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Volume 1, Number 23



Mystery Men

(Dir: Kinka Usher, Starring Ben Stiller, Janeane Garofalo, Geoffrey Rush, William H. Macy, Hank Azaria, Greg Kinnear, Claire Forlani, Lena Olin, Paul Reubens, Kel Mitchell, Eddie Izzard, Pras, Wes Studi, Tom Waits, and Rick Jay)

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BY: DAVID PERRY

One of the most non-sensical and annoying films of the year, Mystery Men proves that great casting cannot save a bad film. It has a terrific cast, most of whom are graduates of independent films and all of whom having pretty distinguished careers (just look at the films of William H. Macy besides Psycho). Mystery Men's actors do put forth a nice effort, but their characters are less than interesting enough to make an ensemble for a film.

Mystery Men is somewhat of a spoof of the whole superhero genre of both films and comic books. When Captain Amazing (Kinnear), a major metropolis' hero and crime fighter, is taken hostage by an evil madman named Cassanova Frankenstein (Rush) and his psychiatrist turned accomplice Dr. Anabel Leek (Olin), a madcap group of superhero wannabes band together to save Captain Amazing and the city from the destruction of Frankenstein. The group is lead by Mr. Furious (Stiller), whose power is that he can get very angry. He begins to doubt the chances of the group when he meets his superhero match in The Sphinx (Studi) and his romantic match in waitress Monica (Forlani). The other founding fathers of the "Mystery Men" are the silverware throwing Blue Raja (Azaria) and garden tool expert The Shoveler (Macy). After taking in applicants, three more heroes join the group: Invisible Boy (Mitchell) who has never actually been seen doing his named ability, The Spleen (Reubens) who can take out a room via flatulence, and The Bowler (Garofalo) who can throw a bowling ball like a cannon/boomerang thanks to the skull of her father.

The film is nice to look at very often, the problem is that that can only take you so far. The art direction is terrific, much in the same vein as Blade Runner. I thought that the direction did have some nice moments, though they would often be ruined by very poor attempts at making a scene funny (if you like a camera showing the eye view of a fork as a guy sits on it, then this might be your type of film). The cast does try, but more often then should be the script is just too bad. Yes, there are some very good laughs, but then any hilarity would subside as the film would be filled with even more flat jokes. Mystery Men is appealing at times, but more of a overlong bore and an unfunny choice for good actors.


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This is My Father

(Dir: Paul Quinn, Starring Aidan Quinn, Moya Farrelly, James Caan, Jacob Tierney, Gina Moxley, Moira Deady, Colm Meaney, Brenden Gleeson, Pauline Hutton, Maria McDermottroe, Donal Donnelly, Eamon Morrissey, Stephen Rea, John Kavanaugh, and John Cusack)

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BY: DAVID PERRY

I've never been the biggest of fans of actor Aidan Quinn. Sure I have liked him in stuff like Legends of the Fall, In Dreams, Michael Collins, and Looking for Richard, but one must not forget Desperately Seeking Susan or Commandments or Blink or Stars Fell on Henrietta or The Assignment or Practical Magic or Haunted or Benny & Joon. Since Practical Magic is hard to forgive, I was not too excited about seeing This Is My Father, a collaboration of Quinn's family. Aiden stars while brothers Paul and Declan serve as writer/director and cinematographer, respectively, and all three of them serve as executive producers. I have actually had some respect for Declan over the years, but Paul was nearly unknown by me. This is his first try at the three suits he wears and it shows.

This Is My Father looks much like a film made simply to bring people together than as an achievement in filmmaking. The Quinn Brothers seem self imposed and uninterested in anything beyond making a family get together that will allow them to work with James Caan. Telling the story of the torrid relationship between Kieran O'Dea (Quinn) and Fiona Flynn (Farrelly) as it is being told to his their son (Caan) on a visit to their Irish home. The son, Kieran Johnson, is a Chicago teacher that is interested in the secrets kept by his invalid mother. He takes the trip to Ireland with his nephew (Tierney) and learns everything from a soothe-seer (Deady) that was friendly with Fiona. The story of his conception is far from anything that he would have thought of as he learns of the great strictness of Fiona's widow mother (Moxley) and the reason that he never met his father.

The film does have a nice story and some very nice scenes, but not all of it is believable or interesting. The subplot between Johnson's nephew and a local girl (Hutton) is boring and idiotic, quite a waste of time. Most of the film is on the shoulders of its terrific cast. Caan, Quinn, and Farrelly all shine in the lead roles, though they are overshadowed by a terrific supporting cast, especially from Cusack, Gleeson, Rea, Moxley, Deady, and Meaney. I was not enthralled by the film, as I found it to be a slight work, but all the same I enjoyed This Is My Father.


