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Volume 1, Number 26



The 13th Warrior

(Dir: John McTiernan, Starring Antonio Bandaras, Diane Venora, Vladimir Kulich, Maria Hausserman, Sven Wolliter, and Omar Sherif)

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BY: DAVID PERRY

The week before walking into the theatre for The 13th Warrior I watched a film on network television that I had not seen in quite a while. The film was Die Hard With a Vengeance and it allowed me to remember when director John McTiernan was doing better work. His recent The Thomas Crown Affair was quite the disappointment, but for a while there he was on top of his league. Sure he made Last Action Hero at this time, but one must recall that his eyes were behind modern day action successes Die Hard and The Hunt for the Red October. As I watched Die Hard With a Vengeance, I recalled just how good it is and how much of a step down The Thomas Crown Affair is. I had dearly hoped that maybe The 13th Warrior would be McTiernan doing his last good work before Thomas Crown (13th Warrior has been on the shelf at Touchstone Pictures for a long time and McTiernan directed Thomas Crown during that shelved period). Unfortunately it is not.

The 13th Warrior is somewhat of an amalgamation of many action adventure films set in medieval times. The film looks and feels much like Willow and, most of all, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. Telling the story of an Arabian (Bandaras) that finds himself caught up in a mission with twelve Danish warriors, The 13th Warrior does not try to exceed the genre that it is in. There are moments of poorly attempted comedy, but all in all the film remains an action film, giving adrenaline pumped direction even in the most serene moments. The problem is that there is nothing in it that is that exasperating, most of it just eye-candy, and poor eye-candy at that.

McTiernan is easily the only good thing about the film. Though I did not find his direction to be great, I did think that it was above what most directors would do with this material. I must admit that his direction is so well paced that I would have never guessed that I was in the theatre for nearly two hours, instead it was like I had watched a bad episode of Amazing Stories without the commercials. The screenplay, based on the novel Eaters of the Dead by over used novelist Michael Crichton, is poor and has absolutely no idea of what it is doing half the time (the scene in which Bandaras learns to speak Danish is so bad that I'd think Akiva Goldsman was in as a pseudonym). The 13th Warrior is not a watchable film, nor is it in any way understandable half the time.


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The Astronaut's Wife

(Dir: Rand Ravich, Starring Charlize Theron, Johnny Depp, Joe Morton, Clea DuVall, Nick Cassavetes, Blair Brown, Donna Murphy, and Tom Noonan)

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BY: DAVID PERRY

Sometimes I have awful feelings about films as I walk into them. I take a seat in the auditorium and I already know that what I'm about to see is going to be some of the worst dreck that I've seen this year. The last time I had that feeling was before Detroit Rock City, which would turn out as my choice for worst film of the year so far. That same feeling was present as I made way into The Astronaut's Wife and, though it was better Detroit Rock City, the film was pretty awful.

The Astronaut's Wife was that normal annual sci-fi film that just tries to be way too suprising. In fact the film was unbelievably familiar of Species II, which had the luck to be my choice for the second worst of 1998 (I believe that this is actually my choice for the second worst of this year so far). Not only is Species II in need of some royalties for this film, but so is Rosemary's Baby (co-starring John Cassavetes, father of Nick) and Devil's Advocate (which also featured Charlize Theron). But Ravich does not stop at just stealing ideas from other films, but also his direction. The camera is never idle for longer than ten seconds and every shot tries to be superior to anything that has ever been featured in films. The problem is that each of those shots have been used multitudes of times before.

Jillian Armacost (Theron) is your normal astronaut's wife, awaiting the return of her husband Spencer (Depp) who should return from space in the near future. But when he comes back, there seems to be a problem: he and his fellow astronaut were near lost in space. at the time that the two were missing it seems that they were taken over by some alien force and more or less replaced. Jillian seems to be the only one that notices this until an ex-NASA employee (Morton) brings her some evidence that may prove her greatest fears to be true, fears that go all the way to the twins that she is carrying in her womb.

Ravich's kinetic direction is boring and unappealing, actually giving me a headache. One thing that marks this film so much is the fact that there is rarely anytime in the film in which it does not try to be startling. That might work if it was not for the fact that the film never puts the character of Jillian in any danger that might cause people to actually have any fear. I was bored and ready to leave well into the hour mark, and there was another forty-five minutes to sit through. The Astronaut's Wife is at least better than Species II, not that that is saying anything.


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The Muse

(Dir: Albert Brooks, Starring Albert Brooks, Sharon Stone, Andie MacDowell, Jeff Bridges, Mark Feuerstein, Steven Wright, and Bradley Whitford)

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BY: DAVID PERRY

Just two weeks after I praise Bowfinger for bringing me a funny Hollywood satire, I am again treated to a comedy on the Hollywood system that works. Where is the year going?

