The Matrix (1999) – Movie Review

The Matrix movie poster

Written & Directed by: The Brothers Wachowski
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Ann Moss, Joe Pantoliano, Hugo Weaving

My Advice: Matinee.

Meet Thomas Anderson (Reeves), by day mild-mannered software programmer, by night “Neo,” a hacker extraordinaire. His life seems to be going fairly well, until he meets someone he was never expecting to: the uberhacker to end all uberhackers, the legendary Morpheus (Fishburne), and the man has a secret which will change Neo’s world forever. But the change is a hard choice that once made is nothing you can walk away from and potentially quite lethal.

Okay, here’s the few items of bad news I can impart. First of all, Reeves’ acting prowess hasn’t increased any. Second, the setup of Reeves’ character before the fit starts hitting the shan is measured in nanoseconds. Third, parts of the ending struck me as hurried and cheese-ridden.

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Ravenous (1999) – Movie Review

Ravenous poster

Written by: Ted Griffin
Directed by: Antonia Bird
Starring: Guy Pearce, Robert Carlyle, Jeffrey Jones, David Arquette, Jeremy Davies

My Advice: Wait for cable.

It’s 1847, and Captain Boyd (Pearce) has just been promoted and awarded due to an act of cowardice he performed on the field of battle. Part of his award is to be relegated to a fort in the middle of Nowhere. Rather than sit around and do nothing, Boyd finds a mysterious stranger (Carlyle) near death, who tells a story of atrocities committed during a trek through the mountains.

The saddest part of this film is it that it’s, year to date, the best horror film I’ve seen. It takes what is a premise with some promise–cannibalism–and manages to take it absolutely nowhere. The opening half of the film is enough to draw you in with its cast of bizarre characters at the fort. Robert Carlyle, who incidentally is the only reason to see this movie at all, delivers his story (and the rest of his performance) with studied manic creepiness. However, shortly thereafter the whole film goes straight to hell, and I wish I could tell you why–but it’s the only excuse for a plot twist the thing has. Pearce is wasted, Jeffrey Jones is miscast, and David Arquette is given absolutely nothing to do.

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Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1999) – Movie Review

Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels movie poster

Written and Directed by: Guy Ritchie
Starring: Nick Moran, Jason Flemyng, Dexter Fletcher, Jason Statham, Vinnie Jones

My Advice: Don’t Miss It.

Four amigos in London’s East End decide to pony up a wad of cash and send in their best card player, Eddie (Moran), to a high stakes game in order to bring home the gold. However, Hatchet Harry (P.H. Moriarty) has rigged the game to rook the lads for all they’re worth and then some. If the four don’t get the money back to Harry before a week goes by, then they’ll have to deal with the other half of his name. What ensues is a caper that I can’t even begin to explain here because of its intricacies, but rest assured that it is a farce with guns.

Let me go ahead and cut through it and tell you straight: this movie blew me away. I’m not used to films this good being released in the first quarter/first half of a year. This is normally where studios throw unwatchable formulaic crap and wait for Oscar season to roll around again. Which means the really good stuff shows up at Christmas. However, this film is the exception to that rule.

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In Dreams (1999) – Movie Review

In Dreams poster

Written by: Neil Jordan & Bruce Robinson
Directed by: Neil Jordan
Starring: Annette Bening, Aidan Quinn, Robert Downey Jr., Paul Guilfoyle, Stephen Rea

My Advice: Wait for MST3K

At the beginning of this film, we are told that a town was evacuated back in 1965 in order to flood the area and make a reservoir. When (if, rather) you see this film, mark the words on the screen well, because it’s the last interesting thing you will witness for the next 95 minutes.

Claire (Bening) is a loving mother who has a loving (sort of) husband (Quinn) and an endearingly cute daughter (Katie Sagona). Oh, and she’s been psychic her entire life, dreaming about things that either are happening or will happen. Which exasperates Quinn’s character to no end, but hey, don’t you hate it when your wife waits to tell you she’s psychic until AFTER the marriage? I digress. It seems that there’s a killer on the loose in their undetermined geographic locale, grabbing little girls and spiriting them away to be killed. Claire keeps dreaming more and more of the killer until she’s sure she is being given the information she needs to stop him, and sets out to try, despite being thought insane by everyone around her.

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The Thin Red Line (1998) – Movie Review

Thin Red Line

Written & Directed by: Terrence Malick, based on the novel by James Jones
Starring: James Caviezel, Ben Chaplin, Sean Penn, Elias Koteas, Nick Nolte

My Advice: Wait for Cable.

For the record, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a better acted piece of overblown, pretentious, self-important cinema in my life. Also for the record, I have never seen a film more in need of an editor…in my life. Let me try to summarize this monster for you. It’s World War II, and you’re at Guadalcanal. Private Witt (Caviezel) has gone AWOL again only to be given a second chance by Welsh (Penn), a first sergeant. He is a member of Charlie Company, led by Capt. Staros (Koteas), who is getting his ass chewed out perpetually by Lieutenant Colonel Tall (Nolte), who is in turn busy kissing the ass of a brigadier general (John Travolta). In the meantime, we have Private Bell (Chaplin), who is pining for his wife (Miranda Otto). Somewhere else in there we have a bunch of other soldiers who I can’t remember (98% of the cast) and a bunch of people who did have roles but were edited out (name any actor in Hollywood). Confused? Good. I don’t feel so alone now.

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The Prince of Egypt (1998) – Movie Review

The Prince of Egypt

Written by: Kelly Asbury & Lorna Cook along with 14 other people, based on the book of Exodus
Directed by: Brenda Chapman, Steve Hickner, & Simon Wells
Starring: Val Kilmer, Ralph Fiennes, Patrick Stewart, Michelle Pfeiffer, Sandra Bullock

My Advice: Wait and Rent It.