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The Sixth Sense

(Dir: M. Night Shyamalan, Starring Bruce Willis, Haley Joel Osment, Toni Collette, Olivia Williams, Donnie Wahlberg, Mischa Barton, and Trevor Morgan)

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BY: DAVID PERRY

Advertised as a tense thriller with horror film tendencies, The Sixth Sense is much more a drama. It does have some spots that are strategically made to scare the audience, but none of those moments work. The Sixth Sense doesn't even have spooky moments like The Blair Witch Project or even tongue in cheek horror like Idle Hands. For the most part, the film attempts to startle you by having someone, that you should predict is a dead person, walk by the camera...dead. In fact it came off to me as an episode of The Twilight Zone mixed with Wide Awake. The Wide Awake thing is understandable since this is from the same director, giving reason for the sappiness of the films ending.

The Sixth Sense follows the attempts of child psychologist Malcolm Crowe (Willis) to understand the acute schizophrenia of 11 year old Cole Sear (Osment). It seems that Cole believes that he sees dead people walking around unaware of the fact that they are dead. This is causing problems for both of them as Cole's single mother Lynn (Collette) is terribly worried about him and Malcolm's wife Anna (Williams) feels without her husband as he spends all his time with Cole. Cole's case is of great importance to Malcolm since he sees his one failure as a doctor in a case that was almost exactly the same (which lead to the intrusion of this ex-patient early in the film).

The Sixth Sense does succeed well in drama, but all of its comedy and suspense turns out rather flat. I liked Willis in this as well as Collette and Williams (though not their finest work), but the real acting ability here is in Osment. His performance is above anything from a preteen this year and arguably the best supporting role of the year. I'd go as far as saying that he and Mason Gamble are the only young actors that can act (I'd draw the line at about 15 because then you're getting into Jason Schwartzman and Ben Silverstone territory). The direction by Shyamalan is good, though at times I though that it was trying too hard to be catchy (plus it was in dire need of a steadycam). I also liked the cinematography from Jonathan Demme mainstay Tak Fujimoto. My only real big complaint is in the ending. I did like the little suprise that comes at the climax, but I truly hated the sappiness that the film went into in the final moments. I thought that maybe they had accidentally let Tom Shadyac or Joe Johnston take over the finale. Still it is a worthwhile film to see, despite being highly flawed.


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Iron Giant

(Dir: Brad Bird, Voices include Eli Marienthal, Jennifer Aniston, Harry Connick Jr., Vin Diesel, Christopher McDonald, James Gammon, Cloris Leachman, and John Mahoney)

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BY: DAVID PERRY

Early note: Due to the fact that it is not really a family film, South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut is not really considered in this write-up on animated films, though I will admit that it is better than anything from Disney in years.

For years Disney has had a quasi-monopoly on animated motion pictures. This monopoly has been artistically as well as financially. There have only been two production companies to regularly compete with Disney: 20th Century Fox and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (though in the eighties Universal did a few with Don Bluth like Land Before Time and An American Tail). Time and again the two would bring out hideous cartoons like Ferngully... the Last Rainforest, All Dogs Go to Heaven, Rock-a-Doodle, and The Pebble and the Penguin. At the same time Disney was showing off its animation division with Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and The Little Mermaid. The only animated feature by a non-Disney studio in the eighties and nineties that I thought successfully met and surpassed the Disney animated element was 1997's Anastasia from 20th Century Fox and All Dogs Go to Heaven creator Don Bluth. It actually was better than the big Disney Summer movie that year, Hercules. But non-Disney animation did not suddenly get better, Warner Bros. joined the pack after the dismal Thumbelina and made Quest for Camelot while Fox made The King and I and MGM dropped out completely (MGM does so few films in a year anyway). All this while Disney made its best film since Toy Story with Mulan. But Disney has weakened as of late, especially since ex-Disney animation head Jeffrey Katzenberg co-founded DreamWorks to make The Prince of Egypt and Antz. The two last Disney cartoons, Tarzan and A Bug's Life, have been minor features that did not really do anything that was of great interest. Meanwhile it has been allowing its more adult divisions to make crap like Armageddon and The Other Sister (yes, this is irrelevant, but I must take any chance I get to voice my disgust for those two films). Though it is Fox that one-upper Disney two years ago, this year it is Warner Bros. with The Iron Giant.

