2018年4月17日 星期二

Some Other Movies From 2000

2000.  I was either about to get, or I had just gotten, married.  I was either about to be a first-time father, or it was a done deal, and I was adjusting to the fact.  I was living in a very primitive apartment in Taichung - on the west coast of Taiwan - and I wasn't watching a lot of movies.

We had no Internet in the place we were living.  We didn't own a DVD player.  We had was a VCD player, but our selection of films was limited to whatever we could find at local night markets.

Sometimes, when we were very bored, we went to this place near our apartment and rented a Laser Disc player, and a few movies on laser disc.  Yes, I was at that time the King of Soon-to-be-Abandoned-Technologies, and it didn't bother me one bit.

The big movies that year?  Gladiator, Mission: Impossible 2, and Cast Away.  The first X-men also appeared, establishing the longest-running superhero franchise yet.  Who knew, way back in 2000, that a flood of superhero movies was on the way?

Some Good Ones

1. Best in Show

It's not Spinal Tap, it's not even A Mighty Wind, but this mockumentary about a dog show is still very funny.  My favorite bits involve the lesbian poodle handler.

2. Almost Famous

Cameron Crowe directed this autobiographical movie about his time as a rock journalist.  I still think it's the best film Crowe ever did, and the soundtrack is great too.

3. Frequency

Dennis Quaid and Jim Caviezel star as a father and son able to communicate across three decades.  It doesn't make a lot of sense, but aside from a truly corny scene at the end it's not bad.  ...whatever happened to Jim Caviezel?  Did playing Jesus destroy his career or what?

4. Finding Forrester

Sean Connery and Busta Rhymes in the same movie?  Yep, and you have director Gus Van Sant to thank for it.  Van Sant directed this after his disastrous Psycho, which may explain the lukewarm response.  I really enjoyed this film, and it made me want to see the films in Van Sant's filmography I haven't seen yet.

5. Mission to Mars

Brian de Palma's version of 2001.  It's a decent movie, even if the characters aren't particularly likable and/or interesting.  As stories of space survival go, you'd be better served by The Martian, but it features some memorable movie deaths, and the ending is predictably uplifiting.

6. Road Trip

Ah - the tried and true road trip movie.  Road Trip, Tommy Boy, The Sure Thing - the list is practically endless.  When the formula works, it's hilarious, when it doesn't...

Whatever happened to Seann William Scott?  That guy made a lot of mediocre movies much funnier.  This movie, The Rundown, American Pie... he should have been a much bigger star.  I'm guessing that at a certain point he got tired of playing the same character over and over.  But while he was doing it, he was doing it better than anyone else.

Road Trip isn't Scott's funniest movie, but it's still good for a few laughs.

7. Bring It On

A cheerleading movie with a really weird sense of humor.  In 2000 most guys would have dismissed it as a chick flick, but the screenplay was well written, and the director knew what he was doing.  That director, by the way, was Peyton Reed, better known as the director of Ant-Man.

8. Shaft

In 2000 almost no one knew who Christian Bale was, while Samuel Jackson was still riding high off the success of Pulp Fiction.  Jackson was certainly cool enough to play Shaft, but director John Singleton wasn't always up to the task.  It's a good movie, but not great by any stretch of the imagination.

Jeffrey Wright though.  He's so great in this movie that he just about hijacks the entire film.  A movie centered around his character would have been SO much more interesting.

Fun Fact: In his first movie, WAY back in 1972, Samuel Jackson played a character named "Stan Lee."

9. Rules of Engagement

Samuel Jackson (again!), Tommy Lee Jones, and Guy Pearce star in this William Friedkin-directed military courtroom drama.  One gets the feeling that his role as a Marine accused of murder was more of a stretch for Jackson, not that that's a bad thing.  It's a bit slow toward the end, but it's still a solid movie.  Much better overall than Shaft.

The negative reviews it received up on release were, I think, largely due to similarities between this movie and A Few Good Men.  It was 2000 after all, and 9/11 hadn't happened yet.

10. Space Cowboys

Tommy Lee Jones (again!), Clint Eastwood, James Garner, and Donald Sutherland star as four older astronauts who finally have the chance to see the Earth from space.  Eastwood also directed.

It's not a terrible movie, but the predictable self-sacrifice near the end lacks the emotional impact it ought to have had.  Garner and Sutherland's characters are also very underdeveloped.

