Beware the movies of summer
Reviews contributed by Beth Goodhue, Matt Larson, Casey McCluskey and Matt Nania
Every summer, Hollywood releases the biggest, loudest, most expensive pieces of filmic garbage of the year. Audiences literally flock to their local megaplexes in record numbers to see such artistic triumphs as "Batman & Robin," "Godzilla" and of course the now infamous "Wild Wild West." Every once in a while, though, a few diamonds are found in the rough. For every four or five "Independence Days," there's a "Saving Private Ryan" or an "Eyes Wide Shut." The summer of 2000 was no different. The major studios released more than 40 movies between the months of May and August (the typical summer movie season) and, as always, audiences were hard-pressed to find anything worth their 8 bucks. Here, then, is Scene's look at several of these summer releases some more worth your money than others.
Mission: Impossible 2
Like its 1996 predecessor, "Mission: Impossible 2" is an incredibly entertaining film. The plot is simple. A killer virus has been stolen and is being sold on the international market for millions. Special Agent Ethan Hunt's (Tom Cruise) task is to steal the virus back along with the antiserum.
There's a girl, too (there's always a girl). Nyah (Thandie Newton) is a world-class thief. Hunt recruits her to help find Sean Ambrose (Dougray Scott), who has stolen the virus. But it's not her Catwoman-esque skills that Ethan's team needs. It just so happens that she dumped Ambrose a while back and broke his evil little heart, and Hunt is ordered to use her to mole into Ambrose's organization.
John Woo is such a fantastic director that, in every sequence, all is forgiven for the thin plot. Woo truly comes out to play during the final half-hour, which is filled with essentially non-stop thrills and spills. After a laboratory shoot-out, the momentum shifts to an absolutely incredible motorcycle chase sequence, which rightfully belongs among the best action sequences of all time. After watching "Gladiator" offer action sequences that barely make sense, Woo's work is like a blast of fresh air.
"Mission: Impossible 2" delivers everything it wants to deliver: glossy stylized action sequences, entertaining and engaging acting from its star and, above all else, a great movie-going experience. "M: I2" is a fun Tom Cruise/John Woo team-up, and therefore a perfect summer movie. Summer 2000 releases were hard-pressed to duplicate its sheer entertainment value.
Gone in 60 Seconds
This summer's "Gone in 60 Seconds" was a remake of an old B movie that was simply about stealing cars. Director Dominic Sena decided to remake the movie but wanted to spend more time with characters and relationships.
Nicolas Cage stars as Memphis Raines, a renowned car thief who "went straight" after his mother warned him his younger brother was close to following in his footsteps. Memphis left his family behind, but is soon called back when his younger brother, Kip, played by Giovanni Ribisi, ("Boiler Room") gets in over his head. Kip owes the most dangerous car broker in the city sixty vintage cars in four days. If Kip cannot deliver the cars, he will pay with his life. Memphis gets back in the game of car heists to save his brother's life. To do so, he must reunite his old gang, which includes Angelina Jolie ("Girl, Interrupted) and Robert Duvall ("The Godfather").
Although Sena's attempt was to develop the relationships of the characters, he failed this ultimate goal. He explored the relationship between Kip and Memphis further than it was in the original movie but it did not go as deep as it needed to. Despite the brilliant casting of Ribisi and Cage, little is done with either of their characters. The true stars of the movie would have been the vintage cars that were the quest of the Raines brothers, but there were too many to appreciate any of them. The one great success of this movie was the car chase scenes that may have been the best since "Ronin" and "Bullit."
Me, Myself & Irene
Every one of us have had times when we've had to suppress that urge to tell someone off. It comes as no surprise that the Farrelly brothers fearlessly turn the alter ego in all of us into a comedic prop. This is when Jim Carrey goes to work. Although the directors, the Farrelly brothers, started with a good idea, that's about as far as they got. The plot gradually declines into a bunch of exaggerated scenes and clunky one-liners.
Jim Carrey stars as Charlie Baileygates, a member of the Rhode Island police force. He is a hard working, kind, mild-tempered and model citizen raising three illegitimate sons after his wife left him on their wedding day for the midget limo driver. Charlie has spent his entire life as a pushover, pretending everything is wonderful and everybody respects him. After years of bottling up all that anger and resentment, he finally snaps, and out comes Hank.
Hank is a stereotypical jerk. He drinks way too much, he's got a dirty mouth and mind, is destructive and cares only about sex. The only thing he has in common with Charlie is a crush on Irene Waters (Renee Zellweger from "Jerry Maguirre").
Jim Carrey shines through once again with his amazing acting ability and talented facial and body expressions that never fail to make you laugh. Being his first "R"-rated movie, "Me, Myself, and Irene" does display some demented, daring new ideas such as breast feeding alternatives and a cow that will not die.
Despite the fact that the photography was far from superior and the filmmaking could have been done better by a bunch of amateurs with a video camera, "Irene" is nipping at the heels of the Farrelly brothers' other films, "Dumb and Dumber" and "There's Something about Mary." If you're a Jim Carrey fan and are looking for a quick laugh, "Me, Myself and Irene" is a good pick.
It has been said that imitation is the greatest form of flattery, but sometimes things just shouldn't be imitated. Recently, the entertainment industry has been attempting to flatter their role models incessantly, trying to capitalize on their popularity. Classic films like "Psycho" and other old television shows like "Lost in Space," "The Brady Bunch," and even cartoons like "The Flintstones" and "Inspector Gadget" have continued to appear and leave the viewer with an empty sense that some of their favorite movies and shows have been exploited and, in some cases, ruined.
Director John Singleton's new version of the `70s classic blaxploitation film "Shaft" is nothing new. It is a rehash of the "black private dick who's a sex machine for all the chicks" set-up, but unlike other recent imitations, Singleton's updated "Shaft" actually works.