More classy and actually better looking than Tarzan, The Iron Giant successfully evokes the spirit of animated films that I thought had floundered. The great texture and colors that are made for this film make it a highly enjoyable sit in the theatre, both for children and adults. I liked its ever-so-predictable story, I enjoyed its starchy characters, and I had a fun time. I've not had this much fun in a family film since Antz, and that is not really that family oriented (I think that Antz is just a toned down South Park in its more adult approach in animation). The Iron Giant is the story of a boy, Hogarth Hughes (Marienthal), that wants terribly to have a pet. His mother (Aniston) is not the biggest fan of the idea because of prior dispositions caused by Hogarth's pets. So Hogarth gets the next best thing to a small and cuddly creature: he gets a giant robot from outer space (grumbles and "argh"s thanks to Vin Diesel). When word gets around that there is something that has been eating everything metal in this small Maine town circa 1955, a government worker named Kent Mansley (McDonald) comes in to investigate and get rid of what he sees as a communist menace (that is why it is set in the fifties).

The film is pure enjoyment. Sure it probably gets too political towards the end, but it is a kid's film, who cares? The chase through the small village is one of the best sequences this year and the climax is terrific. From one of the directors of animated television shows like The Critic and The Simpsons, the film has a great look and a nice feel. Now if only Titan AE (the latest Disney competitor from Don Bluth) would be half as good.


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Dick

(Dir: Andrew Fleming, Starring Kirsten Dunst, Michelle Williams, Dan Hedaya, Will Ferrell, Bruce McCulloch, Teri Garr, Dave Foley, Jim Breuer, Ana Gasteyer, Harry Shearer, Saul Rubinek, Devon Gummersall, Ted McGinley, Ryan Reynolds, and G.D. Spradlin)

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BY: DAVID PERRY

I must say that if there is one thing that contains me most in US history it is the presidents. I do not know why, but I have always been a big fan, going as far as memorizing and writing a book on all of them in grade school (the book is about what you would expect from a nine year old). One president that has always interested me is Richard Nixon. Even if he had a corrupt administration and was actually the only president that had a great chance of being removed from office, Nixon has always been one of my favorites (it helps that I'm a stout Republican). I've seen the Oliver Stone film Nixon many times and enjoyed it exceedingly even if it is rather anti-Nixon. Despite that I did not think much about seeing Dick. Its teen comedy approach looked thoroughly stupid and left me rather doubtful on how worthwhile it would be. Still I saw it and must admit that I had a good time. Sure it does not sit well and it seemed better in the theatre than it does in post-thought, but its approach actually works. I liked its premise of who the mysterious Deep Throat was that tipped Washington Post writers Woodward and Bernstein on the recordings in the Nixon Oval Office.

It is still questionable exactly who Deep Throat was but the new film Dick is one scenario of who he/she/they might have been. Not only does the film answer who Deep Throat was, it also explains the duct tape on the door at the Watergate Hotel and the 18 and a half minute gap in the recording tape. It seems that all this was caused by two 15 year old girls that were in the Watergate Hotel the night of the robbery. They happen to run into G. Gordon Liddy (Shearer) in the stairwell and later recognize him at a tour of the White House (where they happen to find the CREEP list) followed by a glimpse of him being arrested on the news. This, along with other things found in the Nixon administration (including Nixon's dislike for Checkers in comparison to Kennedy and Johnson's dogs and Nixon's liking towards paper mache), cause them to become highly interesting to the two Washington Post reporters Carl Woodward (Ferrell) and Bob Bernstein (McCulloch) in their trek to find out about the Nixon involvement in the Watergate break-in.

The film is fun to watch, there is no doubting that, the thing is that not all of it is appealing. The ending is rather insipid (though I did like the climax) and the film does run rather long. Still the two leads put forth good tries, especially Dunst. One thing I really liked about the film was in its openness towards Nixon/Watergate jokes that would go right over the heads of the young audience it was advertised towards. The sheer pleasure in seeing what actors they get to play certain figure heads in the whole ordeal is much like the same thing in Nixon (Shearer as Liddy, Breuer as Dean, Foley as Haldeman). I liked the film, but it really did nothing for me. Much like so many other films, it is just entertaining, no great achievement in animation like The Iron Giant or in horror films like The Blair Witch Project, Dick is simply fun.


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Reviews by:
David Perry
1999, Cinema-Scene.com

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