Volume 1, Number 39
|End of Days
(Dir: Peter Hyams, Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Gabriel Byrne, Robin Tunney, Kevin Pollak, CCH Pounder, Renee Olstead, Matt Gallini, Linda Pine, Udo Kier, and Rod Steiger)
BY: DAVID PERRY
End of Days is yet another bad film this year from an able director. Don't misunderstand, I'm not considering Peter Hyams to be a great director, just an okay one. Though not anywhere near its predecessor, I've always had a certain affection towards his 2001 sequel 2010: The Year We Make Contact. Hyams direction always seemed, at least in my mind, much like the directorial style of Ridley Scott. Of course, much like Scott, Hyams has been in a horrible slouch lately. His most recent film was 1996's The Relic, a cliché riddled monster on the prowl film, much like his new cliché riddled monster on the prowl film, End of Days. Of course since it is 1999, the year of religion as a jumping board for horror films, End of Days has to have the monster be none other than Satan.
The film is about the biblical end of days set to occur on the first minute of the millennium. That is as long as Satan can find the chosen mother of his child and consummate their relationship within the hour before the new year. The woman left with this title is Christine York (Tunney), a twenty year old schizophrenic. With Satan in the body of a banker (Byrne) after her, she is taken under the wings of a bodyguard (Schwarzenger), who is living with his own inner demons after the murder of his wife and daughter while he was at work as a police officer. The two set out with the help of a local Catholic church (led by Steiger) to keep her under raps before Satan or the heads of the Catholic church find her.
This is easily the worst performance from Schwarzenegger
yet, even including his turn in Batman & Robin. Schwarzenegger seems to
be simply prancing around, throwing out lines, and making growling faces of pain. Tunney
is not a treat either, but at least Steiger puts out an enjoyable campy over-the-top
performance. But the only real reason to see the film (besides the pretty good
direction from director/cinematographer Hyams) is Byrne. His fiendishly evil
performance is one of his best. Byrne also serves as just one of the film's
connections to the much better The Usual Suspects. Byrne, Kevin Pollack,
the particular demise of a character, and even a line of dialogue are stolen from the 1995
flick (which was my top film for its year). That thrown in with the film's many
connections to Devil's Advocate and even The Omega Code, made this film
one of the least original films of the year. With Stigmata trying to be The
Exorcist and Blade, and End of Days trying to be Devil's
Advocate and The Usual Suspects, one can only hope that Janusz Kaminski's Lost
Souls will at least try for some originality.
|Toy Story 2
(Dir: John Lasseter, Voices include Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Don Rickles, Jim Varney, Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger, Kelsey Grammer, Wayne Knight, R. Lee Ermey, Annie Potts, John Morris, Jeff Pidgeon, Laurie Metcalf, Andrew Stanton, Jodi Benson, and Joe Ranft)
BY: DAVID PERRY
Four years ago I was drawn to a handful of films, all vying for positions on my top ten list. There were quite a few genres all taking positions, the saga-like crime drama (Casino), the sweeping dramatic action film (Braveheart), the tearful foreign drama (Il Postino), the tearful American drama (Dead Man Walking), the biographical drama (Nixon), the unbelievably smart action film (Se7en) the meticulous action film (The Usual Suspects), the hilarious satire (Get Shorty), the cute family film (Babe), and then there was the eye-catching animated film. Toy Story was quite the surprise. I had not really been blown away from a Disney film since Beauty and the Beast (my lack of adoration for The Lion King has been well documented), so I was not expecting anything from Toy Story. Then it turned out to be a beautiful film, that worked because it had a grasp on exactly what it was. It did not simply try to show off the fact that it was computer generated (a fact present by the film's lack of showing humans), but took on a position as a true family film. Often makers of such films only point at the young audience who will be holding up its gross (Doug's 1st Movie and Pokémon the First Movie: Mewtwo Strikes Back most recently), but also allows the adults taking the children to the film to enjoy it. I was literally mesmerized by Toy Story, a fact that I thought would hurt its sequel. The minute I learned of a sequel, I was dismayed, thinking that the idea of a follow-up was rather stupid. But you know what, Toy Story 2 is, without a doubt, better than its predecessor.