Firstly, Samuel L. Jackson is the perfect actor to play John Shaft. His performance is probably better than Richard Roundtree's, who portrayed Shaft in the orginal. Secondly, Singleton's `90s version allows Shaft to shoot more guys, swear more and be even more bad than he was in the `70s. Also, the `90s allow "Shaft" to be a real action movie, chock-full of car chases, guns and immensely better special effects than the low budget, `70s film had. The popularity of the original also allows for a better supporting cast featuring Vanessa Williams ("Dance With Me"), Christian Bale ("American Psycho"), Toni Collette ("The Sixth Sense") and a cameo by football's incomprable Lawrence Taylor.
Some critics panned "Shaft" as unbelievable and lacking in plotdevelopment. What these critics are missing with the new version is that it is an attempt to simulate the type of plot that `70s blaxploitation films had. Characters like John Shaft and Dolemite were about as close to cartoons as they could be without wearing polka-dotted overalls and having blue skin. The movies refer to serious topics (i.e. racial oppression and poverty), but the plots themselves revolve around a streetwise Superman, who also happens to be an incredibly smooth guy. Singleton stays true to the genre of the original, which makes the holes in the plot successful attempts at staying true to the original. That's what separates the updated "Shaft" from the other revamps of popular classics: it takes the original idea and improves upon it, instead of ruining it.
The Perfect Storm
The most brilliant filmmaking occurs when a director can take what most people consider mundane and low-class and make poetry out of it. This is exactly what Wolfgang Petersen does with "The Perfect Storm."
The film is an adaptation of Sebastian Junger's book and is the story of the Andrea Gail, a Gloucester, Mass. fishing boat. Although the film focuses on one boat, it is about a lifestyle foreign to people living outside of fishing towns. To these fishermen, fishing is much more than a job it is a way of life.
George Clooney plays Billy Tyne, captain of the Andrea Gail. He is one of the greatest fishing boat captains Gloucester has ever seen. When people begin to question his ability as a captain, Tyne loads his crew up for one more trip. He takes his crew out farther than most of them have ever gone and promises that they are going to bring home massive amounts of fish. What they don't realize is that while they are catching all this fish, three huge storms are colliding together to form one of the rarest weather phenomenas ever the perfect storm.
The most amazing scenes in the movie take place in the midst of the storm. This monster is brought to life by spectacular special effects and plays one of the greatest villains to ever hit the big screen.
Wolfgang Petersen was perfect in his casting of the crew of the Andrea Gail. This is shown in how each actor is able to take an ordinary man and make him into a hero. They are able to take a job that many people look down upon and make it into a noble profession.
What Lies Beneath
It has been quite a while since an adult thriller has come along and really made an audience scream out loud and be frightened. "What Lies Beneath" did just that for its audience.
Michelle Pfeiffer stars as Claire Spencer, the wife of a college professor, played by Harrison Ford. Claire and her husband, Norman, have just moved into a new house that used to be his father's. They are trying to settle in when Claire begins to see and hear things around the house.
Director Robert Zemeckis does a great job keeping the audience guessing. There are a number of clues given, but the audience just doesn't know what they are clues to and if they even matter to what is going on. This makes the film anything but predictable. Pfeiffer does a great job playing a mentally frail woman, not sure if she is going crazy or not. It is her performance that makes this film a success. Ford is okay as a driven science professor, but he has been better.
The one problem with the film is that the end is drawn out considerably. Zemeckis does a good job keeping the audience screaming the whole time, but the film becomes a bit too long when it keeps going on and on and the right people just don't die.
It's understandable that anticipation was at a fever pitch for "X-Men." After all, it's based on the highest-selling comic book series of all time. For the film, characters have been excised and story-lines have been streamlined a necessary movie evil, whether one is adapting a book, a comic book or even a TV series. What's important, though, is conjuring on celluloid the spirit of the source, its essence. And in this respect fans should be pleased with the serious approach director Bryan Singer brought to the material.
In the "not too distant future," humanity is faced with an escalating crisis of genetic mutation. U.S. Senator Kelly (Bruce Davison) is pushing for a law that will make mutant identification and registration mandatory, calling it a public safety issue.
Unfortunately, some of Kelly's fear-mongering rhetoric has merit, as there is a growing anti-human movement among mutants that is being spearheaded by Magneto (Ian McKellen), a powerful mutant who has the ability to generate magnetic fields and control metallic objects.
However, Magneto's aspirations are countered by his old friend Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), a powerful telepath who believes that peaceful co-existence between humans and mutants is possible. In addition to running a school for "gifted children," Xavier has assembled a team of mutants to oppose Magneto's goals: the optic-blast shooting Cyclops (James Marsden); the telekinetic scientist babe Jean Grey (Famke Janssen); metal-clawed Wolverine; and Storm (Halle Berry), who can control the weather.
The plot doesn't care to reach a high level of intensity, but it serves its purpose by making this movie a worthy introduction into what hopefully will become a successful franchise. If you're a long-standing fan of the comic book, "X-Men" will not disappoint. Even if you know nothing or only have a passing curiosity to the whole X-Men phenomenon, the film's tight, clever script and exciting visuals will keep you more than interested.
Who would've thought that a movie about superpowered mutants with retractable adamantium claws, red visors and super-long tongues would succeed where other 2000 summer movies have failed? "X-Men," a comic book movie for heaven's sake, is smarter, better acted, better scripted and better crafted than any other movie this summer. Sure, with "Shaft" "M:I2" and "Gone in 60 Seconds" to compete with, that's not saying much. Still, for a good solid piece of entertainment, "X-Men" is above par. For a comic book movie, "X-Men" rules.
All Scene Stories for Friday, August 25, 2000