Category Archives: 2000 Movies

Sanctimony (2000)

Sanctimony is the English-language introduction to the filmography of Dr. Uwe Boll and the very last movie I had yet to see for my first edition of my expansive column. Boll wrote and directed the movie about a clever serial killer that’s baffled law enforcement. It’s interesting coming into Sanctimony with all the Uwe Boll homework in the back of my head. I know what flaws I’m looking for, I pay attention to the retched line delivery from the actors, and I genuinely know what I’m getting into. It’s seems that Boll works somewhat in a bubble; almost all of his technical crew is the same from film to film, and Michael Paré, Jurgen Prochnow, Clint Howard, and Patrick Muldoon seem to be the stable Uwe Boll Players. Sanctimony is where it all began and where everything went so horribly awry for movie going audiences.

A killer is loose and terrorizing Seattle, cutting out the eyes, ears, and tongues of his victims. The media has dubbed him the “Monkey Maker killer” (think “speak no evil, hear no evil, etc.”). Detective Renart (Paré) and his partner Dorothy Smith (Jennifer Rubin) are assigned the case. After some investigation of a stabbed homeless girl, their initial suspect seems to be Tom (Casper Van Dien), a wealthy and cynical stockbroker. His lawyer balks at any charges and Tom goes free. Coincidentally, more bodies start piling up haphazardly. As Renart puts more pressure on Tom, he starts targeting those close to him, like his pregnant wife (Catherine Oxenberg, who seduced Van Dien in 1999’s The Omega Code). Tom has some master plan ready to shock the world, and only the dogged persistence of Renart can stop his wicked ways.

Sanctimony is really a crossbreeding of what Boll liked best about Seven and American Psycho. Like David Fincher’s masterpiece, Boll really wants his serial killer to be slicing and dicing with a message; this killer gets his kicks from cutting out different body parts. Tom eventually goes after his pursuer’s pregnant wife, just like Seven, and clumsily aims for some kind of myopic preaching. Tom sure does like to spit out a diatribe about the plague of humanity, even after he’s just dismembered a call girl. Boll seems very intent on crafting Tom into a Patrick Bateman-esque character, one whose soul has been lost to the bottom line of the business world (how many hotshot stockbrokers are based in Seattle?). But while American Psycho was complex, satirical and deeply metaphorical, Sanctimony is stupid. Boll wants Tom’s speeches to have terrifying power to them, but instead they come across as theatrical and lifeless. Tom says, “Raping and pillaging have been the official government policy of any government that’s ever thrived.” If you’re impressed by this assertion, Sanctimony might just be the movie for you. If you yawn at this sub-standard Political Science 101 ejaculation, then you’re likely beyond the film’s short-armed reach. Boll’s writing has a vague inauthentic feel, like he learned everything about crime procedural from TV. In the year 2000, a character actually summarizes America with the words, “apple pie and baseball.” By now I think the only people that characterize America that way are conservative politicians and out-of-touch, disdainful foreigners.

Boll’s serial killer thriller plays all the genre clichés. First, naturally, there’s the clever serial killer who must torment his persecutors as a game. Then there’s the umpteenth example of a cop haunted by the lives he can’t save and his stalwart dedication to the case straining his marriage. When will these wives ever understand? Renart and Dorothy naturally get thrown off their case, thus finally allowing them to solve it as in every cops-and-robbers movie. Maybe movies should just begin with the cop thrown off their case; it would save everyone a hell of a lot of time as far as casework. Partners must always die to spurn our hero into action, though I’d have to assume Dorothy’s too young to be days away from a blissful retirement. Killing her seems ill advised too, especially since her last known whereabouts would be a dinner date with Tom. Way to be the number one suspect and give yourself borrowed time, dude.

I hate to admit it, but despite all its glaring simplicity and predictable bumps in the road, Sanctimony is passably entertaining, that is, until the ridiculous ending draws near. As with most serial killer films, the killer is practically a super being with an agenda. Except, in Sanctimony, Boll doesn’t even give his vengeful hand of God an agenda but just an inescapable rage. The film climaxes with Tom going on a shooting spree at his wedding party and then being gunned down by Renart. Boll uses lots of slow-mo and swelling dramatic music, but the scene had no set-up from earlier and makes little to no sense. What was his master plan? Was Tom trying to outlive his looming terminal illness and create a name that will long live on, likened to the horror he has wrought? He said he couldn’t stand the curse of people, so was his plan to just take out as many people as possible? If so, surely leaving the cops obvious tell-tale signs was not helpful, especially if he was just going to out himself on live TV as a murderer anyway. Sanctimony ends with far too many loose ends and unexplained motives that, in hindsight, seem to suggest Boll’s clever serial killer wasn’t so clever after all.

