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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Pleasantville (1998) – Movie Review

Pleasantville movie poster

Written & Directed by: Gary Ross
Starring: Tobey Maguire, Reese Witherspoon, William H. Macy, Joan Allen, Jeff Daniels

My Advice: Matinee.

The real world sucks. We all know it’s true. And David (Maguire) is so clued into this fact that he retreats into reruns of his favorite show, Pleasantville, which he watches religiously. No Pleasantville trivia can get past him. One night, due to an altercation with his trendy MTV-watching sister Jennifer (Witherspoon), their television is broken. Neither can get to the shows they want to watch. Just in time, a mysterious TV repairman (Don Knotts) shows up and fixes the TV. He fixes the two of them as well, setting them up to be zapped into Pleasantville, playing the part of the son and daughter. What happens when imperfect people are injected into a sterile perfect world? And what’s the definition of perfect anyway?

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The Mighty (1998) – Movie Review

The Mighty movie poster art

Written by: Charles Leavitt, based on the novel Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick
Directed by: Peter Chelsom
Starring: Elden Henson, Kieran Culkin, Gillian Anderson, Harry Dean Stanton, Sharon Stone

My Advice: Don’t miss it.

It’s movies like this that make all the other crap I’ve had to wade through this year almost worth it. Max (Henson) is literally a gentle giant in the seventh grade (for his third crack at passing the year) and a pacifist though he doesn’t know what that means. The boy is with a great largeness, and I mean he’s built like a truck. He generally keeps himself to himself and doesn’t want to make waves, cause trouble, or even live it almost seems like. Then a woman (Stone) moves next door with her son, Kevin (Culkin). Kevin seems like a junior Stephen Hawking in the brain department, and like the illustrious Dr. H, his body isn’t working so good. He has a degenerative illness that retards his bone growth while his internal organs all keep right on going. He’s in a leg brace and crutches. But still he’s courageous and takes his cues from King Arthur, wanting to be chivalrous and go about accomplishing good deeds. The movie relates how these two misfits become partners and even to a degree a single entity, which they dub “Freak the Mighty,” and how together they’re able to bring to the table what the other is lacking. As Kevin puts it, Max needs a brain and Kevin needs legs. What a deal, right?

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