It's also funny - watching this movie in 2018 - to muse upon the careers the four actors in this movie have had.  There's Eastwood of course, moving from Rawhide, to the spaghetti Westerns, to Dirty Harry, to a host of other films.  There's Jones, briefly glimpsed in 1970's Love Story, then in Coal Miner's Daughter, Cobb, and more recent movies.  There's Sutherland, celebrated in 70s movies like Klute, M*A*S*H, and Invasion of the Body Snatchers.  And there's Garner, who spent most of the 50s in TV in Maverick, the 70s in The Rockford Files, and who may have had the most varied career of all. They collectively represent a ton of film history.

Fun Fact: Though depicted as having served together during the onset of the Cold War, the actual ages of the four actors varied widely.  James Garner, the oldest, was 72.  Clint Eastwood was 70.  Donald Sutherland was 65.  And Tommy Lee Jones was a relatively spry 54.  Garner and Eastwood served in the military during the Korean War (Garner won the purple heart twice, and Eastwood was a lifeguard)  Sutherland, though old enough to have served, is Canadian, and Jones wasn't old enough to join the military until 1964, right around the time the Apollo program was gathering steam.

11. Wonder Boys

Hey it's Ant-Man, Spider-Man, and Iron Man in the same movie!  Michael Douglas stars as a college professor and former novelist, Tobey Maguire is one of his students, and Robert Downey Jr. is Douglas' agent.  It's not bad, but as "washed up novelist/writer's block" movies go, Finding Forrester was much better.

12. Thirteen Days

The perpetually underrated Bruce Greenwood stars as JFK, with Kevin Costner as his closest adviser.  The "thirteen days" is a reference to the Cuban Missile Crisis, which was a tense thirteen days indeed.  This movie's good, if a bit unconvincing.  I'm inclined to blame the director, who seems to betray a lack of faith in the material.

13. Pay It Forward

Remember when Kevin Spacey wasn't the Antichrist?  When he was just a good actor, who starred in good movies?  Sure, there's a certain irony to this story of a teacher who befriends a young boy, but if you can look past Spacey's alleged personal failings, this is still a good, if not excellent movie.

The thing is that aside from the young boy's utopian scheme, this movie bears some strong similarities to Mel Gibson's 1993 film, The Man Without a Face.  To add to the irony, some of the trouble Gibson's character finds himself in bears an uncomfortable likeness to the accusations more recently leveled against Spacey.

14. What Women Want

Speaking of Mel Gibson (and also Helen Hunt, who costars in both this movie and Pay It Forward), he stars in this movie about the battle of the sexes.  Gibson is an ad exec who finds he can read women's minds.  It's a thoroughly charming movie, and Gibson was the ideal choice for the role.

15. Chopper

Eric "Hulk" Bana stars in this Australian prison movie.  It's watchable, but there are moments when the low budget really shows.  I liked the first part in the prison, but after that I had trouble staying interested.

16. Nurse Betty

If you look very closely, you'll notice that now-forgotten model Sung Hi Lee is one of the nurses in the TV show Betty worships.  God, in the late 90s I was so in love with Sung Hi Lee.

In Nurse Betty, a young woman goes into an extended (if amusing) psychosis after witnessing the violent death of her husband.  Renee Zellweger stars, with Morgan Freeman and Chris Rock playing the men who killed the husband.

Zellweger is excellent in the lead - it might still be her best performance.  But I'm just not buying the fact that Freeman's character doesn't bother to check the other rooms near the beginning of the movie.

Some Bad Ones

1. Bait

Jamie Foxx when he was better known as a comedian.  It was Antoine Fuqua's second movie (after The Replacement Killers and before Training Day), and you can tell that both he and Jamie Foxx haven't quite found their rhythm yet.  The mix of crime thriller and Foxx's need to generate laughs is VERY jarring.  That, and the second half of this movie just doesn't make a great deal of sense.

2. The Way of the Gun

Ryan Philippe - now there's an actor that never quite found his niche.

This movie is Christopher McQuarrie's version of the spaghetti western, complete with a truly gruesome third act.  Despite some great performances by Benicio del Toro, James Caan, and Juliette Lewis, most of this film is dreadfully boring.  It starts out great, finishes in epic fashion, but between its beginning and end it's incredibly talky, and the attempts at plot development detract rather than add to its conclusion.

Fun Fact: Geoffrey Lewis (now deceased), who plays one of Caan's associates, was Juliette Lewis' dad.  He was perhaps best known as Clint Eastwood's best friend in Every Which Way But Loose.

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