Since the heroes of Sanctimony are so rote and familiar, the only place for Boll to make artistic strides is in his depiction of his killer, Tom. This is where Sanctimony and Boll really drop the ball. Before we know anything about him, Boll has already introduced us to Tom’s office, which should more accurately be described as a lair. It’s gigantic, poorly lit, and surrounded by ominous rock faces. He even has an array of monitors at his super desk of villainy. The only thing missing is a desk full of files labeled, “Plan, Evil.” We never really understand what Tom’s motivations are, though Boll thinks he’s helping by lining up speeches about Tom’s views on people (hint: it’s not optimistic). Even his choices of murder have no lasting message; Tom just kills whoever’s weak and available. If he’s an ordinary killer then what’s the point of even basing a flick around him?

Sanctimony presents a lot of Tom’s ire but never digs any deeper. He attends a laughable S&M club where they make snuff films in the back for your viewing pleasure. The leader of this demented boys club wants to harness male fury as motivation, for what I don’t know. So what does Tom do next? He goes home and chokes and rapes his fiancé, clearly indicating that this unique support group is not working. She rejects his rough play, so Tom walks the empty Seattle streets (!) with his knife openly drawn and stabs a homeless girl. Was he frustrated over his failed rape? Is he reacting against a woman asserting power over him, denying him an outlet of pleasure? We’ll never know, because Sanctimony is only interested in skirting the waters of characterization. In Boll’s movie, people fall into types and aren’t given anything else to work with. Tom is the killer. He kills. That’s all you’re going to get. Even though the movie is only 87 minutes long, Boll is disinterested in spending time with his characters. He’s rather just draw up a sketch from someone else’s work and move along.

The acting is somewhat better than most Boll movies, and yet still a degree below typical straight-to-video blandness. Van Dein (Starship Troopers) is amusingly believable as a stone-faced serial killer. His limited acting range actually strengthens the character’s sense of frustration. He’s got a menacing stare to boot. Paré (Hope Floats) phones in his performance but gets some points for being in the film’s most weirdly awkward moment, when Renart has to step in as nude model for his wife and her giggly photographer peers. Bizarre doesn’t go far enough in describing the scene. Rubin (Little Witches, Amazons and Gladiators) is the hard-nosed female cop trying to make it in a man’s world, and gives a decent if unmemorable performance. I was more intrigued by her ever-present striped scarf, which seems to follow her everywhere from the shooting range to inside her home. Roberts has very little screen time and is still third billed. Are we at an age where Eric Roberts is a marketing tool? I’d like to think not.

Sanctimony is Uwe Boll’s stab at the serial killer genre, so it shouldn’t be surprising that it’s formulaic and bereft of suspense and imagination. This is a generic rip-off of far better serial killer flicks. The characters are all brief sketches and genre clichés, and Boll can’t even come up with a compelling agenda for his killer. I kept waiting for Sanctimony to fully explain itself, but once the wedding shoot-out is complete the film leaves you addled and perturbed. Boll has castrated his drama, rendering it unimportant, lazy, and sloppy. Boll may have several ideas floating around his head but he never brings them in for a clarification. Whatever intellectual goals he may have intended for Sanctimony will be lost on an audience grasping for meaning and entertainment. How dumb is this movie? Well, it defines what “sanctimony” means in the opening credits via dictionary. It should be very ominous when a movie is forced to define its own title. Ominous, indeed.

Nate’s Grade: C-

Panic (2000)

The story behind Panic goes something like this. The film was dropped by Artisan because they got test screening results back and apparently it wasn’t what they wanted. After this set-back it was going to be dumped to the wasteland of direct-to-cable like so many other troublesome pictures studios feel would not earn a buck if they were bleeding on the side of the road. After some fighting, particularly from critic Roger Ebert, a production house decided to distribute Panic in a very limited release. So what does this cinematic game of musical chairs mean? It means if you have a chance see this film.