One director that I continually come to acknowledge in the realm of under appreciated directors is Albert Brooks. His biting humor and satirical edge give more to the written page than anything that John Waters could dream of. Two years ago he brought out Mother which would be my choice for the best film of the year for four months. Best known for acting in such greats as Broadcast News and Taxi Driver, Brooks' style of comedy is always a treat to see whenever he directs and writes a film. The Muse is another success for Brooks, though nothing near the comic magnitude of Mother (perhaps this film just needed some Debbie Reynolds).

The Muse is about a screenwriter (Brooks) that loses his touch with the scripts that are wanted. He goes to producers and agents, but his luck does not change until he has a talk with a fellow screenwriter (Bridges) that is now having a period of overwhelming artistic productivity. The secret to the friend's newly found work is that he has a modern day muse (Stone), a woman that can open him up to all his abilities just by being near. The idea of reviving his career is great news, but there is one problem: this muse is very expensive. She expects gifts with every meeting, a hotel to her asking, food at the drop of a hat, someone to drive her everywhere... Since this will cause more money to come in, he is fine with this deal at first. But then the muse begins to take her charm away from him and to others in need ranging from directors of great note (and I'm not talking about James Cameron) to his wife (MacDowell). Now he must fight with others just to get the opportune time to spend time with his muse.

Brooks is on top form in the performance category, but his problems are in his screenplay. The film is funny and worth seeing, but Brooks seemed to have an idea without any real idea of how to end it. The ending is a bit of a disappointment for such a film. Still there is one reason to see this film that goes beyond anything that could ever make a film worth seeing: it features a cameo appearance from the greatest living director in the best acting turn any director has ever done (though this fellow has acted on many previous occasions). Even if he was not in it, though, I would still recommend The Muse simply for its funny first hour and forty-five minutes.


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A Dog of Flanders

(Dir: Kevin Brodie, Starring Jeremy James Kissner, Jon Voight, Jesse James, Jack Warden, Farren Monet, Madylin Sweeten, Andrew Bicknell, Bruce McGill, Cheryl Ladd, Steven Hartley, and Antje de Boeck)

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BY: DAVID PERRY

I'll be the first person at my age to admit to liking a kid's film. I've spent many hours of my life trying to get people to see films like Anastasia, The Iron Giant, Beauty and the Beast, Oliver and Company, and Babe. But in the same way that I'm quick to admire a family oriented film, I'm also very quick to dislike and find fault in ones that I find to be rather poorly done. Just look at my treatment of recent cartoons that are miserably bad Doug's 1st Movie, A Rugrats Movie, and The King and I. as much as I'd like to say different, A Dog of Flanders is a film for the latter list. Not only is the film barely watchable from an adult perspective, it is also way too dark for most small children. I think that it is actually well-meaning for the most part, just that it is so poorly done that there is really little reason to care.

The film is a remake of a 1959 family oddity about a poor boy that has aspirations of becoming an artist. If you want to be technical, there is really no reason for the film to be titled so since the dog is barely in the film. The whole movie is about a boy that is wrongfully accused of things and punished for reasons that only go as far as how little cash his family has. Even when a famed artist takes the boy under his wing, he is still unable to make a mark at the township since he is not near as well dressed or rich as the other boys.

The film is sappy and dreary at the same, and I have no earthly idea how they pulled that off. It stands as one of the worst costume drama family films since, maybe, Newsies. One must remember that it was these costume drama family films that caused problems for Disney back in the 1970's. I found the film to be a bore and terribly uninteresting. It was not endearing, but more depressing. A Dog of Flanders could only be fun if it was taken up by Mystery Science Theater 3000.


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In Too Deep

(Dir: Michael Rymer, Starring Omar Epps, LL Cool J, Nia Long, Stanley Tucci, Hill Harper, Pam Grier, Ivonne Coll, and Jermaine Dupri)

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BY: DAVID PERRY

I know that I can be pretty hard on modern day African American cinema, but of course I consider myself hard on every type of cinema. It is not that I have anything against the films altogether (one can note my strong adoration for Menace II Society as proof of such), it is just that I personally thought that those that I gave poor ratings to were simply bad films. Foolish and Trippin' were just unfunny to me, and I was pretty quick to commend The Wood for what it was, but I just didn't think that it was anything to write home about. I have to admit that I feel the same way about In Too Deep. Sure it is the normal gangster ruining the life of those in the urban area where the film is set, but it has a Donnie Brasco touch that gives a certain extra notch.

In Too Deep is about Jeff Cole (Epps), an undercover cop that goes after the biggest criminal in New York ... Duane "God" Gittens (LL Cool J). He becomes one of them and even begins to do things to others just to further their belief that his alter ego is not a cop. Jeff is doing a pretty good job, but he gets too eager and zealous, causing his commander Preston Boyd (Tucci) to want him off the case. Still Jeff stays on the case and he and Gittens get so close that their collision is sure to happen at any moment.

