a tough blonde German girl Helga, a Latina mechanic who also happens to be a boxer, a crazy and dirty Frenchman, a kindly heroic black doctor that resembles Disney’s own John Henry, a lovably kooky Southerner cook, an old no-nonsense woman, and even a quirky Italian explosives expert. Assemble Superhuman Samurai Stereotype Squad!
Through some underwater mishaps the crew finally does get to the fabled city of Atlantis and is met by the King and Princess Kida, who takes a shine to clumsy Milo. They discover secrets of the lost civilization and, as always, members of the crew turn on each other in an attempt to plunder the city of its riches. The double-dealing is led by the ship’s captain Lyle Tiberius Rourke (James Garner) who has a chin that would make Kirk Douglas drop dead with envy.
There are plot holes in Atlantis big enough to build a Disney theme ride through. It turns out as revealed in the opening minutes of Atlantis that the Atlantians had mastered the technology of flight, mechanics, energy fusion, and other such scientific marvels. A race of people before even the Minoans around 800 BC had mastered the art of mechanical flight? And WE don’t even have flying cars yet but these people 2800 years ago had flying fish made with metals that they had no way of getting their hands upon? Or take for example the fact that Princess Kida greets the group in English, saying that they somehow know all languages. But if their civilization was plunged to the bottom of the sea a freaking 2800 years ago how can they remotely know languages that never existed until hundreds and hundreds of years afterwards?
Want more plot holes? Please, you know you do. How about when a character hurtles to their supposed death when they fall something like 250 feet down onto hard rock. Except later we return to this fallen character who still manages not only to live but also to turn around and fire one last perfect shot. There are so many others that they can’t all fully be mentioned.
Atlantis is supposed to be like one of the old 50s adventure films like 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea except it never manages to be adventurous at all. The film does allow for people to actually die, though all off camera, which I can’t remember happening in a Disney picture unless it was the villain. There are some moments of excitement but they end too quickly and give the audience back to the characters and story it doesn’t want to return to. The animation is surprisingly sub-par with a few awkward moments that seem very rigid and static.
Atlantis is a general waste of talent and strung together with a bad script. The fact that not one kid in the audience, nor myself, laughed once in indicative of how this movie is flopping. The movie is not engaging for kids and the opening sequence with subtitles will surely go over their heads. This film is not a fun ride. It seems like the profitable-yet-creatively-stagnant Disney formula for the last decade is finally imploding. If you do have a choice go see Shrek instead.
Nate’s Grade: C
Swordfish starts off with a helluva wallop. John Travolta opens with a monologue about why “Hollywood is full of shit,” specifically the problems with Dog Day Afternoon and what a real criminal with hostages could have done. When the conversation ends and Travolta finishes his coffee, he stands up, thanks his gentlemen, and then we quickly discover Travolta is holding hostages in a bank each strapped with powerful explosives. During some miscommunication and arrogance from the FBI brass (as always) snipers take out one of Travolta’s baddies and try and whisk away a hostage. As they try and rush her out in slow motion the pounds of C4 strapped to her chest detonate and a monumental explosion erupts. But as it slowly does the camera whips around in a circle, even entering various buildings, to give a full picture of the destructive wave of the explosion. The effect is magnificent and wonderfully pulled off. The beginning ten or so minutes really wake you up and keep your eyes open.
A few days prior to this incident is where the story then sets off to fill in. Gabriel Shear (Travolta) is a powerful man with the world at his fingertips. He sends out his seductive siren Ginger (Halle Berry) to recruit the recently released Stanley Jobson (Hugh Jackman) for a special mission. Stanley is a hacking genius and has been ordered to stay clear of any computer as well as from his young daughter. Gabriel’s offer comes with a cash advance just for a meeting that is too good to pass up. After an initiation of Stanley’s skills he is set up to create a super virus that will drain the CIA of billions of dollars in unused and unknown funds. All the while FBI agent A.D. Roberts (Don Cheadle) is on the trail of Gabriel the super spy and trying to coerce Stanley into helping him bring the superman crashing.
The script is nothing new. It is complete with the familiar double crossings and surprise affiliations to render out the duration of our film. Some moments are just over-the-top stupid, like Jackman’s initiation test which requires him to break a computer code whilst a gun is pressed to his head and a blonde gives him a blowjob. Stanley has a boozing ex-wife now remarried to a porn king with custody of his daughter, and he doesn’t think he can win because he was in prison?
Dominic Sena gave us the driving-on-empty Gone in 60 Seconds last summer. Sena seems to really love florescent lighting when it comes to his films. The actors are bathed in bevy of bright greens and oranges for two hours. Sena delivers a film that pretty much has an idea its nothing but fast food, and it seem to not let something like that drag it down but actually help improve itself. It’s like Wild Things in the aspect it knows it’s just slick trash but damn if it isn’t going to be a fun ride.
Swordfish has been made critic proof. One could complain about the plot contrivances and the pat ending, but you can always go back to Travolta’s opening dissertation. Certain revelations occur in the film that will make you question who really is the bad guy in the end. The makers of Swordfish have gone about and made their action flick critic proof.
A disappointment is that there really is only three action sequences in the entire movie. I will say this now and may it be heard clear – TYPING IS NOT EXCITING! Watching someone type fast at a keyboard is never entertaining. Do not build an action movie around typing. If you do you might as well have action while people play Turbo Pong.
The acting is irrelevant, though Jackman is a winning face and actor. Travolta looks like the lower half of his face has freakishly widened. Much has been made about Halle Berry going topless for the movie. This was entirely gratuitous and used for comic effect for God’s sake. But the movie is unabashedly about sleek violence and sex, so it can be forgiven.
Swordfish is the right kind of mindless action for the summer. It keeps you awake and engaged. And I’d rather see this eighty times again before seeing Tomb Raider one more time.
Nate’s Grade: B-
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