Panic is a story about characters first and foremost. William H. Macy plays the son end of a father-son team of hitmen, with Donald Sutherland as the oppressive patriarch. Macy is a man who is never truly happy, almost like it is an impossibility for him at this point in his life. His wife (Tracey Ullman) is flaky and gives into her paranoia of her hubby having an affair with a younger chickadee. Macy meets an attractive and mysterious ingenue (Neve Campbell) while waiting for therapy. He begins on an obsession he can’t explain and fantasizes about her as the escape and ticket to happiness that is outside his reach.

The acting is as rich as the characters. Macy plays low-key but suits the subservient ghost that his character has become. Sutherland is haunting as the controlling father figure and the flashbacks between him and young Macy are disturbing as he plants his seed of control. Even at age six Macy’s character is referring to his father with “sir” tagged to the end of every sentence.

Neve’s character is the most in depth she’s ever been dealt, though her runner-up is a girl constantly chased by men in black robes with knives. Ullman is a nice presence and the audience really can sympathize with her. The child who plays the son of Macy and Ullman is one of the most adorable child actors I have ever seen. He lights up the screen every time he is present.

The story is brisk at a mere hour and a half. It is written and directed by a former writer of ‘Northern Exposure’ and ‘Homicide’ and the attention to characters shows. The film moves not through plot occurrences but through characters acting. When Macy discovers that the final hit he has to do is on his own therapist (John Ritter) his journey is one involving everyone around him in his life. The strains and pulls on this man are encompassing to watch.

Panic is a glimpse at a quiet movie told about the life of a man caught in his father’s grasp. Macy is a man conditioned to saying “he’s sorry” even if it is not deserved. His character is rich and Panic is a strongly acted gem if you can locate it.

Nate’s Grade: B+

Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon (2000)

Ang Lee’s mythical tale of ancient… (Taiwan?) is full of visual marvels and plenty of moments of awe that make the audience believe in the power of cinema to transport once again. However, upon further viewings and more butt pain because of the large length, the film is not “one of the best ever made” as has been praised. When you get down to it and think the film really isn’t about anything but retrieving a sword and feminist roles. The visuals are striking poetry and the action is exciting and top-notch and that’s what really counts in the end.

Nate’s Grade: B

Shadow of the Vampire (2000)

Darkly comical with great stabs of satire at the film industry (bloodsuckers in the movies anyone? Hmmmmmm). Willem Dafoe retains his title as Creepiest Actor Alive and goes for broke with a tour de force performance that should have you checking under the bed. Shadow of the Vampire is alive, to use the term sparingly, with wit and a slow but maturely steadied pace. Dafoe deserves an Oscar and your fear.

Nate’s Grade: A

Traffic (2000)

The war on drugs may be one worth fighting but it’s a battle that every day seems more and more impossible. Traffic is a mirror that communicates the fruition of our current procedures to stop the illegal flow of drugs.

Traffic is told through three distinct and different narratives. One involves an Ohio Supreme Court justice (Michael Douglas) newly appointed as the nation’s next Drug Czar. While he accepts his position and promises to fight for our nation’s children, back at home, unbeknownst to him, his daughter is free-basing with her bad influence boyfriend. Another story involves a wealthy bourgeois wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones) awakened to her husband’s arrest. Her shock continues when family lawyer Dennis Quaid informs her of her husband’s true source of income. He’s to be prosecuted by two DEA agents (Don Cheadle and Luis Guzman) unless she can do something. The final and most compelling narrative involves Benicio Del Toro as an honest cop in Tijuana battling frustration with the mass corruption surrounding the city. Each story weaves in and out at various points in the film.

Traffic was photographed and directed by the man with the hottest hand in Hollywood, Steven Soderbergh. He uses a documentary feel to his filming that adds to the realism. Different color tones are assigned toward the three narratives as reflections of the emotional background. Soderbergh expertly handles the many facets of the drug industry and pulls out his typical “career best” performances from his onslaught of actors.

Benicio Del Toro is the emotional center of Traffic. His solemn demeanor and hound dog exterior reflect a good man trying to fight the good fight in a corrupt environment. He effortlessly encompasses determination, courage, and compassion that you’ll easily forget the majority of his lines are in Espanol. Benicio is an incredibly talented actor and one with such vibrant energy whenever he flashes on screen. It’ll be wonderful watching him collect all his awards.