I truly adored this film. It was not only fun, but also great to look at. I laughed more and was in awe more with this one due to the fact that the sequel has allowed itself to grow older with its characters. There was a more carefree approach to the first one, a fact that helped it. But this one is much more dramatic. There is a period of the film in which Woody (Hanks) must make a life altering decision. This was no simply decision, it was one that made sense from both aspects, and truthfully I could not really decide which way I wanted him to go. It is rare that an animated film allows itself to make children think. I know that the smallest of children will view the film in a fanciful way, not really picking up on the dramatic undertones, but your older children and adults can bask in the true cinematic experience of being allowed to think out decisions of such in this film.
Toy Story 2 follows what happens when young Andy's beloved Woody the cowboy toy is kidnapped. It seems that he is a collector's item, having had a huge movement in the fifties, much like the years of Howdy Doody. A greedy toy salesman (Knight) steals Woody and makes plans to send him abroad, where Asian museum owners are interested in a collection of Woody and the rest of his Round-Up Gang. The gang includes Wood's faithful horse, the thinking prospector Smelly Pete (Grammer), and Woody's faithful companion Jessie the Cowgirl (Cusack). Woody must make the decision of whether or not he should head back home to Andy, where he knows the child will miss him. This would be fine if it was not for the fact that Jessie and The Prospector know all too well what it is like to be forgotten by children through the years (the three minute sequence in which Jessie recounts her lost child to a Sarah McLachlan ballad is beautiful; with the song standing as a Oscar hopeful), as well as the fact that the three of them will be thrown back into storage if Woody is not gone and therefore not part of the deal.
Meanwhile, Woody's faithful friends have set out to find him and save him, a chance for the film to look at the other characters much more closely than was done in the first. I especially liked the use of a nemesis for Buzz Lightyear (Allen) in Zurg (Stanton).
Every one of the vocal artists behind this film are doing
some of their best work, animated or live-action. The work Kelsey Grammer does as
The Prospector is, in my opinion at least, Oscar nomination worthy. There was much
more substance in the Allen performance this time around, allowing the Buzz Lightyear
character to go new heights. The look of the film is unbelievable. Some of the
camera or, I guess in this case, cell work are more mesmerizing than the work in any
animated film before hand. The look and the characters are much more defined and
imaginative in this one, causing it, without a doubt, to be the best animated film since Beauty
and the Beast (and I thought The Iron Giant was going to end the year with
merely best animated film).
(Dir: Hayao Miyazaki, Voices include Billy Crudup, Claire Danes, Minnie Driver, Billy Bob Thornton, John DeMita, John Di Maggio, Jada Pinkett Smith, and Gillian Anderson)
BY: DAVID PERRY
I have been hearing about Princess Mononoke (Mononoke Hime), a Japanese anime film, for so long that I had become incredibly hyped to see it by the time it finally came. Roger Ebert, a mentor of mine, has been raving about the film for so long that having little knowledge on the plot of the film and the fact that I had never actually seen a Miyazaki film previously (My Neighbor Totoro and Kiki's Delivery Service) did not even come near stifling my own hype. The last two times that either Siskel or Ebert said early in the year that a film was a promised member of their top ten list were Boogie Nights (Ebert) and Fargo (Siskel), two films that would turn out on my top ten list for their respective years. The only plot piece I knew about the film was that it was a violent cartoon.
And I'm not that unfamiliar to anime and its violent ways. I've never been a big fan, but I have seen merits in many anime films including the renowned Akira. But I have never actually sat back and looked forward to a film of the genre, they just have never interested me. Mononoke overcame that obstacle by being so good, or at least good enough to meet the standards of Ebert as a terrific film. If there had not been such hype for the film, there is a rather good chance that I would have never seen it, or at least not for quite a while (for example, I have never actually seen the rather well-liked Ghost in the Shell, despite always hearing good things).