The direction is nothing to make a big deal about, nor is the script since the film is rather pointless. Still the thing that makes this film almost worth seeing is in its performances. I have continually downed LL Cool J for roles in Halloween: H20 and Deep Blue Sea, but he seems to have found his place here. I enjoyed his performance more than Epps, whom I've always found to be a pretty good actor. Tucci and Grier also but up pretty good performances in smaller supporting roles. I'm not terribly keen on In Too Deep, but I found it to be far better than Trippin'.


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Dudley Do-Right

(Dir: Hugh Wilson, Starring Brenden Fraser, Alfred Molina, Sarah Jessica Parker, Robert Prosky, Jack Kehler, Don Yesso, Brant Von Hoffman, Jed Rees, Eric Idle, Alex Rocco, Louis Mustillo, and Eddie Moore)

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BY: DAVID PERRY

I have a feeling that I'm in the exact same fix that I was in just a few weeks ago. Then I gave a review of Inspector Gadget in which I was disliking a film that was based on something that was great for me in my childhood. It just goes to show that trying to keep things going that have run their course is a mistake. I was quite the fan of Rocky and Bullwinkle as a child, including all the shorts that would appear in each episode including Dudley Do-Right. It was never my favorite, but I at least liked it, and it was sure better than what they brought to the big screen.

This film version of Dudley Do-Right is so awful that I'd dare say it deserves to go to the oblivion of The King and I remake. I really hated this film. It was not the 'so stupid it's fun' film that it tried to be, it was just stupid. In trying to get as as off the wall as possible, the film becomes annoying and cloying. For those unacquainted with the premise, Dudley (Fraser) is a Canadian mountie that is unbelievably dim-witted, but it works for him because he is completely honorable and decent, always doing good and looking out for others. His life goes around four others: Nell (Parker) the girl he grew up with that is in love with him, Snidely Whiplash (Molina) the bad guy that looks to always do the wrong thing, and Dudley's horse who is only true love. Since bestiality is not the best thing for films these days, the whole thing between Dudley and his horse are gone, making him now in love with Nell, losing some of the comedy of Nell attempting to get Dudley's affection in return. In this, Snidely has taken over the entire town and left Dudley by himself at the Royal Canadian Mounted Police post. Dudley must stop Snidely by doing the one thing he can think of: become the bad guy since everyone in the town thinks Snidely is a good guy.

I never really laughed at the film and I was bored throughout most. What hurts the most about the film is that is from the director of Blast From the Past, a film that I went to great lengths to get some people to see and a highly underrated film. Fraser and Molina are both actors that I respect, but neither really shine in the film, though I will admit that Molina puts forth much more of an effort than Fraser, who seems to be attempting to recreate his performance from George of the Jungle. At least George of the Jungle was a film version of childhood favorite that I actually liked.


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Stir of Echoes

(Dir: David Koepp, Starring Kevin Bacon, Kathryn Erbe, Illeana Douglas, Zachary David Cope, Jennifer Morrison, Liza Weil, Kevin Dunn, and Conor O'Farrell)

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BY: DAVID PERRY

I have had quite a past with Stir of Echoes. I was given a chance to see it about two months ago at a press screening the week before it was originally going to come out. I passed on it since that week was already full and I thought that it would come out the subsequent week. Then the film was delayed to Fall and I did not really get too mad because I did not really know much about the film. Then a few weeks ago I saw the trailer for the film for the first time. It did not really look to be terrific as in the visuals, but the music is what did it for me. Hearing the theatre filled with a cover of Rolling Stone's "Paint It Black" was enough to get me hyped and I've been heavily awaiting this film since. Now if only the film had met my expectations.

Stir of Echoes is based on a novel by Richard Matheson where a common man (Bacon) finds his view in life completely changed after he is put under hypnosis by his wife's sister (Douglas). He begins to be haunted in his mind by a scatter of visions that he cannot differentiate, but scares him dearly. Not only are there scary visuals, but there is also the spookiest child actor, Cope, as his son who has the same touch that the kid from The Sixth Sense had.

I'm quite a fan of the writings of Matheson, who wrote many episodes of Twilight Zone as well as the basis for What Dreams May Come, but this film does not show proper viewing of his works. It is poorly written by Koepp who is best known for writing Lost World: Jurassic Park. Koepp is also trying his luck with directing this time, but most of his visuals are less than special. I liked Bacon and especially Cope, but I found the performances of Douglas and Erbe to be rather flat. I must admit that I found the film to be interesting for the first hour and half, but everything falls apart in the third act. When the film tries to explain what is happening, it cannot come up with a understandable or enjoyable idea. The ending is slightly sufficient, but nothing in comparison to what is given in the first part. Slight, yet still nothing special.


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

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