Summer cinema recap
Movie season produces few firecrackers and many "bombs"
Ah, 2000, a new century... and one of the least memorable summer film seasons ever. Usually, there are maybe five or six truly bad films, a lot of enjoyable eye candy and a couple gems. This summer, it was either really good or disappointing crap (most of the latter). There was a small amount of great films ("X-Men", "Gladiator"), but nothing compared to the big budget films that were not just disappointing, some were just plain awful (the horrendous and costly "Titan: A. E.). So, what were the best, the worst, and the sleepers? Here's a short list, consisting of a gem, two sleepers and two duds.
Creepy and alluring, it's a "love it or hate it" film. To be honest, it's a magnificent visual feast, and the mystery is on rank with "Seven" and "The Silence of the Lambs". Though the script on paper does not have the draw of those two films, "The Cell" comes alive in the hands of Tarsem, a director making his debut. The casting of Jennifer Lopez is a much smarter move then it seems. She's calm and tender, and her manner of speaking seems perfect for a child psychologist. The film not only comes together in the art direction and visual splendor, but in the way it handles its subject. While it never excuses the perverted killer, it gives reasons for the way he became one. A film that is able to walk that fine line deserves praise for not taking the easy way out of just making a psycho and never giving him reasons. "The Cell" may be hated by some for its violence and overwhelming dream like sequences, but like "Dark City" and "12 Monkeys", it's a film where the audience gets to see a world unlike any other on film.
Talk about a misunderstood sleeper. This small and thoroughly enjoyable film was not going to change movies, but it was a nice teen film that was uncharacteristically realistic. It's a movie that not many would get (hence the tepid reception) but if you are poor and going to college, this is the movie for you. It showed the snootiness of an un-named NYU (where it was filmed) and the old clich of a nice kid in the big mean city. However, this movie did it with class. "Loser" deserves an audience, hopefully on video, just to see how well a teen film can be when it does not star Freddie Prinze Jr. and is directed by a professional (Amy Heckerling, of "Fast Times" and "Clueless" fame). Plus, any film that has the line about alternative rock, "I love self-hating rock that you can dance too" deserves to be viewed.
Who knew? This film wins the award for worst advertised movie of the summer. From the ads, it looked like your typical Jackie Chan film for 12-year-old boys. However, it turned out to be what "Wild, Wild West" should have been. A very funny, clever and action-filled romp through the old west, playing with clichs and turning them on their ear. Not only is this Chan's best American film, but also it brings out the comedy of Owen Wilson. Wilson has co-wrote "Rushmore" and starred and co-wrote "Bottle Rocket." Hollywood wasted him so many times that here, they let him ad-lib and enjoy himself. This is one of those films where everyone went in skeptical and ended up loving it. "Shanghai Noon" was one of the best films of the summer, because it was light, fun and enjoyable, unlike so many bloated summer action films.
Speaking of disappointing bloated action films, this one took the cake. While the first half hour seemed to be heading the right direction, "ID4" director Rolland Emmrich just had go and screw it up the only way he knows how: by blowing things up and adding melodrama. Watch "The Patriot" closely, and one will see it's "Independence Day" again, in "Braveheart" clothing. It's no secret why Gibson did this movie, who wouldn't, for $25 million? The sad thing is that it tried to make its audience believe that slaves and there masters were pals in the pre-Revolutionary War times and other white washings of history. What a waste of talent, money and three hours.
And now, the worst film of the summer, maybe of the year. How does one screw up the sports film formula? This movie made "Necessary Roughness" look like an Oscar winner. Keanu Reeves phones in his acting (no shock), but Gene Hackman terribly rips of his "Hoosiers" character in a sappy, "we need to win" ideology. Its two greatest offenses remain not having the team lose (if you win every game, your not underdogs, are you?) and saying they were the D.C. football team and filming the whole movie in Baltimore (note to Hollywood, the cities don't look alike). By the time this film is finished, one wants to break something or do anything to get that over-sweet taste out of their mouth. "The Replacements" feels like being very, very sick after one eats too much cotton candy and funnel cake, except there's no joy in the way this sugary mess goes down.