To escape a culling of Hebrew firstborns, Moses (Kilmer) is placed in a CGI basket by his mother and set adrift, only to wind up in the arms of Egypt’s Queen (Helen Mirren) and become a…prince of Egypt. He flees the kingdom once he learns of his true heritage and finds peace in Midian and winds up marrying Pocahontas (Pfeiffer). Content at first, he’s called on by God (Kilmer) to go into Egypt and lead the Hebrews out of slavery.

That’s right, it’s the book of Exodus. They’ve thrown in some unnecessary action sequences, i.e. a Ben Hur chariot race down the scaffolding of a monument whilst the nose of said monument is a close third, but all in all, you’ve got Exodus. And therein lies the problem with this film: it tries too hard to do too much. The story is big and broad enough as it is, it doesn’t need add-ons. It’s almost like they set out to out-Disney Disney. For example, apart from the opening “Deliver Us,” the songs are all unnecessary and painfully intrusive. Every time somebody needs to explain something, suddenly–! There’s a song going–and I’m cringing.

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Rushmore (1998) – Movie Review

Rushmore movie poster

Written by: Wes Anderson & Owen Wilson
Directed by: Wes Anderson
Starring: Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Olivia Williams, Brian Cox, Mason Gamble

My Advice: Don’t miss it.

This film is the most disturbingly funny coming of age story since Harold met Maude, and while this movie does have its share of morbid mayhem, love, friendship and Cat Stevens, it’s an entirely different kind of flying…altogether.

Max Fischer (Schwartzman) is a nerd, first and foremost. But instead of being able to work mathematical proofs in his head like your archetypal 15-year-old egghead, he instead has a wild imagination and passion for extracurricular activities. In fact, he’s either founder or president of pretty much every club on the Rushmore Academy’s campus. His grades suck rocks though, and so Prof. Guggenheim (Cox) is on the verge of expelling him. Enter two adults into his life, Harold Blume (Murray), a miserable married man with twin oafs for children and Rosemary Cross (Williams), a recently widowed first grade teacher. Max quickly falls in love with Cross only to have complications arise when his good friend Blume might want Cross for himself.

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Shakespeare in Love (1998) – Movie Review

Shakespeare in Love poster art

Written by: Marc Norman & Tom Stoppard
Directed by: John Madden
Starring: Gwyneth Paltrow, Joseph Fiennes, Geoffrey Rush, Tom Wilkinson, Ben Affleck

My Advice: Don’t miss it.

I’ll never complain about the plight of a modern writer again. Well, at least not this week. At least the SDI will never get closed because of the plague. Never expected the terms “plague” and “romantic comedy” to ever get together? Well, surprise. This is the best comedy of 1998, an absolute cinematic gem.

Bill Shakespeare (Fiennes) is in the throes of writer’s block at the start of his career, completely at a loss. This is bad news for the owner of the Rose Theatre, Henslowe (Rush), who owes money to Fennyman (Wilkinson), and will probably get killed or worse if he doesn’t pay. There’s only one thing to do–write a play and quickly, and call it “Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate’s Daughter.” With a deadline approaching, they need a Romeo, and who should arrive but Thomas Kent, a virtual unknown who’s perfect for the part.

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Elizabeth (1998) – Movie Review

Elizabeth poster

Directed by Shekhar Kapur
Written by Michael Hirst
Starring Cate Blanchett, Joseph Fiennes, Geoffrey Rush, Christopher Eccleston, Richard Attenborough

My Advice: Don’t Miss It.

Henry VIII is dead and Queen Mary Tudor (Kathy Burke) isn’t feeling too good herself, which leaves young Elizabeth (Blanchett) to take the throne. There are some complications, not limited to the fact that she is Protestant in a land of Catholic rule and also the fact that she loves Robert Dudley (Fiennes) despite many attempts by her head advisor, Sir William (Attenborough), to get her to marry someone else and get on with the business of producing an heir.

First and foremost, a big round of applause to not only Kapur for orchestrating this enjoyable historical jaunt, but Remi Adefarasin for the evocative cinematography, Alexandra Byrne for the gorgeous costume design, and John Myhre for the beautiful production design. They all provided the environment for the movie to work in, and damn if they didn’t do jobs worthy of multiple Oscar nods. Voluminous rooms, strategic use of curtains and lighting, and absolutely stunning garb work with the unique camera angles to bring England of the day to light.

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Vampires (1998) – Movie Review

Vampires movie poster

Written by: John Carpenter, Don Jakoby & Dan Mazur, based on the novel Vampire$ by John Steakley
Directed by: John Carpenter
Starring: James Woods, Daniel Baldwin, Sheryl Lee, Maximilian Schell, Thomas Ian Griffith

My Advice: Wait for Cable.

Two films that actually have vampires in them instead of “hemocytes” (I’m not bitter) came to theaters this year. This, the second of them, really threw me for a loop. James Woods plays a master vampire slayer who has possibly met his match in Valek (Griffith), the numero uno master vampire who kicks ass like nobody’s business. Valek apparently wants to find a religious relic that will help him and his vampire hordes become unstoppable.

In the film’s favor, we do have a good performance from Woods (along with some killer lines pointed toward the state of vampires in cinema) and a fairly good phoned-in walkthrough from Baldwin. I’m not exactly sure why Schell took this role, and neither is he. The two acting jobs worth mentioning are the two that had the least potential. Sheryl Lee is very good at being feral–thank you. Griffith makes a menacing master vamp, but isn’t given much to do other than tear people in half and get shot. To his credit, he does this well.

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