Princess Mononoke follows a young Japanese villager named Ashitaka (Crudup), who's skin has been corrupted by an evil spirit that took over a hog. When Ashitaka began to make the fatal attack on the evil spirit, it took one last grasp for him and made contact on his arm. Now Ashitaka has been sent out of the village, under the request that he find a cure but never return, so that the worst will be thought of. Ashitaka finds his route to end at Tataraba, a metal works driven town on the outskirts of a vast wilderness. This town is run by Lady Eboshi (Driver), a tyrannical woman that wants desperately to get rid of the spirits that inhabit the wilderness, an area that she thinks can help her in her conquering quest. Ashitaka becomes a ally to those in the city by saving some of their lost men, but he then finds himself in love with San (Danes), the princess of the forest (mononoke), a human that was raised by one of the gods (Anderson) and is now considered one of the spirits Eboshi must exterminate. There is also a plot by an individual named Jigo (Thornton) to behead the main god of the wilderness, which would leave the area in tumult allowing himself and Eboshi to come to power.
The film has a beautiful look to it. There are
great scenes of many short white headed spirits in the trees that leaves the eyes in
awe. It is quite an experience to see such beauty projected onto the silver screen
in the form of an action animated film. I'm not exactly sure if this is the film to
take small children to, considering its violent action scenes, adult language, and
excessive length (hence the reason Disney films rarely last longer than ninety
minutes). That length is actually my only problem with the film. I'll admit
that almost all of the film is terrific, there are some parts that could have been trimmed
down. By the end, the film does feel like its one hundred and thirty-five minute
length. I could have done with less time in the viewing of the main god, an image
that Miyazaki lets the audience see just a few too many times. Still the film is a
great experience, easily the best thing I have ever seen from Japanese anime.
(Dir: Joel Schumacher, Starring Robert De Niro, Philip Seymore Hoffman, Barry Miller, Wanda De Jesus, Skipp Sudduth, Daphne Rubin-Vega, Wilson Jermaine Heredia, and Nashom Benjamin)
BY: DAVID PERRY
If there is one well-known director that continually fares poorly with me it is Joel Schumacher. As much as I cannot stand the films of Griffen Dunne (at least as a director; some of his acting parts have worked), he is not a Hollywood "heavyweight." If Dunne was to go to a studio and request cash to direct the next Summer hit, he would most likely be turned down. That is not true with Schumacher. He has put Warner Bros. through two Batman films, easily the worst two of the series. His happy-go-lucky direction of otherwise dark films is scary in retrospect. Sure the subject matter to 8mm is rather murky, but that can be thankful to screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker (Se7en, Sleepy Hollow), not to the over handed, and somewhat light direction that Schumacher gives the film. The Batman films were perfect when Tim Burton was giving it a gloomy and dreary look, but once Schumacher came in, the series became a pushed experience, with very few redeeming features (a criticism that is especially true with the tepid Batman & Robin). The fact of the matter is that I cannot stand Joel Schumacher and his films.
With that said, it can be understood that I was not expecting much out of Flawless, the latest film from this no-talent director. The stars were the only draw, especially considering my great adoration for Robert DeNiro. And I must admit that the film, as well as Schumacher's direction, surprised me.
Flawless is about Walt (DeNiro), a police officer that suffers a stroke when he heads out to save some victims of a local thug. After his stroke, he is unable to completely use half of his face, causing him to go into a state of self seclusion. Then he finally takes up the courage to go to his personal foe, a local drag queen named Rusty (Hoffman) for singing lessons, an experience that his doctor says will improve his speaking skills. Rusty takes on the job, despite hating Walt. His main reason to do so is that Walt was hit by the stroke as he was heading to save a friend of Rusty's that dies. So enters the subplot with the thug. It seems that Rusty's friend owed money to the fellow and now he wants it back. After he kills her, he is still unable to find the cash and sets out to take out everything in the way of finding it.
The film is a success in many ways, though a failure in
others. I thought that the performance of Hoffman was unbelievable, but DeNiro
seemed sub-par here. This is far from the best performance from the acting great
(somewhat reminiscent of Cuba Gooding Jr, giving a better performance than Anthony
Hopkins, his acting superior, in Instinct earlier this year). Schumacher gives a
viable direction. There are moments in the film in which I thought that his
heavy-handed (no pun intended) direction worked, but then there would be yet another scene
of drag queen confrontations and gangster attacks and tango dances. He just does not
know when to let up. The film had ups and downs, but just enough ups (especially the
mesmerizing performance from Phillip Seymore Hoffman) to garner a recommendation.