Catherine Zeta-Jones also shows strong signs there may well indeed be an actress under her features. Her role is one of almost terror as you watch her so easily slip into her imprisoned hubby’s shoes. The ease of transformation is startling, but in an “evil begets evil” kind of fashion. The fact that she’s pregnant through the entire movie only makes the shift from loving house wife to drug smuggler more chilling.

The entire cast does credible acting performances with particular attention paid toward the younger actors deservingly. Don Cheadle throws in another terrific performance showing he’s sublimely one of the best actors around today.

Traffic oversteps its ambitions and aims for a scope far too large. It is based on a 6 hour BBC mini-series, so trying to cram that material into a two hour plus format is taxing. As a result we get an assembly of characters, but too many with too little time in between to do any justice. Screenwriter Stephen Gaghan (Rules of Engagement) condenses the towering impact and influence drugs have well enough, but he intercuts the stories too sporadically that attachment never builds for either of the three narratives. He does balance the Douglas Drug Czar one carefully as not to fall into the cliched vigilante metamorphosis. But the mini-series had more characterization and depth to its tale.

Traffic is a good film but it has edges of greatness never fully visioned. Soderbergh shines bright yet again and all accolades will be deserved. Traffic is undeniably a good film, but it’s one you may not want to watch a second time.

Nate’s Grade: B

Thirteen Days (2000)

Another Kevin Costner film?! I’d rather suffer uncontrollable urination problems!” you could be saying to yourself. After Costner’s recent track record, hearing that he’ll have full Bostonian accent in hand seems a little nerve-racking. But despite Costner’s beantown speech 13 Days is a real surprise in just how much tension it actually wrings from the true story of the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Though 13 Days will suffer from the same problem Titanic did, people know their history and know how it ends. Though we all know we weren’t obliterated in nuclear war (At least I hope the majority of us know) 13 Days shows us the suspense through back-door politics as a fly on the wall in the White House. The audience sees all the political wrangling and power struggles in this cat-and-mouse game that made two nations hold their breathes in a high stakes stare-down. Bruce Greenwood, mainly known for beguiling Tommy Lee Jones in an assortment of flicks, plays our Commander in Chief John F. Kennedy. Costner seems to be a presidential advisor that could easily be mistaken for JFK’s imaginary friend the amount of time they spend together alone. Steven Culp plays Bobby Kennedy, and the fab threesome make up the core team that handled this bombastic situation. Of course there are dozens of other individuals involved within varying degrees, with the military leaders wanting procedures to lead them to inevitable war with Communist Soviets.

The warhawks recommend a Cuban invasion whereas the option of a quarantine hangs in sight as well. Through the next trying thirteen days stress will accumulate as options become more clear as deadlines become clearer. The political maneuvering makes for a gripping story, though a tad punched up at certain areas. It proves time and again that history makes the best stories.

Let’s get down to what’s on everyone’s mind: how much is the suck-ratio zooming on Kevin Costner in this picture? Well, his accent is very very jarring to begin with but you kind of get used to it after ten minutes of wear and tear. Costner does an alright acting job but the real spotlight is on the Kennedy brothers. Greenwood and Culp turn in star-making performances that gives human glimpses to the already prolific Kennedys. Culp is outstanding as Bobby, showing that the superiors discount him because of his young age but that he’s a shrewd and thoughtful politician. Greenwood doesn’t exactly sound like JFK but he adds particular dimension to the man behind the center of the crisis.

13 Days is a prime example of showing how intense and frightening fiction can be. Director Roger Donaldson uses black and white interludes for no real reason, but his final product is one of nail-biting suspense.

Nate’s Grade: B+

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. And yes, Katie Holmes does get naked briefly in the movie. Enjoy, Internet.

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

Miss Congeniality (2000)

I’m finding the equation “Sandra Bullock = wait for video” truer every day. The flick takes on the already beaten to death and then some subject matter of beauty pageants. There are a couple of funny moments, mainly due to Michael Caine and his quest to be in EVERY movie ever, but the rest is horrible slapstick. This film has the WORST forced romance I’ve ever seen between Benjamin Bratt and Bullock, it’s not just bad it’s insultingly bad. The film also has this very unsettling misogynistic tone through out the duration, even more odd when you figure in Bullock as a producer.

Nate’s Grade: C-

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