What will the summer of 2000 be remembered for? It has the "X-Men," the comic adventure from Bryan Singer that lived up to it's lofty hype. There was the Roman epic "Gladiator" which cemented Russell Crowe's stardom. It marked the return of John Shaft in the form of Samuel L. Jackson, playing a bad (watch my mouth).
Of course, the summer will also be remembered for some real duds, starting with the Scientological crapfest that was "Battlefield Earth." John Travolta, as a giant, stupid looking alien and Barry Pepper as a caveman who becomes the savior of Earth came together to make, hands down, the year's worst film. Based on L. Ron Hubbard's 1,000-plus page book, "Battlefield Earth" is 117 of the slowest minutes ever. Frankly, I don't know how a movie like this got made and with a budget as large as this one's. I'm guessing that Travolta, a Scientologist, offered to take less money to make this. What happened to greed? I miss greed. I miss those 117 minutes I could have spent cleaning my cat's litter box or punching a wall.
Space was a bad place to be this summer. The sci-fi genre not only had "Battlefield Earth," and spring's "Mission to Mars," but it also had the animated "Titan A.E." The A.E. stands for almost enjoyable. It's the trite story of a young boy who has to save the universe. A scruffy pilot helps him in his quest, kind of how Han Solo helped Luke Skywalker. The connections do not end there. "Titan" is basically "Star Wars," watered down and simplified with some nifty looking space ships. Don Bluth, the director of such animated classics as "The Secret of Nimh," and "An American Tail," turned out a stinker with "Titan." Stick to the animals, Don.
Animation was hit pretty hard this summer with Disney's "Dinosaur." Dinosaurs are extinct. I can see why. If this is at all an accurate representation of dinosaurs (and I know it's not), then they deserved to die. Disney's next animated film is called "The Emperor's New Groove," utilizing the voice talents, and I use that word cautiously, of David Spade, John Goodman and Eartha Kitt. That's right, the Adam West "Batman's" Catwoman. Is this the end of the Disney animation empire? Not likely, with the strong showing from the "Toy Story" franchise and "Fantasia," but this summer shows just how human the Disney people are.
Another big stinker this summer was a small budget film called "Trixie." The movie is the story of a stupid woman who wants to be a detective. The film stars Emily Watson playing a moron, Nathan Lane playing a, get this, lounge singer and Nick Nolte playing a sleazy congressman. Trixie goes to this small casino in Podunk, USA and takes a job as a security guard where she won't have to worry about weapons. And it's a good thing, because if I had a gun, I'd be the first one to shoot her. Shoot her dead. The only thing keeping this from being the worst movie of the year is the fact that it never got a full release. If you see this movie, you are stupid, like me.
The final loser award goes to Jerry Bruckheimer's "Gone in 60 Seconds," starring Nick Cage and some cars. That's it. No plot. No character development. Just Nick Cage, some cars and some more people standing around driving cars. You know what was gone in 60 seconds? Me.
It was not all bad though; there were a few sleeper movies this year. "Loser," starring Jason Biggs and Mena Suvari, directed by Amy Heckerling of "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" fame. Finally, Hollywood made a smart college drama that doesn't fictionalize what it is like to go to college. The dorms look like actual dorms and the classroom look like an actual classroom. My indie pick for best movie of the summer is "Jesus' Son," starring Billy Crudup. The movie is based on the book of the same name by Denis Johnson. It chronicles the life of a drug addict, only referred as a name that can't be printed, but rhymes with duckhead, and how he became clean from drugs. The movie features significant guest spots by Denis Leary, Dennis Hopper, Will Patton, Holly Hunter and Jack Black. Black steals the show in this movie, playing a hospital orderly who works with Crudup. This movie was a small release, but it is definitely worth looking for on the video rack.